Marjorie Jillson (1931-2010) Heinz Werner Zimmermann (1930-2022)
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"Have no fear, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This sentence is unique to Luke. I have always loved the phrase “your Father’s good pleasure.” To think of an almighty, all knowing, all powerful God, taking pleasure in giving us what is his, unstintingly, even his own beloved Son, all for us, is always unfathomable. This is quite a different view of God than the Greeks and Romans had and surprised Jesus’ hearers.
One of my good pleasures as a great-aunt is to cozy up with my two grand-nephews and read them Homer’s Odyssey. They love to hear about the feats of the wily Odysseus as he outthinks his enemies on his tortured way home to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus. They think his telling the Cyclops--whom Odysseus has blinded--that his name is NoBody is pure genius. When the Cyclops’ companions ask him who is there, he cries out, NoBody! His friends leave, saying, then you are okay. Frequently when I hear rustling in my kitchen, I assume the "critters" are there, as I call them, riffling in my cookie jar. When I call out, Who is there? They love answering back, NoBody.
But Odysseus lets hubris get the better of him when he taunts the Cyclops after he is safe from him and tells him his name. When he hears the name, he tells his father, Poseidon, the god of the sea. This enrages Poseidon and he resolves to kill Odysseus. The Greeks understood that life with their gods meant being careful not to make them angry or they would come down and create mischief for them. Thus, their sacrifices. If the gods did not smell the sweet odors of the sacrifice, they would be curious about what was going on and come down to see. That usually meant trouble for the mortals.
On a few occasions, they did favor the mortal, as Athene did Odysseus, but people lived in fear of capricious gods who delighted in making trouble for mortals.
So imagine how wonderful it was for those gathered around Jesus to hear that there was no longer reason to live in fear of a vengeful and mischievous god. It was the good pleasure of their Father to give them everything, not because they had done right by him, but because he loved them. Love was what moved Jesus’ Father. All that he had, his entire kingdom, especially his Son, was to be given to his followers.
As much as we have heard that Love is the essence of God, we don’t seem to believe it. We make deals with God—really sacrifices. If you overlook my cheating of my boss, I will go to church. If you let me get away with breaking my marriage vow this one time, I will give money to the poor. If you give us rain so the crops will grow, I will sacrifice my child on an altar, one of the oldest of sacrificial practices. Etc. We all understand this even as it appalls us. It seems that the urge to sacrifice is simply in us.
God does not see it that way. The whole premise of the Christian faith is to break that old and deep captivity of original sin. God is the one who sacrifices for us. He provided a ram for Abraham so he would not sacrifice Isaac. Christ, as the Lamb of God, was sacrificed for us ending the need for any more sacrifice and freeing us to serve our neighbor with all that he gives us, daily.
Jesus assures us that we will be taken care of through all of life by a generous and loving father whose kingdom is given for us in Jesus, the King of Heaven. He even tells us that it is the Father’s “good pleasure” to do so. Have no fear! And give thanks!
Marjorie Jillson wrote stanzas 2-4 of this hymn in the early 1970s. A native of Detroit, she graduated from Wooster College. After years as a secretary in Washington D. C., she returned to Detroit and became a secretary in a dental office. She wrote a collection of hymns in 1971 which included this hymn.
Heinz Werner Zimmermann was born in Freiburg im Breisgau, and attended the Kirchenmusikalisches Institut Heidelberg (Institute for Church Music) in Heidelberg. He served as composition teacher at Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts. He then returned to Heidelberg where he continued his teaching.
Zimmermann wrote the first stanza of this hymn, using the biblical language. He then put it to a jazzy tune with its rhythm taken from Scripture. He set all of the texts in Marjorie's collections. He was among the first to try to use jazz, the idiom of the day, for a hymn. The American Lutheran Church Women (ALCW) chose this for their yearly theme hymn one year and made it a beloved hymn. It was quite modern since it did not use conventional forms, either metrical or rhymes. Thus, it sounded rather fresh to composers and those who came to love it.
Chris Winston, Improvisation on tune
For those planning for Bible study through the next year, you might consider the book Jesus the Harmony. It has a poem for every day of the year and Bible references on each poem that put Jesus in what has been called "the red thread of salvation." Many have been using it for daily devotions; others in group Bible studies.