Monday, November 10, 2008

Stewardship Is Watching and Waiting

Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Commitment Sunday
November 9, 2008
Matthew 25:1-13

One of the reasons it’s hard to listen to a stewardship sermon is because you think you know what you’re going to hear. We know what stewardship is, what new or challenging thing can we hear about it? If we hear the same old thing, that everything we have is from God and we give back to Him out of thanks, how motivated will we really be for giving to God and making godly use of our time and talents?

As you might expect, Jesus has some things to teach about stewardship. In the parable He tells in the Gospel reading He shows us what stewardship is. Stewardship is watching and waiting. A steward of God watches. A steward waits.

Our natural reaction in talking about stewardship is what we must do. How much should I give for my offering? How much time have I put in in serving in the church? How have I used my talents to serve in the church? But too often we’re left with a lot of talk about sanctification and stewardship and very little talk about Christ. He might simply be an afterthought. We know He has saved us—do we feel we need to move beyond that to what we must do, how we should live?

The antidote to this is Christ. Not just talk about Christ—Christ. Christ is our life. He is our salvation and He is our life. In the parable we don’t just learn how we are to be good stewards. We don’t just learn how to live in a godly way. We receive Christ in this parable.

It’s apparent that Jesus is the Bridegroom of the parable. He’s the one the virgins are waiting for. He’s the main one. He’s the one coming so that the party can get into full swing. So how do we get from needing Christ as our sole hope for sanctification and godly stewardship to that actually happening? How does Christ as the Bridegroom actually help us here?

We shouldn’t be focusing on those virgins, but on the Bridegroom. What happened to Him? He was delayed. Why was He delayed? Because He was waiting. Why was He waiting? Because in His waiting He is instilling in us faith. In His waiting He is strengthening that very faith.

We naturally look at the virgins and say, How is it that they are, so that we may learn how we are to be, what we are to do? But this is the problem, we get in the way. This parable, as all the parables are, is about Christ. And not simply about Christ, but delivering Christ to us. If we’re going to talk about sanctification and stewardship, where will it go? Whatever you give as an offering, should you give more? Whatever time you spend serving others, you should spend more? The problem with this way of thinking is that it is all about you. But the parable of the Ten Virgins is not about the virgins but about the Bridegroom. He’s the one they’re waiting for. He’s the one who’s coming. He’s the one that’s at the center of the action. How He impacts them is what is at issue.

Jesus never tells us what to do and then leaves us to it. He is no Master who commands and wields a punishing rod when we slip up. He is rather the Master who upon commanding us then stoops down to serve us. No doubt Jesus was disappointed in the disciples as they couldn’t keep their eyes open in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before He would be arrested. But Jesus doesn’t ream them out. Rather, He serves. He accomplishes what they could not. He stays awake. He watches and waits. He prays. He bends His will to His Heavenly Father’s will.

We are not to learn to watch and wait from the five wise virgins. But from Christ. And not even simply to learn. Isn’t Christ in the parable proclaiming Himself to us? And in that proclamation aren’t we becoming like Christ? Isn’t the only way we can bend our will to our Heavenly Father’s through receiving a new will in Christ? Isn’t the only way we would live as Christ would have us live through being formed as a new creation in Christ?

The way of the five wise virgins is the way of faith. They lived by faith. They waited. In the same way the disciples fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane, even when the wise virgins fell asleep, they were sustained in their faith that the Bridegroom would come. Just as the Garden of Gethsemane was not about the disciples but about Christ, the parable of the Virgins is not about them but about the Bridegroom. Even when He delayed His return, they were ready with their lamps and extra oil. The problem is not that He is delaying, but with being unprepared for it. Everything is bound up in the delay. The reason the virgins have to wait is because the Bridegroom is waiting to come back. All the virgins were the same in that they were expecting the Bridegroom. But the five who were foolish were different in that they didn’t expect there to be a delay. If He’s going to come back, why would He delay? So when Jesus Himself delays He teaches us that we are to watch and wait.

Not taking the oil is as if to say, Okay, Jesus, come on back, I’m ready. But you’re not ready. You’re not ready because you want Him back on your own terms, not on His terms. That’s why He makes you wait. It seems foolish to take the oil. Why would you need it? He’s coming back, don’t you trust that He’ll do so? And if He does, it only stands to reason that it will be soon, why would He delay?

But the faith is in the bringing of the oil. Trusting that He will return even if it’s much longer than was expected. That there’s purpose in His delaying things. That it’s actually for good. There was time before to get oil to bring along. But instead of taking the time to do that, the foolish ones just went. Then, when they realize they need more oil, they spring into action. At this point, it’s too late.

When the people jeered Noah for building a huge boat when there was no rain in sight, let alone any kind of storm or flood so that it could actually float, Noah simply watched and waited. God delayed His action, but Noah kept the faith. When the fateful day came, he and his family entered the ark and the door was shut. No one else could come in and they were lost. In the same way, the five foolish virgins were shut out of the wedding feast and were lost.

Watching and waiting is the life of the Christian. The Christian lives by faith, not by what he must or must not do. He lives by faith because Christ has been born in him and is alive in him. The Christian has life in Christ and lives by Christ. Watching and waiting.

Like the child in Confirmation Class who can’t see the purpose for going over and over the Catechism in order to memorize it but who sticks with it because the Holy Spirit is working through that memorizing to produce understanding and strengthen faith. Watching… Waiting… The Christian faith isn’t grasped in a simple way, in a short period of time. It’s a laborious process of memorizing, learning, growing.

Like the Christian who is spending every spare moment caring for her elderly mother who is getting to the point of needing to be on life support. So much energy is spent on alleviating her pain, trying to make her comfortable, strumming up encouragement to fend off despair, wondering and praying what good God is bringing out of this. Watching… Waiting… Struggling with coming to terms that God’s blessings often come through struggles.

Like the man who is finding it hard to trust God when the economy is hitting him hard and thus his family. Waiting and watching, praying to God that He’ll get him through, that he’ll be able to take care of his family. Believing, but praying in his unbelief that man does not live by bread alone but by the very Word of God.

Like the Christian who does what Christians always do, praying for our government; praying for our leaders. Watching and waiting. Content to continue to serve our society in the various vocations God has called us to. Patiently dispensing with illusions that we Christians can change society to be godly and God-fearing, where life is cherished from the womb to the death bed. Rejoicing in the call to continue with the one message that has always been true and that goes beyond the issues we face as a society. The Gospel changes people’s hearts—including ours—not policies.

Stewardship is not about how much money you put in the offering plate. You can always give more, or be expected to give more. You’ll always be encouraged or guilted into putting more time into helping others. Stewardship is not those things. Those things come out of watching and waiting. Stewardship is patience, believing that Christ will come to you and in His own good and gracious time. Stewardship is rejoicing that His delay doesn’t mean He doesn’t care but that He instills in us a reliance on Him through His coming to us in His Word and Sacraments. Our Lord is delaying in coming again in glory, but there is no delay in coming with His forgiveness in His Word and His Holy Supper. It is good to wait on the Lord. To watch and wait and rejoice in His serving us and giving us salvation. Amen.


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