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Worship Theme: The Church looks forward to the eternal feast
Sermon Theme: Are You Prepared?
Mrs. Smith walks between the desks of her students in Freshman Geography class. She’s holding in her hands something that her students have been dreading – a pop quiz! Like bombs dropping from overhead planes she drops a blank map of South America onto each desk as she walks by and none of them seem happy about it. Especially not Michael. His internal anguish is making its way outside his body as beads of sweat begin running down his face. His knees are pulsing and his red face is buried in his hands. It’s pretty obvious, but Mrs. Smith asks anyways. “What’s the matter Michael? Aren’t you prepared for the quiz today?”
It’s the reason that wise parents begin the process of leaving the house with their kids 15 minutes before they actually need to be rolling out of the driveway, because it takes a while. And seldom do all the kids have everything they need on the first try. You might as well count on a couple of trips from the backseat of the van back into the house to get whatever it is that’s been forgotten. A parent stands at the door and pleads with their kids to gather everything they need to have to be ready to go, but at the same time wonders how it is that the same kid who can find one tiny little piece of onion hiding under a layer of meat and cheese in a pizza also can’t find two shoes that are laying in the middle of an otherwise empty bedroom. It’s an unexplainable snapshot into the brain of a child.
There’s a meeting with your financial adviser. He’s got some ideas and some strategies for you. But you know he’s going to ask you some tough questions. “When do you want to retire?” “What kind of life do you want to live in retirement?” “How much money have you saved up so far?” He will help you get there, hopefully, but he can’t do it for you. You can’t just snap your fingers and will a retirement fund into existence. You have to plan ahead. You have to be prepared.
Did you hear that question posed to you this morning in our Gospel? Jesus didn’t break from this teaching into a sidebar or use your name specifically, but he’s quite clearly and obviously talking to you! And he’s asking you a question: “Are You Prepared?”
In this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and the one before – Matthew chapters 24 and 25, Jesus is taking a final opportunity to teach his disciples. It’s Tuesday evening of Holy Week. He knows what the next days will bring. But Jesus is not at all consumed by that fact. Instead, Jesus is all-consumed with his disciples. He wants them to survive the coming trial. He wants them to be strong for the difficult weekend ahead for them. He wants them to know who his is, the plans that are coming to fruition among them. He wants them to see through it all to the end and to know that in Jesus, they have eternal victory. And so, he spends these final moments with his disciples giving them some final warnings. But not just final warnings, he also gives them final hope.
What is the difference in Jesus’ story between the five virgins that were called foolish and the five that were called wise? It’s quite simple. The five wise virgins were wise because they had enough oil to keep their lamp burning until the bridegroom arrived. They were prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom. Are you? Are You Prepared?
It’s easy to be more like the foolish virgins than the wise. It’s easy to live life for the here and now and forget that something far better lies in wait for us. It’s easy to treat Jesus’ return like it’s something that we can deal with in the future. It’s easy to live in the moment of our earthly priorities and act as if we can just wake up someday in the future and deal with the matters of faith then. It’s easy to put off spiritual preparation and to assume that we’ve gotten ourselves to a good place and don’t need to bother with being prepared.
The devil wants nothing more than for you to be outside when the Bridegroom shuts the banquet door! He wants you to be separated from him forever! Now, he cannot just take your invitation to the feast away. He can’t muscle it away from you. But what he can do is this. He can cause you to under value your invitation. He can tempt you with pressures and responsibilities of this world to pay little or no attention to being prepared for him. He can lull you into a complacency with where you are that deceives you into not taking faith seriously. He can convince you that you are strong enough on your own and that you don’t need any more help. It was to the Corinthians that Paul gives this pointed reminder: So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Having oil in your lamp, being prepared for the Bridegroom Jesus to return is the single most important thing that could happen in your life! It’s not your sports team or your kid’s sports team. It’s not whether or not your guy won the election. It’s not getting into a good school or getting a top earning job. It’s not finding a spouse or storing up enough for a comfortable retirement. It’s this: When the Bridegroom returns, what will he find? Are you Prepared?
That can be a horribly frightening thought! We could never do enough on our own to be ready for Christ’s return. We could never have enough oil to have lamps that never go out. We know without question that we deserve to have that door slammed in our face and we deserve to be left out in the cold. We could never be prepared enough.
But Jesus was! In fact, Jesus was prepared enough for both of you! Jesus was prepared himself and ready to be the Savior that we needed. He was prepared to take our place and be our substitute. He was prepared for the devil’s attacks. He was prepared to live the perfect life that was required of us. He was prepared to wage war against his enemies and ours. He was prepared to take on sin itself by becoming the sacrifice that paid sin’s debt. He was prepared for the rejection, prepared to suffer, prepared to die. And that’s exactly what he did – for you, for me and for the world!
And though his friends prepared his body by taking him from the cross and by wrapping him in burial cloths, Jesus was preparing something far greater. Jesus was preparing for the mightiest of victories. He rose from the dead in power and might and paraded through the streets of hell to announce the devil defeated and chained. Christ Jesus is victorious for his Church!
And after his 40-day victory lap, Jesus met with his followers and proclaimed joy and peace. And then he ascended into heaven. He sits at the right hand of the Father and prepares some more. He prepares the place where you and I will spend an eternity. He prepares your place at his heavenly feast where you and I and all who live and die in faith will sit and feast and rejoice in the undying love that our God has for us.
But it’s not just heaven that is prepared for us. Christ Jesus prepares us to face today. He promises us his presence and his blessing. He guides us in his Word. He prepares his Church with ministers of the gospel. Through them, he builds up members for works of service. He prepares a meal for us to eat – giving us himself, his body and blood with the bread and wine. What a glorious feast we enjoy, to be served by Jesus and to be given in it the forgiveness of sins and the promise of a future glory. His Supper most certainly is – a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
An athlete does not just stumble into the Olympics! If it’s your dream to compete in the Olympic games, it takes work, dedication, and preparation! You have to work out, eat the right kind of diet, have the proper gear. You have to practice and practice and practice some more. It takes a lifetime of dedication. Think about a downhill skier. You probably knew that an Olympic skier goes “pretty fast.” Did you know that they are traveling at 90 miles per hour and sometimes faster? I couldn’t control a car going that fast and that’s on four wheels, with a seat belt and a steering wheel and four doors to protect us and going down a straight and flat road. They sliding down a giant frozen rock at 95 mph on two skis with nothing but a helmet standing between them and disaster! Do you know what else that means? It means that they are incredible people. But do you know what else it means? That means that there is almost no time to react. That means that a skier has to have the course memorized. And I don’t mean have a rough idea of which direction the finish line is. I mean exactly where every gate is and exactly when and where to begin their turns, and how sharp to make them. You better believe that they are memorizing that course so that they know what to do before they enter the starting gate. You better believe they are prepared! Their life depends on it!
We can keep ourselves in top spiritual shape. We can keep ourselves prepared in life and for life eternal through spiritual exercise. We can stay spiritually fit by staying in the Word. We can study it and know it well, like a ski racer his course. We can keep our skills sharp by attending Bible Study here at church or with a family member or friend. We can maintain a healthy diet – finding nourishment in the bread of life. Jesus will strengthen and grow our faith through Word and sacrament. We can continue to be prepared as we live our humble lives of repentance. As we worship God as king and Lord, we find motivation to live for him always, to carry out his will and to boldly confess his name. As we live our faith and share our faith, the oil in our lamps won’t run dry. We can exercise our faith by sharing that faith and telling those around us that the Bridegroom is coming and that he most definitely wants them and the world to join him at his heavenly feast.
And then by God’s grace, the full joy will be ours. When the midnight call rings out…when the Bridegroom appears like a thief in the night…when banquet doors are thrown wide open…then the reality of what Jesus has arranged will be ours in the most glorious of ways. The fruits of his labor will be unwrapped by us as the greatest of gifts. So, continue to live your lives in Jesus’ love. You Are Prepared for the heavenly feast. Amen.
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Milwaukee, WI 53202