God for Complainers?, Sermon 09.18.11

God for Complainers?, Sermon 09.18.11

Exodus 16:2-15; Jonah 3:10-4:11; Matthew 20:1-16.

We actually have 3 readings this morning,
Why three?
… because they were all so good; I couldn’t pick; didn’t want you to miss any of them.

And I like how they go together– so much earthy, human reality:
Keeping our tallies,
nursing our resentments,
convinced we’re getting the short end of the stick,
making our cases, giving our side of the story,
all the reasons we think we shouldn’t have to deal with the situations…
we have to deal with!

We come off like little kids, complaining “It’s not fair.”

God leads the Israelites out of slavery,
parts the Red Sea waters,
stops the pursuit of Pharoah’s army.

Now the Israelites are faced with figuring freedom out.
This new life’s sort of a wilderness to them…
they’re dissatisfied, unhappy, complaining–
“we’d rather Egypt w/ all it’s meaty slave stews.”

And Jonah, he’s out of sorts too.
He never liked his assignment in the first place:
who wants to deal with one’s enemies,
much less see one’s enemies aren’t all bad?

To add salt to the wound,
as Jonah foresaw,
both God and his enemy make a liar of him.

The assignment he never wanted in the first place
turned out to successful–
at least from God’s point of view,
if not apparently from Jonah’s!

The city doesn’t get leveled…
those blasted or blessed (depending on whose point of view one”s taking) … those blessed Ninevites hear the call to repentance,
take advantage of God’s goodness,
and grab a second chance.

God wins, so do the Ninevites.
But Jonah complains,
“I knew it:
God, you left me looking like a fool,
and saved my enemies to boot.”

And our third reading,
that I sort of acted out with the kids:
it’s my favorite parable…

Madelyn read the first two readings;
I get to read this last one today.
But first it’s my turn to channel the quirky muse
whose ministry among us is creating our scripture intro.s:
 
“No question about it:
the wage discrepancy in this passage is unfair.
Equal pay for equal work,
labor fairness,
ain’t happenin’ in this story.

There isn’t enough fairness
going around these days.
But when you are in the care and community of God,
you can grow strong enough
to embrace a larger goodness and vitality
that goes beyond fairness
to a love and provision for all.

In the meantime, though,
if you’re sick of getting the short end of the stick,
give a listen
to what the Spirit is saying to the church…

{Matthew 20:1-18}

God always blesses the reading of Scripture;
let us bless it be not just hearing it,
but be taking it inside ourselves
and letting it change lives…

All this biblical grumbling, discontent, complaining.
And God’s putting up with it;
God’s patience, grace, help…
Who’s the one who really goes the second mile?

Manna from heaven and quail too.
Saving a whole city; reasoning with a frustrated prophet,
Just payment for all; undeservedly generous to some…

I experienced some of this “why me?” belly-aching on Monday
when I and 5 others met with Mayor Nutter.

A pre-meeting for next Sunday’s founding convention for POWER.
The mayor, rightfully, wanted to know:
“What questions will you be asking me in front of 2500 people?”

Representing POWER, we explained:
We’ve done over 1,000 1 on 1 meetings.

The personal stories
we’ve heard revolve around five key policy areas —
Jobs, Schools, Safety, Housing & Health –

They blend into a common narrative
about pain, diminishing opportunity, despair.

But, we’re people of faith: our hope cannot be defeated…

We’ve conducted research meetings:
regular citizens meeting with public and private sector leaders,
to figure out where the problems lie,
to learn the scope of the challenges facing our city,
to identify opportunities for collective action and transformation.

We explained:
POWER believes the key to positive change in this city
is getting people back to work,
… engaging the public and private sectors
to develop pathways to such a goal.

The Mayor, calm and collected,
maybe a little wary,
but the consummate detail guy,
asked,

“So, what exactly will you be asking me?”

Robin Hynicka,
the pastor at Arch Street UMC, responded,

“Mr. Mayor, we want
10,000 jobs for Philadelphians in the next 5 years,
we want that to become a major goal of your administration
and for this city.

We want you to work with us
…to gather the governmental,
not-for-profit and business resources
needed to get people back to work.”

Hizzoner sat back.
Then he asked,
”You think I can come up with so many jobs?”

We’ve done our research.
Dwayne Royster, pastor at Living Water UCC, answered,
“Mayor Nutter, with the number of unemployed
and underemployed citizens in Philadelphia,

…we think 10,000 is not only a necessary and doable goal,
we think it’s a number on the small side.”

Beloved, our city has lost tens of thousands
of manufacturing jobs in the last few decades;
…the Inquirer reported on Thursday:
approximately 62% of job opportunities
are over the heads of 550,000 people in this city:

a majority of the jobs available
are not possibilities for almost half the population.

There’s a mismatch between our workforce and the work available…
…the tragic consequences all around us,
particularly in the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

You know how the Mayor responded?

He said,
“What do you expect me to do?
the city’s unemployed are not qualified for the work available,
And they don’t want to do the hard work,
to prepare themselves for the jobs there are.”

Mayor Nutter suddenly sounded like
one of our biblical discontents.

Responding to our request like a little kid, “That’s not fair.”

Grumbling about the situation he faced.
Blaming someone else.
Complaining the city he chose to lead,
Murmuring about the office he holds…
Unhappy with responsibility he took on…

I thought to myself,
“well, Mayor, no one forced you to take the job.”

Church,
isn’t sizing up the problems, recasting them as challenges
and developing solutions…
isn’t that almost the definition of the mayor’s office, his job description?”

It’s like pastors complaining about the churches they serve!
If there weren’t problems to be solved,
there’d be no work to be done.

When I hear colleagues get all knotted up in what’s wrong with their churches, I think:
“All churches have problems. Some of them more problems.
That’s why they need pastors!”

If God calls me to a certain ministry,
I’d better stop bellyaching about how impossible it is,
and, instead, atart bringing folks together to find, to create solutions…”

That’s what POWER is going to say to the Mayor next Sunday:

“you are first among other leaders…
having accepted the responsibility for where our city is,
help us get where we need to be…

We’re here, with strength, to work with you,
if you will work with us…”

Hizzoner’s attempted dodge,
like the Israelites bellyaching,
and Jonah’s whining,
and the long-tenured’s feeling short-shrifted
make me think:

Beloved, we face situations all the time
we may not have chosen…
would not have picked for ourselves.

Circumstances we feel are unfair,

More than we want to put up with,

Too much to ask of ourselves,

“No way out” kinds of scenarios…

…That’s often enough a human response to life itself…

But from God’s perspective:
As I say about our church revitalization all the time:
“God wouldn’t ask us to do something,
and then fail to provide the resources to get it done.”

God sticks with us, keeps trying.
Goes the extra mile.
Remains patient.
Provides what we need.
Tries to help us see.
That we might do what we need to do.

See what?
Do what?

Our assignment, beloved, is found
wherever,
in whatever we find less than perfect.

Our lesson is in what we would not have chosen for ourselves.

Our growth is in getting beyond our excuses.

In stopping ‘thinking first’ of ourselves and the difficulties we face,
and instead looking to other people and their needs,
and the opportunities God provides.

That’s faith that overcomes all despair with a hope that knows no end.

I hope you will join me and POWER next Sunday afternoon.
We can grumble and complain.
Or we can recognize God in a challenge.

Amen.

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