Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost 2017

S. Pentecost 23.17 “It’s the oil, duh…!” Matt 25:1-13

You know it’s a great Gospel, one of the very best, because the greatest hymn ever written “Wake, Awake For Night Is Flying” is based on it. I wouldn’t want to say your taste in hymnody says everything about you, but it does say something, rather a lot, I would contend. This was one way, in the dark days of the 18th century, when orthodox Lutheran faith was everywhere in eclipse, overtaken by a dreary, materialistic rationalism (sure glad stuff like that doesn’t happen today!) that the real, genuine, hardcore Lutherans—who were like secret agents working behind enemy lines—could recognize each other with a passcode. One would ask: “The King of Chorales?” right response: “Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying!”; and to be really sure you weren’t messing with a double agent, the follow-up was: “The Queen?” “How Lovely Shines The Morning Star” (both by Philip Nicolai, a 16th century hardcore Lutheran). They knew how to write hymns back then that were athletic in both text and tune. A rare art, almost lost in these dark and latter days…

Why is this the greatest hymn ever written? Well, it captures the very heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, everything you want to need, in three lovely verses. The tune (also by Nicolai) has an irregular, but vibrant pulse, that doesn’t beat you over the head or coerce you, but pulls you along—a brisk tempo is essential! But it does so not with heavy-handed rationalistic or pietistic theology. You are not beaten over the head with dogmas of forensic righteousness, predestination, adiaphora, justification, even faith—such things are not mentioned. There is no argument, no apology for the truth of Jesus. There is no 1,2,3 “here is what you need to know and do to be saved”. Instead, Nicolai gives us a couple brief, vibrant images: we see watchmen, on a dark night, in a besieged city, backs to the wall, defeat all but certain, watching the night for any sliver of light, of hope, when—suddenly!—the cry comes: “Wake, awake, night is flying—awake, Jerusalem (the city we turn out to be in) arise!” The cry comes at midnight, the darkest hour, and the struggling few who hear rejoice and we see they are the virgins wise of this little story of Jesus!

“The Bridegroom comes, He’s here! Awake! Your lamps, with gladness take! All hail! Hosanna!” We feel the joy of the besieged city at the coming of the King: “she wakes, she rises from her gloom”. And with that brief image, one little word, all of the sorrow, the suffering, the loss, the hurt, the apostasy, the persecution, the cross and sword the Faithful Remnant have endured for centuries, for Christ’s sake, is seen, felt. But only briefly—because it’s past like a nightmare you barely remember in the glorious light of a summer morning.

Now we see the Lord, the strong in grace, in truth victorious; and oh, our star is ris’n; our light is come. And we see (like something out of the Norse Edda) a wedding banquet, a royal castle, gathered nobles, the Feast of the Lamb, and we enter all, that wondrous hall, to eat the Supper at His call—like something out of the best parts of Lewis’ Narnia books (who was another Christian who thought in images and wonderful brief scenes like Nicolai of a better world, a vanished Kingdom, of the once and future King).

And we hear the song—that you can’t get out of your head! “Now let all the heavens adore Thee! Let saints and angels sing before Thee!” as if some angel gifted Nicolai with an echo, a hint, of that Tune. The majesty of it never leaves you, once you’ve heard it. And there, we see, through the eyes of saints, the City—“of one pearl each shining portal, where, joining with the choir immortal, we gather around Thy radiant throne. No eye has caught the light; no ear the echoed might, of Thy glory; yet there shall we, eternally, sing songs of praise and joy to Thee.”

There is no attempt here to capture what cannot be captured, to say more than Jesus has given us to say, to know things we cannot know. The vision is brief, the images arresting, but quickly fleeting. No eye has seen that light, no ear caught the echoed might of His Glory. So Nicolai does not even try to capture what cannot be caught by our words or thoughts. It is enough to get—for a fleeting instant—a bar of a Tune we have not yet heard; a glimpse of that Country we have not yet visited; a scent of that Flower we’ve never yet found. With these fleeting images, something catches in the heart, the mind, the spirit, all at once; we’re utterly lost and yet, also, completely found at the same instant. It’s the stab of what Lewis called “sehnsucht,” longing, joy that is the greatest delight and the biggest heartbreak—because it lasts only an instant and can be captured no better than a sunbeam…

St. Exupery once said: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work; but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea…” This is how Jesus, Nicolai do it! No bogging us down with work parties, plans, projects; just the briefest glimpse of the Kingdom we recognize as our lost home, that starts a yearning painful, yet delightful. Read C.S. Lewis’ little book “Surprised By Joy” if you want to learn more about IT from someone who, like Nicolai, actually gets it.

In the parable, Jesus tells us everything by explaining nothing. He shows us the Kingdom of Heaven is like this: 10 virgins go out to meet their bridegroom (it’s their own wedding they are attending). Five are wise. Five are foolish. What makes the difference? Their knowledge? Nope. Their faith? Nope. Their love for the bridegroom? Nope. Their passion for saving the lost? Uh… no. Outward beauty? Nope. Their tireless watching for Him? Nope, they all fall asleep! What makes the difference? It’s the oil, duh! That’s the only difference—yet, it makes all the difference! The five wise are wise because they have oil for their lamps. The five foolish are fools because they have no oil for their lamps…

Where did they get the oil? Jesus never says. What is the oil? Ah, He really never says that, but can’t you guess? Isn’t it obvious? What gives real light in this dark world? “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world…” Who said that? Oh yeah. Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus must be the oil that lights our lamps with Himself—right? Jesus is oil. Jesus is light. And it’s His “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” that gives it to you…

Notice: that no question is asked the virgins, about their works, morals, or religious knowledge. The ones shut out know all about the Lord! It’s not that they don’t know Him; they problem is He doesn’t know them, can’t see them as His. Now where are we told how we become known, remembered by Jesus? Uhm maybe this? “eat My Body, drink My Blood; do this “Into My Remembrance”…?

And we know that the Gift that gives light (that gives Jesus!) is the Word and Holy Spirit Who always come to us by Gospel and Sacraments. That gets put into you by the historic liturgy and preaching of the Church. Amos shows not just any worship we create will do—nah, only that which comes only from Jesus, knows nothing but Jesus and Him Crucified—only this is real worship, true Light. Only this fuels the yearning for the endless immensity of Christ’s Kingdom. In Thy Light we see Light. Even so, Lord Jesus, prepare us; even so Lord Jesus, come… Amen.


21 October 2018

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

8:30 Matins

11:00 Divine Service with Communion

9:45 Sunday School

Adult Bible Class with Pastor

Reformation Sunday – October 28 

Festival service at 8:30 & 11:00 DS w/Communion


Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.