A Pastor Appreciates the Hymns: Benedictions and Farewells

By Joe LaGuardia

A Pastor Appreciates the Hymns is a series on hymnody and worship in the church.  By incorporating personal testimony and theological reflection, the series draws meaning and strength from sacred songs past and present.  This article concludes the series.

Benedictions are important in every Order of Worship.  Whether tied to a traditional or contemporary service, the last words that a pastor or music leader says to her congregation or the final words that a congregation sings together is often remembered long after the words of the sermon fades.

For some pastors, the benediction is a blessing–a final word echoing the blessings of the Bible like those from St. Paul for the churches to whom he wrote, or the one that God commanded Moses to say to the people of Israel:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you…
And give you peace” (Numbers 6:22-27).

For others, the benediction is a charge or commission to empower people for the week ahead.  Reminiscent of the Lord’s “Great Commission” in his blessing to the disciples in Matthew 28, this type of benediction serves to inspire confidence that God is active in the world.  It is a final reminder that the real work of the church happens beyond the church campus where people spend a majority of their time.

For many of us pastors, the benediction is a little bit of both: We bless our churches with a word of peace, but we also encourage each parishioner to see that they too are agents of blessing and peace for others.  We hope that in blessing and charging our congregation, people will live for Christ, represent Christ, and put faith into action–that they may live the Gospel, not merely believe in it.

Benedictions are often coupled with benediction hymns.  One such hymn is a classic in Baptist life- Blest Be the Tie That Binds.  I guess it is a Baptist classic precisely because a Baptist minister wrote it.

In the mid-1700s, John Fawcett served a poor congregation in Wainsgate, England.  He was offered a job at a larger, more affluent church but was grieved to leave Wainsgate.  He declined the offer and, instead, stayed with that little church until his death in 1811.

Legend has it that it was in the throes of indecision and anxiety over leaving Wainsgate Baptist that Reverend Fawcett wrote this brief hymn.  It expresses charity and unity of the Body of Christ, the power of prayer and intercession, of mutual encouragement — even unto “sympathizing” tears — and includes the hope that believers will come together whether in this life or the next.

The song balances the longing we have of sharing time with our church family, as well as the call to bear the burdens of others in the world.  All of this, of course, is to take place in the posture of blessing and “kindred minds,” a clarion call for any benediction hymn worth its salt.

Another favorite benediction hymn is the concise “Christian goodbye”* hymn, God Be With You, by Congregational pastor Jeremiah Rankin.  The song was first sung in Washington D.C., making it a perfect chorus to conclude worship, as well as a treasure born in the heart of a nation still healing from Civil War.

The words speak of Old Testament images of a Shepherd-God who provides, secures, protects, and guides.  It is a perfect addendum to Psalm 23 or the Exodus story, in which the provision of God’s promises and blessings to Israel take center stage.

A last type of benediction hymn is that which challenges and commissions.  A contemporary hymn by Ken Medema, penned in 2003, Let Truth and Mercy Find Here*, charges the church with putting feet to faith.  It is not enough for people to meet at church–they must transform that time of fellowship into friendship and push the bounds of justice beyond brick and mortar.

The last verse is particularly challenging:

So now let peace and justice be never far apart,
but flowing like a river for every thirsty heart.
These two shall be united, a mighty moving stream,
Upon whose bands we gather to work and pray and dream.

Set to the tune of AURELIA, the words may be foreign but the tune familiar.

That is what benedictions are, after all–familiar.  They are the earworms that stick with people, the melodies that carry us into a new week, and the words that ring over and over again for a people who are defined not always by their diversity, but their unity in spite of it.

 

*William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1976): 72.
*Let Truth and Mercy Find Here
is hymn # 692 in the Celebrating Grace hymnal published by Celebrating Grace, Inc., Macon, GA.

 

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An Interfaith Thanksgiving Blessing

By Wayne Martin, Chair, Interfaith Task Force, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia

THANKSGIVING, 2015

Nearly every day—somebody—somewhere in America…is honoring some historic day…

Observing a particular occasion or celebrating a noble tradition…whether

The “Fire Ant Festival” in Ashburn, GA, during the last full week in March…

The National “Hollering Day” on the third Saturday in June in Spivey’s Corner, NC…

The “Georgia Peach Festival” on June 6th in Byron, GA…

National holidays like July 4th…Labor Day…or certain days considered ‘Holy’. 

Today—this very day—a group of people…somewhere in our country…

Is celebrating a favorite cause…a cultural tradition…or a sacred moment long passed! 

 

The cause for the ‘celebration’ of a chosen day often becomes as much

About the ‘festivities’ of the gathering as about the ‘reasons’ for the celebration.

What is so special about Ashburn, Georgia?   Visiting the Fire Ant Festival, of course.

What is so attractive about Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina?   To go to a Hollering contest.

Why drive a 100 miles to a small town in central Georgia?  To see a Peach Festival parade.

Is it really July 4th without fireworks?  Can we celebrate Labor Day without a picnic?

How can it be Thanksgiving if we don’t have ‘turkey’ and pumpkin pie for dinner?  

Isn’t something missing in our religious holidays, if the most important things are

The  gifts of Christmas….the ‘latkes’ of Chanukah…or the ‘breaking of the fast’ of Ramadan?

 

As the years go by, we face the growing temptation to make

Patriotic holidays…sacred days of remembrance…traditional cultural gatherings

Times of fun and frolic more than occasions of contemplation and meditation!

 So, whatever our faiths…however different our traditions or diverse our cultures…

In the depths of our hearts, may we feel God’s loving care…

In the resources of our spirits, may we sense the Lord’s tender mercy and

In the corners of our souls, may we feel His guiding presence as we face these times!

 

In the Spirit of Thanksgiving…

We thank Thee—O God—for Thy presence with us in these days of fear…

We are grateful for the friendship we have with our brothers and sisters of other faiths…

Bless us, we pray, with ‘people of peace’…those individuals of different persuasions but…

Who live by the principle of ‘tolerance’…who realize the importance of ‘respect’…

Who know the power of  ‘acceptance’ and who constantly seek ways to work together       

In the building of a greater community and in creating peace among Thy people. 

In Thy great community of faith where each and every one is called to love one another…

May we rejoice in our friendship with those of other traditions and different customs…

In that friendship, may we, O Lord, discover the sacredness of ‘thy community’…

And in that friendship may we learn what it means to be part of the Family of God…Amen”

 

Rev. D. Wayne Martin on behalf of  The Interfaith Task Force of the CBF of Georgia

Priesthood of believers to practice 4-fold ministry

We Protestants emphasize the priesthood of all believers, the notion that we are all called to be a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), but do we practice being “priests” in our daily lives?

When it comes to priests in God’s kingdom, perhaps we need to rediscover the basic functions priests had in biblical times.  I’ve been reading 1 Chronicles in my devotional time, and I am impressed with the instructions that priests are given in order to serve God.  Can these functions be translated in our own time that we too might reclaim our identity as “a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9)?

In 1 Chronicles 23:13, David assembled Aaron’s family and commissioned them to be priests at the soon-to-be-built temple.  This family was “set apart to consecrate the most holy things [in the temple], so that he and his sons forever should make offerings before the Lord, and minister to him, and pronounce blessings in his name forever.”

That sounds like a laundry list of religious obligations, but we too are expected to do these basic functions in our own life.

There are four functions that apply.  The first is to “consecrate” holy things.  In our day and age, there is no temple to consecrate, and many of the things in our churches–the pulpit or communion table for instance–have lost that mystical symbolism that ascribes to it special status.

We are, however, still called to consecrate things, or in other words, make some things sacred by making things meaningful unto the Lord.  It is not a matter of practicing magic or some spell that turns ordinary objects into spiritual entities, but creating sacred spaces and opportunities that help others connect to God.

Take my daughter’s stuffed bunny rabbit, for instance.  At first glance, there is nothing special or sacred about it, but she has had that rabbit for over eight years.  If she ever lost it, she would face grief and sadness.

My wife and I help my daughter see that the same feelings she has about that rabbit are the same feelings she can have towards God.  Just as the rabbit brings her comfort, so too can she look to the Holy Spirit to provide comfort and protection.  We are creating a sacred interaction between the Spirit and my daughter by way of something very meaningful to her.

Another function is to intercede on behalf of others.  Our prayer for others are “offerings” to the Lord in which we surrender our deepest needs, anxieties, and cares to God.  Originally, those offerings consisted of either animals or food, but we can replace that with our very lives.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  This presentation also concerns the needs of our community and our loved ones.

A third function is to do ministry.  Often, people in the church look to clergy to do ministry and missions.  As a priesthood of all believers, however, we are all called by God to do the work of the church.

A last function is that of blessing.  It takes grace and courage to bless others because God often calls us to bless the least deserving and the most disagreeable among us.  It’s our job, however, to model grace by blessing–and being a blessing to–all people, whether friend or foe, around us.

F. B. Meyer, writing about this portion of 1 Chronicles in Our Daily Homily, wrote, “We should bless that little portion of the world in which our lot is cast.  It is not enough to linger in soft prayer within the vail, we must come forth to bless mankind.”

Good advice for a people practicing to be priests, and certainly just one of four basic functions for those of us who seek to draw near to God and join God in helping a world in need.