The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

LORD, TEACH US TO PLAY!

Delivered 9/3/06
Text: Mark 6:30-32
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Labor Day weekend. Our annual celebration of workers and their work by not working. Makes perfect sense.

Just like this. You go into the boss to ask, "Mr. LaGree, can I have a day off?"

"Let's take a look at what you are asking for," he says. "There are 365 days per year available for work. There are 52 weeks per year in which you already have 2 days off per week, leaving 261 days available for work. Since you spend 16 hours each day away from work, you have used up 170 days, leaving only 91 days available. You spend 30 minutes each day on coffee break which counts for 23 days each year, leaving only 68 days available. With a 1 hour lunch each day, you used up another 46 days, leaving only 22 days available for work. You normally spend 2 days per year on sick leave. This leaves you only 20 days per year available for work. We are off 5 holidays per year, so your available working time is down to 15 days. We generously give 14 days vacation per year which leaves only 1 day available for work and you are NUTS if you think you are going to take THAT day off!(1)

For decades we have awaited the arrival of the leisure society. Since the early 1800's, labor unions around the globe fought successfully to get working hours gradually reduced. However, since the late 1940's the trend has reversed. Strange as it sounds, we are now actually working longer and harder than our parents and grandparents. Last Sunday night, Andy Rooney on "60 Minutes" shared some old footage of predictions made by CBS News in 1986 concerning life in 2001 - 15 years hence. Concerning work, they predicted that the average work day would be down to 6 hours, 30 hours a week. Didn't happen, not in 2001, nor since. In fact, the work week has gotten longer.

Vacations? A survey by the online travel company Expedia reports that a record 574 million vacation days will go unused this year; 33% of us will not use all our vacation, and the average worker will leave four days on the table (up from three last year). For one-third of the work force, the longest vacation will be seven days or less.(2)

Labor-saving devices? The growth of technology has not resulted in more free time. Labor-saving devices have indeed made some tasks easier, but as a result, we simply do more things. Laundry, for example. During the period from 1925 to 1965, automatic washers and dryers were introduced. The new machines did cut the time needed to wash and dry a load of clothes. Yet LAUNDRY TIME ROSE. The reason was that housewives were doing more loads...standards of cleanliness went up...in colonial times, washing would be done once a month at most and, in many families, much less - perhaps four times a year. Nearly everyone wore dirty clothes all the time...When the electric washer was introduced in 1925, many Americans enjoyed a clean set of clothes (or at least a fresh shirt or blouse) every Saturday night. By the 1950's and 60's, we washed after one wearing.(3) Parkinson's Law of Housework - the work will expand to fill the available time.

One other point needs to be made in that connection. Yes, labor-saving devices are wonderful inventions and we all want them. But Steffan Linder's book, The Harried Leisure Class, argues that because the total amount of a person's time is fixed, an acquisitive lifestyle actually diverts time from leisure to the purchase and care of things.(4) In other words, we HAVE those do-dads only because we work longer to pay for them.

Why do we live like this? Some simply want more and more and more and will do whatever it takes to get, get, get. Others, like single parents and the poor, have to. "A twenty-eight-year-old Massachusetts factory worker explains the bind many fathers are in: `Either I spend time with my family, or support them - not both.'"(5)

Because the Bible says a lot about work and little directly about leisure, the misconception has arisen that the Bible is uninterested in the subject. The God-intended balance between work and rest was present from the beginning of earthly history. In the creation story, the first six days were busy, busy, busy, but on the seventh day, what did God do? God rested.(6) The same rhythm of work and rest reappears in the Fourth Commandment: "Six days you shall labor, and do all your work: but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns..."(7) It is a commandment to take regular breaks from work, and in 21st century America, this commandment is broken by good church folk (not to mention workaholic preachers) as much, if not more than, any other.

Jesus understood the problem. During his extraordinarily busy public years, Jesus found times of regular personal retreat. In that brief passage we read from Mark's Gospel, on an occasion when the disciples were so pressed by the demands of the crowd that "they did not even have a chance to eat," Jesus commanded them to retire from the obligations of the moment - "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." Jesus was so fond of dinner parties that his detractors called him "a glutton and a drunkard."(8) Do you remember Jesus' first miracle? He changed water into wine. Why? To keep a party going. Jesus knew that if you cannot be good to yourself, you will be no good to anyone else either. Lord, teach US to PLAY! We need help.

Yes, it is true, we generally rest less than God does, and we are not nearly as good at our playtime as we might be. Too bad. Perhaps, at heart, our problem is a lack of faith. When we put down our tools and begin genuine rest, we acknowledge that God, and our brothers and sisters, can survive without us. We hand over responsibility to God. We acknowledge that blessing comes only from God's hand. When we rest, we accept God's grace. Lord, teach us to play.

It is said of one of the great composers that he had a rebellious son who would come in late at night after his parents had gone to bed. But before he went to his own room, the angry teen would go to his father's piano and slowly, as well as loudly, play a simple scale. He would always leave out the final note. Then leaving the scale unfinished, he would go to his room. His father, who always awoke when the boy began playing, would twist and toss on the bed in frustration, unable to go back to sleep, or relax at all for that matter, until the scale was completed. Finally, the composer would rumble down the stairs and hit the final note on the scale. Then, and only then, could he go back to sleep. God has made us so that our lives include a time of rest. Our lives, like the scale, are not complete without that final note.(9)

Listen again to the ancient invitation. The words of Jesus: "Come to me, all your who labor and are burdened down...and I will give you rest." Happy Labor Day.

Amen!

1. Pastors' Professional Research Service, Aug/Sept, 1994

2. http://www.vacationdeprivation.com/facts.aspx

3. Juliet B. Schor, The Overworked American, (San Francisco: Basic Books, a Division of HarperCollins, 1991), pp. 88-89

4. Leland Ryken, "Teach Us to Play, Lord," Christianity Today, 5/27/91, p. 22

5. Schor, p. 21

6. Genesis 2:2-3

7. Exodus 20:9-10

8. Luke 7:34

9. Gordon MacDonald, Restoring Your Spiritual Passion, (New York: Oliver Nelson, 1986), p. 162

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