The Beatitudes Plus:
Adult Vacation Bible School Curriculum
By Joy Eastridge
Certified Lay Minister Parish Nurse
First Broad Street United Methodist Church
Our small group was invited to conduct an Adult Vacation Bible School at a local low-income housing unit for residents who are 65+. We had an average of 15 in attendance each day, with a high of 19. Our core group was four persons from the same Sunday school class—each of us with a different gift which we employed in concert. June Siggins got us all organized and made a schedule; Retta Overturf led the music; Grace Cripe headed up the crafts; and Joy Eastridge led the Bible study. We also had help and contributions from Mary Smith and Carol Garland. The event was supported in prayer and financially by First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Our format included an opportunity for fellowship by sharing a meal each day.. Our schedule varied a bit, but we consistently had a meal, craft, music, movement, Bible study, and prayer time—all in a two hour time frame (noon to 2 p.m.).
At the end of the week, we asked for follow up with a survey. I have included our sample. This allowed participants to give us feedback and turned out to be very helpful in our planning for future events.
I am sharing these notes because when I searched for something already put together for Adult VBS, I didn’t find anything. As resources, I used some of the first chapter of Jen Wilkin’s, Sermon on the Mount. I also referred to The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary. Scriptures are from the NRSV.
[The blog formatting omitted my footnotes, which I used to give credit for direct quotes. If you have questions, please contact me directly. I have also published the version with footnotes on http://www.eastridges.com.]
Adult VBS Day 1:
- General Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount: It is universally loved and respected as a guide to good living—even among non-Christians. The pronouncements, which overturn worldly values and expectations, remain hopeless ideals at odds with reality UNLESS they come through the power of the One who creates and shapes reality.
- The Beatitudes are well-named. They might also be spelled the BE-Attitudes—the way we are to be as followers of Jesus.
- Read Matt. 5:1- AFTER he sees the crowds, he teaches the disciples. His dedicated followers are the true audience. The rest of the folks might have been listening in, but the disciples were the intended recipients. So if we are his disciples, the Sermon can become a light to our path. If we are not disciples, it’s a nice ideal. But we can only truly follow this, IF we are true disciples and tap into the power Jesus offers us.
Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 10:12, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you.”
Our standard is higher than the people around us. This can be both a comfort and a challenge. If we feel we are undeserving and unworthy, then we know that Jesus is showing us a way to become what is our best selves through his power. If we have been on the journey a long time and feel a sense of accomplishment (and maybe a twing of pride!), the Sermon helps us see ourselves again for what we are—sinners in need of a Holy God.
3. 5:2- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed- Definition: happy, to be envied, supremely blessed, fortunate.
Reading the verse again with this definition in mind, we could say, “Happy or supremely blessed are the poor in spirit…” What are your thoughts about that turn of phrase?
What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?”
“All these things my hand has made. And so all these things are mine, says the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word.” Isaiah 66:2
“The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
Webster’s defines poverty as the state of one with insufficient resources. Based on this definition what does it mean to be poor in spirit?
What does Jesus say belongs to the poor in spirit?
“Kingdom of heaven is ‘the Kingdom of grace here, and the kingdom of glory hereafter,’ It is the reign of God established at Christ’s first coming and consummated (completed) at his second coming. It’s the rule of God particularly over believers.
Why does Jesus say that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit? Maybe it is because he poor in Spirit are those who, in their desperate need, cry to God for help.
What is another way of saying this?
3. Matt. 5:4- “Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted.”
—People can mourn for many reasons. What are some things that cause us to mourn?
Example: My mother in law is loosing her husband gradually as he slowly succumbs to dementia. Some days he is more present than others, but every day is hard. One Sunday she heard the hymn, “Oh Love that will not let me go,” in church. When she heard this she felt God’s blessing as she mourns my father-in-law’s dementia, feeling that the love is still there and will never go away. She feels comforted in her mourning.
—We can list out some of the reasons we mourn and struggle with grief. There is also mourning for those who are those grieved by all that is evil in the world and by their own part in its waywardness.
Joel 2:12-13– mourning our sins
James 4:7-10– honoring the poor. Being humble. Lamenting. Weeping over our sins.
In light of these passages and in light of the first Beatitude,, what kind of mourning do you think Jesus is referring to when He says, “Blessed are those who mourn?”
How has recognizing your lack of spiritual resources and your need for Jesus been a blessing to you? What role has godly grief played in your repentance?
Think about how you might phrase this if you were re-writing it?
Adult VBS Day 2:
Introduction: Starting with stories:
—Brothers Zsolt and Geza Peladi were homeless in 2009, living in a cave outside Budapest, Hungary, and scavenging junk for a living in Hungary when they learned they had inherited a fortune from a grandmother in Germany. The siblings were located by charity workers and put in touch with the attorneys who were handling the estate of their maternal grandmother in Baden-Württemberg, The Telegraph reported.The once-penniless brothers received 4 billion pounds. Today, that would be equivalent to more than $5 billion in U.S. dollars. (Wiki)
—Who would have thought an old pair of jeans dating to the 19th century could be worth a small fortune? One pair of such jeans was passed down through a family in a wooden trunk that once belonged to Arizona pioneer Solomon Warner, eventually coming into the hands of his great-great-grandson, Jock Taylor. The design of the jeans showed that they were made by Levi Strauss & Co. The fact that they had just one back pocket meant that they were made prior to 1901, when the company added a second pocket to their well-known jeans. Eager to own the artifact, Levi Strauss & Co. offered Taylor $50,000 for the jeans. Taylor decided to wait for a better offer. The jeans eventually sold for almost $100,000. (Wiki)
—We all love a rags to riches story don’t we? A lot of fairy tales carry this theme. Think of Cinderellla. And there are TV shows that illustrate this—the lottery house show on HGTV. It’s fun to think about what we would do if we had a million dollars.
- Matt. 5:5- “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
This one seems so counter-intuitive—so upside down and inside out! It is out of step with the world’s way which is related to power, ego, winning, a “me first” attitude.
Meek= enduring injury with patience and without resentment.” A meek person is someone who is not occupied with self at all, someone who does not insist on a set of rights.”
It also means gentle, mild. Let’s look at Jesus and the work “Meek.”
Isaiah 53: 2b and 3 and 12
How did Christ perfectly demonstrate meekness?
2. What would the world say is a synonym for meek? (Pushover, doormat)
The meek are those who want no part in the world’s pursuit of power but become like children and serve others.
If a meek person is someone who does not insist on a set of rights, how meek are you? What rights do you feel entitled to or take for granted in your home, church, workplace, or community?
Can a sense of entitlement stifle your relationship with God? If it does, then how does meekness help it grow?
Does this mean you are not supposed to have rights and then people can run all over you? How does meekness WORK as we live in this world and yet hold Christ-like values?
3. Is it surprising that this Beatitude says that the gentle, mild, meek will INHERIT THE EARTH? It usually feels like the pushy, self-promoting, egotistical ones get everything. How does this compute in your mind?
Think a bit more about our inheritance in the Lord and the stories of rags to riches from the introduction. Do we sometimes say “no thank you” to the Lord and decline the inheritance he offers us? Are we content to live in a cave scavenging for a living when we have all of the kingdom at our disposal?
4. Matt. 5:6—“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.”
What is something you get a craving for sometimes? Something that you sometimes have to make a special trip to the store for—is it chocolate? Ice cream? Cheetos? Pickles!
People who live into this Beatitude are those that long to see all that is good and right prevail I the world—and in their own lives.
John 4:7-15– Jesus and Samaritan woman
Who is speaking?
What is offered?
What need is satisfied?
John 6:35– Jesus is the Bread of life
Who is speaking?
What is offered?
What need is satisfied?
1 Cor. 1:26-31– According to verse 30, who is our righteousness? Keep this in mind because it will be part of another Beatitude!
5. Jesus is trying to help these people he encounters—and us—get our priorities in line. He wants us to re-frame our focus and hunger and thirst for him! Priorities. Our cravings reveal something about our inner self. And this is not about chocolate or about food—it is about what we long for. Are we asking God to help us crave him?
Adult VBS Day 3:
Can you remember being punished as a child for doing something you weren’t supposed to do? How many of you were good little kids? How many were born into mischief? Were you a goody two shoes or a Dennis the Menace? (Show of hands). Can you remember getting what was your due (justice) or maybe a time when you received grace instead of justice?
- Matt. 5:7—Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.
What is mercy? Grace, compassion, exercising forbearance.
What is justice? An act of the law, receiving your due.
“Justice is rendered when people receive their due, according to the law, be it God’s law or man’s law. An act of justice is typically an act of the law, and might be an act of vengeance and force. Mercy, on the other hand, means exercising forbearance. An act of mercy is an act of grace and compassion.”
Think about making the Beatitude say, “Blessed are the grace-filled for they shall also receive grace.” Does it make you think of the Lord’s Prayer?
The merciful are those eager to
1. aid all in need…
2. ready to forgive all who wrong them…
3. and charitable in assessing the deeds and motives of others. (Giving others the benefit of the doubt)
Read Matt. 7:1-4—What concept is presented this later passage of the Sermon on the Mount that is also presented in the fifth Beatitude?
Romans 2:1-4– Judging others. Story: One time I went to the beauty parlor to do my nails and I was stuck next to a lady that was expounding on how much she hated “them” and “those people.” She talked about what a faithful Christian she was. I pondered what to say. Finally, as I got ready to leave, I said, “Have you read Romans 2 lately?”
Why do you think how we treat others will affect how God treats us? Think again about the Lord’s prayer.
Is there someone you have trouble showing mercy to? How could you adjust your perspective so that showing mercy to them becomes easier?
JUST MERCY- Equal Justice Initiative. Bryan Stevenson, Montgomery, AL
The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.
Change my heart of God,
Make it ever new,
Change my heart O God,
Let me be like you.
You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me,
This is what I pray…
2. Matt. 5:8— “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Have any of you had cataract surgery? How was your vision different after the surgery?
“The pure in heart are those who single-mindedly pursue the will of God.”
If being pure in heart is not being perfect or free from sin, what is it?
Why do you think the pure in heart will “see God”?
Isaiah 6:5-8— Was Isaiah pure in heart?
When we have sin it can cloud our ability to see God. What sin causes you to battle with impurity of heart?
And how is it that we really SEE God. Is this a physical vision?
1 John 1:9– when we ask, God will cleanse us. Then we can see him in the world around us. We have our eyes open again by the Spirit of God. This is what the Bible means when it says we will be a new creation:
2 Cor. 5:16-21– Listen for what it says about being a new creation.
Somehow through God’s love, we get grace, not justice. We get forbearance instead of the Law.
One time, when I was driving, a passing car splattered a whole puddle of mud on my car. It obstructed my view. I had to turn on the windshield wipers fast to clean it off and keep going!
When God forgives us, through his love and grace and the blood of Jesus, then the windshield of our life is wiped clean, streak free, and we can indeed see God. Let your light shine!
Adult VBS Day 4:
Do you know your heritage? Your background? Have you ever done one of those ancestry.com things or done genealogical research?
Do any of you have children or grandchildren? Do any of them look or act like you? Are any of you a twin?
- Matt. 5:9- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
The Bible say that peacemakers will be called children of God. Maybe that means that peacemakers look like God? They have his characteristics and inherit his traits. How do we become peacemakers. Let’s look at what peace is, how Jesus embodied peace, and how we can be peacemakers.
What is true peace? What is a peacemaker then? Sometimes we say things like, “Just give me some peace!” Or “I wish we would not have war in the Ukraine and that peace would come.” But is that all peace is? Being left alone or the absence of war?
—When do we mistake the absence of conflict for peace? Can true peace involve struggle? When have you seen peace be a struggle?
—According to the internet, “Peace is more than not fighting. A “Positive Peace” involves the promotion of peacefulness through positive interactions like civility, cooperation, and care.”
—The peacemakers are those who subordinate their own rights and interests to maintain peace, overcoming evil with God.
Jesus was the Prince of Peace- Isaiah 9:6
Romans 12:17-21– listen here for characteristics of those who live peaceably with all. What do they do?
What are some practical ways to be a peacemaker? How was Jesus a peacemaker?
—In our home- is the gift of presence evidence of being a peacemaker?
—In our church- loving others through controversy. How does this show we are peacemakers?
—In our community/workplace- supporting efforts for all to be included at the table.
—In our country- finding ways to build bridges, not forts or walls
*Remember building forts as kids, or “club houses” or tree houses? Owen and Andy, my grandsons, love building forts out of boxes. They have their own separate spaces and there is “peace” —at least initially. Until, the younger one decides he likes his sibling’s box better and tries to get in there! Then, I have to become the “peace maker” and restore order
John 14:25-27—how is the peace Jesus offers different from the peace of the world?
God sent his son, the Prince of Peace, to make it possible for us to receive grace. Jesus paved the way for peace. True peace.
Gal. 3:26-29- We are one in the Lord. Divisions are gone. How does this make peace?
Gal. 4:4-6- Jesus, the peacemaker, redeems us and brings us into right relationship with the Father.
2. Matt. 5:10, 11- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
– Who inherits the kingdom, according to the Beatitudes?
– Who is our righteousness? What would this one sound like if we put Jesus’ name there?
– When are we persecuted for doing the right thing?
– What do we risk?
What does this kind of person look like—a person who stands firm, even under persecution?
Eph. 4:25-32.— Heading of this section says, “Rules for a New Life.” How do these directives help us thrive even in times of trouble and persecution.
– We are not called to be right but to be righteous. We don’t have to have all the answers or even an opinion. When people ask, we can say “I honestly don’t know.” But we are called to be loving in the midst of persecution.
– Telling the truth, standing up, being in the minority, requires courage. Being in the majority requires tolerance while being in the minority requires courage. According to Ralph Sockman, pastor of Christ UMC in NYC: “The test of tolerance comes when we ae in the majority. The test of courage comes when we are in the minority.”
Adult VBS Day 5:
- This week, we learned more about the Be-Attitudes—how we are to “be” when we are citizens of heaven. Contrary to the way the world teaches things, we are to know we are spiritually needy; we are to grieve over our sins; be truly hungry for righteousness.
- With these eight simple statements, Jesus tells us how to develop the character he wants us to have and how to produce fruit in keeping with our righteousness that comes from Jesus.
- When we enter into this relationship with Jesus, our expectation of reward get turned completely upside down.
[Review the Beatitudes]
4. Now we have talked about how we are to “BE.” Next Jesus tells us how to take that Godly character and act in the world. We are to be Influencers.
Do you know what an influencer is?
“An influencer is someone in your niche or industry with sway over your target audience. Influencers have specialized knowledge, authority or insight into a specific subject. Their pre-existing presence in a niche makes them a useful launching pad for brands in search of credibility.” (Wiki)
Basically, these persons get paid money, a lot of money, to post on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TicToc, etc. Some of the highest paid influencers include soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi. Others are Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, Dwayne Johnson, Kim Kardasian, Ariana Grande, Beyonce Knowles. Do you know any of these folks? According to the internet, Cristiano Ronaldo gets paid upwards of 880K for each post!
5. SALT- Matt. 5:13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? Is is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled under foot.”
Have you ever been on a low salt diet? What foods are particularly hard to swallow without salt?
And adds flavor.
Have you ever nearly drowned? Have you ever needed a personal floatation device? Can you swim? One time, my godson nearly drowned and I had to go out to rescue him.
As “life preservers” to others, we are the people who keep others from losing their lives. We are agents of good and of wholesomeness. Like salt kept the meat from rotting, we keep the world from going to destruction.
6. Matt. 5:14-16- You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
What are some functions of light in the natural world?
- Helps us see
- Guides us
- Dispels the darkness
1 John 1:5-7 and 2:9-11.
- God is light. No darkness at all.
- We show our light by loving others.
- Our ultimate goal is to bring glory to God. Not ourselves. Worldly influencers are about gaining money or fame. We are about gaining meaning, purpose, love, and a servant’s heart.
Summarizing: Salt and Light. Pure goodness. That’s what we are. We are the true “influencers” of the world. We do it with love and kindness and through relationship building. We are to be faithful and fruitful. Invitational influencers. Followers of Jesus who love and see others with the vision of Christ.
Questionnaire Sample for follow up programming:
1. How was VBS for you?
2. What was your favorite part?
3. Was there anything that you learned or that touched your spirit that you would like to share with us?
4. We will keep coming on Mondays at 1 to have Coffee and Cookies (or some other goody!). But is there something else you would like that we might be able to do/help with?
5. Are you interested in having a regular Bible study time? If so, are Mondays at 1 a good time for that or is another time better?