It's Getting Late

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  November 12, 2017

Read Matthew 25:1 – 13  
 
Just one week ago, I stood in this pulpit and preached as I do on most Sundays.  After the sermon, we shared in the Communion table as we do every Sunday.  And after the postlude, folks hung around and talked for a while on a variety of topics, just as we do on any given Sunday.
 
But last Sunday was not just any given Sunday.  Because by the time most of us returned to our homes, we had heard about the horrific shooting that took place at a small church in a small town, not so unlike ours, First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.
 
A town whose population is estimated at about 650.  Keep in mind, recent estimates indicate Novelty has a population of around 5,200.   So, if you think that Novelty is a small town, Sutherland Springs is a very, very small town in comparison.
 
The average attendance at services at First Baptist Church is estimated to be about 50.  And on last Sunday, a gunman opened fire and killed 26 people, one of whom was a pregnant mother, and wounded 20 others.
 
It is hard to fathom how a congregation gathers for worship on a Sunday morning only to become the victims of what has been determined to be the deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship in United States history.
 
I have often said that tomorrow is not promised to any of us and there is no guarantee about today either.  But to think about coming into the House of the Lord and being gunned down.  It just doesn’t seem possible.
 
And yet, it happened. 
 
What took place in that small church in that small-town ought to be a wakeup call for all of us.  It is incumbent upon us to stay alert because we do not know when our time will come. 
 
The scriptures tell us that no one knows the day nor the hour when Jesus will return but let me encourage us all – IT’S GETTING LATE.
 
If we look at our New Testament lesson, Jesus used the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, also known as the Parable of the Ten Virgins, as a way to illustrate what it means to be ready for His return and how we ought to live until He comes. 
 
It is the first in a trio of parables or teachings that Matthew records just after Jesus was explaining to the disciples about His return and the need for them to be watchful. 
 
This Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is followed the Parable of the Talents which is then followed by the teaching about the Sheep and the Goats. 
 
The story of the Ten Bridesmaids or Ten Virgins, in a nutshell, is a reminder that each of us is responsible for our own spiritual condition --that spiritual preparation is not something that can be bought or borrowed from someone else at the last minute.
 
So, let’s take a closer look at the text. 
 
In biblical times, when a couple was married, the wedding ceremony took place at the home of the bride.  Following the ceremony, the bride and groom, along with a great procession, would return to the groom’s house where the wedding feast or banquet took place, and often lasted for a full week.
 
And so, in this parable, the ten virgins were waiting to join the procession with the hope of taking part in the wedding banquet.  But when the groom didn’t show up at the time that they expected him to come, the women fell asleep.
 
It was some time in the middle of the night when the cry went out that the groom was coming, and the women got up and began to get their lamps ready, so they could join the procession and have enough light to travel by. 
 
But only five of them had brought enough oil to last for what ended up being a rather long wait.  The other five were caught short-handed and tried to convince their companions to loan them some of their oil.
 
But the wise women told them they could not afford to give them any oil, lest they not have enough for themselves.  So, the foolish women went out to buy more oil; however, by the time they returned, the groom had come, the procession had departed and the doors to the groom’s home were locked tight.
 
So, when the foolish women made their way to the groom’s house and tried to gain entrance into the banquet, they were turned away. 
 
And after telling them this parable, Jesus cautioned His disciples to keep watch because they did not know the day nor the hour, when He would return.
 
And the fact of the matter is, neither do we.  People have tried for years to pinpoint the exact day and time when Jesus will return and so far, without exception, they have all been wrong.
 
Which for some people is a really good thing because that means there is still time for them to get their spiritual houses in order; but let me issue this word of warning – IT’S GETTING LATE.
 
There are some people who think that they have all the time in the world to get their affairs in order, so to speak.  They have heard and read about God, they have attended services and listened to some sermons and they believe that they have done good and been a nice person throughout their lives. 
 
But they have never taken that step toward salvation, accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. 
 
They think that maybe one day, just not today
 
They are not ready to commit their lives to Christ.  Perhaps because they feel like there are some things that they are not willing to give up; or perhaps they don’t believe they are in need of a Savior; or perhaps they don’t feel they are worthy of having a Savior.
 
They may believe that they have to get their lives in order first and then they will be ready to give their lives to Christ.  But they have it backward.  When we surrender our lives to the Lord, then the Lord will help us to get our lives in order.
 
That is why our role as the church, the body of believers, is to tell the world about Jesus and about God’s grace which makes it possible for us to receive the gift of salvation when we truly undeserving.  And that is the very definition of grace – God’s unmerited favor.
 
It’s not about anything we have done to earn it.  It’s all about God loving us so much that He gave us His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
 
But we have got to get the message out, now more than ever, because IT’S GETTING LATE!
 
In fact, if we were to back up one chapter in Matthew’s Gospel to chapter 24, we would read these words of Jesus:
 
But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father knows.  The Arrival of the Son of Man will take place in times like Noah’s. Before the great flood everyone was carrying on as usual, having a good time right up to the day Noah boarded the ark. They knew nothing—until the flood hit and swept everything away. The Son of Man’s Arrival will be like that: Two men will be working in the field—one will be taken, one left behind; two women will be grinding at the mill—one will be taken, one left behind. So stay awake, alert. You have no idea what day your Master will show up. But you do know this: You know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that. You have no idea when the Son of Man is going to show up(Matt. 24:36-44, MSG)
 
Recent events should serve as proof positive that IT’S GETTING LATE. 
 
So then how should we live in light of this text and in light of what took place last week in a small community church, and the week before that on a bike path in New York City, and four weeks before that at a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada?
 
Do we live in fear and trepidation?
 
No, we live with a confident assurance and hope in God. 
 
The Apostle Paul told his young protégé, Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
 
And the Psalmist David had this to say about it in Psalm 27 (1 – 4):
“The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?  When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.  Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.  One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”
 
The scriptures are laced throughout with constant reminders that we do not need to live in fear when we live in the shelter of God’s love and protection.
 
In fact, there are purported to be 366 “fear not” or “do not be afraid” verses within the Bible.  That’s one for every day of the year, including Leap Year.
 
But, Rev. Heidi, with everything that is going on in this world, how can we honestly NOT live in fear?  How can we face these days of uncertainty and not be afraid of what could happen at any given moment?
 
By choosing not to give in to fear and choosing to live in faith.
 
Faith in the One who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. 
 
Faith in the One who fully understands that “in this life [we] will have tribulation” but who tells us to “take heart for [He has] overcome the world” (John 16:33).
 
Faith in the One who tells us, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) and who did just that, laid down His life for each and every one of us.
 
And faith that the Word of God and the promises of God are true.  They have always been true and will always be true, from now and throughout eternity.
 
Now the truth is, the members of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and the surrounding communities will never be the same.  Their lives have been forever changed by the tragic events that took place just one week ago in the middle of worship.
 
And according to their pastor, Frank Pomeroy, they will never worship in that space again.  The plans are to demolish the building where the shootings took place because it would be too painful for the members to return there.  The plan is to create a memorial at the site of the current building and build a new worship centr on other property that the church owns.
 
But in spite of the building being torn down – the church itself is not being demolished…
 
The church, the body of believers, will continue to live on.  The place where they meet may be different, but the church remains. 
 
That is because they have the hope and assurance of a living Savior who promises to see them through even this horrific tragedy.  That is what will allow the church to survive.
 
Because of the blessed assurance that the pastor and people have, in spite of the loss of life and the critical injuries that so many of them sustained, the church – the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ will live on.
 
And we, too, have that blessed assurance that no matter what circumstances may come our way, we can persevere if we place our faith in Jesus.
 
And so, while it really is getting late, there is still time for us to let a dying world know about a living Savior, who offers us the hope and assurance that He will be with us always, even to the end of the age.
 
And if you believe that to be true and want to hold onto that hope, then won’t you stand now and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship, Blessed Assurance #543

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