“Benediction”             2 Corinthians 13: 11-13       May 18, 2008
Paul's final words to the Corinthians this week demonstrate how a well-crafted "good-bye" can be meaningful and moving. Paul's future and the future of the Corinthian Christians were unclear. The apostle continued to face the possibilities of persecution, arrest and execution. The Corinthian church had both its internal battles and the external threats of persecution to deal with. When Paul invokes his message of "farewell" to these Christians has special meaning.

"Farewell" also means, "may you have a good journey,” or, “fare thee well.” The journey Paul envisions is the spiritual journey one travels through this life toward that ultimate destination with God. Paul's good-bye to the Corinthians, then, is like his spiritual "triptik" for their own journey through life.
The words Paul left ringing in Corinthians ears offered a prescription for holy living -- a way to “rest in God’s benediction” every day and night of their lives. A benediction is a blessing. Paul reminds them of the riches in Christ, the blessings of God. Knowing they are loved by God and secure in Christ, enables and encourages them to progress in their journey. 

1. Put things in order -- This is Paul's attempt to get the Corinthians to prioritize. When we put our lives in proper order, the things that will "last" will come "first." That which is important takes priority. We cannot rest in God’s benediction, if we clutter our lives with extraneous junk.

2. Listen to my appeal (or, encourage one another) -- The most important word here is listen. We can't hear if we won't be quiet and tune in. Listening saves us from the making wrong decisions, either misinformed or misdirected. To “rest in God’s benediction” we must listen for the message of God's love -- which comes to us through the sounds of the Holy Spirit.

3. Agree with one another -- We are not just to tolerate each other's company (some of the Corinthians couldn't even do that). We are called to celebrate one another. Since God's love extends to each of us, there is reason to celebrate every individual.
Instead of criticizing shortcomings and highlighting the negatives of each other, try emphasizing the positives. Just because we have differences doesn't mean we can't agree to disagree in love, whether we’re in church, at school, or on a job.

4. Live in peace -- When differences are celebrated instead of castigated, we can experience harmony instead of discord, shalom instead of conflict. "Resting in God’s benediction" takes place in such peace and quiet.

5. Receive the gift of love -- Children receive love graciously and unselfconsciously. For adults, it is more difficult to relax and rest in God's offer of love and acceptance after we have spent the day keeping our vulnerabilities tightly locked away from others. We can accept that God is love, but it is far more difficult to accept that God is love for us. Especially on a bad day! However, the benediction, the joy of the Holy Spirit is ours.

6. Join the cloud of witnesses -- Paul invoked the presence of "all the saints" in his farewell to the Corinthians. Likewise, we must feel a part of all the saints, the entire community of faith. It is in feeling the strength of all that support that we can relax and "rest in God’s benediction."

Paul, in essence, is asking the Corinthians to succeed in living their Christian lives. Throughout the letter, Paul addresses specific concerns, heresies, and misunderstandings these early Christians were facing. Paul sums up his letter by calling them to a higher level of living. (1. Put things in order 2. Listen to my appeal 3. Agree with one another 4. Live in peace -- 5. Receive the gift of love 6. Join the cloud of witnesses.)
Paul then expands his otherwise shorter benedictions into this Trinitarian benediction. All three persons of the Trinity are mentioned. God is with you, he is telling them; you are not alone. It is God’s spirit, God’s grace and God’s love that gives you the strength to go forward and live a life right with God and right within the world God has placed you. The “grace of ... Christ” leads us to “the love of God”; this love flows into common participation in God and with each other.
Commentator, the late Matthew Henry, describes "the apostolical benediction a very solemn benediction, and we should give all diligence to inherit this blessing. …The grace of Christ as Redeemer, the love of God who sent the Redeemer, and all the communications of this grace and love, which come to us by the Holy Ghost; …
We can desire no more to make us happy than the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost." God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
Paul identifies the persons of the trinity by their different functions within the redemption of humanity. In particular, this triune nature of God is revealed in the grace of Christ. He freely gives his very being for us. In his death we die to sin, in his life we live unto God. Now freely possessing the righteousness of Christ, we may come into the presence of God the Father and possess his eternal and abiding love.
Nothing can take his love away from us. He is ours and we are his. As one of the Father's loved ones, the indwelling Spirit now possesses us. With the Holy Spirit now infusing our complete self, we become one with the Father and the Son, in fellowship with God, and through God, with each other. Therefore, we can rest safely in God's benediction.

There are many things we would like to possess, but then there are some things we need to possess, some things we need "with" us. We need to possess the wonder of God! The mystery of God is that he is multi-personal. He is one God in three persons. He is a being who relates within himself, a being who is multi-faceted. Although we cannot understand this mystery, we can actually experience it. Our God has revealed himself as three persons, and does so in our experience of salvation, wherein . . .

      We touch Christ in his grace toward us. Day by day, we experience his grace in the forgiveness of all our failings - past, present and future. We experience his total acceptance, his victory over sin and death, his empowering to new life, both now and for eternity. All this is ours because of Jesus' death and resurrection on our behalf.

      We touch the Father in his love toward us. He has sent his son to die for us. He has welcomed us into his presence, such that we even now stand before his throne. His love for us is unconditional and not limited by time, circumstance, or even our own sin.

      We touch the Spirit in his gift of fellowship. Through the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we are one with all members of the trinity. We are in fellowship with the Father and the Son, through the Spirit. That fellowship extends to all our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Paul's benediction to the Corinthians and God's benediction to us can see us through anything. God's benediction in our lives will help us to love and encourage one another, to live in peace and receive the gift of love, to recognize that we are among the many that went before us.
Since this is graduation month, and in the spirit of “fare-thee-well” speeches and eloquent words of wisdom, I leave you with these words, some witty and some wise:
  • The most feared event in life is public speaking, followed by death. So it is less stressful during a funeral to be in the casket than to deliver the eulogy. (Quoted by Martin E. Marty, Context, 1 March 1994, 4.)
  • The smartest person is not the one quickest to see through a thing, but to see a thing through.—Adam Walters
  • What you do for yourself may start you up in the world. But from there on up, it’s what you do for others.—Burton Hillis, Better Homes & Gardens
  • How many ideas go unexplored because people lack the courage to fail?—Wilbur M. McFeely
  • One of the real keys to success is how we handle and overcome our failures. Each fall brings us one step nearer success. Thomas Edison failed ten thousand times. However, he is famous for one great feat: inventing the light bulb…..The first three letters of “triumph” are t-r-i. TRY. …. Show me a champion, and I’ll show you a man who has failed more times than anyone in the race. . . . Defeat isn’t bitter if you don’t swallow it.--Ben K. O’Dell, “Success or Failure?,” Specialty Salesman
  • There is no such thing as abstract success, there is only your individual success, or mine, or somebody else’s.
  • Success isn’t a monster that consumes our talents; it is the art of living with those talents—and living implies continuity, progression, evolution. The very word ‘succeed’ means one thing following another.
  • Success is not a kind of overindulgence. It’s an investment of the self in being fully what it is capable of becoming.
  • Success is getting ahead of where we were yesterday. “Mediocre” means literally halfway up, middling. It doesn't mean I’m not as good as some body else; it means I’m not as good as I could be.
  • Success is expectancy plus responsibility.
  • In success there is no place to stop and some people find this disquieting. But the definition of succeeding—one thing following the next –is a good working definition of life, and even of infinity. The other way is to fold one’s hands and give up and become something less than man. (Michael Drury, “Success, Good or Bad?,” Glamour)
The gifts of grace and love and fellowship are the very gifts that ensure that we, as believers, are not required to prove our faith, for our faith itself comes as a gift of God’s grace; God's benediction.
13The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Fare thee well, graduates! May you have a good journey and may each one here receive the blessing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
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