Have No Fear Little Flock, the Kingdom Is Yours
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The text for today is Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The last time we sang our sermon hymn at St. John’s was for my installation. As we planned the service Pastor Boeder mentioned he was using a shepherd theme. “What I’d really like to do is sing ‘Have No Fear Little Flock,’” he said. “Do you think the members of St. John would be offended?” I said, “No, this is a little flock. I know that. They know that. And from a worldly standpoint there are many things to fear: the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature rage against us. Without God’s provision no church is going to be around for long. I think it would be very appropriate.”
St. John’s is a little flock. Just look around… about 30 souls here in the pews. That’s a little flock by any standards! But not all that different than the little flock gathered that day as Jesus tells His disciples: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Notice, this is not Law, but Gospel. It’s not a command, but a promise. And that’s a big difference. It’s more like a mother comforting her child who has just had a nightmare: “It’s okay. I’m here for you. You don’t need to be afraid.” Rather than a careless counselor who chides: “Just get over it, you worry wart. Quit your belly aching!” And that’s important! Ordering someone “Do not be anxious” will not generally keep them from being anxious. If anything it will make them more anxious. But when Jesus says it, it comes with a promise, a Word that is powerful enough to bring about that for which it calls. “You don’t need to be afraid any more. You have all that you need for life in His kingdom.”
Last week, we heard that life is more than the abundance of possessions. Today we hear that life is more than the essentials—food and clothing. Jesus zeroes in on our basic, core anxiety—our everyday needs. And He says, “Don’t be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”
That would appear to run counter to our experience. Life is more than food? That’s hard to imagine when it’s the season for fresh fruit and vegetables: sweet corn, green beans, radishes, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, and peaches. Life is more than food? The body more than clothing? We need clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home. Those are primary needs. In fact, we’re not going to worry about anything else until those are taken care of. And Jesus comes to us this morning and says, “Don’t worry. Don’t be anxious about your life, or even your most basic needs. Your Father in heaven has you covered.”
Don’t worry? Has Jesus looked at the economy lately? My retirement fund? The unemployment statistics? Health care costs? Insurance? The aging population of our community? My checking account balance? Has He seen my medical files? The assortment of prescriptions in the medicine cabinet? Come on! Who is alive and aware these days and not worried about something having to do with the means to support this body and life? Don’t be anxious? Get real!
But here is the reality: Anxiety is a liturgy. It’s the worship we offer our false gods when they’ve failed to deliver on the goods. When we realize that our religious transactions aren’t working and we are left without an apparent safety net under us, the anxiety mounts and grows. Sleepless nights, churning stomachs, headaches, heart palpitations, stress—the list of symptoms goes on and on. Anxiety is like a cancer of the soul, consuming us from the inside, paralyzing us, disordering our lives, our eating, our drinking, our priorities. Anxiety eats away at us like rust, corroding our souls until we are nothing but a shell.
“Don’t be anxious,” Jesus says. He knows what He’s talking about. He’s the Lord of creation. He’s the One who died and rose again. And He’s intimately familiar with our anxieties. He dealt with each of our stressful circumstances to an extent we can’t even begin to imagine. He suffered in every way as we do, yet was without sin. Do you feel at times as though you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders? Well, Jesus literally bore the weight of the world’s sin upon His shoulders. He was the “Man of Sorrows,” intimately acquainted with our grief. Do you imagine that didn’t involve some potential anxiety?
Jesus knew His disciples’ hearts and He knows ours. He knew that He had called them away from their fishing boats and tax collector’s office. And there were probably days when they wondered aloud, “What are we going to eat today? How will we afford clothing when ours wears out?” They were following someone who had no place to lay His head, who didn’t promise them health and wealth like the prosperity preachers you hear today. Jesus never promised them any of that. Instead He promised them hardship and persecutions in this life, and eternal life in a kingdom that has no end.
Consider the ravens, Jesus says to His anxious disciples. They neither sow nor reap nor store in barns, and yet God feeds them. Yes, they spend the bulk of their day looking for food. And yes, they work their feathered tails off building nests. But in the end, they can only play the hand they are dealt. They can’t rearrange their environment the way we humans can. “And yet God feeds them.” And if He cares about the birds, don’t you think He cares about you? You are worth so much more that a bird.
Consider the lilies and all their beauty. They don’t weave or spin or shop at the finest stores in the mall, yet even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t decked out like them. And aren’t you worth more than plants, which are here today and gone tomorrow?
For that matter, what good does it do to be anxious anyway? Does anxiety put daily bread on the table? Not a crumb. Does anxiety put clothes on your back? Not a stitch. Does anxiety pay the mortgage or the rent? Not a dime. Does anxiety add a single hour to your life? No. In fact, continuous stress and anxiety can actually cut time off of your life. And it will certainly make the hours you do have most miserable.
Jesus calls His anxiety-ridden disciples “little faith ones.” It’s a mild rebuke that comes throughout the Gospel accounts, typically after people underestimate God or His Son. Little faith is better than no faith, I suppose, but it’s still not the way of faith to be anxious over things. Anxiety shows a lack of trust in God. It may have many causes—physical, psychological—but at its heart it is a spiritual issue. At its root is sin—a result of being fallen people living in a fallen world.
Faith is trust, trust that your Father in heaven knows what you need even before you ask. Trust that your value to God is so much greater than the birds and the flowers. Trust that He is able to and desires to give you good things. A pastor friend of mine describes faith this way: Faith is much like a little kid who is promised a candy bar the next time they go to the store. He waits for it, expects it, can’t wait to go to the store and get it. And finally, the trip to the store comes, and the little guy can’t wait for the candy aisle. When they get to it, he runs and grabs his favorite one in complete confidence. And if there is the slightest piece of parental hesitation, he’ll say with a quivering lower lip, “But you promised.”
Jesus encourages His disciples to trust in God, their heavenly Father, since He provides for all their needs. We also need to take this exhortation to heart, because our fallen nature makes it difficult to look past ourselves and depend upon another—even if He is our Savior and Lord of all Creation. But God’s faithfulness far exceeds our needs. He provides as He sees fit, giving us an abundance we may share with others.
The Bible speaks of both strong faith and weak faith. Strong faith is better able to resist temptation and accomplish more good works than weak faith. Think of it this way: if you have a heartbeat, you are alive. You’re alive whether your heartbeat is weak or strong—though a strong heartbeat is far better than a weak one. Likewise, you are alive in Christ whether your faith is weak or strong—though a strong faith is far better.
How is your faith strengthened? Romans 10:17 tells you: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” The Holy Spirit gives and strengthens your faith through the Word of God.
That’s why you rejoice daily to remember your Baptism, where God gave you faith by water and the Word, and made you an heir of righteousness! That’s why your faith can’t wait to get to church, to hear the Word of God, and gather strength! That’s why your faith longs to confess all your sins and receive Christ’s Holy Absolution! That’s why your faith delights to feast upon the Savior’s body and blood, present in, with, and under bread and wine by the Word of God.
In short, faith is a gift given by God, as it was to the saints in our Epistle. Faith clings to Jesus and His forgiveness, as did the saints in our text. Faith comes by hearing the Word—as you and the saints in our text have heard God’s Word.
Therefore, if you believe that faith is something you’ve done in order to please God, repent. It’s His gift to you for your salvation. To claim it’s your doing is to rob God of glory for yourself. If faith is something you do, then it is your work and it’s never certain. If faith is God’s gift, then your salvation is sure.
If you believe that faith is all about getting God to do what you want Him to, repent. God is not some mythical genie waiting to grant your every wish. Sometimes He says “No,” because He knows that not everything you desire is good for you. Faith is about clinging to Jesus and His forgiveness, and faith always prays, “Our Father, Thy will be done, not mine.”
Where you have neglected to hear and read God’s Word on a regular basis, or have not availed yourself of His Supper, repent. In doing so, you have withheld food from the faith God has given, and so you have weakened that gift. You may believe it has made no difference, but it has. Repent, and rejoice that Christ has died for this sin, too, that you might be forgiven and strengthened in faith once more. God gives you faith and counts you among His saints for Jesus’ sake.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” That’s the Gospel good news today that speaks to your anxieties and fears. Your Father’s good pleasure is to give you the kingdom, and He works everything together for you to receive the kingdom. You have it all, thanks to Jesus. His death and life has purchased what you cannot afford on your own: life with God—eternal, abundant life. You have His Word on it. He clothes you in Baptism. He feeds you in His Supper. You have the kingdom. You trust Him with the big stuff. Why not also trust Him with the little things of this life?
This doesn’t mean we don’t work and plan and store in this life. But we hold things loosely, lightly, with a dead hand of faith. Give freely. Take care of the poor. Store up treasures in heaven, eternal treasures that don’t corrode or decay, that can’t be stolen, that moths can’t eat, that won’t wear out. Seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness, trusting that your Father in heaven, who has saved you by the blood of His Son, knows what you need.
Have no fear little flock, the kingdom is yours. The Father has promised it. The Son has won it. The Spirit delivers it. Don’t be anxious about your life. The Lord has you covered. He’ll take care of all your needs—especially the ones involving your eternal life and destination. He already has in Christ. In Him, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.