Thursday, 7 November 2013

Jesus calms a storm

As the children arrived I played the sound of waves breaking gently on the shore  and showed a picture of a calm seashore on a powerpoint presentation.

What do you think I am going to tell a story about today...?

It's a story about the sea.
The picture we've just seen was of a calm sea, but here's a very different one.
File:Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of Galilee.jpg
Rembrandt (1606–1669) 

Talk about the picture. What is happening?
What are the people in it doing?
What might it feel like to be in this boat?
(I cropped and enlarged details of the picture to help us look at it).

It was the end of a long day, and Jesus was very, very tired. All day long he had been listening to people, healing people, helping people and now he was exhausted. He came down to the edge of the Sea of Galilee and asked his disciples to take him across it for a rest. Many of his disciples were fishermen so they thought that would be easy. They knew all about boats.
So they set out across the water. It was calm and still - a perfect evening.
Jesus put his head down on a cushion at the back of the boat, and soon he was fast asleep. His friends were glad they could help him and look after him.
But then the wind started to blow, and the waves started to get higher and wilder.
(Tell this part of the story as dramatically as you can!)
Then the wind blew even harder, and the waves got even higher.
They were coming into the boat.
The noise of the storm was almost deafening. They couldn't hear themselves speak. They couldn't even hear themselves think.
They were very worried, and they started to panic. They thought the boat was going to break into pieces and sink.
They forgot that they were supposed to be looking after Jesus and leaving him to rest.
"Wake up! Wake up!" they shouted at him. "Don't you care that we are going to drown?"
And Jesus woke up....
And he said to the storm " still" ( I whispered this part, and repeated it several times, to establish some calm)
And the wind dropped.
And the waves calmed down.
And all was quiet.
And the disciples and Jesus came safely to shore.
And they thought he must be very special to be able to do this - they were amazed.
But they also realised that he did care about them very much....

Storms can be very frightening (The children spontaneously told us about their experience of a recent storm at this point).

It's not just real storms that can be frightening.
Sometimes we can feel like we are in a storm when we get angry, or worried.
We get angrier and angrier till we don't know what we are doing any more...
We get more and more anxious till we can't think straight at all...
When that happens to me I remember this story, and Jesus who cares for us when we are in the middle of storms. Sshh... be still, he says to us. And if we calm down we find that often we know what we should do. We find too that there are people around to help us.

Play"Calm me Lord" by Margaret Rizza, and encourage the children to sit calmly and reflect on times when they have needed to calm down.

Prayer: ask God to help us remember when we are feeling like we are in the middle of a storm that he cares for us and hasn't forgotten us.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Finding courage for difficult situations: The fox and the chicks

The fox and the chicks (adapted from a Masai story from Kenya)

I “anglicised” this story because I was telling it early in the school year to an audience which included the Year R children. I thought that explaining what an ostrich and a mongoose were would probably distract them, so wanted to go for more familiar animals. The original tale is here.

There was once a mother hen who had two baby chicks. The chicks were her pride and joy. She loved them so much!

One day she left them, just for a moment, to go and scratch up some nice juicy worms to feed them. But when she came back to them, they were nowhere to be seen.
She flapped about in alarm and ran to and fro. “Where have my chicks gone?” She searched high and low and eventually she came to a fox’s den. And there was mother fox, with her chicks tucked up under her paws, cuddled up as if they were fox cubs.

“Give me back my chicks” said the mother hen.

“Your chicks!” said mother fox. “These are not chicks, they are fox cubs. my fox cubs.” “But they look nothing like you,” said mother hen. “They have feathers not fur. They cheep, they don’t growl or bark like cubs do…Give me back my chicks!”

“I shall do no such thing” said mother fox, “unless you can find me one other creature who will stand here and look me in the eye and tell me these are chicks and not foxes!”

So mother hen went away and talked to all the other animals. She went from one to another – the squirrel up a tree, mouse in a hole, duck on the pond, and she told her sad story , and they all agreed it was a terrible thing that had happened, and quite wrong. She summoned them all to a meeting at mother fox’s den. Finally she went to rabbit, in her burrow. Rabbit was just as horrified as all the others, and she thought and thought – hmm, she said. Give me an hour or two – I need to do some digging first, but I will be there at your meeting. And Rabbit began to dig. She dug and dug, a great long tunnel, a tunnel with a hole at each end, one near her own burrow and the other just by fox’s den.

It By the time  she popped her head out of the hole, all the other animals were there, along with mother hen.

“Now” said mother hen, “you said that if I could find one other animal who would look you in the eye and tell me that those are my chicks, not your cubs, you would give them back. So here they are.” And she turned to the squirrel. “Squirrel, you will tell the fox won’t you, that these are chicks, not fox cubs.” But squirrel looked at fox’s sharp teeth, and the fierce look in her eyes…. “Um, well, they could be fox cubs, I suppose – no I really couldn’t say they were chicks.” Mother hen looked at her, very surprised. “Mouse, surely you will tell the fox the truth!” But mouse looked at fox’s sharp teeth and fierce eyes too. “I really couldn’t say, “ she squeaked. “Duck, what about you?” But duck just kept her bill closed and shuffled her feet…
“There you see,” said fox. “I told you so. Everyone agrees with me!”

“Oh no they don’t!” said a little voice. It was Rabbit. “I don’t agree with you at all. How can they be fox cubs? When ever did you see a fox cub all covered in yellow feathers? Give mother hen her chicks back at once!”

Mother fox was furious. She got up on her legs, and snarled at Rabbit, showing all her sharp teeth and she set off running towards her…But Rabbit was ready, and quick as a flash, she dived down that tunnel she had dug. It was too small for fox to fit down, but fox thought – never mind. She’ll have to come out sooner or later. I’ll just sit here by the hole and when she comes out, then I’ll get her. But you know and I know that Rabbit’s tunnel had two entrances, but fox didn’t know that. She sat by that hole for hours and hours, all day and into the night, but Rabbit didn’t so much as show a whisker, because she had got out the other end and gone right home to bed.

And while fox waited, mother hen quietly, quietly rounded up her chicks and went home too…

What did you think of that story?
Why didn’t the other animals tell the truth to the fox?
What helped Rabbit to feel brave enough to tell the truth?
(Having dug a tunnel so she could escape - she knew she was safe.)

Christians believe that it’s important to tell the truth, and that God is with us to help us when we do.
I wonder what helps you to feel brave when you are frightened.

I then showed a Power point slide with quote below, which I set in context, explaining that Joshua had a difficult and frightening thing to do, leading the people of Israel into a new land. We listened to  some music as we thought about the question I had posed below.(I used the Lente from Handel’s water music Suite in D, which had the right sort of brave feel, without being too loud.)

“Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ Joshua 1.9

Who or what helps you to feel brave when you are frightened?”

 We then talked a bit about what helps us to feel brave when we are frightened or know we have to do something difficult. The children suggested that their mums and dads or friends helped them to feel brave, and one child said it helped him to think of playing with his toys later - having something to look forward to.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Ascension Day: Time to say goodbye

Show some pictures of people saying goodbye, waving to trains, seeing children off to school etc. – Google has plenty.
Talk about the pictures. What is happening in them? Where might the people be going? What might those who are leaving and those who are staying behind be feeling and thinking.

Talk about it. What are the people in it doing?
What can you see in the sky?
Whose feet do you think they are?

(There was a lot of response to this, and to the earlier pictures, and the children spotted and commented at length.)

It is a picture of the story we remember today.

Jesus had been with his friends for a long time. They had travelled around with him and heard him tell stories and help people. They were very close to him. Then he had been crucified, and they were very sad and shocked.But then, according to the Bible, they started to meet him again. He ate with them and talked with them. They didn’t know how that was possible, and neither do I, but they knew it meant that he was safe, and that the things he had taught them were good things, that he had been right to say that God was with them, even when things were very sad and difficult.

But then one day he gathered them together and told them it was time for him to leave them to go to be with his Father in heaven. They wouldn’t see him any more.. “You have a job to do,” said Jesus, “and if you are going to do it you can’t just cling to me all the time”. You are going to go out and pass on my message to others.”

They weren’t sure about that – they felt sad and scared, but Jesus said that God would still be with them to help them, wherever they were.

And as he said that, a cloud came down and surrounded Jesus and then rose up in to the sky, and Jesus wasn’t there any more. As they looked up they could see the cloud getting smaller and smaller and smaller, till it was hardly there at all… They didn’t want to stop looking up into the sky – no one wanted to be the first to turn away.
Then they knew Jesus was gone.

But then two angels appeared and they said to them. “What are you standing looking up into the sky for? Haven’t you got a job to do “

It was sad, but what had Jesus said? They wouldn’t be on their own. God was still with them, just like he had been with Jesus, even when he was dying on the cross. So they knew they would be all right. And they had a job to do – a wonderful job, an exciting job, a job Jesus had trusted them with – to spread his message and help other people love each other.

So there was work to get on with – and they couldn’t do it if they were standing around feeling sad. So back they went to Jerusalem to get on with it.

Some times it  is sad to say goodbye – we’d rather not do it. There are lots of different goodbyes too – the goodbye in the morning to mum or dad when you go to school – but you soon learn that they will be back at the end of the day. The goodbye to friends or family who you don’t see very often.  Some of you will be saying goodbye to Seal school soon – you might be sad, but you can’t get on with the rest of your life and do all the exciting things you’ll do at secondary school unless you say goodbye and move on. And when we do feel sad, we can remember that we aren’t alone. Although we are saying goodbye to some things and some people, we aren’t losing everything from the past. There will be lots of people still there to help us, lots of memories to treasure, and lots of new people to meet too.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Moses in the Bulrushes. SEAL theme Going for Goals: Knowing your strengths and weaknesses

“I can’t do that, but I can do this!”

Need: (though not vital) a baby doll, some straw/reed to show plaiting and weaving, a straw basket.

This is a story from the Old Testament of the Bible. (Exodus 2)

A long time ago there was a cruel king in Egypt. Kings of Egypt were called Pharaohs. This Pharaoh liked having power, making people do what he told them to. But that meant that he was always worried that someone might take his power away, someone bigger and stronger than him. At that time there were a lot of people who came from the land of Israel living in Egypt. They had come to Egypt many years before when there was no food in their own country, but then they had stayed and settled down and had families there. By the time of this Pharaoh there were a lot of Israelites in Egypt, and he didn’t like that one bit. What if they all ganged up on him? So he made them all into slaves, who had to work hard all day for nothing and couldn’t do what they wanted any more. He made them build his big buildings and pyramids, pulling heavy stones around.
But still they kept having children and their numbers grew.

So Pharaoh thought of another plan. A really wicked plan. He sent out orders to all the midwives, the people who helped women who were having babies. “When an Israelite woman has a baby boy, you must kill it straightaway,” he said. The midwives were horrified – they were there to bring babies into the world not kill them. They couldn’t do it. After a while Pharaoh realised that it wasn’t happening, so he summoned two of the midwives to his court. They knew they were in trouble, but they weren’t going to let these babies be killed. They got together and they thought of a plan. “We aren’t strong enough to stop Pharaoh – we can’t do that – but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. We can do this…” and they whispered their plan to each other…

So they went to Pharaoh “Why aren’t you killing the boy babies?” he shouted. “Ah, well, Pharaoh, you see it’s like this…” they said. “The thing is that those Israelite women are so strong and fit that they give birth to their babies very quickly, before we even get to them, so we are never there in time to kill them…” That was a lie, of course, but it was a lie told to keep the children safe, so it was ok. And Pharaoh couldn’t do anything but believe them.

But Pharaoh didn’t give up his wicked plans. So, when one Israelite woman gave birth to a fine healthy son, she was very worried. (I brought out the baby doll at this point) For three months she hid him, but as he grew it was harder and harder to keep him hidden. “What shall I do,” she said to herself. I’m not strong enough to defeat Pharaoh. I can’t do that…but I can do this! And she went and got herself a whole pile of dried reeds and began to weave them together. (I produced the basket and the reeds and did a bit of plaiting to give the younger children some idea of what she was making.) She wove and wove until she had made herself a basket out of the reeds. Then she painted the outside with sticky, black pitch, which was used to make ships waterproof. And she took her baby and laid him in the basket and took him down to the river and put the basket very carefully in the reeds at the water’s edge. Perhaps someone would find him who could look after him.

Now this mum had an older child too, a daughter called Miriam. And she watched her mum do all this. She felt very sad because she loved her baby brother. But what could she do to help? She knew she wasn’t strong enough to fight against Pharaoh. “I can’t do that… she thought – I’m much too small – but I can do this…” and she thought up a plan. When her mum took the basket down to the river she followed and when her mum went sadly home she stayed behind to see what happened.

After a while, someone did come along. It was the daughter of the Pharaoh, a very fine, rich woman. She had come to bathe in the river. But what was this? A basket in the reeds? And what was in it? A baby! Pharaoh’s daughter wasn’t like her father. She was kind. Who would leave their baby in the river like this, in a basket so carefully made? It must be one of the Israelite women’s babies, who her father was trying to kill. She was very sorry. But what could she do. “I’m not strong enough to stop my father, the Pharaoh, she said. I can’t do that… but I can do this…” And she picked up the baby and told her servants that she was taking it home with her to look after it. At least one baby would be saved! “I will call him Moses” she said – because that means “I have pulled him out of the water”.

Now Moses’ sister saw all this. She was glad to see that her brother had been found, but she didn’t like to think she and her mum might not see him again. “I can’t make it so that we can all be together and safe the way we’d like,” she thought to herself. “I can’t do that…but I can do this…” and she skipped out of her hiding place up to the Pharaoh’s daughter. “What have you got there?” she asked. “It’s one of the Israelite baby boys” said the Pharaoh’s daughter. “I’m going to look after him, but I’ll need someone to help…” “I know an Israelite woman who could do that…”said Miriam. “Would you like me to fetch her..?”  And that’s what she did. She fetched her mum, Moses’ mum, and Pharaoh’s daughter gave her very own baby back to her, and gave her some money too. “Look after this baby for me,” she said, “and when he is older he can come and live in the palace with me.” And Moses’ mother was only too happy to do so. And that’s how Moses came to survive. And when he grew up he managed to rescue all his people from Pharaoh.

But it was all those people – the midwives, his mum and sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter who made that possible. They knew they weren’t strong enough to get everything sorted out, but each one could do something to help, and that was all it took when they were working together…

There are lots of things we can do – and lots of things we can’t do. Sometimes we think of the things we can’t do and we feel really helpless. Perhaps we might know someone who is poorly; we can’t make them better, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to help. What could we do?....Children suggested staying with them, fetching their medicine etc.  Or perhaps we’ve got to do something at school that feels difficult – if your teacher tells you to write a story, it might feel really difficult to do, but what can you do to help yourself get started …Children suggested making a story map and thinking through what it would be about…
There is always something we can do to help, like the people in the story of Moses and those small things all add up to make a real difference.

Prayer – think of the things we struggle to do, and remember that there is always something we can do, even it seems small.