Avoid Last Minute Shopping
by Jack Wald | April 14th, 2019

Matthew 25:1-13

This morning we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. When will the parade come again? On Thursday some of us will share the Passover Seder meal together and at the end of that meal we remember the promise of Jesus to return and say, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

When will he return? The disciples of Jesus, Paul, and it seems Jesus as well, expected that Jesus would return within a generation. But when followers of Jesus began to die and Jesus had not returned, there was an effort to record the teachings of Jesus for future generations. When the disciples who had been with Jesus died, who was going to tell people about their life with Jesus and the teaching of Jesus? That led to the four gospels being written: Mark and then Matthew, Luke, and John. It became clear that the waiting was going to be longer than expected.

In the two millennia since then, countless numbers of people have given a specific date when Jesus was going to return.

When I first became a follower of Jesus in 1971, there was a lot of excitement about the return of Jesus. Hal Lindsey wrote The Late Great Planet Earth, which sold 35,000,000 copies. In this book he said that the 1970s were the era of the Antichrist and that the 1980s would be the last decade of history. He cited an increase in the frequency of famines, wars and earthquakes, as key events leading up to the end of the world.

History has continued since the 1980s and many of you were born after the decade Lindsey predicted would be the last. Lindsey was not the first, nor has he been the last to make failed predictions about the return of Jesus.

Saint Clement I in 90 AD predicted the world would end at any moment. The Montanist movement in the second century predicted that Jesus would return sometime during their lifetime. Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus, and Irenaeus all predicted Jesus would return in 500 AD. (One of the predictions was based on the dimensions of Noah’s Ark.)

Pope Sylvester II and several other clerics predicted Jesus would return on January 1 in the year 1000. When that did not happen, they predicted he would return 1,000 years after his death in 1,033.

The mathematician Michael Stifel predicted Jesus would return on Oct 19, 1533 at 8 AM.

(You can see a pattern here. Every 500 years and then 33 years afterwards there are many predictions of the return of Jesus. This assumes that God tells time by using the earth’s rotation around the sun and has a fondness for five hundred earth year increments.)

Christopher Columbus who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 (that rhyme is how we remembered the date in grammar school), predicted the world would end in 1656. The followers of William Miller sold or gave away their possessions to await the return of Christ sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When that date passed, Miller revised his date to April 18, 1844 and then again to October 22, 1844. When that date passed without the return of Jesus, his following faded away. Some of his followers evolved into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Charles Russell studied the Scriptures and concluded Jesus would return in 1874. When this did not happen, the date was changed to 1914. He had a grand solution to all those who set dates and then were proven wrong. He said that Jesus would return in 1914, but not physically, only spiritually. Who could prove him wrong then? His followers became Jehovah’s Witnesses. There have been several crisis since then in the Jehovah’s Witnesses because other dates have been set for the physical return of Jesus that have come and gone.

Hal Lindsey predicted Christ would return in 1988 and now Kenton “Doc” Beshore has said that Lindsey made a mistake in saying a generation was only 40 years when it really is 70-80 years. So he is predicting Christ will return by 2021.

More recently, Harold Camping predicted the return of Jesus on May 21, 2011 and the end of the world on October 21, 2011.

Ronald Weinland predicted the return of Jesus on September 29, 2011, then on May 27, 2012, and then May 18, 2013. Weinland was convicted of tax evasion in 2012 and sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison. He obviously had time to think in his prison cell because he now says Jesus will return on Pentecost of this year, June 8, 2019. This gives you just five and a half months to get your house in order.

When Jesus does come, will he come before, during, or after the period of tribulation referred to in the Bible? Will Jesus come before or after the thousand years of peace also referred to in the Bible? Will there be an actual tribulation and thousand years of peace or are these referring to something else?

When I was a young Christian I found this postcard of an artist’s visualization of the rapture. You can see the followers of Jesus being raised to be with Jesus while the plane they were flying and the cars they were driving crash. I bought twelve of these postcards and mailed them to friends, including one to a magazine, The Wittenberg Door, which published it. On the back of the cards I wrote, “Having a great time. Wish you were here.”

That quip sums up what I think about all the speculation about when and how Jesus will return. I am not at all interested in how and when he will return and I am convinced everyone who talks so definitively about this is wrong. The best minds in the four hundred years before the birth of Jesus studied the scriptures to see when the Messiah would come and they were all wrong. It is arrogance to think that this time around we will get it right.

People who spend so much time looking at the scriptures trying to find out when Jesus will return seem to miss one very clear teaching of Jesus – (Matthew 24:36)
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Jesus said we will not know the time and I take him at his word. I believe he will return and my focus is on being ready when he comes to claim his bride, the church.

This leads into this morning’s parable, the parable of the ten virgins. This parable falls within a block of teaching of Jesus about the end times and his return.

Jesus warned his disciples: (Matthew 24:4–8)
“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

Those who predict the end is near pay a lot of attention to these signs. Earthquakes especially get people excited that the end is near. But these signs have been constants in history. There has never been a year in the last two thousand years when there were not several wars taking place. Tectonic plates are continually moving so there have been multiple earthquakes every year. There is no statistical evidence that the number and intensity of earthquakes is increasing with time. Famines and natural disasters have come year after year.

These signs tell us that the end is coming, but they do not tell us when it is coming. When the Plague hit the world in the 14th century and a quarter to a half of the population of towns across Europe died, don’t you think people thought this was what Revelation said would happen when the end came?

The end times began at Pentecost when the church was born and these signs are constant reminders that this world will not last forever and we are moving toward the end.

Jesus talks about the signs that indicate the time is drawing nearer, and then goes on to tell us to be ready for that time.

In Matthew 24:45-51 he tells the parable of the servant left in charge of the master’s household. The faithful and wise servant gives food to the servants of the master at the proper time. But if the servant is wicked and beats his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards without thinking about his master’s return, the master will come when he does not expect him and he will be harshly judged. The lesson in this parable is to live well now so we are ready for the return of Jesus when he comes.

This is followed by the parable of the ten virgins.
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.

Weddings were one of the high points in village life and the question of who was and who was not included affected social standing in the village. Weddings were not to be missed.

The ten virgins were unmarried friends or relatives of the bride and groom. Their role was to escort the bride and bridegroom in a torchlight procession through the streets to the bridegroom’s house. We see some of this in Moroccan culture with the wedding processions that make their way through the streets with drums beating and horns blaring.

The word came that the bridegroom was getting ready to come out of the bride’s house and they went to wait for him.

2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.

The word translated as “lamp” in the NIV can also be translated as “torch.” The lamps were torches, a bundle of cloth tied on a stick and soaked with oil. The jars held the oil into which the torch was dipped before lighting. A torch without a jar of oil was as useless as a flashlight without a battery.

Five of the women came with oil for their lamps, five did not.

5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

Why was the bridegroom delayed? It might have been discussion about the bridal price, it might have been anything else. The point is not why he was delayed, only that he was delayed. Once again, the details of the parable only serve the point that is going to be made at the end of the parable.

The ten young women waited and waited and finally became tired and slept.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

When the ten young women had first arrived, their torches were soaked in oil, ready to be lit. But then as they waited and slept, the oil had evaporated. So when the five foolish virgins lit their torches, the light quickly went out. The five wise virgins re-dipped their torches into their jars of oil and their torches lighted up the procession.

The five foolish virgins asked for some of the oil in the jars of the five wise virgins, but a torch only lasted about fifteen minutes and then had to be dipped into the oil again. So the young women with oil in their jars were reluctant to share what they had with those who came unprepared. The five foolish virgins rushed away on a frantic, last-minute shopping expedition to buy oil for their torches.

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

The procession set out with the five wise virgins lighting the way. The five foolish virgins frantically tried to find oil for their torches, but it was midnight and oil was hard to find at that time of night.

While the five foolish virgins were frantically trying to buy oil, the procession arrived at the home of the bridegroom and everyone went into the celebration. The wedding feast was the high point of the celebration. To miss this was to miss everything.

And then “the door was shut.” This is a sobering judgment. There is a time when there is no more time.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

Because they were not prepared, they missed the wedding celebration. In another parable Jesus told about a wedding feast, he concluded, (Matthew 22:14)
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

These are hard words and I am not sure I understand all the implications, but they indicate that now is the time to put our faith in Jesus, not later. There will come a time when it is too late.

Jesus concludes by saying,
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

I often preach that there is always a second chance with God. I believe this is true. But there is also this clear teaching in scripture that now is the time to decide and later may be too late. Both of these are true.

Salvation is a mystery and as is true with all the mysteries of our faith (Jesus is fully God and fully human, we are predestined and also have free will, there is one God and three persons) we believe contradictory truths.

I take this to be good news. If God has been created by human minds, then there would be no contradictory truths. There would be no mystery because the god we create would not be able to be more than the limitations of our minds. But if God is the pre-existing creator of the universe, then there will be mysteries and things we are not able to understand with the limitations of our minds operating in a four dimensional world. The mysteries of our faith are evidence that what we believe is true.

So I want you to know this morning that there is always a second chance for you to return to Jesus and receive his love. I also want you to know that there may come a time when it is too late to return. Now is the time to come to Jesus and live a life pleasing to him.

We want to believe everyone will go to heaven, but the clear teaching of Jesus is that there will be some who will be left behind. There will be some who are not ready for the return of Jesus. We need to be prepared for the day that is certainly coming.

We may not be alive when Jesus returns, but that does not make the teaching of this parable irrelevant. Even if we are not alive when Jesus returns, we will certainly die, as billions of people have died over the past two thousand years. And when we die, we will face our creator. One way or another, we will face our creator and when we do, we want to be invited in to his wedding feast. We do not want to be left behind.

No one really knows what happens after we die. We don’t know what time looks like outside of our limited four-dimensional world. Is there still time to turn to Jesus after we die? I don’t know. Perhaps. But the warning of Jesus in this parable is that now is the time to be prepared for what will certainly happen to each of us.

This is not a sermon about who will and who will not be saved. This is a sermon about being ready for Jesus when he comes, or being ready when you die and come to him.

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

The lesson from this parable is that you cannot be ready by making last minute adjustments to your life.

The five foolish virgins were not prepared and had to make a desperate last-minute shopping trip to get oil for their torches. As a consequence, they missed the procession and arrived too late to get into the wedding celebration.

When you are in school and a test is coming, there are those who have studied all semester long and can relax the night before the exam. There are others who have not paid enough attention and have to spend all night trying to stuff information into their heads so they can pass the exam. Many students do this and are successful.

When the Eid, the big feast, comes and everyone kills their sheep, it is difficult to find meat to buy in the stores. One year, in September when I cook spaghetti on Friday nights for the new community at RIC, I discovered I did not have hamburger and went to the stores. There was none to be found. I searched and searched and ended up having ground turkey in the spaghetti. Now I am smarter and plan ahead so I am prepared for the Eid and have the meat I will need for the two or three weeks after the Eid.

Last minute shopping works for exams and for buying meat, but it does not work in our spiritual life with Jesus. You cannot cram faith into your heart with a last minute shopping trip. You cannot develop the fruit of the Spirit with a last-minute attempt to be gentle, kind, and joyful.

Faith develops slowly, over time. The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control grow slowly in our lives as we abide with Christ, not with a desperate shopping trip to the local orchard.

Now is the time to draw near to Jesus. Later may be too late. Now is the time to draw near to Jesus in an intimate relationship with him so his life can give you life.

Those who say they are too busy to focus on following Jesus because of the demands of their career and family responsibilities and intend to do this later when they have more time, may run out of time.

This parable teaches that the time of Jesus’ return is unknown and will come unexpectedly. In the parable the bridegroom comes at midnight when people are least prepared.

In the parable all ten young women came to greet the bridegroom. All ten were equally disappointed by the delay. All ten fell asleep. All ten were equally taken by surprise by the eventual shout that the bridegroom was coming out. But only five young women were prepared when the time came.

How can we be prepared for the time when we meet Jesus?

I don’t mean to frighten you into doing what is right, but death is always only a moment away. The odds are that all of us here this morning will be alive a year from now and even five years from now. But that might not be the case. Accidents happen. Disease happens. And, if Jesus comes unexpectedly sometime in this coming year, like a thief in the night, none of us will be alive on earth this time next year.

When I speak at funerals I sometimes talk about living with regrets. People attending the funeral talk about how they wish they had spent more time with the person who died. Sometimes they regret that they did not have a conversation about an issue that put distance between them. Regrets are often part of the experience of a funeral.

Because we believe that life continues after death, it is possible that we will go into that life with regrets. From an eternal perspective we will see how foolish we were to be so concerned with things that are meaningless. We will regret not having used our time, our finances, our talents to build up and encourage people heading toward the kingdom of God.

The parable of the ten virgins tells us that now is the time to be prepared. How can we be prepared?

Now is the time to forgive.

In Matthew 6 Jesus taught his disciple how to pray and then he said, (Matthew 6:14–15)
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

You may say that you can’t forgive right now, it hurts too much. Or perhaps your life is stressful enough and you don’t want to add stress by having a difficult conversation. But if you get hit by a bus (this is my wife Annie’s euphemism for dying in an accident), it will be too late to forgive. With your last bit of strength you pull out your cell phone to call someone and say, “I forgive you, will you forgive me?” but the line is busy. Last minute shopping does not work.

Now is the time to forgive and to seek forgiveness.

Now is the time to seek reconciliation.

There are people who have pulled away from you because of a broken relationship. You have forgiven them, but the distance remains. Reconciliation is only possible when both sides come together, but if you are not making the effort to reconcile, now is the time to try.

Now is the time to use your worldly resources for the kingdom of God. Running around at the last minute, trying to give away money you are going to leave behind anyway, will not work.

Giving away money is not really the point anyway. As we walk through life, God gives us the opportunity to support the work Jesus is doing in the world. The time to give is in the moment when we are prompted to help someone who is in need, someone who needs some financial support. At the last minute you can give away money but God will ask, “Where were you when I wanted you to have the privilege of supporting people I was sending out into the world to share the gospel?” Where were you when I wanted you to help with the financial needs of people in your community?” You have the opportunity to bless people in the moment with your resources, but that moment will pass and it will be too late.

Now is the time to work for justice. Jesus told the parable of the sheep and goats who were separated on the basis of how they cared for Jesus by caring for people who were hungry, who needed clothing, who were sick, who were foreigners in your land, or were in prison.

Now is the time to look beyond yourself and your own life. Now is the time to think more of others than you do of yourself. Now is the time to love people and care for people the way Jesus loved people and cared for them. Now is the time for sympathy and compassion.

Now is the time to share with people who want to hear about why you live your life the way you do. At the last minute, it is too late to tell your friends and the people you work with, “By the way, Jesus is my Savior and Lord.” People will come to your funeral or read your obituary in the news and say, “I never knew she was religious.” Now is the time to let your light shine for all to see.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that you have a lot of tasks to accomplish, a lot of deeds to check off on your “to do” list. I say often that the things we do that have eternal significance must come from the heart. It is only out of the experience we have with Jesus as we cling to him that actions that are pleasing to God come.

So spend time with God so you increasingly discover how awesome he is and how deeply you are loved by him. That is always the most important thing for us to do. If you are a person who likes to make “to do” lists, put spending time with Jesus as number one on your list.

But if you are holding back from doing things you know you should do, then use the teaching of this parable to encourage you to do them now. Forgive, seek peace and reconciliation, bless others with what God has given you, bring hope to those who have no hope, bring light into the darkness of despair, help people to become aware of how deeply they are loved by God.

None of us are perfect, but as much as is possible, be ready for the coming of Jesus. Whenever that will be, with every tick of the clock, with every movement of time, the time for you to meet Jesus is getting nearer. Be ready to go with him into the wedding banquet.

keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

The word came that the bridegroom was getting ready to come out of the bride’s house and they went to wait for him.

2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.

The word translated as “lamp” in the NIV can also be translated as “torch.” The lamps were torches, a bundle of cloth tied on a stick and soaked with oil. The jars held the oil into which the torch was dipped before lighting. A torch without a jar of oil was as useless as a flashlight without a battery.

Five of the women came with oil for their lamps, five did not.

5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. 

Why was the bridegroom delayed? It might have been discussion about the bridal price, it might have been anything else. The point is not why he was delayed, only that he was delayed. Once again, the details of the parable only serve the point that is going to be made at the end of the parable.

The ten young women waited and waited and finally became tired and slept.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ 
9 “ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 

When the ten young women had first arrived, their torches were soaked in oil, ready to be lit. But then as they waited and slept, the oil had evaporated. So when the five foolish virgins lit their torches, the light quickly went out. The five wise virgins re-dipped their torches into their jars of oil and their torches lighted up the procession.

The five foolish virgins asked for some of the oil in the jars of the five wise virgins, but a torch only lasted about fifteen minutes and then had to be dipped into the oil again. So the young women with oil in their jars were reluctant to share what they had with those who came unprepared. The five foolish virgins rushed away on a frantic, last-minute shopping expedition to buy oil for their torches.

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 

The procession set out with the five wise virgins lighting the way. The five foolish virgins frantically tried to find oil for their torches, but it was midnight and oil was hard to find at that time of night.

While the five foolish virgins were frantically trying to buy oil, the procession arrived at the home of the bridegroom and everyone went into the celebration. The wedding feast was the high point of the celebration. To miss this was to miss everything.

And then “the door was shut.” This is a sobering judgment. There is a time when there is no more time.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 

Because they were not prepared, they missed the wedding celebration. In another parable Jesus told about a wedding feast, he concluded, (Matthew 22:14)
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

These are hard words and I am not sure I understand all the implications, but they indicate that now is the time to put our faith in Jesus, not later. There will come a time when it is too late.

Jesus concludes by saying,
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

I often preach that there is always a second chance with God. I believe this is true. But there is also this clear teaching in scripture that now is the time to decide and later may be too late. Both of these are true.

Salvation is a mystery and as is true with all the mysteries of our faith (Jesus is fully God and fully human, we are predestined and also have free will, there is one God and three persons) we believe contradictory truths.

I take this to be good news. If God has been created by human minds, then there would be no contradictory truths. There would be no mystery because the god we create would not be able to be more than the limitations of our minds. But if God is the pre-existing creator of the universe, then there will be mysteries and things we are not able to understand with the limitations of our minds operating in a four dimensional world. The mysteries of our faith are evidence that what we believe is true.

So I want you to know this morning that there is always a second chance for you to return to Jesus and receive his love. I also want you to know that there may come a time when it is too late to return. Now is the time to come to Jesus and live a life pleasing to him.

We want to believe everyone will go to heaven, but the clear teaching of Jesus is that there will be some who will be left behind. There will be some who are not ready for the return of Jesus. We need to be prepared for the day that is certainly coming.

We may not be alive when Jesus returns, but that does not make the teaching of this parable irrelevant. Even if we are not alive when Jesus returns, we will certainly die, as billions of people have died over the past two thousand years. And when we die, we will face our creator. One way or another, we will face our creator and when we do, we want to be invited in to his wedding feast. We do not want to be left behind.

No one really knows what happens after we die. We don’t know what time looks like outside of our limited four-dimensional world. Is there still time to turn to Jesus after we die? I don’t know. Perhaps. But the warning of Jesus in this parable is that now is the time to be prepared for what will certainly happen to each of us.

This is not a sermon about who will and who will not be saved. This is a sermon about being ready for Jesus when he comes, or being ready when you die and come to him.

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

The lesson from this parable is that you cannot be ready by making last minute adjustments to your life.

The five foolish virgins were not prepared and had to make a desperate last-minute shopping trip to get oil for their torches. As a consequence, they missed the procession and arrived too late to get into the wedding celebration.

When you are in school and a test is coming, there are those who have studied all semester long and can relax the night before the exam. There are others who have not paid enough attention and have to spend all night trying to stuff information into their heads so they can pass the exam. Many students do this and are successful.

When the Eid, the big feast, comes and everyone kills their sheep, it is difficult to find meat to buy in the stores. One year, in September when I cook spaghetti on Friday nights for the new community at RIC, I discovered I did not have hamburger and went to the stores. There was none to be found. I searched and searched and ended up having ground turkey in the spaghetti. Now I am smarter and plan ahead so I am prepared for the Eid and have the meat I will need for the two or three weeks after the Eid.

Last minute shopping works for exams and for buying meat, but it does not work in our spiritual life with Jesus. You cannot cram faith into your heart with a last minute shopping trip. You cannot develop the fruit of the Spirit with a last-minute attempt to be gentle, kind, and joyful.

Faith develops slowly, over time. The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control grow slowly in our lives as we abide with Christ, not with a desperate shopping trip to the local orchard.

Now is the time to draw near to Jesus. Later may be too late. Now is the time to draw near to Jesus in an intimate relationship with him so his life can give you life.

Those who say they are too busy to focus on following Jesus because of the demands of their career and family responsibilities and intend to do this later when they have more time, may run out of time.

This parable teaches that the time of Jesus’ return is unknown and will come unexpectedly. In the parable the bridegroom comes at midnight when people are least prepared.

In the parable all ten young women came to greet the bridegroom. All ten were equally disappointed by the delay. All ten fell asleep. All ten were equally taken by surprise by the eventual shout that the bridegroom was coming out. But only five young women were prepared when the time came.

How can we be prepared for the time when we meet Jesus?

I don’t mean to frighten you into doing what is right, but death is always only a moment away. The odds are that all of us here this morning will be alive a year from now and even five years from now. But that might not be the case. Accidents happen. Disease happens. And, if Jesus comes unexpectedly sometime in this coming year, like a thief in the night, none of us will be alive on earth this time next year.

When I speak at funerals I sometimes talk about living with regrets. People attending the funeral talk about how they wish they had spent more time with the person who died. Sometimes they regret that they did not have a conversation about an issue that put distance between them. Regrets are often part of the experience of a funeral.

Because we believe that life continues after death, it is possible that we will go into that life with regrets. From an eternal perspective we will see how foolish we were to be so concerned with things that are meaningless. We will regret not having used our time, our finances, our talents to build up and encourage people heading toward the kingdom of God.

The parable of the ten virgins tells us that now is the time to be prepared. How can we be prepared?

Now is the time to forgive.

In Matthew 6 Jesus taught his disciple how to pray and then he said, (Matthew 6:14–15)
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

You may say that you can’t forgive right now, it hurts too much. Or perhaps your life is stressful enough and you don’t want to add stress by having a difficult conversation. But if you get hit by a bus (this is my wife Annie’s euphemism for dying in an accident), it will be too late to forgive. With your last bit of strength you pull out your cell phone to call someone and say, “I forgive you, will you forgive me?” but the line is busy. Last minute shopping does not work.

Now is the time to forgive and to seek forgiveness.

Now is the time to seek reconciliation.

There are people who have pulled away from you because of a broken relationship. You have forgiven them, but the distance remains. Reconciliation is only possible when both sides come together, but if you are not making the effort to reconcile, now is the time to try.

Now is the time to use your worldly resources for the kingdom of God. Running around at the last minute, trying to give away money you are going to leave behind anyway, will not work.

Giving away money is not really the point anyway. As we walk through life, God gives us the opportunity to support the work Jesus is doing in the world. The time to give is in the moment when we are prompted to help someone who is in need, someone who needs some financial support. At the last minute you can give away money but God will ask, “Where were you when I wanted you to have the privilege of supporting people I was sending out into the world to share the gospel?” Where were you when I wanted you to help with the financial needs of people in your community?” You have the opportunity to bless people in the moment with your resources, but that moment will pass and it will be too late.

Now is the time to work for justice. Jesus told the parable of the sheep and goats who were separated on the basis of how they cared for Jesus by caring for people who were hungry, who needed clothing, who were sick, who were foreigners in your land, or were in prison.

Now is the time to look beyond yourself and your own life. Now is the time to think more of others than you do of yourself. Now is the time to love people and care for people the way Jesus loved people and cared for them. Now is the time for sympathy and compassion.

Now is the time to share with people who want to hear about why you live your life the way you do. At the last minute, it is too late to tell your friends and the people you work with, “By the way, Jesus is my Savior and Lord.” People will come to your funeral or read your obituary in the news and say, “I never knew she was religious.” Now is the time to let your light shine for all to see.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that you have a lot of tasks to accomplish, a lot of deeds to check off on your “to do” list. I say often that the things we do that have eternal significance must come from the heart. It is only out of the experience we have with Jesus as we cling to him that actions that are pleasing to God come.

So spend time with God so you increasingly discover how awesome he is and how deeply you are loved by him. That is always the most important thing for us to do. If you are a person who likes to make “to do” lists, put spending time with Jesus as number one on your list.

But if you are holding back from doing things you know you should do, then use the teaching of this parable to encourage you to do them now. Forgive, seek peace and reconciliation, bless others with what God has given you, bring hope to those who have no hope, bring light into the darkness of despair, help people to become aware of how deeply they are loved by God.

None of us are perfect, but as much as is possible, be ready for the coming of Jesus. Whenever that will be, with every tick of the clock, with every movement of time, the time for you to meet Jesus is getting nearer. Be ready to go with him into the wedding banquet.

keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.