“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
Several weeks ago, the Gospel for the day began with Luke 12:32. As soon as I heard the first words, “Fear not, little flock” I was transported back to a day in the mid-1980’s when I found myself in the pulpit at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There I was, about to preach the sermon for the graduating class of Luther Seminary. All of those about-to-be clergy members. All of their families. All of those professors of homiletics. All of those theologians. And me, never having been to seminary, never having taken a preaching class in my life. What qualified me to do this? Nothing, other than I had recently been elected as the first woman General Secretary of the American Lutheran Church, one of the predecessor church bodies to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
In some ways, I felt like Captain Kirk. I was about “to boldly go where no (woman) has gone before.” After singing the sermon hymn, “Have No Fear, Little Flock,” I began and immediately relaxed. My message to the graduates, their families and those august faculty members was simple. Do not be afraid, even though you really have no idea of what is coming next in your lives. None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, but God is with us. Have no fear.
This little hymn is sometimes described as (or perhaps dismissed as) a hymn for children. Why? The lyrics are clear and understandable. The music was composed by Heinz Werner Zimmermann, a German liturgical/jazz composer. He grew up in Nazi Germany and died in January, 2022. The tune is simple, but with Zimmermann’s distinctive jazz style. It is my “go-to” hymn when I need comfort or want to express joy or give thanks.
From the outset, we are told not to fear, even though there is much to fear. Imagine Mary, a young girl, to whom a brilliant angel appears with some rather startling news. The first thing the angel tells Mary is: “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.” She responds by praising God in the glorious words of the Magnificat. Our little hymn similarly says that we should not be afraid — we have been chosen by God and have been given blessings beyond our belief. Have no fear; rejoice and sing.
That may be well and good, but how can we be of good cheer, as the next verse tells us, in a world that seems to threaten our very existence? Daily we read or hear of or experience disasters, both natural and human-made, that affect us and the existence of so many of our siblings throughout the world. We do not feel safe for a variety of reasons. Worst of all, we may not feel loved or believe that we are worthy of being loved.
Why should we be of good cheer?
- Because we are kept in God’s love forever. In the mystical words of St. John, it is because God so loved each and every one of us. Jesus, our Holy Wisdom, came to live among us and show us the way to everlasting life.
- Because even more simply, God is love. When I was about to complete confirmation class, each confirmand was asked to state her/his dying profession of faith. I was impressed by the pious, lengthy statements of my classmates. When it came time for me to speak, I simply said: “God is love.” I was asked if I’d like to add anything, and I responded: “No. That says it all.”
Even after all these years, I still believe that the reason for us to be of good cheer is the simple assertion that God is love.
Our little song goes on to implore us to give praise to God. Why? Because God so loves us that God will stoop down, pick up and care for each of us when we fall. God will heal us, uplift, and restore us. The image of God bending over in concern to scoop up a hurting creature is so comforting. I suspect that most of us, as children, would pick up a little insect or a bird that seemed to be hurt and take it home to be healed. While it may not be as simple as that, God can hold us and care for and heal us. The Psalmist, in a hymn of praise, tells us that God lifts up the needy from the ash heap and the poor from the dust. God brings joy to those longing for children. For all of this and more, we give praise to God.
Finally, we are to give thanks because in all things God works in and through us. Returning to the days of confirmation class, the big day came when we sat in from of the congregation to answer scary questions, be given our verses, and finally become adults in the eyes of St. Matthew Lutheran Church. My verse was “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Over the years I have come to realize what a gift I was given. God infuses me with courage, with hope, with wisdom, and sometimes with humor, to do those things that may seem impossible but that I – or you — as a Child of God, may be called up to do.
So, this hymn is anything but childish, at least in my view. In a few, clear words, it captures what I believe – that God is love, that my life is to be lived in gratitude, that I am cared for and cherished, and that in all things, I see the love of God.
Have no fear.