Take Your Complaints to God: A Bible Study for Asbury's Worship
(October 17 & 18)
by Rev. Lee Johnson
october 17, 2020
The Bible is full of complainers, Old and New Testament alike. John 6 has always reminded me of the Israelites whom Moses led from Egypt. Jesus feeds the 5,000 from five barley loaves and two fish. Everyone eats to their fill. But, the next day, the same crowd of 5,000 are hungry again, demanding from Jesus another miracle and more food, let the complaining begin. One translation of John calls the complaining crowd "mumblers." Such complaining mirrors the story in Exodus 15 and 16, where Moses feeds the hungry Israelites with bitter water made sweet, and bread rained down from above. Exodus 17, then, becomes one of those “what have you done for me lately” stories. Once again, the Israelites are thirsty, quarreling, even angry with Moses begging for more water. “Why do you complain to me,” Moses asks the quarreling voices, well aware the Israelites are petitioning the wrong “person.” We have all done some complaining over the years. What about complaints of faith? What have been your faith complaints? To whom have you directed those kinds of complaints?
In her book, Strengthening the Soul, Ruth Haley Barton uses this moment from Exodus 17 to talk about a pattern of complaining which emerges during the Israelites' journey from Egypt into the wilderness and subsequent Promised Land. With "utter predictability," she writes, "the pattern of complaining and blaming the leader" emerges and re-emerges on this journey. Such was the plight of Moses. Interestingly, Moses resisted the temptation to absorb the complaints in a personal manner, refusing to take on the weight of the Israelites’ expectations. He would not allow them to treat him as if he were God. Nor, did Moses behave in a manner as if he were God, responsible for the bitter water made sweet, and bread rained down from above. Knowing such work came from God, Moses said, “Your complaining is not against me, but against the Lord.” In other words, put your complaints in the hands of the one who can do something about them. Where do you place your complaints? What about your complaints of faith? In whose hands do you place those kinds of complaints?
Moses, it seems, appears to take the complaints of the Israelites and hand them off to God. He does so in an intercessory prayer kind of way, first acknowledging he has heard the complaints, and then placing them in the hands of the only one who can do something about the complaints. Moses is petitioning where the petition belongs. Doing so, writes Barton, “is a very edgy way to lead.” We are more inclined to rely partly on God and partly on our own plans and thoughts. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, calls this inclination a “cowardice of faith,” that hesitates between the world and God. Barton asks, “What is the use of praying, if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?” I would add, even planning our answer to the complaints. Moses, though, doesn’t hesitate. He relies on God to answer the complainers, believing God is big enough to take on both our anger and complaints at the same time. When have you been angry about a matter of faith, to the point of complaining? How have you handed those moments on to God?
Asbury's Weekend Worship: https://www.visitasbury.org/worship/
Beginning Saturday, October 17 at 5:00 pm
"This week I will hand it over to God."