Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. – Romans 12:9 (NRSV)
Almost every week for more than thirty-five years of pastoral ministry, I’ve blessed the congregations I’ve served with a benediction based on this passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (in turn based on his First Letter to the Thessalonians):
“Go out into the world in peace. Have courage. Hold onto what is good. Return no one evil for evil. Strengthen the faint-hearted. Support the weak. Help the suffering. Honor all persons. Honor all creation. Love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
And may the love of God, the Light of Christ, and the power and communion of that Spirit be with us all. Go in peace. Amen.”
The Connecticut congregation I served for six years used it, so I did, too. When I was called to United Church of Santa Fe, I brought the benediction with me. We weren’t sure the church would survive those early years. The benediction’s charge to “have courage” gave us an anchor. It still does.
Once in a while, we switch to other blessings. Because we’re a Desert Faith Church, we added “Honor all creation.” But usually this variation on Paul’s theme challenges and blesses us each week. Like the traditional wedding vows, it covers the waterfront. And even if it’s the same words, who we are as a congregation and as individuals changes. As someone said, “I always hear something different, because I’m different.”
The Rev. Dr. Reuben Sheares, III, once described scripture, prayer, and hymns of worship as “the Word that shapes us.” I’m grateful each week for this ancient benediction’s power to do the same.
Thank you, God, for the plumbline of Paul’s ancient words. Amen.