Being Ready Is a ‘Now’ Thing - Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 25:1-13
November 08, 2020

Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The church year is coming to a close. This fact occupies our attention today and for the next couple of weeks.

One of the things the church year does is provide a structure rooted in time that brings into focus many aspects of our Christian faith. With the church year coming to a close, we are taught that this world will come to a close when Christ returns. And when He returns He will raise the dead and establish the new creation that He has in store for you.

In light of this, certain themes arise, and Jesus teaches us about these things. One such theme is being ready.

The theme of being ready arises for a few reasons. First, we don’t want to miss out on being in on the feast. We don’t want to be like the five foolish maidens in Jesus’s parable today, who weren’t ready. The foolish maidens pounded on the door to be let in. But the doors to the feast were closed, and the bridegroom said from within, “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12).

Furthermore, there is the fact that we do not know the day nor the hour when Jesus will return again (Matthew 24:44). Jesus tells us this not so much in the sense that we should expect a long delay in His coming, but in the sense that it could be at any time. It is like both the Apostles Peter and Paul say, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10).

On the other hand, there is the fact that Christ’s coming has not come immediately. In Jesus parable to us today, He speaks of the bridegroom “being delayed” (Matthew 25:5). And the problem with delay is that it can lull us into a sort of negligence about things pertaining to God, Jesus, and God’s Word. A person could then mistakenly tell himself or herself: “If the end is delayed, then I don’t need to be too concerned about being ready for it. There will be time, when the time comes.”

We can now see something important come into view. It is this: being ready is a “now” thing.” If Jesus’s coming could be at any moment, then it could be now and so we need to be ready now. If Jesus’s coming is delayed, then the problem is that we think we can rely upon being ready when it happens, but neglect it up to that point. But this is not a good way to think about it. Even if Christ’s return is delayed, we need to be ready now.

I grew up in Minnesota, for the most part. When winter comes, it is well advised to have an emergency kit in the car, just in case. The emergency kit should have at least a hat and gloves and boots. It could also have a blanket and additional warm clothes. It could also be good to have a flashlight with fresh batteries and some food and water, just in case. This sort of thing may be a good idea around here too, especially this time of year.

Just in case of what? Just in case a storm arises and you slide off the road into the ditch and you have to spend the night in the car. Just in case it is going to get really cold and your car breaks down along the road and you have to spend the night in the car.

Here’s the thing. A storm or the cold or your car breaking down, or some other problem, could come at a time you don’t really expect. But then, you may also be counting on the forecast, which may suggest that the storm or the cold may not come for a few days, so you think it is delayed. And when you think it is delayed, you may think to yourself: “Oh, I’ll have time to get the emergency kit together, when the time comes. So don’t worry about it now.” But then the day comes, the storm comes all of sudden or the car breaks down, and it’s cold. But you haven’t thought about it, because you thought you had time.

Imagine that you are driving back from Minneapolis, Minnesota to New Ulm, Minnesota. You are driving in a snow storm. The visibility is poor. It is getting dark. Suddenly, there is a cow standing in the middle of the road. You swerve to avoid it, but you lose control on the slippery road. You slide off the road into the ditch, where there is a lot of snow piled up. You are stuck. There you are on the side of the road. You look into the back seat or the trunk, or wherever you would have put the emergency kit, and it is not there. Now you need it, but you don’t have it. You are not ready.

The fact that it could happen at any moment, and the fact of delay come together into a single reality. In light of that reality, the issue of being ready arises. Even though there is delay, being ready is a “now” thing, and it is always now, because the reality in which you need to be ready could arise at any time.

This is what Jesus is teaching in the parable today. The maidens needed to be ready when the bridegroom begins his marriage trek to the house of his wife, to lead her in a joyful procession to his own house. This was something that happened in the marriage rituals of Jesus’s day. The maidens would accompany the couple in the marriage procession, so the maidens needed to be ready; the procession could start at any moment. Then the procession was delayed. But the preparation was now, because when the procession finally got started, after the delay, there was no time to get ready.

So the wise maidens realized that the preparation is now. They were ready. The foolish maidens neglected the preparation. They were not ready for the procession at any time.

So Jesus’s teaching about His coming again involves two important things. It is about that being ready is always a “now” thing, not a “then” thing. And it is about what being ready means. We have talked about the “now” thing. Let’s talk about what being ready means.

If I plan to travel and I want to be ready for the potentialities, what do I need to do? The first thing I need to do is give being ready thought and attention. Giving it thought and attention involves taking the time to focus on the issues involved.

Next, let’s say I want to have some snack food and bottled water with me just in case I have to spend the night in a car in the winter time that is stuck in the ditch or broken down on the side of the road. Being prepared means I will need to go to the place where I can get the food and bottled water. I need to go to the store.

Imagine a person thinking that there will be food and water in the car when they need it, but they don’t go to the store to get it. Imagine someone thinking that they will have what they need to be prepared when they haven’t given it any thought; when they have neglected the issues involved and the teaching that speaks to the issues.

So it is important to give thought to the fact that one day, we will meet God face to face in finality, and that there are real issues involved. The first issue involved is realizing that one day we will meet God face to face in finality. This is such a foreign concept in our culture, but it is a basic assumption of our Christian faith.

And then there are issues of law and Gospel, of sin and grace, of justification, justification meaning that God finds me acceptable to Him by seeing me in Jesus and crediting to me all of Jesus’s righteousness. Wow! How wonderful is that. God does this as I believe and trust that He forgives me for Christ’s sake. And one of the issues of being ready to meet God is having a clear conscience as we are believing in His grace in Christ and doing what pleases Him out of such faith.

Often, scholars, pastors, or Christians, try to identify what being ready means in the parable Jesus speaks to us today. They rightly see that the issue in the parable of being ready to meet the bridegroom was having enough oil for the lamps. So being ready in the parable has to do with the oil. But what is the oil. Jesus gives us an important clue to this in the parable. The bridegroom says to the foolish maidens, who weren’t ready, “I do not know you” (Mat. 25:12). Having the oil is connected to being known by the bridegroom.

Now the knowing here involves more than just some sort of knowing on the part of the bridegroom that the maidens exist. This being known by the bridegroom also involves the maidens knowing the bridegroom. To be known by the bridegroom is to know him. To know him is to be known by Him (1 Corinthians 8:3).

This knowing and being known is a relationship, and it is a relationship that involves knowledge; it sure does. But it also involves trust, and love. To be ready means to know Jesus and be known by Him in a relationship of knowledge, trust, and love. In this knowing and being known, Jesus knows us and we know Him and trust Him and love Him. In this way, when He appears and calls, it is not a stranger that is appearing and calling, someone we don’t want to have anything to do with, someone whom we don’t already know and trust and love. No. It is someone we know and trust and love. So being ready, the oil we need, is to know Him.

So how do we know Jesus, and come to trust Him and love Him, which is also to say, that He comes to know us? Here is a profound grace of God. Though the being ready is really something Jesus and the Holy Spirit do, it is also something that we can do something about. We can do something about it because to know Jesus so as to trust Him and love Him takes place in and through Christ’s Word and Sacrament. In Christ’s Word Christ teaches us about Himself and speaks to us His grace of forgiveness and gift of life so that we may trust Him and love Him. In the Sacrament of His body and blood, Christ feeds us with His body and blood in the bread and wine to assure us that He won our forgiveness and lives again. In this way He teaches us to know Him, and trust and love Him.

In His Word, we learn law and Gospel, we learn our need for forgiveness by which we have confidence at Christ’s appearing; we learn what pleases God, so faith knows how to live; we learn of our Savior’s sacrificial love for us, by which He woos us to be His bride. In Christ’s Word and Sacrament, our hearts are taught to continually be assured of God’s unfailing and unquenchable love and grace and faithfulness. In His Word and Sacrament Jesus feeds us with Himself, and ministers to us with the very means by which He won our redemption to make us ready; His true body and blood. In His word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirt is given and is at work so that we know Jesus in knowledge, trust, and love. This is all to say that it is Jesus and the Holy Spirit that make us ready, and they do this through the ministry and teaching of Christ’s word and Sacrament.

This is such a great blessing, because then we know where to go to find Christ’s Word and Sacrament, the way He makes us ready. Christ assures us that as we go there, where His Word and Sacrament are, that is in the Scriptures and in the church that is faithful to the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is working repentance and faith in you through God’s word so that you know Jesus in knowledge, trust, and love and are known by Him.  

So let us remain steadfast in being engaged in Christ’s Word and Sacrament in sincerity and faith. That way we will know Him and be ready to meet Him. Then He will not say to you, “I do not know you.” Rather, He will say to you, “Come blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). And the door will be open and we will enter the feast. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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