June 4, 2020

Sunday’s Gospel: Fear Not, Little Flock

By Chaplain Mike

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Lectionary Readings
• Genesis 15:1-6
• Psalm 33:12-22 (22)
• Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
• Luke 12:32-40

Today’s Gospel
Today’s Gospel message takes the form of a personal testimony and tribute.

This weekend, we are visiting the congregation where I had my first pastorate. It’s a little Baptist church in the mountains of Vermont. The village had 200 people living in it when we were here, and I doubt the population has grown significantly since then. The church building is one of those white clapboard New England structures with a steeple, just like you see in all the calendars. It was constructed back in the 1860’s. The old one-room schoolhouse that stood on the property was moved and joined to the original sanctuary many years later as a space for children. Over the years, they’ve made some modifications to the building. They turned the sanctuary around and built a side entrance, blocking off the old front door of the church. They also jacked up the original building and dug a basement for a fellowship hall underneath it, extracting automobile-sized boulders from the rocky Vermont ground in the process.

The congregation was officially founded in 1814, just a few years after the town came into existence. Soon they will celebrate 200 years of God’s faithfulness.

Whenever I think about this, I have to stop for a moment to get a handle on the historical perspective. The people who first worshiped in covenant with one another in this church did so about 30 years after the end of the Revolutionary War and 25 years after the Constitution of the United States was ratified. This church was founded by new Americans, when America itself was new. I can barely comprehend that.

It takes my breath away.

Years ago, a person who was intrigued and inspired by the congregation’s history wrote a booklet tracing events along the way. She called her story, “Fear Not, Little Flock.” The title was taken from this morning’s Gospel text. You see, the congregation has never grown very large. At various times throughout the years they had trouble attracting a minister to serve there. As with all communities, they endured personal, family, and congregational tragedies, unexpected setbacks, lean times, conflicts and schisms, and spiritually dry seasons. They’ve never been much more than a “little flock”—few in number, humble in demeanor, weak in influence outside their little village, relatively poor in resources.

Yet, as this morning’s text affirms, God has been faithful to them. God has been pleased to give them his Kingdom. Today, they continue to meet each Sunday to worship, nearly two hundred years after that first gathering of believers.

We left our ministry in this little church and moved to Chicago to go to seminary twenty seven years ago, with a little six-month old baby in tow and no money in our pockets. However, we had gained five years of invaluable experience among some of God’s most gracious, hospitable, and resilient people. I am convinced that they taught me, as a young man and pastor, far more than I ever taught them. Every time I refer to them now, I express gratitude for what they contributed to my life. They gave me more than any school with its theological education ever could. They set the course for my future, family, and ministry.

Quite a few of them have passed on. Children of couples I married are now young adults. Those who remain seem not to have been too damaged by my ministry among them long ago (thanks be to God)—and they’re still happy to see us when we visit. A good core of folks remains, because this, generally, is a place where people stay. Life moves slowly in these parts, and change is as likely resisted as not. However, the stories told around here are as rich and varied as any I’ve heard. These hardy New Englanders have set down firm roots in the rocky Vermont soil. They’ve endured life in the hills, where work can be hard to come by and winters are deep, frigid, and long.

I remember receiving a visit from a denominational representative once while I was the pastor in this fellowship. He was dismissive of the church as he spoke to me about my vocational plans. Surely I wanted something more than this, he was saying. Surely you have ambition to serve a larger, more influential congregation some day? Anger rose in me and it was all I could do to stifle an inappropriate response. I believed it then, and I believe it now—What greater privilege could anyone have than to be among Jesus’ “little flock,” to hear their stories, to walk among them as their shepherd and friend, to be part of history?

It is the Father’s pleasure to give people like this his Kingdom. How could I or anyone else not take pleasure in being with them?

Luke 12:32-40 (GNT)—

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom. Sell all your belongings and give the money to the poor. Provide for yourselves purses that don’t wear out, and save your riches in heaven, where they will never decrease, because no thief can get to them, and no moth can destroy them. For your heart will always be where your riches are.

Be ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with your lamps lit, like servants who are waiting for their master to come back from a wedding feast. When he comes and knocks, they will open the door for him at once. How happy are those servants whose master finds them awake and ready when he returns! I tell you, he will take off his coat, have them sit down, and will wait on them. How happy they are if he finds them ready, even if he should come at midnight or even later! And you can be sure that if the owner of a house knew the time when the thief would come, he would not let the thief break into his house. And you, too, must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you are not expecting him.

Comments

  1. I was part of a small church at one point in my life; just before I was uprooted by the Marine Corps and moved else where. I can say with all honesty that I have never been a part of a church so close to the Word of God, or part of a church that made me grow in Christ the way this little church of no more than 15-people did. It is as if the larger churches cannot see the forest for the trees, and you then become just a another number. When it comes to spiritual things it is more about quality than quantity. (I believe God would rather have Heaven filled with just one person who was on fire for Him while here on earth, than full of people who were just luke warm for Him.)

  2. 1814! Wonderful! In the modern age where churches come and fold in only a few years, I long for boring stability.

  3. Denise Spencer says

    I was hoping you would write something about your weekend. As a member of a “little flock” myself, I really appreciate this.