Grumbling is nearly the opposite of thanksgiving. It’s one thing to be thankless in response to what we receive. It’s quite another to go on and grumble, complain that what we have isn’t good enough, what we experience isn’t what we wanted, or doesn’t fit with our idea of what we deserve. Grumbling focuses on what went wrong in our judgment, rather than perceiving what went well. The secular world – to counter much of the complaining in work culture, I think – has made a trend of talking about ‘gratitude’ and ‘mindfulness’ in the abstract. There might be something to it, but a Christian can see even more clearly. We know the source of our gifts. We know Who to thank for our daily bread each day. Thankfulness is appreciation for what we do have and the good we have experienced, guided in the recognition that all of it came to us out of God’s pure Fatherly divine goodness and mercy.
It’s not as though grumbling makes us feel any better. It’s all too common to hear someone giving voice to his or her discontent. It’s contageous, and most people don’t even recognize how frequently their words are grumbling, just like the people in the Old Testament. It is worth considering why and how often we give vent to our frustrations… The words we say can snare us, echoing out to the world and then back in through our own ears to the heart. It’d like a feedback loop for a microphone, warping our heart’s perspective about the world, and causing even more suffering because we start to believe the discontent. Do you know anyone whose complaining has made them happier in the long run? Yet the sad truth is that… from within and without, all the day long we face temptations to discontent, to grievance, to coveting what that which is impossible. It’s hard to tune out the echoes of discontent from others.
Two examples are given in the readings today. In the Old Testament, we hear the example of God’s people as they wend their way home. Although they had already been set free from slavery, rescued with mighty signs and wonders by the living God Himself, and were being brought miraculously to a land for their own possession, they grumbled. Rather than recognize the immense gift they were being given, the people framed their thinking about their situation in terms of unmet desire. Without recognition of the gifts they’d received… No wonder they were wretched. Mat
Or consider the gospel reading, the parable, how those hired early in the day agreed for a denarius. They were welcomed to work in the vineyard, and received exactly what was promised. It was a good deal. Their discontent came in trying to take the vineyard owner’s place, in judging the imagined worth of their work in comparison to the others who were called later in the day. They complained because the Lord of the vineyard didn’t judge as they judged, didn’t act according to their designs.
And thanks be to God for that. The hero of the parable is not the complainers, however loudly they make themselves miserable through grumbling. The complainers wouldn’t have had anything at all if they were on their own. The parable is about the generous grace of the Lord of the vineyard. It is written: “1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” It is an undeserved mercy that the master of the house goes out to bring people into his vineyard at all. Yes, there was labor during the day, but it wasn’t the work that brought people into the vineyard. The reward at the end of the day was given generously, graciously, to those who were in the vineyard, irrespective of what they had been able to do. The Hebrew people wandering in the wilderness, for all that they suffered during the journey, they had been liberated from slavery and were actively being brought to a good and plentiful land of their own by the Lord of Creation Himself. We need perspective… this was all a gift, not a transaction. Without the gracious self-giving of God, what good things would there be in life at all?
So too you. When we are tempted by our covetous desires to slip into a spiral of grumbling complaint, it’s not a fun feeling. It may be that our words are not only harmful to ourselves by warping our perspective, but also become a thankless affront to the Lord God who gives us daily bread for each day. Instead of grumbling about why the world isn’t the way WE want it to be, we could ask ourselves: “why are we given anything good at all?”
After all, we daily sin much, and despite how clever we may think we’ve been, we are not lords of much. The workers in the vineyard weren’t chosen to go into the vineyard because of some merit or worthiness in themselves – they were day laborers, servants who wouldn’t remain in the vineyard for longer than a day. The Hebrew people were not led out of Egypt because of their own worth – they were slaves – they were brought out because God was faithful to His covenant and promises. In all these cases, it was the Lord God, the lord of the vineyard, the One to Whom this vineyard belongs – He gives out of His Fatherly divine goodness and mercy. On account of His Son, Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, we have God’s favor. Jesus paid the price to welcome you into His kingdom, not with gold or silver or with any of our works under the sun, but with His Holy precious blood. The credit goes to Him. In the parable, this vineyard is the kingdom, the covenant of God’s grace, resurrection to life eternal. The generosity of the vineyard owner is the twist in the parable, an illustration of God’s grace in Christ Jesus – given as a pure gift, to be received through faith.
That changes our perspective on things. Seeing what we do have in life as a gift, from God who loves and gave Himself for us, who has promised His ongoing favor on account of Christ, that is cause for confidence in the face of whatever happens. God is for you, who could be against you? When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer for ‘daily bread,’ we do so in the confidence that God will provide because of what Christ Jesus has done. The Small Catechism puts it well, something like this: “God gives daily bread to everyone with our prayer, even to all evil people, but we pray for daily bread so that He would lead us to realize this, that we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Or consider the words of Proverbs 10:3 “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.”
So let your words be thanksgiving, recognizing that we have been given much as a gift of God’s grace. Let those words of thanks, directed to the Triune God, echo out from us, and resound in our ears. Let your words of thanksgiving to God be an encouragement to others to see how gracious He is in providing good for us at all.
And of course we will do the work of the vineyard – whatever vocation you are called to, working within the will of the Lord of the vineyard. Such a labor is gentle, joyful even, for you who are called into these vocations have been welcomed in to the kingdom already, as more than workers... we are heirs, fellow citizens with all the saints of God who are in Christ Jesus. Let his judgment – the generous judgment that your sins are forgiven, be enough. In the name of + Jesus. Amen.