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.