Sermon September 30, 2018

 

How many of us want things to be done our way? And when we don’t get what we want do we grumble or actually complain? We live in a time when the customer is always right and we often feel like we have the authority to say so when it doesn’t happen. Here are some examples of complaints that were submitted by travelers and published in the Toronto Star. 

  • “On my holiday to India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food at all.”
  • A guest at a Novotel in Australia complained that his soup was too thick. He was inadvertently slurping gravy.
  • Following a trip to a national theme park, one angry woman complained that the sun was so hot it melted her ice cream.
  • An air traveler voiced her disapproval of all the clouds in the sky, saying they ruined her children’s game of Eye Spy.

But all of those complaints are minor when compared to one reported by the Associated Press. It seems that a man named Arthur Bundrage approached a Syracuse, New York, bank teller and demanded $20,000. When he got home, he discovered he’d been shortchanged. Outraged, he stormed back to the bank to tell them what he thought of their service. That’s when he was arrested. Well, I guess he thought he was justified in his complaint.

Before I continue, let me offer this quote for why we shouldn’t complain. “Never waste a second of your life complaining. Complaining doesn’t solve problems. It attracts them. The more you complain, the more problems you’ll have. And the more you infect other people with your problems. Don’t be an infection. Be a cure.” Here is one more, “Stay away from “still” people. Still broke, still complaining, still hating, and still nowhere.” Complaining isn’t something new 

Did you notice all of the grumbling found in Scripture today? It began with the Israelites in the desert. The people were complaining to God and to Moses telling them they were tired of eating manna. They wanted to eat meat or fish. It sounds like something I might have done when I was a child. Do I have to eat my vegetables tonight? I am really tired of them. By the way, Scripture tells us that manna was actually quite good to eat. The Israelites beat the manna, boiled it and then made cakes out of it. The Bible tells us that it tasted as good as cakes made with oil. Well, I guess variety is the spice of life and the Israelites were looking for some variety in their diet.

And it wasn’t just the people who complained. Moses told God that he was tired of their complaining. He said that they were God’s people, not his and God should fix the problem not him.  And that isn’t all of the complaining either. Joshua complained to Moses about two men prophesying in the camp when all the elders were away. Not one of the Israelites was happy and they expressed their dissatisfaction to God and the leaders of the people.

Well, complaining didn’t stop in the Hebrew Scripture. In the Gospel, the apostles complained about someone preaching the good news in Jesus’ name without being authorized to do so. The apostles only wanted those who had been anointed to cast out demons in the name of Jesus. Others needed to be stopped. They must have thought that you needed to be ordained in order to talk about how God works in our lives. That doesn’t happen today, does it?

It doesn’t seem that much has changed. We complain about bad drivers, about people who get in our way. We complain about things that our neighbors have done and things that are happening on the other side of the world. I know that complaining can be therapeutic. At the same time complaining can also make us negative about many things. We even occasionally complain to God about what is going on in our lives. Why did you let me get sick, we might say in our prayers to God. Why did you allow me to lose all of that money? Why can’t you come and solve my problems?

We complain to people as well as to God. How do you respond? I would say that when we hear complaints about something we said or did, we usually want to offer a retort or respond with a negative comment about the other person. We might even become disgusted or ignore the other individual. Somehow, though, when we complain to God, we believe that God is able to take it all and deal with our concerns.

You see, in each of the situations described in Scripture today, God took action. God wasn’t angered by the complaints of God’s people. God told Moses to bring together the elders and God ’s spirit entered into them. If we were to read on, we would learn that God sent quail to feed the people meat.  God also entered into the lives of the apostles. Jesus told them to leave the man alone who was casting out demons in his name. God intervened to help humans understand God’s will.

These readings also highlight the role of lay people in ministry. God encouraged the lay leaders who served with Moses, the seventy elders, to preach and to speak about what God wanted. In the Gospel, Jesus allowed someone who was not close to him to cast out demons in his name. The letter from James indicates that we should call upon the elders to pray over the sick and that their prayers will be heard by God. In each case, God took charge and supported the role of the lay people in ministry. 

If we believe that God intervened with the Israelites and the apostles, then God can intervene in our life as well. When we pray, we may actually be complaining and still God responds. We may not know how God answers our complaint but I believe that God does. 

Just as God inspired the ministry of lay people in Scripture, part of what God does is to empower us for our ministry. In the Episcopal Church, we believe that lay ministry is just as important as the ministry of any ordained person. Lay ministry takes so many different forms and there are so many things you can do as a lay minister in this church. Chalice bearers, ushers, lay readers and the altar guild offer their ministry during the service. Others offer a ministry of hospitality that we enjoy after the service.   This Sunday is social media Sunday and we have a dedicated group who keep our Facebook page and the website up to date while others help with the announcements and the newsletter. The emphasis today is on those who declare the word of God to others. I know that several people in this congregation have invited others to come and attend our church. That is a piece of lay ministry. It makes me remember the gentleman so many years ago who invited Jan and I to come and sing in the choir. It was our introduction to the Episcopal Church and it changed our lives.

Many years ago, I was encouraged by the rector of our church to go and visit someone in the hospital. When the priest asked me to go visit, the person’s name did not register with me. But I went anyway. It turns out that the man I visited was someone I had met before but not seen for a while. We had a good visit. The person I visited thanked me for coming and I got over some of the nerves I had about going to the hospital.   

Your ministry matters. Listen to this quote from D’Angelo “I learned at an early age that what we were doing in the choir was just as important as the preacher. It was a ministry in itself.” I like this quote from Nathaniel Parker Willis about ministry as well, “If there is anything that keeps the mind open to angel visits, and repels the ministry of ill, it is human love.” Our ministry to others only requires that we love one another.

 

May you feel God’s spirit entering into you and encouraging you to minister to other people. It is always the grace of God that changes things.   Hear Isaiah speaks to us about God’s grace, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God.” God’s grace is all that we need to bring God’s love to others. May you feel the strength of God empowering you this week. Amen.

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  • Matthew 2:4-6
    “When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’””