Our Reader Christine gave this sermon on Sunday 3 June.
I wonder how many of you remember the slogan that used to be used to advertise a Mars bar; “A Mars a day helps you …………… work, rest and play“. When I mentioned this slogan to my son he said, “really, are you sure? Maybe you should look it up on Google?”
I didn’t think I was that old that he hadn’t heard it!!! In which case some of our younger ones in our congregation may not have heard it either and although the service today might not involve Mars bars I would like us to think about those three things, work, rest and play.
(Script to begin)
Begin at the back of the church:
Jesus: Come on, this way – through this field of corn.
Disciple 1: But Jesus, we’re all exhausted!
Disciple 2: Are we nearly there yet? I’m hungry!
Disciple 1: Here – munch a handful of corn. That’ll keep us going.
(mime picking and eating)
Pharisee: Stop – in the name of the law!
Disciple 1: What?
Disciple 2: Watch out – it’s a Pharisee!
Pharisee: Stop, in the name of God’s law! Today is the Sabbath, and God said, “Keep the Sabbath day holy” – Commandment Number Four (pretend to point to a scroll). The law states that you must rest on the Sabbath and do NO work. I am an expert on the law and your are picking corn – that’s work!
Jesus: They’re hungry! Even King David took holy bread from God’s altar when he was hungry. Get your priorities right: God made the Sabbath for people – he didn’t make people for the Sabbath; the Son of God is lord of the Sabbath.
Disciple 2: Come on, Jesus, let’s just get to the synagogue, shall we?
(Walk to the front of church, where they are met by the man with a bandaged hand.)
Man: Teacher, look at my hand – it’s withered and useless! I’m in agony! Only you can cure me.
Jesus: (to the Pharisee) Well, what do you have to say? Does the law allow me to help someone or hurt them on the Sabbath? Am I allowed to save someone’s life or let them die?
Pharisee: (Says nothing, but furiously consults his scroll.)
Pharisee: (Glares angrily at Jesus.)
Jesus: (Angrily) You’ll just stand there and watch this man’s suffering, will you?
Pharisee: (Turns his back on Jesus.)
Jesus: (To the man) come here. Stretch out your hand. (Jesus takes off the bandage.)
Man: I’m cured! My hand is as good as new! Thank you, Teacher – thank you God!
Pharisee: (To the congregation) This Jesus is trouble. We’ve got to get rid of him – for good.
The argument in today’s gospel was all about the seventh day of the week – the Sabbath.
The Bible tells us that when God made the world he did all the hard work during six days and rested on the seventh. He set us an example, which he expected us to follow, and as the Pharisee stated it was the 4th commandment.
Unfortunately, by Jesus’ time the simple sabbath rule had become cluttered with all sorts of other regulations: There were 39 types of work, which were forbidden, including ‘taking anything from one place to another’ which could cover almost anything. You weren’t allowed to pick a handful of grain, because that counted as farm work. A major task, such as healing a man’s hand, was definitely work.
Jesus could see that the Pharisees had lost sight of what the sabbath was for. God created a special day in the week for people’s own good: it was a day when they could rest and concentrate on their relationship with God, without all the distractions of the working week. When the Pharisee attacks Jesus and his disciples for breaking the sabbath rules, Jesus’ argument is: God gave human beings the sabbath for their spiritual and physical well-being, so how can it be wrong to feed the hungry or heal the sick on that day?
These days, government regulations rather than Pharisees tell us what we can and can’t do on a Sunday, but Jesus’ message remains the same: God gave us the sabbath for our own good, so that after we have worked, we can have time to refresh ourselves and refocus our attention on God before another week begins.
Unfortunately, there are many demands on people’s time, even on a Sunday and many people now work shifts and are not able to physically attend church or a place of worship during their working week, which can involve a Sunday.
Work can become overbearing and the 4th commandment is God’s message to make time for ourselves and for him. I know only too well that juggling work, rest and play can be increasingly difficult and according to the Mental Health Foundation;
“The pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.”
So what about play: When I was a child it meant going out with my sister, brother and friends, and playing on a patch of land making dens or climbing trees.
For today’s children it can involve sitting at home playing computer games connected to friends, others enjoy running, football and swimming. For adults, it’s usually socialising when they get the chance.
Rest especially for adults, can sometimes be more difficult, because even after having finished work they will begin again when they get home and it’s only when they go to bed that they rest.
Jesus’ must have worried about getting his message across, that although the sabbath is a holy day and a day when we should rest to renew our spiritual health, there are some things that may still need to be done, such as healing.
We know that sometimes he became exasperated, because his disciples did not always seem to understand him, but when it came to the Pharisees, he must have begun to lose his patience with all the regulations they added to the Sabbath.
To adapt that familiar Mars bar slogan, God gave us the Sabbath day so that in the course of a week, we might have time to work, rest, play and pray.
And as a Mars may give us extra glucose for physical strength, resting quietly in God’s presence we can renew our relationship with him through prayer asking for spiritual strength to guide us through the coming week.
Let us pray:
Father, Creator of the Sabbath, show us how to rest.
Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath, teach us how to play.
Holy Spirit, bless our recreation and breathe new life into us.