22 Pentecost Proper A27
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 25:1-13 Sermon
November 9, 2014

Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
351 "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"
611 "The Day Is Surely Drawing Near"
609 "Wake Awake For Night Is Flying"
651 "Be Still My Soul" 


TEXT: (vs. 13) “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” 

            This morning's message comes with a personal confession.  I'm a procrastinator.  I tend to put things off instead of getting them done like I'm supposed to.  And this is no recent development either.

            Back when I was in college, I discovered a small advertisement in a magazine for the Procastinators’ Club of America.  I kind of chuckled when I read it, but it did sound rather interesting.  From all outward appearances, it seemed to be a legitimate organization.  And being the type of person that I am, I thought I should probably join it, so I could be an official card-carrying procrastinator.  True to form however, I tossed the magazine aside and put off joining until a better time.

            Several months later as I was clearing up some of my clutter (another one of those jobs I tend to keep putting off), I came across the magazine again.  So I sent in my money, which was five dollars if I recall correctly.  I didn’t want to send them a check, because who knows how long it would have taken them to cash it.  So I sent them a money order.

            After a little time had passed, and I got occupied with many other things, I completely forgot about it.  But then after about nine months, I received my official membership card and a brochure about the club.  Of course they had put off processing my membership for quite some time.  And as you can probably guess, the club is more of a fun look at procrastination, which is of course the grand art of postponing things until later.

            At the time I joined, their official slogan was, “Anything worth doing is worth putting off.”  That is what was printed on my membership card if I remember correctly.  I have to rely upon my memory here, because I don't know where the card is, and I've been putting off looking for it.

            As I was preparing my sermon today, I decided to pay a visit to their website which they finally got up and going.  According to their site, they have now put up their list of predictions for the year 2004.  They are also accepting membership applications for 1997, and they advise getting the application forms in late.  And they also are telling people that it’s time to start celebrating national “Be Late For Something Day,” which was on September 5th.  Also of interest is their annual skiing holiday at Spring Mountain, Pennsylvania which was held in the middle of summer, and just in case you’re interested, they have a Christmas shopping seminar every December 26th.

            I now see that they have their own procrastinator's calendar.  It’s a calendar that doesn’t start until March, and features extra space at the end of the week and end of the month (when everything actually gets done), along with procrastinator-specific holidays and procrastination-inducing artwork. 

            They also point out some advantages to being a procrastinator.  Some of the things on the list are:   “The first winner of a world's record is not nearly as impressive as the last….The last person on earth pays no bills….The last person to make a move in a chess game wins….The last man to shoot in a duel usually prevails….The last payment we make on our car is by far the best….Every World Series has been won on the last out….The last cookie in the jar is usually the tastiest.”

            It’s kind of fun to have a humorous look at procrastinating.  What makes it amusing is that everybody has at least a small degree of procrastination in their human makeup.  Everybody can identify with the concept of putting things off.  And it’s usually the more unpleasant or mundane things that get put on the back burner, so-to-speak.  There’s cleaning the house, painting the house, cleaning the garage, doing the laundry, doing the dishes, and so forth.  Children can be masters at procrastinating when it comes to doing homework, or going to bed, or picking up their room, or writing that thank-you letter to grandma for the nice birthday gift she sent.

            Certainly we can joke about it, but there are times when procrastinating people aren’t so fun.  Maybe you know of people who are habitually late for everything.  Or maybe you’ve been kept waiting by such a person.  I’ve had people promise to do work for me, only to have them keep putting it off.  Procrastinators can make people miserable, they can add stress to our lives, and frequently bad things happen when people procrastinate.  There are those people who never getting around to putting new brakes or tires on the car, or that have to deal with major water damage because they never got around to getting the roof fixed.  People find themselves without light or heat because they put off paying the electric or gas bill.

            In our Gospel reading for today, we find Jesus dealing with the more serious side of procrastination.  He is addressing the topic of spiritual procrastination, and that's something that just can't simply be put off.  When somebody procrastinates with regard to their relationship with Jesus, it involves more than being habitually late for appointments or putting off dusting the furniture.  The effects of spiritual procrastination have eternal consequences, and that’s the point Jesus is driving home in his parable today.

            Jesus tells the story about ten young maidens, or virgins, five of which were wise, and five of which were foolish.  In order to better understand the situation, let’s look at what was happening.

            The setting for this story is a wedding.  Back in those days, weddings were a different sort of celebration than what we’re accustomed to in modern times.  The main difference is that couples in those days frequently did not live together immediately after the wedding.  The bride would return to her parents' home after the wedding and wait for the groom to provide a place for them to live.  Once the groom had a home for his bride, he would go to her parents' home in grand procession with his family and friends and they would then escort the bride, her family, and friends to the couple's new home.  It was quite a grand celebration.

            The ten virgins in today's parable were part of this wedding party.  They were waiting for just such a procession.  They were amongst those who would escort the bride and the groom to their new home with a procession of light.  Each of the virgins would light the way with her lamp and accompany the bride and groom as they entered the city.  Then they would proceed to their new home and celebrate the beginning of their new life together.

            Of course, back in those days, there was no way to let anyone know anything about the bridegroom's progress.  You knew when he departed to get his bride, and you knew he would return sometime in the next few days, but exact schedules were impossible to determine.  No one knew the travel conditions, or how long it would take the bride to gather her family and friends together.  The groom might escort his bride into the village this afternoon, tonight, tomorrow sometime, or maybe even the next day.  The people just didn't know when the groom would show up with his new bride until they saw them coming.

            Does this sound like a familiar story?  Think about what Jesus tells his disciples in John chapter 14.  This is the chapter where he speaks words of comfort to them in that upper room during rather tumultuous times.  In verse 2 Jesus says:  “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

            The young maidens, or virgins in today’s parable had no idea when the bridegroom would come.  In our lives, we also have absolutely no idea as to when Jesus, our heavenly bridegroom will come and take us to be with him forever.  Jesus might come a month from now, a year from now, a hundred years from now, or he might come before I can finish my sermon this morning.  In Matthew chapter 24 verse 36 Jesus tells us:  "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only."

            The event of our meeting Jesus face-to-face is something that will have little or no warning.  Death often comes suddenly without any notice whatsoever.  And if we should be alive when Jesus returns, he will come suddenly with glory.  Either way, we have to be ready.  We can’t be procrastinators when it comes to our relationship with Jesus.

            Returning once again to Matthew chapter 24, we read Jesus’ words in verses 42-44:  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

            But what does it mean to be ready?  Our Gospel reading symbolizes readiness with oil.  The wise virgins had containers full of oil with them and were ready to light the way for the happy couple.  The foolish virgins had lamps, but not enough oil.  They were not ready.  They put off buying oil, thinking there would be plenty of time to get some.  So when the watchman on the wall announced the appearance of the bridal party, the foolish virgins had to leave the group and purchase some oil.  By the time they returned, they missed out.

            What about us?  Will we, by our foolish procrastination find ourselves missing out on the heavenly mansion God has prepared for us?  Will we put off spiritual things until a time that seems more suitable for us?  It’s like procrastinating when we know our car needs brakes.  We have no idea when it will be too late; but when it is too late, we will definitely know about it.

            We can’t procrastinate when it comes to our relationship with Jesus.  Picture Jesus as the heavenly bridegroom, and his Church of believers is his bride.  Back in Jesus’ day when a man wanted to marry a woman, he was required to pay a “bride price,” which usually amounted to something of commercial value; e.g. livestock, crops, land, or money.  By paying the “bride price,” the bridegroom was able to take his bride as his own and begin a new family.

            Jesus, the heavenly bridegroom also paid a “bride price” for us, his Church.  The price he paid was his perfect obedience to God’s law, and the shedding of his blood to pay for the sins of all humanity.  That is the sum and substance of Jesus’ purpose on earth, which was to come and save fallen mankind.  He loved us far more than anybody or anything; even more than any husband has ever loved his wife.  Jesus came to this earth knowing full well that our salvation would mean humiliation and suffering, to the point of giving his very life for the likes of you and me.

            The Holy Spirit working in our hearts brings us to faith so we can accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour from sin.  Through faith that price he paid for humanity is now the redemption he paid to buy us back from the throes of Satan and eternal death.  His gift of love is ours through nothing more than faith alone.

            There’s an old story about a preacher conducting a revival meeting.  The devil was seeing how successfully the Holy Spirit was working through him to bring people to faith.  Many people were coming to Jesus.  The devil saw this and was very disturbed; so he pondered as to what to do about it.  Finally Satan hit upon an idea.  As the people were leaving the meeting, he whispered in each person’s ear:  “There’s no worry.  You have plenty of time.  You don’t need to rush into anything.  There will always be tomorrow.”

            So why is it that people will procrastinate when it comes to Jesus and their salvation?  It is a trick of Satan.  He wants to lure us into a sense of complacency.  He wants to make us think that there is plenty of time to come to Jesus, that there’s no hurry.

            But we can’t procrastinate.  We don’t know the day or the hour when we’ll meet Jesus face-to-face.  And then what will happen?  Will we be like the wise virgins and enter into the mansion, or will we be like the foolish virgins who procrastinated and found themselves outside without any hope of entrance?  That’s a choice we will have to make; but when we do, we will have to live with the consequences.

            We can have fun sometimes and get a chuckle or two with regard to the subject of procrastination, especially with membership in the Procrastinators’ Club of America.  Even though I joined that club, like I mentioned earlier, I have no idea where my card is now, and I've procrastinated about looking for it.  And I guess I have to be one of the biggest procrastinators of all, because for the past 30 years or so, I’ve been putting off paying my club dues.

            This morning, I’d like to close with a humorous little poem about procrastination.  It’s entitled: “OWED” To Procrastination.  So here goes: 

I forget to pay my bills on time.  My car runs out of gas.
My clothes are two years out of style.  I'm late for memory class.

My letters to my closest friends, are once-a-year events.
I still have many cards to mail, that have stamps of twenty cents.

My driver's license has expired.  My library books are late.
I have knitted half a sweater.  And my yoghurt’s out of date.

I put off until tomorrow, what was due last month for me.
If it doesn't disappear or hurt, how important can it be?

I didn't feel in tune with things.  My lists would never cease.
But then I joined this clever club, and now I am at peace.

Who cares if things are left undone?  There's next week, don't you see?
I'm not alone, and thanks to you, there's other folks like me!

            When it comes to our faith in Jesus, procrastination has nothing to do with humor.  If that faith isn’t intact and active, then there are very real and permanent consequences.  Even though we may be tempted to procrastinate in so many areas of our life, our faith in Jesus our Saviour will mean that we’ll never be without oil in our lamps, and that door to our heavenly mansion will always be open for us.