"How Whiners Grow Up"

     Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - March 3, 2002

Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-11

     Some time ago I was with a group of people listening to someone complain about another person.  There was no break in the litany of negatives that was being produced by this individual.  Finally, the person standing next to me delivered a brilliant retort.  She said, "Would you like some cheese to go along with that whine."  Everyone laughed.  I had never heard that expression before.  What an interesting way to help someone understand how their complaining sounded to the rest of us. 

     Chronic complainers are people who have taught themselves how to allow frustrations to blot out everything else.  Being inconvenienced can produce a major upset.  They can become immobilized simply by the thought of having to confront something that is unpleasant, or having to do something they do not want to do.  They would much rather ventilate their frustrations to willing listeners than decide on a course of action that might produce a valued result. 

     Multiply such a person by thousands of times and we can imagine the environment where Moses found himself while he led the Israelites during their sojourn in the desert.  The essence of the Exodus passage for today is captured in this verse, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt?  To kill us, our children and our livestock with thirst?" 

     Their whining did not begin with their thirst.  In chapter 16 it was the issue of their hunger.  Before that it was their being sandwiched between the sea and Egypt's advancing army.  They always wanted to be rescued from some potential calamity.  One can hardly imagine the Israelites apparently preferring the security that slavery in Egypt represented over their growing up and becoming more self-sufficient.   Complaining was their consistent choice. 

     If we leave this scene in order to examine the words of the Apostle Paul, we find a different point of view.  In this morning's Epistle to the Romans, Paul gave voice to how the followers of  Jesus should respond to challenges.  He wrote, "We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God's approval, and God's approval produces hope." 

     Few of us have ever looked upon unfortunate circumstances as material that provides us with bragging rights.  It was as if Paul were saying, "We are enduring our pain and suffering quite admirably, 'thank you.'  We do not go to God whining each time we have a bad hair day.  Because of how beautifully we shoulder our burdens, God loves us."  Actually, this was not what Paul was writing.

     There is not a person here that does not face every day challenges to their security.  Paul was telling his readers that through faith, we realize that God's love fills up the entire landscape of our lives with scores of blessings. How big can any problem really be when we understand this?  Paul was reminding his readers to stand back and look at the big picture.   We are the ones who allow one issue to block out all else when we could just as easily count our blessings.

     Many years ago a 10-year old boy climbed on to a stool at the counter of an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.  He asked, "How much does an ice cream sundae cost?"  The waitress said, "Fifty cents."  The little boy reached into his pocket, pulled out his change and methodically began to count it. The woman became impatient because she had better paying customers to serve.  

     The little boy asked, "Well, how much does a plain dish of ice cream cost?"  With an irritation in her voice she said, "Thirty-five cents."  He said, "I'll have one of those instead of the sundae."  He counted out the correct change and gave it to her.  

     Later when she cleared away his dish, she noticed something that touched her deeply, particularly as she remembered how poorly she had treated the boy.  There on the counter the little guy had left her two nickels and five pennies.  She realized that he had enough money to buy the sundae, but he had decided that leaving her a tip was more important than getting what he wanted. 

     Do we see how big his world was? He was not consumed by what he was not able to have. He had room in his frame of mind for considering the needs of someone else. In the stewardship of our time, our money and the sharing of our abilities, adopting the attitude of this 10-year old would help all of us to keep our cups filled to overflowing.  

     Whiners grow up when they learn how to extend their vision so that it includes everything on the landscape of their lives. They grow up when they stop defining themselves by deficiencies, reversals, losses, challenges and their perception about what they do not have. 

     As we continue our walk through Lent, we need to remember that a time came when the disciples had to face being alone. They had to learn how to cope without the physical presence of Jesus on whom their lives had depended.  They could either complain to God or remember Jesus' message while walking into the future knowing they would never be alone. 

     One posture is exclaiming, "Please, somebody help me get through this!  I'm too weak.  I am too powerless and vulnerable.  This problem is going to overwhelm me!  It is like saying, "God has led us out of Egypt and into the desert to die of thirst."  The other posture is to walk by faith. It understands that life is filled with far more than crises, or moments when we did not exercise good judgment, or times when our fear attempted to erode our implicit trust in the One who never leaves us. 

     Whiners grow up when they understand that life is an infinite, glorious journey,  a journey where our problems will always come and go.  Everything in our physical world is constantly changing including the mountainous problems that we have given the power to immobilize us. It is faith that separates the whiners from those of us who walk fervently and confidently into tomorrow, understanding that we and God are bigger than everything else.  Never forget that.  Amen 


     Loving and merciful God, each of us is humbled by your present, never-ending love.  When we try to convince ourselves that our faith has matured, our responses to life remind us of the distance we have yet to grow.  Our unresolved conflicts teach us of our need to increase our people skills.  Our lack of patience reminds us of an ability we have yet to grasp.  Our need to blame gives us insight into what we cannot accept about yourselves.  Lead us to understand, O God, that when our weaknesses teach us, they become signposts to guide our path.  During these Lenten days, may our lives reflect the spirit Jesus said is our true inheritance.  Amen.


     O God, there is so much about life that we have come to celebrate this morning.  We look eagerly for the winds of inspiration which give flight to our spirits, and for the stream of divine energy which will give more warmth, sparkle and enthusiasm to our personalities. 

     As we reflect on this past week, we can remember times when we quieted the moments of our displeasure and replaced them with patience.  We can remember a moment when we listened to someone in pain, when we gave before being asked and when we replaced worry with trust that you are quite capable of working out the details of life with each of us.

     We thank you for faith that enables us to take risks which allows us to broaden our horizons and which calls us away from places where we know we should not be.  Help us to remember that in spite of how challenging life appears sometimes, we are never without choices.  Work with us, O God, so that the creature of promise that dwells within us might continue its evolution.

     As each of us feels loved and nurtured by you and each other, may we never grow weary of being the greatest sales force on the face of the earth for what a life in Christ looks like.  Bless us today as we continue our journeys in faith.  We pray these things through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .