Today we will begin talking with the children about the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew (Luke recounts a similar sermon, but this sermon is given on a plain). As we discussed earlier, Matthew is drawing very purposeful parallels between Moses and Jesus and that continues here. Jesus, like Moses, gives a law to the people on a mountain. Jesus also makes it clear that He is not opposing Biblical law. He insists that law be kept in verses 17-18, and some of the injunctions like "hate your enemy" come from some other source and not Biblical law. In this sermon He is extending and expanding on earlier teachings. This lesson will try to help the children understand some of the things included in the Sermon on the Mount.
Poor In Spirit
Jesus begins the Beatitudes by saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.". According to Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament studies, "The poor in spirit, who are not necessarily destitute (cf. Luke 6:20), recognize dependence on each other and on God." (Amy-Jill Levine, "Gospel of Matthew", Women's Bible Commentary, Third Edition. Westminster John Knox Press. 2012. Kindle). Elder Jeffery R. Holland has said that being poor in spirit means we are dependent upon Christ. In his talk, "Broken Things To Mend", he says, "The first words Jesus spoke in His majestic Sermon on the Mount were to the troubled, the discouraged and downhearted. 'Blessed are the poor in spirit,' He said, 'for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'... I speak to those who are facing personal trials and family struggles, those who endure conflicts fought in the lonely foxholes of the heart, those trying to hold back floodwaters of despair that sometimes wash over us like a tsunami of the soul. I wish to speak particularly to you who feel your lives are broken, seemingly beyond repair. To all such I offer the surest and sweetest remedy that I know. It is found in the clarion call the Savior of the world Himself gave. He said it in the beginning of His ministry, and He said it in the end. He said it to believers, and He said it to those who were not so sure. He said to everyone, whatever their personal problems might be: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.' (Matt. 11:28-29)" (2006 Annual General Conference, Ensign).
To help the children understand what it means to be "poor of spirit" and "yoked to Jesus". We will explain to them that a yoke was designed to hook two oxen together to help them share a load. We will then have each child try to lift a very heavy bag by themselves. After they try on their own, we will put a sturdy bar through the bag (to represent a yoke) and have them try to lift the bag again with an adult lifting one side with them. We will then explain that being "poor of spirit" and "yoked to Jesus" means that we allow Him to help share our load, just like we helped them lift the heavy bag.
The next beatitude states, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." Each of us commits at baptism to mourn with those that mourn and give comfort to those who need comfort. According to Gary E. Stevenson, "Every man, woman, and child in the kingdom of God is a shepherd. No calling is required. From the moment we emerge from the waters of baptism, we are commissioned to this work. We reach out in love to others because it is what our Savior commanded us to do... Whenever our neighbors are in distress temporally or spiritually, we run to their aid. We bear one another's burdens that they may be light. We mourn with those who mourn. We comfort those who stand in need of comfort (Mosiah 18:8-9). The Lord lovingly expects this of us. And the day will come when we will be held accountable for the care we take in ministering to His flock (Matthew 25:31-46)" ("Shepherding Souls". 2018 Semi-Annual General Conference, Ensign).
It is important for children to learn how to be empathetic so that they can comfort those who mourn as Jesus commanded. You can find a great object lesson on practicing empathy, by Tanya Kirschman by clicking here.
Next, Jesus states, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." "To be meek is to restrain one's privilege for the the sake of others." (Amy-Jill Levine, "Gospel of Matthew", Women's Bible Commentary, Third Edition. Westminster John Knox Press. 2012. Kindle). Doris Sertel said in the 1992 Annual General Conference, "We read in Moroni that only the meek and the truly humble are pleasing before God. (See Moroni 7:44). This message is particularly important for us today, because love is beginning to wax cold. We all feel it; the struggle for a testimony, for our marriages and families, and for truth, justice, and chastity is becoming more intense... How important it is to take right then and there the hand that is stretched out and help to find the path again through meekness, humility, and charity--to take by the hand and to look our for each other and to tell them, 'You are important; you too are a child of God.' We are on the same path. Let us follow it together. The Lord expects of us to give and to take and to serve each other, not because it is our duty but because we do it out of love--so that his love for all of us, in and outside the Church, will become alive, and we can feel it and be strong in the unity of sisterhood." ("A Worldwide Sisterhood", Ensign.)
To help illustrate what it means to be meek, I will tell the children that we are going to play a game. I will then get out a basket and a ball and tell the children that the goal of the game is to get the ball in the basket. Then I will sit one child very close to the basket, another one farther away, and another one farther still. How will the children react to this clearly unfair game? Will the person who has been given privilege laugh at those who are farther away from the basket or will they use their position of privilege to help the other children? Many of us are born with privileges that others do not have. That doesn't mean we are bad or that we don't work too, but it means that we start with advantages that others don't get. To be meek and teachable means to listen to the needs of others and to help them. We will then ask the child closest to the basket to demonstrate meekness by listening to the cries of the children behind him or her who are complaining that the game is unfair and to call on that child to meekly find a solution to the problem.
Hunger and thirst for righteousness
Next Christ says, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." This is an easy one for children to understand (I mean, what parent hasn't heard the cry of I'm sooooo hungry from their child) so I won't spend too much time here, except to note that Christ compares Himself to the "bread of life" and "living water" often, indicating that He is the source that will fill our hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Jesus's next statement is "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." Elder Deiter Uchdorf said, "Of course, these words seem perfectly reasonable--when applied to someone else. We can so clearly and esily see the harmful results that come when others judge and hold grudges. And we certainly don't like it when people judge us. But when it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justfy ouranger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and only appropriate. Though we cannot look into another's heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt... This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!" (The Merciful Obtain Mercy, 2012 Annual General Conference, Ensign).
You can find an awesome lesson about the importance of mercy here.
Pure In heart & Peacemakers
Jesus continues by saying "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God...Ye are the salt of the earth...Ye are the light of the world. For an example of a woman who lived these traits, I will tell the children the story of Marie Fox Felt, found here.