Blessed to be a Blessing

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1 January 29, 2017 Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany Mic. 6:1 8 Ps Cor. 1:18 31 Matt. 5:1 12 Blessed to be a Blessing Goal for the Session Adults will explore the promises of the Beatitudes and affirm values and behaviors exemplified by them. n PREPARING FOR THE SESSION Focus on Matthew 5:1 12 WHAT is important to know? From Exegetical Perspective by Edwin Chr. van Driel The Beatitudes are not entrance requirements for the kingdom but eschatological blessings. Although the later sections of the Sermon are full of ethical imperatives, the Beatitudes are in the indicative mode, not in the imperative. Jesus is not asking the crowd to become poor in spirit, or mourners, or persecuted for righteousness sake; instead, he offers consolation to those who find themselves poor and in mourning and persecuted. Here we get to hear what Jesus proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23) exactly amounts to. WHERE is God in these words? From Theological Perspective by Marcia Y. Riggs As Jesus pronounces God s blessings, he frames the call to discipleship in terms of both who they are to be (their character) and its consequences for their lives in the present sociopolitical and religious context, as well as in God s future. Finally, the theological heart of the Beatitudes is a call to be disciples who live out the virtues of the blessings in pursuit of righteousness grounded in God s righteousness (God s steadfast love, goodness, justice, and mercy). God s blessings are our command, because God first loved us, giving us the blessing of Jesus Christ, our salvation. SO WHAT does this mean for our lives? From Pastoral Perspective by Charles James Cook Living daily into the spirit of the Beatitudes involves looking at them as a collection of the whole, rather than looking at each one individually. Each is related to the others, and they build on one another. Those who are meek, meaning humble, are more likely to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they remain open to continued knowledge of God. If we approach the Beatitudes this way, we see they invite us into a way of being in the world that leads to particular practices. There are three principles for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. These three principles allow us to be in the world, while not being totally shaped by it. We offer an alternative to what the world seems to be pursuing. NOW WHAT is God s word calling us to do? From Homiletical Perspective by Ronald J. Allen The Beatitudes are not direct calls to action, to become poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, and so forth. Rather, the Beatitudes are promises. Indirectly, of course, the Beatitudes do imply that people who have responded positively to the coming of the realm will manifest the values and behaviors that are exemplified in the Beatitudes. However, we cannot move too quickly here. Any call to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to become merciful, and to be pure in heart, and so forth, runs the risk of drifting into legalism and works righteousness. 1

2 Blessed to be a Blessing FOCUS SCRIPTURE Matthew 5:1 12 Focus on Your Teaching Do many of your members, when asked how they are doing, say they are blessed? What do they mean by that? Are blessed Christians happy? Even more important, are we blessed because of something we do or are we blessed just by believing we are God s children? Today s focus scripture contains the Beatitudes, a well-known list of blessings given by Jesus to his disciples. Expect your participants to find both words of comfort and words of challenge in these well-loved verses. Open my mind and heart to your blessings, O God, that I may be a blessing to those I lead. Amen. YOU WILL NEED newsprint or board markers copies of Resource Sheet 2 pens Bibles copies of Resource Sheet 1 copies of Resource Sheet 1 for February 5, 2017 For Responding option 1: Bibles or Resource Sheet 2 option 2: newsprint, colored markers option 3: paper and pens, Resource Sheet 1 A similar version of the Beatitudes is found in Luke 6: If there is time, compare the Matthew and Luke versions. You might use a Gospel parallel book or the Web site utoronto.ca/religion/ synopsis/meta-synt.htm n LEADING THE SESSION GATHERING Before the session, write Happiness is... on the board or newsprint. Welcome participants as they arrive and ask them to each add a word or phrase on the board or newsprint to complete the sentence Happiness is... Then come together and introduce any newcomers. Review the written responses and summarize the most common ways we think of happiness. Tell the group that in today s session you will be exploring the Beatitudes. Lead the group in this prayer or one of your choosing: God of power and love, as we ponder what makes for happiness, guide us with your Spirit to find your way for us. Amen. EXPLORING Tell the group that for the next few weeks the lectionary Gospel text is from the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in Matthew 5 7. Encourage them to read these familiar chapters at home during the week. Today s focus scripture includes the beginning verses of the Sermon on the Mount, which are called the Beatitudes, or blessings. Before opening Bibles, distribute copies of Resource Sheet 2 (The Beatitudes, or Blessings) and pens. Ask participants to match each phrase of the Beatitudes. 2

3 Blessed to be a Blessing When they have finished, have participants turn to Matthew 5:1 12 in their Bibles. Indicate an imaginary line through the middle of the group, creating two groups of roughly equal size. Instruct one group to read the first half of each verse ( Blessed are... ) and the other group to read the response ( For they... ). Begin by reading verses 1 2 to the group. After they have read verses 3 10 responsively as outlined above, read verses in unison. Draw attention to the left column of Resource Sheet 2. Ask the participants to put a check next to each description that is encouraged by Jesus, noting that others are conditions people do not choose. When they have finished, have them compare their lists with another person. Then ask: P What does it mean that Jesus declared people who were suffering, blessed? P What does it mean that Jesus declared blessed both people who act in certain ways, such as those who work for peace, and people who suffer, such as those who mourn? Hope for someone to mention that it shows Jesus came to give hope to marginalized people, both those oppressed by others and those who were persecuted for doing good. The term Beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beatus, which means blissful or happy. The original Greek word, however, was makarios, meaning the same thing. Distribute copies of Resource Sheet 1 (Focus on Matthew 5:1 12) and have a volunteer read the Where? excerpt. Ask: P How does this excerpt challenge or change your thinking about the Beatitudes? Point out that some Bible translations use the word happy instead of blessed. If you or someone has a study Bible, investigate what the original word was and its meaning. (See sidebar.) Beatitudes are also found in Greek literature where the promised blessings are normally materialistic. It was normally the gods or the wealthy and powerful who were called blessed because they did not have to be concerned with the daily struggles of life. In the biblical context, blessedness describes happiness that comes from a right relationship with God as opposed to a more material understanding of good fortune or emotional bliss. Ask: P How does the interplay of happy and blessed help you interpret the Beatitudes? P Knowing that both are translations of the Greek makarios, and how the word was used by Greeks at the time, how does Jesus turn the usual use of the word upside down in the Sermon on the Mount? Return to Resource Sheet 1 and read the So What? excerpt. Invite participants to call out examples they remember in which Jesus or others in the Gospels exemplified simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. As a transition to Responding, ask: P How do Christians today offer an alternative to what the world is pursuing? 3

4 Blessed to be a Blessing EASY PREP RESPONDING Choose one or more of these activities, depending on the length of your session: 1. Blessings Unbound Even though the Beatitudes are a collective unit, each participant might find one phrase more challenging or comforting. Have participants take a few minutes to review the Beatitudes, reflecting where the words of comfort and challenge speak to their lives. Have them first look for the comfort they find personally in the Beatitudes. Then have them look for a challenge they find compelling to their lives. Form pairs and have them tell one comfort and one challenge they find to one another. Invite the group to each select one challenge in the Beatitudes they will work on in the next week. 2. Blessed Art Sometimes it is easier to express a thought or concept in pictures than in words. Form small groups and give each group a sheet of newsprint and set of colored markers. Ask each group to select one verse from the Beatitudes. Explain that each group is to draw a picture or symbol of how the blessing expressed in their verse might be interpreted and experienced today. Allow adequate time for groups to complete their assignment. Post the pictures on a wall in the sequence of the verses. Invite comments or questions, and encourage each group to share insights they gained from the drawings. 3. A Beatitude Acrostic Adults will affirm the Beatitudes by writing a poem that incorporates the values espoused in them. Distribute paper and pens. Explain that an acrostic is a poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word or message. Have participants review the So What? excerpt on Resource Sheet 1 and write an acrostic poem using one of the principles named (simplicity, hope, compassion) incorporating ideas from the Beatitudes. These will be used in the Closing activity and could be used in the church newsletter or other church communication. CLOSING Invite participants to close their eyes as you read the focus scripture slowly, pausing after each verse for silent meditation. If they made art in option 2 in Responding, stand in front of the art. If possible, move from picture to picture so they can focus on the art for each Beatitude as it is read. Invite adults to name an action they will take in the coming week that is based on one of the Beatitudes. If participants wrote the acrostic poems in Responding, hear them now. Conclude with this prayer or one of your choosing: O God, in these teachings you challenge us and bless us with kingdom living. Strengthen us for the tasks ahead. Bless us to be a blessing. Amen. Distribute copies of Resource Sheet 1 for February 5, 2017, or it to the participants during the week. Encourage class members to read the focus scripture and resource sheet before the next session. 4

5 January 29, 2017 Blessed to be a Blessing Adult Resource Sheet 1 Focus on Matthew 5:1 12 WHAT is important to know? From Exegetical Perspective by Edwin Chr. van Driel The Beatitudes are not entrance requirements for the kingdom but eschatological blessings. Although the later sections of the Sermon are full of ethical imperatives, the Beatitudes are in the indicative mode, not in the imperative. Jesus is not asking the crowd to become poor in spirit, or mourners, or persecuted for righteousness sake; instead, he offers consolation to those who find themselves poor and in mourning and persecuted. Here we get to hear what Jesus proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23) exactly amounts to. WHERE is God in these words? From Theological Perspective by Marcia Y. Riggs As Jesus pronounces God s blessings, he frames the call to discipleship in terms of both who they are to be (their character) and its consequences for their lives in the present sociopolitical and religious context, as well as in God s future. Finally, the theological heart of the Beatitudes is a call to be disciples who live out the virtues of the blessings in pursuit of righteousness grounded in God s righteousness (God s steadfast love, goodness, justice, and mercy). God s blessings are our command, because God first loved us, giving us the blessing of Jesus Christ, our salvation. SO WHAT does this mean for our lives? From Pastoral Perspective by Charles James Cook Living daily into the spirit of the Beatitudes involves looking at them as a collection of the whole, rather than looking at each one individually. Each is related to the others, and they build on one another. Those who are meek, meaning humble, are more likely to hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they remain open to continued knowledge of God. If we approach the Beatitudes this way, we see they invite us into a way of being in the world that leads to particular practices. There are three principles for living into the spirit of the Beatitudes: simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion. These three principles allow us to be in the world, while not being totally shaped by it. We offer an alternative to what the world seems to be pursuing. NOW WHAT is God s word calling us to do? From Homiletical Perspective by Ronald J. Allen The Beatitudes are not direct calls to action, to become poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, and so forth. Rather, the Beatitudes are promises. Indirectly, of course, the Beatitudes do imply that people who have responded positively to the coming of the realm will manifest the values and behaviors that are exemplified in the Beatitudes. However, we cannot move too quickly here. Any call to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to become merciful, and to be pure in heart, and so forth, runs the risk of drifting into legalism and works righteousness Westminster John Knox Press 5

6 January 29, 2017 Blessed to be a Blessing Adult Resource Sheet 2 Draw lines to connect the blessings. The Beatitudes, or Blessings Blessed are the poor in spirit for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will see God. Blessed are those who mourn... Blessed are the meek... Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness... Blessed are the merciful... Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.... for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.... Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.... for they will be called children of God.... for they will be comforted. Blessed are the pure in heart for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account for they will be filled.... for they will inherit the earth Westminster John Knox Press 6

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