Oil For Your Lamps

The following is posted with family permission.  May the Lord give to the family of Rosella Huether Mekvold and to all who mourn, comfort in their grief and a sure confidence in the Lord's loving care.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We really do not know the day or the hour, that is, we do not know the time of our death. Furthermore, we do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ second coming.  Like a six o’clock television weatherman, we can make guesses and predictions, but that is about the best that we can do when it comes to predicting the end of it all.
One thing is for sure though, there will be an end.  We will walk into the dark valley of death; we will meet the Lord face to face.  There will be an end to what we know in the here and now.
Therefore, there isn’t really a debate of whether or not there will be an end of it all, but the question of concern for each and every one of us to consider this afternoon, is this, “Am I ready?”
This is the key point of the Gospel reading from today.  Today’s Gospel reading is about a Groom coming for his Bride.  As the Groom comes for his Bride the question is brought up if the Bridesmaids (i.e., virgins) would be ready?  Ready for what; ready for the great celebration of marriage.  You see, according to ancient tradition the Groom would come for the Bride and the bridesmaids were to be ready with their torches and lamps so that they could light up the way to the great marriage festival.  Otherwise stated, the story that we read today brings up the question of whether or not the bridesmaids were ready.  Did they all have enough oil in their lamps; lamps that were intended to burn at midnight and light the way to the festivities?  Would these bridesmaids be ready to go to the marriage celebration?
It seems that the key feature in our Gospel reading is this idea of having enough oil.  If the bridesmaids had enough oil in their lamps, they were able to ignite their lamps and light up the way to the great festivities; however, the gals that did not have enough oil in their lamps, remained in darkness and were excluded from the great festival. 
With that said, I must ask each and every one of you, do you have enough oil for your lamp, so that your lamp of faith might be able to make it through the darkness of night to the great marriage celebration?  Keep in mind that a lamp certainly lives from the oil that is put into it, thus do you have enough oil stocked up to light up your faith through darkness to the great celebration, that is, the kingdom of heaven?
As we think of dear Rose, who is here before us, did and does she have enough oil to light the lamp of faith?  Did she and does she have enough oil in the flask to light the lamp of faith unto everlasting life?  Will the Groom find her waiting with a lamp burning?
There is no doubt about it that these questions surely bring about unsettledness in each and every one of us, as it should.  This Gospel story that Jesus shares with us is intended to most certainly rattle our cages a bit and to sober us up.  This Gospel reading is intended to make us ask, “Is my lamp burning bright enough?  Is my faith strong enough?  Will my light burn lively enough in this life and will it burn as I enter the dark valley of death?  Do I have enough oil?  If not, how do I get more oil?”
Considering this Gospel story today, at this funeral, certainly does cause us to ask sobering questions about ourselves and even dear Rose.
Consider for a moment the implications of this story.  If the lamp lives from the oil that is put into it, all our questions and anxieties may be resolved if we can just figure out how to obtain and secure for ourselves enough oil.   Yes, that makes perfect sense.  If we have enough oil, we can keep the lamp full and keep it burning brightly and thus we will not have to worry about missing out on the great marriage festival when the Groom comes for us, that is, when Jesus comes again. 
But this brings about a whole new set of problems.  What on earth does the oil represent and how do we obtain this oil? 
Dear friends, this oil represents the Lord’s Word of grace and the forgiveness of sins.  For the Lord’s Word of grace and the forgiveness of sin is what creates and kindles faith in each and every one of us.  Faith burns brightly when the Word of grace and the forgiveness of sins are poured out upon us and into us.  It is what we truly need to be spiritually alive. 
Thus, if this Word of grace and the forgiveness of sins is what is truly needed for the lamp of faith to burn brightly; if the Word of grace and the forgiveness of sins is what is truly needed to light the way to the marriage feast, how can one be sure that they have the oil, let alone have enough?  How can one be sure that they have enough grace and forgiveness?
I suppose one could attempt to do all sorts of moral and upright ethical actions hoping that these good works could be exchanged for oil.  Maybe one’s good works could be used to barter for oil.  However, how many good works are needed and what quality of good works are needed to obtain oil?  Can there ever be assurance that one has conjured up enough good works to obtain enough oil?
I suppose one could plummet to the depths of their soul and attempt to somehow pray and meditate in a pious fashion so as to supernaturally tap into a reservoir of oil.  However, how many prayers and what kind of mystical experiences would one have to conjure up so as to obtain enough oil?
I suppose one could attempt to intellectual and analytically regulate the lamp; maybe one could create an energy efficient lamp by monitoring the amount of light that burns while rationing what oil is within one’s possessions.  However, this again puts all the pressure on mankind to manage the oil and the lamp. It puts mankind’s eternal destiny in his hands.
What is our answer and solution to this situation? 
I believe that our answer and solution is found right before us in Rose, yes Rose, one of the bridesmaids.  You see Rose, like the bridesmaids in our Gospel reading, had flasks oil.  Indeed, our Gospel reading states that the wise bridesmaids had flasks or we could say jars of oil.  Yes, they had jars of oil. The same is true for Rose. 
But how did Rose come about these jars of oil? 
Rose’s jars of oil were not obtained as a result of her receiving more oil because her lamp flickered more brightly than yours.  Rose’s jars of oil were not a result of her being able to obtain oil through secret mystical experiences.  These jars of oil were not a result of her being able to intellectually ration and monitor the flame and oil.  No, my friends, Rose did not earn or obtain these jars of oil—this grace, mercy, and forgiveness—by anything that she did.
But you may say, “How on earth did she receive so much oil?”
Dear friends, Rose received this oil the same way that you receive this oil.  She received this gracious-merciful-loving-forgiveness of sins as gift. 
As you look at Rose’s coffin, it is covered by a pall, a white garment.  This white garment reminds you and me that she as a sinner who was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  At her baptism, the Lord flooded her with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  All as pure gift.  At her baptism, the Lord wrapped her in a robe of righteousness, His righteousness.  At her baptism He lavished oil upon her by joining Himself to her.    
Rose also received oil as the Lord God proclaimed His precious, powerful, and mighty Word into her ear canals, into her ear drums, to the brain and to her heart; words that kindled and created faith.  “Rose, dear Rose, you are my beloved.  I have died for you; I have redeemed you, and made you my own.  My cross is proof of my grace for you and my resurrection is proof of your future resurrection.”
Rose also received this oil, this forgiveness and grace this past week as the body and blood of Christ was placed upon her tongue, poured into her mouth—digested and received.  “Take and eat; take and drink Rose, this is my body and blood given for you for the remission of all of your sins.”
Dear friends, the focus is not on the brightness of the flame that you or Rose kindles by your own strength, but rather it is the oil that is delivered to you from our gracious and merciful Lord, oil that burns brightly!
Like Rose, you who have been baptized, have received and continue to receive oil.  Your baptism remains, the Lord’s name is upon you, and He has joined Himself to you.  You are forgiven.  You are washed.  You are filled.  Oil is upon you and upon your hearts as gift. 
Like Rose, you who have ears hear the Word of God.  God’s mercy, grace, forgiveness—this oil—is totally undeserved.  When you and I were still lost in our sins and an enemy of God, He sent His Son to save you and me.  “Although [we] have not treated His Word as [we] should, His love for you is true and unwavering. This sweet love sacrificed all, as God took human flesh with all its pain and tribulation.  He bore your sins up to Calvary, and suffered the worst agony possible — so great was His love.  He sealed His love by turning death into life for you on Easter.”[1]
The pure Word of grace is before you now and delivers the benefits of the cross to you.  “The Word has driven you to faith, and keeps you in repentance.  The Word has filled you with the Spirit, and given you an eternal inheritance.  The Word has set your life in order, by canceling all your debts and making every moment of your life right in God's eyes.”[2]
“All this is the effect of the Mighty Blood of Atonement that Christ has shed for you.  The perfect love of God for you is His Son, dying for your sins.  That crucified and bleeding love, [this oil] is what makes you ready for the Judgment.”[3]
Dear friends, “You should have been rejected by God.  His holy Word should have been removed from each stubborn and rebellious heart that lacked true reverence.  But He has not done that.  He accomplished your full salvation in the work of His Son, and delivered [this grace, this forgiveness, and this oil] to you freely through His Spirit.  He did not wait for [you to ignite this flame on the lamp first, but came to you first.]  He came to you and freely gave you what you could not accomplish,”[4] He came to not only give you oil but to light your lamp of faith.  And what makes this so profound is that He considered it all worthwhile.
My friends, look upon Jesus and His gifts to you.  There you have oil for your lamps; oil that is for you as gift.  It is yours; it is Rose’s.  Thus, you are ready for the great festival as Rose is.  Resting and waiting for the Groom to come, resting with jars upon jars of oil.  Resting knowing that the great festival is for you as it surely is for Rose as well.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Andrew Eckert. “Why be unprepared?” (23 November 2008) http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=1108 (21 October 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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