Shall We Grumble Or Rejoice?

[]The Israelites, finding themselves delivered and safe from Pharaoh's men, escaping the waters of the Red Sea unharmed, now have found themselves in the wilderness running low on food, beginning to get hungry. At a time when we think they might be rejoicing and praising God for their deliverance from Pharaoh, we find them instead grumbling and angry with Moses, saying, "How could you bring us out into this place to die when in Egypt we had as much food as we could eat sitting next to those fleshpots? Wouldn't it have been better for us just to die in Egypt having eaten our fill?"

We might look at them and say, "What a bunch of ungrateful people they are, being delivered from slavery by God with miracles, but instead they are grumbling." We also might relate to that side of their grumbling; I could imagine how that could happen. As an example, a few years ago after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and left the city flooded, thousands of people found themselves huddled inside the New Orleans Superdome seeking shelter from the storm and looking for food. But very quickly after the storm, they realized the water systems weren't working so the bathrooms didn't function. The food that was there was now gone. Help they thought was coming was not there yet. Some folks who were not able to leave, even after being asked to, were delivered from the wrath of the storm, but were now suffering in the aftermath. It seems like a clear comparison, except they weren't being chased by Pharaoh's army, but instead being chased by a storm. They found themselves in a similar position, delivered from the wrath of what was coming, but now suffering something unforeseen…a very clear human example transferring into today's time. We might find ourselves in similar situations where we go from struggle to blessing to struggle again. And you know what areas in your life that may be.

So it's a very human response for the Israelites to complain and grumble to Moses about God and say, "How could we be delivered to this point only to starve to death here?" And yet here, in God's infinite grace, God provides. God gave them manna from heaven, which I thought was the most spectacular thing I had ever heard of as a child. Even as an adult, I marveled at that story and wondered, "Did that really happen?" I questioned that until scientists found that, "Yes, there were bugs that would leave spittle or other substances that would spread on the leaves when there was dew that actually provided a protein. And there are people who live in those areas even today who say that this existed and that their ancestors had survived off this very same substance. So a very possible physical way that God might have provided for them that manna in the wilderness. So gone are the squished pieces of Wonder Bread that I always thought of as a child. God provided through perhaps some other natural means. And certainly we hear about the quails being available in the evening for them to eat. But God provided for them.

And, in a way, those thousands of people stuck in the Superdome, in the Convention Center, deliverance finally did come for them. Albeit a bit late, it did come, and the people were brought to safety. Some died, but the majority escaped to safety and found nourishment and were delivered. God's actions working through us in the modern day. God's actions working through nature for the Israelites.

So are we a grateful people when we find that life hands us adversity? Do we continue to thank God for the deliverance of spirit that we have and the transformation we have felt? Does that stay with us even in the midst of things starting to fall apart? Or do we, like the Israelites, find ourselves grumbling? Well, let me tell you, it's okay to grumble. I do it a lot. And God can take it. I think God is used to it. But in that grumbling, let us not get lost in the grumbling, but stay in the perspective that God's promises are real. And though we may be in suffering for a moment, deliverance is always at the end somehow. In some of the experiences in your life, you may be able to look back and say, "Ah, yes, there were those times, and they did get better." And for those of us who have watched loved ones struggle and suffer and die, it is the spiritual deliverance into God's Kingdom which is our hope, and which is our faith. The deliverance does come.

And, yes, we will grumble. Even if we don't intend to, it's a part of who we are as human beings, part of the human condition. And God is the one who created us, so there's a certain level of expectation for that. But do not forget that we are also supposed to celebrate and to praise God in every moment that we can as well, recognizing what God has done in our lives. Will life always be fair to us? The answer to that question is no, and God doesn't promise that life is going to be fair to us. Jesus speaks to that question in this parable about the vineyard owner who sends workers into the field. Even those who were not hired at the beginning of the day got the same wages as those who worked all day. They strolled in for one hour and got the same wages. I, for one, would say, "That's unjust, that's unfair." And, from a human perspective, we could probably agree that that's unfair. But from God's perspective, the generosity of what God has to offer to all of us, is justified in God's means, that deliverance which is there. Whether it comes through a life of struggling in discipleship and servanthood through our Savior, or coming to that at a much later time, God provides that same love, that same compassion, and that same deliverance.

And, for us, that should be something that we celebrate and that we praise God for because that goes against what our own human nature tells us about fairness. Thank God that God's perspective on fairness is different from what our human perspective on fairness is, for through that we are all able to receive God's love and grace. Does that mean we don't work toward making this a fair and just society? No. That's part of our calling. But isn't it wonderful that we have such a gracious God?

So I ask you, are we praising God or are we grumbling? This week I'm grumbling. I've seen a lot of pain in our congregation this week, and it's hard to see. Part of the reason for me telling you this is to realize it's okay to grumble. I've seen some extreme joys in this congregation this week too in the birth of a new baby. So there's been joy in that way, and joys in some healings as well. So from my perspective…a perspective that maybe you can't see because I know more things that are happening in the congregation than you do…there is somewhat of a balance. And although sometimes we feel a little off kilter, there is balance. And if we look at the deepest struggles of our life, there is usually something that we can thank God for, even in the midst of those most difficult situations.

If you take anything from today's message, I hope it is that even in the midst of our deepest sorrows and largest challenges, there is always something we can thank God for. It's okay to grumble in prayer, but offer a word of thanks too for something good that is happening. It helps to keep our spirits alive and whole. And if you need help finding a way to pray and grumble to God, read the psalms. There are lots of psalms of lament and struggle that the psalmist writes about. They aren't all happy psalms. Though we don't do it every week, when we read from Psalms, the focus is usually on praising God. But there are psalms where the bare heart and the raw nature of human struggle is present as a prayer. So if you need help with figuring out, "How can I justify grumble to God?" turn to the psalms. Read through them. There will be some that I think you will feel really resonate with you. But when you're finished, turn to one that gives praise as well, for God is a gracious God and no matter what we're going through, one day we shall be delivered.

September 21, 2008

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