What a sacrifice!

Topic:

Sacrifice

Aim

  • To help pupils think about the meaning of sacrifice.
  • To challenge them about their priorities.

Things you’ll need

  • 1 or 2 large boxes
  • A bar of chocolate
  • Some of your own favourite possessions to show the pupils

Bible Base

  • Matthew 4:18-22
  • Matthew 9:9
  • Matthew 19:16-22

Content

1 Put the bar of chocolate on show. Ask for a volunteer who likes chocolate. Ask him/her to hold the boxes whilst looking at the chocolate. Say that he/she mustn’t put them down until you tell them to – but they will get to eat the chocolate eventually!

2 Ask the rest of the pupils to think about what their favourite thing is (eg a game, a book, a video etc). Show them some of your favourite things which you have brought to the assembly. Explain why you like them. Talk about how you would feel if you had to give them all away. Check that your volunteer is still holding the boxes, whilst looking at the chocolate.

3 Now explain the idea of sacrifice. Start by talking about how people sometimes give things away to other people for a reason. In the Bible, people sometimes gave things away because God told them to. This is called ‘a sacrifice’. People gave things away as a sacrifice for two reasons:

First, to give God the best they had, to show how much they loved him. Often their most precious possession would be an animal. The animal would be cooked and eaten and special prayers would be said – to praise God, to say sorry or ‘thank you’ to him.

Pause here and turn to the person who is still holding the boxes for you. Make sure they understand that they must not put the boxes down. Then talk about the bar of chocolate and tell them to eat it. When they don’t do as they are told, ask everyone what the person needs to do in order to be able to eat the chocolate. (Answer: put the boxes down.) Tell your volunteer to put the boxes down now so that he/she can eat the chocolate.

Second, God also told people to make sacrifices to help them remember what was important. Sometimes we get so worried about our favourite possessions that we forget about God, or other people. The volunteer had to get rid of the boxes before he/she could eat the chocolate – which had become the priority.

4 Emphasise that God doesn’t just tell us to get rid of everything for the sake of it. We might make sacrifices for the two reasons above. But sacrifice might mean giving away more than just a ‘thing’.

5 Briefly tell the pupils how in the Bible we read about Jesus calling Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew to follow him and how they left everything for Jesus. They sacrificed everything so that they could follow him, because they realised that that was more important than anything else in their lives. Tell how Jesus also met the rich young ruler who didn’t want to sacrifice his money for Jesus, so didn’t follow him.

Application

A Christian viewpoint

The Bible teaches that Christians need to be ready to make sacrifices. God wants them to put him first, to give him the best they have –which isn’t just objects, but themselves! That means they must obey him at all times. God also wants Christians to be prepared to sacrifice ‘things’ to show that they are not what is most important in their lives but rather that God is.

For everyone

Whoever we are, we might need to make sacrifices. We might need to be prepared to give things away to help us remember God, or to help us stop worrying about ourselves and care for other people more. For example, we might need to be prepared to lend a game to a friend, or spend less time on our computer and more time helping our mum or dad.

Response

Ask the children to think about what is the most important thing in their lives. Then, keep that thing in mind as you say this prayer:

Dear Lord, help us to be prepared to make sacrifices, to be ready to let things go so that we can put others first instead of ourselves. Amen.

 

John Harper

Caring about those in danger – the Titanic disaster

Other themes: sacrifice, generosity, Easter

The Problem

Listen to this. What would you do in this situation?

Colin wasn’t surprised when it happened. His best mate Billy had been looking pale since lunch. So as soon as Billy put his hands to his mouth Colin was shouting down the coach, “Mrs James, Billy’s being sick.”

Mrs James got there with the sickbag just in time. Colin watched it fill up with a mixture of horror and relief. What a time for it to happen though, he thought, Billy’s going to miss the fun. It was the last night of the residential school trip and they were going to be in a big fun pool with flumes and chutes. It’d be great, surrounded by their mates – Colin couldn’t wait to show off a bit.

He saw Mrs James in the hostel corridor after tea. “Is he okay now?”

“Far from it, I’m afraid. Good for him we’re going home tomorrow. Oh, Colin, he’s asked if you could stay with him this evening. He said your awful jokes were the only things that would cheer him up.”

“But…it’s the swimming tonight.”

“Yes, it’s a sacrifice, I know. Anyway, think about it. There’ll be a couple of teachers here, so don’t feel you have to.”

Then she smiled and turned away, leaving Colin biting his lip in the corridor.

Now think:

What should Colin do? What if he stays back and Billy just falls asleep? But they are best friends…

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

It’s hard to give something up. But I want to tell you about someone who gave up far more than one evening, and for someone he didn’t even know.

As they reached the bottom of the ship’s gangway, it would be impossible to say who was the more excited – John Harper or his six-year-old daughter, Nan – for neither of them had experienced anything like this. They were about to board the largest, the most luxurious ship ever built, the ship everyone had been talking about. It was the first one with a swimming pool, and there were Turkish baths, even four-poster beds on board – and fantastic meals to look forward to.

John Harper was a church minister from Scotland. He’d now been invited to preach in the States. And this marvellous ship was sailing to New York on just the right day. What an opportunity!

But the great thing about this shop was its safety – the hull was divided into sixteen watertight compartments. If there was a collision the worst that could happen was that one compartment, or two at the most, would be cracked open. But the ship could still float if four were smashed. In fact, the ship was nicknamed “The Unsinkable”. Its real name was impressive too – it meant mighty and enormous. It was called…the Titanic.

Midday, April 10th, 1912. The tugs began pulling the ship away from Southampton docks. Soon, under its own steam, the Titanic was surging majestically toward the open sea. The great adventure had begun!

What no-one on board knew was that a huge chain of icebergs was lying across their path to New York. And only a few officers knew two other facts – that the binoculars used for spotting icebergs had gone missing from the crow’s nest, the lookout point, and that there were only enough lifeboats for one thousand two hundred people. There were over two thousand two hundred on board.

John and Nan were having a wonderful time. John had always enjoyed the water, even though he had come close to drowning not once, not twice, but three times: first when he fell down a well when he was two – his mother had to hold him upside down while the water poured out; then in his twenties: while taking a dip a strong current almost dragged him out to sea; then in his thirties a boat he was on sprung a leak. Perhaps these events were to prepare him for what was to come.

John had become a Christian when he was thirteen by hearing a Bible verse, John 3:16 – perhaps you know it – “God loved the world so much that he gave his only son”. So John understood straightaway that the Christian life was about giving – God gave, now he should give. And he did, giving time, energy and love to the poor and needy around Glasgow. He became a famous preacher too.

He had been in America before, but not with Nan. They were over halfway there now.

Almost midnight on April 14th. The men in the crow’s nest were finding it difficult to see. There was no moon and the binoculars had not been found. There – was that an iceberg ahead? Yes! “Hard a’starboard!” Yes…yes, just made it. Lumps of ice fell on the decks as the ship brushed past. Phew! That was a close one! Then came a crunching, grinding sound from below. The ship seemed to be trembling as if in fear or pain. For ten seconds, that was all.

But in those ten seconds the part of the iceberg they couldn’t see had smashed open six of the watertight compartments.

Six

More than two. More than four.

The Titanic was doomed.

There came a knock on John’s cabin door, on every door. “Put your life-jackets on. Go to Boat Deck.” When he and Nan got there, he saw the crew hurrying to take the covers off the lifeboats. Then the boats were lowered and the cry went out: “Women and children first!” John hugged his daughter and made sure she got into a lifeboat. Nan did not know that was the last time she would see her father.

Now the third class passengers, with much further to come, began crowding onto the deck. And then the panic began. People could see the Titanic was going down quickly, could see that there weren’t enough lifeboats for them all.

John saw that many of them did not even have a life-jacket. He knew what God wanted him to do. He took off his own and gave it to a stranger. He knew he was probably giving his life as well.

Waves were washing over the deck now and the ship was tilting more and more. John had no choice. Like many others, he clambered onto the railings and dropped into the freezing sea.

As he entered the water perhaps he remembered the three times he had been rescued from drowning. But he knew this was different. Around him he could hear screams, cries of despair. And he thought, Do they know about heaven? He bagan calling out, “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be safe for ever.” A man desperately clinging to a piece of wreckage heard those words and remembered them. John went on shouting the same words. Until the cold overpowered him and he slipped beneath the waves.

1502 people died that night. But that man clinging to the wreckage was picked up by a rescue boat and later told how he had become a Christian through John’s last words.

And Nan? She was rescued, returned to Scotland and eventually married a church minister.

But what about the person to whom John gave his life-jacket – and his life? We’ve no idea. But John knew that he was doing what God wanted him to do, and for him that would have been enough.

Time of Reflection

Think now. God wants us to be not just takers but givers too. Probably we won’t be asked to give our life for someone, but would we be willing to give an afternoon or an evening, to help someone, to cheer someone up? Or perhaps we own something that someone else needs more than us. Are we givers or just takers? Let’s think about ourselves for a moment…

Now let’s think of those who’ve given so much to us, families, friends, strangers.

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“Look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. The attitude you should have is the one that Jesus Christ had.” (Philippians 2:4,5)

“Be generous and ready to share with others.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Prayer

Thank you, Jesus, that you gave your life. You could have called on angels to get you down from the cross, but you didn’t. Thank you for John Harper. And thank you for those who have seen what we need and have given it to us. Help us to appreciate more, and to give more. Amen

Variations on a Theme

At some point near the end of the assembly, it could be effective if several pupils told of times when someone gave up something for them. Aim for a wide range of “sacrifices” – the mundane to the vitally important, and a wide range of “givers” too – not just the children’s best friends.

Alternatively, if the time is right, the Harper story could lead into the story of the crucifixion and the events leading up to it. The episode of Jesus praying in Gethsemane brings out the idea of willingness no matter what the cost.