Peace Unity Purity?
Passage: Exodus 16:2-15, Phil. 1:27-30, Matt. 20:1-16
Date: September 18, 2005
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
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Lately I've been thinking about - grumpy-ness. I've been wondering if being grumpy - could ever be - a good thing. Or - at least - a sign of something - good. What if - grumpy-ness - were an indication - - of deep caring?
I've been thinking this way - because of the Bible. The lectionary - scripture readings - for this Sunday - are what started it. There's grumpy-ness - - in all three.
In Exodus - the people of Israel - grumble - or murmur - or complain - depending on your translation. And whatever you call it - it's clear that they were - upset - with both Moses - and with God. Grumpy. About being hungry - among other things.
In Philippians - Paul urges the people of Philippi - over and over - to be unified - or united - - or to be one - to be of one mind. He says it so much - that it's pretty clear - the reason he's saying it is - that they were NOT. They were not - unified. / They were - grumpy - - with each other.
And - in the Gospel reading - - Jesus tells a story about some workers - who all get paid the SAME wage - for different amounts of work. / And the ones who worked all day - for the same wage as those who only worked an hour - rightly - point out that this is unfair. / And the way they feel - - toward the other workers - and toward the unfair householder - is - - - you guessed it - - - grumpy.
So you see - it's not my idea - to think about grumpy-ness. It's all over the Bible. The thing is - I sympathize - with the grumps. / And that's what got me - really thinking. Why is that? Is it just me - or could there be something good - - about - grumpy-ness??
Here's what I think it is: In all of these cases - - the grumpy-ness - is an indication - of a kind of - bumping up - against mystery. / A bumping up against - God's ways. / Or against - the ways of others - different from - the grumps. Or maybe - a bumping up against - the grump's understanding of - God - or the behavior of others.
We think we know how God is - and what's fair - and how life should go - - and then it - does - not - - or God does not - behave like we expect. / And in the disappointment - - we get - - grumpy. / Because - - - we long - - - for things to be right.
And we long - to touch - the mystery of God. And to understand God.
There's an old story about a FLY and a MOTH - - that JUMPED in my memory - - when I read the Scripture readings for this morning. / In the story the FLY keeps bumping up against a window. / Over and over again.
And in each of the readings this morning - - there is a sense in which people keep - - BUMPING UP against - - God. / Bumping up against WHO God is. / And HOW God acts. / Like a FLY bumping up against a CLOSED window - - - these Scripture readings give us - pictures of people - - - trying to UNDERSTAND GOD - - and God's ways - - and BUMPING up against things - that make them - - - Unsatisfied.
In this story - that I linked up with these readings - there is a FLY and a MOTH. / And the moth is WATCHING the FLY. / Over and over the fly bumps up against the window. / Bump. / And then flys off around the room - and again back to the window - - - bump.
The moth stops the fly and asks, "What are you DOING?"
"What do you mean," - asks the fly - "what am I doing - can't you TELL?".
"But - you don't seem to be getting anywhere - -", says the moth, " - there aren't any cracks in that window" - - - "The window's CLOSED !".
"I know the window's closed - - but - I have to TRY"
"Well - - don't you ever get TIRED?"
"I don't have time to get tired"
"Have you had any success?" / "Not yet"
"How long will you continue?" / "‘Till I succeed"
"But - - what if you DON'T?" . . .
And the fly flew off - - not hearing the moth - - - and as night fell - - a candle was lit - - and it attracted the moth's attention - - - and off it fluttered - in the direction of the glow - - - where it crackled itself up in smoke.
I suppose the story is designed to illustrate that everyone has their own fault. / Those who judge - - also might have their own problems - - like the moth.
But for me - - when this story is held up next to these Scripture readings - - it highlights - something about FUTILITY - - and PERSISTENCE - - and FRUSTRATION - - and this ongoing QUEST - - - of the FLY - - a quest to break through.
And it describes - two very different world views - - that of the fly - and that of the moth. / And how difficult it is to see life - from the perspective - - different from what we expect.
And I see this same kind of thing in the THREE readings for this morning. / It is there in the relationship between God - and the people. / It is sometimes there in the relationships - AMONG different - people. / And maybe it is also there - - from time to time - - in US.
In the Old Testament - - the BUMPING up against the window - - comes in the form of GRUMBLING. / The people of Israel are grumbling to Moses - their leader - about being HUNGRY. / Moses HAD freed them from slavery - - and now in the wilderness - they are hungry. / They grumble at Moses - - and Moses grumbles to God.
The good FOOD they got while in SLAVERY was looking GOOD - in the wilderness. / And when - - the quail and manna - - are provided - - - that's not REALLY what they want - - - and they don't gather it up - - the way they're told.
And part of the PROBLEM is: They don't feel in control of their lives - - and they don't understand the big picture. / They WERE in slavery - - NOW they are in the WILDERNESS. What kind of God - - would toss them into a barren land to starve?
After something as dramatic as the Red Sea crossing - the bar is set pretty high! The Red Sea - - and overcoming the armies of Pharoah in a foreign land - - and so - how hard could it be to feed some refugees?
Is it - maybe a little like the current situation - in New Orleans?
Expectations are pretty high. / We have a rich powerful nation. / God freed people from slavery. / The bar is set pretty high. / And then the refugees end up wandering in the wilderness - - eating rotten old mannah.
And I have to say - - I can kind of - feel their pain.
In Paul's letter to the Phillippians - the BUMPING up against the window - seems to be evident in Paul's repeated advice to them to be UNIFIED. / Be one - - be one - - he says over and over. / Which makes many people who read the letter ask - - so what's DIVIDING them?
But the question is: Can Paul really expect - people to stand in unity - when he can't be there with them? / We was - in prison - so it's not like he could just hop a plane and go to Philippi - - - but still - he's not there. / And as much as I think some of the people in the church in Philippi - need to just get a life - and stop arguing - - - I can still sympathize. / Paul's not there - and as their leader - he has been thrown in prison.
Shouldn't God treat followers better? / Why do the faithful suffer?
And BUMP we go - - - into the window.
The bump into the window - comes in the Parable in the Gospel reading - - when the workers come in to be PAID. / And the LAST are paid FIRST - - and visa versa. People who worked all day for an agreed wage - - see others who just showed up for the last hour - - get the same pay they were promised. And so they GRUMBLE. / This is NOT fair. And the point Jesus seems to be making - is that God's GRACE is NOT fair. / God is generous - and loving. / And unpredictable.
And for a lot of people - that is - - - - annoying.
But there IS a common theme in all of these stories - that I see - as a way to BREAK through the window. / As a way - to find some better UNDERSTANDING of God.
A few years ago - I was preparing to swat a FLY at our house. / It was up against the window glass - - and I didn't have a fly swatter - - so I tried to use the palm of my hand - - to trap it. But I pressed too hard. / And the next thing I knew - - there was GLASS all over the back yard. I shattered the window - - - and the FLY - - - got away. Embarrasing - - but true. / For a minute I was MOST upset - that the FLY got away. / So maybe it serves me right. Some break-throughs are better than others.
In these Scripture readings - - the way to break through - - and find some deeper understanding of God - - and stop BUMPING up against God's mystery - - comes for me with the idea of a common theme - running through all the readings:
Do not look to YOUR OWN interests. Look to the interests of OTHERS. What God DOES NOT give - - - is a completely FAIR world - - - or - - the gluttonous life of luxury based on slavery. But what - - DOES - - God give? Look there and maybe you break through.
God DOES give - enough - - - - enough quail and manna - to survive - - - and enough pay to buy what we need - - if we are willing to work. God does give the necessities. / God does give - - - LIFE.
AND - - sometimes God gives - amazingly unfair gifts - of mercy. / Gifts which seem unfair - - - unless you are receiving them.
And so what do these words about mercy and providence mean for our lives? / As we hear about people who grumble - - but get what they need - - rather than what they want - - - AND about a merciful - unfair - gift giver - - as we hear these things - what conclusions do we come to - - - - about our own lives?
- - about this congregation? About our nation - and the world?
How do we hear these words about a God of mercy and providence?
As we think about our denomination's ongoing - arguing - about - controversial issues - - how do we hear these texts? / Since 2001 there has been a denominational task force - called, "The Task Force on Peace Unity, and Purity". / They are scheduled to make a report in the summer of 2006. / And as I wait for their report - I wonder - and hope - and get nervous - and sometimes - - grumpy. / I think about others who are grumpy. / Grumpy about how our denomination goes about these debates. / Grumpy that we can't find ways to a more just - honest - effective - and faithful. / A better way of being Church - and sharing God's grace and love with the world.
And it's because I love the church - - that I get grumpy. / And it's because of people - who feel hurt by the church - about whom I care deeply - that I get grumpy.
And it's so darn - difficult.
I wrote an email note recently - and sent it to many of my family and friends. / I made the mistake of mentioning my opinion about current events in our world - and my feelings about - politics. / A family member - with whom I disagree - on basically everything - got it. / And they wrote back - a long note - explaining HOW they disagree with me - and why.
And the thing is - I wrote the note - and sent it off in the early morning - because I was feeling - grumpy - and disconnected - and alone - in the world - - because of current events. / And so I wrote the note - in order to - connect. / To connect with people - who I deeply love. / And I KNOW we disagree - - I just longed - not to.
And the result - was more disconnection. Because of - our disagreement.
Breaking through - to find unity - - is not so easy.
And I think it's because there are BOTH - - people - who we don't really understand - - like my family member - - who I love. / And like the people on the other side of the "Peace, Unity, Purity" debate. / And - there are things about God - that we don't understand.
And I think a starting point - with the people we don't understand - IS - the God we don't understand. / Strange as that may sound.
Maybe we - on both sides - can sit together - in the mystery of God. / And try to listen to each other's passion and perspective. Rather than both trying to - inadequately and differently - make sense of God.
There is a story - that helps me think a little about that - and I'll close with the story: It's a story about a wise man who gave away his friend's prize watch. / It was an expensive gold watch. / It was sitting on a table in the corner where his friend had left it - - so it wouldn't get damaged.
But later that day - a poor man came knocking on the door. The wise man - gave the poor man - - his friend's watch. The wise man's friend - came back in the house from the backyard - and when he heard what had happened - he GRUMBLED, "What! - - you gave away my watch - that was expensive!"
"I understand", said the wise man - - - and he ran after the poor man.
He caught up to him and said, "Wait - - - that watch I gave you is very VALUABLE". / "Do you want it BACK?", asked the poor man.
"No - - - I just wanted to tell you what it's worth - - - - to make sure - you get a good price for it".
The story - is unsatisfying - because it seems unfair.
Unless - - - you hear it - - from the position of the poor man.
Then - it is still - strange. / But it's good strange.
Amazing - strange. / Like God.