August 2nd – Grumble, Grumble!

Sermon – 10th Pentecost (Proper 14)
2 August 2015
By Rev. Max Phillips
@Perry Lutheran Home &
Christ Lutheran Church-Bouton, Iowa

Text:  “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  [Ephesians 4:1-3]

After 400 plus years of being prisoners of Egypt, the Israelites are finally redeemed from their slavery.  God, with a mighty hand slays god after Egyptian god with plagues designed to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that other gods are powerless and impotent against the one true God.  And with such a great and powerful demonstration which no Israelite living at the time would forget they set out in their newly given freedom.

You’d think their gratefulness would have lasted at least another 400 plus years…  But it didn’t.  They had gratitude challenges.

First, they were confronted with Pharaoh’s second try at conquest.   They were turned away by hostile nations who did not want them and their God passing through their borders.  They were confronted by the starkness of the desert which wasn’t made for a moving mass of humanity and livestock.  There was no water.  There was little food.  Not much was growing, but this one thing….

Some of you are master gardeners.  You can grow anything anywhere anytime.  Some of you don’t have such green thumbs but you get by with just enough produce to have something ‘home grown’.  Some of you can’t keep a house plant alive, but you know where the grocery store is, so you survive.

You may or may not be a master gardener, but let me tell you who is.  The Devil is, that’s who.

In all those Israelite men, women and children he and his green thumb were sowing a crop right in the midst of God’s redemptive work for them.  Worse than weeds, Satan was growing discord and the seed bed was ripe for it!  God remembers it well, in fact he gives the very day and place.  The Desert of Sin, half-way between Elim and Sinai and it was on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt.  And what does he remember?  “The whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.”  [Exodus 16:2]

It’s true, they were venting their anxiety on their God-given leaders, but Moses stated the facts plainly.  “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”  [Exodus 16:8b]

That crop of discord growing in the people of God was directed at God.  That’s how Satan works.  He doesn’t really care about you or what happens to you.  All he is interested in is driving discord in the church and in the faithful so that they give up on God, get distracted from His work or find only burdens from him instead of blessings.  In this way he gets to God.

The devil knows how much God cares.  He found that out at the cross of Calvary when he saw how far God was willing to go to redeem all of his people.  He had to be in awe that God loved people enough to kill his only Son.  He knows that unity is what Jesus brings and he works against it by preaching contrary messages like salvation through works, or even a ‘discipleship of uniformity.’  Thank God, He has given us His Word and Spirit to combat Satan’s destructive trickery.

The church is built on Jesus Christ, He is our head and we His body.  We move on the earth with the same Lord but different routes to the one cross.  We are disciples of the same Lord, but gifted with different experiences.  We are members of the one church with different gifts and in different measures.  Our unity comes from our head, from Christ Jesus our crucified Lord and resurrected and reigning king, and thank the Lord we are not uniform.

How silly would it be if we all had the same route to the cross, the same experiences, the same gifts and in the same measure?  We wouldn’t be much of a body would we?  We wouldn’t move well as His church either.

You are made up of various parts.  You have hands.  They do lots of things.  Sometimes pretty good, sometimes they don’t work as well as we like.  We have feet.  You may like them and show them off or you may never show them in public.  We each come equipped with hands and feet that work.  When they get hurt that’s when we find out something else…we need them!

Hands and feet are taken for granted until we can’t use them like we used to.  We pray for healing, we seek treatment, we cast them up or have surgery done on them because we need them back the way they were.   None of us would want to give up hands in favor of just four feet.  No one would give up feet in favor of another set of hands at the end of our ankles.  We wouldn’t be right.  Yet that’s what Satan preaches.   Unity, not in the blood of Christ Jesus, but instead unity from being the same.  It’s something that I call the ‘fairness doctrine.’

‘They need to do as much as me.’  It’s not fair!  ‘I need to have as much as them.’  ‘They helped those people out, why don’t they help me?’  And you can hear it beginning, the grumbling.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been there.  Grumbling comes natural and because it is naturally produced in a crop of sin and it feels pretty good… for awhile.

Grumbling divides us, certainly from each other, but don’t forget against whom all grumbling in the church is really directed.  Remember Moses challenging the people with this truth: “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”  [Exodus 16:8b]   And whenever the grumbling starts in the church, blessings become burdens and grace gets lost.

Uniformity and fairness are Satan’s weapon against the unity that Christ has established for His church.  Paul makes this most interesting point.  “Make every effort to KEEP the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  [Ephesians 4:3]  In other words, we don’t have to find organizational ways to build and unify the team, God has already done it and it is established.  We can live in it, give thanks for it, move with it, ….or wreck it by denying it.

Now, about now some of you may be saying to yourselves that we must have a real problem in our church.  That’s not the point.  If not now, we will.  If you aren’t grumbling now, you will.  God makes this danger so prevalent in His Holy Word so that we will not only be on the watch for its coming, but even more importantly that we might recognize that our unity in Christ Jesus cannot be taken away.  All we have to do is believe it.

It is the Gospel that unites us.  The shed blood of Jesus is the great unifier of the church.  If sin comes natural, then living in our redemption forgiveness comes supernatural.  In Christ Jesus and through the faith he brings we have a new nature.  We love.  We help. We serve.  We praise God and even speak well of our neighbor.

Now here’s the good news.  If you find yourself grumbling about things or people, know that you have a different reality waiting for you as soon as you turn the other cheek.   For in the church when it comes to healing division or getting past complaining we got what we need!

God gifts us with many needed spiritual gifts.  Some of the mightiest seem pretty weak at times.  He tells us to use humility, gentleness, patience and to bear with one another in love.  That doesn’t sound like a Donald Trump strategy.  It’s God’s strategy.  It is His own recipe for helping us find again and again our head Jesus and the unity he brings to the body much like a spinal cord anchors everything in the human body.

Consider that for a moment.  Without a spine you don’t move.  You don’t live.  With one, you walk, run, play, and breathe. It connects everything to the head.   Our spine extends down from Christ Jesus who has made us different in how we look, in what we experience, in the gifts we have, and where we have our daily walk, all so that together we can make a difference in a world of unbelievers and in the lives of that next closest one.

How are you doing when it comes to grumbling?  Any of you have an ‘ingratitude problem’ when it comes to church and those God has placed around you?  Would getting past all the hurts and slights require a miracle for you?  God has a good one for us, just look around.  God has gifted you with needed talents and treasures for our work, but even more importantly he has gifted you with all the rest of us, now brothers and sisters of the King.  Together, we are His and with him as our head, we move.   No discord can get in the way when we live in our cross bought redemption, for in this life we live in grace.

He has made this miracle of the church ours.  Who can complain in the least?

In Jesus Name,
Amen!

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