Thursday, 24 September 2015

Paul and Silas in prison: Making friends out of enemies

I was a bit uncertain about telling this story. Would the children be worried by it? Would they think they should stay in dangerous situations? 
In the event their responses seemed to indicate that, for the most part they had been inspired to be courageous, and that they got the point that this was a story about loving our enemies. Quite a few also told me how they could see the pictures of the story in their heads, and one described the prison in great detail to me afterwards. 
There was once a man who lived a long time ago in a town called Ephesus, and he had a difficult job to do. His job was to guard the city prison and make sure none of the prisoners escaped. It wasn’t just people who had done bad things who were put in his prison. The Romans ruled Ephesus, and their soldiers could arrest anyone they wanted to. If they didn’t like what someone was saying. If they thought it might be a threat to Rome, they could throw them into prison. And the jailer had to make sure they stayed there. If anyone escaped he knew he would be in a lot of trouble. He’d probably end up thrown into prison himself, and maybe the soldiers would even kill him.

So the jailer was always careful at the end of each day to make sure all the prison doors were locked and barred and bolted. No one was getting out of his prison.
One evening he went round and checked with special care. It had been a busy day. Two new prisoners had been brought in. “Who are they?” he’d asked the soldiers” and what have they done?” “Their names are Paul and Silas, and they have been making all sorts of trouble. They are followers of a man called Jesus. They have been saying that God thinks everyone is important, even the poor people and the slaves. We can’t have that! If slaves start to think they are important they might not do what they are told. They might rise up and rebel. Who would do our work then? So we have given them a good beating and now we must wait to see what our bosses want us to do with them next.”

So Paul and Silas were thrown into a dark, damp prison cell, along with all sorts of other prisoners. To be specially careful, the jailer chained their feet to the wall. They weren’t going anywhere. He locked all the doors behind him.

As he went upstairs to his house and family, though, he heard a strange sound, the sound of singing. It wsa Paul and Silas, and they were singing a song about God, thanking God and praising him. “What a strange pair!” he said to himself. “What on earth have they got to sing about?”

The jailer went to bed, and was soon fast asleep. In the middle of the night, though, he woke up suddenly. Everything around him seemed to be shaking. It was an earthquake. The whole prison house was shaking. when the shaking stopped, he rushed out of his room and started to go down the stairs to the prison. Oh no! The doors of the prison had been shaken loose by the earthquake. They were all standing open. The prisoners were sure to have taken the chance to escape – who wouldn’t? The jailer knew he would be in terrible trouble. 

All of a sudden he heard a voice, calling to him from the darkness of the prison. “Don’t harm yourself. We are all still here!” And sure enough there were Paul, Silas and the other prisoners. “We knew you would be in trouble if we ran away, and it’s not your fault we are in prison, so we stayed. We know that God is with us anyway, whether we are in prison or free, whether things are going well or not, and that gives us courage.”

The jailer was amazed. But he remembered how Paul and Silas had been singing, not crying, in the prison earlier, and he could see that they really trusted God to look after them.

“I would like to know more about this Jesus whose teachings you follow”, he said. Come upstairs and tell me more about him. He took Paul and Silas upstairs, gave them some food and washed their wounds where they had been beaten. And as he did so, they told him about Jesus, and about how he had loved and cared for people, even if they had been cruel to him. “He told us we should love our enemies, and pray for those who were mean to us” said Paul and Silas. The jailer had never heard of someone living like this before, and he had never met anyone as brave as Paul and Silas. “How do I become one of Jesus’ followers,” he asked. “You need to be baptised” said Paul, and so that’s what happened. The jailer and all the people who lived in his house were baptised that very night.

And after that? Paul and Silas went back down into their prison cell to wait for the morning, so that the jailer wouldn’t get into trouble. In the morning, when the soldiers came, they set Paul and Silas free – the judge decided that one night in the cells was probably enough to put them off their message. But Paul and Silas never gave up spreading the message of Jesus, and the jailer never forgot these people who should have hated him for locking them up, but who had loved him instead.

Prayer: Protect us when we are feeling scared. Remind us that you are always with us. And help us to love and pray for everyone, even the people we don’t get on with.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The wolf of Gubbio (a story of St Francis)

 There was once a young man called Francis who loved having a good time, dressing in fine clothes and drinking with his friends in the town of Assisi where he was born. As soon as he was old enough he decided that the life of a soldier was the life for him – going into battle on a fine horse with gleaming armour – wouldn’t that be exciting! He didn’t have to wait long for a chance. Assisi was at war with a neighbouring town so Francis rode off to battle. But instead of glory, Assisi was defeated and Francis captured and imprisoned in a cold, dirty prison, where he fell ill. Eventually his father paid his ransom, but that year had changed him.
He tried to go back to his old life, drinking with his friends and spending money like water, but somehow he found he couldn’t help noticing those who were cold, dirty and neglected, as he had been in that prison. He thought about Jesus who had loved everyone and he decided he would like to live like Jesus too. So he gave up the fine clothes and the old life and lived very simply, helping those who were poor and sick and telling them the stories about Jesus that had inspired him.

Once, it is said that, on his travels he came to a town called Gubbio, up in the mountains. It was surrounded by a high wall, with fields outside it. As Francis walked up to the town, he was puzzled. He would have expected to see lots of people working in the fields, but there was no one anywhere. He came to the gates of the city – they were shut tightly. What was going on? He knocked on the door. He heard it being unbolted, then opened just a crack. “Come in, come in, as quick as you can – you’re not safe out there…!” said the doorkeeper, pulling Francis inside.
“Whatever is the problem?” said Francis. “What’s the danger?” By this time a crowd had gathered.

“It’s the wolf,” they told him “a ferocious wolf, a huge wolf, a wolf with great sharp teeth and strong, strong legs! He’s been terrorizing us, killing our sheep and cows, causing mayhem. They were afraid for their children, afraid for themselves.

Francis listened and then said, “Hmm, I can see this is a real problem. I will have to go to talk to Brother Wolf.” “No, no,” they all cried – you will be killed.” But Francis insisted. He walked out of the gates, and all the people peered over the walls and out of the windows, trembling with fear for him, sure he would be torn apart. Francis strode across the fields towards the woods around the town. All of a sudden, from the shelter of the trees, out ran the wolf, heading straight for Francis on his strong, strong legs, with his great jaws open, his sharp teeth gleaming, and his tongue lolloping out of his mouth. He got closer and closer. The townspeople were sure this was the end. But Francis calmly raised his hand and made the sign of the cross, and as soon as he did so, the wolf stopped, right at Francis feet. He sat stock still, closed his mouth, and looked up at Francis.
“Brother Wolf, “ said Francis “what’s this I hear about you terrifying these good people? I know you are just doing what a wolf does, but it can’t go on. I will make a bargain with you. If these people promise to feed you every day, will you promise not to harm them or their livestock ever again?”

The wolf nodded his great grey head.”Let us shake upon our promise,” said Francis, and the wolf lifted up his paw to put it into Francis’ hand. Then they walked together back to the town. The people weren’t sure they could trust the promise of a wolf at first, but reluctantly agreed to the bargain, and every day they fed the wolf. And the wolf did them no harm. In fact, the story says, he became so tame that he wandered from house to house and the children played with him like a pet. And when he eventually died, the people of Gubbio wept for their friend the wolf.  

It’s  a good story – a story that reminds us that making peace takes courage, courage to go to those you disagree with, and courage to respect them for themselves too. As we share the peace, we commit ourselves not just to saying the words, but to listening to one another and respecting each other too.

I suppose you could illustrate this with a picture of a wolf, but to be honest, the wolf in the children's imaginations will be a far more vivid one...! 
Practice telling the story so that there is a moment of suspense as the wolf comes charging towards Francis, and a silence as he makes the sign of the cross. I have never found a group of children (or adults) who don't love and respond to this story. 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Moses parts the Red Sea

The school in which I usually lead collective worship  is now following Rochester Diocese's three year plan for worship, which can be found here. The theme this term is the sea, so although it isn't actually in the plan I thought the parting of the Red Sea might fit in. The children loved it, and one, who has quite profound physical disabilities came up to me afterwards and told me how sometimes he really struggled to do his school work, but that he had found that people helped him. He told me about some of his strategies for coping with his difficulties - a child for whom the glass, movingly, was clearly half-full rather than half-empty!

The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, a long way from their home.
The king of Egypt, who was called the Pharaoh, was very cruel to them. He made them work very hard, and he wouldn’t let them rest.
Who would help them? Had God forgotten them? That’s what they thought.

But God had other ideas.

There was a young man he had his eye on to help.
His name was Moses. Moses was an Israelite, but he had grown up in Pharaoh’s palace. He’d run away when he was grown up though, and lived in a desert place, looking after sheep. But one day Moses saw a strange thing. A bush that was on fire, but wasn’t getting burned up.
As he went closer to look, a voice came from out of the bush.
It was God.
“Moses, I have a job for you.”
“ I am the God your ancestors worshipped before you came to Egypt. I haven’t forgotten abuot my people. I love them very much and I can see how much they are suffering. So I want you to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go!”
“I can’t do that” said Moses, “no one will listen to me!”

“Oh yes they will, “said God, “Just you wait and see.”

So Moses went back to Egypt, and he went to Pharaoh.

“My God says‘ let my people go’ “said Moses.
“No” said Pharaoh. “Why on earth should I do that.”
“If you don’t,” said Moses “terrible things will happen.”
“Pah! Don’t be ridiculous”.
But terrible things did happen.
First the rivers of Egypt all went bright red, like blood.
Then frogs filled the land.
Then there were locusts and biting insects, and hailstorms and all sorts of other disasters.
Each time Moses gave Pharaoh another chance.
“Let my people go!” he said.
But Pharaoh wouldn’t listen.
Until the very last disaster.
A sickness swept through the land and the oldest child of ever family, human and animal, died. All except for the children of the Israelites, who were spared. It was a terrible, terrible thing.
“Let my people go!” said Moses.
And Pharaoh said yes. How could he not.

So Moses told all the  Israelites to pick up their bags and follow him, as fast as they could.
And they did.
And it was just as well they were moving fast, because they hadn’t gone far when Pharaoh changed his mind. “Why should I let them go? I need them to work as my slaves!”

So he sent his soldiers after them, with all their armour and their chariots.

And the people ran, but the soldiers ran faster.
They began to catch up.

Then Moses and the Israelites came to a big sea called the Red Sea.
They didn’t have boats.
There wasn’t a bridge.
They were stuck.
Everyone thought it was hopeless.
But Moses remembered God’s promise
He didn’t think God would let them get this far and then let them down.
So Moses prayed.
And God told him what to do.

Moses lifted up the stick he held in his hand.
And he stretched out his hand over the sea.
And a wind began to blow.
And it blew the water up into a wall on one side, and a wall on the other, so that the water was all heaped up.
And the people just walked across the sea bed to the other side.

But what about the Egyptians?
If the Israelites could walk through, they could come through to.
They set off , following the Israelites, with all their chariots and their armour.

But Moses had got to the other side.
And he turned round.
And he stretched out his stick again.
And the waters came crashing down on the Egyptians and swept them away.
And the Israelites were safe and free.

Now I don’t know if it really happened like that at all. The Bible isn’t a newspaper report or a history book, which tells us things exactly as they were. It is a book of stories to help us think.
That story helps me think, because it reminds me that when I think it’s all hopeless, that I can’t do something, I shouldn’t give up. Things can happen that I haven’t thought of. God can help me, perhaps through someone else who comes along to help me.  I might have an idea I hadn’t thought of before. I’m not on my own. There are always people who can help.

Prayer: Think of something you find really hard. Think about who you could talk to about that. 
Hold silence.

Loving God, help us when we feel we don’t know what to do. Help us to tell someone who can help us. Help us to accept their help. Amen

(The children were entirely unbothered by the Egyptians being swept away - I was a bit worried, but they didn't seem to worry about the wholesale slaughter in the story. They listened very thoughtfully to the final plague though, and I could see they agreed with me that it was a terrible, terrible thing.)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Candlemas - Let your light shine

This Sunday in Church we’ll be celebrating a special occasion. It is called Candlemas, so it’s obviously got  some candles in it. But it also has a baby in it too.

·         Show a picture of a baby
I wonder what this baby will grow up to be?

We can’t tell.

We might not know what job he or she will do, but what do we hope his or her life will be like?

(ask children for their ideas)
Happy? Successful? Loved? helping others? etc…

He or she will be special – there will be no one like him or her. Everyone is special in their own way.

Tell story of presentation of Christ in the Temple

This story is about two very old people, called Simeon and Anna. They spent all their time in the Temple in Jerusalem, the place where everyone gathered to pray. But they didn’t just come once a week or once a month, they were there every day. Anna even slept in the Temple. They were waiting. Waiting and waiting. What were they waiting for? They were waiting for God to come and help their people.

They looked around them and saw that people were unhappy. Roman soldiers had marched into their land and they had to do what the soldiers told them to. Often the soldiers were cruel.
Simeon and Anna saw that people often made each other unhappy too. They treated each other badly, as if they didn’t matter, especially people who were ill, or poor. It wasn’t right, and Simeon and Anna did what they could to help people, but they knew that they couldn’t do it on their own. They needed God’s help. People believed that God would send a special helper – they called him the Messiah – but when would he come, and what would he look like.

All day, every day, Simeon and Anna watched and prayed. They looked at all the people who came to the Temple, but none of them was the one.

Then one day, a little family – a man and a woman carrying a baby – came into the Temple. The baby was about six weeks old. It was baby Jesus, with Joseph and Mary. They had come to the Temple to say thank you to God for Jesus. All families did that. And when they came they brought something to offer – two pigeons. Here’s a picture of them. You can see Joseph carrying the pigeons. They felt very small – the Temple was HUGE, and it was crowded. No one would notice them. But someone did. Simeon and Anna. Something told them that this little baby was the one they had been waiting for.  They pushed through the crowds towards them.

Simeon took the baby in his arms and said. “This is the one I have been waiting for. Now I can die happy, because I have seen that God is coming to help our people, and people all over the world. He will be like a bright light shining for everyone.” Anna told everyone around that this child would be very special when he grew up, someone would help them to live right.

Mary and Joseph didn’t know what to make of it at all, but they remembered Simeon and Anna and what they had said as Jesus grew up, and thought about it.

That’s the story, and it doesn’t just remind us about Jesus being special. It reminds us that we are all special. Jesus said that each of us is like a light that can light up the world, so we’ve got to remember to shine!

We say that to every person who is baptised or christened in Church. We give them a special candle to take home to remember that. Here is baby Seth with his mum and dad and his candle.

Silence to think about that some way in which you could "let your light shine" today - something you could do to help someone.

Sing : “This little light of mine.”

Play the Song of Simeon to go out.