Text: Luke 12: 32-40
This week I sat down to start working on today’s sermon. I was looking forward to flexing some mental muscles after a month’s vacation. It can be hard to get back into the routine of reading and writing. I was concerned I might have to shake off some mental rust. After a word of prayer, I turned my attention to the gospel reading that Katie shared with us this morning.
I began to read, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased…” Wait a second who is Jesus calling little? I now knew I had more than a little bit of mental rust to shake off. However, the word little has stuck with me throughout the week.
In our passage Jesus is speaking to the disciples, it is they that he is referring to as little flock. The image has pastoral overtones to it. We are reminded that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, that he watches over his flock. It is a comforting image.
But why does Jesus refer to the disciples as little? What is he saying about them? Should we search for deeper meaning here or is this just a red herring that is distracting us from the deeper truths that Jesus is sharing with us in this passage? Why the emphasis on ‘little’?
It is said that life is comprised of moments. We move from one moment to the next and that each of these moments comprise the whole which is our lives. Life then isn’t one big event, rather it is many little events. When we look back at our lives each of us can pick out many large events that have defined us. These events are the day we graduated from school, our wedding day, the birth of our children, the death of a spouse or friend. These are large events, but they are not possible without a whole series of smaller events.
We can’t graduate from school if we don’t go every day. If we don’t take the time to study and learn. We don’t get married if we don’t go on the first date. The death of a loved one is such a large and traumatic event because of all the little things which have happened before.
It is little things which define us and make us great. It is little things which when added together become big things. In her book Before I Die Jenny Downham writes, “Moments. All gathering towards this one.” Each moment gathers towards the next, so that they might seem big. But really, they are all just little moments connecting together helping us make sense of our lives.
So what is Jesus saying when he calls the disciples a ‘little flock’? I believe that he is saying exactly what it looks like. That you and you and you are all little. Your family units are little, but when you come together you become something more than your own selves. That the accumulation of your ‘little’ selves transforms into something larger. When enough of us come together who believe in the life, death and witness of Jesus Christ we are not just a little movement. We are something that can change the world.
And yet we are little. We are outnumbered by those who do not believe or think as we do. This is where our faith in God comes into play. Where our hope in Jesus Christ becomes not just a passive thing we believe but an active agent in the world.
Our faith is grounded in the hope we have in God’s promise, revealed in Jesus Christ. We attend to the little things, because Jesus points them out to us. We attend to the little things because they are the important things. We should not worry that we are little in number, nor should we ever think that the work that we do is insignificant. For it is God’s pleasure to provide the kingdom of heaven.
God wants us to spend eternity with him. God wants us to know the love of Jesus Christ. God desires this for us and that is a deeply comforting thought.
Now you are all probably think we aren’t afraid. This makes sense and God is with us. Unfortunately, we’ve only gotten through the first of ten sentences which Jesus utters in this passage from Luke. The next nine sentences deal with selling your belongings, saving our riches in heaven, a reminder that our heart is where our riches are and to be on guard against thieves who will come in the night because the Son of Man will come at an hour when we are not expecting him!
But Jesus said that God delights in giving us the Kingdom of Heaven! Why do I need to do all this other stuff? In other words, what we see is the classic conundrum of the gospel: salvation by grace alone is great but it can also lead to moral torpor, to the very “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry Because Tomorrow We’re Forgiven Anyway” attitude that even the Apostle Paul dealt with in the very earliest days of the church (cf. Romans 6). Or to invoke a phrase attributed to the German philosopher Heinrich Heine, “God likes to forgive. I like to sin. Really, the world is admirably arranged.” (reference).
So what is going on here? Does God delight in giving the Kingdom of Heaven or do I need to work for it? Which attitude do we as disciples of Christ need to adopt? I hope that the answer to this question is apparent, but in case it isn’t I’ll spell it out. The Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift and God does delight in giving it. However, our response to that free gift is important.
Have you ever watched a child at a birthday party as they unwrap presents? Ok, unwrapping presents is putting it mildly, as the child tears through painstakingly folded and taped down wrapping paper to get at the gift beneath. As they hold up the new gift, usually a toy, they beam with excitement. This is the best! I always wanted this! This process is repeated until all the gifts are opened and there is a minefield of torn wrapping paper on the floor.
However, occasionally a child will open a gift and their expression isn’t as joyful as they were expecting it to be. I find this tends to happen when they open grand-parent gifts. Grand-parents tend to give less toys and try to find other things that their grand-child might enjoy. The result can sometimes be underwhelming for the child who is waiting to see that particular toy or gift that they’ve been dreaming about.
The gift was freely given. It was given out of an understanding of who that child is and what they enjoy. It might not be a flashy gift, but it was given out of love. The gift of the kingdom is like that. While it should always be present in our mind, sometimes it isn’t. It seems too removed and abstract. It gets lost in pile of wrapping paper that occurs when we drink, eat and be merry.
This is why Jesus reminds us to focus on what is truly important. This is why the little things matter and why we must always consider our response to all things. To remember that things are given to us in love, out of an understanding of who we are. We receive the kingdom with love, for it was given in love. When we share the news of Jesus with others, that is an act of love. An act of love that says I want you to hear this good news. Sharing the good news with others is a little thing that amounts to a great thing. Trust in God and the promise that has been made for each of our lives. Amen.