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.***