Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Good Word

Last Spring when the Wesley gave me a going away party, one of my students gave me a beautiful "Tea for One" tea pot and cup.  The gesture was so beautiful and significant.  The set is delicate and lovely, covered with butterflies as well as the words "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" printed on it.  As the weather has turned colder I have pulled out the gift and put it to good use. 

There are all kinds of tea cups and mugs I could use to drink warm beverages right now, but this one in particular keeps drawing me back.  It could be that last weekend was Homecoming and I am struggling with feelings of homelessness since it was the first time I have not attended since moving back to Bowling Green over nine years ago.  It could be that I am grieving the loss of Wesley all over again; as a friend pointed out  we tend to mourn repeatedly as the seasons change.  I always thought Fall was  a special time with the students, and  I find myself wistful for them.  It could be that everyday I wake up and find myself needing God's blessing and keeping like never before.  Yep, that could certainly be it.

Those words of blessing come from Numbers 6:22-27.  The full scripture says this:

The Lord spoke to Moses saying:  Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the Israelites:  You shall say to them,
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.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

I first learned this blessing as a teenager participating in youth group.  We knew it simply as the UMYF (United Methodist Youth Fellowship) Benediction.  Years later when my youth director from that time was killed in a car wreck, I was told that members of my former youth group gathered around Charlie's grave, joined hands, and said its lines once again.  As I became a youth pastor during seminary, I ended each meeting with the familiar refrain.  Even as an associate pastor serving a church in Florida these lines were ones I often used to send my congregation forth.  But the most special, sacred, and holy place that I ever uttered these words were the times I shared them with my students at the Wesley Foundation.  It didn't matter how many entered our ministry as freshmen, or graduated and walked out into the next great adventure, each one knew these lines by heart before they left.  We would stand together in a tight circle and say them to each other, blessing each other day after day.

I never dreamed the day would come when I would be the receiver of the blessing, rather than the blesser.  But as I sit in this quiet house while my boys are at Nanny's and my husband is at work, I tell the Silence I so need this blessing.  I need to know You will bless me and keep me.  I need to know You will bless and keep my sweet boys, who are the joy of my heart.  I so need to know You will bless and keep my beloved.  My own blesser and keeper feels broken.  I need to know that the true Blesser and Keeper never breaks, and never breaks His Word.  

In the original language "bless" or barak means to bless abundantly, to bless altogether, to bless greatly.  As the details of how my not being at Wesley anymore get worked out in practical application, this is certainly the kind of blessing my life needs, and most definitely the kind I cannot produce myself.  I feel the same affinity for that word "keep."  In its original language shamar means "to hedge about (as with thorns), i.e. Guard; generally, to protect, attend to, . . . beward, be circumspect, take heed (to self), keep(-er, self), mark, look narrowly, observe, preserve, regard, reserve, save (self), sure, (that lay) wait (for), watch(-man)."  (See  Just now I remember having a conversation with one of my friends at church shortly after finding out about the Bishop's decision to move me.  She said, "Sami, God is not going to let anything bad happen to you."  She cupped her hands together as she said her next words, "He's got you in the palm of His hand." 

Benediction literally means a good word to go out on.  Our shared benediction at Wesley has become the gift they gave me as I left, words of blessing and keeping, a prayer that God's Word made flesh would hold and keep me as my family moved forward into a new place.  So here we are in this new place, and it is still the Word I hold on to.  

The Lord bless you and keep you,
the Lord make His face to shine upon you
and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you
and give you peace.

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