Exodus 17: 1-7, Romans 5: 1-11, John 4: 5-42
My goodness don’t we all love to grumble: be it about the weather, the Government, the NHS or the lack of tomatoes and cucumbers in our supermarkets. Apparently, the word is derived from the Middle French word ‘grommeler’ which means to mutter through the teeth. And according to my on-line research apparently the word grumble was first used in 1580 together, coincidentally, with the introduction of the words pigsty and walking stick. All very convenient timing as one could then cheerfully grumble to all and sundry about the smell from the pigsty and one’s lameness which necessitated the use of a walking stick.
Grumbling as a word may not be that old but surely the act of muttering through one’s teeth must go back to the dawn of history. When the most vigorous rubbing of sticks failed to ignite a spark, when the weather was so bad it prevented the day’s hunting; when one’s husband came home with his fur skins all dirty and torn there must have been considerable muttering through those prehistoric teeth.
In our Old Testament reading we have some very serious grumbling from the Israelites which obviously grew in intensity and turned into something far more than an under the breath mutter.
Having escaped from all the privations of slavery in Egypt they now find themselves without water to quench their thirst which, fair enough, could be seen as a legitimate cause for grumbling. But what was not legitimate was the idea that just because they had for the moment at least no water that life back in Egypt was preferable to this nomadic life they were now leading and to put all the blame upon Moses for their present plight. And here it is important to recognize that only a short while before their grumbles were all about a lack of food in the wilderness of which they claimed they had had plenty of in Egypt. A lack of food which was miraculously rectified by an abundance of both quail meat and manna thanks to the generous care of God for his people.
But now in their very real need for water that divine response to all their past needs is all too quickly forgotten and yet again any trust in God’s providential care was shown to be completely lacking. Can the same be said for us when we come up against the very real obstacles life can present.? Just how strong is our faith or are we a little too quick to cease trusting implicitly in God’s saving grace and to doubt those words that tell us we can never fall out of his covenantal care
And, as we so often do when life doesn’t go the way we want it to we look for someone to blame, so too the Israelites’ response to their plight was to turn on poor Moses and hold him entirely responsible. What an unjustified and wounding response to the man who under God’s guidance had achieved so much for them. Is it any wonder that Moses cried out to the Lord ‘What shall I do with these people?’ What indeed! And how many of our leaders have at times had exactly the same feelings ‘What shall we do with these people?’ as we turn on them because their policies, their strategies do not appear to be working. In our society today the blame game is one which is played all too often with deadly earnest fuelled not just by the mainstream media but by unfettered social media as well. Small grumbles can all too easily grow into a positive tsunami of outrage and dissatisfaction as witnessed by the story of those Israelites whose anger was so fired up they were quite prepared to stone Moses.
We are now well entrenched in the season of Lent and as I reflected on this story of those Israelites it struck me forcefully that what we should maybe be giving up for this penitential season is not chocolate or that glass of wine but grumbling. My goodness that really would be a challenge and one that I doubt if any of us could succeed in achieving so engrained is our practice of muttering under our breath.
But maybe there is a way round and that is to recognize each grumble we make and turn it into a prayer of thanksgiving to God; God who really does always hold us in that gracious and merciful covenantal care. When we wake to another raw cold grey day and a grumble comes straight to our lips maybe then is the time to be thankful that we are not victims of that terrible earthquake living in the poor protection of tents in bitterly bitterly cold conditions. When we can’t be given an appointment to see a doctor for a fortnight maybe a prayer of thanks for all those times we have seen a doctor and they have helped us or maybe helped someone we love. When there are no tomatoes, cucumbers or peppers to be had could we just say a prayer that we do have other food to sustain us unlike those millions in the Horn of Africa who exist on starvation rations.
The Israelites forgot all too often to be thankful and to recognize just how extraordinarily blessed they had already been by God and to have implicit trust that his blessing of covenantal care would always continue despite their lack of gratitude. Can we do any better? Can we learn to recognize how trivial our grumbles really are and how truly blessed we are each and every day of our life be it a day of glorious warm sunshine or one of raw cold grey skies. Can we learn to be refreshes and revitalised by the living water of faith and thus become truly thankful people? Can we learn to turn a rainy day which was another novelty phrase in 1580 into a day of contentment and rather than mutter under our breath give clearly heard praise and thanks to God who is Father to all his children?
Perhaps having read this now is the time to think of at least one of your recent grumbles and turn it into a prayer of thanksgiving. For me it will have to be my constant grumbling against the cold over the past few days or so forgetting always the blessings of an abundance of warm clothes , hot water, hot drinks and at least some heating.-