“Do not be afraid, little flock”

Luke 12:32-40 (Psalm 33:12-22, Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)
“Have no fear, little flock.” What a wonderful old hymn that is! (ELW #764) And, quite a theme for Luke. In his gospel that admonition is given to:
Zechariah (1:13) Mary (1:30) Shepherds (2:10)
Peter (5:10) Jarius (8:50) Disciples (12:4,7)
It seems that Jesus is very concerned about our fear. Now, this may be because fear is an uncomfortable emotion and Jesus doesn’t want us to be uncomfortable. Fair enough, I suppose. But a deeper reading suggests that the problem with fear is that it gets in the way of recognizing God’s will and presence in our life and community.
How, exactly, does fear do that? The Lutheran pastor, consultant and counsellor Peter Steinke* has written numerous books and led countless workshops on emotional systems.  In this theory, groups of people – although certainly individuals in their own right – come together in groups and behave as a system. In short, each is connected to the others; what affects one affects the others; and there is a mutual influence at work.
Fear or anxiety can be a positive – it can concentrate the mind and propel one into action. Fear can also be short-term; directed towards an immediate challenge or threat, and then dissipating (acute). However, fear/anxiety can also be long-lasting, destructive, dysfunctional (chronic).  This chronic fear/anxiety has powerful repercussions for the individual and for the group:

It spreads automatically, as anxious people in the system find each other and fuel each other.

Differences are magnified, and those on the other side are demonized.

Lack of self-regulation leads to extreme actions/words, which are then rationalized (self-justification).

One’s identity (and happiness) becomes defined over and against the other.

Becomes subject to confirmation bias – absorbing only data that confirms what they already believe to be true and discounting all else.

The other side becomes the focus of conversation, communication (phone calls, emails, etc.) and the center of one’s attention.

Becomes focused on data – producing screeds of emails, phone calls, letters.

Will seek to sabotage/undermine any solution that appears to be close at hand, if it doesn’t allow them a “win.”
In contrast, a way of describing the little flock that has less fear and anxiety can be described as follows:

Able to use the right brain to think creatively and adapt to change. (They don’t rely on the left brain – with its previously learned solutions).

They can embrace adaptive change (internal, transformative, lasting) rather than instinctively opt for technical change (externals).

Are self-differentiated (self-aware, and able to distinguish between one’s own experience and that of others).

Control own impulses.

Have a sense of the future (to anticipate and imagine).

To “Go to the balcony” (as one scholar puts it), to see the situation from a different angle.

A drill sergeant who had worked with regular soldiers, as well as with Special Forces, was asked how he differentiated the two, given that both were subjected to intense physical, psychological and emotional pressure. “Easy,” he replied, “Special Forces guys get dumb slower!”
When one works through the psychological terms and notions outlined above, we see a glimpse of the anxious and fearful ones that Jesus encountered and that sought to destroy him; and the calm, adaptive, creative and faithful community that he sought to establish.

[Jesus said:] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:32-34).

  *Peter Steinke was one of the workshop leaders at the Gettysburg Seminary event that I recently attended. Peter is a friend and colleague of several of the retired pastors who call SAKLC home.
Pastor Ken+