Materials Needed: Two pieces of large butcher paper, markers, large hearts cut out of red construction paper, Bibles, chalk or dry erase board, Elephant Man Movie, tv/video player to play clips from the movie, copies of closing prayer
OPENING: LOVE LETTER GAME (from The Source for Youth Ministry)
Prepare: Tape two large pieces of butcher paper on the wall. (Each butcher paper should have the following written at the top of the paper: “Honey, I love you so much that…”)
Explain: So, we have entered February… What do you think of when you hear about the month of February? (Valentines Day) How many of you have Valentines or will be writing Valentine’s Day cards this V-day? Since it’s getting close to V-day, we are going to start our discussion tonight by writing a love letter together.
Divide youth into two teams. Tell the groups that each team will be writing the best love letter they know how to write. Line each team up into a single file line. When you yell “go,” the first person in each line will add one word to the sentence. Once they finish writing their word, they will run to the back of the line. One at a time, the rest of the team members will go to the wall and add a word to their team’s love letter. Tell them ahead of time that they will be disqualified if they write anything inappropriate. Give them four minutes to complete the letter. Once they finish, pick one student from each team to read their letter out loud to the rest of the group and have a panel of leaders vote on the best letter.
OPENING ACTIVITY: “loves” versus “likes”
Explain: that with V-day coming up in the next week, the group will be talking about love. (Make two columns on the board. Write “Loves” at the top of one column and “Likes” at the top the other column.)
Ask: the youth to state the things they like and the things they love. (tv, xbox, new cell phone, ice-cream, pizza, etc.) Have someone write down answers on the board.
Explain: We are going to be talking about love today. But the kind of love we are talking about is deeper than the love that we were just talking about. This deeper love is found in our Scripture.
Read: Matthew 22:34-40
– Is there anything or anyone in this passage that you don’t know much about or want to know more about?
– Does anyone know who the Pharisees and Sadducees were? (They were two different groups of religious Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time who followed the biblical and prophetic laws very strictly. In Matthew, they challenged Jesus a lot and tried to get him into trouble, but Jesus always trumped them.)
– Explain: Our passage occurs after several occasions where the Pharisees and Sadducees have challenged Jesus. The thing that bothered Jesus the most about the Pharisees and Sadducees was that they were so focused on strict obedience to the biblical laws (like observing Sabbath, following food laws, etc.), that they would not pay attention to the important laws that were also commanded in the scripture, like caring for people – particularly the foreigner, the widow, the child, the sick, and the poor. In other words, they talked the talk but they didn’t walk the walk. An equivalent example would be: someone who says they are Christian and goes to church every week, reads the Bible regularly, doesn’t say swear words, etc., but will not reach out to the kids who are picked on and won’t include the kids in their group who sit alone in the school cafeteria.
– Can you relate to this at all? Have you ever experienced this?
– What sticks out to you about this text?
– What is the first commandment? The second? Where does Jesus get these commandments from? (Deut. 6, which is found in the biblical law.)
– What do you think the first commandment means: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind?
– Is this different from the kind of love we were talking about when we made the two lists of the things we love and like? How?
– Explain: It’s a little difficult to understand what this love Jesus is talking about in Matthew really means because we often throw around the term “love” very easily (like in our lists.) However, the love that Jesus is talking about is agape love. It means more than what we say when we talk about loving the Bears Football or loving a boy or girl or ice-cream. It’s more than just an emotion: it’s an all-encompassing love. It’s not passive: it’s active. Think of this quote: “Just as God chooses to love us, when we love God, we choose to do it.” So love is a choice, not just a feeling.
EXPLORING DEEPER AND APPLYING THIS TO OUR CONTEXT:
– So what does this mean to agape love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul? What does this look like for us today?
– What is the second law? This again is agape love. What does this mean to love your neighbor as yourself? Who is your neighbor? What does loving your neighbor look like at school, home, in our neighborhoods, in the cafeteria, etc.?
– So now what do you think vs. 40 means? (All of the biblical laws are dependent upon loving God and loving your neighbor. And loving God and loving neighbor are related and dependent upon each other. To love God fully, one must love their neighbor, and when one loves their neighbor with agape love, one is loving God fully.)
– What is difficult about loving God and loving neighbors in this way?
VIDEO: Elephant Man
Before showing clips of the movie, explain: This is a movie based on a true story that took place in the late 1800s. It’s about a man named John Merrick who was born with a condition that caused him to have several disabilities. He was rejected by his family and ended up touring with a circus where he was put on display for people to come and see him. People called him Elephant Man and abused him and mistreated him.
What’s happened in the movie so far is that Mr. Treves, a doctor, sees John being mistreated by the circus act director, so Mr. Treves insists that John is sick and needs to be taken to his hospital. Most people in the hospital believe John is untreatable, and many hospital staff people cringe at him. However, Mr. Treves insists on caring for him – no matter what others say.
Show video from: 37:51-43:33
Explain: After this scene, Mr. Treves befriends John Merrick and loves and cares for him. However, the circus director you saw in the last scene eventually finds a way to sneak John Merrick out of his hospital room and take him back to the circus, where he beats him terribly and then puts him back on display.
Here is a scene of John being displayed at the circus:
Show Video from:1:35:09-1:37:14
Explain: During his time back in the circus, Mr. Treves worries about John and tries to find him. A few other people in the circus eventually help John Merrick escape the circus. Here is a scene of his escape. (These scenes are not long before he is about to die at age 28 because of the severity of his condition.)
Show Video from: 1:43:40-1:49:22
DISCUSS THE VIDEO:
– What reactions come from this story? What were your thoughts about the scene at the circus?
– How did you feel about how John was treated by the nurse, the circus director, the children and people at the train? Mr. Treves?
– What happened at the train station scene? (John is at the train station and the kids make fun of him and people continue to chase him into a corner, mocking him. When John is cornered, he falls down and says: “I am not an elephant. I am not an animal. I am a human being. I am a man.”) What are your thoughts on what happened in this scene?
– Do you relate to this at all? (Either relate to John or to the people staring at him?) Can you think of anyone in our own communities, school, church, neighborhood, or society who may be represented as the Elephant man? (Homeless? Kids who are picked on? People with physical or mental disabilities?)
– What are your reactions to the final scene? (In this scene, John says to his friend: “Do not worry about me, my friend. I am happy every hour of the day. My life is full because I know I am loved. I have gained myself.” And then after pausing to look at the doctor, he gently says, “I could not have said that if it were not for you.”)
– How did John’s friend show the kind of agape love God commands of us?
– Have you ever experienced this kind of love from someone else or shown it to someone else?
– How does this all relate to our Bible passage? (love God wholly by loving others)
REFLECTING AND RESPONDING:
(Hand everyone a large heart cut out of red construction paper and a marker.)
EXPLAIN: (Show a cross that is in the room or draw one on the board.) The cross has two lines: one that is vertical and one that is horizontal. What does the vertical line point to? (God) What does the horizontal line point to? (People around us… Our neighbors.) We are going to take a few moments to reflect on specific ways we each will love vertically (God with all our heart, mind, and soul) and love horizontally (our neighbor as ourselves) this week.
Tell the youth to think and then write these two things on their paper hearts: (Give them 5 minutes to reflect and write.)
1. Write one way you are going to specifically love God fully (vertically).
* Examples: I will spend ___ amount of time praying each day for __________________. I will get to know God better by reading about who God is in Bible ______ days this week. I will spend time with God by taking a nature walk ______ times this week.
2. Write one way you are going to love God horizontally by loving your neighbors.
* Examples: I will invite ____________________ to sit with me at lunch _____ times this week. I will talk to ____________________ (who is usually picked on) at school every day this week. I will smile and say hello to someone who is begging for money or food at the train stop _______ times this week. I will volunteer at _____________ on _________day of this week.
(Print out the following prayer on little strips of paper and have everyone pray this prayer together.)
- Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.