[Picture: Wise and Foolish Virgins, by William Blake]
Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Last Sunday after Trinity, 11/24/2019. The texts for the sermon were the day’s lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Last Sunday after Trinity, click here.
“Empty” is rarely a positive word. Just think about how you hear it or use it most:
Empty bank account
A sad list made longer by all of your personal empties.
Empty is the problem this morning, too. Half of the young ladies in Jesus’ parable have empty lamps. It’s a condition that makes the lamps useless, and the people holding them unrecognizable to the One who had invited them.
But why did it come to this? Why not just bring enough oil to keep their lamps burning, the way the others do?
The reason Jesus gives is simple enough: they were foolish. They did not love Wisdom, and so they did not believe the Bridegroom’s word.
To the foolish, the Bridegroom’s apparent delay means He isn’t coming. Maybe He lied; maybe He changed His mind; maybe the invitation was a fake. Whatever their foolish reason, they did not bring the oil because they did not think they would need it. They did not believe it was important or that it would matter. Which might make you wonder: Why go at all? And then, why stay?
It’s actually the same reason some people come to church. They go because their friends are going. And they stay because their friends are staying. They do this because it is expected of them; and they don’t want to look as foolish as they are. But they do not have faith. They do not believe. Though they stick around, they do so with lamps empty of the one thing they need.
The wise virgins aren’t better people than the foolish. They both fall asleep. They both fail to keep watch. But in His mercy, the Bridegroom sends a servant to cry out and warn them. He rouses them from their slumber, and repeats the invitation: “Here’s the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!”
But some don’t and some won’t. For the foolish five, the rest of their story is one of empty lamps, closed doors, and “I don’t know you.”
Upon hearing this, those gathered around naturally would have wondered: am I wise or am I foolish? How full is my lamp? How much faith do I have?
Is it enough to keep burning and keep shining? Is it enough to pierce through the darkness of this present night? Will it last until the Bridegroom comes to meet me?
They would have recognized that empty is a problem for them, too. How can they keep watch with no light? How can they be prepared?
How can you? You don’t know when He is coming. It could be today or tonight or tomorrow or Tuesday.
We are wrapping up the Church year and waiting for Christmas, even though Jesus may not be. How can you welcome the Bridegroom and enter the feast if your lamp is empty?
It’s a very simple problem. And it has an equally simple solution. The brilliant, Gospel remedy for empty is full. And God Himself does the filling from beginning to end. This is the whole story of Scripture.
For you, the empty void of Genesis 1 is filled with God’s “Let there be.” For you, an empty manger is filled with God’s Son. For you, that same Son, all grown up, fills an empty cross and a borrowed tomb. For you, an empty world is filled with the fire of Pentecost.
And to make sure that your own empty is made full, God does yet more. For you, empty water is filled with His Word and promise. For you, empty ears are filled with Jesus’ living voice, raising up living people. For you, empty hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit. For you, empty bread and empty wine are filled with Christ’s Body and Blood, that empty mouths would be filled with the fullness of God.
It’s so simple we never could have imagined it, that this is how Jesus fixes empty:
And full lamps…
A happy list that makes for a full, joyous, wedding feast.
That’s a wonderful reason for little John Henry to wear white on his baptism day, when God marks him as a child of the light, as St. Paul writes to the church. 1 Thessalonians 5:5 It’s a fantastic reason to plant a church in a Gospel-empty place; and to build a great big beautiful font that is always full and never empty. It’s even more than enough reason to craft and cast a brand-new chalice – one so brilliant on the outside that it is only outshined by what Jesus puts inside.
It won’t last, of course – that brilliant cup that we’re about to dedicate. Like this building and like all our stuff; in the way of gas tanks, fridges, and bank accounts, it won’t last.
When the Day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night 1 Thessalonians 5:2, and Jesus returns to steal you away, He’ll leave all of that behind, and even our magnificent chalice won’t last what is in store for this world.
But the promise inscribed upon it: “This is My Blood of the New Testament;” that will last. For the Word of the Lord endures forever. 1 Peter 1:25
But not just the Word of the Lord… You who have been filled by that Word will endure forever as well. You who have had your ears, hearts, and mouths filled at font, pulpit, and altar; yours is the new creation. Isaiah 65:17
Full of life and joy,
Empty of cemeteries and hospitals.
Full of rejoicing,
Empty of weeping,
Full of you,
Emptied of sin.
Do not lose heart or grow impatient. It is not only a matter of there and then; but here and now, as Christ comes to give you a foretaste of the feast to come. To make full the empty, filling the hungry with good things, as His mommy once said, Luke 1:53:
The Bridegroom is at Hand! Come out to meet Him.