by Randy Lubbers
Disgusting, both inside and out. If you take a look at her, she’s a slob.
Such a nasty woman. –Donald Trump
Whatever else one might say about these words, one thing we can surely agree upon: These aren’t benedictions.
Benediction means literally “to speak well of.” To bless someone with our words is to speak well of them, to build them up. The Hebrew root “to bless” can be defined as “to bestow with power for success, prosperity, fertility and lushness, longevity; to grant Shalom.”
From the very beginning, God speaks a benediction, telling the “swarms” of creatures in the skies and seas to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:22) and speaking a benediction too upon humankind (Genesis 1:28).
Benediction is rooted in the love of God.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.–2 Corinthians 13:13
God created in love. Benedictions are words flowing out of love. Brennan Manning, in Abba’s Child, says, “Scripture suggests that the essence of the divine nature is ‘compassion’ and that the heart of God is defined by ‘tenderness.’”
We all need benedictions in our lives.
The Rev. Dave Vander Laan, my best and dearest friend (since first grade) and my colleague in ministry was fond of saying, “God delights in you.” It is so easy to forget. The Sunday morning benediction is my “last chance” (in the worship service) to say, “God delights in you.” I forget this too often about myself. When I forget, I’m not my best self. When I forget, I’m not my true self. When I forget, I can easily be a jerk.
If someone has been taught to believe “the competition must be killed” and “weakness is bad,” that you win “big league” at football, real estate, or relationships when you put the hammer down, when you never let your guard down, when you cut your enemy off at the knees…. Perhaps I ought to feel more compassion. Perhaps Donald Trump never heard “speaking-well-of” words, words bestowing him with Shalom. Perhaps he never truly received a benediction.
The psalmist sings, “You are all children of the Most High God.” Paul writes to the early church, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
We all need to hear a benediction.
When Jesus looks into our eyes, his heart warms towards us. He loves us. He even likes us. God delights in us. Through Jesus’ eyes I am seen for who I really am, a dearly loved child in whom God takes great delight.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” –1 John 3:1
In worship, we gather together as vulnerable, sometimes needy people. We are healed, made healthy and whole, and rescued when we hear and believe God’s benediction. Then we can be sent out to speak good words to others.
The benediction usually marks the end of the worship service, but it is the beginning of life.
The benediction sends us out to be the presence of God in the midst of a broken world, to speak words of blessing to others. St. Athanasius said, “God became man so that men might become gods.” The divine lives in us when we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, when benedictions flow through us to others. We love God in our loving of others. The Heidelberg Catechism frames the second tablet of the Law in the context of our ordinary and everyday living. “Don’t kill” doesn’t just mean physical murder—we must make sure our words don’t kill, that our words build up. When God says, “Do not bear false witness,” it is not only telling us not to lie, but it means not twisting anyone’s words and going above and beyond to speak the truth. “We should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And we must do what we can to guard and advance the good name of our neighbor” (HC, Q&A 112).
This is our response of gratitude to God’s benediction.
Henri Nouwen says, “The word has the power to create…. Words can deepen our bonds with each other. Words of love and affirmation are like bread….”
People are hungry to hear words that “speak well of.” Too often they hear, instead, “You’re disgusting; you’re a pig, a slob; you’re weak; you’re nothing—your life doesn’t matter.”
In the face of words that hurt and even kill, the church stands with the contrite, brokenhearted sinner who wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but who said, “God, have mercy on me.” In a world hungry for a good word, I will lift up my arms and open my hands and send the congregation on their way, saying,
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. –Numbers 6:24-26, NRSV
About Randy Lubbers: Father of John, Elyse, and Luke; friend of locally owned coffee shops and breakfast cafes everywhere; proud Central College Dad; pastor and teacher at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Lake Crystal, Minnesota since ordination in 2004 (RCA); ministry interests include the theology and leadership of worship and the sacraments, social action and peacemaking, spirituality and prayer, ecumenism, and interfaith dialogue.
Two things I’m proud of: (1) People tell me I’ve been a great dad—my wife Carolyn died in 2009 after battling ovarian cancer when Luke and Elyse were 9 & 13. (2) Leading (with Mark Pries and Tom Trinidad) an ecumenical communion service after the passage of the Formula of Agreement linking the ELCA with the RCA, PCUSA, and UCC.
A short list of things which make my heart sing: playing catch with Luke, coffee, laughter, books, writing, baseball played on real grass, vegetarian lasagna, asparagus, chili on a cold day, scenic drives in October, friends, family, music, art museums, basketball, tennis, bicycling, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Guthrie Theater, long hikes in the woods, and looking into congregants’ eyes while speaking the Assurance of Pardon.