Thursday, 24 March 2011

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.

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