November 7th, 2018
Philippians 2:12-18; Psalm 27; Luke 14:25-33
I’m married to someone who hardly ever “grumbles,” this word that St. Paul uses in Philippians today. “Do everything without grumbling,” he says, and Barb is really like this. When we travel she doesn’t complain about the food or the beds or standing in line. She makes the best of it. When she does things at home or takes care of her parents, she just does it, just goes about the task.
And maybe that doesn’t seem like such a big deal, and maybe in a way that’s the point. In the Gospel today Jesus asks us for everything, asks us to be heroes, to sacrifice it all and to join him, and that can seem so intimidating that we don’t think we can ever do it. It’s too much. And so we don’t do anything. We give up. But as Pope Francis says in his latest apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and be Glad, “the holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.” Not grumbling, for example. Or gossiping. Or telling little lies. “We are called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.”
Last Sunday at mass I loved seeing some of the children dressed up as saints. They were wearing habits or robes or crowns. But they could have come dressed as their parents, too, or the person next door, because holiness happens in our kitchens and our cars, too, in our own backyards, in small ways, all the time.
Besides, as a master grumbler myself, I don’t think these little things are that easy anyway. The big, dramatic sacrifices, the great heroic deeds–they get us all this attention, all this glory, but the little things usually go by unnoticed, unrewarded. No one sees us doing the work we have to do. No one knows. It’s so hard to control our impulses anyway, so hard to say no to the second cookie or glass of wine, so hard to bite our tongues. What’s the point if we’re not going to get any credit? What the heck?
That’s the challenge, the hardest challenge of all. There’s the speech we give when we accept the Nobel Peace Prize, and then there’s emptying the garbage or taking the dog for a walk.
And in the end, Paul is saying, emptying the garbage can make an enormous difference. In the end the little things arethe big things. Look at the world. It’s defined by grumbling: by snotty little remarks, by little cuts and digs, by labeling, by dismissing, by all this worrying about this petty thing or that petty thing, because that’s what “grumbling,” implies, not genuine resistance to real problems, not real speaking out against injustice, but just mumbling under our breath about whatever interferes with our own little daily enjoyments or patterns or routines. That’s the whole world now. It’s structured by grumbling. We have all these grievances but we never grieve. All our indignation is for ourselves, never for others.
But if we try to do everything without grumbling and complaining, without calling attention to ourselves, St. Paul says, we will “shine like lights in the world,” “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” For not grumbling? Shining like stars? Yes. To do everything without grumbling is the first small step towards dying to self, and through it Jesus can begin to do his work of transforming the world.
I don’t know how you feel about the results of the midterm elections. We have different feelings, I’m sure, depending on our own politics, and the results are mixed anyway. Maybe you don’t care—maybe you’ve been trying to ignore it all. But what if as Christians, as followers of Christ, we set out in the aftermath of the elections not to grumble and complain, under our breath or in our hearts or in any other way, if we treated other people with kindness and gave them the benefit of the doubt—if we practiced peace, in our own hearts, in our own small behaviors? And what if when we have a real issue to stand up for, something we really care about, we stand up for it, directly and honestly, with courtesy, with courage, not holding it in or half-letting it out so that it just festers, just turns into a private bitterness?
After all, “the Lord is our light and salvation. / Whom should we fear? / The Lord is our life’s refuge. / Of whom should we be afraid?”