Category Archives: Sermons

God is the best matchmaker

Guest column by Tobin Hitt

The New Haven Register recently ran a new feature where they set up, and then sort of journalistically chronicle, a subsequent date.

The first two participants were sincere and open and good sports about it all. They graded their date, described their mutual rediscovery of kissing, and even handicapped the weighty possibility of a second date.

This feature was not as staged as the TV matchmaking that you see, if you have ever channel surfed.

I confess that I read the whole article, for pastoral purposes of course.

It ended up that the guy wanted a second date and the gal- bless her heart- said “My kids come first.”

She rendered this statement with a biblical like certitude and finality, but it struck as a sort of “the dog ate my homework” type of thing. I suppose I needed more on her back story. Perhaps there was still hope of reconciling with the father of those kids, her former love.

And for that matter, if kids come first, where does God come in? What about the whole First commandment thing and not having any idols?

And if kids come first, aren’t we needlessly pitting the good idea of filial devotion against the good idea of adult and male and female companionship, the latter of which might even benefit the kids?

It even might have been that God of Israel was trying to do his matchmaking thing. He put together Rebecca and Issac by the graced event of Rebecca watering not just the folks in Issac’s desert caravan, but the camels too. God also inspired his gal to do a little flirting with her veil, and before we know it, Issac and his people are sold (See Genesis 24, particularly verse 46) and the wedding menu is being planned.

It gets even clearer with how God orchestrated the love between Jacob and Rachel. They meet at Rachel’s daily well, where she waters her Dad’s flocks. Jacob’s just happens upon this very well after a long journey to meet her father, Laban. They were so taken up with each other, right from the start, that God gave Jacob the strength to roll away the stone covering the well all by himself, so all the various flocks may be quickly watered and they can be alone and share their ‘like you mean it’ kiss of a lifetime which leaves Jacob surrendered and crying for joy (Genesis 28, particularly verse 10).

I think in this modern age of endless choices a whole generation and a half of us (anyone come of age after 1960 say) seem to have a great difficulty in accepting and internalizing the idea of two people brought together by God, allotted and assigned to each other for one marriage, for better or worse, for their whole lives.

It’s a radical notion, but then again so is the notion of staying single to serve God, and so is the idea of everlasting love itself.

Think of all the married relationships that could have been saved if one or both parties to the marriage remembered that it was the Holy Spirit of God that likely brought them together (perhaps 10% of marriages are off from the get go), and then it was by the grace of God that they did the whole wedding and family thing.

A wise father toasted his newly married daughter this way “You have to believe that the Lord put you together in the first place.” (“Modern Love” NYT, by Sarah Healy. Oct. 30, 2011 p. 6.)

Think of Hosea forgiving his wandering wife Gomer. Think of Gerald Ford staying with Betty, before the clinic. Think of the aging spouse with all his faculties staying with a spouse who has dementia, after a pastor says it’s OK to leave.

I’m glad Register has embarked on this sort of cheesy new feature on matchmaking. It serves to remind us Christian folks that God does it better than anyone. It also prompts all of us to remember the various relationships we have received from God, and to internalize that these are often the most fertile and ripe faith fields, where we often reap just what we sow.

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Breaking the Silence

By Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz, of Temple Shalom in Greenwich

Last Shabbat, in the middle of an unexpected storm, we read about Noah. The flood and the fear, and the rainbow and dove are as familiar to us as our own family stories – it is one of the great tales of the Jewish people. But in considering Noah, we realize that in spite of his household name and his key position in the early order of the Torah, we know far less about the man himself. Torah describes Noah as: “A virtuous man, pure in his generation; who walked with God.”

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, Abraham is introduced to us using strikingly similar language. Interestingly, as in the case of Noah, Torah also points to Abraham’s life in relationship to how he walks with God. But instead of walking “with God,” as Noah did, God says to Abraham: “Walk “before” me, and you will be pure.”

Rabbinic commentators note an even greater level of similarity. They point out that both Noah and Abraham are described as being “pure” (tamim.) Thus, they ask and answer the key question that our text poses: If both are pure, and both walk in relationship to God, what is the distinction between the two men?

Noah walked with God; he needed to be supported in his righteousness. Abraham walked before God; thus, his righteousness would stand even if God wasn’t readily present to support him.

When God told Noah he was going to destroy humanity for their evil ways; Noah remained silent. In contrast, when Abraham was told by God that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their evil ways, Abraham, vociferously and without regard for his own life consequences, argues with God. In the end, Abraham saved neither the good nor the evil people of those two cities, but even though he was unable , Torah tells us that he took action — he tried. Noah, whose name means “rest or comfort,” had a spirit that was not moved to action. Like his name, Noah thought only of his own comfort. His silence was his inaction; he didn’t do anything.

Religious life isn’t about what we think to do or not do. We embrace God solely when we speak up and act for God; when we break the silence. As Elie Wiesel taught: “Indifference is the epitome of evil.” As a religious, human, Jewish community, we are not permitted to stand idly by when there are wrongs being committed.

The most grievous sin is murder, and our tradition notes that saving a life takes precedence over all Jewish ritual law because anyone who saves a person has saved a whole world. Likewise, anyone who takes a life has destroyed an entire world. Even in our day, even at this moment: consider the lives, and the worlds, that we have the power to save simply by speaking up.

Noah’s sin was his silence, and as a consequence, the entire world was destroyed.  If atrocities are taking place in our time, and we fail to question, speak up, and effectively respond: we are as guilty as Noah. This is not an easy truth to accept, but it is real and right. And when we find the courage to take action, speak out against injustice, and do what is right, others will follow because we will be supported in our righteousness, by our own hearts and souls, and by one another. We will be walking before God.

Noah survived the flood; the world did not. Abraham became our Patriarch because he didn’t settle for merely surviving; he embraced the Divine mission to be a light unto the world.  It is this Divine Light that has been bequeathed to us for safekeeping, by Abraham and all of the generations that followed him. It is our duty, and our sacred mission, to ensure that our light continues to shine in the darkness of our world.

God spoke light into darkness, chaos into order, and life into being through the power of language, by breaking the silence that existed before creation. We, too, can find a sacred connection to God’s creative power so that we can bring justice and light our community and our world.

Please consider joining us for as many of our programs this week to combat Genocide as we “Break the Silence.” A full listing of our program calendar can be found by clicking here.

 

SERMON: The Finest Bread

Rev. Kate HeichlerFeatured Sermon

By Rev. Kate Heichler of Church of Christ the Healer, Stamford

Lord, illumine our hearts, illumine our minds, illumine our spirits, That we may be like lanterns, shining your light into this world. Amen.

I think I’ve spoken before about my love for bread. Many of you know I bake the bread we use for communion.
I’m going to tell you the recipe. And it’s a great recipe – It’s a recipe that makes bread out of ordinary ingredients. It’s a recipe that makes saints out of ordinary people. It starts with water – you can’t make bread without liquid.

We start with water too, the water of our baptisms, the water of new birth, the water out of which we emerge, symbolically, like creatures out of the sea. We carry with us the water of our baptism, a constant reminder that each one of us is a new creation. And we are called to be “water bearers,” carrying that river of “God-life” that we like to sing about, out into the dry world around us.

To this water, you add yeast. Yeast is just a small quantity of little granules. They don’t actually grow, or get any bigger – what they do is start a reaction. That’s what we’re called to do – not necessarily to grow or get bigger. We’re called to move around the whole dough, starting a reaction. Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven itself was like a little yeast, that a woman kneaded into the dough, and it leavened, lifted the whole loaf. People used to think that dough was the Church. I think it’s the whole world. I think it’s mostly the people who don’t know Jesus.
We’re that yeast, my friends. A chemical reaction waiting to be activated. Now yeast doesn’t start fermenting by itself. It requires a sweetening agent to get it going. In my recipe, I use honey. We might see as honey the sweetness of the bonds of love in Christian community. “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It might also stand in for the law of God, which is an expression of God’s protective love. Some of the psalms sing praises to the commandments of God. “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honey comb.”
We don’t tend to think of the “law” as something sweet or to be desired, but for the Jewish people the Law, the Torah, was the fullest revelation of God. Christians believe that a yet more perfect revelation of God came after the law – And that was Jesus. Jesus said, in the passage we heard today, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” People often wonder at that – since other places Jesus seems to reinterpret the law. The key is in that word, “fulfill.” It can be translated “perfect,” or “make perfect.” “Nothing will pass from the law until all is accomplished “ –
Well, we claim that in Christ all the work of redemption has been accomplished; we are watching it come to fruition. It often seems to be taking a really longwhile to ripen, but the fruit’s already coming into being.
“Holiness, holiness, is what I live for…” we sang this morning. “Holiness is what I need. Holiness is what you want from me.”
The Law of Love, that holiness, adds the sweetness to our dough – and we add that sweetening agent to the world by living out the ethics of the Law of Love, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Not an easy thing!
After you add the sweetening agent, you let the yeast proof – you have to be sure it’s good, or the dough won’t rise.
I think every day of our lives as Jesus-followers we’re invited to “proof.” If nothing’s bubbling in us, ain’t nothin’ gonna happen to the rest of the loaf! Thankfully, it takes more than one granule of yeast to make bread. So on a daymy yeast isn’t really alive, yours might be super-ready. It’s all of us together.
Okay, what comes next? In my communion bread recipe, you add some oil. In the early church, oil was a representation of the Holy Spirit given at baptism. That’s why we anoint people with oil when we baptize them – it’s a sign of the Spirit given to them by God. Not just any old spirit… Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God. And the Spirit, my friends, is power.
Power – Paul says it wasn’t eloquent words or great wisdom that got their attention, but demonstrations of power that got their attention and made them believe..So a church without demonstrations of spiritual power is… not the church. We add the “oil” to the bread we are, when we exercise faith in the name of Jesus, when we pray for healing or spiritual gifts.
I was so thrilled at my table during our annual meeting last week – the most participation in our prayer time was on that last section, “Holy Spirit, please give us….” People were asking for gifts of the Spirit like
trust and patience and discernment and power. That’s what we’re talking about!
Now, back to our recipe… what comes next is salt! Bread without salt is … like anything without salt. Bland. Dull. When Jesus said we were to be salt, he was saying a mouthful… Salt is a preservative; salt melts the ice; salt is a flavor. And here’s something: Salt is an agent that releases the taste of other ingredients. When Jesus says we are to be salt for the world, we are to be “flavor enhancers!” We are to salt the people around us with hope, with love, with peace, with power. And help to release those qualities in them. We salt them with Jesus. It is Christ within us that makes us salt. That’s what makes us light. That’s what empowers our deeds that show to the world the power of God.
Then there’s flour – we’ll call that all the stuff of life – our personalities, our families, our gifts, our jobs, our stresses, our joys. It all gets added in. And then the dough gets kneaded, pummeled, turned over –
kneading isn’t a gentle process. It works all the air pockets out of the dough. When I’m making the communion bread, I pray for this congregation while I knead. Sometimes I pray that we’ll get kneaded a little less strenuously! Sometimes I pray for each of you by name, praying for God’s blessing on you.
Kneading is an integral part of the process of becoming bread.
And then the dough gets put into a warm, draft-free place so it can rise, so that the yeast can activate the other ingredients to become more than they were. In our analogy, I’m going to call that “rising time” this time, when we gather here for worship on Sundays.
We are in a warm, draft-free place, apart from the hustle and bustle of “everyday.” We are covered by the Holy Spirit; we are inspired, God-willing. We are participating in that risen life into which Jesus has brought us, already. We are fermenting plans, activating our gifts, catalyzing each other, being acted upon by the Spirit of God, becoming more than we were alone.
And then the dough gets baked, where the heat and light really come on strong. I’d like to think that also happens in our worship; we are irradiated by God’s power and love, filled with God’s light, until we emerge, in our fullness.
Maybe we call that part communion, when we take in the life and power of Christ. When I’m really feeling the power of God flowing through me, like when I’m praying for people, or when I feel released in praise,
I often get really hot. Heat is a physical sign of the Spirit in us. We get irradiated with God’s life, God’s love, God’s power, made complete.

What happens next to the bread? It’s ready to be eaten. But we all know that the bread has to be broken if it is to be eaten. So we are a loaf that is delicious, but has to be broken to be consumed. We have to spread ourselves apart – which is what we’ll be doing in our Koinonia Groups, breaking ourselves in smaller bits to give to the world.
It's interesting: just about every one of our ministries is mentioned in that beautiful passage from Isaiah about the appropriate fast God chooses…. To share your bread with the hungry – Pacific House … bring the homeless poor into your house – Our service at St. Luke’s shelter… when you see the naked, to cover them – I thought of Undie Sunday! Offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…, “Across the Street”… you shall be like a watered garden – The community garden group we hope to have. You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in…
our help for Habitat.
We’re doing all of this, and God’s promise is that when we offer ourselves in these ways, loosening the bonds of injustice, “our healing will spring up quickly.”This bread has to be broken, separated into smaller bits in order to feed the world..Just as our Eucharistic loaf gets broken to feed us. But something mystical happens to it –this bread we are, this Body of Christ we are, comes back together the next week!
Here we are, whole again. Here we are, our light breaking forth like the dawn! Let your light so shine before others, Jesus said, ,so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Salt. Light.
Glory to God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine! Glory to God from generation to generation in the church.
Amen.

Heichler was ordained in 2004 at Christ Church, Bethany where she began her ministry as a clergyperson. Currently she serves as rector of Church of Christ the Healer in Stamford and chairs the Companions in MIssion Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

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