Sunday’s sermon: Fifth Enemy of Gratitude: Disappointment


Texts used – Deuteronomy 34:1-12; 2 Corinthians 4:7-18

  • When I was in 2nd grade, the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid” was all the rage.
    • Watched that movie over and over and over again as a kid
    • Could do the whole movie – dialogue and songs – from start to finish by memory (frankly … I’m fairly certain I still can!)
    • I had lots of Little Mermaid stuff
      • Handheld video game
      • Pajamas
      • Books
      • Coloring books
      • Cheapo little kid jewelry
    • Daycare friends (almost same age) → birthdays that year
      • Jessie’s birthday in October → got a Little Mermaid Barbie
      • Kami and I – birthdays only 4 days apart → celebrated at the same time before Christmas break
        • Kami opened her present first → Little Mermaid Barbie
        • And I was SO EXCITED!!! Jessie got a Barbie. Kami got a Barbie. My daycare lady knew how much we all loved the Little Mermaid, so of course, she’d gotten a Little Mermaid Barbie for me, too! And then I opened my gift. And it wasn’t a Little Mermaid Barbie. It was a Little Mermaid … suitcase. → was about to leave on a road trip with my family to go spend Christmas/my birthday with my grandparents in New York – she thought I could use the suitcase
      • But I was SO DISAPPOINTED. I don’t remember crying then and there. My mom had taught me to be appreciative even when I didn’t like my gift, so I’m sure I smiled and said “thank you” just like I was supposed to. But to this day, I deeply remember how I felt inside: I was just crushed. I didn’t want a suitcase. I wanted a Little Mermaid Barbie, just like my friends.
        • Did I use that Little Mermaid suitcase for a LONG time afterward – long after I’d given up my Barbies? Sure.
        • BUT … did it still bother me every time Kami and Jessie brought their Little Mermaid Barbies to daycare? You bet.
  • Disappointment … our last enemy/obstacle of gratitude.
    • Sermon series so far → been through nostalgia and worry, entitlement and greed
      • Talked about how they get in the way of us experiencing gratitude
      • Talked about how they get in the way of us expressing gratitude
    • And along those lines, disappointment is no different.
      • Disappointment = stifling, smothering sort of emotion → lays on you like a wet, heavy blanket
        • Smothers any excitement
        • Smothers any enthusiasm
        • Smothers any passion
        • Smothers any joy
        • All of those things we need to experience gratitude – all of those pleasant emotions that inspire gratefulness in us – are smothered by disappointment. And when you’re feeling disappointed, even if you know you’re supposed to be grateful … even if there might actually be gratitude buried deep down … it’s very hard to genuinely, convincingly express any gratitude.
  • Israelites in our OT passage for today know all about disappointment = story of the Israelites finally reaching the Promised Land after wandering around in the desert wilderness for 40 years → Now, that sounds like something to celebrate, doesn’t it? Finally reaching the Promised Land sounds like something for which they would be exceedingly grateful! But just getting there isn’t the whole story.
    • Pause for a minute to do a quick refresher of first 5 books of the OT
      • Lev = book of the Law → rules and regulations for the people of Israel – those 613 laws we’ve talked about
      • Gen, Ex, Num, Deut = history
        • Gen = beginning of the story (creation, Abraham, Isaac, etc.)
        • Ex, Num, Deut = accounts of the Israelites in Egypt, the escape from Egypt, and the wandering in the wilderness
          • Not necessarily the same story → These 3 books are sort of like the gospels in that some of the stories line up, but they all flesh out different aspects of the Israelites’ wilderness journey, too.
      • Today’s part of the story comes from Deut BUT necessary background comes from Num
    • Lead up to today’s passage – the Israelites have been complaining to God for the umpteenth time: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt or if only we had died in the desert! … Let’s pick a leader and let’s go back to Egypt.”[1]  → comes after the Israelites actually reach the Promised Land – the land of Canaan – and realize that it’s already occupied and they’re going to have to battle to inhabit the land … And they’re disappointed. More than that, they’re afraid. So the back down before even trying. Instead of saying, “God, thank you for bringing us out of the horrible oppression of Egypt. Thank you for bringing us across the Red Sea on dry land. Thank you for providing for us while we traveled through the desert. Thank you for protecting us,” … instead of saying that, they say, “Nope. Forget this. We’re going back to what’s familiar, no matter how horrible it was.”
    • God’s frustration come out in God’s response – text: None of you who were enlisted and were registered from 20 years old and above, who complained against me, will enter the land in which I promised to settle you … Your bodies will fall in this desert, and your children will be shepherds in the desert for forty years. … This is how you will understand my frustration.”[2]  → So basically all of the Israelites who left Egypt – anyone age 20 or older – will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land because of their constant complaining and unwillingness to trust in God.
      • Gave into their disappointment → allowed it to smother their faith to the point of choosing slavery over trusting God
        • How often do we choose slavery – unhealthy subjegation to things that are detrimental to us (bad habits, poor financial decisions, vices, negative self-talk, complaining, judging, etc.) over trusting God’s goodness/God’s call in our lives?
      • God’s ban on entering the Promised Land even extends to Moses himself (from 1st of Deut, Moses speaking to people after they turned away from the Promised Land): The Lord was even angry with me because of what you did. “You won’t enter the land either,” God said.[3]
    • And so we come to today’s part of the story = the end of that portion of Israel’s history, the death of Moses 40 yrs. later on the very doorstep of the Promised Land – text: Then the Lord said to Moses: “This is the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised: ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it.” Then Moses, the Lord’s servant, died – right there in the land of Moab, according to the Lord’s command.[4]  → I think we could qualify this as one of the ultimate disappointments in the Bible. This is Moses we’re talking about. This is the man who …
      • Survived infant basket ride down the Nile River to end up at the Pharaoh’s palace
      • Was called by the voice of God in a burning bush
      • Confronted Pharaoh – the most powerful man in the world, at that point – over and over again
      • Called down plagues on the people of Egypt
      • Led the people across the Red Sea on dry ground
      • Received the 10 commandments from God’s own hand
      • This is Moses, one of the bedrocks of the faith. When the people doubted, Moses encouraged their belief. When God was angry with the people, Moses argued for mercy on their behalf. When the people complained, Moses acted as the mediator between them and God, securing quail and manna and water from the rock. And yet, despite all those trials, Moses gets to see the Promised Land … but not go in.
        • Disappointment in the extreme
        • Certainly the kind of disappointment that could dampen faith … or even snuff it out entirely → But here’s the thing: Moses knew this was going to happen long before this moment – 40 years before this! It was no secret that this would be his fate. That pronouncement from God that he would not enter the Promised Land came before they even started wandering for those 40 years in the desert. Moses could have given up. He could have washed his hands of the whole situation – the complaining, the threats, the backpedaling, all of it – and said, “Nope. There’s no reward in this for me. I’m out!” But he didn’t. He stuck with the people of Israel even as they wandered … because he chose to stick with God and God’s call in his life. Moses chose to trust even in the midst of his disappointment – to be grateful for God’s presence among his people and to be grateful for their freedom, difficult and challenging though it may have been.
          • Important lesson: disappointment and gratitude are not mutually exclusive → You can still feel the slight sting of disappointment and be grateful at the same time. The problem comes when we let our disappointment become the only thing that we feel and express.
  • And as we all know, disappointment is a part of life. I don’t know anyone in this entire world who hasn’t been disappointed at one time or another … who hasn’t struggled at one time or another … who hasn’t been challenged at one time or another.
    • Promise we read in Paul’s 2nd letter to the Christians in Corinth: We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out.[5]  → And y’all, if this alone was the end of the story, it would be pretty easy to find ourselves awash in disappointment. Trouble … confusion … harassment … knocked down … none of these are things that we want to be or experience. Thankfully, Paul doesn’t stop there.
      • (Paul Harvey) The rest of the story: We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies. … I had faith, and so I spoke. We also have faith, and so we also speak. We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. … Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison. We don’t focus on the things that can be seen but on the things that can’t be seen. The things that can be seen don’t last, but the things that can’t be seen are eternal.[6]  → Friends, I think this is one of the most powerful passages in the New Testament because it reminds us that we belong to a God of unending grace and mercy – a God whose power is greater than life, greater than death, greater than all the obstacles we can try to put up between us. All of those things that we think disqualify us from the love and consideration of God mean nothing to the One who has called each and every one of us by name.
        • Scholar: What we can do is look for the faith of Moses, perhaps best displayed not in front of the Pharaoh but sitting alone with his God watching the horizon of his life’s work, feeling not resentment but gratitude. What we all need is … to cling to the central claim of our faith: that a grander story is being told. We can rejoice and give thanks for our place in that story, in spite of disappointments we’ve faced along the way.[7]
  • Even in the face of all of those obstacles that we face – nostalgia, worry, entitlement, greed, disappointment, and everything else – we can always be grateful that we do not face those obstacles alone. God journeys with us – encouraging us, guiding us, strengthening us, teaching us.
    • Pitfalls along the way? Sure.
    • Times when we feel totally lost in the moment and can only see God in the looking-back? Absolutely.
    • Moments when we become overwhelmed by our obstacles? Yes.
    • But God is still there. Even when the road is rough, God is still there. Even when the answer to our most desperate plea is “no,” God is still there. God is still there. Reassured in that knowledge, how can we release our disappointment and express our gratitude for what we are doing here and now? Amen.

[1] Num 14:2, 4.

[2] Num 14:29b-30, 32a, 34b.

[3] Deut 1:37.

[4] Deut 34:4-5.

[5] 2 Cor 4:8-9.

[6] 2 Cor 4:10, 13b-14, 17-18.

[7] Brian Erickson. “Fall Series 2: The Enemies of Gratitude – Proper 21: Nostalgia” in A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series: Thematic Plans for Years A, B, and C. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 73.

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