Monthly Archives: February 2017

My Benediction: A Genesis Story

I was just asked about the history of my benediction. And yes I’m amazed how many people talk to me about it being “my” benediction. And there was even a great moment once when the youth here on Youth Sunday made a point to all say the words of my benediction together in unison while barely containing their laughter. They were very proud of themselves (and we were pretty proud of them too because they rock).

Anyway… here it is. When I started my first ordained call the benediction was always paired with the preacher of the day. (A tradition I carry with me, the charge and benediction should flow from the sermon and the totality of our Word in worship.) I preached rarely and I could never remember the words to the “normal” benediction… I was always in my head saying “does grace go with God, or with Jesus? I’m pretty sure fellowship is the Holy Spirit but you got me on what order it all comes in…”

Basically, it just didn’t work for me.

So I harkened (that word needs to be used more* check down below for a further word study comment for those interested) back to words a pastor in my internship used to use regularly about being the object of the greatest love. Words that always resonated with me. So I took those words and used them and over the years have added some nuance that evolved into the benediction I use every single week woven into the charge as we go out in worship to the world.

“Go forth and (fill in the nugget of the focus and function of the sermon here) knowing that we do not go alone. But we go together, and God goes with us and before us. And you are the object of the greatest love that ever was, is, and every shall be, so go in peace. Amen.”

And that benediction – which came about because I couldn’t remember the one I was trying to use – has always surprised me in how profoundly people experience it. It has saved me from many a bad sermon as people regularly remark how much those ending words mean to them as they leave worship.

So here is what that all means for me.
They aren’t my words. It isn’t my benediction.

The are our good news that we bear out in the world, for our sake, for each other’s sake, and for the sake of all creation.

Know that you are loved my friends, and bear that love to one another.

*a note about “harkened back”

I promised a neat side story of word etymology, my paraphrase of a comment from the Grammarist ( so they get credit if it’s true and the fault if its wrong but really, with such a snappy name like that how could they be wrong (after all, if it’s on the internet it must be true….).

In usage “hark back”, “hearken”, and “harken back” all mean the same thing and can be used interchangeably though the first is the most common (that surprised me). The first is also the one with the good origin story. It was a hunting term. When the hunting dogs had lost the scent of the prey the hunting party would hark back (because the hounds are barking and moving back along the trail) until they picked up the old scent and could follow it forward again.

I love that. Going to use that in a sermon someday!

Piercing Illusions

I was reading something I wrote about ten years ago and came across this line: “lucky is the person whose illusions are pierced gently.”

Not sure I meant it to be so, but it reminds me now of the weird introduction (“Attunement”) to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in which there are four versions of the Abraham and Isaac story told that alter the story in ways (the eponymous author Johannes de Silentio here talking of a man who doesn’t understand Abraham, who cannot be understood) that would denude the story of its full faith-power. Each version is followed by a strange version of a mother weaning her child from the breast. The first such version, in which Abraham acts the villain to take the blame for God, the analogous breast feeding technique is:

“When the child is to be weaned, the mother blackens her breast. It would be hard to have the breast look inviting when the child must not have it. So the child believes that the breast has changed, but the mother—she is still the same, her gaze is tender and loving as ever. How fortunate the one who did not need more terrible means to wean the child!”

Now most everyone agrees it’s hard to impossible to know what to do with the attunements except perhaps that this is the point. It’s hard to attune to that which cannot be understood. But every once in a while I think there is more there… like I can see through the veil for a moment.

Today, thinking on that which I wrote 10 years ago and F&T, I wonder at hard won learnings. Illusions we didn’t want to let go. Or life transforming things we learned but after far too much pain. I can sense the whistfulness of Abraham… “wouldn’t it be nice if this wasn’t all necessary….” and yet Kierkegard makes clear the danger of imagining we can all skip the hard journey and start where other left off. Thanks Abraham for journeying to Mount Moriah for me, glad I can skip that part.

Only we cannot. Not usually.

Lucky if you can I guess.

We cling tight to the breast. It’s hard to give up the reality we have constructed for ourself or had constructed for us. The journey to pierce that veil, to put that world to death? It takes inner strength, a fair bit of foolishness, and good company.

I hope each of you has a couple good friends, traveling partners, who pierce your illusions gently for you. They will make all the difference.