February 2023


The Fast We Choose

Learning to Live Inside Out

Ash Wednesday, Year A

Ash Wednesday is an inside-out act of worship. We come and confess and are reminded of both our sinfulness and our mortality. And yet we are given a visible mark in the imposition of ashes, a way of letting the world know that we are people of faith.


“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” - Isaiah 58:6-7 NRSV

Note to the Teacher

The key word in this series is “bifocal," as we focus on what’s happening both on our inside (our individual life of faith) and on our outside (impact on the world around us). One icebreaker invites students to engage with their competitive side as they guess the animal that goes with the Disney character name in five minutes; the other icebreaker invites youth to find their pair in a game that’s similar to Password or Heads Up. The discussion encourages students to think about connections between individual behaviors and communal effects of faith. The activity allows youth to use a Venn diagram to sort United Methodist works of piety and works of mercy into communal and individual categories and see if any fit both categories. Times are based on a fifty-minute lesson period but may be adjusted.

1. Icebreaker: “Sporcle: Disney Animals” or “Find Your Pair” (10 minutes)

Sporcle is a great online quiz website for high-tech game options. Have someone appointed to type quickly for the Sporcle quiz. Your other low-tech option gets students interacting through a game that pairs them up through guessing clues.

Option 1: High-Tech

Click here to get students guessing and interacting quickly. Have one person ready to listen to the group and type quickly in this five-minute quiz that pairs Disney character names with the names of the animals the names represent. Have all students shout out their answers to the quiz, as one person desperately types the animal names that they shout out:

Option 2: Find Your Pair

Write different words on pieces of paper, making sure each word is part of a pair (e.g., salt and pepper). Tape a word to each person’s back. Students will then walk around asking questions until they figure out what their word is, so they can find their pair.

2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)

Our Scripture reading today points out the hypocrisy that can accompany worship. As you read, see what pairs exist in the verses, like “truth and wisdom,” “hyssop and clean,” in Psalm 51; and “fasting and seeing,” and “humbling ourselves and noticing,” in Isaiah 58.

3. Discussion (15 minutes)

There are many pairs or connections in Psalm 51 and Isaiah 58; let’s discuss why these pairings go together like salt and pepper or peanut butter and jelly.

  • Find as many pairings In Psalm 51 and Isaiah 58 (word couples that are joined by the word AND) as you can in two to three minutes.
  • One pairing is “being humble and noticing.” This pairing could go together because humility means that you don’t think you’re the most important, so you notice others or the world around you because you’re just as curious about things outside of you as you are about things happening inside of you. So, besides being humble and noticing, why do you think the other pairings that you found in these verses go together? It’s okay to not know why all of them go together. Skip the hard ones if they’re too confusing for now.
  • Which pairings in these chapters are the most interesting or inspiring to you?
  • Now, read Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.
  • What pairs or groupings exist in this reading, like “praying and hypocrites and being seen?” Take time and find them now. Share with the group.
  • Jesus focuses on giving, prayer, fasting, and treasure in these verses. How do you and the people you know relate to these four things in your life?
  • What do “hypocritical,” “pretentious,” and “genuine,” mean? (Hint: Google the words!!) Do you think the words meant the same thing in Jesus’ time that they do today? Why might that be important?
  • Can giving, praying, fasting, or treasuring help us or the world around us?

For the next four weeks, our class is learning about the way that our Lenten practices of giving, praying, fasting, and treasuring can affect the world around us as well as affect our personal spiritual life. Have you ever observed Lent? Have you ever had any experiences with practices during Lent that you want to share with the group?

4. Activity and Discussion (20 minutes)

Take this lesson to the next level by getting students’ sorting skills and motivation for snacks involved by assessing individual and communal works of mercy and piety through this flavorful Venn diagram activity.

You need candy and/or snacks for this sorting activity and discussion.

First, click this link. Ask four volunteers to read the individual and communal examples of works of piety and works of mercy:

NOTE: The works of piety (things we do to demonstrate love for God) and the works of mercy (things we do to demonstrate love for neighbor) have strong roots in the Methodist movement and form the foundation for Covenant Discipleship. There are great resources to help your church learn about Covenant Discipleship and specifically covenant discipleship with youth available from our websites!

Draw or show two Venn diagrams. One diagram is for Works of Piety; the other diagram is for Works of Mercy. Let students decide which works of piety or mercy are individual or communal OR both individual and communal (those go in the part of the two circles in the Venn diagram that overlaps). Start with examples given in the UMC link above and add other examples thought of by students or things listed in the scripture readings from this lesson. You can also list ministries or activities offered by your church and ask youth how those relate to either piety or mercy.

Students get to eat a bite of candy or a bite of a snack every time an example makes it to the middle of each Venn diagram (the part with the checkmark).

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


  • Sporcle Quiz (https://www.sporcle.com/) ready with keyboard for one person to type the answers in the timed quiz (high-tech icebreaker option)
  • Computer with screen and keyboard or TV that displays progress
  • Words that go in pairs written separately on pieces of paper (low-tech icebreaker option)
  • Snacks or candies (activity and next-level discussion)
  • Two posters or two papers or two pages in a document that students can see or view on a screen with someone to draw or fill in the Venn diagrams. (activity and next-level discussion)

In This Series...

Ash Wednesday, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes


  • Purple

In This Series...

Ash Wednesday, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes First Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Second Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Third Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A - Lectionary Planning Notes