Bible Text: Luke 6:20–26; Matthew 5:3–12; Luke 4:18–19
Lesson Focus: In God’s kingdom, the things that rule our earthly life no longer apply.
Big Question: What blessings are there for me in God’s kingdom?
Key Words: BEATITUDE, PEACE, JUSTICE
• The Beatitudes are part of Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount.
• Jesus calls us to look at the world in a new way, to value and honor things differently than the rest of society. Our ordinary ways of understanding are turned around, and the world is given a new order.
• God’s ways value justice for all people; at this the poor, the sorrowful, and the oppressed rejoice.
• Our faith inspires us as a community and individuals to speak up and act out against injustices in the world. As a distinct community we bear witness to the power of God’s love.
Early in Jesus’ public ministry, according to the Gospel of Matthew, crowds begin to follow him, amazed at his teaching and healing. While in their midst, Jesus climbs to a high place, and on this natural stage, he addresses the crowds. This Sermon on the Mount is full of radical new ways of looking at the world: Preferential treatment is given to the poor, standards of success are turned upside down, and values shift dramatically. Christ asks his followers to live a life in stark contrast to the world around them. This distinct community will bear witness to the power of God’s love.
The Beatitudes have been interpreted in many ways since Jesus first spoke the words. Martin Luther, in keeping with his personal experience, believed the words of the Beatitudes were meant to show us our sinfulness and therefore drive us to the righteousness of Jesus. On the opposite end of the spectrum, popular belief in modern years has often defined the Beatitudes as a prescription for individual happiness, a guide for life’s journey, or just another self-help book. TV evangelists have used Christ’s teachings in the Beatitudes as the basis for books, including The Be-Happy Attitudes (Robert Schuller) and The Secret of Happiness (Billy Graham).
The context and content of the Sermon on the Mount suggests that the teachings of Christ, including the Beatitudes, are less about an individual’s personal happiness and more about his or her role as a follower in a newly ordered world. Jesus’ words make clear that the path will not be easy. If the followers of Christ are not living their faith, how will the world know its mission and vision? Only God’s love can create and sustain such a community—one that sets the followers apart from the rest of the world, and one that rewards those things that honor God. The followers of God are called to live the reality that Christ teaches in the Beatitudes and, in so doing, to be God’s tools for reordering the world.
Throughout history, the church and its members have had opportunities to live out the idea of being a contrast community to give honor to what God honors, to stand out, and to speak up. Sometimes individuals have called the community of faith to task. Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer serves as an example. During World War II, as the German churches let their fears override the mounting evidence of what Adolf Hitler was doing, Bonhoeffer’s voice was a powerful contrast. In more recent history, the church has been active to help end the tyranny and oppression of people in many nations of the world. As acts of terrorism have been on the rise, it has been the church that has called us to examine our own actions and reactions in light of the Beatitudes.
As Christ’s followers we are called to be a contrast community to the culture that surrounds us. Instead of pursing wealth and material possessions, we are called to see that the physical, daily needs of all people are met. Rather than seeking power and fame, we are asked to be meek, to act with mercy, to make peace among all God’s people.
Because sin is alive and well in our world and even in our church communities, we don’t always live up to the ideal that Christ has given us; nonetheless, our hope remains that our faith communities will stand out as a contrast to the rest of society. Church is a place where all people should be welcome and know God’s love—not just the popular, the beautiful, or the wealthy. It is up to us as the body of Christ alive in the world to reflect that value to others. As believers, how we treat people matters—both inside and outside the church. In school and social groups, as well as in the world, opportunities will abound for young believers to make a difference—to show that they are part of this contrast community that lifts up different values. The church is the community in which God will be made visible to the end of the age, but only if we do not fade into the rest of the world.
What blessings are there for me in God’s kingdom?
This may be a troubling scripture for youth; it is for some adults. Youth can identify with exclusion, insults, and rejection. It is often a very real part of their lives, and they do not necessarily feel blessed. They need to hear the promise of Jesus’ words—that it will not always be that way. There is hope for all of us in God’s kingdom. In God’s kingdom everything is turned upside down. The things that rule our earthly life no longer apply. Youth reside in an instant gratification world. The promise that things will get better, someday or in God’s kingdom, do not help them to solve their problems today. When youth feel they are at the end of their ropes, they need something solid on which to stand. Knowing the promises of Jesus may be the thing that can get them through chaotic times in their lives.
Welcome and Review
Help kids dive into the Key Words by asking for definitions and/or providing these definitions:
BEATITUDE: the term assigned to the sayings of Jesus found in Matthew 5:3–12. It is also a word that means “perfect happiness” in the literary world.
PEACE: the absence of violence, conflict, or oppression.
JUSTICE: To treat all people fairly in the correct or impartial way
Choose an option to introduce the lesson. Then lead students in the Opening Prayer.
Object Lesson Option: Tipping the Scales
Create a balance scale by placing a hard flat surface (e.g., cookie sheet, piece of wood, hardcover book) on top of a fulcrum (paperweight, brick, small jar). Find several objects that can be moved around easily, such as pebbles or coins.
Place several pieces on one end of the balance and only two on the other end (save at least half of the pieces for later). Indicate that this is how the world sometimes works. There are the “haves” and the “have-nots,” the rich and the poor.
Jesus says that the “have-nots” are the ones who receive the reward. (Load the side of the balance with only two pieces so the weight shifts the scale.) The people society often looks down on are the ones God favors, and God is generous with gifts of mercy, grace, and love. God tips the scales of society so that peace and justice are attainable for everyone.
Debrief the object lesson with these questions:
• Who are some people in your school or community whom others look down on?
• How do you think they would feel if people favored them instead?
• Whom do you think God’s gifts are for?
Dim the lights and tell the class that the prayer is taken from the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3–10), the topic for today’s session. Project the prayer on a wall or print copies for the class. Take a few seconds after the class completes each verse to reflect on what is being said.
Leader: Blessed are the poor in spirit,
Group: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Leader: Blessed are those who mourn,
Group: For they will be comforted.
Leader: Blessed are the meek,
Group: For they will inherit the earth.
Leader: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
Group: For they will be filled.
Leader: Blessed are the merciful,
Group: For they will receive mercy.
Leader: Blessed are the pure in heart,
Group: For they will see God.
Leader: Blessed are the peacemakers,
Group: For they will be called children of God.
Leader: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
Group: For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
My Faith Story
Ask kids to respond to the Big Question: What blessings are there for me in God’s kingdom?
Then share a part of your own faith story using the suggestion below or another way to share about being treated differently than you expected.
The Beatitudes are about not getting what we think we deserve. Think of a time when you received a gift or blessing you didn’t think you deserved. Perhaps it was the lifting of a punishment for something you did wrong. Or maybe it was a person who befriended you when you were down. Tell the students how this made you feel. Was it difficult to accept the gift? Why or why not? Explain that the way God works is very different from how society works. The first are last, and the last are first in God’s world.
Open the Bible
Have students turn to Matthew 5:3–12. These verses are commonly known as the Beatitudes. Select enough students for each to read one of the Beatitudes (verses 3–11). Ask the entire class to read verse 12 aloud. What does this say to you about the way God works? Do you think this is fair? Why or why not? Do you ever feel like you’re “poor in spirit,” or “meek,” or “hungry,” or “pure in heart”? If the answer is yes, how do these verses make you feel?
Next have students turn to Luke 6:20–26. Ask one student to read verses 20–23 aloud. Ask the class if these verses sound familiar. They are similar to what was read in Matthew 5. Ask another student to read verses 24–26 aloud. What is different about Luke’s account of the Beatitudes? These verses are called the “woes” because Jesus is calling out the people who don’t seem to care about peace and justice. The Beatitudes sometimes make us feel warm and fuzzy, but the “woes” might make us feel a little guilty. Have you ever felt like you were “rich, full, or happy” or had someone “speak well of you”? If so, how do you feel when you hear Jesus’ words? How does that challenge you to think about how you relate to others?
Finally, have students turn to Luke 4:18–19. Ask everyone to read these verses aloud together. Jesus is reading these from what we know as the book of Isaiah from the Old Testament. Jesus is telling people in the synagogue that he is the one who is fulfilling this prophecy. He also calls us to “fulfill the scripture” (verse 21) not only in our hearing, but in our living. What are ways that you can “bring good news to the poor”? How can you help bring justice and peace to the people you encounter every day?
Jesus had many things to say about people. Read Matthew 5:14–16, the verses immediately following the Beatitudes. Here Jesus called the people “lights.” In Jesus’ day, the lights were shallow, cuplike lamps. Olive oil was put in the lamps, and a bit of flax was used as a wick. When lit, even these dim lamps could be seen in a dark house. In the same way, Jesus wants those who love him to always be seen in the world. Considering the words of the Beatitudes, what can we do to be lights?
Open the Catechism
Student Book page 301: Invite students to read the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer.
In the first part of the Lord’s Prayer, including the second petition, we are praying for ourselves in relation to God. What specifically are we praying for in this petition? What is a kingdom? A kingdom is where someone rules; God’s kingdom is where God establishes God’s rule over us and all of creation. It is a time when God takes charge. How will things be different when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness? The Beatitudes help us visualize God’s kingdom.
1. Beatitude or not? Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Beatitude)
2. Beatitude or not? Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Beatitude)
3. Beatitude or not? Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Beatitude)
4. Beatitude or not? Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Beatitude)
5. Beatitude or not? Blessed are the farmers, for they will make lots of money. (Not a Beatitude)
6. Beatitude or not? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Beatitude)
7. Beatitude or not? Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Beatitude)
8. Beatitude or not? Blessed are the youngest siblings, for they will always get to do things before their older siblings did. (Not a Beatitude)
Take a Break
Tell the group that you want them all to stand and line up in alphabetical order by last name so they can get their snack. Once they have lined up, remind them that God does things differently than we are used to. Start at the end of the line to distribute a healthy, nut-free snack to the group, such as fruit, cheese, or crackers. Take a few minutes to talk about what the students expected to happen.
Select one of the options below to explore in your small group. Then finish with the Best/Worst activity and prayer.
Option 1: Music Option: Mountain of God
Play the song “The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan from The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Sony, 1964). Please preview this content to determine its appropriateness for your setting.
Jesus is all about turning the order of his day upside down. If it sounds like a revolution, it is—though it is one with heart, soul, and passion. This spirit of upheaval is echoed by Dylan’s lyrics in this classic song from the 1960s, which was a time of societal changes.
Debrief the song with these questions:
• Knowing that Jesus was called to a life of peaceful revolution, how should we, in turn, order our lives as we strive for justice? How does this change our priorities?
• What are some inequalities you see that you feel the strongest about and why?
• How does Jesus’ ministry point you in the direction of taking positive steps?
Option 2: GameOption: And Then There Were Three
Have students move around the room with a paper and pencil to write three new beatitudes by working together with three different people. Remind them that their beatitudes also should try to turn things upside down. Once they find the first partner, they should sit down and come up with something that has to do with justice but was not included in the Gospel of Matthew or Luke. It should fit the form of “Blessed are _____, for they _____.” Both persons should sign their names to the new beatitude, then find a second partner, and then a third partner. When finished, ask for volunteers to share what they wrote.
Debrief the game option with these questions:
• What was hardest about writing a new beatitude? The easiest?
• Do the new beatitudes emphasize things that do not rule our earthly lives?
• What blessings do the new beatitudes promise everyone?
Option 3: Science Option: Look Around; It’s Everywhere
Before the lesson, assemble the supplies, read through the experiment, and do a trial run.
• Water glass for each student
• Bowl of water per pair of students
Jesus came into the world and totally turned it upside down: talking to tax collectors, sharing meals with fishermen, staying at the homes of sinners. Jesus did all these things and more, perhaps as a way of making a point, perhaps as a challenge to the way things were always done. In his teaching called the Beatitudes, Jesus gave a different vision of who belonged to the kingdom and helped people see that God’s kingdom was all around them.
Arrange the group in pairs so each pair has a bowl of water and two glasses.
Ask the students to solve this riddle: What is all around us, everywhere, all the time but we can’t see it? It’s air. Air fills every crack and space. Hold up an empty glass and ask if it is really empty. Actually it is filled with air. Try this experiment together and see what happens with the air.
Thrust the empty glass straight down in a bowl of water. The air in the glass keeps out nearly all the water. Now tilt the glass slightly and watch what happens. The air escapes (bubbles) and the water begins to fill the glass. As the air escapes, have the second student in each pair use the other glass to try to catch the air underwater. Which pair of students catches the most air?
Debrief the science option with these questions:
• When you put the glass “upside down” in the bowl of water, what did you expect to happen?
• How might the outcome have been different?
• How was this experiment similar to Jesus’ teaching about the Beatitudes?
Best/Worst and Prayer
Go around the group and have each student share the best and worst thing from his or her week. Remind them to pay special attention to (for example) the person on their right, as they will be praying for that person in a moment. Alternate prayer partners from week to week.
Have your group get together with a prayer partner and share one thing they see in their school or community that isn’t fair. How would Jesus turn it upside down in God’s kingdom? Then pray this prayer, allowing time for one person in each pair to name what Jesus would turn upside down.
God, thank you for being with us when we really need you. Sometimes this world is unfair and doesn’t treat us well, but we know you are always looking out for us. We ask you to give us strength to help others in need. (Allow time for each partner to contribute.) Give us the courage to seek out the people who need love and care. Amen.
Pass out pencils and Student Sheets. Look at the front of the Student Sheet together. Ask a volunteer to read each bullet point aloud for the group. Talk about the points with students.
• How are the priorities in the Beatitudes different than what people usually think?
• Why could people be made fun of if they follow what the Beatitudes teach?
• What do the Beatitudes promise?
Turn to this week’s activity called “The Beatitudes Word Scramble.” Let your kids pair up to work through the activity page together. After a few minutes, discuss the answers as a group.
Use the cartoon and questions on the Student Sheet to kick off a conversation.
• In general, who decides who’s in and who’s out? In what ways can you become someone who includes rather than excludes?
Often people who are “in” make the rules about who is in and who is out. How important is it to be in? What are the rules based on? What stops you and your students from being able to include others? Jesus teaches that God’s kingdom is available to all people.
• If Jesus threw a party, who would he invite?
His guest list probably wouldn’t include a lot of celebrities. His guests probably would be people who were poor, homeless people, people with mental illnesses, and so forth. For sure, everybody who is a “nobody” would be there. This is the message of the radical Jesus—one who continually fights for the oppressed and the poor, the meek and the lonely, the outcast and the beggar.
• How would you feel about being invited to the event in the cartoon?
Students might not like thinking of themselves as a “nobody,” but Jesus’ message is that all are welcome. God’s promised kingdom and the blessings of justice for all people are for everyone, including your students. As Christians, we are called to turn the traditional structures of the world upside down. We are commanded to work for justice and to strive for mercy. What are the traditions and structures in your young people’s lives that need to be turned upside down? How can they help overturn them?
Student Book Connection
Student Book page 195: Review for “How to Work for Peace and Justice on Behalf of People Who Are Poor and Oppressed.” Allow a few minutes for the group to skim through the three pages before you begin reading. Indicate that the point of the Beatitudes is to get us to think about making peace and justice a reality in our lives and communities. Sometimes young people don’t know where to start with such a daunting task. These pages give some concrete examples.
Ask someone to read statement 1 aloud to the group. Prayer is a very simple yet important thing that everyone can do to help those in need. Ask another person to read statement 2 aloud. Most young people receive money on a regular basis, through such things as allowances, babysitting, money for grades, gifts, or doing small jobs. Encourage young people to get in the habit of giving one-tenth of what they receive to help those in need. Finally, ask another person to read statement 3 aloud. Few young people pay close attention to what is going on in other parts of the world. Indicate that being aware of situations in the global community is a huge step in helping those in need.
Ask your group: What experience do you have with these steps? Which one can you see yourself doing regularly? You may wish to review the world news sections of recent newspapers or from Web-based news sources. What conclusions can you make about conditions in the world today?
Student Book page 174: Read “History’s Six Most Notorious Heretics.” These are people who turned things upside down. They often were punished for doing what they thought was right. Many of them worked on behalf of the poor and oppressed, striving for peace and justice. Select a different student to read each of the six mini-biographies of the heretics. How do these stories inspire you to turn things upside down to do God’s work in the world? Talk about people in your community who have turned things upside down.
Talk about last week’s Life Connection. Ask your group what they did this week to live out last week’s lesson. What did they learn? What might they do in the future to keep living out that Life Connection?
Read the Life Connection on the Student Sheet. Use this time to discuss how Christians can help bring the vision of God’s kingdom to others. Share an example of volunteer work you do to help. Encourage your students to choose an organization with whom they can do volunteer work for peace and justice in your community.
Kids this age have lots of questions about right and wrong, stories in the Bible, and faith and life. Provide time for them to ask questions. Remember, there isn’t always a right answer, but encouraging discussion is great! Questions help kids explore their faith. Help them explore on their path to confirmation.
After their questions, ask one or more of the following questions to connect your conversations with the Lesson Focus:
• Who are some of the people whom Jesus said are “blessed”?
• How does it make you feel to know that God’s rules are sometimes very different from the rules of the world?
• How can you work for peace and justice in the lives of people you see or hear about every day?
Allow time for students to think about good works they have done during the past week. Were there any opportunities where they failed to respond with good works?
Ask students to identify one person who comes to mind when they hear the Beatitudes. Have each student write the name of that person on a note card and carry it with him or her during the week. What can they do to help peace and justice come to that person during the week? Then pray this prayer.
God of blessing, thank you for being with us when we really need you. Sometimes this world is unfair and doesn’t treat us well, but we know you are always looking out for us. We ask you to give us strength to help others in need, especially the person named on our note cards. Give us the courage to seek out people who need love and care. Amen.
Before students leave, offer the following blessing.
May God bless you to help create a world where peace and justice reign.