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BIBLE PASSAGE: Matthew 5:1-12
BACKGROUND: This is the first session in a series that explores the Sermon on the Mount. In many ways it is easy to read the Beatitudes as about us being good people, but when we really take time to look at them and reflect on what Jesus is saying they’re very radical! In a sense, Jesus is talking about those who are his people: laying out something of a manifesto. He is not interested in those who are playing the system well and coming out on top; his heart is for the outliers on the margins.
What a message of hope and challenge this is to us today! Those who are broken and in need of a saviour are welcomed into his gang, already belonging without needing to be anything more than they are. Those who are invested in winning in the ways of the world are challenged here that maybe what they are chasing amounts to very little in the community of Christ. This session looks at exploring the radical message Jesus preached 2,000 years ago, but still speaks to us today with words of comfort and challenge.
BIBLE PASSAGE: Acts 10
BACKGROUND: We all have our preconceived ideas, sometimes subconsciously, about who might make a ‘suitable’ follower of Jesus. Peter certainly did, and we are no different! Allow God to speak during your preparation for this session and to show you his heart for others.
Welcome the young people to the session with any refreshments you have brought. You might want to incorporate ‘Intro activity’ as part of the welcome, otherwise use this time to settle in and catch up.
You will need: printouts of the Bible pas- sage; highlighter pens in different colours Give everybody a copy of Matthew 5:1-12 and two different highlighter pens. Read through the passage together. Ask for a volunteer to read it or prime a leader to do so before the session.
As you read the passage, ask everyone to use one colour to highlight the characteristic a person might have and the other to highlight what the consequences of these attributes might be. Ask the group to think about and write down what those hearing Jesus’ words might typically have thought the consequences of having these characteristics would be.
You will need: a large white sheet (big enough for everyone to sit on); a Bible Spread out a large white sheet. Cram everyone on it and read Acts 10 to the group. Encourage the young people to bear in mind that we are all the ‘unclean’, who are now called ‘clean’.
Challenge the young people to summa- rise the message Peter gave the Roman household. Ask everyone to have a go at summarising the gospel in one minute. You could time it to make this more of a game, or if they feel unsure you could give them a couple of minutes to write something down and then read their ideas out in turn. Reassure them that there is no perfect answer, and that in one minute they will only be able to touch on a tiny bit of it!
Encourage them to try to find an angle that is personal to them, as Peter did.
Without criticising anyone’s effort, you could spend a couple of minutes discussing the merits of some of the ideas and explore the ways you could share the gospel. Do you always have to tell people everything? Is the gospel we would tell the same as the message that might be preached at church on a Sunday morning? Is it OK to change the way we tell the gospel? What does God want us to communicate to our friends? Is anything off-limits when it comes to leaving bits out? What would be the most creative and radical way to communicate the gospel?
Peter’s verbal gospel to Cornelius was reinforced significantly by his godliness and anointing, and also by the supernatural way the two had come to meet each other.
Building on the Bible reading activity, continue your discussions around the passage using these questions as a guide:
- What kind of people are described by Jesus in this passage?
- Why are the consequences surprising?
- Why does Jesus want to bless these people?
- How do you think they will be blessed?
- Why do you think this passage is so powerful for Christians?What does it say about who Jesus is?
- Can you relate to any of these attributes in particular?
You will need: examples of propaganda posters; large sheets of paper; art materials Explain what a propaganda poster is.
Propaganda is usually used to spread ideas, often with a political agenda. Many famous ones in UK history were produced during the wars, where posters and art with particular messages were created, such as slogans to recruit members to the army, to increase compliance with rationing or to avoid sharing secrets that might be spread to spies (“Loose lips sink ships!”). A while ago, the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster gained considerable popularity after it was rediscovered.
At this stage, show the group some examples of propaganda posters. It would be really helpful to have a large number. Show them on a laptop or tablet, or print them off to share around.
Chat about how what Jesus was saying in what we call the Beatitudes, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, is quite a different way to influence people! He is trying to raise a different kind of community: one that celebrates and protects the vulnerable, those who love deeply and those who know that they need help.
Invite the group to make their own posters. Suggest that they take one of the lines in the Beatitudes – maybe the one that speaks to them most – and turn it into a poster. Would they want to use a slogan with it? What kind of image would they put on the poster? Provide materials that will help them, and again, giving examples of similar posters would be really helpful. Maybe you could provide examples of typography or stamps to help. If you have a laminator available you could laminate the posters.
Give the group a good amount of time to work on their posters. As they work, chat about what the young people have discov- ered today. If you’ve got space to display them where you meet you could put them up.
You will need: printouts of Matthew 5:1-12; scissors
Ask the group to read through the Bible passage again in reflective silence. Then encourage them to pick one of the verses they would like to use as an encouragement for prayer that week. Pass the scissors around and invite them to cut their verse out as a strip to take away and put somewhere that they will carry with them. They could put it in their purse, stick it in a homework planner or put it somewhere in their bedroom.
Once everyone has cut out their verse, pray together:
“Jesus, you bless those who live close to your heart. Sometimes following you is a scary road that takes us to the margins, but remind us that we find you there. Jesus, we give you the verses that you spoke those 2,000 years ago and still speak to us today. Encourage us when we need your blessing in the hard or lonely places, and remind us that you are there with us. Keep us humble and remind us that you are the treasure worth chasing. Amen”.
BECCA DEAN is a writer and PhD researcher in Durham. Her book, Be Live Pray, helps young people engage with prayer and spirituality in inclusive and creative ways. She blogs at beccaislearning.com
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