Jesus provides the oil for our lamps
Grace mercy and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Have you ever run out of gas? You’re in a hurry, you’re late for a job interview and you don’t stop for gas; and you just get on the freeway. As you get on the on ramp in the back of your mind you think, “maybe I should have stopped at Speedway station”. Then you start convincing yourself it will be fine, “I know I’ve driven with less gas than this”. As the miles go by, you look at the gage; maybe a little too much. Now, you turn off the air-conditioning so that the car uses less gas. Then you think, “Wow it’s getting hot in here, but if I roll down the window, it will make more wind resistance and I will use more gas”. Then you see the needle on the “E”, your exit is still 10 miles away and the next exit has no gas stations. Then you feel it, you try and convince yourself it’s not, but you know what it is, the car is stalling. You have run out of gas. You realize you will never get to the interview, no matter how much you want things to be right, you know they won’t. You want to go back in time and change things so that you can make it to the interview, but that is impossible.
It is the same way for the five virgins in our Gospel lesson. We find this lesson located at the end times section of the lectionary. As you probably know the Lutheran Church uses a three year lectionary, a three year series of Bible readings divided into years A,B and C. Currently we are coming to the completion of series A, towards the end of the church year. As we head towards the end of the church year the Bible readings are concentrated on the end times. The Parable of the Ten Virgins is about the end times.
In Bible studies I like to say that the Bible was written in ancient times, for us today. But anytime we are dealing with a parable, we need to understand the background in order to understand what our Lord is telling us. Things that were obvious to the first century audience are not as clear to the twenty first century audience. Remember if you will the birth narrative of Christ. Joseph and Mary were betrothed, meaning they were engaged to be married. At this point in their courtship they were not living together, but they were still considered man and wife. After the bridegroom engaged the girl he would go off to prepare for their life together. He would then return to have the wedding feast, and they would then begin to live together. Because communication was not that great, she never knew when he would return; she would always have to be ready for his return. When the groom came for his bride, she would call her friends to meet her and go to the wedding.
The Bible describes Jesus as the bridegroom of the church. Isaiah tells us that the coming redeemer will be the husband of the church, when he says:For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. In those times a bride was pretty much passive in the whole courtship event, the bridegroom would basically pay a dowry and obtain his wife. The image is perfect when we realize how we were purchased by Christ. Let’s say that you intend on selling your car, and you think it’s worth $10,000. You in all likelihood would receive offers ranging from 6000 to 12,000, how much is the car worth? Is it worth 10,000? Is it worth the low-ball figure of 6000? No, the value of anything is what someone is willing and able to pay. God looked at you, a sinner and said I will pay the highest price for you that’s possible. He paid with the blood of his only Son on the cross at Calvary. 1 Peter reminds us, you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
The foolish virgins are the people that don’t’ accept the fact that they are bought with a price and saved by grace. They are the people that say they will get to heaven on their own merit or by the grace from someone else. We all know these kinds of people; the ones that say “of course I’m going to heaven, my mom has gone to church for years”. God has children, he doesn’t have any grandchildren. The guy that says “my grandpa built this church”, and he feels his grandpa’s good work is what will get him to heaven. My best friend all the way through high school and college was Dan. Dan and I did everything together, we went camping, we worked together, and he was even the best man at my wedding. Through our whole relationship he could never understand how I could be a Christian. He always pushed away the grace message. He ended up marrying a Lutheran and had children; he would never go to church with his wife and kids. He saw no value in attending church. He said he did not believe in God; but just in case he liked to talk about the time he drank a beer with a priest at a family party. His feeling was that he had hung out with a “holy” man and he was a good guy, so he would go to heaven if there was one. A few years ago he became very ill, I went to talk to him, but he wanted to hear nothing about God. Soon after I talked to him, he died. He died with no gas in his tank, no oil in his lamp. He had a feeling there might be a God, but he pushed away the gift of grace, he thought he would get to heaven without grace. I cannot say for sure where he is, but I fear he is like the foolish virgins, locked out.
In the parable the virgins are asleep, if you are nervous or scared you don’t sleep. Both sets of virgins felt as if everything was under control, that when the bridegroom came, they would be ready. The foolish virgins thought that they could at the last minute obtain the grace required or that their actions provided them with what they needed. When the bridegroom came they asked the smart virgins for oil, but as we said before no one else can gain grace for you. I have met a number of people that have told me, “I will believe in Christ shortly before I die, in the mean time I can do what I want”. I try to explain to these people, faith doesn’t work like that and even if it did verse 13 tells us, Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. If your timing is off, you will be like the virgins, “saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.”There will come a time when it is too late, if one goes through life denying grace, and thenthat is just what you might get.
In our parable the foolish virgins could not go with the bride groom and they could not obtain grace from the smart ones, they ended up going the other way. Once again they decided the solution to the problem was to try and work things out for themselves. The wise virgins had plenty of oil for their lamps. How do we stay strong until the bridegroom comes, or we go to meet him? Come to church. Here at church we hear the message that free grace is offered to everyone, every week. The sermons, the readings, the music and the service its self are all sending the same message. Bible study, reading and studying the Bible will reinforce the message of grace. The golden thread that runs through all of scripture is the death and resurrection of Christ provides free salvation to all. The sacraments strengthen our faith. Don’t depend on your own works or the grace granted to others toprovide your salvation. I have said many times in Bible studies, salvation is an individual sport; God’s grace is given out on an individual basis. Prayer, stay in communication with the creator of the whole universe; that will keep oil in your lamp.
What does Christ do for His bride, the church? He gave himself up for her. In Ephesians, men like to quote 5.22, Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife. But like much of scripture, a verse can be taken out of context and used in the wrong way. If you read further you will find what Jesus really did for His Bride. In Ephesians 5.25 it says, Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. The Greek term used for the words “give up” are not like giving up your place in line. A better translation might be “surrender”, like to like an enemy power. That is what Christ did for us; he died on a cross so that we can have grace and enter heaven. The oil in our lamps is all provided by Jesus.
The message of the Parable of the Ten Virgins is a simple one, “Don’t deny the grace that is offered to you”. Christ came for the sole purpose of saving you by his blood; he offers this gift for free. Like the foolish virgins we can’t depend on ourselves for salvation. We don’t want to be in the group that is running around looking for the gift that was offered to us earlier. We want to be in the group that is resting comfortably, knowing our salvation is entirely in God’s hands.
In the name of the one that put oil in our lamps, Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.