Reflections, Sunday 11th August 2019 – Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom”.

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“Do not be afraid, little flock”, Jesus said to his listeners, to those who were shaping their lives around his teaching. People, I hope, like us.  Do not be afraid, little flock.  These words, to me, sound tender, loving.  Can you imagine a smile on his face, as he looks fondly at those seated around him?  Can you place yourself amongst them and listen to him?  Do not be afraid, little flock…


These reflections were offered to the congregation at St Mary’s Hardwick on Sunday 11th August 2019 based on the gospel reading Luke 12:32-34:

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

They are posted here as spoken without further polishing.


Flock

A flock, a collective term, individuals who belong together, a community, even a congregation.  That is what we are.  That is what we are creating here.  A community.  Of people who belong.  Of people who are safe.

And because it needs not just to be a safe place but to be seen from the outside as a safe place, we have to undertake the best practices for things like safeguarding however superfluous they seem to those of us who know each other well.  So we have our Safeguarding poster in the porch.  All those on the PCC and on the ministry team and involved with children’s activities have gone through safeguarding checks and training.  Although institutional, this is at heart not about being an institution; it is about being known as and seen as a safe community to belong to.

Here are St Mary’s we have a group of congregations – Sunday morning, Tuesday morning and, perhaps, Friday campfire church, a set of overlapping small communities.

So here is some theory about communities.  Communities in general form around and are sustained by two primary things: (1) having a common story that gives identity and purpose, and (2) sharing a range of activities and rituals together over time

So first let’s thing about the story that gives us identity and purpose.  As a church community, that story is the overarching story of God reaching out in love to humankind, the story that begins at creation and ends with the coming of the kingdom of God.  This is what the academics call our constitutive narrative.  At its heart is the story of Jesus Christ, in its chapters are the stories of our lives with God, and the story of us, of each of our congregations.  This story, if we allow it, shapes who we are both individually and together.  In fact, if we don’t allow it to shape us as we respond to it, then we cannot call ourselves Church.  We would be just a community group, or groups, even if we meet in or look after a church building.

And then there are the rituals and activities that we share.  As a church community, we share the rituals of Word and Sacrament – listening to the word of God in preaching, worship and prayer, and participating in the sacrament of holy communion.  We share too in the activities that make us a community of care, and in the activities of mission that witness to God’s presence and work in his world.  This creating and sharing of rituals works slightly differently in each of our congregations.

We should admit before we go further that Christian community does not always live up to our ideals.  Brian McLaren writes: ‘So many of us have come close to withdrawing from the Christian community.  It’s not because of Jesus or because of his good news but because of the frustrations with religious politics, dubious theological propositions, [or] difficulties in interpreting passages of the Bible… Or perhaps it’s simply boredom – dreary music, blasé sermons, [shallow] answers to tough questions, and other adventures in missing the point.  Or perhaps it’s fatigue – a treadmill of meetings and [projects]… that yield more duties, obligations, guilt trips and stress.’  Do you identify with this?  I do at times.  And if I have been guilty of making any of these things happen for anyone else, then I am sorry.

But I am not sorry to hold before you again, a vision of Christian community, of being the flock of which Jesus Christ is the Shepherd.  We recognise Him in the words we use and hear, in the rituals and prayers, in the decisions we make, in the projects into which we choose to put our resources.  We must continue to aspire to be congregations, flocks of which He is the Shepherd, guiding and caring and challenging as his heavenly Father does, for the sake of the life of the flock

Jesus said: Do not be afraid, little flock, your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

Little flock…

Little flock, says Jesus.  I don’t know about you, but I catch myself falling into that trap of thinking about numbers.  How many came this week?  Why weren’t there more at that activity?  Why don’t we have more families at the moment?  We are a small church, in a culture that equates success with increased profits, members, social media followers.  We can become distracted by that way of thinking too.

But remember the story Jesus has just told from last week.  About the man who amassed grain and built bigger barns only to discover that it all amounted to nothing in the eyes of God.  Maybe that parable can be applied to some church leaders too.

Jesus did not say: do not be afraid, wait til you are bigger, and then the Father will give you the kingdom.  No, he said; Do not be afraid, little flock, your father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

After all, the kingdom of God is not afraid of small things.  The kingdom of God, Jesus said is like a tiny mustard seed.  It’s like a small amount of yeast.  It’s like the seeds that the farmer sows.  But, in Jesus’ stories, these small packages of the kingdom, have enormous impact.  The mustard seed grows into a huge magical tree providing a home for every kind of bird; the yeast, turns a huge amount of flour into a nourishing loaf of bread; each single seed that falls on to fertile soil yields many times that number at harvest. Small, in the economy of the kingdom of God, can have a big impact.

Which is just as well because a majority of Anglican church are small rural churches.  Just like any size of church each of these small churches can be healthy or unhealthy.  The world needs the healthy kind of small churches and congregations, that are friendly, outward looking, creative, missional, generous and worshipful.

We are, frankly, one of these small churches.  So let’s be a small church well (because if we try to act like a large church, we set ourselves up to fail).  Let’s following the calling to be like the kingdom mustard seed and the kingdom yeast, small but impactful, and ever so slightly subversive.

The gift of the Kingdom

Jesus said: Do not be afraid, little flock, your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.

So we, as the little flock, are offered the immensely precious gift of a fragment of the kingdom of God.  What is this mysterious thing?  Although called kingdom it is not to do with literal place or geography.  Rather, it is relational, it is people gathered around Christ, it is where not just community but communion (with a small ‘c’) takes place with each other and with the Lord Christ.  In Jesus teaching, it is something to be sought, to be stewarded, to be grown.

The Kingdom of God is the place in us where Jesus is Lord.  It is in the communities and congregations, like ours at St Mary’s, where Jesus, the Shepherd-King shapes our identity, purpose and our activities.  It is in cities and towns and across villages, like those in the Lordsbridge Team, where little connected communities of faithful and focused Christians, by their worship and their witness, are its fragments, small, subversive and impactful way beyond their size.

Jesus said: Do not be afraid, little flock, your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

 

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About Alison Myers

I am Team Rector for the Lordsbridge Team of Churches, a cluster of 11 villages west of Cambridge. Within the Team, I am Vicar of Hardwick and Dry Drayton, and Lead Minister for Pioneering Projects.
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