Complaining, Grumbling and the Kin-dom of Heaven

Exodus 16:2-15, Matthew 20:1-16 and Excerpts from The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Hello and happy Sunday, thank you once again for showing up for yourself, for Spirit, for creation and for one another. It has been a really hard week in the life of our church and our country.

As we bring ourselves to this time, let us breathe in peace and breathe out fear. Let us breathe in connection and breathe out division. And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer. God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

The whole congregation complained.

I believe it is no accident that the first line from that incredible story in the book of Exodus begins this way, “The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.”

Because they were starving in body and in spirit, wondering where they would end up, wandering from hope to hunger, unsure when they would be nourished fully, desperate to be out of the wilderness, out of the unfamiliar and on their way to the Kin-dom of Heaven. And so the whole congregation complained.

They were tired and sore from stretching. They missed the landscape that was familiar. They grumbled for lack of sleep and lack of a sense of sanity. They lamented and longed for the time that would be different from this. They complained… because justice wasn’t yet known and felt and because the way was yet to be shown, yet to be revealed and because they were yet to fully understand why and they could still hardly see, just one step ahead...

They complained because they didn’t know when it would end and they didn’t know what God was up to ...and it felt like the hits kept coming.

And this feels like where many of us are too… Crying, complaining, lamenting, venting, where are you God?!

This week one of our beloved members Beki, died unexpectedly and so this would be a Sunday in which the moment we saw one another walk through the doors, we would hug and cry, and give thanks for the chance to know her. We will celebrate her life more completely later and joy will come in the morning, but now, like many of you I am just plain sad.

She was a light and a love for kids especially. So I am finding that I feel not just sad, but angry. She didn’t really get to rest and it seems that mostly the reason she died is because we have decided as a country that regular access to healthcare belongs just to some. Beki only learned of her situation, when it was too late. She deserved better and I am sad. And I am mad and I am complaining, out loud and frequently. And I know I am not alone.

And here are a few other things I know: we are right to be mad, we are right to complain, if we didn’t feel sad right now, it would be because we didn’t understand fully what is happening.

In Latin, the root of the word complain is, "lament, bewail to grieve.” So our complaints need to be aired and shared because they are grief and we must grieve. In order to remember what we love. In order to remember who we are and what matters and why we are here and where are going and what this all could mean….

We complain, we lament, we vent, we grieve because we don’t know when this will end and we don’t know what God is up to ...and it feels like the hits kept coming.

Between economic inequality, inaction on climate, a failure to protect the social arrangements, there is cause for complaining.

Between ongoing violence against Black People, inaction on human rights, a failure to protect our democracy from fascism, there is cause for complaining.

Between a pattern of hypocrisy and lies, money and all that defies a common good, with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we complain, we lament, we vent, we grieve and we want to know that when we have drawn near to the Lord, She has heard our complaining…

We can complain about one generation for not doing more, we can complain about those “in power,” about those who are wrong, about those who know nothing of what it means to struggle. We can complain about the young, about the old, about the rich, about the poor, about those who have rigged the game, there is cause for complaining.

The whole congregation, the whole of creation, all of us who dream of transformation, we are all complaining…

And I want you to know that your complaints matter. What I mean is that our complaints are an expression of what we love. Our complaints combined as a whole church show who we are and what we hold dear.

You might imagine that part of my profession includes fielding complaints on an ongoing basis and I have started to understand that most of the time complaints offer an invitation.

What I mean is that our complaining, venting, lamenting, can show us what we love so much that when it is moved, harmed, changed or taken away, it annoys us, angers us, hurts us.

Last week, we successfully livestreamed from our website for the first time. If you don’t get what that means and how that connects with Zoom, please read what Kathy wrote in the E-news! Alaina was sick and couldn’t be there live and it was Truitt’s first time and I forgot to turn on my mic.

And afterwards, the whole congregation complained. Emails and texts and phone calls and zoom rooms filled with comments, questions, complaints and concerns- The sound was off, the picture was weird, I want to keep interacting on Zoom, but I love that we are reaching more people, who was talking? why did that go like that? what is up with that? Our attendance is up, but I don’t get it. Where is this going? How does this work?

I laughed out loud when I read that the text for today, was this. The whole congregation complained.

But this response means we love what we do and who we are and how we gather matters. The messages we share and the stories we tell, we love all of this so much, we care so deeply that we don’t want anything important lost. Our complaining can reveal what it is we truly love and what is worth our energy, our troubleshooting, our prayers and more meetings.

And so how can we find a way to hold on to what is precious, even right now, even if in a new way? Even in the wilderness? Because the flip side of a complaint is rejoicing. In my experience, often grieving done properly, can lead to a new kind of depth of love, a new appreciation for what are the true pillars of our faith and our lives. It’s like after the tears, when we are ready, the loss has a way of inviting us to love and care for what and who is among us, right now, more fully.

What if our sadness and madness and anger and our grief, what if our complaints can show us what and whom to focus on right here and now? What if they point us to where to put our energy when it is time?

C.S. Lewis wrote that “Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others,” and I think he is right, if we let our complaints be the last word, if we let them simply be an end, if we let what is wrong, if we let the evil doers and fear mongers take our energy for what is right.

Now is the time to cry, for Beki and for Ruth and for hopes that keep getting further away. It is time to cry, to complain, to lament, to vent, and maybe we should do it louder and bigger and bolder, so that others know this is not normal, that too much of who and what we love are being lost, that if we aren’t complaining all the way up to the Cosmos, we don’t get what is happening. We cannot let ourselves believe this is healthy or how things should go.

The whole congregation, the whole of creation, all of us who dream of transformation, we are all complaining…

At this moment in which we find ourselves, we complain because we are sad and because we are tired and because we are sore from stretching and because we miss the landscape that was familiar. We grumble for lack of sleep or lack of a sense of sanity. We lament for and long for the time that is different from this. We complain because we know justice isn’t here and it feels like it is slipping away. We complain because we don’t fully understand why and we can still hardly see beyond the next step. We complain because we don’t know when it will end and we don’t know what God is up to and it feels like the hits keep coming. And yet… now we let us cry and see our complaints as invitation- to hold on tight and fight… like hell for what is left, to carry into this moment the best of what we had in that other life, to love and care for what and who is among us, right now, more fully… and the Kin-dom of Heaven is like this.

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