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The Benediction: Depart in Grace and Peace

June 29, 2014

Sermon:  The Benediction: Depart in Grace and Peace
Text:  Philippians 1:2-6

I have been reading daily devotions written by a Franciscan priest named Richard Rohr, who is a man of unusual insight. Several weeks ago I read one of his devotions in which he told about a rite of passage that exists in Japan. When soldiers finish their duty in the military, the leaders tell them, “Now that you have served as a loyal soldier, it is time for you to return to civilian life. Take up your responsibility as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather and contribute in ways that are different from your life in the military.”

In some ways I think of this day as a kind of rite of passage for me. It is a time for me to accept the next bend in the road.

We have been looking at the Morningside Benediction I wrote eighteen years ago for this congregation and considering it line-by-line as our sermon series this month. “Depart and as you go remember: You are a family of faith, living in hope, serving in joy, and bonded in love. Go, now, in the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I have enjoyed preaching sermon series throughout the years. When someone asked me why I preferred series, I said that they give us a chance to immerse ourselves in a certain part of scripture. Immerse is a good Baptist word. It also gives us the opportunity to contemplate or meditate on the principles of Christian living from several different facets. I find that preaching sermon series is an enjoyable experience for me, an enlightening way to study the Word of God.

Today we come to the last line of the Morningside Benediction: “Go, now, in the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” I must tell you that when I wrote the benediction eighteen years ago, I carefully and prayerfully thought out each line, but not so much this last line. It was not exactly a throw-away line because I knew that these words were biblical. I had heard them and read them often enough to know that the way in which they are combined has special significance.

I have found that the Apostle Paul always uses this combination of the words – grace and peace – in every introduction to his letters. You see that grouping in the passage that serves as our text for today, Philippians 1:2-6:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The two letters of I and II Peter also contain this same combination in a blessing: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” When John the Elder, who was exiled on Patmos, wrote the book known as Revelation, he began his introduction to the seven letters to seven churches with these words: “To the seven churches in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you…”

These two words are rich, taken individually. The Hebrew word for grace, Chen, means kindness. It means to bend or stoop to another, to be differential to another person. The Greek word for grace, Charis, is much richer. It comes from a root that means happy. For those of us in the Protestant tradition, that great passage in Ephesians 2:8 says we are “saved by grace through faith,” saved not because of anything we do but because of the gift of God. Grace is the unmerited, divine generosity of God. It is a gift, but it is more than a gift. Grace is God Himself. To experience grace is to experience the pure love of God, the unconditional, unhindered love of God. The deeper meaning of grace is God eternally giving Himself to us. It is not something we can earn, not something we can count, not something we can measure. It just overflows. The line “My cup runneth over” from Psalm 23 perhaps captures the essence of the way God bestows His grace on us.

The word “grace” in a benediction means, “My desire for your life is that you will experience this deep, unmerited love of God. May it so fill your life and overflow that you will know this love which exceeds all known love.” It is “love divine, all love’s excelling.” This goodness of God in all things, which cannot be measured, naturally leads to peace, another wonderful word.

The Hebrew word for peace is perhaps better than the Greek word. Shalom simply says, “May God give you all the fullness of life.” It does not mean the absence of conflict. It does not mean the absence of inner turmoil. It means all the goodness that God has to offer is flowing and fulfilling our life.

Combining grace and peace results in a kind of linguistic synergy. The sum of the parts is greater than the parts individually. It conveys a balance in the way we live, a balance in the way we live toward other people. Maybe the prophet Micah came pretty close to conveying this balance when he said, “You know, O man, what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Grace and peace capture a good bit of that message. The Navaho people describe that same message as simply walking in beauty.

People have puzzled over the inscrutable smile of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa for so long. I see grace and peace in her smile. I see grace and peace in the wrinkled face of Mother Theresa, in the face of Nelson Mandela, and in the face of Mahatma Gandhi. I have seen it in your faces. I must tell you that I see it more often in people who are older, in people who have experienced unspeakable grief and who somehow know that they are in the very hands of God. I have seen it in people who have endured the ravages of chemotherapy, regarding it as something that they must go through and not around. I have seen it from some of you as we have said goodbye.

One person in particular this week said, “Selfishly, I really do not want you to retire, but I know it is the right time for you and for the church.” It was as if that person were conveying to me the very essence of the words grace and peace.

I have changed one word in a prayer you know, but I offer it as a prayer of grace:

God grant me the grace
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;

I offer this prayer of peace:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

When I receive communion, I usually imagine myself climbing the hill called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, and looking into the face of Jesus. I see there, etched in blood and tears, grace and peace.

We come to this table to celebrate the One who taught us how to live with grace and peace, our Savior Christ Jesus. We come to this table as people who are united. This is not Morningside’s table. This is not a Baptist table. This is the Lord’s Table. All who believe in the Lord Jesus are invited to be a part of this supper.

I heard a story about a children’s minister who tried to find a good Bible school program. She decided to have the children bake breads from all around the world. One day they baked bread from one country and the next day bread from another country. The children loved baking the breads. The entire church was filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. On the last day of Bible School, they planned to have communion together.

The children’s minister asked the children, “Which bread should we serve for communion?”

One girl raised her hand and said, “Let’s serve the bread of heaven.”

That line “bread of heaven” comes right out of the liturgy of some churches. It comes from the psalms. This Lord’s Supper is the bread of heaven. This bread is the bread of grace and peace. This cup of salvation is the cup of grace and peace. As we take this Supper we do so with the prayer that we will all live in grace and in peace. Amen. Let’s take the Supper together.

At The Communion Table:

On the night when Jesus was betrayed, he took bread and blessed it. He broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

I have long believed that we learn more theology from the hymns we sing than from the sermons we hear. When we have had the Lord’s Supper together, I have often used as the words of institution the words of hymns. One of my favorites was written by Isaac Watts.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but lost
And pour contempt on all my pride.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body given for you.” It is the bread of peace. It is the bread of grace. Do this as often as you do it in remembrance of him. Eat all of it.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Jesus said, “This cup, this cup of peace and the cup of grace, is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink all of it.

The doors of the church are open. If you have never accepted Christ Jesus as your Savior, our  invitation is to acknowledge him as your Savior and Lord.

Kirk H. Neely
© June 2014

 

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