Monday, November 27, 2006


(wma audio link)

The Reign of God, when it comes upon the earth at last, will be like ten ladies in waiting, who, when they went to meet the King as he returned from a long journey, took with them lamps to light the way. But five of these ladies, who were waiting for the King, who believed the King would come, were fools. They took no oil with them to fill their lamps. The wise, however, knew they would need oil, and so they prepared.

Now the King was delayed, or so it seemed, and the ladies were forced to wait. All of them became tired. All of them feel asleep. But at midnight a cry rang out! “He is here! He has come! Quickly, out to meet him!”

All of the ladies as one arose. And it was then that the fools saw the end of their foolishness. So they turned to the others: “Give us some of your oil. Please share with us what you have, so that we may light our lamps too.” “Alas,” replied the children of Wisdom, “we have not enough. This oil cannot be shared that way. You must go and buy it for yourselves.”

So off ran the fools in a flurried rush, hastening, at midnight, to try and buy oil for their lamps But while they were out, the King returned and entered into his Fortress where a great Feast was to be had, forever. And the door was shut, and locked.

Then the foolish ladies came back…did they have oil? I don’t know but they came and cried, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But the King from within his Kingdom answered them, “Truly, I do not know you.”

Then Jesus said, Watch, for you do not know the day or the hour.

He will come. If you don’t know that by now, then you either haven’t been listening for the last few weeks, or you simply don’t believe it. It’s all over the Scriptures. It’s the point of the Scriptures. The Bible has many truths. Morality, lessons, wisdom. But all of it is as dust and ashes without the fulfillment. We search the Scriptures because we believe that in them we can find life: and indeed, we can, but it is they that bear witness to Him, to the fact that he will come again.

That is what we remember today. This feast, to be had here, is the same feast that we will have with the King when he takes us into his Kingdom. It is the feast come early, the end of time breaking into the now, the perfection of what will be making us a part of itself even before it has come. Last Wednesday night I belabored that point a bit much with my words and a few technical difficulties. Today, I want it to be simple and plain. Today is the Feast of Thanksgiving. Today we take the Eucharist and look forward to fulfillment. Today is Christmas and Easter wrapped up into one, the day we still wait for and yet the day that is already here.

From here then, from today, we look forward and back to Christmas. It’s coming. And the blue of our Advent will lead us to the Christ child in the manger. We will remember that the day of Judgment will bring not only wrath upon evil, but also that same infant holy, that infant lowly, who was born in a cattle stall in order to sit on the throne prepared for him from the foundation of the world where he will be a generous, good and loving King.

Yet, our parable, the parable of the ten virgins, is clear that not all who look for the coming of the King will enter the Kingdom. Five were fools and five were wise. That’s half. Five had oil, and five did not. That’s half.

None of them were perfect. They each became drowsy and slept. They each failed to watch as they should have watched. They each needed to be wakened with a Word from outside themselves. And yet, once they were waked, five were fools, and five were wise. Five had oil, and five did not.

So where is the oil? What is the oil? That is the secret of this parable, and, to be brutally honest, the text itself never tells us. But Scripture does. In the old testament, in the covenant that the people Israel had with our God before Christ came, there was a command from the Lord to keep a lamp filled with oil perpetually burning every night in the holy place of his tabernacle, his tent, where the ark of the covenant, the next best thing to the incarnation, was set to rest. The lampstand in the holy place was there as a testimony of the very real presence of God, and priests were employed to keep an eye on it all the time, lest it go out, for this was a statute forever, according to that covenant. It was a literal manifestion of God to his people – one of several old testament sacraments, if you will. And you wouldn’t believe the kind of care and precision that went into this lampstand, from the special crafting of seven hollow shafts, beaten into acorns and blossoms, all from one piece of highly refined gold, to the highly arduous task to collecting the purest, uncrushed olive oil for fuel. It was brutal because it was holy, and it was holy because it was a sacrament of God. It was God himself manifesting himself to his people, a lamp for their feet to see his covenant of grace and light for their path, to see the reality of his eternal presence in that ark of the covenant at the center.

But the Scripture isn’t done speaking about this lamp after Leviticus. Consider the book of Revelation, the Apocalypse of St. John. To read Revelation without the Old Testament is like eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches without peanut butter. And you’ll see this immediately, for when John is first carried in the spirit into the presence of God, in the first chapters of his writing, he sees, in that holy place in heaven…can you guess? golden lamp. You see the old testament temple with its sevenfold lamp was a shadow of something bigger, something more real than even itself. And there, in the midst of these lamps in heaven, John saw the real ark of the covenant, the real dwelling of God with his people. There, at the center, he saw his Lord Jesus Christ. Crazy.

But, wait, there is more. Let’s not forget the prophet Zechariah’s vision where he learns the answer to our question about the oil. For he saw a lampstand in heaven all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, (sound familiar?). And there were two olive trees by it, one on the right and one on the left, representing the oil for the lamps. And he said to the angel who talked with him, "What are these, my lord?" Then the angel answered and said, "This is the word of the Lord: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit.

All right then…we’re getting somewhere now. The ladies arise, and they need their lamps, their light, the presence of God active in their life as they go to meet the coming King. Five had the Spirit, and five did not. They thought they did. They, in fact, had. But they did no longer. It had been choked out, rooted out, slept out…they had quenched the one thing needful.

What about you? Do you have the Spirit? – probably, or you wouldn’t still be here. Will you have the Spirit on the day that it matters? Ahh…now that’s a more frightening question. Answer “yes.” Go ahead. Because then I’m going to ask you, “why?” And “how do you know?”

Because if it is clear from the Scriptures that the lamps are the Life given by God and the oil is the Spirit who is also given by God, then I’m really curious to learn how you can be assured that you will continue to have these things? What can you do to make certain God keeps giving you things only he can give? Can you set your face towards discipleship, and make a resolution and a decision and tell yourself, “from now on I will live as if I am watching for Christ and I will never fail, and therefore, God, you will give me your spirit! I claim it. I call it down. I demand you hold your word to me based on what I have done!”

That kind of “word of power” is preached in countless “Christian” churches across America this very morning.

But I tell you a mystery and it is overwhelming. You can’t do anything to make certain that you will have oil in your lamp. You can’t do anything to guarantee your own salvation. Be afraid. That’s good. It’s called the fear of God and it is, according to Scripture, the foundation of all wisdom.

You can’t do anything to put oil in your lamp. You can’t do anything to make certain you are a wise lady. Feel the fear? Feel helpless and lost? That fear, that helplessness, that is not by might, nor by power but by the Spirit. And I tell you, for salvation on that day, to wake to oil in your lamp, you lie completely at the mercy of God. But, friends, it is for that very reason that you will have oil in your lamp. It is for that very reason that you will have the Spirit on that Day when the cry of the archangel wakes you. And you can know this to be absolutely true I, the prophet of God in this place, sent in his stead and by his command, I am telling you that that’s what’s going to happen because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. You will have oil in your lamp. You can’t make it happen, but God’s Word promises that it will happen because your lamp is not you.

And here’s where we’ve got to rush back to Revelation. Listen:

As much as it is true that Israel, the lampstand of old and the Church, the lampstand of the new, are a light on a hill and a city for the nations and the brightly glowing community of proclamation of the presence of God in the now and forever and ever…as much as it is true that you and I are these people, and that it is truly our task and mission to vigorously make know this thing which has happened, this resurrection which will happen – nonetheless, and contrary to all reason and strength, in the face of all might and power – simply, purely by because of and in the Spirit – the reality is that there is no lamp apart from the Lord God Almighty Himself, for John tells us in chapter 21:23 We need no sun or moon, for the glory of God gives us light, and our lamp with that light is the Lamb of God.

The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is your lamp. This bread, this cup, our Christ is your lamp. You are the stand. The Spirit is the oil, and those foolish ladies without the Spirit held false christs. But you do not hold a false Christ and this is not by the will of your flesh or the will of man but by the working of God through his wonderous Word. And that word spoken, that Christ crucified, that Resurrection proclaim, that that light we walk under, all kings of the earth will submit to its glory, for he brings a new heavens and a new earth where no unclean thing, no fool, no scoffer can enter, but only those who have the lamp, that lamp who is always full of the holy Spirit because he and the Spirit are one, Triune in Godhead and one in Trinity. And you will carry that lamp, that lamb, into that city because you are one with him, even as he is one.

Listen: “Take. Eat. This is me.” It’s literal Jesus making you literal Jesus, and Jesus always is filled with the Spirit. This meal always fills with the Spirit.

So watch. You do not know the day or the hour. But you know the lamp. And when you wake at the end of time, he will be burning by your side, a light for your feet, a light for your path, taking you straight into the Kingdom, into the feast, into this feast fulfilled, forever.

Should I talk about the grass? The Word of the Lord: Rev. 22:5: The night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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