Not a Day for Enjoying Yourself
Well, professional (?) football on a Sunday has at last come to Northern Ireland. And it is a little ironic that the first game would be in the heartland of Protestant East Belfast, with a match between Glentoran and Bangor at the Oval.
Now, I'm a little ambivalent about strict sabbatarianism. Certainly the increased commercialism on Sundays has resulted in pressures on shopworkers to work on Sundays when they would rather be at church or at home with their families. The increasing number of amateur sports clubs running sessions on Sunday mornings has taken a toll on family attendance at church. And if Sunday football exacerbated any of that I would be deeply opposed to it. But I confess (and I appreciate that in some circles this is a serious confession as a minister of the gospel... tho' since I am Methodist, some wouldn't expect anything better of me...) I enjoy watching a game of football or rugby or many other inds of sport on TV on a Sunday afternoon.
But Sunday saw a group of about 50 protesters standing outside the Oval. By all accounts the interaction between protesters and fans was relatively good humoured. My brother had the job of assessing the referee's performance, and as he was going in one of the protesters who knew him shouted:
"I'm surprised at you being here this afternoon."
"Why's that?" replied Robert.
"Because the Sabbath is no day to be enjoying yourself!"
To which my brother replied: "I'll debate that with you at another time, but if you think that going to watch the Glens is enjoyable, you've got a lot to learn!"
The Sabbath is no day to be enjoying yourself... Not the first time I've heard that sadly. We've all heard as nauseam the stories of chained up swings in children's playgrounds, in various council districts run by the Evangelical Taliban... Then a number of years ago a student minister at a local church told the youth group there that it was OK to go for a walk by the sea on a Sunday, so long as they didn't walk along the beach or paddle in the water as they might enjoy that...
According to the Westminister Confession "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever..."
A recent commentator on this statement suggests that we glorify God BY enjoying him, and his gifts to us... Except on Sundays of course...
But one other worrying heckle I heard from one of the protesters... As someone headed through the turnstile they shouted after them:
"You'll be going to Croke Park next! Joining the GAA!"
The implication is that Irish Catholics watch sport on a Sunday, not good Ulster Prods!
So that's it... That's the key reason why we shouldn't watch or play sport on a Sunday. Because not doing that sets us Protestants apart from the Papists!
In the Bible there was another group who defined themselves as set apart from the masses in terms of what they didn't do... Not Protestants, or Papists, but another P...
Pharisees. Most of them were people of integrity, seeking to follow God's laws in the best way they had been taught. But for many it had become a dry following of rules and grace didn't get a look in. In their worldview the law set them apart and they followed it rigorously.
I wonder where Jesus would have been on Sunday? With the protesters decrying people for enjoying themselves and behaving like Catholics? Or standing on the terraces with the Glens fans?
Probably neither... He'd have more sense!