One Sunday during my time with young disciples, I asked the children gathered before me to name a gift and talent they have. Several children offered predictable responses (“I like to sing.” “I’m great at Tae Kwon Do.”), but one child’s answer caught me off guard. He proudly said, “I’m really good at arguing with my brother.” If the rest of the congregation was being totally honest, we probably would have shared something similar.
None of us is immune to conflict, disagreement or even anger. Jesus recognized that feeling angry is part of being a human being. What we do with that anger, though, can make or break a relationship. In this lesson, children will examine Jesus’ message about anger in his Sermon on the Mount and will consider how addressing disagreements with the intent to repair our relationships can draw us closer to one another.
You will need:
- A Bible (preferably The Message translation, as it offers a child-friendly translation of this week’s reading)
- Chart paper and a marker (optional)
- A computer with internet access connected to a television or data projector, YouTube video “The True Story of the Best of Enemies.”
Greet the children as they arrive.
Ask the children to each share a story about a time they got into an argument with someone. Encourage them to not only tell the group about the reason for the disagreement but also the ways they resolved it (if they were able to do so.)
Then ask the group:
- Is it better to make up or end a relationship when you get into an argument with someone? Why?
- When is it important to make up?
- Are there times when it’s better to end your relationship with someone you are angry with than to make up? If so, when is “breaking up” better than “making up”?
Exploring the passage
Say a prayer.
Provide context for the lectionary reading (Matthew 5:21-26):
- Note: The entire Gospel reading in the lectionary includes verses 27-37. In them, Jesus addresses adultery and divorce. While children may have witnessed divorce or infidelity, these topics are not as relatable to them as the first topic Jesus preaches about (anger). Therefore, this lesson only focuses on the first 5 verses of this week’s lectionary reading.
- The reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew and is the continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. If you have been exploring Matthew 5 over the last few weeks, ask the children to share what they remember about the beatitudes and Jesus’ words about being the salt and light of the world.
- Jesus is speaking to a crowd made up of those who are already following him (his disciples) and those who have heard about him and wanted to hear him teach.
Read aloud Matthew 5:21-27 (preferably from The Message translation, as it offers a child-friendly retelling of this passage.)
After reading, ask:
- Jesus begins by reminding the crowd that one of the commandments God gave the ancient Israelites was “Do not murder.” What does this commandment mean to you?
- Jesus continues by saying our use of harsh, derogatory, or unkind words can hurt people. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
- What does Jesus tell the people to do if they are angry with someone?
- Why do you think Jesus encourages his followers to “make things right” with people they are angry with?
- How does fixing our relationships with one another when we become angry with one another reflect God’s love for us?
Relating the passage to our lives
Help the children explore the message of this passage through one or more of these activities.
- Relationship rewind: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: a piece of chart paper and a marker. Brainstorm a list of times when people might become angry with one another. Write the children’s responses on chart paper. Then, divide the children into small groups of 2-3 people. Ask each group to select one of the situations listed on the chart paper to role-play. Give them some time to practice their “performance.” Have each group act out their “angry moment” for the larger group. After each, ask the group members how it felt to role-play this angry moment. Then, ask the whole group to predict what might happen next. Ask the small group for one of their suggestions. (For instance, if the small group role-played siblings fighting over a toy, the class could suggest that they decide to play with the toy together or that they continue arguing until a parent takes the toy away. The small group could act out the siblings playing together with the toy.) After the scene, debrief on what happened. Was the resolution a good one or a bad one? Why? Were the two angry with one another in the end? Why or why not? How would you deal with this situation?
- The best of enemies: Gather the materials you’ll need for this activity: a computer with internet access connected to a data projector or television and the YouTube video “The True Story of The Best of Enemies.” Ask the children to brainstorm situations where it would be very difficult to address their anger towards someone. Share that there are examples throughout human history of people overcoming anger and hatred toward one another. In some cases, former enemies even become friends. Show the video “The True Story of The Best of Enemies.” After watching the video, discuss how Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis addressed their anger towards one another and found friendship.
Conclude your time together by praying for the broken relationships in our lives to be healed.