Note to the Teacher
The key theme in this lesson is “Justice and Grace.” The icebreaker begins by having the students organize themselves silently according to different sets of standards. The discussion encourages students to think about how they might not be living according to God’s standards, while reminding everyone that grace and opportunities for growth come from God. We can be graceful with ourselves and others as we all learn and grow. Israel didn’t measure up to God’s standards, but nothing, not even our own mistakes, can separate us from the love of God! The activity allows for an example of thanking people who live according to a high standard and who likely need a little grace right now. Times are based on a fifty-minute lesson period but may be adjusted.
1. Icebreaker: Silent but Not Deadly (10 minutes)
This game is about organizing the students according to a certain standard, but without speaking. Start by giving each student a number (don’t let any other students know the individual numbers) and then have the students arrange themselves in the correct order. Have them organize themselves according to other standards like birth order, height, normal wake-up time, and so on.
2. Read Scripture (5 minutes)
Our scripture today takes place in the Old Testament, in the book of Amos. Amos was a shepherd who lived in the eighth century BCE. A big part of Amos’s preaching is against justice and oppression. Amos tells Israel that God will punish them for the wrongs they have brought on one another and the weak. God gives Amos visions to interpret for the people. We begin our scripture amid these visions.
Read Amos 7:7-17.
3. Discussion (15 minutes)
- This story is filled with characters, images, visions, and orders. What stands out from what we just read? What grabbed your attention or inspired some questions?
- Have you ever seen a plumbline? What about a level? Can you describe them or what they are used for? In construction, these items help to ensure that a wall or surface is level, vertical, or balanced. Why would these be important features for a house? For a countertop? For a floor?
- In Amos’s vision, the plumbline symbolizes God’s standards for justice. What does it mean that Israel doesn’t seem to be acting in a way that lines up with God’s vision for the world or how we treat one another?
- Amos shares the vision, but Amaziah doesn’t want to hear it. It is often hard for us to hear harsh critiques, especially when they are about our own work or our own character. Have you ever been given news or criticism that really stuck with you? How did you deal with it?
- God truly has a heart for those who need help. Scripture shows us that God is consistent about keeping an eye out for widows and orphans and outsiders. God has a high standard for life on earth. But it is not without grace. Do we have “widows” or “orphans” or “outsiders” that we or our church cares for? Why do you think this reminder from God to look out for the vulnerable is important?
- The two passages above point out that God died for us while we were sinners and that nothing can separate us from God’s love. They both signal to us that before anything else, we are loved by God. There is grace, even when we make mistakes. How do you show yourself and others grace in the midst of mistakes or hardship?
- God is always about grace; and not the cheap kind of grace. It is the kind of grace that urges us to better ourselves every day, to know that we can both experience and give forgiveness. In the verses from Amos, God also wants to remind us that we need to watch for injustice and unrighteousness. We need to keep an eye out for the mistreatment of others. We need to see as God sees. When you compare the verses from Amos and the verses from Romans, how do they complement or complicate each other? What does looking out for injustice have to do with grace? How can we be better about watching for the needs of God’s people? How can we better open our eyes to God’s need for justice and love of all people?
- Do you think it is easier to see others’ faults before our own (see Matthew 7:5)? Jesus instructs us to look for our own faults and mistakes before attempting to point out or correct the faults of others. Why do you think looking inside yourself is important before addressing an injustice or telling someone else how he or she ought to act? How might the ideas of grace, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation shape how we react to things we want to change in ourselves or see changed in others/the world?
4. Activity and Discussion (20 minutes)
- Continue with the idea of living well and graciously by having the students write letters to themselves. Looking inward and allowing ourselves room to experience God’s grace may be new for the youth. Have youth silently reflect on things that they are hard on themselves about or mistakes that they have made where they felt the need for forgiveness. Have them make a few notes about why they dwell on those things and how God might help them experience grace and learning. Youth can keep these letters to themselves.
- For an external focus, youth could also be invited to write letters of thanks and encouragement to those in your community with jobs that require a lot of grace, such as healthcare workers, teachers, nonprofit workers, and others. Perhaps the congregational care minister or senior pastor of your church could provide ideas about people who need encouragement.
- Each letter should be written to an individual. If you know of some folks in your community, feel free to write to them!
- Provide envelopes and stamps or determine other ways to deliver the letters of encouragement.
- 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
- Paper and writing utensils