“A Culture of Complaint”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
August 5, 2018
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
I remember my dad complaining about the New York Giants football team. It was November, sometime in the late 1960’s. I was about five years old, sitting on his lap, watching the game, feeling close to him. He had a can of Ballantine Ale in his hand and there was a wooden bowl full of Spanish peanuts on the table beside us.
It was one of those great father-son moments, but not as great as it could have been. I was wondering why he wasn’t enjoying the game as much as I was.
Using the internet this past week, I found out why he was so disappointed. In the late 1960’s, the New York Giants were mediocre at best. 7-7, 6-8. Seasons like that.
For those of you who grew up here in the Boston area, your father may have been even more disappointed in the Patriots, who were just awful in those days.
Anyway, I love professional sports — they’re fun — but I don’t think that they are all that important… except as entertainment.
When we get too upset about our local sports teams, so upset as to lose perspective, something is probably wrong with us, not the team.
People complain about a lot of things. We complain about politics. The people in charge are foolish and incompetent! We complain about our jobs. Our bosses and coworkers are ridiculous! We complain about our husbands and wives. They aren’t who we wish they would be, who we hoped they would be when we married them. We complain about our children. Why aren’t they turning out as we planned? As we raised them? We complain about our friends. Why aren’t they there for us as we wish they would be?
The story we heard today is from the book of Exodus. It’s an important book, the second book in the Hebrew Bible, the book that reveals so much about Jewish identity. This is a book that most assuredly played a major role in shaping Jesus’ character and forming his faith and his spiritual convictions.
In it, we learn so much. It relates to us the story of the conflict between Moses and Pharaoh, the plagues, the passover, and the escape from slavery. Exodus gives us the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert, following God, doing their best sometimes and rebelling at others, receiving the Ten Commandments, becoming who they are.
Once scene, which we heard just a little bit earlier, has to do with food.
Food is important. We bond over food. We argue over food. We survive and thrive because of food — or the lack of it. Communities of all kinds are gather around food. Here at church, we have Men’s Group, which is based on a shared dinner. We have the Taste of Hingham, the Progressive Dinner, the Women’s Dinner, the picnic on Homecoming Sunday, the soups in Advent… Food creates community for us.
When my younger son, James, was looking at colleges, one of the things that sold him on UMass was the food. The cafeterias there are incredible, with mostly locally sourced food. For an 18 year old, a millennial, that mattered. It should probably matter to all of us because locally sourced food is better for the environment and more trustworthy.
Both of my sons have avocations now that have to do with food. Hank, my older son, works for a contractor but also has a small farmin northern central Massachusetts. James, my younger son, works for an energy company, but also grows vegetables in Revere and is building an urban farming business.
The Israelites who had just left Egypt complained about the lack of food in the desert. Not only did thy not have locally sourced vegetables or organic breakfast sausage like I do (because of my sons’ commitments), they had next to nothing.
They were hungry.
The quote from Exodus 6 is: If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
In other words, their hunger was so great that they wished for slavery, a situation where they at least had a little bread to eat. We may be confused by their complaining, but most of us have never been in their position.
The biblical account is that God heard their complaints and gave them quails in the evening and, amongst the morning dew, there was also a flaky bread-like substance that they called manna.
Whether or not we think they had a right to complain, God comes through for them. God is compassion. God is love.
We have our complaints, too, don’t we? We complain about a lot of things, sometimes ridiculous things. And we want that God of compassion to come through for us.
I recently saw on line these three complaints:
Every time I go to Paris, I get sick.
Seriously Carnival Cruise Lines? No internet? We are not on speaking terms.
Don’t you hate it when you lose weight and your ring is too big for one finger but a bit tight on the next!?
To be serious, though, some people do have legitimate complaints, complaints that I’ve actually heard, complaints that you and I should take seriously and that I pray God is hearing.
Even though I work hard, every day, my children do not have enough food. I work three jobs and I do not get paid enough to support my family.
I am a nine years old and I haven’t seen my parents for three months.
I got pulled over for no reason, except the color of my skin.
My body is breaking down and I can’t get help to get it fixed.
Things like that. Those are legitimate complaints!
So let’s go ahead and bring those rightful grievances to the public ear. In some cases, loudly. And maybe let our not-so-important complaints fade away.
The God of Israel, the God of Jesus, hears us and knows, knows that our complaining is part of our humanness, part of what it means to be alive and on this planet. Whether our complaining is based on actual injustices or not… whether we are wishing ourselves into slavery or not, we are human and God knows it.
So let us get our human selves up… and out into the world… to worship and to serve our God of freedom and love, our God who calls us to feed the hungry and create a world where all the complainers can be one family, brothers and sisters in the household of God’s restoring love.