A Foolish Oil Shortage (2)

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“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise” (Matthew 25:1-2).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Who would've thought that the day would come when anything under $2.80 would seem like such a good deal for a gallon of gasoline? But it wasn’t that long ago that it cost me $25 more to fill the gas tank on our van than it does today. While political parties point at each other, and many say greedy oil companies are the culprit, the fact is that the high price of gasoline is caused by a number of foolish choices, shortsightedness, and the simple law of supply and demand.
For several years American refiners have been operating at above 100% capacity (however you can do that). While consumption of oil products has continued to rise steadily, no new oil refineries have been built for three decades. In addition, regulators have restricted development of pipelines that would carry crude oil from Canada, and environmental concerns have prevented drilling at a number of promising oil fields. This all comes on top of the fact that much of our imported oil comes from the most politically sensitive area in the world.
But as much as the price of gasoline might affect our everyday lives, we didn’t come here to hear about foolish oil shortages, did we?
Come to think of it, maybe we did. Or at least that’s what Jesus seems to have in mind to teach us today. Here, in “The Parable of the Ten Virgins,” Jesus speaks about an even more foolish oil shortage that occurs among those who call themselves Christians—those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, those who fully expect to be with Him in the heavenly Paradise one day. Here, Jesus proclaims the truth to His people to warn the foolish and to comfort the wise.
Jesus depicts His Church as ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom. All them have heard of and know the Bridegroom. Every virgin anticipates His arrival. Each fully expects to be ushered into His marriage feast. All of them become drowsy and fall asleep. Each one of them, when she is aroused by the midnight cry, goes out with her lamp in hand to meet the Bridegroom.
This corresponds to the complete congregation here at St. John’s and elsewhere—those here today and those who for one reason or another are not. Each has heard of the Lord God and has been brought to faith in Christ through the Gospel. Everyone fully anticipates the arrival of Jesus. Each fully expects to be ushered into the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb.
But take a closer look at the virgins. Half of them are foolish and the other half are wise. The foolish virgins have no oil with them. They’ve got their lamps in hand, and the wicks trimmed, but they’ve neglected the oil. Is it any wonder that Jesus uses the Greek word for moron to describe them? The wise virgins not only have their lamps, but also flasks of oil to keep their lamps burning, enabling them to behold the gracious Bridegroom and remain ready for His coming.
So take a closer look at those Christians. Some of them are foolish and the others are wise. The foolish ones have no oil with them. They’ve been baptized and have been taught the basics of the faith (some of them have even helped teach the faith to others in the past), but lately they’ve been neglecting the oil for one reason or another.
In contrast, the wise followers of Christ not only have the promise of their baptism in hand (the same promise just given to Oakley this morning), but also faith, which hears the absolution: “Your sins are forgiven.” Yes, faith, which trusts such Word of God in the water and which is strengthened by Christ’s very body and blood. Each of the ten virgins has a lamp. The wise have made sure that there is oil, but the morons neglect the means whereby faith is kept alive.
And then the Bridegroom is delayed. Why? The parable doesn’t tell us. It doesn’t really matter why? The effect is just as severe, whatever its cause. In fact, though some will be condemned for heinous crimes and gross sins, many more will fail to enter heaven, because they neglected their faith through simple busyness or carelessness. Jesus warns that many invited to share in the eternal joy of His kingdom will miss out by failing to have a living faith at the end.
That’s why I stressed to Lindsay and to Oakley’s sponsors previously, and I remind you, who are gathered as witness of this miraculous rebirth today, the importance of continuing to teach her the Christian faith, to bring her regularly to God’s house, where she might hear God’s Word and store it up in her heart and mind. Faith once begun can be lost. The smoldering wick can be snuffed out by the world’s antagonism world or our own carelessness
But it need not be so! Not for Oakley, nor for you! No matter how depleted one’s faith is, Jesus’ grace can fill you to overflowing with a single word. That’s what makes this oil shortage so foolish. You see, there’s plenty of oil to go around for everyone! Everyone can have their lamps filled—again and again. You just need to go to where the oil is offered while there is still the opportunity. The important point of this parable is this: Christ could return at any time to consummate His kingdom. Make sure you have enough oil!
So what is the oil? The oil in the lamp is the means of grace. The oil is the Word of forgiveness bestowed in the Absolution. The oil is the baptismal grace that daily rejoices in the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. The foolish say, “Hey, I was baptized in church.” The wise, “I am baptized into Christ’s death.” They die and rise in their baptism daily through contrition and repentance.
The oil is the bread and wine of the on-going feast of victory from our God who sustains and nourishes our faith in His Supper. The morons think that the Table of the Lord is nice, but it’s not necessary. Thus they cut themselves off from this on-going feast. Not hungering for the body of Christ, their soul waits for the Lord like a fool carrying around an empty lamp and walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Two or three weeks of fasting from the feast becomes two or three years. And that, in turn, extends to two or three decades.
A friend of mine recently described such foolishness this way: “The one who says, ‘I believe Jesus is my Savior, so I don’t see why I have to go to church every Sunday,’ is no different than a man who says to his bride, ‘I know you are my wife, but don’t expect me home for dinner every night… two or three times a year is all I can manage’ [HT Donavon Riley]. Only a fool would despise such love and grace and fail to partake of these gifts while they are offered so abundantly and freely during this season of grace and time of the Lord’s favor.
The wise Christians long for the Divine Service. The wise one hungers for the meal and is thankful that it is served often. The wise one holds God’s Word sacred, and gladly hears and learns it. The wise one prepares for entrance into this sanctuary by recalling the holy triune name into which he or she was baptized. The wise one recognizes that this is the holy place where Christ announces His forgiveness for all sins of  thought, word, and deed. Such a wise one may return home justified and able to fall asleep at night knowing that whenever the Lord returns, she is ready. Here is the oil of gladness that sustains the soul in a land of darkness and keeps it prepared for the eternal joys ahead.
And what of those without oil? What of those who think that God will open the door to them only because they once had oil? The foolishness of these morons is such that they still fully expect to enter into Paradise. So, they lay down at night with self-deceptive thoughts. They fall asleep unprepared.
Then at midnight comes the cry: “Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” All are awakened and all arise. Each one readies her lamp and every wise virgin has the oil needed. What a time of great joy and hope and anticipation! What each one has lived for and prepared for is at the door of eternity! The wise virgins will be escorted from the ongoing feast of the Church in time to the eternal feast of the Bridegroom that lasts forever in Paradise.
But what about the foolish? The horrid reality hits them hard. They realize they have been negligent. But the day of salvation has passed and the time of God’s gracious invitation has ended. They’ve tried to get everything in order, but in their frantic activity they neglected the one thing needful. And so the foolish virgins rush out to find oil. But it is too late, and when they come back they find the door shut. “Lord, Lord, open to us,” they plead. But would those who have not found it necessary to partake of the on-going feast here, suddenly want to be with the victorious, ascended, reigning, majestic Son of God who has the eternal feast?
They still think so, but it cannot be. If the Ancient of Days opened the door to Paradise and stood before them, they would cower and be consumed, for they would meet Him, not according to His grace and mercy, but in full view of His perfect wrath and holy righteousness. They will be like the naked who stand exposed before the eyes of the entire world in complete shame, guilt, and uncleanness, only they will be standing before God’s omniscient eyes.
So what will be said by the Lord God Almighty standing on one side of the door to those foolish, unprepared individuals on the other side? In what is most certainly among the saddest sentence of all Scripture, the Bridegroom replies: “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.”
And so Jesus ends this parable concerning the kingdom of heaven with this consoling comfort for the wise and word of warning for the foolish: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
And so you wise ones watch. You watch with joy because although the Bridegroom delays, you know He is coming. He who shed His blood to redeem you will not forget you now. He is coming; and because He has prepared you by His death and resurrection, you know the end of the story—yours is the wedding feast, and you will live literally happily ever after with the Bridegroom.
This is true, not because of your merit or your knowledge or faithfulness or courage or diligence, for all of that is only foolishness. This is true because the Lord has made you wise unto salvation. By His blood and merit, Christ has taken away your sins. By His grace and invitation, He keeps you ready for His coming, filling your lamp with the oil that keeps your faith burning until the day He returns.
So, pray without ceasing. Watch over your heart so that you don’t extinguish the Holy Spirit’s fire. Study God’s Word and meditate upon it continuously. Repent daily of your sin and foolish neglect of your faith. Diligently go to your Lord’s Communion. For it is these means of grace that will keep you in the faith.
It is faith that unites you with Christ and lets Him live inside of you. Where that faith exists is where you’re ready to meet Him when He comes—whenever He comes. Through that faith you constantly live in the forgiveness of sins. Even when you sleep. Even when the devil accuses and taunts you with the guilt of past transgressions. Even when you can’t think about Jesus because the darkness and despair of depression or death seek to overwhelm you. Even if you should come to a time when you can’t remember your loved ones’ names. Even if you lie unconscious and near death, unable to respond to those at your bedside. See to it that Christ keeps you in the faith now. Then you’re ready, whenever He comes—even if He comes in the middle of the night or on a day when no one expects it.

Truly this day you are prepared. You have heard God’s Word that makes you wise unto salvation. Trust it and live: You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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