P. O. BOX 222811


(831) 624-8595










Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor


Independent and United Church of Christ



April 26, 2020


Dear Friends,


It’s a week later, but the passing of Bill Daniel still echoes in my heart and mind. ​​ The world is dimmer because of his loss. ​​ Cindi tells me that she and Millie are tentatively planning Bill’s Celebration of Life Service to take place on Saturday, July 11th, which would have been Millie & Bill’s 70th​​ Wedding Anniversary! ​​ Please pray that we’re able to regather in our church building by then.


We may not be able to use our building right now, but our church is definitely alive and well. ​​ A HUGE amount of communication is taking place across our congregation. ​​ People are sharing emails and pictures of their gardens, calling to check up on each other, and working together on a surprise project. ​​ Everyone seems to be doing quite well, with many reporting some surprising blessings arising out of this challenging time.


I’ve received a few profound responses to some of the reflection questions following the sermon, and would like to share these with the congregation as a whole. ​​ If you have some thoughts that you would like to share, please get them to me in the next week or so.


Before we return to the Old Testament to continue our new sermon series on the most important texts in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, there are  ​​​​ two more​​ “most important” texts that we need to consider this Easter season: ​​ The story of “Doubting” Thomas, which we will look at today, and the story of Jesus’ Recommissioning of Peter at the lakeshore, which we will consider next week.


In the avalanche of emails that are being sent, someone accidentally typed in a wrong address for Pam Klaumann. ​​ Unfortunately this wrong address belongs to another local, and she is getting quite upset at all the emails she’s been receiving. ​​ So…please do NOT use​​ pamsjams@gmail.com. ​​​​ Pam Klaumann’s correct email is​​ pamsjams@ymail.com. ​​ Our Pam uses ymail, not gmail. ​​ Thanks.


This part of our Sunday Worship Service is becoming quite a bit like the ANNOUNCEMENT time we shared on Sunday mornings. ​​ If you have some information that you would like me to include, please email me at​​ paulccmp@yahoo.com​​ or call me at the church, 624-8595. ​​ Thanks again.


Remember that Jesus is Emmanuel, God​​ WITH​​ Us, Pastor Paul





OPENING READING  ​​ ​​​​ (John Updike, 20th​​ Century)




Make no mistake

if he rose at all

it was as his body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the​​ 

 ​​ ​​​​ molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ the church will fall.


It was not as the flowers,

each soft Spring recurrent;

it was not as his Spirit in the mouths and

 ​​ ​​​​ fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;

it was as his flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,

the same valved heart

that – pierced – died, withered, decayed, and then

 ​​ ​​​​ regathered out of his Father’s might

new strength to enclose.


Let us not mock God with metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

 ​​ ​​​​ faded credulity of earlier ages;

let us walk through the door.


The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,

not a stone in a story,

but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

 ​​ ​​​​ grinding of time will eclipse each of us

the wide light of day


And if we will have an angel at the tomb,

make it a real angel,

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,

 ​​ ​​​​ opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen

spun on a definite loom.


Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,

for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

 ​​ ​​​​ embarrassed by the miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.


SUGGESTED MUSIC  ​​​​ How Great Thou Art with lyrics performed by chris rice

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ You Tube  ​​ ​​​​ (You Tube’s capitalization)



PASTORAL PRAYER  ​​ ​​​​ (Robert Weston, Contemporary)


Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth.


Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.


A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.


Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.


Let no one fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief.


The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing:


For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.


Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands.


But those who fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on rock.


They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure.


Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:


It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth.


SCRIPTURE: ​​ John 20:24-29, NRSV


But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. ​​ So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” ​​ But he said to​​ them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. ​​ Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” ​​ Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. ​​ Reach out your hand and put it in my side. ​​ Do not doubt but believe.” ​​ Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” ​​ Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? ​​ Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”


Copyright 2020: ​​ Rev. Paul Wrightman


THE BLESSING OF DOUBT ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ John 20:24-29  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ 4/26/20


The apostle Thomas has been saddled with the reputation of being a doubter. ​​ Based on today’s Scripture text, he is known to the world as “Doubting Thomas.”


Yet Thomas did nothing different than the other male disciples, who​​ all​​ doubted until they actually saw the risen Jesus for themselves. ​​ 


Thomas had the misfortune of being a week late to the upper room. ​​ He was odd-man-out in terms of not having had the same experience as the other disciples. ​​ And as is often the case when you’re the odd-one-out, Thomas demanded​​ more​​ in order to be convinced himself: ​​ “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”


To better appreciate today’s Scripture, I invite you to look at a painting. ​​ It’s called “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas,” and is by the Italian Renaissance artist Caravaggio. ​​ Simply type Caravaggio: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas as a Google search. ​​ A huge number of offers of reproductions of this painting will appear. ​​ Click on any one of these paintings to enlarge it. ​​ If you don’t have a computer, this sermon will still work, as I’ll be describing the painting with words. ​​ But, of course, actually seeing this work of art would be best.


Caravaggio is a master of ciarascuro, an extreme contrast of light and dark in painting.


Caravaggio paints the scene as if he were​​ there, standing just in front of Jesus and the disciples.


What does he see?

He sees a very physical Jesus, a Jesus who uses one of his own hands to help Thomas’ hand explore the wound in his side. ​​ The wrinkled foreheads of the disciples betray intense curiosity and wonder. ​​ They are transfixed, totally focused on what they are seeing.


For me, the amazing thing about this painting is that Caravaggio invites​​ us​​ to stand where​​ he​​ is standing, invites​​ us​​ to see what​​ he​​ sees, and, by implication, invites​​ us​​ to come to believe in the same way that​​ Thomas​​ came to believe.


He invites us to step​​ inside​​ his painting, and in doing so to step​​ inside​​ Scripture, to step​​ inside​​ the​​ event​​ that this piece of Scripture is picturing.


When describing the resurrection appearances of Jesus to his disciples, Matthew, Luke, and John choose​​ not​​ to use the Greek work for “seeing” which emphasizes its​​ inner​​ reality, such as “seeing with the eyes of one’s​​ heart.”


Rather, all three choose to use the Greek word for “seeing” which emphasizes its “outer,” physical, reality, such as “seeing something out there which is visible to normal human sight,” in this case, the resurrected Jesus.


It is this outer reality, this physicality, which Caravaggio captures in his painting, and which John Updike captures in his poem, “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” the Opening Reading of today’s service.


As I present it again, this time with underlinings, notice especially Updike’s insistence on the physical reality of what happened at Easter, an insistence which he shares with the Gospel writers and with the early church as a whole:


Make no mistake

if he rose at all

it was as his​​ body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not​​ reverse, the

 ​​ ​​​​ molecules​​ reknit, the amino acids​​ rekindle,

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ the church will fall.

It was​​ not​​ as the​​ flowers,​​ 

each soft spring​​ recurrent;

it was​​ not​​ as his​​ Spirit​​ in the mouths and

 ​​ ​​​​ fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;

it was as his​​ flesh:​​ ours.


The​​ same​​ hinged thumbs and toes,

the​​ same​​ valved heart

that – pierced – died, withered, decayed, and then​​ 

 ​​ ​​​​ regathered​​ out of his Father’s might

new strength to enclose.


Let us not​​ mock​​ God with​​ metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping transcendence;

making of the​​ event​​ a​​ parable, a​​ sign​​ painted in the

 ​​ ​​​​ faded credulity of earlier ages;

let us walk through the door.


The stone is rolled back,​​ not​​ papier-mache,

not​​ a stone in a​​ story,

but the vast rock of​​ materiality​​ that in the slow

 ​​ ​​​​ grinding of time will eclipse each of us

the wide light of day.


And if we have an angel at the tomb,

make it a​​ real​​ angel,

weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with​​ hair,

 ​​ ​​​​ opaque​​ in the dawn light, robed in real​​ linen

spun on a​​ definite​​ loom.


Let us not seek to make it​​ less​​ monstrous,

for our​​ own​​ convenience, our​​ own​​ sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

 ​​ ​​​​ embarrassed​​ by the​​ miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.

We have before us two powerful examples of faith in the risen Jesus, one a painting, the other a poem. ​​ How did the painter and the poet come to believe? ​​ 


The painter found the Gospel accounts of Jesus so real that he put​​ himself​​ in the story and found the story to be​​ true. ​​ The wild, licentious, brawling Caravaggio took the​​ risk​​ of placing himself in the presence of Jesus, found Jesus to be​​ real, and experienced the acceptance and affirmation he had been searching for his whole life.


The poet had questioned and questioned and questioned, questioned until he was finally​​ satisfied​​ with the Gospel​​ answer. ​​ Once satisfied, he​​ celebrated​​ by writing this poem.


My point in highlighting Caravaggio and Updike is that, like Thomas and the rest of us, they were not​​ born​​ believing, but had to​​ grow into​​ belief. ​​ Like Thomas, both were​​ sceptics​​ until they met the risen Jesus in their own​​ experience.


The​​ blessing​​ of doubt is that (1) doubt can lead us to demanding concrete evidence, as with Thomas, (2) to taking the risk, as with Caravaggio, of seeing for ourselves whether the acceptance and affirmation of Jesus is really there for​​ us​​ (and not just for characters in the Bible), (3) to keep questioning, as with Updike, until one’s intellectual side is satisfied, and then, and only then, (4) to take the leap of asking Jesus, if he really​​ is​​ risen, if he really​​ is​​ alive, not just in the past but in the​​ present, to fill our​​ heart​​ as well as our​​ mind​​ with a​​ living​​ knowledge of this reality.


To put it bluntly, what​​ good​​ is the Resurrection of Jesus as a​​ past​​ event if the risen Jesus is not a​​ present​​ reality for me?


As Caravaggio, Updike, and countless others have found, the only way to check this out is to check this out for​​ oneself: to ask the risen Jesus to make himself known to us​​ personally.


Every person I have ever known, and there have been​​ many, who has taken this challenge and personally​​ asked​​ Jesus to make himself real to them, has been blessed​​ with an experience of Jesus, an experience of Jesus that convinced them that he is very much alive, very knowable, and still very much into the very same realities that he was into during his earthly ministry: realities such as compassion for the outcast, the goodness of God’s creation, radical acceptance of the other, restorative justice, the full equality of women, and creative nonviolence.


Some have said to me “I’m​​ afraid​​ to ask Jesus into my life because I don’t want to become a religious fanatic.” ​​ My response to this is that the best antidote to religious fanaticism is to get into a relationship with the Jesus of the​​ Gospels.


The Jesus of the Gospels will soon have you working with the poor, dining with the homeless, praying for your enemies, coming up with creative alternatives to violence, taking on unjust social structures, generally acting as an agent of peace and reconciliation, and finding yourself unreasonably, amazingly happy and fulfilled by working with him to bring about​​ God’s​​ kingdom “on​​ earth​​ as it is in heaven.”


Henry Drummond, a minister of the free church of Scotland, once gave a sermon in which he made a distinction between​​ doubt​​ and​​ unbelief:


Doubt​​ is​​ can’t​​ believe;​​ unbelief​​ is​​ won’t​​ believe.


Doubt​​ is​​ honest;​​ unbelief​​ is​​ obstinancy.


Doubt​​ is​​ looking for light;​​ unbelief​​ is​​ content with darkness.


Loving​​ darkness​​ rather than​​ light​​ –​​ that​​ is what Jesus​​ attacked​​ and attacked unsparingly. ​​ But for the intellectual questioning of Thomas, and Philip, and Nicodemus, and the many others who came to him to have their great problems solved, he was​​ respectful​​ and​​ generous​​ and​​ tolerant.”


Just as Jesus in the Gospels patiently answered the questions of Thomas, Philip, and Nicodemus, the risen Jesus will patiently answer​​ our​​ questions. ​​ All we have to do is ask.


Timothy George, an Episcopal priest, writes: ​​ “When I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, I learned preaching from Dr. Gardner Taylor, a pastor in New York City. ​​ I’ll never forget those lectures.​​ 


I remember him telling a story from when he was preaching in Louisiana during the depression. ​​ Electricity was just coming into that part of the country, and he was out in a rural, black church that had just one little lightbulb hanging down from the ceiling to light up the whole sanctuary.


He was preaching away, and in the middle of his sermon, the electricity went out. ​​ The building went pitch-black, and Dr. Taylor didn’t know what to say, being a young preacher. ​​ 


He stumbled around until one of the elderly deacons sitting in the back of the church cried out, ‘Preach on, preacher! ​​ We can still see Jesus in the dark.’”


George concludes his reflection, and I will conclude this sermon, by saying: ​​ 


“Sometimes that’s the only time we can see him – in the dark. ​​ And the good news of the Gospel is that whether or not we can see him in the dark,​​ he​​ can see​​ us​​ in the dark.”






  • Do you have any favorite paintings, poems, literature, or music that speaks to you of moving from unbelief to belief? ​​ Why do you think these works appeal to you so strongly?








  • It’s clear from Jesus’ own teaching in the Gospels that he did not hold belief in his Resurrection – or any other doctrine, for that matter – to be a requirement to receive God’s love and salvation. ​​ If belief in the Resurrection is not a requirement, how can it still be helpful?












CLOSING PRAYER  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ (Sarah Moores Campbell, Contemporary)


Give us the spirit of the child. ​​ Give us the child who lives within:


The child who trusts, the child who imagines, the child who sings,


The child who receives without reservation, the child who gives without judgment.


Give us a child’s eyes, that we may receive the beauty and freshness of this day like a sunrise;


Give us a child’s ears, that we may hear the music of ancient story;


Give us a child’s heart, that we may be filled with wonder and delight.


Give us a child’s faith, that we may be cured of our cynicism;


Give us the spirit of the child, who is not afraid to need; who is not afraid to love.



SUGGESTED MUSIC  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Joyful, joyful. We adore Thee ​​ Traditional Hymns

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ You Tube  ​​​​ (You Tube’s capitalization)




Patiently and persistently, God loves.

Relentlessly and unconditionally, God loves.

Now and forever, God loves.



Independent and United Church of Christ