Sunday 3rd June 2018
2nd Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20) Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 Mark 2:23-3:6

(Alternatives: Deuteronomy 5:12-15 Psalm 81:1-10)

Today’s readings offer many opportunities to connect with the world of work. One key theme that might be developed is not to limit our expectations of where God might be at work or speaking, including our places of work. This might obviously be drawn from the story of Samuel, who struggles at first to recognise the voice of God when he hears it. The various references to the Sabbath also offer a reminder that it is not intended as an ‘escape’ from the world of work, but an opportunity to re-centre our working lives and day to day routines on the God that we serve and follow.

The story of the disciples in the grain-fields offers an obvious opportunity to pray for and appreciate the endeavours of those who work in agriculture. Agricultural chaplains report that farming can be an isolating and stressful occupation. There are clear opportunities for prayers of intercession in this respect.

Jesus’ general attitude to the Sabbath introduces a couple of more general principles that could be applied more broadly to the world of work. One is his celebration of the Sabbath as an opportunity for him and his disciples to enjoy and be nourished by the fruits of labour. The discourse in the synagogue highlights the overriding principle of seeking to do good and not harm – one that can easily be applied in a context of daily work. Members of a congregation might be invited to consider how they contribute to the wellbeing of others through their engagement in the world of work. (This can include those who are not working, by considering how they engage as customers and clients in other peoples’ working lives.)

The Samuel story is a particularly difficult one and clearly needs to be approached with sensitivity. A clear connection with the world of work is to recognise those who through their various professions and responsibilities have the be the bearers of bad news and difficult messages. More generally this also provides the opportunity to recognise that for some, work can be a difficult and challenging environment. It may be appropriate to remind a congregation that while the opening verses of Psalm 139 are a profound celebration of human identity and relationship with God, the Psalm concludes with a heartfelt lament of the attack and threat that the writer is facing. It can be particularly affirming for those who are facing difficulty and struggle in their daily lives, to hear this recognised and acknowledged when they gather for worship.

One final theme, that particularly emerges through the alternative, track 2 readings is the abuse of work to become a means of exploitation and oppression. The people of Israel are repeatedly reminded that they have been set free from slavery, and that this should serve to generate a determination to avoid anything similar in their own society. There is perhaps an apparent contradiction in that slaves are still recognised as present in society, yet the underlying message is that whatever was precisely meant by the term “slave” – they to be included in Sabbath rest as people afforded rights and dignity. This provides opportunity to recognise the iniquity of any contemporary expression of servitude, exploitation or abuse in the workplace.