sermon march 19 Grumbling

I vividly recall on a plane  flight that I had the misfortune as I came to see it soon, of sitting next to an American guy (not that his nationality had much to do with this point) who was also going to a new life (like Israel).  His journey was cutting all his ties, burning his bridges and going to start life anew.  And my strongest memory of him was that he was full of recriminations and complaints against everyone and everything for the way his life had gone belly up.  It was ex partners, it was government, it was his former employers and it was the whole rotten world that had conspired against him.  I got off the plane with a headache but an overwhelming sense that he had learnt nothing and he was not going to escape his demons because they did not dwell outside himself.  For four hours he had given me a self guided tour of his misery! And misery enjoys company, but I did not want to enter that dismal land.

Although this was an extreme example I do find most of us like a good grumble.  I know sometimes I do. The weather. The traffic. Slow computers. People who speak too fast when they leave a phone number for you to return their call on.  traffic lights that are too slow to change.  Overseas call centres that keep you hanging on for ages listening to an inane message about how valued my call is. Forgotten passwords.  My weight. Politicians that will not answer the question put to them in an interview.  Oh I could go on forever. Wrong prices scanned at the check out.  Petrol prices that drop the day after I fill up. Graffiti on buildings.  A soreness in my arm. The rubbish left strewn around this site.

There is in the Exodus story a tradition that is only too painfully aware that the people of God, who dwelt for generations as slaves in Egypt and who were freed by the mighty power of a compassionate God quickly took to complaining.  Because of the number of times the freed slaves wandering around in the wilderness are said to grumble and murmur it has come to be known as the murmuring tradition.  A phenomenon not unknown in many churches today.

The journey from slavery to freedom and on into the Promised Land was not a long one in terms of  kilometres travelled but it was a journey of several generations in  learning the way the freed people of God may form community and live in relationship with each other and the deliverer.  Today’s passage is part of Israel’s “on the way” story.  But isn’t that life?  Isn’t life one long “on the way story”?  I mean when have you ever arrived in the Promised Land? And when can you lay down all your struggles, growing, achievements, disappointments, hurts, joys?  The only question is how are you going to live with it all while you are journeying?  With what attitude and what relationship with God, others and yourself.

But freedom brings its own issues.  Freedom requires mature responsibility; it means living with the consequences of your actions.  Freedom and maturity mean putting an end to the blame game, no longer saying, “It’s not my fault, don’t blame me, he made me do it, she makes me feel……, if only,  when ……  happens all my problems will be over.

In slavery the enemy is clear and the battle is against the external forces that represses.  It is hard to grow to maturity in bondage.  In freedom there needs to be a shift in mentality.  There will still be battles fought, resistance is still required.  But for maturity to arrive there needs to be a fundamental shift of perspective and the enemy will also be identified as internal.

But not so for the Israelites.  They still wanted to keep the slave mentality of blaming everyone and everything else.  And in the trek through the wilderness this really weird thing has started to happen.  History is being rewritten. Life back under bondage is beginning to look OK.  I mean gees, we couldn’t make any decisions for ourselves, but who ever remembers going to bed hungry.  We may not have been able to practice our own cultural life, but gees, we never remember wandering around lost in the wilderness.  And what do we eat now?  Manna!  Manna on Monday, Manna on Tuesday, Manna on Wednesday, mana, manna, manna.  The people are saying, “Yes, Eternal God, it is indeed a privilege and an honour to be the chosen people, but why can’t you choose some other people for a change?” 

First Sunday in Lent we always have a story of testing – of Jesus being tested in the wilderness.  His testing is not the only testing in the wilderness.  Here in this third Sunday in Lent Israel is tested, and they test Moses and even’s God’s patience is tested out there in the barren wilderness. 

“Be grateful for what you have and stop complaining – it bores everybody else, does you no good, and doesn’t solve any problems.” ~ Zig Ziglarv

Positive and negative thinking affects every aspect of your being. It affects you psychologically, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Have you ever noticed that when you think positive thoughts, you feel good about yourself and you’re ready to take on the world, but when you think negative thoughts, you just want to curl up in bed, pull the covers over your head and feel sorry for yourself?

Which would you rather have–the energy for meeting the world with passion and enthusiasm, or the feeling of being in a funk? It is your choice.

If you aren’t careful, complaining can become habitual, like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, or doing your morning run. The good news — like all habits, with practice, you can train the complaining out of you. Remind yourself how valuable your time is and decide whether you would like to use it to complain or use it for something that will bring you a desired result.

An organization calling for a Complaint-Free World provides bracelets you wear on one wrist. When you utter a word of complaint, you must move the bracelet to your other wrist. The thought process goes that if you realize how many times each day (or each hour, or each minute!) you are complaining, you will stop doing it as much.

Sounds easy, but we all know it just many not be so simple.  but here are some tips

Here are a few tips I’m going to use when trying to stop complaining this month:

  • When you are about to complain or grumble stop and ask yourself, why am I about to say this?  If you know what it is that is motivating you to voice a complaint you might be able to get that without the whingeing and shining.
  • You can express displeasure, but it has to be done in a constructive way: “I can mention that something has not happened the way I would’ve liked, but I have to come up with possible ways to improve the situation instead of just moaning about it.” The key here is to switch the focus to possibilities, to finding new solutions.
  • If it looks, feels, or sounds like complaining, it probably is: Consider your tone and your audience. If you’re telling a story about the long line at the DMV to explain why you’re late to lunch, that makes sense. If you’re telling the story to gain sympathy from someone, that’s probably complaining.
  • Think of complaining as a bandage: Complaining is a temporary solution. It may make you feel better, but it doesn’t actually fix whatever the problem or situation might be. You can blow off some frustration and annoyance, but what has it cost you and some other poor sucker who has had to listen to you. Can you express your displeasure in a more constructive way. When you force yourself to take complaining out of the equation, a real solution might emerge.
  • Be grateful: All of us, no matter what our situation in life, have things we can be grateful for, whether it’s something as simple as a a meal, a walk around the park, music you enjoy, an interesting film on TV or a supportive community during a difficult transition. When you have the urge to complain, try and think of something to be grateful about instead. Easier said than done, I know, but a good way to try and reroute your mental reactions

God still loves and accepts and leads these people – murmurers and grumblers that they are.  They do make it to the Promised Land, they are fed with manna, their thirst quenched with water from the rock.