Luke 12:32-40 (Pentecost 9C)

St. John, Galveston, Tx. 8/7/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Gospel reading this morning begins with Jesus admonishing the disciples for their lack of faith regarding the Father’s provision in their lives. “O you, of little faith (He said)! If God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you.” Along though with that admonition, He assures His disciples that God has given them His greatest treasure. “Fear not, little flock (Jesus says), for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” 

Did you ever notice how often in the Scriptures people are told to “fear not, or to not be afraid?” I didn’t do an exhaustive search, but there are a few very memorable moments in the Gospel narrative that come to mind. For instance, Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary, who had already conceived a child, was comforted by an angel, who said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” And then, on the night of Jesus’ birth, the shepherds who were out in the field, were comforted by the angel’s song. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And, who can forget the disciples, who so often found themselves in peril on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus came to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And then, here in Luke 12, we have these words, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” 

We’ve talked many times in Bible Class about Matthew 16, where Jesus promised to build His Church on the confession of Simon Peter, that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Along with His promise to build His Church, is Jesus’ solemn promise to sustain it and defend it, even against hell itself. “The gates of hell (He says) will never prevail against My church.” Like the call to “Have no fear,” Jesus’ promise to defend His Church gives our troubled hearts great peace and comfort.  For they remind us, indeed, they assure us that God is in control, and that He, and those who are His, will ultimately emerge from this vale of tears victorious over all of the forces of evil, because “the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church.” 

That said, life is a struggle, isn’t it? The church seems to be losing ground everyday. Social and moral battles are lost as our nation slips further into the abyss of godlessness. Christian populations have diminished around the world. Places like Syria have seen nearly a 50% decline in those who confess the Christian faith, while Iraq has lost 2/3 of her Christian population. Some of those who were lost were martyred for the faith. Others fled their homeland under intense persecution. The church seems to lose ground everyday. So, how do we draw comfort from these words of Jesus before us this morning? “Fear not, little flock, for it your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Well, to begin with, we would do well to consider who it is who speaks those words to us. If I were to find you in the midst of a fearful situation and I were to say to you, “do not afraid,” you would probably take my words as well intentioned, but I doubt that you would find them very comforting. In fact, you might find my admonition somewhat judgmental, or, perhaps even a bit crazy. What do you mean, “do not be afraid?” Anyone in his right mind would be afraid if he were facing what I’m facing!

That is, if I encouraged you to not be afraid. But, when the King of kings and the Lord of lords says to you, “do not be afraid,” you are dealing then with a completely different situation. You know that His words aren’t hollow sentiment, nor are they meaningless platitude. You see, when Jesus says, “do not be afraid,” storms are soon calmed and frightened shepherds who look into the night sky are given a gift that brings “peace on earth and goodwill toward men.” When Jesus says, “do not be afraid,” timid souls are bolstered and fortified. Cowardice is turned to courage. As Paul reminded Timothy, his young son in the faith, “God has given us a spirit, not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” Since then it is Jesus who bids you to “fear not,” you can rest assured that you truly have no reason to be afraid.

“Fear not, little flock.” As it is, we in the church tend to measure greatness by numbers, don’t we? There are currently about 2.1 billion Christians in the world and 1.5 billion Muslims. From a pure numbers point of view, we’d have to say, “the Church is winning!” Of course, there are 1.1 billion people who don’t claim any religion at all and another 1.4 billion who claim other false religions. Which means 2/3 of the world’s population isn’t Christian.  How then can we say, “the Church is winning, or the Church is victorious?”

The fact is, the Church has always been and always will be a “little flock” when compared to those who don’t believe, or, who believe falsely. “Enter by the narrow gate (Jesus says). For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

The Church though doesn’t win her victories by sheer numbers, nor does she win them by overwhelming displays of power. After all, David fell Goliath, a man nearly twice his size, with but a few small stones and a sling. God, of course, was on David’s side, for Goliath mocked the name of the God of Israel! Gideon too won a victory over the Midianites with his army paired down from 32,000 soldiers to a mere 300.

Because “the gate is wide that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many,” the Church, whether gathered within these walls here in Galveston, or, on the world stage, is best described as a “little flock.” She is called out of the world by the Almighty, the very One who holds the cosmos together by His might and strength, to live in love toward one another. All the while, this “little flock,” this band of sheep is shepherded by the One who promises that “the gates of hell will never prevail against her.”

“Fear not, little flock, for it your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” If life’s ultimate victory were measured by treasure, or, by the accumulation of possessions, or, even by life itself, it would be easy to mistake the Church’s smallness, or, her losses, as a sign of humiliation and of defeat. But, her treasure, and therefore, her heart are not of this world. She finds her riches, her forgiveness, her life and salvation, her hope, her joy, in the Father who gives her a kingdom that is not of this world.

I have to say, I learned that the hard way while completing my studies many years ago at the seminary. Over two quarters of study, every seminary student is assigned duty at a nursing home and hospital. One quarter I was assigned 18 or 20 residents at a nursing home that I was to visit once a week.

Honestly, I found it difficult to make those visits from time to time. It struck me that all of these people, whom I really didn't know, we're just there, waiting to die. I would often leave the nursing home and go out to my car to have a little complaint session with God. “I don’t get it, I’d say.” “Why does life work this way?” No, “why does life work this way for your dear children?” 

My complaint session with God, came to an end as some words of Jesus came to mind. It was something He said to Pontius Pilate when Pilate told Him it was His own people who delivered Him up to be crucified. Pilate said, “your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done? To which Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.”

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” a kingdom that is not of this world.  It’s a kingdom that comes to you in bread and wine, in body and blood, and yes, even in suffering and death. It’s a kingdom of grace and of forgiveness, a kingdom in which the unrighteous are declared righteous and sinners are given a royal mansion and a kingly crown. It’s a kingdom that sets the turmoil of this world and the onslaught of evil endured by the church in perspective.  And so, 

“Through toil and tribulation

And tumult of her war

She (that is, the Church) waits the consummation

Of peace forevermore

Till with the vision glorious

Her longing eyes are blest,

And the great Church victorious

Shall be the Church at rest.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +