Thursday, 1 December 2011

Mary visits Elizabeth: Advent: Waiting for someone to help

Miss Smith talked a few days ago about waiting. Can you remember the kind of things people were waiting for?
She was talking about waiting because it is Advent, the time when Christians get ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

So I want to tell you a bit about some people who were really excited and waiting for that to happen.

The first you already know about – in fact you can tell me about her…
Here’s a picture. Who is this and what’s happening here?
This is Mary, and an angel is telling her that she is going to have a baby, who she will call Jesus. The people of Mary’s time were waiting for someone to help them. They believed God would send someone special to be their leader. They called him the Messiah, which meant the one God had chosen. People wanted god to help them because life was very unfair and hard for them. Their land was full of Roman soldiers, who often treated them cruelly. But it wasn’t just that. When they looked around them they saw there were people who were very poor or sick and no one was helping them. If you were rich you were important and people listened to you, but if you weren’t no one cared. They needed to change, but who would help them to do that? The angel told Mary that it would be her child who would grow up to do this. She was VERY excited.

But did you ever wonder what happened next – before Mary went to Bethlehem to have her baby? She went to visit a friend, a cousin called Elizabeth, and as it turned out, Elizabeth had her own exciting news. Because she was expecting a baby too.

Elizabeth was a lot older than Mary. She had been wanting to have a baby for many years, but it just hadn’t happened, and now she thought she was too old. Now, Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was a priest who worked in the Temple, and one day he was there, praying, when all of a sudden there was an angel – the same one that came to Mary. “Your wife, Elizabeth, is going to have a child.” “That’s impossible,” said Zechariah. “No its not” said the angel. “You wait and see! And your child is going to be special. He is going to get people ready so that when the Messiah is born, the one everyone has waited for, they will be ready for him. They need to learn first to listen for God’s voice. They need to be ready to change their lives. They need someone to help them think. Your child will be the one – just like a herald that goes before a king, to make sure everything is ready. That will be your son – and his name will be John!” Zechariah was so surprised that he couldn’t speak, not then, and not until his baby was born”.

When Mary turned up at her house, they both had some news. Elizabeth came running out of the house to say hello to Mary, wanting to tell her about her baby. But as soon as she saw her she knew that Mary had exciting news too.  “I know” said Elizabeth, “I know you are going to have a baby and that he is the one who God is sending to us to help us. My son will be the one who helps people get ready to listen to yours. Inside my tummy, I can feel my baby jumping up and down in excitement already. God is going to help us to live as we should, to love each other and look after each other.”
And Mary stayed with Elizabeth while she waited for her baby to be ready to be born. Elizabeth’s baby grew up to be someone very special called John the Baptist, and just as the angel had said he helped people get ready to listen to Jesus.

Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)
Here’s a picture of the moment when Elizabeth and Mary met. What do you think of this picture? Mary and Elizabeth were both very happy that their children would grow up to help others. 

Pray: for everyone who is waiting for someone to help them today, for those who are sick and waiting for a doctor, for those who haven’t got enough money for food, for people who are lonely and waiting for someone to be their friend. Help us to be ready to help them, just as Mary and Elizabeth’s children were.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

“You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” Deuteronomy 10.19 Anti bullying week. To develop an acceptance of differences.

A very long time ago, the people who wrote the Bible, the people of Israel, were in trouble. They had gone to a foreign country, Egypt from their own land because there was a famine. No one had anything to eat in Israel, but in Egypt there was plenty of food, so the people travelled down there for help.

Years passed, but somehow they didn’t go home. But the people of Egypt still looked at them and saw that they were different. They spoke a different language. They wore different clothes. They worshipped a different God. And the people of Egypt were worried. What if they decide to try to take over? What if they take all our food, and our jobs, and our houses? We must stop them. So they made the people of Israel their slaves. They made them work hard, building the great pyramids and temples. All day long they had to work, and if they complained they made them work even harder. And all because the Egyptians were frightened of them. They were different, and they didn’t like that.

I wonder what it was like being one of those slaves...? (responses included: grumpy, sad, embarrassed & like a child – the last response gave me pause for thought, since these were children who were responding…)

But then God sent a leader, someone who spoke up for the Israelites. His name was…. Can anyone remember?  (Moses – the children who had done his story did remember him!). He went to Pharaoh and after a lot of time and trouble he managed to persuade him to let the people of Israel go back to their own land. It was very difficult. In the end the Israelites had to run for their lives, with only the things they could carry with them because when Pharaoh saw them go he realised that he wouldn’t have so many slaves to do his work anymore. He sent his army after them, but they just managed to get out before the army caught them. They ran until they came to a wide sea, but God made a pathway through the sea, which closed up again when the Egyptians tried to follow (I told this rather more dramatically than this, but this is the outline.)

Moses led them across the desert for years and years and years and years… till finally they came to their new home – the land of Israel which their ancestors had left so long ago. They were going to be in charge of things here. In Egypt they had to do what they were told, but now they could arrange their society just the way they wanted. But what would it be like? What sort of place would it be?

If you were in charge of everything, what would you want the world to be like? Suggestions included: fair, free, full of trains and chocolate!

The people of Israel had to decide what really mattered to them. Moses told them that one rule was especially important.
They must always remember the time when they were slaves in Egypt. They must tell the story every  year so that they didn’t forget it.
Why do you think it might be a good idea for them to remember that time – you might think they would want to forget it.
Children suggested: “in case the army came for them again” and various other things, but eventually someone said , “so that they wouldn’t treat anyone else the way they had been treated.”

So every year, at a special festival called the Passover – the people of Israel, the Jewish people tell that story again, the story of the time they were slaves. They remember it not to make themselves miserable, but so that they won’t treat others the way they were treated themselves and would always welcome strangers in their land.
None of us have been slaves in Egypt – that was a long time ago. But I bet we can all remember times when we haven’t been very happy, when someone has been mean to us, when we have felt different, pushed out, when we feel like we haven’t got any friends.
It’s not much fun feeling like that, but if we can remember what it feels like when other people are mean to us, it can stop us being mean to other people, and that is a good thing.

If I know what it feels like not to have any friends,  that can help me remember to be a good friend to others. If I know what it feels like when someone hurts me, that helps me remember not to hurt others, because they feel just as bad as I did.

Silence & prayer; we remember what it feels like when someone has made us unhappy, and we pray that will help us not to make others unhappy.

Belshazzar’s Feast - Seal Theme Getting on and Falling out – sometimes we don’t see that what we are doing is hurting others.

Props(Optional): Some ornamental looking metal cups, plates, bowls, candlesticks etc on a table, and a sack or rubbish bag to put them in. OHP of the writing on the wall – mene mene tekel parsin and a pointing finger.

This is a story from the Old Testament. Once, long ago, the people who wrote the Bible, the Israelites, had been conquered by the king of Babylon. His soldiers had smashed their city of Jerusalem to bits and destroyed the Temple where they worshipped God as well. The soldiers had even stolen all the wonderful treasure from the Temple – the gold and silver cups and candlesticks, all the things they used in their worship. These weren’t just beautiful things, they were very special, sacred, holy. The people of Israel cared about these things, because they used them for worship and for prayer. But the Babylonians didn’t care about that. Put the cups etc in a sack.  They took the treasure, and the people, far away to Babylon where the people were made to work for them as slaves.

Many years later, they were still there, and a new king was on the throne in Babylon, a king called Belshazzar. Belshazzar was a great king, and he knew it. He had lots of power, lots of money and he thought he could do exactly what he wanted – so he did. He didn’t care whether how anyone felt or what anyone thought, except him.

One day Belshazzar decided to have a party. It would be the biggest, best party anyone had ever had. He invited a thousand people. He ordered wine and food to be brought. The servants piled the food on the tables till they were groaning under the weight. Belshazzar sat down with his guests and began to drink and eat. But as he looked around he thought to himself that the feast could look even grander than it did. What it needed was a bit more gold, a bit more silver. “I know,” he thought. “We could use all those gold and silver cups we took from the Temple in Jerusalem, and the candlestands to light the hall, the ones the Israelites used in their worship.” And he ordered them to be brought up from the treasury. And he gave out the cups to people to use at the party, just as if they were ordinary things. He could do what he wanted – he was king, after all. He was the boss of everyone.

The king sat down again to drink and to eat. But then he noticed something on the wall opposite, something very strange. He could see a hand, just a hand, writing something on the wall. And this is what it wrote. (reveal the words on an OHP – mene mene tekel parsin)
And the king thought, “What!?” . What did these strange words mean? The king had more idea than we do, because they were words that were in the language he spoke. He knew that they were words that were used for weighing and measuring things – just like we use grams and kilogrammes, centimetres and metres. But he still couldn’t understand what this strange message meant, and he knew it must mean something important or it wouldn’t have appeared like this.

He sent for all his wise men and magicians and advisers. “I’ll give you fine clothes and lots of money and power if you can tell me what this means”. They all scratched their heads and thought hard- they wanted the clothes and money and power he’d promised -  but they couldn’t understand the words at all.

Then the Queen had an idea. “There is a man who your father, the old king,  used to talk to,” she said. “He used to say that he was very wise – perhaps you should ask him?  He is one of the people who came from Jerusalem, and his name is Daniel.”

So the king sent for Daniel. “I’ll give you fine clothes and lots of money and power if you can tell me what this message means”. “I don’t want your fine clothes, or your money or power,” said Daniel, “but I can tell you what this means. It is a message from God, the God of Israel, the God who was worshipped in Jerusalem in the Temple, whose cups and plates and bowls you have stolen and are using here as if they were just any old dishes, whose people you have made into slaves. This message says that God has seen what you have done, how you have treated people. He has weighed you up, measured you – not on the outside, but on the inside – he’s had a good look at you, and he isn’t pleased with what he sees. You have treated people badly. You didn’t think it mattered what you did, but you were wrong. There’s going to be trouble coming to you, and you aren’t going to be king anymore.”

And Belshazzar knew suddenly that Daniel was right. He had thought that it just didn’t matter what he did. It didn’t matter if he hurt people or treated them wrong. Nothing would happen to him – he was the king.

And that very night, a foreign army attacked Babylon, and a new king took over, and that was the end of Belshazzar. He discovered that even a king has to think about what he’s doing and change if he is wrong.

  • What do you think about that story?

People sometimes talk today about seeing “the writing on the wall”– it is this story it comes from. They mean that they can see signs that something is going to turn out badly – it might seem fine at the moment, but there’s going to be trouble. If people are being mean to each other in small ways, it will probably end up in a fight – you can see it coming, the writing’s on the wall, we say. It might not seem like anything very big or important, but in the end it will turn out to matter. It’s a bit like having your name on the “sad side”. When that happens you know you really need to think carefully about what  you’ve done and try to change, because it matters.

  • Thinking about that story, I wonder what we should pray about today?

Pray ? that we will see when we need to change and do things differently – small things matter. We can’t just do what we want and expect life to go on smoothly.

***The children were very still at the end – I wondered whether they had expected a happy ending, and were a bit shocked that it didn’t have one. It was important to emphasize in the time of prayer at the end that God forgives us when we do wrong so we can start again.***

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The man who had everything

The man who had everything – Luke 12.13-21 KS 2 -SEAL Theme New beginnings - resolving an argument

I’ve got a brother. We get on very well now, but when we were little we used to argue. Brothers and sisters usually do. Do you fight with your brothers and sisters? What do you fight about? Often it is probably things that when you think about it don’t really matter all that much. You just want to win. Sometimes brothers and sisters carry on arguing even when they get big.

Once two brothers came to see Jesus. They were having a big argument. Their father had died and they had inherited his money and his things, but they couldn’t agree how to share them out.. “I should have more” said the older brother,”because I’m the older brother”. No, that’s not fair, said the other, we should share it evenly. Anyway, father’s already given you stuff.” “Yes, but I work harder than you…so I deserve it.”
They were shouting and stamping their feet at each other. “Jesus, they both said – sort it out. Make my brother give me what is fair!”
Jesus sighed… “I’m not really here to sort out family disputes he said, but let me tell you a story…”

“There was once a farmer who was very successful. His crops grew well, and all his animals grew fat and strong. At harvest his farm produced more than he could use. So he built a barn to put the extra in. The next harvest his farm produced even more. So he built another barn, then another, then another. He had more food than he knew what to do with, more money  than he could spend…
Harvest time came round again and yet again it was a bumper crop, wagon after wagon of grain and vegetables and fruit. He piled it all high in his barns till every little space was filled up. But there was still more to fit in.
It’s no good , he said to himself. I shall have to pull down these barns and build bigger ones to put all the food in.
So that’s what he did. He built himself the biggest barns you’ve ever seen and he filled them up to the rafters with his harvest.

There, he said ! That’s better. Now I shall have everything I want forever. I shall be able to eat and drink whatever I want whenever I want, feast every night, pig out on good food… I’m set up for life!

But at that point, God spoke to him. You silly man, he said. It’s all very well having all this food, being set up for life, but no one lives forever. You are already very old, and as it happens tonight is  your last night – you are about to die… and all this food won’t be any use to you now. You have spent your whole life heaping it up, but you are never going to get to enjoy it…

And the man thought about it. He thought of all the things he hadn’t done while he was busy heaping up all that food. He hadn’t paid any attention to his family or his friends, and he didn’t have anyone who cared about him now. He hadn’t actually enjoyed his life, or done anything for anyone else. He could have shared his food with others, and made them happy, but he’d kept it all for himself. And now he was dying, and it was too late. And with that, he died,” said Jesus. “

“Now”, said Jesus, to the brothers who had come to see him, “what do you think of that? What’s more important? Having a lot of money and things, or being friends with each other and helping each other out? Which will really matter in the end?”

We don’t know what the brothers did – do you think they made up and found a way of sharing, or do you think they carried on fighting?
What would you do?

(Responses included: “they should share fairly” “It was more important that they should be friends than have things”)
We often fight over things that aren’t really important. It’s far more important to have friends and to look after others.

Prayer – think of something we’ve fought over. Help us to see what is really important and to share what we have.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

St Paul escapes from Damascus - Embracing change - SEAL theme Changes

St Paul escapes from Damascus

Do you know who your friends are?

There was once a man called Saul. He’s in the Bible and when we first meet him he was dead set against the friends of Jesus, the people who were trying to follow him and pass on his message.
He thought they had got it all wrong, and he wasn’t the only one. He had friends who agreed with him, friends in high places, friends who had power to make life very difficult for those who were trying to live the way Jesus had shown them.

Saul and his friends wanted to put a stop to Jesus’ ideas spreading, so they had people arrested if they talked about him.

One day Saul heard that there were some Christians, some of Jesus’ followers in a city called Damascus. He decided that he should go there, find out what they were doing and stop them.  His friends all agreed, and they sent him off.

But on the way, a strange thing happened. Suddenly Saul saw a bright light, so bright that he fell down on the ground, and found he couldn’t see. And as he lay on the ground he heard a voice. Saul, why are you persecuting me? It said. Who are you? said Saul. I am Jesus, who you are persecuting. Paul didn’t know what to do or what to think. He was led into Damascus, because he still couldn’t see, to a house where he could stay.

That night, says the Bible, a Christian called Ananias was praying in his house, when he heard God’s voice. Go to Straight Street, said God, there’s a man there called Saul, who needs your help. I’ve heard of a man called Saul, said Ananias, from Damascus. He has been trying to stop Christians from meeting together – it can’t be him you mean, can it?
Yes, said God, that’s the one.
Ananias was very scared – perhaps it was a trick – but he went, and found Saul, and prayed for him. And Saul was healed. Saul realised that he had got it wrong about these Christians, and he decided that he wanted to join them.

But that was where the trouble started.

Ananias told the other Christians about  Paul. They were horrified. Saul is our enemy, they said. What if this is all a trick? What if he is just spying on us. But Ananias persuaded them, and eventually they welcomed him. His enemies had become his friends.

But what about his old friends? The ones who wanted to get rid of Jesus followers, the ones who had sent him to Damascus to sort them out. When they heard that Saul had changed his mind about Jesus they were furious. They hated him even more than they hated the people he had gone to sort out… Soon the word was out – Get rid of Saul, any way you like…

Saul and the Christians in Damascus heard that his former friends were out to get him. He wasn’t safe in Damascus, but how could they get him out. Damascus had a wall all round it, and a big gate which was shut at night. It was really hard for people to get in and out without people noticing.

Then Ananias and the Christians had an idea. They got a big basket, a huge basket. They tied thick ropes to it. In the middle of the night, when it was all dark, they carried the basket up to the top of the walls, and they got Saul to climb into it. Then they lowered the basket over the walls, quietly, quietly, slowly, slowly, till it reached the ground. Saul climbed out, and went quietly away into the night, and he got away safely.

Saul went on to be a really important leader in the church, but we know him by another name he used, his Roman name – do you know who he is?
St Paul.
In that story Saul’s old enemies, the Christians, weren’t sure of him at first, and his old friends hated it that he changed his mind.
It’s hard when people around us change. If they are our friends we want them to think like us and like the things we like. But people do change. We all change. We might change the football team we support, or change our ideas about something. It doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends anymore, though. It is a real pity when people are so upset by it that they start hating each other.

Prayer of thanks for our friends, help us to let them be themselves.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Pentecost: the fruits of the Spirit SEAL theme Change

You will need: Cards with pictures of the seven Pentecost (Shavuot) fruits - dates, olives, figs, grapes, barley, wheat and pomegranates. You could use the real thing, if you can find them.
Cards with the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5.22) written on them – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
A large basket or trug

As the children arrive give out at random pictures of the Pentecost fruits (dates, olives, figs, grapes, barley, wheat and pomegranates) and cards with the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5.22) written on them – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

It was a special time in Jerusalem – a festival time, like Christmas or Easter is in our country – and Jesus’ friends had all gathered together. It was the festival of Pentecost. This was a sort of harvest festival, when everyone gave thanks for the crops that had started to ripen. They brought a basket of the first fruits, the things which had just started to be ready to eat, to the Temple.

Who has some pictures of those crops? Children bring out pictures and stick them in the bottom of a basket.

It was a time when people gave thanks for all that God had given to them to help them live. It was a very happy time. But the disciples weren’t happy at all. Jesus had left them and gone into heaven. He had told them that now they had to do the things that he used to do – helping people and telling them about God. But they didn’t know how, and they didn’t think they had what they needed to do that. They might have a basket full of dates and figs and olives, but they didn’t have hearts full of the things they knew they would need if they were going to be like Jesus. He was loving and patient and kind, and they knew that often they weren’t at all…
So they all gathered together to pray to God to help them.
And as they prayed something strange happened. They didn’t know quite how to describe it, but they knew that God was close to them. They couldn’t see him, but they knew he was there.

They heard the sound of a rushing wind – but there wasn’t a wind blowing. They felt all excited inside, just as if they were on fire. And when they looked it was as if flames were dancing on all their heads.

Suddenly they knew that God was going to help them grow into the people they needed to be to do his work. He would help them be loving and joyful and patient and kind, just like he helped the crops to grow.

Suddenly they felt really confident, really sure, that with God’s help they could tell others about him. They rushed out into the street and began to talk to the people there. And even if those people didn’t speak the same language as them, they seemed to be able to understand. And soon the message of Jesus started to spread out…They were on their way…

Much later on one Christian leader, St Paul, described the way we grow and change into the kind of people God wants us to be as being like a tree growing fruit – like the fruit people brought in their Pentecost baskets. This sort of fruit wasn’t the kind you could eat, though.

Who has got some words? Children bring out words and stick around basket.

The fruit of God’s Spirit, he said, was love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

Prayer – ask God to help us have lots of the good fruit of the Spirit in our lives to share and/or think of those we know who are loving, kind etc...

This is the text of the notice I displayed with the finished Pentecost basket.

"At the Jewish feast of Pentecost (Shavuot), people brought baskets full of the fruits and crops that were growing around them to give thanks to God.

The New Testament says that it was at this festival that Jesus’ followers first felt the presence of God’s Holy Spirit with them.

St Paul says in the Bible that the Holy Spirit helps us to grow good “fruit” in our lives.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.” Galatians 5.22"

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Roman Centurion asks for help. Relationsips. Developing a sense of responsibility: being trustworthy.

(Matt 8.5-13)
There was once a Roman soldier. In fact he wasn’t just a soldier, he was a centurion. That means he was in charge of 100 other soldiers. Every day he would gather his soldiers together and give them orders.

Choose three or four children to be the soldiers. Line them up and give them various orders – turn to the right, march towards the door, stop! Etc.

Why do you think they practiced and practiced like that?

The children responded with things like, “practice makes perfect” &” so that they knew what to do when there was a battle.” There was some very detailed response on Roman “tortoise” formations, and the importance of everyone in them playing their part.

The soldiers had to practice doing what their centurion said so that they could all work together when they were in battle to win the battle and keep each other safe. They needed to trust the centurion, that he wouldn’t ask them to do something silly, and he needed to trust them that they would follow his orders when it really mattered.

One day the centurion’s servant, who he loved very much, fell ill. The centurion couldn’t do anything to make him better, but he had heard about Jesus, so he came to see him. Jesus was busy talking to people but he listened to the centurion when he spoke to him. He was very sad to hear his servant was ill. “I will come and pray for him,” said Jesus.

But the centurion said that wouldn’t be necessary. Jesus didn’t need to come all the way to his house when he was so busy. His word would be enough. The centurion explained how he told his soldiers what to do and they did it. People set over him told him what to do and he did it. He trusted Jesus. He knew he would do what he said. His word was enough. If he said the servant would get better, that would do.

Jesus was amazed at how much faith the centurion had. He prayed there and then that the servant would get better, and when the centurion got home that was exactly what had happened.

I wonder whether we always do what we say we will, whether people feel they can trust us. I wonder who we feel we can trust and be sure of.

Think about who you trust, who you know will do what they say they will. Give thanks for them
Think about yourself, and ask God to help you be trustworthy and do what you say you will.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Esther – Good to be me. Standing up for my beliefs. KS 1 &2

There was once a king. A very powerful king. The most powerful king in all the world. His name was Xerxes (also known as Ahasuerus) and he was the king of Persia. He could do whatever he wanted. One day he decided he wanted a wife, so he sent out an order that all the young women in the land were to come to the palace so he could choose the one he wanted. They all came and paraded in front of him, but it didn’t take him long to choose. The most beautiful woman by far was a woman called Esther. So the king married her and she became queen.

The king didn’t know much about Esther, and in particular he didn’t know that Esther wasn’t Persian, like him. Her family had been brought to Persia as prisoners, many years before, when the army conquered their land and destroyed their city of Jerusalem. Esther’s parents had died, but she had been brought up by her uncle Mordecai, who loved her very much. Mordecai worked at the palace too, as an advisor to the king, but the king had never really noticed him. When Mordecai knew Esther had been chosen he said to her, “whatever you do, don’t tell the king that you are Jewish – or that I am. He might think that we would plot against him. Just keep quiet.” So that is what Esther did.

The king had another advisor, much more powerful than Mordecai though. A man called Haman. He was the king’s right hand man, the one who was always there, whispering in his ear, telling him what he should do. Haman was almost as powerful as the king, and one day the king decided to send out an order that in future, everyone should bow down to Haman and give him respect when they saw him. Now, when the king sent out an order you had to obey it. And everyone did obey, except for Mordecai. He passed by everyone bowed; but Mordecai wouldn’t. “Bow down before me” shouted Haman. “I can’t do that,” said Mordecai. I will only bow down to God, not to people. That is what my faith tells me to do.”
Haman was furious, but he couldn’t make Mordecai do what he wanted. He was so angry he decided that he must get rid of Mordecai.

So he thought up a plan, a very cruel plan. He went to the king. “O king, O wise king. I have come to tell you of some people who are living in your land, people from another country, who won’t do what you tell them. They are a danger to you, and one day they will rise up and attack you.”
“Really!” said the king, “Thank goodness you have told me about them. We must do something to get rid of them” “Quite right, your majesty” said Haman, not telling the king, of course, that Mordecai and Esther were Jewish too. “You must send out an order that they must all be killed.” So that is what the king did. The king set a date, and in every town and village notices went up to say that the Jewish people were to be killed on that date. They were all terrified.
And within the palace Mordecai was terrified too.

He went to Queen Esther and told her what was going to happen. “You are the only one who can help” he told her, “the only one the king will listen to. You must go to him and plead for your people, tell him that you and I are Jewish too, so he can see what he is about to do.”
Esther thought about it. How could she tell the king? What if he was angry with her for challenging him? What if he decided that if she was Jewish she must die too? She was very, very scared. But Mordecai told her that no one else had the power she had, and if she didn’t help, no one else could.

So Esther decided to speak to the king. She invited him to a special feast, to put him in a good mood, and told him that she wanted to ask him for something.
When he arrived and saw his beautiful wife he said to her, “tell me what you want and I will give it to you!”
So Esther, trembling with fear, reminded him of the order he had sent out that all the Jewish people should be killed. “Yes, so what?” said the king. And Esther told him that she was Jewish too, and that his orders would mean that she would be killed as well, along with Mordecai, the king’s loyal servant.
“But how could this have happened? Why did no one tell me?” Esther explained how Haman was trying to trick the king into getting rid of Mordecai. The king was furious with Haman and sent out another order. Instead of the Jewish people being rounded up and killed, Haman was to be arrested. And he was, and the king had him executed the very next day.

And all the Jewish people were spared, and they all rejoiced, and so did the king, who was very glad that he had not lost his beautiful, brave wife. And to this day, Jews celebrate Esther’s courage with a special festival called Purim once a year, when they hear that story again, and the children dress up and act it out. They boo and hiss when they hear about Haman and they cheer for queen Esther. As it happens the festival of Purim was last weekend, so we are telling this story at just the right moment.

I think it is a good story because it helps us to remember that it is sometimes very difficult to do the right thing. It can be hard to be brave, but perhaps if we don’t help someone, no one else might, if we don’t stand up for what is right, no one else will.

Pray: For people all over the world who have to stand up to leaders who treat them unfairly. For everyone who is working to make the world a fairer place, and that we will have the courage to do what is right, like Esther did.
Photos of Purim celebrations can be found very easily on Google images.

Lent/ Ash Wednesday – Jesus in the Wilderness

KS 1 & 2

From Matthew 4

Look at this picture of a desert. (OHP picture of desert)
What can you see?
What can’t you see? (trees, houses, roads…)

I wonder what it would be like to be there?

I’m going to tell you about a time when Jesus went out into the desert.

As Jesus grew up he came to realise that God wanted him to do a special job. He was a carpenter, but he knew that he wouldn’t spend all his life making things. He looked around him and saw how much people were suffering, how they often didn’t treat each other well, and they didn’t know how much God loved them. He wanted to help them to live better.
The older he got the more strongly he felt this call until, in the end he decided he’d have to do something about it.
But what? How could he do this special job? He was just a carpenter. What if he got it all wrong?

He knew he needed to think hard and pray hard, to listen to God. But he couldn’t do that at home. It was too busy. There were too many distractions.

So he went out into the desert to think and pray and listen – a lot of the land around him was desert. He went way out into the desert. There was no one there but him. And he sat and thought, and sat and prayed, and sat and listened. He didn’t even eat. Nothing was going to get in the way of his thinking.

Now, I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I know I have to do something I don’t want to do, or I am trying not to do something wrong, it’s almost like there is a little voice saying to me, “go on, just do it, it won’t matter…” In Bible times people thought of that voice as if it was a real person. They called it Satan or the Devil. It was what tempted people to do wrong.

In this story from the Bible it says that while Jesus was thinking and praying Satan turned up and started to talk to him.

You want to do God’s work… well, there’s an easy way of getting people to listen and to like you. You could give them just what they want – lots of presents. You could turn stones into bread and give them out – stones like these around you in the desert. Then they’d all follow you, wouldn’t they?
But Jesus knew that if he did this people would be following him for the wrong reasons. Not to learn to live their lives more fairly, but just for what they would get. No – people need more than bread to live on. They need God’s word, to learn about God and the right way to live.

So Satan tried another tack. Think about the Temple, he said, Imagine you are there. If you really are God’s special one, he will always look after you. Right? So, why not go right to the top and jump off? Surely he’d catch you?
But Jesus said – that’s not the right thing to do at all. I know God loves me, but that doesn’t mean that nothing bad will ever happen to me. Bad things can happen to anyone, and I know I might have to suffer because of the things I say. It isn’t right to test God like that.

So Satan tried one last time. Look. You want to help people, to have an influence on the world. The best way to do that is if you have power, if you are the king, the leader, the boss. I could give you that power, if you decided to do things my way, to serve me.
But Jesus said no again. I know that the most important thing to do is to serve God and do what he wants. Yes, I want people to listen to me, but I don’t want to make them do that by force. I want them to listen because they think what I am saying is right, so I will never serve you or do what you want.

And Satan was stumped. He couldn’t think of a single thing to say, and off he went.

And Jesus was left alone in the desert, knowing what he should do, and how he should do it. He knew that he must tell people about God’s love and show that love by treating them well, not bossing them about but helping them, not trying to get rich and powerful, and if it meant that things were hard for him, he knew it was worth it.

We tell that story in Church at the beginning of a special time – Lent. It’s a time when Christians try to spend time thinking and praying and listening to God so that they can help others. Just like Jesus we have to think hard about this, be honest about when we get it wrong and ask for God’s forgiveness and help.
As a sign of that, at the beginning of Lent we go to church for a special service when the priest puts ashes on people’s heads. It’s an old sign of feeling sorry or feeling sad. It’s a bit messy, and it can feel a bit silly but it reminds us that we all mess up sometimes, and that God forgives us and will help us.
We did this at Seal Church yesterday, so I thought I would bring in the ashes that were left over. We make them from the crosses which we blessed last year on Palm Sunday, the week before Easter. When they are blessed on Palm Sunday they symbolise our desire to follow Jesus, but we often fail and get it wrong - all our efforts come to dust and ashes. Using the Palm Crosses to make the ashes reminds us that although we get it wrong, God will always forgive us and give us a new start.

Show picture of person with ash cross on forehead. (Google Ash Wednesday – there are plenty of images.)

I left the ashes at school to be passed around with a note, as follows:

from Ash Wednesday service

These ashes are made by burning the Palm Crosses which we blessed on Palm Sunday last year (mixed with a bit of olive oil so that they stick).
They symbolise the way in which the good intentions we had then to follow Christ and live right often come to dust and ashes.
Putting ash on your head is an ancient symbol of feeling sorry or sad. (We talk about going about in sackcloth and ashes).

You may like to show the children the ash – it is fine to demonstrate, perhaps on your hand, how they make a smudge, but I don’t suggest you “ash” the children, or allow them to ash each other, as this is part of a Christian ritual which you would really have to check out with parents that they were happy for the children to take part in.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Lepers at the Gate – Going for Goals – making choices KS 1 &2

2 Kings 7

This is a story from the Old Testament of the Bible.
There were once 4 men who were very ill. They had a disease called leprosy, and that meant that no one wanted to come near them. They lived in a city called Samaria, which had a high wall all around it to keep it safe. When the men got ill the people in the city made them live outside the walls. They couldn’t earn their own livings so they had to beg for food from the people in the city as they went in and out through the gates. Sometimes people gave them food; sometimes they didn’t. It all depended how they felt. The men were very miserable.

Then one day war broke out. An enemy army came to Samaria. They wanted to capture the city and have it for themselves, so they didn’t want to damage it. They camped all around the city, a little way off, stopping anyone from going in or out of the city. Soon they knew that the people would be hungry, and they thought they would give in.

The people in the city ate all the food in their cupboards. Then they ate all the food in the shops. Then there was nothing left to eat. What could they do? They were all starving.

Meanwhile, outside the walls the men with leprosy were starving too. Now the people in the city didn’t have anything to give them even if they had wanted to. The men looked across at the enemy camp and wondered. If they stayed where they were they would starve to death. But if they went over to the enemy camp and surrendered perhaps they would get some food there. They had nothing to lose – no one in the city wanted them anyway. So they decided that they would creep across to the enemy camp that night when it was dark.

What they didn’t know was that on that night God had an idea too. God didn’t want the people of Samaria to starve, so this is what he did. In the middle of the night, when all the soldiers were in bed, he made them think that they heard a noise. It was the noise of marching feet. It was the noise of clashing swords and shields and spears. It was the noise of a great army, greater even than theirs. The soldiers sat up in bed. “What is that noise?” they all said. “It’s an army, coming to attack us!” And they all jumped out of bed, and ran out of their tents. There was nothing to see, but the noise was deafening. They took to their heels and ran. They ran and ran, as far away from the noise, and the city, as they could, leaving all their belongings just where they were.

The four men didn’t know about any of this, of course, so when they got to the camp, just as the sun was rising, they were very puzzled. Where was everybody? There were no soldiers on guard, and no one around at all. They looked in the tents. They were all empty. But the tables were piled high with food, and clothes, and weapons and armour, and gold and silver and everything anyone could ever want. The four men were overjoyed. They could eat and eat until they were stuffed. They could have more riches than they had ever dreamed of. And it was all for them, just the four of them. But just when they were about to start feasting on the food one of them stopped. “Wait a minute” he said. “What about all those people back in the city? They are hungry too? Shouldn’t we share this food and all these things with them? Perhaps we should go back to tell them what has happened?”

The four men stopped and thought. I wonder what they decided to do.
Talk about what the children feel about the choice the men had to make.

· What do you think they should do?
· Should they share the food, or eat it all themselves?
· Why might they have wanted to keep it all?
· People in the city hadn’t wanted to give them anything – why should they share now?
· What do you think?

The men did decide to go back to Samaria and tell the people what had happened. Then they all came and shared in the food, so everyone had some. The four men were brave and generous in doing this, and helped their whole community, even though their community had not treated them well.
Prayer: For help to think of others when we are making choices. Not just what is good for us, but what is good for everyone.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Nehemiah rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem - SEAL theme: Going for goals - persistence and hard work.

(From the book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament)

Needs: pictures of rebuilding work in Haiti (or rebuilding after some other disaster)

Once there was a man named Nehemiah. His family used to live in Jerusalem, but then an enemy army, the Babylonians, had come and defeated his people, and marched them across the desert many miles to their own country. There they had stayed for years and years, having to do whatever the Babylonians told them. Nehemiah had been born in that foreign land, but his parents had told him about the city of Jerusalem – how beautiful and strong it had been, with fine walls and gates to keep its people safe.

After a long time, there was a new king in that land, a kinder king, and he decided to let all Nehemiah’s people go home to their own land if they wanted to. Nehemiah, though, was one of the kings closest and best servants, so he stayed behind when the others left. Nehemiah wanted to see Jerusalem, but he knew the king wanted him to stay, and he had to do what the king wanted.

Then one day Nehemiah got a letter, a letter from his friends who had gone back home. He read it eagerly wanting to hear all about how beautiful Jerusalem was, but the more he read the sadder he felt. “Dear Nehemiah”, it said, “Jerusalem, our beautiful city, is in ruins. The walls have all been knocked down, the gates have been burned. People and animals come and go in and out of the city, just taking whatever they want and no one cares about it. We waited so long to come home, but there is no home to come to! Jerusalem is finished.”

Nehemiah was so sad. He didn’t know what to do. That day when he went in to serve the king, he tried very hard not to show how sad he was – he knew he mustn’t look sad in front of the king. The king didn’t want lots of long faces around him. But the king could see there was something wrong. “What’s wrong, Nehemiah?” he asked. Nehemiah told him about Jerusalem, how beautiful it had been and how it was all in ruins now.
“Well,” said the king, “then you must go back and sort it out. Rebuild the walls! Rebuild the gates! Make it safe and beautiful again! I can’t have my favourite servant sad like this.” And the king didn’t just send Nehemiah back, he also gave him all the things he would need – wood and stone – so he could do the job.

So Nehemiah went to Jerusalem. He felt much better now. He could sort it all out. He thought it would all be straightforward, but when he got there he found his problems were just beginning. It was much worse than he thought. The first night he was there, he got a donkey and rode all around the city – there was hardly any wall left - and everyone was tired and fed up, convinced there was nothing they could do. He went to the people in charge of the city and told them what he planned. You’ll never do it, they said!

“Yes I will, with God helping me” he answered, “and all of us working together.” He came up with a plan. Each family would rebuild a bit of the wall near them. If everyone did a bit, they would soon be finished.
They weren’t sure it would work, but they all set to work, and they all worked hard, and the wall began to grow. They thought they were winning, but then a dreadful thing happened.

Not everyone was pleased to see the walls getting higher. Some of the people who lived around Jerusalem didn’t want it to be strong. They wanted to be able to come and go into it, taking what they wanted from it. One day when the people came to work on the wall, they found they had an audience; their enemies had come to watch them and as they watched they kept making fun of them. “what a pathetic wall. It’s so low a fox could jump over it. You’ll never be able to build it high enough.” The builders looked at the wall, and it was true – it wouldn’t keep anyone out. They just felt like giving up. What was the point? Nehemiah had to work very hard to encourage them to keep going, but he did, and the wall kept growing.

Their enemies wouldn’t give up either though. Nehemiah started to hear reports that they were planning to attack the builders. The people were very frightened. Once again they felt like giving up. But once again Nehemiah gathered them together.

When you go out to work on the wall, he said, you must take a trowel in one hand, and a sword in the other. That way you can be ready if anyone attacks. Do whatever you have to, said Nehemiah, but whatever you do, don’t give up. And they didn’t give up, and the wall kept growing, higher and higher and higher.

And then one day they looked at the wall they had built, and they realised it was big enough, big enough to keep them safe inside its walls, big enough to keep their enemies out. It had gates that were strong, that they could close when they needed to. It was wonderful, and they couldn’t quite believe that they had done it, but somehow or other, the job was finished. They had all worked together. They hadn’t given up. And they had a great celebration, thanking Nehemiah, and most of all thanking God.

· I wonder what you think about that story – what would you have felt like if you were one of those builders. What helped them to keep going?
· It’s often easy to start a job, but it is really hard to keep going when things go wrong. People around us can encourage us. Sometimes we have to think of a different way of doing things.
· Show some pictures of Haiti (or the aftermath of a similar disaster) and of the work to rebuild there (A search for “Haiti rebuilding” in Google images will bring up plenty of pictures). Haiti had an earthquake a year ago. People have had to work hard and keep going in the face of illness and poverty, but together they are rebuilding.
· Pray for ourselves when we feel like giving up, and for the people of Haiti, that we would be able to keep going. Thank God that he is with us to help us. Pray that we would find people to encourage us, and that we would encourage others.