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Bible passage: Matthew 22:34-40
Background: This passage comes in the middle of a section in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is teaching the crowds. The Pharisees make several attempts to trip Jesus up, but he confounds their plans every time. The story for this session is one of those attempts to test Jesus. The question posed by the Pharisees comes from a spiteful spirit, but Jesus’ answer is full of love: a love for God and love for people; a love that the Pharisees are not putting into practice.
OPTION 1: Game
Invite some volunteers (of all ages and genders) up to the front and challenge them to do the opposite of what you are about to ask them to do. Try things like “Touch your toes”, “Stay perfectly still” or “Don’t say anything”. Ask them how easy it is to disobey commandments.
OPTION 2: Discussion
As people arrive or at the start of the service, invite them to talk in smaller groups about times when people have shown them love this week. What did it feel like to be on the receiving end of such loving actions? Perhaps they have shown love to others this week. What did they do?
You will need: slips of paper with the Pharisees’ questions written on (see below)
Before the service, give four volunteers (of different ages and genders) one of the Pharisees’ questions and make sure they sit in different sections of your meeting space. Tell this story:
Jesus has been teaching his disciples and the crowds for about three years now. They all love him, but the people in charge – the religious leaders – are angry. They are worried that Jesus is getting all the attention and that people won’t listen to them any more. So they have been asking questions, trying to trick him. Invite the first three people with questions to stand up and ask them in this order:
“Who gave you the authority to do these things?”
“Should we pay taxes to the emperor or not?
“When God raises people to life, whose wife will this woman be?”
The religious leaders were not happy. Encourage the congregation to grumble and complain.
They had another question. Invite the fourth person to ask their question.
“What is the most important commandment?”
And this is what Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, ‘Love others as much as you love yourself.’ All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.”
You will need: copies of the questions below; Bibles
Break into small groups (made up of one or two families or other mixed-age groups) and give each group a copy of these questions:
- Why did the religious leaders keep asking Jesus questions?
- What do you notice about the two commandments Jesus mentions?
- Do you think the religious leaders were following these commandments? Why? Why not?
- How can we love God?
- How can we love others? Give them time to chat about these questions, referring back to the Bible passage if they need to.
You will need: a roving mic (if needed); a volunteer who has put one or both of Jesus’ commandments into action
Get some feedback on questions two and three from ‘Small groups’ using a microphone to hear people’s contributions if your meeting space is large. Talk about the fact that love sits at the heart of these two commandments, and that the religious leaders were more concerned with following the rules than loving God and others.
Go on to talk about questions four and five. Get some feedback from the groups and share any stories from your own life that are appropriate to your context. Invite your volunteer up to the front and ask them what they have done to follow these commandments.
Set these three activities up in different parts of your meeting space. Explain what each one is and encourage people to go to the one that will help them process what they have discovered most effectively.
OPTION ONE: Actions
Challenge the group that chooses this activity to come up with actions for Jesus’ words in verses 37 to 39 to help everyone remember the two commandments. Encourage them to make it a group effort. They could also create actions that illustrate what these commandments mean in their lives. At the end of the response time, invite the group to the front to perform the actions they have come up with.
OPTION TWO: Cards
You will need: card-making craft materials
Invite people to make cards for people in your community (both your church and the wider community) who might need to be shown love. As you work, discuss how you might deliver these cards. Chat about what it’s like to be shown love when you are feeling stressed, unhappy or ill.
OPTION THREE: Reflection
You will need: holding crosses, candles (live or battery-operated) and other spiritual focus points
Create a space where people can spend time reflecting on how they love God. Encourage them to use the spiritual focuses (such as holding a cross or lighting a candle) to help in their reflection. What can people do differently this week to show their love to God?
Bring everyone back together and ask if anyone would like to share what they did, thought about or discussed during the response time. Thank everyone for taking part and say an appropriate blessing to close the service.
CREATIVE WORSHIP SUGGESTIONS
In your sung worship, sing songs that celebrate how much God loves us. Talk about how our response to God’s love is to love him back. Invite people to sing a song that speaks of our love for God if they want to tell him they love him.
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