Monday, July 27, 2009

Preaching for August 2, 2009

Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15
Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Preaching in heat is absolutely draining, not just for the preacher, but for the congregation. Some contextual factors probably shouldn't matter to the proclamation of the Gospel, but I think it's an issue. I need to keep my message brief, lest the goodness of the message is lost on people wondering when they can get out of the sanctuary for something cool to drink. If I was a long-term pastor in a congregation, I would start a discussion about air conditioning, or at least provoking a discussion for serving smoothies or bringing in a giant water cooler.

I am thinking about focusing on Exodus this week, mostly because I am once again drawn toward the topic of complaining. Here the Israelites are in a wilderness setting with tenuous provisions. The complaining crescendos--and God produces. Why have I not noticed this before?

If I was God, I wouldn't let my followers benefit from complaining. I don't like to let my own children benefit from complaining. I am less likely to give them something if they whine; on my daughter's responsibility chart, she receives a gold star for days when whining/complaining is eliminated or minimized. After participating in many funerals over the years of ministry, on the list of compliments for the deceased, "he/she never complained" is probably in the top 10. Why is complaining seen as a character flaw outside of legitimate claims of injustice? Even in cases of complaining against injustice, complaining is still not embraced.

Should it be taken into account that the Israelites are complaining about basic provisions? Does God respond to complaints relative to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? The higher one moves up complaining related to Maslow's chart, does it make it more likely that God will smite people?

Complaining is a strong theme in Wellman's book comparing different ends of the Christian spectrum in the Pacific Northwest--the liberal Protestants are the ones doing the complaining about ministry in the Pacific Northwest, Wellman found in his research. I have assumed complaining is the bad posture--and I've preached 2 sermons this summer interpreting Bible passages toward the deterioration that comes from complaining in the life of the Church.

But here in Exodus is a passage that rewards complaining with abundance, but the abundance of the foundation of Maslow's Hierarchy is called "manna (translated: what is it?)" I think the response to complaining doesn't necessarily speak to a complete giving in by God to complaining--because there are boundaries to dealing with "what is it?" Gather only enough for the day, except for Friday, where you can gather double--which covers God's resting day.

I will be doing a word study on complaining this week, and hope to deliver a refined message on the meaning of complaining for the community of faith, because I think American Christians are particularly adept at complaining. I can complain with the best of them, especially about the heat. My character is severely flawed in the world of Christendom.

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