The Scripture passages for Sunday are Exodus 16:2-15 and Matthew 20:1-16.
Let’s look first at the text from Exodus, which follows the crossing of the Red Sea. You remember the story. The people have been brought safely out of Egypt. In a spirit of thanksgiving, Moses offers a song to Yahweh. The prophet Miriam, with tambourine in hand, leads the first documented liturgical dance, singing, “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”
But the voices of worship and praise don’t last long. In the blink of an eye, the people complain about the bitterness of the water. In response to which, the LORD miraculously turns the water sweet. Then Moses leads the people to a place where palm trees and fresh springs of water abound. Yet again, in the blink of an eye, the whole congregation complains. In The Message their grumbling voices say, “Why didn’t GOD let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!” In response to this complaint, what does GOD do? God rains down food from the heavens.
Fast forward to our reading from Matthew 20. To really understand what is going on here, let’s back up to Matt 19:27. Peter has another question to ask. (Recall that his question from last Sunday was about how many times we should forgive a brother or sister.) Here, Peter seems to be checking out the way of the future. “Look Jesus, we’ve given up everything to follow you, so what’s in it for us?”
Now there’s a question. It’s a question that is woven into our modern day worldview—and one that, sadly, has taken up residence in the church. If you doubt it, let me share a few questions I’ve heard over the years along with a few responses I’ve been known to make:
Question: What’s in the church for me?
Answer: How about God and fellowship with God’s children!
Question: Why should I go to church when I don’t get anything out of it?
Answer: First, could you tell me, what you put into it?
Question: Why doesn’t the church entertain me and meet my spiritual needs?
Answer: It’s not about you.
It’s the truth. It’s not about us. And that’s what Jesus tells Peter. The story of the laborers in the vineyard demonstrates how people tend to see the world—seeking fairness for number one—first of all. The point of the story is that it’s not about us—it’s about God! God is a generous God. God loves whom God will love. And in God’s math—many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
But most of us have trouble with God’s math, don’t we? We want what we deserve and if we show up to work early in the morning and sweat all day in the hot sun, we want paid more than that rascal who shows up right before quitting time. We want what we deserve. Or do we? Okay, I won’t speak for you, but personally, I don’t want what I deserve from GOD because I know that what I deserve is zero—nothing—zilch. No, I think I am in better standing if I accept God’s math.
Still, if I am being honest (and since I am your pastor, I feel compelled to be honest here) that doesn’t keep me from complaining right along with those laborers in the vineyard. I grumble when things seem to be going better for other people than for me. I complain when I pray and pray and nothing seems to happen. I grumble when God doesn’t rain down manna from the heavens to fix whatever ails me—right now. I complain and, admit it, so do you. We all do.
Which brings us to something important that will be happening on Sunday. During worship we will each receive our very own “A Complaint-Free World” bracelet. As a church we are taking the challenge to remain complaint free for 21 days. That’s right—3 whole weeks without complaining.
God is so generous. God is so good. Let’s make a pact to work together to end the ear pollution of complaining. Let’s trade our spirit of complaining into a spirit of thanksgiving for being counted among those loved by the Lord. Yes, let’s!