Note to the Teacher
The scripture we read is from the Gospel of Matthew, and it talks about what it means to practice piety. The opening activity has students playing a fun game called “Silent Ball” where they will really have to practice a lot to get good at it. The discussion encourages students to understand what it means to practice piety. The activity and discussion have students participating in their own Ash Wednesday service or joining the church’s service, if possible. Times are based on a fifty-minute lesson period but may be adjusted.
1. Ice Breaker: ‘Silent Ball’ (10 minutes)
“Silent Ball” is a great game to get students interacting with one another while being quiet at the same time. Start by getting everyone to stand around the room in random places. Remind them that they must be quiet while they do this. (It’s called “Silent Ball” for a reason.)
Start by handing a few students any type of ball (beach, dodgeball, etc.). Once a few students have a ball, ask them to throw the ball to another person in the room. The object of the game is to not get eliminated. A player is eliminated by any of the following:
- Dropping the ball when trying to catch it.
- Performing a bad throw.
- Talking or making any sound.
You can add your own rules, such as having everyone stand on one foot or using only their left hand to throw and their right to catch or vice-versa. Be creative and try to make this game as difficult as possible. The idea is for students to continue practicing this game until they can toss the ball around for a few minutes without anyone getting out.
Digital Option: If you have students participating at home, ask them to go and grab a ball. They will need to try and keep the ball up in the air switching from one hand to the next and performing whatever other tasks are given by the leader (i.e., stand on one leg, etc.). If they talk or drop the ball, they are out and will have to wait on the entire group to finish playing. Remind them not to talk!
Transition to the scripture reading by telling students that the scripture reading today talks about practicing piety. Does anyone know what the word “piety” means? (Righteousness, justice, practicing our religion.)
2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)
Our scripture reading today talks about how we can practice piety or live out the teachings of our faith. While I read the scripture, listen for all the ways God encourages us to practice our faith and why.
Read Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (NRSV).
3. Discussion (15 minutes)
- Make a list of ten to twenty things that people practice. You can do this on a whiteboard or a piece of paper. If youth are participating online, use a screen share or chat feature.
- Say to the students: “From the scripture and what you already know, how would you define piety?” (Accept all answers; help guide youth to answers that show piety as things that people do to show their love for God.)
- What does Matthew 6:1 tell us about how we should practice piety?
- What does it mean to practice our giving in secret? Why do you think Jesus encourages us not to boast about our giving?
- How does Jesus tell us to pray in verse 6? Do we pray in public? Why do you think Jesus encourages these people at this time to pray in private?
- What does it mean to fast? What kinds of things do people fast from? Why do people fast?
- What is important about practicing the spiritual disciplines mentioned in scripture?
- How can you practice giving this week?
- How can you practice prayer this week?
- How can you practice fasting this week?
4. Activity and Discussion: Ash Wednesday (20 minutes)
If you are able, invite your students to participate in your church’s Ash Wednesday service. If you are able to provide ashes for your students, you may want to use this time to do so. If you have students joining you digitally, you can invite them to put a cross on their head or hand with a marker.
If you’re able to give your students ashes, ensure that you are following your local church’s practices and that your pastoral team is aware of what you are doing. Be careful not to mix ashes with water (that can cause a chemical burn); use vegetable or olive oil.
Invite students up one at a time and pray this simple pray over them as you put ashes on their foreheads or a cross on their hands.
Almighty God, you created us out of the dust of this earth. May these ashes help us better understand our need for your unconditional grace and our ability to have life everlasting with you. Help us to grow closer to you this Lenten season as we practice piety through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ask students to reflect on today’s lesson. If time allows, have your students write down ways they can grow in Christ this Lenten season. (Play some soft music in the background during this time, if possible.)
Close your time together in a manner that is typical for you. Consider taking joys and concerns, then asking for a volunteer to close in prayer.
Total time: 50 minutes
- A few balls for the opening icebreaker game. (The number needed will depend on the size of your group.)
- Pens or pencils
- Ashes or a black marker