PENTECOST 22, A – November 9, 2014

 SCRIPTURES – Psalm 84; Amos 5:18-24; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Matt. 25:1-13

 

“While they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

 

            How many of you are named Gregory? Is it your middle name, perhaps? If not, well, that’s too bad, for only people named Gregory will go to heaven.

 

I made this truly remarkable discovery just a few days ago. You see, last Sunday, during our All Saints celebration, we heard in the reading from Revelation 7 that four angels were sent out to mark 144,000 servants of God on their foreheads and seal them for heaven. That got me thinking: what was that mark? Well, in Revelation 14:1 the 144,000 are again mentioned, and we are told that they had “the Lamb’s name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.” So, the mark was a name. What name? It came to me as I was studying the Parable of the Ten Virgins in preparation for today’s sermon. Jesus’ conclusion hit me: “Watch.” Gregorāte (grhgoreite): that is the word in Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written. Who is welcomed into heaven’s wedding feast? Gregorāte. The Gregory’s! The watchers! It hit me, then: only people named Gregory will go to heaven! Now, if you don’t have that name, don’t worry. There’s still time to change your name!

 

Ok, so my conclusion is a bit silly. Jesus’ conclusion – Gregorāte! Watch! – is not. He does want you to be a Gregory, a watcher. And, the very important point for you to realize is that Jesus did not speak this parable to His unbelieving opponents. He was speaking to His followers, His Christians… to us. we, believers such as you and me, must watch and be ready for Christ’s coming, lest we not be welcomed into His wedding feast.

 

The parable makes this clear. In the 1st century a wedding would begin with the groom and his close friends marching to get his bride and her attendants and bring them and their guests to his house for the wedding and its celebratory feast. People who were close to the wedding couple would be given the honor of carrying torches in that procession. The ten virgins in the parable, then, aren’t people who reject Jesus. They are followers of Jesus. They are Christians. They are churchgoers.

 

And yet, some of them find the door to the wedding feast shut to them, and when they knock and say, “Lord, lord, open to us!” they hear the shocking words, “I do not know you.” Take this to heart. Jesus is coming from heaven to gather His people to Himself and bring them into the joyful wedding feast in heaven! But, when He comes, not all who claim to be Christians, and who even go to church, will be welcomed to the feast. Some will hear God say the startling words, “I do not know you,” and will find heaven closed to them. Gregorāte! Watch, so that this will not be you!

 

But, how do we watch? What are we supposed to do? After all, none of the virgins in the parable seemed to be watching. All of them, the wise and the foolish, fell asleep!

 

Yes, they did. But, the wise virgins had no doubt the bridegroom would come. They didn’t put a timetable on his arrival, and so brought extra oil in case he was delayed. Then, unperturbed, they fell asleep. The bridegroom, their friend, would come!

 

It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus told this parable. Empires have risen and fallen. Countless people have lived and died. New religions have appeared. We’ve gained new understandings of our world. And, over the centuries many people confidently stated the day of Jesus’ return, and were disappointed. Still, the bridegroom has not come. We wait.

 

Do not doubt that Jesus will come! He has promised, and He is the Lord of all who does not lie or change His mind, and who cannot be prevented. He will come! But, will He consider you wise or foolish? Will you be welcomed into the wedding feast? Here you must look to Him, not yourself, and trust His call.

 

Why were the ten virgins chosen? On what basis do women today choose their bridesmaids? It’s not because they earned this honored position. Can you imagine a woman doing special things for the bride-to-be in order to impress her so she’ll pick her? I can just hear the bride: “Do you think I’m so shallow that I would choose you for that reason? As if it’s all about you!” Bridesmaids are chosen on the basis of relationship, of friendship and love, not because they did more for the bride than others.

 

Gregorāte! Watch! Pay attention! God chose you because He loves you in His Son. He showed that love by sending His Son into the flesh for you, and He confirmed that love by making Him the sacrifice for your sins. This was all long before you ever loved Him. He chose you to be His own forever when He put His name upon you in your Baptism. For most of you this happened when you were babies, long before you could begin to love Him or do anything for Him. He states His love for you and forgives you again and again as He gives you the Eucharist, the thanksgiving meal of Christ’s body and blood. It’s in this relationship, this baptismal and eucharistic union with Christ that God freely gives you, that your confidence must lie, and not in any good that you do. After all, shouldn’t you, as God’s child, do what is good and right? Of course you should! If you worship, are a church member, and do good things to show God and others how good you are, then Amos’s words to his people apply to you: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Take away from me the noise of your songs.” (Amos 5) We do these good things out of love for and to honor the God who loves us, forgives us, and has taken us to be His children in Christ. It is in Jesus, however, and not our own goodness, that our confidence must rest. Gregorāte! Watch Him! Rely only upon His goodness for you and His death for your forgiveness. He is why God has chosen you. Then you can be confident of entering into the marriage feast of the Lamb when He returns.

 

Who will God welcome into the marriage feast in heaven that has no end? There’s only one name that matters: Jesus, the Son of God who died for the forgiveness of our sins. Blessed is the one who trusts in Him!