Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sermon for Sunday 2nd June 2024

I’m not fond of Mars Bars, but I remember a TV advert from when I was little, which had the catchy tune “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play”.

Our readings today are about the Sabbath – and a Sabbath a week, helps you work, rest and play! The idea of a day of rest is rooted in the very act of creation – we are told that we carry the image of God, and the logic therefore is that we should reflect God – and what do we read in Genesis? That God rested. Therefore, we too must rest!

And more than that, God commands it. Deuteronomy repeats the 10 commandments, and the law to keep a Sabbath day on which you do no work.

But it’s not just you doing no work. This is not a day when you put your feet up and let everyone else wait on you. I tried that as a child – I remember trying to arrange my birthday week so that it would be a week when my parents waited on me hand and foot. I was disappointed at their lack of enthusiasm for this great idea and failed to see that they took care of all my needs anyway (like so many children!) But the Sabbath is not about rest for me – it’s rest for my servants too.

In today’s culture, servants are employees, and others who serve us. Everyone must rest, and take a break from the craziness of our busy lives. But why?

A study by Pargament in 2011 noted that keeping a Sabbath reduced symptoms of depression. A study by Dein and Loewenthal in 2013 saw that keeping a day of rest increased selfcontrol. A study by Goldberg in 1986 found a correlation between taking a day of rest and a greater sense of personal empowerment. A study by Superville, Pargament and Lee in 2014 found a strong connection between a dedicated Sabbath day of rest and stronger mental health.

These are good reasons to follow the maker’s instructions! But the reasons given in Deuteronomy are not based so much around your personal gains. God tells them to take a rest because they were slaves in Egypt. They were made to work all hours of the day, and they didn’t have days off, and God rescued them in the Exodus and brought them to freedom.

And to remember how they are the beneficiaries of God’s grace and kindness, they too must show mercy to the weaker in their society. Their servants must also rest. God’s people must not become the oppressors; they must avoid becoming just like Egypt.

So a number of key points here: we are called to ensure we set aside a day for rest. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – I think Swiss businesses that close on Sunday are doing a very good thing!  We are also called to ensure everyone else has the chance to rest.  And we are to remember how we were saved, that we too were slaves to something or other, and that we have been rescued – so don’t become the oppressor.

However, over time, these laws themselves became almost an object of worship, and to stop anyone coming near them, or breaking them, the pharisees made a whole load of new laws to make sure you couldn’t possibly break the original law!

And so we come to a Sabbath day in Galilee, and Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field. The disciples pick some grain, and BOOM! The pharisees pounce. “This is not lawful!”

Jesus responds by using their own scriptures against them – “You know David? The great King? The one you always look back on so longingly? Yeah, what did he do on the sabbath?”

And of course, if you look in the books of Samuel the prophet, you find David taking some of the priestly bread and eating it on a Sabbath!

So what does this mean? Jesus clarifies: This Sabbath day was not made to be worshipped. It was a gift. It was a model. It tells you how to arrange your lives. You are not to serve it, it is to serve you. It’s for your benefit.

And yes, all those medical studies I mentioned show it is for our benefit! The medical studies simply prove what God knew from the beginning.

And so Jesus says the day of rest is for us, and that also, He is Lord over the Sabbath! He has power and authority to tell us how to use it.

Almost immediately Mark tells us of another story – a man, suffering and injured. And Jesus uses this situation to make a point: he gets to the core issue. “Is it right to do good or evil on the Sabbath?” Forget your rules and regulations – should we be bringing life or destruction on God’s day?

Obviously, we should bring life! But the pharisees are so stubborn that we are told Jesus is both angry and grieved at their pig-headedness. The words in Greek mean that the pharisees are locked in mentally to their view and they will not see another opinion. They are absolutely decided on their ideology.

How do you deal with people who are convinced of another view?

This week we have the start of a course called The Difference, which I really encourage you to join up. It focuses on learning the skills to see differences of opinion, and rather than hate, break up relationships and walk away, learn to be curious about the other view, and together find out about your differences rather than end up with the differences being a reason for division. Wednesday in the afternoon at 2pm, and then repeated in the evening! Free! Food provided! See the flyers and posters.

The point here is that  the pharisees have not done The Difference course! They are refusing to explore another point of view. And that means they are becoming increasingly arrogant, isolated, and oppressive. What do we see? They are becoming like Egypt. We even see enemies uniting to kill Jesus.

Pharisees wanted everyone to be pious, and to resurrect the Kingdom of David to kill the Romans. The Herodians wanted to have an easy life and work with the Romans. Kill Romans and work with Romans unite in hate towards Jesus. It is sad.

So where do we land? First, ensure you have rest away from work. Ensure you take a day when you slow down, do more family-oriented things, or spend time in nature, and make time to reconnect with the Lord. No one at the end of life says “I wish I spent more time answering work emails”. Use your time better, to bring life.

And don’t become the oppressor. Everyone deserves a Sabbath rest. How terrible that so many don’t get that opportunity. That should bother us. Are they not able to rest because of me? Can I help bring change so that they can enjoy rest and peace?

When we buy things, are they exploiting other people’s labour? Are we making poorer people work so we can enjoy convenience?

Are we concerned that the elderly, women, and children of Gaza have no rest? That the people of Sudan have no rest? That the forgotten Congolese war deprives the people of rest? Are we making sure we are not supporting systems that make us move from the oppressed to the oppressor?

Do not forget that God rescued us, and we are to love and care for the weaker in society. Don’t be like the pharisees with closed minds – be curious and explore the alternative point of view. A viewpoint cannot harm you – it can educate you!

And at the root of it all, place the reading from Corinthians central. We proclaim Jesus as Lord. It is my duty and honour to be able to serve and be a slave if it blesses you and other people. My death to Jesus, my giving of myself to him, helps other people find life.

We proclaim Jesus as Lord. And if my deprivation helps bring rest to others from the horrors of evil, then I’m following Christ.

So I urge you: get a day of rest. Use it to remind yourself of what God has done for you. Refocus on how you can be a servant to God’s people. And then launch – refreshed – into the calling God has for your life.