Monday, August 10, 2015

Cries of the heart: the complaining cry

For those who asked after church, here is the slide that followed the sermon time, and I have also posted the benediction some asked for, after the sermon below.

Cries of the Heart: the complaining cry
Some of you know that the gospel of John is not my favourite; some have even heard me use stronger language than that!  When it comes up in the readings, I groan and complain and would like Chris to preach!  John’s language has been used as an excuse for anti Semitism down the centuries, he is deeply theological and not very practical, and he tends to the mystical.  Which is why Chris doesn’t mind John at all!  So, knowing that about myself, I take a deep breath this week and read all this repetitive stuff on Jesus and the bread of life that Chris opened us up to last week.
And what strikes me?   They complained about Jesus because of what he was saying.   Oops – just what I’d  been doing.
Who are “they”?  John says “the Jews”, which is what he says any time there is opposition, whence we get the idea of anti Semitism.  We should understand that John is writing at the end of the first century.  It’s long after Jesus, and the people of the Way, mostly Jews like Jesus, had not long begun to be called Christians, and they’ve been expelled from synagogues; Judaism and Christianity begin to go their separate ways.   It’s a time of upset in the institution of faith.  So his gospel in part is an apologia, argument for Christianity compared with Judaism.
What is clear though is that “the Jews” are clearly the elite, the ones in power, the ‘haves’ of the establishment.  They want to run things their way, control religious beliefs and make sure everyone agrees with them.   Sounds a bit like 21st century U.S. politics, doesn’t it?
And Jesus messes with their power, their beliefs, their rigidity.   The Message says he tells them, “stop complaining. You’re not in charge; the One who sent me is in charge”
So what’s the complaint?   These were Jewish religious leaders, who would certainly get the metaphoric language of bread from heaven….they would know their faith history, how God provided manna, bread from heaven, during their wilderness wandering.
Well, the metaphor wasn’t the problem; that he comes from heaven is a problem, the implication that Jesus calls God father.  They’re right brained enough to understand metaphor of bread from heaven, but left-brain dominated, so they  literally see Jesus’s claim to be of divine origin as heretical.  So they complain, not to him, but “among themselves”.
Grumbling often masks a deeper issue.    Just like I grumble about John because it is too troublesome to my status quo beliefs.  It requires me to reflect and work at my faith.   I think we would rather complain about what we don’t understand than be open to some new understanding.  Because if I’m grumbling, I’m not listening.
We see that in our hearts, in our relationships,  in our politics.  Here I want to make a distinction between grumbling and complaining—a bit semantic perhaps but there’s a truth in here somewhere…..the psalms for example have lots of complaining, but they are based on an intimate relationship with the God they’re conversing with.  And it’s legitimate complaining; sometimes life is awful.  But they usually include, as ours does today, “wait for God”   “listen for God”.
And that’s exactly what doesn’t happen in this text.   They have no relationship with Jesus, so they have not learned to listen.   And they’re threatened, probably because they know they ought to have been listening to God,  so they grumble.  Scholar Raymond Brown points out that
the word translated "complain" in verse 41 is the same word as the Septuagint uses for the murmuring of the Israelites in Exodus 14.  This is a hint that John is drawing on ancient story and memory here in speaking of murmuring, manna, and bread from heaven.  These people, who resist Jesus, are God's people. They are like the Israelites of old, pushing back against God's demands and God's provision.
{Ἐγόγγυζον: IAI 3p, γογγύζω, 1) to murmur, mutter, grumble, say anything against in a low tone  1a) of the cooing of doves  1b) of those who confer secretly together  1c) of those who discontentedly complain }
The complainers are God’s people, pushing back against both God’s demands and God’s provision
That repetitiveness of Jesus I mentioned now takes on a new meaning – he confronts them, and us, on our grumbling unwillingness to be open, then tweaks the same message slightly but goes right back to repeat the point: people are starving for spiritual food, and I am it,  he says.  God, not us, is the source of our strength, the power for our growth, the center of our lives.
 I  am reminded of a modern day psalm, from Ted Loder’s Guerrillas of Grace, where the plaintiffs complaining cry of the heart is to a God he knows and trusts….. “Sometimes it just seems to be too much”……….  (first part)
When we have that relationship, our deepest souls are fed by God, and any challenge to our dogma and doctrine and beloved deep set beliefs must rest ultimately in that ‘other’ authority that isn’t our selves.  We must learn to listen, and risk hearing something new.
And then more, we must answer the God to whom we listen…..Ted Loder’s psalm, after all the “too much” stuff, ends with this:
Or is it too little?.....

go now, go with god and with an open spirit.  May you come to know God well enough to complain, deep enough to listen, and trusting enough to respond.