A Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost

“The Seventh Petition,” preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Advance, NC, November 19, 2017

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

The seventh petition of The Lord’s Prayer asks God, “But deliver us from evil.”

The Small Catechism asks, “What does this mean?” Here is Luther’s answer:

“We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our heavenly Father would deliver us from every type of evil — whether it affects our bodies or souls, property or reputation — and at last, when our hour of death comes, would grant us a blessed end to our earthly lives, and graciously take us from this world of sorrow to himself in heaven.”

Let us pray… God of light and life, illuminate our lives with your Word and Spirit so that we may always be prepared for the coming of your Son. Grant that we may bear the light of your love to a world in need, that others may know of your justice and mercy, and themselves be ready for your breaking into the world anew; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I was a police chaplain, it usually wasn’t much fun riding along with officers and detectives during the daytime. But doing ride-alongs at night? That’s a different story. People lose their inhibitions after the sun goes down. That’s usually because nighttime is when they start drinking. Once some people start drinking, it isn’t long before they’re drunk and doing stupid things that they wouldn’t do during the day time.

In fact, Thursday will be a particularly busy time for police departments. On Thanksgiving Day, families will get together, and some of them, not wanting to be with their families, and will drink more than usual, which always ends up in a brawl with a family member, and a call to the police to come break it up. This evil is basic to societies all over the world.

Paul uses this image in our Second Reading today. He does so as a way to remind us how we ought to live the Christian life. The apostle tells us that we should be prepared folks, like five out of the ten virgins in our Gospel Reading from last Sunday—the five who had sufficient oil in their lamps as they waited for the bridegroom’s return. Those who have the oil of faith, as Jennifer explained it to us, will always live the prepared life. They are being delivered from evil every day—and will be delivered from the ultimate evils of death and the devil on that great and glorious day of the Lord.

But those who will not live lives of faith, who will not walk soberly in the light, preferring the darkness and its evils, cannot and will not be ready when the Lord, our Bridegroom, returns like a thief in their darkness. They are secure in their spiritual stupor; they are content in their ignorance. They imagine that all is well, that everything is as it ever has been; nothing ever changes and all is right enough with the world.

This is the same person who hides his talent in a dark hole in the ground. The Church is full of such souls. Instead of putting God’s gifts to work in his service, their lives are wasted, spent only in pursuing what they imagine profits themselves. But our Lord requires more of his servants. And as each and every believer is his servant, God gives us each talents, according to our abilities, expecting us to use them for a profit—for his profit, the profit of his kingdom.

These ancient talents were measures of silver or gold, and were no small sum to invest. A single talent of silver was equivalent to 15 to 20 years wages. Imagine spending 15 or 20 years of your life with nothing more to show for it than what was initially given to you. But that is precisely what so many—too many—do with the gifts God has given. That is a serious evil run amok in the Church.

Statistics show that 20% of folks do 80% of the work in just about any institution. The Church is not exempt from this 20/80 statistic. You don’t have to be told the common reply when a church member is asked to serve on a committee—let alone on Council. Now imagine that God calls to the mission field. How many go? Maybe 20%?

But it isn’t just serving on committees or answering a call to ministry. It used to be that 40% of a congregation’s membership could be expected to be regular in worship. It’s less than that now. Indeed, in my experience, many who serve on Church Councils only worship once a month or less. Yet they contend that they know how God would have them lead his Church.

Deliver us, O Lord, from this evil. Is this living the prepared life? Aren’t we concerned that these folks may be caught off-guard on that Day? We would be wise to expect more of folks before making them our leaders.

Indeed, Lord, deliver us from ourselves.

Christians are expected to be delivered from evil, as God has promised to “strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work that He has begun in them (Phil 1:6), if they cling to God’s Word, pray diligently, abide in God’s goodness, and faithfully use the gifts they received” (Formula of Concord).

But here is that same evil problem in the Church. How will God deliver us from evil, if we do not cling to his Word? If we hardly know it, how would we be much comforted? This is tantamount to crying, quoting Paul, “There is peace and security!” Those who have no need of a steady diet of God’s Word must be similar to those whom Jeremiah said insisted, “Peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14). If one does not need the constant reminder of God’s promises, he must be living in a dark land filled with this false peace. If one does not require the gracious uplift of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, she must be drunk on some other fare. If one does not believe in the fellowship of believers, the communion of saints, he must be carousing with some other sort of souls.

Let us hear with ringing—or if need be, jarring—clarity what Paul has admonished. “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” We are children of the light, expected to live lives filled with God’s grace, so that on that Day, we will not only not be caught unawares but, be glad for that day. For Christians are not to be slumbering dolts but wide awake, dressed in faith and love, and capped off with the confident hope of salvation.

So, I pray that your Thanksgiving this week will be full of fine times with family and feasting. Even more, I pray that all your days may be filled with faith, love, and the hope of salvation so that whenever the Day of the Lord might come, that you are prepared.

The Lord may return tomorrow or even before this service of worship concludes. Then again, the Day of the Lord could be in another 2,000 years. Like the Thessalonians, you don’t need to know when the Lord is returning. You’re ready when he does return. Your lamps are full. So, we can say with St. John the Revelator: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20).

“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen” (Rev 22:21).