Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Benediction

   Paul concluded each of his letters with something a little stronger than “Shalom” (a common Jewish ending to things), “Sincerely” or “Au revoir.” “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you” (1 Corinthians 16:23) – a prayer, a blessing, calling down the most precious, priceless realities on somebody else. Words have power; they package love across space and time.

The ancient Israelites understood these verbal blessings. Nearing death, Isaac blessed his sons. Jacob placed two of his grandsons on his knees, laid hands on them and uttered a long prayer over them. The Psalms are chock-full of blessings. The Israelites believed some very real divine energy was passed from person to person, simply by speaking.

The oldest scrap of Bible archaeologists have ever found (3000 years old!) is a little scroll of thinly hammered out silver, with Numbers 6:24-26 scratched onto the surface: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” A couple of generations of United Methodist teenagers think of this passage as the “MYF Blessing.” How lovely: youth, having learned and had fun, about to depart for home, hold hands and say “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”

Can we bless others with our words? We can always just chat for a while and say See ya. But might we find humble but holy ways to offer God’s blessing to others? I love you. I am praying for you. No bad theology, though, like Everything happens for a reason, or I know God will cure you. Caring for our words, caring with our words: this is pivotal in the Christian life.

Our blessings need not be pious. Father Greg Boyle, who will be with us Monday evening, tells of a lovely interaction with a former gang member in his Homeboy Industries program: “So this kid, Louie, I’m talking to him, and he’s complaining about something. And finally, at the end of it, he says, ‘Hey, give me a bless, yeah?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So he comes around to my side of the desk, and he knows the drill, and he bows his head, and I put my hands on his shoulder. Well, his birthday had been two days before, so it gave me an opportunity to say something to him. And I said, ‘You know, Louie, I’m proud to know you, and my life is richer because you came into it. When you were born, the world became a better place. And I’m proud to call you my son, even though’ — and I don’t know why I decided to add this part — ‘at times, you can really be a huge pain in the ass.’ Louie looked up, smiled, and said ‘The feeling’s mutual.’”

Words of encouragement, honest words, so much love. Can we bless others this weekend, and next week? Just toss in a I’m proud to know you. My life is richer because of you. You might make your golfing or bridge buddy a tad uncomfortable, but such blessings are always welcome, at the end of worship, and in our life that might just be worship.

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