Friday, 10 October 2014

The hole in the sack - a Harvest story

I wrote this for a harvest assembly for children aged from 3 to 7. It was (very) loosely inspired by the story of the man who built bigger barns, which would have been inappropriate for this very young age. I noticed the way that in the story (Luke 12.16-21) the man appears to be totally alone The pronouns are all “I” – there isn’t even any mention of his own household – and it seemed to me to be significant and sad.
("What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”)

The other starting point for the story was the Old Testament requirement that the edges of the fields should be left unreaped, and any corn not cut in the first reaping be left, so that the landless poor could glean it, something that would be horrifying to any efficiency expert today…

It is an original story by me - you are welcome to use it, but please don't spread it about without my name attached to it. 

Need: A sack with a small hole – big enough to stick your finger through – in the bottom to be produced at appropriate moments in the story. It is not essential, but I think it helped the children to visualise the scene. They enjoyed spotting how the seed had come to be sown, so it was good in the telling to have given them the clues, but not told them how the grain got out until the point that the farmer realised it!

There was once a rich farmer who had lots of land to grow his crops, and lots of money. One spring morning he decided it was time to sow the wheat seed in his field. He called for his worker and gave him a sack which was hanging on a nail by the door.  “Fill this with seed and we will carry it to the field to sow it.” The farmer didn’t notice, though, that the sack had a little hole in one corner where a mouse had nibbled it. The worker took it away and filled it up. He didn’t notice the litte hole that the mouse had nibbled either.

They set off through the village with the worker carrying the sack of seed on his back. As they walked along they passed a row of cottages where some very poor people lived. They didn’t have any fields to sow seed in – just a bit of muddy ground in front of their houses. And they didn’t have any seed either. As the farmer went by they called out to him. “Mr Farmer, we have no seed to sow in our gardens, and we see that you have plenty. Won’t you give us just a handful, so that we can sow our little patch of ground and grow some wheat for our children?”
“I can’t do that,” said the Farmer. “ This is my seed, and I am going to sow it in my ground, where it will grow into my wheat that I will grind into my flour for me to eat!” And he and his servant went on.

When he got to his fields they sowed the seed all over the ground till the sack was empty, but still they didn’t notice the little hole that the mouse had nibbled. Then they went home again.

The sun shone and the rain fell, and pretty soon the wheat in the farmer’s fields started to grow. It grew taller and taller as the months passed. The sun shone and it turned from green to golden as it ripened. Then one day he knew it was ready to be cut. Each little seed had grown into a new plant and each one had lots of seed on it now. So he sent out his servants to cut the wheat and bring it back to store in his barns.
What a fine harvest – he thought – and all mine!

That evening, though, there was a knock at his door. “That’s funny – I wasn’t expecting anyone.” If the truth be known he didn’t have many friends!
He opened the door and there outside were all his neighbours, the ones who had asked him for seed in the springtime. The ones he had said no to.
They were holding in their hands, a great big fresh loaf of bread.

“We’ve come to say thank you” they said. You said that you couldn’t give us any seed, but then you must have come back and sown some anyway, because during the summer, all along the pathways at the front of our houses – all the way from your house to your field, lovely golden wheat has grown. And now we have cut it down, and stored away plenty for the winter. But we have taken some of it, ground it up into flour, baked it into bread and brought it to you, to say thank you for giving us the seed. We are having a harvest party tonight to celebrate and we would love it if you would come.”  The farmer didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t given them the seed, even if he really felt he should have done. So how did it come to be growing there?

He was very puzzled. But then he noticed the sack the seed had been in, hanging on the nail by the door, and he suddenly saw the little hole that the mouse had nibbled. And suddenly he realised what had happened… And I expect you have realised it too…

He felt really mean and miserable. These people thought he had been kind and generous, but really it had just been an accident. As they had walked along, some of the seed had just trickled out of the hole. He hadn’t even noticed, because there was so much in the sack to start with. He could have easily spared that seed for these people. And now here they were inviting him to their party!

“I am so sorry,” he said, “but I didn’t give you the seed – it just fell from the sack – but I wish I had given it to you…and I would really like to have come to your party” – he had realised just how lonely it would be eating all his fine harvest by himself – “but I am sure you won’t want me now you know the truth!”

But the people on the doorstep just laughed. “Well, maybe we should have invited the mouse instead then, but we would still be glad if you came because no one should be on their own at harvest time.” So the farmer went to the party, and it was the best party he had ever been to.

And then next spring he sowed up the hole in the corner of the sack…and he sent the whole sack to his neighbours, and gave them some land to sow the seed in too, because he had realised that when we share with others we make new friends, and friends are always better than money!

copyright: Anne Le Bas

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Brother Comgall and the Mouse

Once, a long time ago there was a monk called Comgall. A monk is someone who tries to live as Jesus did, very simply, helping others and praying. Brother Comgall lived in Ireland, with a small group of other monks in a little monastery there. A monastery is where monks live.
Comgall and the other monks had come to Ireland to tell people there about Jesus, because people in Ireland hadn’t heard about him before then. The monks tried to help the people around them as well, sharing what they had with them.
There was one skill the monks had which very few other people did at the time. They could read  and write. Very soon local people were sending their children to them to learn, and they started a little school, taking in children as well who had nowhere else to live.

Comgall was kind and wise. He loved not only the people around him but also the animals and birds. It was said that he could even understand and talk to the animals and birds.

One special friend he had, says the story, was a little mouse who lived in a hole in the corner of Comgall’s room. Every night the mouse would creep out of his hole and climb up onto Comgall’s desk. Comgall would share a few crumbs of the bread and cheese he had for supper, and the mouse would tell him news of what was going on in the countryside around the monastery.

One year it came around to harvest time, and the news the mouse brought Comgall was very bad. The weather had been dreadful and the people had hardly been able to grow anything. To make matters worse the ruler of that land, the Prince of Ulster, was a greedy man who had insisted that the people give him most of what they had managed to grow. Everyone was hungry.  Comgall knew this anyway, because the monks own vegetable crops had failed. They were as hungry as anyone else.
Worse still, said the mouse, was the story he had heard from a swan who had flown down to a nearby lake. The swan had flown over the Prince of Ulster’s castle, and inside the Prince and his friends were feasting and having parties every night. They had plenty of food piled high in their store rooms– the food they had taken from the local people – while everyone else went hungry.

Comgall thought this just wasn’t fair. He knew that it said in the Bible that God had meant everyone to share the good things of the earth, the vegetables and fruit and grain that grew in it. It even said in the Bible that when you harvested the land you should make sure there was some left over for those who had no land of their own to grow food in. Certainly no one should be taking food from the poor so they had more than they needed.

Comgall decided that he must go to speak to the Prince of Ulster, and try to tell him it wasn’t fair. The other monks thought he was mad. The Prince wouldn’t listen to him. It would make him angry, and it was dangerous to make the Prince angry – who knew what he might do to Comgall?  But Comgall was determined, so he set off to see the Prince. It was late in the year. Nearly Christmas. It was cold and dark and Comgall was weak and hungry when he set off through the snow to walk the long journey to the castle. He could hear from outside the feasting that was going in inside.He knocked on the door. “Who is that at the door,” roared the Prince. A guard looked out. “Just one of those monks – he says he wants to speak to you.” ”Send him away. I don’t want some ragged monk in my hall,” said the Prince. But Comgall kept knocking. He wouldn’t go away, and eventually the Prince let him in. “What do you want?” he asked. “Prince. Your people are starving because you have taken away what little food they have. That’s not fair. God gave us our food to share, not so that some could feast while others starved.” “Pah!” said the Prince. “I don’t care about that. So long as I have what I want why should I care about anyone else?.  – Throw him out!” he said to the guards. “He should be glad I’m not throwing him into a dungeon!”
And they threw him out into the snow.

Comgall was even hungrier and more tired than he had been before as he trudged back to the monastery. By the time he got there he was very ill. The other monks thought he might die. They put him to bed to try to warm him up, but they had no food left to give him.
The next day would be Christmas Day, but there would be no feast for them, or for the children who they looked after, or for the local people.

In the morning Comgall got up, very weak and ill. “It is Christmas Day anyway, brothers” he said, “and we should celebrate however we can, thanking God and singing and praying. After all Jesus and his mother and father didn’t even have a home to live in when he was born. They had to take shelter in a stable!”
At the end of their church service Comgall asked the brothers to go and check once more in their store room. Perhaps there might be just a little food there which they could share.
They went off to the stores, and suddenly he heard a great cry of joy. He went to join them and there in their storeroom he saw food piled high from floor to ceiling, more food than they could ever eat. Where had it come from? They couldn’t imagine. But they called all the local people to come and take some, and everyone had enough to eat that day and for many days more.

But where had it come from? Comgall didn’t know, until that night, his little friend the mouse crept out of his hole and onto the table as usual. “Brother mouse – do you know where the food came from,” he asked. “Well, yes, Comgall, actually I do,” said the mouse. “When you went to see the Prince of Ulster, one of my relatives was sitting in a corner of his hall. He had heard news of you and how kind you were to the people and animals around you. He thought it was terrible that the Prince of Ulster had treated you so badly, so he decided to do something about it. He called all the mice of the castle together and they spread the word to the other animals and birds around there. In the dark of the night, they crept into the storerooms of the Prince of Ulster and each one took a little of his food – and brought it here,  so that you could share it out fairly, as it should be shared.”

And Comgall laughed. “In years to come, people will say that this food appearing here was a great miracle, he said, but the real miracle is when God’s creatures learn to work together and share what they have!”

I originally told this story at church on Christmas Day - you can find that version here - but here I have given it more of a Harvest slant, as we are preparing for the Harvest service.  There are a lot of different versions of the tale around. In some the mice simply eat the prince's food, but that seemed to me to be profoundly unsatisfactory!
The children loved the story, though there did seem to be some concern about what happened to the Prince of Ulster afterwards - did he then go hungry? - and what he might have done in response. If it hadn't been home time we might have explored that a bit further. What can we do to bring about not only justice but also reconciliation?

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Pentecost energy

Talk about cars, and about the many things that need electricity – how many are there in the hall? Show an assortment of things that move or do something. Solar powered radio, balloon rocket, clockwork toy.What sort of energy do they use? 

They all need energy to make them work.

That’s true for us as well.
You run around. How do you get the energy to do that?
What do we need in order for us to work and move? (Healthy food & water)
 If you don’t eat a healthy diet you won’t have the energy you need.

But sometimes, even when we have eaten, we don't feel we can do the things we need to. We might feel frightened, or just that it is too difficult. We need people to love us and encourage us. It is a different sort of energy.

There’s a story in the Bible about a group of people who had a job to do that felt too hard for them. They didn’t think they could do it. They felt like they didn’t have enough energy or strength to do it.

They were Jesus’ friends, and he had asked them to go out and tell other people all around the world that God loved them. But the world is a big place, and they didn’t even know where to start.

One day, on a special holiday in their religion called Pentecost, they were all gathered together praying to God, asking for help, when they felt a strange feeling, like when you are getting excited about something. They said it was like a rushing wind, except that the wind wasn’t blowing, or like they had flames dancing on them. Suddenly they realised that God would always be with them to help them. He hadn’t left them to do the job on their own.
He had sent his Holy Spirit to be with them.

They were so filled with energy when this happened that they all got up and rushed outside and started telling people about Jesus, and everyone understood what they were saying, and soon their message had spread across the whole world.

Think/pray about the things we need to give us energy - food and water, but also encouragement and love. Thank God for people who encourage us, and for the Holy Spirit of God that is always with us.

Good Samaritan

Show a selection of pictures of people.
My selection included:
A boy wearing Manchester United fan gear
An elderly woman
A child in a wheelchair playing basketball

What can we tell about these people just from looking at the pictures?

(I am glad to say that the first thing the children told me about the child in the wheelchair was that he was playing basketball, not that he was in a wheelchair.) 
We also debated the idea that the elderly lady might be a grandma, and we wondered whether she might be a Man U supporter! We decided that there were some things we could tell from looking at someone but many things we couldn't)

I might be able to tell something about you just from looking at you – girl or a boy, where you go to school… but that wouldn’t tell me everything about you, and I might get things wrong because of it. 

Sometimes the really important things about us aren’t obvious from the outside at all.

Story of Good Samaritan

Jesus was Jewish. He lived in the land of Israel. The people who lived in Israel, liked being there. They were proud of being Jewish and living in Israel. It’s good to feel proud of where we come from and the groups we belong to – Seal School – Yay!

But there can be problems if we think that people who don’t belong to the groups we belong to or come from where we do, or aren’t like this, arren’t as good as we are, and that’s what sometimes happened in Jesus’ country.

In particular, Jesus’ people didn’t get along with people in the next country, the Samaritans.

So Jesus told a story:

There was a man like him, who was Jewish and lived in Israel. He went on a journey – walking to his home many miles away. It was a long journey that took him out into wild country. The cliffs were high and rocky on either side of the road. There was no one to be seen on the road ahead or behind.
Then, all of a sudden, some robbers jumped out from behind the rocks. They surrounded the man and beat him up. Bif, baf, bof. They stole all his money, and even his clothes. Then they ran off and left him there.

The man was still alive,, just. He was badly hurt. He couldn’t stand up. He couldn’t do anything to help himself. The sun was hot, and he felt terrible.

Just then, though, he saw someone. Who was it? Was it the robbers again? No. Good. It was a priest, someone who worked in the Temple in Jerusalem, one of his people, someone who should care for him. Now he would be all right!
The priest looked at him. He was going to help… surely. But the priest just looked away again and kept on going! He just left him there. Maybe he was too busy. Maybe he was frightened. Maybe he thought it was too late. Maybe he thought it was someone else’s job.

But never mind. There was another person coming… It was one of the helpers at the Temple, a man called a Levite, one of his people, someone who should care for him, surely, someone who would help him, surely…

The Levite looked over at him. I’ll be ok now, thought the man. But the Levite just made a face and carried on going. Maybe he was too busy. Maybe he was frightened. Maybe he thought it was too late. Maybe he thought it was someone else’s job.

Was no one going to help him?

There was one more person coming, leading a donkey. But , oh dear, this man was a Samaritan. He could tell that from his clothes. He just looked different. He’d never help. He was from a different country. He wouldn’t care about him.

The Samaritan got closer. He looked over. “if the priest and the Levite – my people, from my country – didn’t help, there’s no way this man will…”

The Samaritan came across the road “ He’s probably going to give me a good kicking to finish me off!”

The Samaritan bent down.
“You look like you need some help. It’s a good job I came along when I did. Here, let me put some bandages on those wounds. Let me put you on my donkey, and we’ll take you to somewhere more comfortable than this.”

And that’s what the Samaritan did. He took the man to an inn where he could be looked after, and he paid for him to stay there too.

And Jesus said. “Who was the one who was really a good neighbour to that man?.”

It wasn’t the one who looked like him, who came from his country. It was someone who was quite different.

Prayer: Help us to help each other. Not just the people who are like us, and like the things we like, not just our friends, but help us to help everyone.

Jesus calls his disciples

Calling of the disciples – loosely based on

 Tell story of calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John (Mark 1.16-20). Think of what it might be like to be fishermen. It would sometimes be frightening, often need patience. You’d have to get along together. You might not know what was going to happen, whether you would catch anything. 

They had learned to be fishermen, but now Jesus was calling them to do a bigger job – to help other people and tell them about God’s love.

Things they had learned as fishermen helped them to do this job too – patience, love, courage.

I wonder what you have learned today that might help you when you are grown up in whatever job you do?

Reading, writing, maths, working together, working towards a goal, coping with struggles and times when it all goes wrong… We can use all these skills to help others..

Reflection: Think about your day. What might you have learnt today that will help you to help others.