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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Whiners' Sunday

Pr. 20, Yr. A
Exodus 16:2-15; Matthew 20:1-16
9/18/11 – Homecoming Sunday

In the Episcopal Church, we like to name things. Every season gets a name, every object and aspect of architecture gets a name—a special ecclesiastical one—and every Sunday gets a name: 17th Sunday in Pentecost, 4th Sunday after Easter, All Saints' Sunday. Because we like doing this so much, we even give some Sundays nicknames. There's Low Sunday, the one after Easter Sunday, and Rose Sunday, the 3rd Sunday in Advent when we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. There used to be Stir-up Sunday, on which the collect began "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord…" and which was a reminder that one had better stir up one's fruitcake if it was to have time to age before Christmas…but then the prayer book planners moved the collect much too close to Christmas for it to serve that purpose anymore. Here at Saint Mark's, we have Consecration Sunday coming up in November, and Graduation Sunday in the spring, and Homecoming Sunday today. And then, of course, there's that national feast, Super Bowl Sunday!

However, based on today's lessons, I'd like to suggest today be granted yet another nickname: Whiner's Sunday. Honestly, the Israelites in the desert and the all-day workers in the parable rival a 6 year old in their ability to lay it on: "Are we there yet?????" "Do I have to?" "It's not faaaaaaaiiiiirrrrr." They clearly have not learned one of the mantras of life in the preschool here at Saint Mark's: You get what you get and you don't have a fit!

Not that they don't have some basis for whining in both cases. The Israelites are exercising a big bit of selective memory in forgetting about how miserable they were in Egypt, but still, life wandering around in the desert is no picnic…especially given the lack of food, and—in the previous chapter—decent water. In our problematic parable, sure, the first-hired were paid what they'd been told they'd receive, but it doesn't seem right that the last-hired got paid just as much. It would, in both cases, be disingenuous for me to suggest that what's going on is, in fact, fair…because it's not, not by our standards at least. As our mothers told us when we complained about having an earlier bedtime than a sibling, or ending up with the smaller serving of ice cream, or not getting to ride in the front seat: life isn't fair.

However, the lack of fairness doesn't really merit the whining. There are all sorts of people for whom life isn't fair who aren't whining about it. Which leaves me wondering what's really behind our complaints? Sometimes it's boredom, as on a long car trip, kind of a "There's nothing else to do so I might as well whine" attitude; by day 45 wandering around in the middle of nowhere, one certainly can imagine that kicking in. There's also an inflated sense of entitlement sort of whining that arises from believing that I am the center of the universe and the world owes me exactly what I think I deserve.

I think the most common, though, is whining that comes out of a mindset of scarcity. If I believe that resources—time, money, food & shelter, attention, love—are limited, then I'm going to worry. Will I get my share? Will I be secure? Will I have enough? Pretty soon that worry is going to express itself as whining; if we keep it up, eventually it'll become a habit, a way of looking at life that makes us anxious, angry, and acquisitive, as we wonder both whether we'll have enough and whether someone else is getting our share, leaving us lacking.

That's a burdensome way to go through life. It's quite a weight always to be trying to take care of ourselves, to be in control of getting enough…because we're not always going to succeed, and that'll only raise our anxiety levels, leading to more worry, more resentment, and more whining. That seed of concern has been around since the serpent planted it in Adam and Eve's mind with the idea that maybe they'd be best off being able to take care of themselves without relying on God.

Contrast that with the alternative perspective in today's readings, one that represents God's mindset, so different from human worries. "You don't trust me for what you need? I delivered you from all those plagues and brought you safely out of Egypt and led you across the Red Sea, but if what you need now is food, no problem; I'll give you food, too, and then maybe you'll remember the other stuff as well and believe that I'm going to take care of you." And, as the abundantly generous landowner, "I have so much that I can give everyone enough—enough to buy that day's bread, enough to take care of the family, enough that for this day no one has to worry—and it will be my delight to do so." Fairness has nothing to do with this; it's about God giving us enough. This applies to us individually, but just as much so as a community. On this Homecoming Sunday, as we celebrate the relationships and the ministries which make us uniquely Saint Mark's, we do well to trust that, by God's grace and generosity, our resources are enough, our skills are enough, we are enough for whatever it is to which God calls us.

Worrying doesn't sit well with an attitude of abundance. When we're busy whining, it's hard to be grateful and content. When we're trying to act as if we're in charge, it's impossible to rest in the confidence that God is control and that that's a good thing. If your hand is closed tightly around something, you can't receive another gift—even a better one—until you let go of the first. If we're holding on tight to our worries and sense of scarcity, we can't open our hearts to accept the wondrous blessings God has for us.

[index cards…on one, write a whine, a resentment, a grudge that's burdening you down; on the other, write a blessing, a gift, a thanksgiving. Hold them, face down, one in each palm.] The physical weight is the same, but the spiritual and emotional weight is very different. Choose which you want to keep, which you want to nurture and have grow in you—because you can't feed both of them—and give away the other one; let it go. [pass baskets]

That's our choice, again and again, to follow the path that was shown to us by Jesus when he answered the fears and anger and sense of scarcity of those who were threatened by him, not by responding in kind, but by offering abundant love and abundant life. With open hands and open hearts, may we receive that blessing.

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