Open-Mouthed Tourists

Face to Face with Jesus

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

What are you distracted by? That’s a question underlying our text this week. What is it that draws your attention away from your call to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? Not that followers of Jesus aren’t allowed to enjoy the beauty and wonder that this world has to offer. The Christian life is marked by joy and surrounded by wonder. Yet, like the disciples in our text, we can be distracted by what we see around us and lose sight of our reason for being, to live a life of proclamation and invitation.

Note to the Teacher

The key question in this lesson is “What distracts you from hearing Jesus say, ‘you have a place, and you belong’?’” One icebreaker invites youth into the unique and tiny world of “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” as we start a lesson on opening our minds to that which is beyond the status quo structures and pressures to be less than or more than ourselves. Another icebreaker gives students a building challenge, since we’re discussing the Temple today. Tell students to build the tallest free-standing tower of shoes possible. The discussion invites students to imagine the sensation of being at the Temple during Passover crowds with Jesus and imagine him telling them that their souls are worth more than the building and that their souls are more beautiful than the most beautiful architecture imaginable. The activity allows youth to get poetic and meditate on two poems about belonging and being enough from Mary Oliver. Times are based on a fifty-minute lesson period but may be adjusted.

1. Icebreaker (10 minutes):

“Marcel the Shell with Shoes On” or "Leaning Tower of Feetza”

If your group has a screen and sound and likes joy, choose the high-tech option 1. If your group feels up to it, pick the low-tech option 2 and build a tower of shoes!

Option 1: High-Tech

Say: "'Marcel the Shell with Shoes On' shows us how to be at home with ourselves, no matter our shape, situation, size, or status. “If a shell can wear shoes, you can be you!”

Option 2: Low-Tech

“Leaning Tower of Feetza”

Since we’re talking about buildings today, let’s build! Form small teams as equal in number as possible. Announce that each team has exactly three minutes to build the tallest, free-standing tower it can, using only shoes. Go! To qualify, the tower must be standing at the three-minute mark. Be sure to bring a tape measure or some other measuring implement to help determine the tallest tower.

2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)

In our scripture reading today, the famous rabbi, Jesus, is in town for Passover, a major Jewish holiday that celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He is at the Temple, a holy place, and says that there is another type of temple inside that’s worth even more than any structure could be. While you read, think about how beautiful a Temple or structure like that can be and how Jesus considers you and your heart and soul to be more beautiful and worthy of care than any building (though it’s smart to take care of the house that offers you space and shelter, too)!

Read Luke 21:5-19.

3. Discussion (20 minutes)

  • What is the most beautiful building or structure you’ve ever been in? Can you describe what made it so beautiful and special?
  • Do you think it made people uncomfortable for Jesus to talk about the Temple in the way that he did? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think Jesus spoke about how the Temple as a building wasn’t as important as what’s going on in our hearts and lives?
  • Do you ever notice that some people feel insecure in crowds or major events? What makes us feel uncomfortable or insecure around others? Do you know people who get that same feeling of discomfort if they are alone?
  • Do you think that people get treated or seen equally in crowds like the one that would have been at the Temple that day? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think Jesus wanted people to move away from limiting a spiritual experience to a place or building or structure?

Read the passage right before our last reading, Luke 21:1-4.

  • What is the difference between what the poor widow gave and what the others gave?
  • How do you think Jesus felt when he noticed this poor widow giving two coins in comparison with the folks who were able to give much more?
  • Have you ever felt like you didn’t have as much to offer as others?
  • How does it make you feel that Jesus sees the worth in the widow’s smaller offering than what’s inside big showy buildings?
  • Do you ever get caught up worrying about how much money you have or how cool you look? Does that distract you from more important things? If so, what distracts you? What things are more important to you than looks or money?

We’ve discussed the change of Zacchaeus as he gave away what he stole from those who didn’t have as much power as he did. We’ve heard Jesus shift the conversation among religious leaders from small, sneaky, and petty to large, loving, and liberating. Now, we listen as Jesus changes people’s minds about what’s considered to be worthy or acceptable worship. What is the Spirit of God speaking into your life and heart as you hear about the poor widow’s offering and Jesus telling us that we are not limited to buildings and structures?

4. Activity and Discussion (15 minutes)

Let’s get poetic! Have two different people volunteer to read these two poems by Mary Oliver slowly: “Wild Geese” and “Praying” (next page).

Before these poems are read, give students paper and markers, crayons, colored pencils or just pens—whatever you have. Have them draw images (or write words if they don’t feel comfortable drawing) about what stands out to them from the poems.

Have the poems read two or three times so that everyone has time to process, then invite everyone to share what they wrote or drew if they are comfortable.

Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver,

“Praying” by Mary Oliver,

These two poems by Mary Oliver say something similar to what Jesus said in our scripture readings; that is, even if we don’t feel it now, God will help us find and believe that we belong in the family of things, no matter how we are or who we are. Our offerings to God and to one another do not have to be perfect or just like everyone else’s offerings. Trying to be like others is a distraction from the message of Jesus, and it's a distraction that’s hard to shake off. Even when it’s hard to accept, don’t be distracted from Jesus calling, like the wild geese, announcing, “you have a place.”

Close in the manner that is typical for you. Consider taking joys/concerns from the students, then asking for a volunteer to close in prayer.

Total time: 50 minutes


  • YouTube clip of “Marcel the Shell with Shoes on, Two” (high tech option)
  • Computer with speakers or TV
  • Link to the poems in this lesson for students to read. Paper for students to draw.
  • Colored pencils, pens, crayons, or markers
  • (Something to write/draw with for next-level discussion)
  • Measuring tape or yardstick (low-tech option)

In This Series...

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Reign of Christ, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes


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In This Series...

Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes Reign of Christ, Year C - Lectionary Planning Notes