November 22nd, 2009
The title of my message is “Give Me Oil in My Lamp!
The text is from the Gospel lesson—
1"Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.
Dearly loved by God;
Part 1: Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning!
As I read through this gospel lesson this week, a simple little song popped into my head the tune stuck with me all day long and brought back memories of long ago summer camps. Maybe you remember this same little song—
Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning
Give me oil in my lamp I pray
Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning
Burning, burning; Keep it burning till the light of day.
And, as that song went around in my head it occurred to me that we often make things more complicated than they really are. Take our gospel lesson for instance! Jesus’ parable, a simple story drawn from everyday life intended to illustrate an important lesson, is straightforward enough.
In this particular parable, the original listeners would immediately have understood that the ten virgins were the bridesmaids who were responsible for preparing the bride to meet the bridegroom.
Everybody knew that! It was common knowledge. Jesus uses this illustration of the bridegroom and the ten virgins as an example of the way in which the followers of Christ (the bridesmaids) are tasked with making sure that the Church (Christ’s bride) is ready to meet the bridegroom (Jesus) when he comes again. Not very complicated is it?
Everybody also knew that the custom of the time was for the bridegroom to go to the home of the bride’s father on the night of their marriage. Here, he would receive the father’s blessing and be given the daughter as a bride. The couple, attended by the bridesmaids, would then process to the bridegroom’s home for a marriage feast and celebration with family and friends.
So it is that Jesus uses this illustration to demonstrate that he will soon go to the Father’s house to receive the Father’s blessing and collect his bride (the Church) to enter into the marriage feast. While Jesus is away at the Father’s house, the bridesmaids (you and me) are charged with preparing the bride (the Church) for the marriage while watching for Jesus’ return to begin the marriage feast. Prepare and watch, again fairly simple!
We also learn from this parable that only half of the followers of Jesus will be ready when he returns. Only half will have done what was expected of them while he was at the Father’s house. Only the wise virgins will have prepared the Church for Christ’s return.
From this illustration it is stunning to learn that half of those who claim to be friends of the bride (the Church) will be totally unprepared when Christ returns. Their lamps will have gone out, they will not have oil; time will have run out and they will not to enter into the marriage feast. One half of all who claim to know Christ will not be acknowledged by Him! Just think about that for a moment!
We learn from Matthew 25 that there are dire consequences if we fail to prepare and watch. Quickly we realize how grim the consequences are: The unwise virgins (half of those who claim to be followers of Christ) are not allowed into the marriage feast, are not acknowledged by Christ, and the door to heaven is locked forever. Next, in the parable of the talents, the unfaithful steward who failed to use the gift given him by his master, who buried his talent in the ground, is thrown into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Finally, when the sheep are separated from the goats, when the true believers are separated from the pretenders, when the ones who actually did what was expected of them are separated from the ones who did nothing, the ones on the left, the goats, are cursed and thrown into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. If that doesn’t get your attention on this last Sunday of the church year, I don’t know what will! Christ’s message is simple and clear.
Let’s go back to where I started with that silly little song and see if we can make even more sense of this parable:
Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning,
Give me oil in my lamp I pray.
Part 2: Give me oil in my lamp I pray is good theology—
In this little prayer, we acknowledge that the oil comes from God to begin with and has nothing to do with what we’ve done. The oil in the parable represents the grace of God that is given to each believer in abundant measure. The oil represents the fullness of God’s mercy, of God’s compassion, and of God’s forgiveness.
Mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, received through the Word and Sacraments, keep our lamps burning brightly as we wait for the Christ’s return and there is never a shortage of oil. God’s grace is available to all.
The wise virgins represent those believers, who receive God’s grace at every opportunity; who have adequate oil in their lamps; who even have extra oil as they wait for his return. They will not run out. They are prepared!
The foolish virgins represent those who have professed Christ but then despise preaching and His word. Their lamps once burned brightly but now they have run out of oil and their lamps have gone out.
Think of all the people you know who once were active in faith, involved with the church, and committed to Christ but who are now inactive, uninvolved, and uncommitted. The oil of grace, God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness is always available but they have chosen not to avail themselves of it.
Part 3: Keep it burning till the light of day—
A burning lamp is the sign of an active faith; a faith that is involved and committed; a faith that keeps shining through until Christ comes again. When your lamp goes out darkness enters into your life, into the lives of those around you, and into your world.
The foolish virgins slipped into the darkness of sin because they ran out of oil. Without God’s continued mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, a great darkness upon us, not around us but inside of us. Jesus explains it like this—
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-24)
Great darkness surrounds you when the light of Christ, your lamp goes out! Maybe the words to this little song are important: ‘Give me oil for my lamp keep it burning, burning, burning; keep it burning till the light of day.”
It’s just when our sin is the darkest that Jesus comes to us with words of encouragement and hope—
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
"I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)
We never need stay in darkness. If there is something preventing you from receiving the oil of grace; God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, I urge you to receive it today, to put light back in your lamp, to have that extra measure of oil to see you through till the light of day. Your sin is forgiven and you are empowered to live a life of faith.
And, here’s something else to think about, Jesus tells us—
14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Reminds me of another little song—“This little gospel light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let shine all the time, let it shine. Put it under a basket, no, I’m gonna let it shine……………….” But that’s a sermon for another time!
Part 4: Burning lamps!
A final thought or two: a burning lamp equates to an active faith which leads to faith in action. Jesus could not be clear than he’s been in Matthew 25. The faithful steward invests what God has given them. It reaps a return for the Master. The good and faithful servant serves others and in doing so serves Christ himself.
John puts it this way, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:16-20)
James put it a different way: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (James 2:14-18)
Burning lamps, active faith, and faith in action! In last week’s gospel lesson Jesus reminded us that the darkness of despair closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned when our lamps go out, when the gospel is not shared in word and deed. But, when the gospel is shared, this is what we learn from Jesus—
35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And) the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
Mother Teresa, known for her great mercy and compassion, was asked after winning the Nobel Prize, “What is the gospel?” In front of the rich and famous, the world’s leaders, she humbly replied, “The gospel is written on your fingers?” With that she held up her hand and demonstrated, “You-Did-It-To-Me.” Mother Teresa added, “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it to the least of these. You-Did-It-To-Me!”
You did it to me! Together, as the Church we are committed to doing what needs to be done at home and abroad; proclaiming the gospel, forgiving sins, feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, sheltering the strangers, clothing the naked, treating the sick, and visiting the prisoners all on Christ’s behalf.
Through Christ and because of his gospel we are empowered to turn chaos into compassion, misery into mercy, darkness into light, and death into life. With lamps burning brightly, we are the Church, prepared as Christ’s bride, watching for His return, active in faith with our faith in action.
And, now, because this is LCMS World Relief and Human Care Sunday, let me take just a moment to thank you on behalf of our Synod. Over the years, I’ve seen many people living in darkness, without hope and helpless, first as a police officer, then as a missionary, then as a parish pastor, and now as the director of disaster response for LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Examples are our recent work together in: Fort Hood, TX, American Samoa, Eldora, IA, Baja California, Atlanta, GA, Sumatra, India, Alaska, the Phillipines, and in Beulah, ND.
Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and needy to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel. To let our light shine!
A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. Moments of mercy turn a lifetime of misery into a meaningful eternity! Listen again to those words and let them sink in: Moments of mercy turn a lifetime of misery into a meaningful eternity!
Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. No one ever need suffer again in the cold and dark of despair and sin, lost and alone. There is the shining light of the gospel as our lamps burn brightly!
Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning,
Give me oil in my lamp I pray,
Give me oil in my lamp, keep it burning, burning, burning,
Keep it burning till the light of day.
Let me close with the chorus to this little song:
Sing Hosannah, sing Hosannah
Sing Hosannah to the King of Kings
Sing Hosannah, sing Hosannah
Sing Hosannah to the King!
23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)