Week Four: Shift Your Ability to See Pain
The world is filled with pain and injustice. Followers of Jesus are called to intentionally care for those who hurt, and to address the causes of injustice in the world. This week we focus on this mission.
Please feel free to adapt these lessons for your congregation’s context.
Sermon Notes by Curtis Ivanoff
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
Perspective is important. How we choose to live our lives is largely based on how we see things. Our perspective of what matters most shapes our day-to-day decisions. The Scriptures are constantly calling out this tension—calling us to shift our view of God and of the world. And it is this challenge, this calling to shift our perspective to see things as God does, where real life change and purpose are found.
INTRODUCTION—PARABLE OF THE RIVER
There was once a small village on the edge of a river. The people there were good, and life in the village was good. One day a villager noticed a baby floating down the river. The villager quickly swam out to save the baby from drowning. The next day, the same villager noticed two babies in the river. He called for help, and both babies were rescued from the swift waters. The following day, four babies were caught in the turbulent current. And then eight, then more, and still more!
The villagers organized themselves quickly, setting up watchtowers and training teams of swimmers who could withstand the swift waters and rescue the babies. Rescue squads were soon working 24 hours a day. Each day the number of helpless babies floating down the river increased. The villagers organized themselves efficiently. Rescue squads were now snatching many children each day. While not all the babies could be saved, many numbers were rescued. The villagers felt they were doing well to save as many as they could each day. Indeed, the village priest blessed them in their good work.
One day, however, someone asked, “Where are all these babies coming from? Why don’t we organize a team to head upstream and find out how they end up in the river in the first place?”
This week’s message has to do with shifting our ability to see hurt and the causes of hurt in the world. The Bible makes clear that God calls his people to care for those who are vulnerable and hurting, and to “act justly” as Micah 6:8 teaches. The parable of the river classically illustrates the shift we are focusing on today.
It was a good thing that the people in the village responded by rescuing the babies floating down the river—they saw the hurt. But in the end, they also identified the need to figure out where the babies were coming from—what was causing the hurt.
In this week’s passage, the prophet Micah communicates a message that was repeated many times by the prophets. The message was consistent: in seeking justice, you will care for those who are weak and oppressed.
In verses 6-7, the prophet asks some critical questions: “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?” You can hear his concern. What will it take to please God?
God’s reply is instructive and shows us that it has nothing to do with our sacrifice. “He has showed you, O mortal, what is good.” God has already revealed his goodness to his people through the law and prophets.
The next question, “What does the LORD require of you?” is our question for today. God tells his people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Not only does this instruction point us to love God, but it also calls us to care for others.
You could say that it calls us to love God and to love our neighbor, which points us to a story told by Jesus in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” To help us understand what it takes to make this shift, let us look at the parable of the Good Samaritan.
PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
Read Luke 10:25-37.
The story begins with an expert of the law asking Jesus what it takes to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers with a question of his own, asking the expert what his understanding of the law is. He answers Jesus correctly—love God and love your neighbor. But seeking to justify himself, the man asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
We can be just like that expert. We like to say who our neighbor is and isn’t. If we can do that, we can stay comfortable and not enter into the lives of those who hurt. It is in response to this question that Jesus tells a masterful story that outlines two things we need to do in order to make today’s shift.
SHIFT OUR HEART
According to the story, a man was beaten by robbers and left half dead. Three people came upon the scene and saw the man—a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. Each person saw the hurting man, but their responses to what they saw were different.
The first two—the priest and the Levite—passed by the man on the other side of the road. The experts of the law who were listening to Jesus probably were thinking, “Well of course. What would you expect from a priest or Levite? Surely the next person will be a Pharisee, and he will do what is right!”
Much to their surprise, the third person was a despised Samaritan. Jews did not think well of Samaritans, so for the hero to be a Samaritan was a great shock to Jesus’s listeners. What was the difference between the Samaritan and the first two? Jesus said that the man “took pity on him.” You see, his heart was moved. The Samaritan displayed compassion.
This is where it starts for us—our hearts need to be moved with compassion for those who are hurting.
Once I blew out my car tire on a highway in Alaska. My spare tire was frozen stuck and I was stranded. Car after car after car drove past me on that chilly October morning. It was a sad feeling to watch so many cars drive by me, even though my hazard lights were on and I was clearly in need of help. Finally, a car pulled over and I was greeted with these words: “I am a trained emergency first responder and I am required to stop and ask if you need any help.” The person only stopped because they had to, but I didn’t care! Someone saw that I was stranded and stopped to help.
How many times do we encounter someone hurting? It happens every day. If only we would ask God to have a heart that is moved by compassion. Are you willing to get close to someone or to a people or community who is hurting? We have to allow our hearts to be broken for others.
SHIFT OUR FEET
A heart of compassion is moved to action. To “act justly” as Micah 6:8 says is not merely about ideas. When the Good Samaritan took pity on the man, he acted. He bandaged his wounds, cleaned them, used his own donkey to take the man to find lodging, and even paid for it. He went the distance.
Another time I was on a river in my home of Unalakleet, Alaska. I had run out of gas and was drifting down the river. Again, boaters passed by without stopping to help. I made a commitment then that I would never drive by a boater that was drifting down the river. To this day, I have kept that commitment.
What about those who are hurting? May we take action and move our feet to become people who respond.
For this shift, we are not only called to take action to tend to the hurting, but we are called to discern who “the robbers” are. In this story they were the ones that caused the hurt.
What causes hurt in your community?
One major culprit that has been prominent in the news and that our country has desperate need for God to touch is racism. What can you and your church community do to address culprits such as racism?
WE DON’T GET TO CHOOSE OUR NEIGHBOR
This parable had a shocking conclusion for the expert in the law. It turned out, he was caught. He could no longer continue to pick and choose who his neighbor was in order to remain comfortable. Jesus made clear that there were no longer tidy boundaries for defining our neighbor—it just might be your enemy that you are called to love.
Often we are willing to consider people in the news to be our neighbors—the latest plane crash, the latest killing, the latest storm, the latest victims of terrorist activities in the Middle East. But are we willing to engage those who are hurting right next to us? Do we take a moment to stop and listen and not sit comfortably behind our social media account or blog? This may be one of the greatest obstacles for us as the people of Jesus to meaningfully learn and respond to that which causes hurt.
We don’t get to choose who our neighbor is, but we do get to love our neighbor.
Who is our neighbor? The answer may be unexpected, uncomfortable, and surprising. Ask God to open your eyes so that God will help you to see those who hurt and the causes of hurt. Ask God to cause a shift in your feet and in your heart.
1. Can you talk about a time when you were stranded or hurting and no one responded? How did you feel?
2. Were you ever hurting or stranded and someone did respond to help meet your need? How did that feel?
3. After reading this week’s Scripture, how would you answer the question, “Who is your neighbor?”
4. With a group of people, identify what things in our society you believe are causing hurt in your community. Who is being hurt? What kind of action can your church take to address the cause with the love of Christ?
5. What is the risk for reaching out to those who are hurting? What is the risk of addressing the causes of that hurt?
Adult Bible Study by Cecilia Williams
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Life is busy. Our days are filled with competing claims for our time, our attention, our gifts, and our focus. In a culture of busyness where jam-packed schedules are the norm, we often experience a tension between contending with our own personal responsibilities and desires and the biblical call to travel on the journey of life with others and to be present as servants in the world. As a community of faith, we are guided by the great commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). Scripture connects love for God with love for our neighbors, consistently calling us to shift our concern upward toward God and outward toward others. This call invites us to faithfully trust and obediently follow God. It also leads us to see people as God sees them, to treat people the way Jesus would treat them, and to be concerned with what concerns them. To do so, as we will see in the words of Micah, is an acceptable act of worship.
In this study, we will explore God’s instruction to the people of Israel concerning their faithfulness toward him and their treatment of others. As the story unfolds, we see three movements, the first being a reminder to Israel of God’s generosity to them along their journey and a summons to repent of their disloyalty and to shift from disobedience to faithfulness. Next, God calls Israel to shift their preoccupation with personal prosperity and individual well-being to concern for the poor—the very people they had in some cases exploited. Not only was Israel called to repent of individual sin; they were called to dismantle the machinery of injustice. Finally, God guides Israel to shift from a compulsory, ceremonial, sacrificial offering to the kind of worship he desires—an offering that matches his heart for compassion, mercy, and justice, foreshadowed in the words of the prophet Micah, and punctuated in the words, deeds, and personhood of Jesus.
STUDY: BEING ON THE WAY
Two questions we regularly ask one another in the Covenant are, “Where is it written?” and, “How goes your walk?” The former speaks to fidelity to the Scriptures, a desire to know the God of the word, and a conviction to hold the truths of the Bible as the highest standard of authority for life and godliness. The latter is equally compelling. Walking, in the Bible, is often a metaphor for being on a life journey, for “being on the way.” In the Old Testament, “being on the way” represented an opportunity for Israel to obey the Torah and faithfully journey with God. For the disciples in the New Testament, the life journey was characterized by a commitment to following the way of Jesus. Both questions reflect movement from one level of understanding to another, from one station to another, and from one place in life to another. God is constantly shifting us, and he often does so by first calling us into remembrance.
In Micah 6:1-5, we read:
“Listen to what the LORD says: ‘Stand up, plead my case before the mountains; let the hills hear what you have to say. Hear, you mountains, the Lord’s accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge against Israel. My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember what Balak king of Moab plotted and what Balaam son of Beor answered. Remember your journey from Shittim to Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.’”
In those first verses of Micah 6, we learn that the people are disobeying God. God is calling them to account for their actions, and he begins by calling them to remember. God routinely instructs Israel to remember their past, to recount the narratives of his provision in their lives, and to teach his word to their children and their children’s children (Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 11:19; Proverbs 3:3; 7:2-4). The proclamation in verse 4 is a ritual proclamation of the Exodus event that is frequently repeated throughout the Old Testament. This recounting of deliverance reveals most clearly who God is: the one who leads his beloved people from darkness and oppression into light and freedom. In essence, he is saying, “Remember that you were once slaves. Be reminded of how I brought you up out of Egypt, and do not forget your journey from Shittim to Gilgal.”
Shittim was an important shift for Israel, as Micah’s audience would well recall. It was their last place of encampment after 40 years in the wilderness. From Shittim, Israel crossed the Jordan River and made their first camp in the “land of promise” at Gilgal. With an Egyptian army behind them and the sea in front of them, the journey to freedom initially seemed doomed. But God created a path through the waters of the Red Sea so that their walk would be on dry ground. Fulfilling his promise, God led Israel out of Egypt.
Forty years later, Israel once again found itself at the edge of its promised future. God reminds Micah’s audience that, despite the plot by King Balak of Moab to curse their forebears, God instead divinely blessed them and Israel once again was granted miraculous passage. Deliverance from Egypt, according to the fulfillment of God’s ancient promises, is now a reality. Slaves are free. The oppressed are at peace. The homeless find refuge. The landless receive a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet despite God’s mercy and faithfulness, the Israelites were seduced into worshiping the god of Moab, Ba’al of Peor. In the light of God’s protection and provision and in plain view of the fulfillment of his promises, Israel was led astray and bowed to the popular gods of the culture.
Now God has another case against Israel. Once again, he has been generously faithful and Israel has been disloyal. A shift is imminent, but before God can deal with the shift he requires in their hearts, he invites Israel to remember rightly all that he has done for them.
Questions and Considerations
God often calls us into seasons of remembrance. He reminds us of his faithfulness along our journey and calls us to recount how he has shifted us from one place to the next, ensuring safe passage and deliverance in the process.
● Recall a shift in your life when God accompanied you on the journey and demonstrated his power. It may be a Shittim to Gilgal experience, or it may be a series of small, more subtle shifts.
● Discuss how you saw God at work.
● How did you respond?
● How do you commemorate the movements of God in your life?
● How does this act of remembrance guide your behavior?
STUDY: REMEMBER RIGHTLY
Often God begins shifting our locus of concern by reminding us of his own radical saving grace in our lives. The beginning point of our understanding of justice is God’s activity. We are called to “do justice” because of our knowledge of God’s saving mercy and justice. When we feel short on compassion and mercy for others, the ability to remember rightly often leads to repentance and shift. Israel’s inability to do remember was leading to judgment.
Micah lived during a tumultuous period in Israel’s history. Prior to the reign of Ahaz over Judah, Micah’s homeland had prospered, but the wealth had been concentrated in the hands of a few. Judah was struggling with socioeconomic oppression—the higher classes were taking advantage of the lower classes. In merciless demonstrations of power, the rich defrauded the less fortunate out of their fields, homes, and inheritances (2:1-2, 8-9). Bribery (3:11; 7:3) and false weights and measures (6:10-11) were devices also used to cheat the poor.
Moreover, the political and religious leaders condoned the actions of the rich and actively took part in the oppression (3:1-3, 9-11). God was not only indicting individual sin, he was condemning the very machinery of systemic injustice which Judah had erected.
The prophet declares in 6:9-13: “Listen! The Lord is calling to the city—and to fear your name is wisdom—‘Heed the rod and the One who appointed it. Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house, and the short ephah, which is accursed? Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? Your rich people are violent; your inhabitants are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully. Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins.’”
The immorality of Israel during the days of Micah did not seem to dampen the country’s enthusiasm for religion, however. Indeed, prophets were in demand—but only those who comforted people without reproaching them (2:6; 3:5). The people were happy to bring sacrifices, but they had no desire to change their everyday lives. Why should they? They were God’s people and he would surely protect them (3:11). In the face of this false security, Micah warned the people of God’s impending judgment.
Questions and Considerations
How was Israel to worship God when they had wandered so far off? How do we restore relationships that have been fractured by our own unfaithfulness? The dilemma for Israel—and for all of humanity—is how to come before God when relationships have been broken.
● Consider a time when you experienced distance from God. Perhaps it was simply a season of dryness in your life, or perhaps it was a result of deep fracture.
● Were you able to identify the circumstances surrounding the distance?
● How do you respond when you feel far from God?
● What role do others play in facilitating or bridging the distance?
● How does the shift back to intimacy with God (and/or others) occur?
STUDY: WALK HUMBLY
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:6-8).
Verses 6-7 explore Israel’s response to God’s judicial summons and charge. It is worth noting that verse 6 asks the virtually the same question as verse 8 in a slightly different form. Verses 6-7 draw attention to the one who is sacrificing (note the “I” language), reflecting Israel’s persistence in self-centric concern: “With what shall I come before the Lord?” The focus is clearly on what we do, and the tone seems to rise as the speaker goes on. The response Israel attempts is found in the Law of Moses, which required burnt offerings, calf offerings, ram offerings, and oil offerings, among others (see Leviticus 1:3-17; 2:1-7, 15-16; 4:7-34; 5:11, 15-18; 6:15-21; 8:18-22; 9:2-3, 8). Such sacrifices were required to make atonement for sin.
What is proposed in verses 6-7 is clearly not the appropriate response, however. Though the answer builds from least valuable to most valuable, the re-hashing of the question in verse 8 indicates that the stated responses are wrong. God rejected their visible sacrifices and called them back to true justice. God did not want “stuff” from Israel; neither does he does not want stuff from us. Rather, God requires us to be on the journey of life with others, to be present as servants in the world, and to be motivated by a heart of gratitude and a spirit of obedience.
Interestingly, verse 8 dramatically shifts the subject to “he”: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.” Suddenly, “I” is no longer the subject; “he” is. “What does the Lord require of you?” Micah speaks patiently to the people, calling them to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God. This is the second table of the law that explicitly connects care of neighbor with devotion to God. Through this law, God says, “Stop offering sacrifices to me, and start offering sustenance to those who need it most. Stop breaking the backs of those whom I love, and do what is good. Stop being so preoccupied with yourself, and shift your concern to those around you.”
To “do justice” (mispat in the Hebrew Scriptures) is to be sure that one’s neighbor is well provided for. Mispat most often comes paired in the Hebrew Scriptures with tsedeqah (righteousness), and underscores God’s character as just. Mispat is connected with caring for those who are poor and unable to care for themselves (Psalm 82:3).
To “love mercy” (hesed in the Hebrew Scriptures) is to practice a life of covenantal solidarity. It calls for unity with the poor, the weak, the orphans, the widows, and other marginalized groups. Hesed (mercy) is most often paired in the Hebrew Scriptures with amunah (faithfulness). These are two of the most important word pairings in all of the Hebrew Scriptures: justice and righteousness concern care for one’s neighbor. Mercy and faithfulness concern love for God (Psalm 89:14). These echo the two greatest commandments.
Micah goes on to instruct that we are to walk with others in a way that is pleasing to God. In one article, theologian Walter Brueggemann describes it this way: “‘walking humbly,’ in contrast to strutting, is to pay attention to the other…‘Walking humbly’ means to be on the path with them, to be in relation to them and with reference to them on the way….Indeed God requires that we walk with the other.” In other words, we are called to walk humbly with God, to walk in companionship with the God of justice and mercy who willingly walks with us on the path. Brueggemann goes on to say that if we look closely at the one who travels with us, we may discover that our companion takes the form of “sister and brother, of widow and orphan, of publican and sinner, of lame, leper, dead, needy, who in their neediness are ready to travel and have gifts to give.”
Verse 8 indicates that God wants a shift in both the heart and the behavior of the people, a shift from disloyalty to a faithful relationship with him, a shift from self-centeredness to reliable solidarity with others. Such a shift is fully in line with Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Brueggemann writes that Jesus focuses on how we respond to the other in this text. “Jesus in effect says, ‘Do the opposite of what you would be inclined to do’—instead of hating in return, love; instead of resisting the demand, give freely of even that which is not demanded.”
In this week’s passage, Israel is being summoned to the path of justice and mercy. Isaiah 58–59 is similar in tone to Micah, where the prophet is told to shout out to the people of Israel and tell them of their sins. God’s justice is manifested not in public displays of piety, but in care for the neighbor. “The offering I choose, the worship I desire,” says the Lord, is “to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Does Micah call us to abandon all our efforts to worship in other ways, and invest our energy instead in acts of justice? He does not. Not all worship is rejected—only the wrong kind, the kind that begins with us, with our gifts and our goodness rather than with the goodness, mercy, compassion, and justice of God.
Questions and Considerations
● Review the following prophetic insights:
– To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
– God desires loyalty and knowledge of him above sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).
– Sacrifices without a broken heart do not please God (Psalm 51:16-17).
– God is not pleased with sacrifices without justice and righteousness (Amos 5:21-24).
● What do these insights convey about piety and worship?
● Would you say that your life is characterized by the qualities of justice, loving-kindness, and walking humbly with God?
● What specific steps are you going to take in your life to ensure you are living the life God requires?
Micah brings a message of both judgment and consolation to us. He calls us to repent and to shift our present actions. Yet there is also a clear message of consolation. Jesus, our Messiah, has come with salvation in his wake. We now have forgiveness for our wrongdoing and the power to shift our concern to see the hurt and the causes of hurt in the world. We long for the day when we will all live in peace and there will be full justice for all people. Meanwhile, God has charged us not only to bring hope, but to embody hope in a lost and dying world.
The invitation today is to allow God to continue to shift us, to open our hearts, minds, souls, and spirits to be affected, perhaps even broken, by those things which break his heart. Our challenge is not merely to be open, but to be on the journey of life with those in need. We must be careful to remember rightly, repent, make sacrifices that are pleasing to God, and worship him above all things, never forgetting his generous faithfulness and extravagant love.
● Think back over our Micah study. What was most difficult or challenging for you?
● Describe what has been most encouraging for you as we journeyed through Micah 6.
● Think about any impediments that may be blocking your ability to shift your concern toward others. Name them.
● Take a few moments to give both your impediments and your hope for shift in your life to the Lord. Ask him to meet you and walk with you on the journey, that you might be more like him in your treatment of others.
PERSONAL AND COMMUNAL COMMITMENTS
1. Recommit yourself to pursuing hesed and amunah (steadfast love and faithfulness) as an act of sacrifice and worship to God.
2. Consider that God is shifting your concern upward toward him and outward toward the weak, the poor, and the oppressed of this world.
3. Seek ways by which you might actively join others on the journey who are suffering and in need of God’s mispat and sedeqah (justice and righteousness).
4. Shift communally from doing things for people to doing things with people. Shift from providing services to forging authentic relationships that create genuine empowerment and press toward reliable solidarity.
5. Remember rightly God’s faithfulness and generosity in your life. Mark those occasions with stones of remembrance. Review them often and allow God’s mercy through those events to guide your behavior in the seasons to come.
After his conversion to Christ in the year 387, Saint Augustine dove deeply into the study of God’s word. He believed that the grace of God through Christ was indispensable to human freedom. According to Augustine, we ought to pray to increase our desire for God, that we may be able to receive what God is preparing to give to us and to others through us.
Eventually, Augustine became a bishop of the church in what is today Algeria. He wrote about suffering poignantly and timelessly, and his thoughts might be echoed in our contemporary pulpits. He reflected extensively on trusting the Lord in the midst of hardship and finding courage in the midst of pain and misery.
It is fitting for us, as we end our study reflecting on the ways God calls us to shift our concern toward others, to turn to this prayer written by Saint Augustine in the third century.
God of our life, there are days when the burdens we carry chafe our shoulders and weigh us down;
When the road seems dreary and endless; the skies gray and threatening;
When our lives have no music in them, and our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage.
Flood the path with light;
Run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise;
Tune our hearts to brave music;
Give us sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age;
And so quicken our spirits that we may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey with us on the road of life,
To your honor and glory,
Youth Discussion Guide by Louie Praseuth
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
We see three major themes in Micah 6:8: “to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” In looking more intently into those themes we will see our role in God’s plan as well as how God sees us through his eyes. God calls us to act justly in the face of injustice, to love mercy in a world that is unmerciful, and to walk humbly with God because of who God is. This verse gives us a glimpse on how and where to start.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? In fact, I believe these words are completely untrue. When we struggle with negative internal thoughts about who we are and why we matter, it’s important to know and believe what God says—that we are wonderfully and fearfully made in his image (Psalm 139:14) and that he knew us before we were even born into this world (Isaiah 44:2). In order for us to love the world around us, it’s important to start by knowing the love God has for each and every one of us.
TO ACT JUSTLY
To act justly means to do right. Injustice has manifested itself throughout human history. We see in Scripture that God called Moses to advocate and help lead his people out of slavery in Egypt. Moses spoke up for the voiceless and took a stand against unrighteousness on behalf of God’s people. Likewise, as children of the Most High God, we are called to look after each other. Whether it is providing truthful, loving counsel or leading a movement to call attention to racism and injustice in your community, the Holy Spirit empowers us to do the will of God.
TO LOVE MERCY
To love mercy means to find a balance in how we treat offenders or people who have hurt us. It is tough to carry on in life knowing that you have been wronged, but mercy calls us to examine our own hearts and to remember the forgiveness that God has shown us, that we may bestow it unto others. Mercy goes hand in hand with forgiveness. However, we do not confuse mercy with blind trust. God invites us to act mercifully while also being wise in how we live our lives. As we have received God’s mercy, we treat others with mercy as well.
TO WALK HUMBLY
To walk humbly with our God is to know that he is our true defender, protector, and healer and to remember that everything we do is for God’s glory, not our own. While it is healthy to have self-confidence, we veer off course when we begin to think that we find success in our own efforts (Luke 16:14-16). To walk humbly with God means to be fully honest with God in all areas of our lives and to walk in accordance with his call. Humility allows us to let the Holy Spirit convict us of our own sin in order that we may be reconciled to God.
How is God calling you act justly? Who is the Holy Spirit calling you to be merciful toward? In what areas of your life are you being challenged to have more humility?
We each have a role that God has called us to live out. If you do not know what that role is, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal that to you. Maybe there are some things you need to reconcile with God and with others. Micah 6:8 is not just a way to live toward the world; it is also a way for us to examine our own lives. Are we acting justly in our private lives? Are we being merciful in our hearts toward others? Are we truly walking in humility with God?
Father, show us where you want us to go. Help us to see and confess areas in our lives that do not honor you, that we may receive your forgiveness. Let us see your justice take place on this earth. May your mercy flow through us like a rushing river. We humble ourselves and pray with earnest expectation to see your kingdom come. Amen.
REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS AND ACTIVITY
James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” It is important to be knowledgeable about issues in your circle of peers, community, and nation. The next step is to ask God what he is calling you to do. We cannot allow fear to hold us back from allowing God to use us for advancing his kingdom. We prayerfully search our hearts, asking God to show us new ways we can take practical steps to become agents of healing and love for those around us.
1. Take a moment and remember a time where you have felt out of place or that you didn’t belong. Please share that with the group, if you’re comfortable.
2. What was happening in that moment?
3. Now think of someone or something that made you feel proud and happy because of who you are.
4. What were you feeling in that moment? What was going on?
CHALLENGE AND DISCUSSION
1. It is not a good feeling or experience to be mistreated. Think of others in your life who might feel this way regularly, such as anyone who is the victim of bullying. What does God ask of us when we are aware of others’ suffering?
2. Now take that feeling of rejection and apply it to families and communities who are mistreated regularly. What themes do we see in our world that break God’s heart? What is God putting on your heart or youth group to do about it? Write these thoughts down on poster board or butcher paper and put it up on the wall.
3. Take some time to pray for the people or ideas your group has come up with.
4. Make a plan to start praying for those names and plans, and ask God for guidance. Perhaps it is a video campaign against bullying, bringing a meal to the homeless, or simply loving and befriending someone that needs support.
This is more than just a Sunday school message. This is a calling from the Lord. Listen and be open to God’s voice. Create a system of accountability and follow up with one another.
Children's Ministry Lesson by Lizzy Brady
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’ But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ In reply Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
It’s not always easy to love in the ways God calls us to love. In the kingdom of God, kindness and mercy don’t stop at cultural, social, political, or geographical boundaries. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us to shift our understanding of our neighbor to include not only those who look, dress, and worship like us, but to include all of God’s creation. One pattern we see throughout Scripture is God’s work in creating a new kind of power, one that constantly legitimizes those at the bottom. So it’s no surprise that Jesus tells a parable calling us to listen to the cries of the hurting, marginalized, and oppressed and to respond with compassionate action.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
• Read the Ten Commandments to better understand Jesus’s lessons to love God and others.
• Read Matthew 22:34-40 to see another place where Jesus talks about the Great Commandment and how inextricably connected it is to love God and love our neighbor.
• In the historical context of this text, Samaritans were at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
As your facility and space allow, create areas that help children visualize the “shift” theme, especially items that help students see things differently: a telescope, binoculars, a magnifying glass, transformer action figures, playdough, silly putty, and comics (please note that not all of today’s Sunday funnies are children appropriate), a globe, topical maps, aerial or satellite photos, heat-sensing or image-changing toys, etc.
Designate a place where the theme is displayed and the weekly topic posted.
Consider having a dedicated display area where parents and church family can see what the children are creating and how this relates to what the whole church is doing. Display reflection activities, photos of children hearing the story, flip chart pictures, response activities, youth or adult reflection pieces, etc.
God asks us to shift our understanding of who our neighbors are. When we shift our thinking to be more like Christ, the way we view our neighbor realigns from the ways of the world toward the ways of God. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is reflected in a life that increasingly desires to reflect the compassion, mercy, and love of God.
The goal is to help children understand that:
• They can find the story of the Good Samaritan in the Book of Luke.
• We are “good neighbors” when we show kindness and mercy toward others regardless of who they are.
• We should help others in need without expecting a reward or anything in return.
• God calls us to love in the way that God loves—unconditionally.
• We show our love for God when we love our neighbors.
At the end of the class today, children will be able to:
• Consider how this story applies to them and how they can be like the Good Samaritan.
• Broaden our understanding of who our neighbors are.
• Reflect on practical ways to act kindly and helpfully toward others.
• Map of where Jerusalem is in relation to Jericho
• Description and pictures of a priest, Levite, and Samaritan
• Local, national, and/or global examples of our neighbors
Build visual connections to shift perspectives. Have objects on hand to help children find and see differently. Create stations for connections with other students and staff as children enter.
Bandage Station— Provide gauze and bandages so children can bandage each other.
Neighbor Station— Set up a white board, chalkboard, or chart paper where children can write (or dictate) the names of their neighbors.
Across the Room— Use real binoculars to read messages on the far wall of the room (Bible verse from previous weeks, adding a new one each week; maps used in lessons).
Silly Putty Perspective— Use silly putty to transfer images and distort them.
Transformers— Free play with transformer action figures, changing them from one form to another.
I-Spy— Use laminated aerial or satellite photos of your community, and encourage children to find the grocery store, school, church, park, etc.
As we learn more about God and how to love him, our way of thinking changes, or shifts. Sometimes a shift is easy to make, and sometimes it is hard. This series helps us learn how God is asking us to change our way of living and thinking.
Gather children around a candle. Light the candle and explain that we are entering into a special time with God. Encourage the children to hold their hands out in front of them, palms up, as a sign that they are ready to receive what God has for them today.
“Lord, may we show mercy and compassion to our friends and neighbors. Help us to find ways to be gentle and peaceful with all those around us. Thank you for using parables to help us understand how we are to help each other. We pray that we will be kind to our classmates this week and treat them as we would like to be treated.”
To end your prayer, encourage every child to say, “Thank you, God, for my neighbor_______ (insert name of person next to them in the circle).”
(For safety’s sake, you may wish to extinguish the candle after the prayer.)
This can be part of the Opening section if desired, but it should happen before the Bible lesson to help students better connect with the Bible characters.
Bring in bandages and a first aid kit.
Ask children, “What are these used for?”
After allowing time for them to answer, invite the children to bandage their neighbor.
Ask, “Can you share a short story about a time when you were hurt and needed a bandage or a first aid kit? Who gave it to you? Did it help?”
We need bandages when we’re hurt. But we can be hurt in ways that aren’t just physical too. Sometimes we come across friends, family, and neighbors throughout our day who might be in need of someone to stop and ask how they’re doing.
Ask, “Can you remember a time when you were sad and a friend stopped to ask if you were okay? How did it make you feel?”
How can you care for your neighbors that are hurting and in need of help this week?
There are always several ways to tell the biblical story, depending your ministry patterns and the needs of the age groups present. You may choose one of many possibilities to present this text, including puppets, costumes, or drama. Depending on the method used and the age of the students, you may choose to invite them to follow along in their Bibles.
Explain that we read the Bible to spend time with God. Invite the children to stretch out their hands palms up to receive the word as you or another child prays: “Lord God, please help us to hear what you want us to hear, see what you want us to see, and remember what you want us to remember as we read your word.”
1. Invite the children to read through the passage, taking turns reading one verse at a time. Children may pass if they don’t wish to read.
2. Encourage children to use art or craft supplies to create as they listen to the story two or three more times.
3. Encourage children to share their reflections.
Reinforce the story by providing the following details and using images or pictures to bring the story to life. You may also use the following puppet play/drama based on this week’s passage.
Exploring the Parable of the Good Samaritan
• After Jesus told the lawyer to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself,” the lawyer responded by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”
• In Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan, we hear about a man who was hurt by robbers on a very steep and treacherous road that was known for being a dangerous place.
• A priest on his way back from worshiping God in Jerusalem was the first person to encounter this hurt man on the side of the road. Although this priest loved God, he didn’t do much to love his neighbor, did he?
• The second person who encountered the wounded man on the road was a Levite. In those days, Levites were very familiar with God’s commandments to love our neighbors. Yet the Levite passed the wounded man just like the priest did.
• And finally, a Samaritan came along. Instead of walking right on by, he stopped and responded with compassion, mercy, and kindness. In those days, Samaritans were not as respected as priests and Levites were. Yet Jesus uses this humble Samaritan to show us what it looks like to love in the way God calls us to love. Loving God is not separated from loving our neighbors.
Characters: Narrator, Jesus, Lawyer, Jewish Traveler, Robber 1, Robber 2, Priest, Levite, Samaritan, Innkeeper
Setting: Along a deserted road near Jericho; the front of an inn
Props: Briefcase for traveler; backpack for Samaritan
NARRATOR: Once a lawyer came to Jesus.
(JESUS and the LAWYER enter)
LAWYER: Jesus, what should I do to live forever in heaven?
JESUS: What does the Bible say you should do?
LAWYER: It says that I should love the Lord God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my strength, and with all my mind. And
it also says I should love my neighbor as I love myself.
JESUS: Right. Do this and you shall live.
LAWYER: But that’s the problem, Jesus—who is my neighbor?
JESUS: Once there was a man who was taking a little business trip from Jerusalem to Jericho.
TRAVELER: It sure is hot. I’d like to stop awhile, but I have to get to Jericho before the bank closes and I’ve heard this road is not exactly safe.
(ROBBER 1 jumps out and surprises TRAVELER)
ROBBER 1: Hi, pal! Whatcha got in that weird pocketbook there?
TRAVELER: (Nervously) Oh, uh, not much, just business papers. I’ll just step out of your way here.
ROBBER 2: (Moves very close to TRAVELER) No need to do that, man. Now, how about being a nice little guy and handing over all of your change?
TRAVELER: (Shaking) Well, well, okay, here it is. (Gives ROBBERS some coins)
ROBBER 1: We’ll just take your bills, too. The whole roll of them!
TRAVELER: (Agreeing nervously) Sure, sure. I don’t want any problems.
ROBBER 2: Good, ’cause we also want your watch and that weird pocketbook.
ROBBER 1: That’s the plan, and now we have to make sure you don’t decide to go to the law.
(ROBBERS beat the TRAVELER and run away with his possessions.)
JESUS: Soon afterward, a priest came by and saw the man lying there in the boiling sun.
(PRIEST enters hurriedly)
PRIEST: I’m so late. I will never make evening services if I don’t hurry, and I have this wonderful sermon prepared. It is all about brotherly love.
(PRIEST goes to TRAVELER and looks at him)
PRIEST: Ugh! What a bloody mess! Someone really should help him. I wish I could, but I just cannot get my robes messy before the evening service.
JESUS: And so the priest passed by on the other side of the road. Next, a Levite politician came along.
LEVITE: (Looking at the injured man) Now, isn’t that disgusting? That poor man must have been robbed by some gang. It is time to get law and order back on our streets. You know it is time for a change when hooligans attack everyday citizens and cold-heartedly leave them in the boiling hot sun. Disgusting, I say.
(LEVITE passes by on the other side of the road)
JESUS: Then along came a Samaritan, a stranger in these parts, and not exactly a member of the in-group.
(SAMIRITAN sees the TRAVELER and kneels down)
SAMARITAN: Well, what have we here? Come on, fellow, let me help you. Have a cool drink of water. This sun is really hot. I’ll just wash the blood off of you, and I’ll put some medicine on your cuts and bruises. Poor fellow, you have had an awful time. Let me put these bandages on you.
(SAMARITAN cares for TRAVELER.)
SAMARITAN: Now, let me help you up, and we will go to an inn nearby and get some help. Just lean on me, pal.
JESUS: And so, the Good Samaritan helped the traveler get to the inn. He stayed with the injured man through the night and tenderly cared for him. The next morning he went to the innkeeper.
SAMARITAN: Here’s forty dollars. Use this money to take good care of my friend. Give him whatever he needs to get well. If it costs more than this, I will pay you the next time I pass by here.
INNKEEPER: Thank you, sir, but I must ask you something. You are a Samaritan and he is a Jew. Why are you doing this? You are supposed to hate each other.
SAMARITAN: I did it because he needed me. Goodbye, sir.
INNKEEPER: Goodbye, good friend.
JESUS: Now, let me ask you, which one was the good neighbor—the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan?
LAWYER: The one who helped and took care of the man.
JESUS: Yes. Now go and do the same.
G=God’s Word: What is the story? (Give children an opportunity to express their understanding of the story.) What questions would they like to ask God about the story?
R=Relationships: Is there anything in today’s Bible story that shows us how we should or shouldn’t share God’s love with others? (Remind children that sometimes God uses the stories of the Bible to show us how we shouldn’t act toward God or others. Give children a chance to consider how we might show God’s love instead.)
O=Outward Action: Is there anything in the Bible story that shows us how we should help or serve God or others? Explore concrete ways children could live this out in the coming week.
W=Worship: Is there anything in the Bible story that shows us how we should accept God’s love for us and others? How do you feel about God? What would you like to say to God?
After going deeper into the story, take some time to reflect with some of these questions:
1. How do you think the man felt after he was left for dead by the robbers? How badly did he need a bandage?
2. Why do you think the priest and Levite passed by the man on the road?
3. Do we ever make excuses for not helping people?
4. Can you think of a time when you helped someone who was hurt and needed help?
5. Who do we encounter in our daily lives that might be hurting and in need of compassion and kindness? Who is your neighbor?
Invite children to act out ways they might help their neighbor this week.
Gather children around the candle again. As you light the candle, explain that the flame is something that is present in both the light and the darkness. In the same way, it reminds us that God is always with us. Is there anything anyone wishes to say to God? After children have responded, close the prayer time.
Prayer: “Lord God, we thank you that you are always with us and that you always love us. It’s good to be with you. Thank you for reminding us who our neighbors are and for teaching us ways we can show your love. Thank you for being with us and for teaching us through the Bible. Help us to remember what you have taught us today and to live it out when we leave. Amen.”