26 November 2007

Homily - Last Sunday of the Church Year

Which Side of the Door?
Matthew 25:1-13

Which side of the door will you be on? In Genesis 7 God commanded Noah and his family to go into the ark that Noah had built. The ark would be their salvation. You see, the world had strayed from God, become corrupt, was full of violence, and God was going to destroy it with a Flood. Only Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives, along with the animals they had collected, were allowed on the ark. And when the animals and all eight people were safely inside, the Lord shut the door of the ark. Then the fountains of the deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened, and it rained for forty days and forty nights. Those on the inside of the ark’s closed door were saved. Those on the outside perished in the Lord’s judgment on the sinful world.

Which side of the door will you be on? At the end of His Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” On that Day, the Day of Judgment, many people will claim that they were followers of Jesus. Many will claim that they did works in His name. But the door of the kingdom of heaven will be shut to them, and they will be lost.

Which side of the door will you be on? In today’s Gospel reading our Lord Jesus tells the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Ten virgins, with their lamps, waited for the Bridegroom to come. When He arrived, five of them went in with Him to the marriage feast of the Lamb, and five of them were shut out when the door was closed. What does this mean? In the Bible, “virgins” are a symbol of the people of God. So, in this parable the ten virgins are a picture of the whole Church here on earth waiting for her Lord, the Bridegroom, to return at the end of the age. But when He returns, not all will enter into heaven’s celebration. Not all who hold membership in a church, not all who claim to follow Jesus, will be allowed to enter. The door to heaven will be closed and some will be shut out.

What’s the difference between those on the inside of the door and those on the outside? In the parable, our Lord calls five virgins “wise” and the other five “foolish.” In the Bible, “wisdom” is another way of saying “faith,” and “foolishness” is another way of saying “unbelief.” So, in the Church, the “wise” are those who take Christ at His words and live from His words. The “foolish” are those who may hear the words of Christ but do not take them to heart. The wise will be ready when our Lord returns, but the foolish will be caught off guard, scrambling around to cover themselves in the face of Christ’s judgment. The wise will be brought inside the door of Paradise to celebrate and rejoice, but the foolish will be shut out in the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Which side of the door will you be on? Before we answer that question, let’s go back to another door, the gate of the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sinned and fell into foolishness, they brought the Lord’s judgment on themselves and their children. And what did they lose? Paradise itself—the very Paradise that God wants all people to enjoy. As a result of foolishly forsaking God and His wisdom, Adam, Eve, and all who would descend from them were shown the door. The door of Paradise was closed. Because of sin, all were shut out. Yes, all of us—you and I—were on the wrong side of the door.

But that door did not stay shut. No, God sent His Son into our foolish, fallen world to open the door of Paradise once again. How did He do it? By having heaven’s door slammed shut on Him! By absorbing the sin of the world—yes, yours and mine—into Himself. Though He committed no sin, He became the greatest sinner the world has known. He let Paradise be closed to Him. That’s what Jesus experienced on the Cross, as He looked to His Father only to see His Father look away and shut the door on Him! So He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Yes, the door was shut to Jesus as He suffered and died for your sins and mine.

But the door did not remain closed. Just as the door of the empty tomb stood open on Easter morning, so the door of Paradise is open once again. He who overcame death and the grave by His glorious resurrection has opened to us the way of everlasting life. Yes, there it is: the wonderful gift of an open door to heaven—the gift He won for you in His suffering, dying, and rising; the gift He gives you in your Baptism as you wait for the Bridegroom; the gift He gives you in His Supper, His Body given for you and His Blood poured out for you. You see, even now you get to taste the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end. Yes, it’s the gift of heaven’s open door as you watch and wait to meet your Bridegroom.

But one day the door will be shut. Which side of the door will you be on? Unfortunately, many people are like the foolish virgins in our Lord’s parable, many who call or think of themselves as Christians. But they are not ready. They are not prepared. Sure, they have the “lamp” of God’s Word, but they do not hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. They were given the “oil” of faith in their Baptism, but they neglect to restock it week after week from the Lord’s Word and the Lord’s Table. Maybe they think it’s sufficient to have their name recorded on a roster in a church office. Maybe they think they merely need to show up at any old church building once in a blue moon and pay their dues. Maybe they think it doesn’t matter what their church teaches or how their church worships, because, hey, it’s all a matter of personal opinion, right? Maybe they think it won’t matter in the end, because, after all, God is a God of love, and He would never shut the door on anyone!

But people who believe that—like those five virgins!—are foolish. And they will be in for a rude awakening when the voice cries out: “Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!” And the door will be closed, and they will be shut out.

Which side of the door will you be on? The answer to that question is really quite simple. Our Lord Jesus says, “Watch!” Watch by hearing His words of mercy, life, and forgiveness. Watch by devoting yourselves to prayer and learning God’s Word. Watch by confessing your sins and even going to Private Confession and Absolution. Watch by eating and drinking His Body and Blood as often as you can. This is how the Holy Spirit prepares you and keeps you ready. Then you will be ready to meet the Bridegroom, our Lord Jesus Christ. Then you will have lamps full of oil when He does finally come again on that day and hour. Then you will be ready, and you will go in with Him to the wedding hall, to the marriage feast of heaven. Then you will be on the right side of the door!

Until that day, we learn to pray as we will sing in just a moment:

Now come, Thou Blessed One,
Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,
Hail! Hosanna!
We enter all
The wedding hall
To eat the Supper at Thy call. (LSB 516:2)


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