The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
And when they received the usual daily wage, they grumbled against the landowner…
Once again, I want to invite you to have a vision of a Christian community and particularly the community which is our Parish. Two weeks ago, I invited you to see our Parish Community as a place of generous forgiveness. When someone “sins against us”, go have a chat face to face, endeavour to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work or if it is too scary, ask for help from wise members of the Parish. They won’t join you to accuse the other person but to help you both listen with care. As such we will be free from the oppressive nature of anger.
Last week I invited you to see the Parish community choosing to show deep respect for each other. And as a community recognizing that we are all different and that we all express our love for God in different ways. I invited you to see these two things generous forgiveness and deep respect as part of our Covenant to God and each other.
The Gospel reading and the Exodus reading today, provide us with another aspect to a covenanted Christian Community. It is to do with how we deal with complaints. I want to look at this in three ways, giving thanks to God for what we receive, complaints within the Church and complaints in the wider community.
I have spoken before about an “attitude of gratitude”. To build this attitude we need to consciously choose to make times to give thanks. Some of us still have a practice of saying grace before meals. It is an ideal time to mention some of the things we can be thankful for. It is tempting to just trot out a grace we learnt when we were young, but it is good to thank God for the cook, the farmers and others involved in bring us the meal. If there are people present who have lost their faith they never-the-less appreciate the thoughtfulness of giving thanks for people involved growing and harvesting food etc. Waiters in restaurants like it when they overhear you giving thanks for them.
Gratitude doesn’t cost us anything, others receive our gratitude and feel appreciated. And more importantly it stimulates in us a way of looking at the world. We begin to notice more things to give thanks for. You don’t have to wait for mealtimes to give thanks. Nurture in yourself an attitude and if nothing else you will be happier. Before you go to bed take some time to think through the day and give thanks for the blessings you received that day. Don’t try to name everything, you’ll be there all night. Just name three or four things.
I mention this on this day when we have readings about complaining and murmuring because this attitude of gratitude actually rewires our brains. We find less things to complain about. The old song “count your blessings name them one by one” turns out to be great advice for your mental health. So, let’s covenant together to be a community of gratitude.
But there are things we need to “complain” about. I have put complain in inverted commas because I want us rethink how we might complain. In many ways it is normal to murmur behind someone’s back, grumbling to our friends or family. Or we get so cross we tell that person in no uncertain terms; our anger is expressed with a raised voice. The person we are complaining to feels shell shocked when we are finished. But if something is normal, that doesn’t mean it is the best way to resolve a problem.
Let’s make it normal to offer constructive criticism and commit to help make the changes. On top of that lets reflect on the attitude we bring to our life in the Church.
I’ll start with attitude. If we come to worship feeling overwhelmed or stressed or just plain tied it will be harder to appreciate the good things and we will be more likely to see the things are mediocre or poorly done. I know we can be feeling overwhelmed because we are conscious of all the jobs we need to do, or the news this week has left us feeling depressed or may be trying to get a family ready if difficult. So, when we first arrive its great to take some time center yourself. Hand over to God the jobs list, the daily news of violence or the pandemic numbers. Then begin to think of the things to give thanks for. Name three or four things. Make one of those things something in our Church community that you really appreciate. Then finally invite the Holy Spirit to open you to God’s word today. These simple things, handing over the rubbish, giving thanks for the blessings and opening up to God, these things will prepare us for joyful worship.
Now even if we are prepared and centered we will notice things we think are a bit ordinary. May be the flowers will disappoint us, or one of the hymns will seem drab and boring, or the sermon will seem irrelevant. We can do that murmuring to ourselves even during worship, and we can draw others into our discontent. However, we can choose a more constructive approach. If it is the lack of real flowers that disappoint, we might offer to bring in the beautiful orchids at home and volunteer to water them as needed. So instead of complaining we make a suggestion and back it up with our commitment. If the sermons never seem to resonate you might say, would it be possible for a few of us to get together to workshop the readings each week and to talk about needs we would like discussed in sermons. Or may be you feel the hymns are dull but you know you can’t help by play an instrument or leading the singing. So you might say, look singing is such a vital part of worship and yet I feel we are a bit lack luster. You could then acknowledge you don’t know what to do to help, and never-the-less offer suggestions like gathering before worship to practice.
So, what I am suggesting is that we claim the problem as our problem, rather than blaming someone else. We show a preparedness to take responsibility with ideas and possible solutions. And we commitment to back it up.
Now if you are feeling completely time poor, and you don’t have glorious orchids at home to offer, does that mean you can’t complain. It is OK to bring the problem that is troubling you and acknowledge that you neither have the time nor the talents to help resolve it. You can still claim the problem as ours, rather than blame another. Those involved in the ministry can then take on board the issue without feeling attacked. Just raising the issue in that way may stimulate new ideas and changes.
(slide 6) Last but not least. The landowner in the Gospel chose to pay all his workers a living wage. He knew all the workers need enough for food, shelter, health care and education etc. Those that turned up last still needed as much as the others. He made sure all received what they needed. In our society today there is a growing group of people who don’t have security in their work or don’t have enough shifts to cover their costs. The senior executives may be earning millions but the those on the bottom are barely surviving. The temptation is to just murmur about this issue; we can proactively complain.
We have always seen the Parable of the landowner as a parable about God’s generosity even beyond what we deserve. We can also see it as a model for companies and employers to commit to paying their employees a living wage and giving them more confidence for the future. The Church has a responsibility to challenge the growing injustice in our society. We can work with state and federal leaders to make sure all employees receive a living wage and have security in their work.
God is calling us as covenant Community to move away from complaining to claiming problems and resolving to work together towards a solution. We are able to do that when we have chosen to be a community of gratitude.