Proper 20A; Pentecost 16; Exodus 16 & Matt. 20; 9/20/20
I remember running to a coffee shop during a break. In the line in front of me were two young women in their 20’s followed by a soldier in fatigues. One of the young ladies was complaining to the barista about not having enough whip cream in her coffee and the other was complaining about something else. As they complained, I could see the soldier’s posture become rigid and begin to restlessly fidget about. I backed up one step.
I could surmise what was going through his mind having known other veterans. Veterans have gratitude that they could just have a cup of coffee and not complain about what kind of fixings went in it.
All of us have been complaining about COVID—how could we not—missing what we hold dear in life—most of all relationships. We have plenty of company when it comes to complainers.
Besides the Israelites in the Wilderness there’s Jonah who sits under a bush in the hot sun while his shade withers away having a pity party when Nineveh wasn’t destroyed. The disciples complained regularly and it’s no wonder that this could have been a reason why Jesus wandered out by himself to pray in order to get away from them.
This morning we read of the Israelites during their survival wilderness training, chronically complaining.
Today they are complaining about the lack of bread.
In the gospel story, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hires workers throughout the day and he pays a living wage to each of them whether they began early or late in the day. The early workers complain that they had to work longer and the landowner wasn’t being fair.
The parable isn’t about equal pay.
The parable is about God’s love for all his people whether they come to him early or later. When we’re in God, we’re happy that others come to Christ no matter what age they are.
When we rejoice at the blessings of others we reveal that our spirits are in the heart of God.
Moses speaks a sentence of deep conviction: “Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”
Moses is right on target. When we complain, we may not realize that we’re complaining about God’s order in the universe—that it doesn’t seem to be working because life seems to be so messed up.
God’s order in the universe is working just fine. Its human beings that get off track and take the order that was created and make chaos out of it. This is the part we often forget.
It’s not that we should shut up and stuff our complaints as we would still have them. Complaints don’t disappear by suppressing them. After our initial grumbling and murmuring, God seeks for us to direct our complaints to him. God helps uncover what is underlying our complaints so that the Spirit can absorb our discontent as we re-establish contact with him, redirect our path and find a way through the conflict—returning to peace of heart and mind.
In another story Jesus says that God is like the sun and rain, giving light and warmth and moisture to all.
I remember the northern winters that average overcast skies 25 days a month—blocking out the sun. I suffered from SAD from mid-November to mid-March. During the few days that would have sun, I would go outside and stand in the sun, to absorb the Vitamin D that would help relieve my depression. I could feel the change over me as the sun soaked into my body.
Prayer is learning to come out of the dark to avail ourselves of the Light God pours into our lives. When we’re disturbed and feel like complaining, instead of feeling embarrassed about it, we can take ourselves and our complaints to God so that the Spirit can reorient us into himself, his LIght and his peace.