October 8, 2017 Message

October 8, 2017, lessons are Psalm 80:7-15 and Exodus 16:1-18. Read the scripture lesson at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+16&version=NIV

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 


Last week's sermon was about the call of Moses and how he made excuse after excuse about why he wouldn’t be the right choice to go and confront Pharaoh. After 8 attempts he finally agreed to go knowing that God went with him. Today’s story then seems a little awkward because it skips a lot of what has happened. It misses Moses entering Egypt again, trying to gain the trust of the Israelites. We skip the great contest between God and the great gods of Egypt. We miss Pharaoh’s heart being hardened so that there are the 10 plagues. We even miss the institution of the Passover—this defining event that still happens every year to declare that God’s people are chosen and paid for by the blood of the lamb. All of this is important to today’s story because we have moved from God having these vague promises to the descendants of Abraham to “one day” give them the blessing—to God promising them that he will right now lead them out of Egypt to the land of milk and honey. No longer do they have to bank on “someday” because God has redeemed them right now and has started this relationship with them. They are able to talk to him through Moses and they get to see his presence constantly in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that is leading them. So God’s presence is very real moment by moment.


This relationship is very important because very quickly into this trip there are some issues. We hear the first is the water at the first watering hole they come to is bitter—so they complain and Moses asks God and God tells him to throw a piece of wood into the water and it will be purified. Right after that move forward and that brings us up to today’s text where the people complain food.


Who among us likes complaints? My guess is no one, especially if they are directed against you. Complaining generally is thought of as a really negative experience for all involved. Complaining however at its core is to express dissatisfaction or annoyance about a state of affairs or an event. We sometimes need to do that. At times we need to let people know that we don’t like how things are going. There were a group of three friends that whenever they got together played Scrabble. They had played together for years, and there were some epic words and battles over the Scrabble board. They would recount the games and words they had played, and their vocabularies increased. Then one day when one of them had just gotten out the Scrabble board the third girl said, “You know I don’t really like Scrabble.” They didn’t know! Of course they didn’t. Had they known she disliked Scrabble they would have found something else to do, but because she never mentioned it to them, they just assumed it was a favored activity. She had been playing Scrabble for years with them, but was just too shy to ever say that she didn’t actually enjoy it. She had enjoyed their company and so she played with them. But they were all happier when they started doing other things together.


So at the base of it complaints are not bad. How will things ever change if we don’t point out what we are dissatisfied with? I have said it before, Satan never created anything; God created all things good and Satan just takes and twists them and makes them evil. So at the heart of complaining is actually the desire and motivation to make things better. It is in the heart of our imagination to look at the world and see what God wants to be improved and move towards it. We have the God given ability to imagine what the world could be like and then move towards it.


I should note some things that Satan has had a much easier time corrupting than others. And this complaint is one of the easiest it seems. How quick and easy it is to let a complaint fall from the tongue and how damaging! Phrases like “I couldn’t believe she came to church like that!” or “Did you see the way those kids acted during the sermon?!” have harmed people’s faith. And a complaint actually makes the one who is complaining feel good by putting them in a superior position while whoever is being complained about feels bad. So it is no wonder that complaining has gotten such a bad rap. Very few of us want to be around someone who constantly tells us what is wrong with ourselves and the world. There is such negativity around it that many of us try to avoid it altogether. Often when you start complaining it is hard to stop. Think about conversations that you have had that start with the phrase, “Kids these days!” or “What is the world coming to?” Do those conversations ever end with positive thoughtful solutions? No they end up with us feeling better about ourselves and worse about the world. There is now a dating service online that will match you with people who hate and complain about the same things that you hate and complain about. We all know someone who is so negative and complains so much it is hard to even be around them. Yet, remember God made it for good and it has its purpose.


So how do we do this? How do we complain in a right and holy way? Though there is no chapter and verse for how to complain, there are some Biblical principles that we can draw out. First you have to complain with love. Now I know what you are thinking, normally when I complain I am just annoyed, how can I do it with love? That of course is the challenge. Most complaints in the world do not help anyone and just serve to tear others down and isolate the sides from each other. We have tried to save the holy part of the complaint by calling it “constructive criticism” or critiques, but aren’t those saying what could be better? Complaints have to be given even to our dearest loved ones. We need to tell them that their clipping their nails in beds is driving us up the walls or it will never stop!


So here are the questions you must ask yourself before you speak up. Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said now? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said to whoever I am saying it to? And finally can I say this in love?


So think about those questions. Does this need to be said? So many things could be better in this sinful world, but not everything that can be made better needs to be commented upon. For example, if I suddenly forget the rest of my sermon and need to go over and check the very words that I have written, afterwards do you need to come up and say, “Pastor, maybe you should memorize your words better?” Probably not. The shame I will be feeling will be enough. Also it only happened once and was clearly a mistake. Now if it happened every week we would be in a very different place, someone would have to say something, which brings us to the second question.


Does this need to be said now? So timing is very important. If I am really busy or stressed out, it is probably not the time to raise a complaint. If the issue is really hot, this may not be the time; think about it a little more and bring it up later. There is a time when it will be heard, but that time may not be right now.


So the third one, does this need to be said by me? Sometimes something needs to be said, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be said by you. There are of course people who will give their advice and complaints to anyone who has ears, but that is not a very good way. If there is no relationship and no connection between you and the person you are complaining to there will likely be no change. So consider if you should be the one to give the complaint. When is the last time the Democrats complained about something and the Republicans said, “Sure, good point”? It goes the same way for the complaints of the Republicans to the Democrats. If it is someone you have a lot of friction with or are at disagreements with the chances of it being actually heard are almost zero. Maybe someone has to say it, but not you.


Does it need to be said to whoever I am saying it to? Most complaining is just directed at the wrong people. So many times we complain to whoever will listen. So often we complain to everyone else who is around us. We are like that sower who throws seed everywhere. We end up doing a lot of harm in the world because we make it just a negative place. Instead we have to be like the modern farmer who knows within in an inch where each seed should be planted (based on satellite imagery). Always make a complaint to the person who has the power to fix or change it. You can complain to me all you want about the pothole in the road by your house. I guarantee I have no power over it. If you took your complaint to city hall you might have some luck getting the pot hole fixed. Worse yet by complaining to me you are less likely to go to city hall because you feel better after complaining and so it is less likely to get fixed! The only time you should complain to me is when you want to get an entire group lobbying to have it fixed because city hall won’t listen to you.


The final criterion is can I do this lovingly? If the answer is no, stop. Go back and think about your complaint, pray about it and bring it later. When you deliver a complaint it should not be in anger or frustration but in love, it should be for the betterment of the person or the relationship. It should also then be phrased in a way that is loving.


So the Israelites today have a complaint so let’s hear how they do it. They grumble about not having enough food.


1)                      Does it need to be said? Yes it does, they don’t have enough to eat!


2)                      Does it have to be said now? Well yes, their bellies are currently empty, and if they are going to go on walking to the land of milk and honey they need to have food to get them there.


3)                      Does it have to be said by them? Yes each of those who are starving has a stake in their being some food. And each of them will die without it so it should be said by them.


4)                      Does it need to be said to whoever they were saying it to? Well no, they said it to one another and not to God. And to make matters worse they complain about Moses and Aaron not God. It is like complaining about the stewardess because the plane was delayed. Sure maybe it is a complaint but it is not the stewardess’ fault. She didn’t make it late.


5)                      Do they do it with love? Once again they fail, they do it with bitterness and hurt. Their comparisons of, “It was better in slavery” and “You might as well have killed us in Egypt” are not loving.


Yet even though they complained poorly God heard what they needed and changes for them. Were they literally in danger of starving? No, they had not eaten for a day and were hungry, but a person can go 40 days without eating and they had barely gone one. Sure they were probably hungry but God had seen them through worse. The other important part is receiving complaints. That is a different sermon, but just to summarize, even when someone is complaining in all the wrong ways they may still need something and if you can hear that you will have received it well. In response to this harmful complaining God hears them and gives them Manna—a blessed meal in their hunger. God once again sees and meets them in their sin and saves them. Let us not harm each other with our complaints but work together to bless this world in Christ’s name. Amen.