September 24, 2017
By John Partridge*
Exodus 16:1-15 Philippians 1:21-30 Matthew 20:1-16
Have you ever made a choice and been disappointed with the way that things turned out?
Sure you have.
We’ve all bought something that turned out to be much less than was advertised, or that broke when it was almost new. I have a belt clip that holds my cell phone. After almost a year of good service, it broke. The good news is that it was still under warranty and the company gave me a new one. And that one broke only a week after I got it.
The Cleveland Browns seem to have a real knack for disappointing draft picks. The Canton Repository recently ran an article whose title included the phrase “Seven straight years of broken first rounds” and if you enter “Browns” and “Draft Picks” in your internet search engine, you will find lists with titles like “12 worst first round draft picks” and “Brown’s long, sad history of failed draft picks.” As we have all experienced, sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way that we expected and sometimes our choices don’t lead us to the future that we thought they would, or our progress in that direction seems to be much slower than we expected it to be.
That is exactly where we find the people of Israel in the story of the Exodus as we rejoin them in Exodus 16:1-15. Israel has escaped captivity, fled across the desert, been pursued by the Egyptian army, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and watched some of Egypt’s most elite soldiers drown as God returned the sea to its place. But then, boredom strikes. The journey to the Promised Land was not a short one and to many people it was taking too long. They were too hot. They didn’t have as much food as they thought they would have. Things weren’t going the way they expected, as fast as they had expected them to go. And so, as people will do, they began to complain…
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”
9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.
In that passage, we hear the word “grumble,” “grumbled,” or “grumbling” at least seven times. Since a Jewish month is either 29 or 30 days, depending on exactly when they started, we know that the people of Israel were traveling for between a month, to a month and a half. And after all of that travelling, they found themselves in a desert. Undoubtedly, people who were accustomed to herding sheep and goats for a living would be distressed at living in the wilderness and having a hard time finding food for their flocks. Likewise, people who were accustomed to being fed by the Egyptians were painfully unfamiliar with having to forage for food and they probably didn’t care much for living in tents, if there were any, and sleeping out under the stars for more than a month. But if you remember, the important point that we heard after the events at the Red Sea was that the people of Israel “put their trust in God.”
Clearly, the people of Israel have some unmet expectations. Life isn’t turning out the way they thought it would.
But all of this impatience and complaining doesn’t look like trust.
And we see something very similar in a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
It is helpful for us, some two thousand years later, to understand that a denarius was the accepted rate of pay for approximately one day’s worth of work. Naturally, an employer could pay more or less than that based on his or her generosity or upon the skill and experience of the employee. Today, our minimum wage is a bit over $8 per hour so for a full day of ten to twelve hours someone would make in the neighborhood of $100. With that in mind, let’s think about the story. The employer has a need for short-term employees to bring in his harvest and so, probably at dawn, he goes to the public square where people who want to work gather and where employees and employers often meet. There, he hires everyone that he can find and agrees to pay them $100 for the day. He does the same at 9 o’clock, again at noon, again at three, and still again, even at five when the day was nearly over. As the sun begins to set everyone lines up behind the paymaster and expects to be paid but the land owner has them line up in reverse order of the way that they were hired to that the guys who only worked a few hours are at the head of the line. These men, despite being hired at the end of the work day, are paid $100 and the guys that worked since sunrise begin to expect that they are going to be paid very well since they worked ten times as much, but when their turn comes they get… $100.
And again the word that we hear is “grumble”.
Clearly, they have unmet expectations.
Life didn’t turn out the way that they expected. And they are angry.
But the owner explains that he paid them exactly the wage that they all agreed upon. They worked for a day and got paid a day’s wages. The landowner explains that if he chooses to be generous to the people who worked for less than a day, he has done nothing wrong and has still kept his word to the people who worked all day.
And so, before we finish, let’s take a look at Philippians 1:21-30, where Paul says…
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
What Paul is saying, is that as long as we live, we do so because God has a purpose for us and work for us to do. But in all things, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to behave in a way that is worthy of the Gospel that we have been given. We must strive to stay together, to stand together, and work together, without being frightened of those who oppose the mission of Jesus Christ and the work that we are doing on his behalf. But along the way, Paul warns us that we are likely to suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ. We are not immune from struggle and pain simply because we have chosen to follow Jesus.
Even though we follow Jesus, life might not turn out like we expect it to. Life might be harder than we thought it would be. We might have more pain, and more suffering, and more discomfort than we thought we would have.
We will most likely have some unmet expectations.
But impatience and complaining doesn’t look like trust.
And crowds of people grumbling about their God’s generosity don’t either.
Paul said, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Even if life doesn’t turn out like we thought it would…
Even if we have unmet expectations…
God still expects us to act as if we are grateful for the things that he has done for us.
God has given us everything that he promised that he would. And even if we sometimes feel like we have the luck of a Cleveland Browns draft pick…
We are called to behave like people who are worthy of the gifts that we have been given.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.