Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
November8, 2020 Worship Sermon - "The Door"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Amos 5:18-24: Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
“The bridegroom came and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet and the door was shut.”
As I meditated on that shut door in our Gospel reading, it was hard not to think of the ballot count that was taking place in Pennsylvania and around the country. At what point should we shut the door on counting additional ballots and call a winner? For good reason, people did not want to close the door prematurely and exclude legitimate voters. And we knew that, regardless of who won the election, some people were going to feel left out of the party.
Fortunately, this Gospel reading isn’t about American politics; it’s about God’s politics, or what Jesus called “The Kingdom of Heaven.” On second thought, maybe that’s not so fortunate. Let me explain what I mean.
If you’ve been with us on Sunday mornings during the past year as we’ve read through the Gospel of Matthew together, that image of the shut door might feel somewhat familiar to you by now. The Gospel of Matthew describes a very rigid boundary between those who are inside the Kingdom of God and those who are not. That’s not to say God is unmerciful. Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. He calls sinners to repent. God is merciful and opens the doors of the Kingdom in order to welcome sinners… up to a point. Beyond that point, there is judgment. The door into the Kingdom of God is shut and there is no more entering. It’s too late and those who are on the outside, who are not ready to enter the Kingdom of God, are lost.
I have to admit, that shut door is not an image that I am particularly drawn to. I’d rather think of God as merciful and forgiving… slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. I want that door to stay open forever.
But then again, a good solid door can be useful sometimes. On Thursday night, Pastor Myra called me to tell me that the door handle on our front door was broken and could not be locked. I was just sitting down to dinner and looking forward to a quiet evening at home. But the thought of our front door remaining unlocked through the night and the possibility that someone might try to come in and do something bad prevented me from relaxing. Fortunately, all I had to do was tighten a screw on the door handle and I could go home and relax knowing that the front door was locked and the church was safe.
A shut door can be helpful sometimes. Shutting the door on evil is a part of the hope we have in God. If humanity is ever to experience the justice and the freedom from oppression that God promises, then there will have to be some kind of judgment. Evil will need to be restrained so that goodness can prosper. Otherwise, violence and abuse and oppression will continue to afflict human life and the Kingdom of God won’t look a bit different than the kingdoms of this world. Yes, I want God to shut the door on evil.
But even as I say that, the words of Amos echo in my ears: “Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want that day of the Lord? Is not the day of the Lord darkness and gloom with no brightness in it?”
Part of the reason the shut door is such an uncomfortable image for me is that I always worry that I’m going to be stuck on the outside. How much oil will I need to get into the wedding banquet? Even if I’m wise enough to bring some extra oil with me while I wait for the bridegroom, what if it’s not enough?
Almost every commentary I have read on this passage says that oil is good works. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” The good works that we do in Jesus’ name reveal the light of Christ shining through us, shining through us to reveal God’s justice and God’s mercy to a world that is shrouded in darkness. But again, if oil is good works, how do I know if I’ve done enough? Matthew doesn’t answer that question.
But here’s something: neither does Matthew tell us that the foolish bridesmaids were locked out of the wedding banquet because they lacked oil. No, they were locked out because when the bridegroom came they were nowhere to be found. Instead of running out to meet the bridegroom, they ran in the opposite direction. To them, it was more important to have their lights shining brightly than to meet the bridegroom and go with him into the feast. I guess they were hoping that at the last minute they might be able to get enough oil so that they could stand proud with their lamps burning when the bridegroom came. But by then it was too late. They missed the bridegroom.
I wonder what would have happened if the foolish bridesmaids had gone out empty-handed to meet the groom. Certainly, it would have been embarrassing for them. They would have to admit that they had spent their time foolishly while they were waiting for the groom. And the wedding banquet would have been less festive without the light from their lamps. But I wonder if they would have been excluded from the banquet.
I don’t know the answer to that question. The parable doesn’t deal with that scenario. But the parable does describe the foolishness of not going out to meet the bridegroom when he comes; and, with that in mind, it’s probably better to meet the bridegroom empty-handed than to not meet the bridegroom at all.
I guess what I am trying to say is this: part of being prepared to meet Christ is recognizing that we’re not prepared to meet Christ. None of us knows whether we have enough oil in our lamp to get us through to the Day of the Lord. So it would be wise for us to acknowledge our need. That’s why we confess our sins. When we come to meet Christ in this feast, we begin by acknowledging that we don’t have enough oil in our lamps. “We have not loved you with our whole heart,” we pray. “We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
Your lamp may be burning dimly or maybe not at all. But don’t let that stand in the way of your meeting Christ, because meeting Christ is what it is all about. In Thessalonians, Paul tells us that we will be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ and to be with him forever. Having your lamp burning brightly is important; but far more important is being with Christ, because he is our life… he is our salvation.
There is another place in the Bible where it talks about a closed door. This time, Jesus isn’t on the inside, but on the outside. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with them and they with me.” Yes, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is a God of judgment. God does shut the door in order to restrain evil. But at the same time, God stands at the door and knocks, because God’s desire is that no one should perish but that all might have life in Jesus Christ.
So come, enter into this wedding banquet. Let your lamps be refilled with the oil that was poured out upon you in Baptism… the Holy Spirit burning with divine love. Feast upon Jesus Christ so that his good works might shine through you and glorify your Father in heaven.