May we be the ones who don’t give up on radical inclusion. May we remember to whisper to one another, every now and then, on purpose, at the right time: You belong here. There’s room for you. There’s room for all of us. We are part of the temple in which God is quite at home. (Out of Sorts, p.240)
More than a few years ago I sat in a large hotel conference room with hundreds of other youth ministers. After a few years of attending youth ministry conferences, they all seem to run together. So much of it, although excellent stuff, is repetitive or similar.
But this one was different. I still remember what the speaker was talking about — I still have the notes somewhere in my office. It was a moving message about inclusion and grace and loving those who believe you’ve gone off the deep end.
It was the ending, though, that is tattooed on my brain. The speaker asked us all to stand and spoke a blessing over us, a benediction. I have since co-opted his words and used them several times (they’re not originally his, after all). I have spoken them over graduating seniors and friends going through trials. They have become an anthem of sorts for me. I can still remember the words spoken that night by the man with the Scottish accent (which, admittedly makes them so much cooler). They are from “The Shield of St. Patrick”:
Christ with you,
Christ before you,
Christ behind you,
Christ in you,
Christ beneath you,
Christ above you,
Christ on your right,
Christ on your left,
As his words rolled over us, tears rolled down my face. I had never experienced something like that before. Not like that.
It was my first experience with benediction.
And it changed me.
Benediction is how Sarah ends her amazing book. Which after getting a chance to have a conversation with her (more on that next week!!), completely fits with who she is. She ends by praying over her readers, speaking blessing into our lives with hope and love and grace.
This kind of thing still changes me.
Which is why every time I speak I end with benediction. Our tradition within the Churches of Christ has always been to end the sermon with invitation, an offer to repent or confess or accept Jesus or come for prayer. It’s not just an opportunity to respond, but a reminder to everyone that we should be a people of invitation in our lives everyday.
And while we still do this, it is not the climax.
Instead I move everything toward benediction. From the moment I put my first thoughts down on that notepad I always use or map out my thoughts on my huge whiteboard, everything moves toward that climactic place.
To the moment when I am able to speak words of blessing over those gathered. To reinforce for them who they are. To remind them that they are loved.
I like ending with benediction because benediction changes us. It changes the way we live and move in the world. It reminds us that although we can share wisdom and give give examples, we are not moral compass for the world. It reminds us that although we can add to the cultural dialogue, we are not here to force everyone to see things our way.
It reminds us that we are living benedictions, you and I.
This is our vocation in the world. From the beginning God’s plan for his people was to be a tribe that exists to bless every other tribe.
And the world is changed not through the strength of our arguments, but by the power of love, the audacity of grace and the scandal of mercy.
So today may you see yourself as a medium of God’s blessing in the world. Through your work in the world ay you remind others that they are loved. May your attitude show others that there is hope. May your heart be filled with grace and mercy.
May you be a living benediction.