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Complainers Anonymous (a sermon)

17February2012

I hereby convene this meeting of “Complainers Anonymous.” Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m a chronic grumbler. I’m an expert in criticism, with a Ph.D. in nitpicking. Nothing is ever enough, and I am rarely satisfied with what I have. I know that life is rigged, and the cards are stacked against me, and try as I might, I am doomed to failure. My constant grousing about what is lacking, deficient, and imperfect  has caused the people around me undue stress, and cast a cloud of negativity over my family. If you think I’m kidding, ask my wife.

The Bible has a lot to say about complaining, especially where the children of Israel are concerned. They grumbled against Moses and the Lord in the wilderness. They grumbled because they didn’t have enough water, because they got tired of Manna, because they thought Moses was a bad leader. They grumbled because they missed Egypt, because they weren’t yet in the Promised Land, because they thought God had let them down. And while I would like to think that I’m different (I’m a preacher, for Christ’s sake – literally!) when I look in the mirror I know that too often, that’s simply not the case. I’m a faith-deficient, gratitude-impaired grumbler. This is my confession, which I will no doubt repeat again come Ash Wednesday next week. I’m not who I want to be. And not entirely sure how I got this way. But my hunch is that it has something to do with being a sinner. A sinner desperately in need of grace, yet fully committed to recovery.

Consequently, I need to make a meeting at least once a week – not to work a 12 step recovery program, as helpful as that might be, but to hear the Word of God, which alone has power to restore me to sanity. Each Sunday, I gather with fellow struggler-disciples in order to make a moral inventory my life (confession and repentance), to receive the presence and power of Christ in bread and wine (er, juice)…and to practice praising God for His undeserved favor. Because that’s what you and I were created for.

A long time ago a transformed sinner/saint named Paul started meetings in some of the ancient cities around the Mediterranean Sea. In a letter of encouragement to the community of recovering grumblers at Ephesus, he wrote… “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance…  so that we… might live for the praise of his glory.”  An inheritance. It’s not a check or a house or a piece of property. It’s not an antique car or a collection of gold coins. Yet this inheritance from the Lord is valuable beyond measure. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has given us new life, faith to move mountains, a hope that will not disappoint, and a love which unites us  beyond and in spite of our differences. Each Sunday, we gather for the reading of His last will and testament. We do this in order to remember what we have received and lay claim to it… to celebrate and give thanks and count our blessings.

But for a lot of us, that’s easier said than done. Not that we don’t count things. We count calories. We count out the day’s pills. We count down the days ‘till vacation and the money in our billfolds and the minutes until quitting time. And along with all these everyday countdowns, there are more serious ones. We count grudges. We keep track of slights. We count casualties in the war against terror.  We count up-ticks and down-turns in the stock market. We count a mounting national deficit and a growing trade imbalance. So when someone asks, “How are you doing?” which measurement should you and I use? “Well, my computer’s down. My cholesterol’s up, and Johnny got two “D’s” on his report card. The new boss is a pain, my sister’s not speaking to me, and they just announced another downsizing at work. Other than that, I’m fine.”

Is it just me, or do the things that are wrong come rolling off our tongues much more quickly and easily than the things that are right? To the recovering grumblers in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” I wonder what could change if that verse became our first thought in the morning? Not a list of things to do, or a cloudburst of anxieties, or a litany of aches and pains, but the fact that we are blessed beyond measure. Maybe then we would begin to notice everyday miracles again and thank God for them. It might make detectives of all of us. Each day, looking for the simple ways God has blessed us, that we too often take for granted or fail to notice. It could be a little game you play with your family, to see who can count the most blessings by the end of the drive, or the end of the meal, or the end of the day. I think that would make God smile.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Maybe if we began each day with that affirmation, we would begin to appreciate the daily provision that God supplies. The manna that comes to us as a warm place to live, and food on our tables, and clothes on our backs, and all the other things that God so graciously supplies in answer to our prayers. So let’s say that tomorrow morning its cold outside and your car decides not to start. We need to practice here. What will your first response be? Maybe instead of grumbling you could take a deep breath, and first thank God that you have a car. And then thank Him that it turned over on the first try the last 587 times you started it. You could express your gratitude for the many places that car has taken you, and for the fact that on each trip, you arrived safely… that sort of thing. You see how this could lead to a richer prayer life, right? Not just praying at set times like before meals or bed, but talking to God throughout the day. And if for some reason you fall off the wagon, there’s no reason to give up. Recovery is a process. The bible calls it sanctification.

So make another meeting. Ask for help. Remember your baptism. Read the Big Book. Call on the Holy Spirit. Talk to some fellow strugglers. Receive communion. But whatever you do, don’t throw in the towel. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for praise and thanksgiving tomorrow, because God’s mercies are new every morning. Some of us have aches and pains, and some of us have physical ailments for which we are receiving treatment. And that’s incredibly hard, to be sure. But have you ever thought of all the things that had to go right in order for you to be reading this blog? All the electrons and neurons and other kinds of “trons” in your body that had to fire at just the right time so that you could boot up and type and focus your eyes on this text? All the tendons and ligaments that expanded and contracted for the millionth time in just the right way and stayed attached, so that you could walk to the place where you’re seated right now? It’s amazing if you stop to think about it.

In the time that you’ve been reading this, your heart has pumped over 1400 times without missing a beat. That’s about the same amount of time it took for them to strip our battered Lord of his clothes, and nail him to a cross. He had every reason to be bitter. But he let it go. He gave it to His heavenly Father, and saw the opportunity in the suffering. When the crowd jeered, he prayed. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He forgives us, too – all of us who just don’t know what we’re doing when we sing songs of praise one minute, but murmur the next, failing to recognize God’s faithfulness and forgetting His promises.

Yet the Scriptures testify that change is possible, one day at a time, through the power of the Holy Spirit. So let’s hold each other accountable. Let’s call each other on it. Because there is so much negativity all around us, and the best witness we can have as the Church of Jesus is to be THANKFUl. Let’s remind each other of the inheritance we have, and point out manna to each other wherever we find it. Let’s bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” And if you’d like to be my sponsor for Lent, please leave your email address in the comment box:)

JAM@CCD

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One Comment leave one →
  1. mike permalink
    18February2012 21:09

    I definitely like the bibilical “attitude of gratitude” you’re getting at but how does that focus of stop your mumblin…keep from slipping into some kind of Polyanna attitude or “don’t worry be happy” unreality?

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