Text: Matthew 25:6
Date: Pentecost XXII (Proper 27) + 11/9/14
I always remind people, “God is in the business of blessing.” Most often I say this to a pastor who is considering whether to accept or return a new call. When you remember that God is in the business of blessing, this means you are freed to choose either one for whatever reasons. So it is for young people trying to decide which direction, which school or which vocation in life to pursue, or for one of the many other decisions we are called upon to make as we wend our way through and to an unknown future. Now certainly it is easier to believe that God is in the business of blessing when times are good, when things are going well, when you are happy with your circumstances. It is a little more difficult, however, to see God’s blessings when things go wrong, when troubles increase or when death approaches and seems to be the final, unavoidable winner.
We heard St. Paul write to those who were troubled about the death of their loved ones with regard to the Lord’s promised return and the resurrection of all flesh. He says he doesn’t want us to be uninformed as others who have no hope concerning the great and certain hope of the truth of God’s Word and His plan of final deliverance to eternal life of all those who have faith in Jesus. For, he says, “we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” In only four little words Paul tells how God has opened His kingdom by His love and grace for all who will allow Him to come to them and save them from death.
I say it that way—“for all who will allow Him to come to them and save them”—to emphasize that saving faith is not so much something we can conjure up, figure out or decide by our own reason or strength. For the truth is this, that “God so loved (and loves) the world,” the whole world and everyone in it. He so loved the world that He gave His only Son. He gave Him to take on our creaturely flesh and blood, to speak to us the truth of God, and then gave Him to take our sin and death into His own body on the cross, to die, but to die as the victor over death He gave His only Son, the only One strong enough to break the power of death and the devil, then to rise from the grave. So says St. Paul of those who have faith in Jesus, “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep,” the new way the Christian is to view and consider the defeated last enemy conquered by our Savior.
As I said, faith, saving faith is not something we conjure up, figure out or even decide by our own reason or strength. True, saving faith is the creation of God in the hearts of those who hear the Gospel. It is not dependent upon any quality or holy desire on our part. Faith is the creation and gift of God beginning in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Faith is simply trust in God. And as faith is the creation of God quite apart from our even knowing it at first, so it is preserved by God through the years, through good days and bad. His work in Holy Baptism stands firm regardless of the storms or doubts or troubles of life even as we struggle with sin that so easily besets all of us. Only at physical death is the believer finally freed from sin’s grip, for that is sin’s “wages.” Then as Christ cannot die again so the baptized child of God is raised to new, endless life.
In the parable of the ten virgins we hear encouragement to continue to watch for our Lord’s coming by staying close to Him in His Word and worship. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour,” He says.
We do not rebaptize anyone, for to do so would be to deny God’s own power and work through the water and the Word of His promise. So it is faith that keeps watch, that believes, that trusts even when we are asleep or unconscious or not mindful of the love of God at any given moment.
St. Paul says, whether we live or whether we die, by faith “we will always be with the Lord.” “With the Lord.” These are the words with which we are to comfort one another as the apostle says, “therefore encourage one another with these words.” When Christ came to earth the first time he was called “Emmanuel” which means “God with us.” When our risen Lord then was ascending to His Father He commanded the making of disciples by baptism and teaching and then promised, “I am with you,” “I am with you always to the end of the age.” Those who die in their baptismal faith are with the Lord. For us now it is especially in the sacrament of His body and blood that we are most closely with Him. Therefore it is there also, in that fellowship at His altar that we are also most close with those who have gone before us.
So there, when we sing, as we say, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” the eternal Sanctus, the song of the angels, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of His glory,” when we join our voices there in that eternal song, there are some familiar voices in that grand chorus.
“At midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’” May we be the more aware of the watchfulness of our faith, the faith created in us by God through the continual hearing of His Word.