P. O. BOX 222811


(831) 624-8595










Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor


Independent and United Church of Christ



July 26, 2020




Dear Friends,


Many of you know Heidi Quandt, who has been attending Community Church with her beautiful dog Sophia. ​​ Heidi is a professional landscape gardener. ​​ In order to reach out to her church family, Heidi has offered to prepare a special floral arrangement weekly for our virtual ‘altar’. ​​ As soon as I press the “Send” button for this worship service I’ll forward to you an email with a picture of Heidi’s arrangement for this Sunday. ​​ I’m sure you’ll agree that her artistic vision rivals that of the very best florists in our area. ​​ Thank you, Heidi! ​​ If you would like to say hello, Heidi can be reached at​​ ladybugbug@sbcglobal.net. ​​ 


I’ve hit a few snags learning how to host a Zoom meeting. ​​ Hopefully those snags will be worked out by this coming Wednesday, and we will be able to resume Bible Study via Zoom. ​​ Just like our “old” time, we’ll be meeting on Wednesday evenings from 6 through 7. ​​ We will be looking at the Gospel of Luke. ​​ If you would like me to include you in the group of people to be reminded of this meeting and given a password to access it, please contact me at​​ paulccmp@yahoo.com.


Thanks to Dodie Barkley Scardina for sharing the following poem with us. ​​ Dodie is one of our resident mystics (a mystic is simply a person with a deeply intuitive and highly imaginative personal relationship with God), as well as an accomplished poet.


    Jesus, Jesu Bambino

   I wish we could find a beautiful, green, sunlit


   Where I could throw a cream pie at You and RUN!

   Run faster than the wind!

   For, if You catch up with me,

   You’ll overwhelm me, and I’ll become Yours,

   Forever addicted to Your everlasting sweetness,

   Your loving kindness,

   Your sublimity.


We continue our sermon series on the most important texts in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation. ​​ We just completed a sermon on each of the Ten Commandments. ​​ What we will NOT be doing is giving a sermon on each of the 603 lesser commandments contained​​ in the Torah! ​​​​ While Jesus unequivocally affirms the Big Ten, he often seems to correct or contradict many of the remaining Old Testament Laws. ​​ I think it important to wrestle with the question of how Jesus can fulfill the law of the Old Testament when he seems to contradict it. This is what today’s sermon is about.


Stay safe, take care, and

Always remember that Jesus Is Emmanuel – God WITH Us. ​​ Paul











INTRODUCTORY READING  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ St. Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Translated by Daniel Ladinsky




My perfect Lord sang,


“Less likely is God to condemn my hand’s action

than condemn any soul.”


How could this be possible,

my heart thought?


And the Christ, knowing all minds, replied,


“Forgiveness is the foundation of God’s



SUGGESTED​​ MUSIC  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ All You Need Is Love  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ The Beatles  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ You Tube


OPENING PRAYER  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Angela Ashwin, Contemporary


O Christ, you lived and breathed everything that matters.

Whatever the Spirit that was in you,

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ let it be in me as well.

Whatever the energy

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ that healed those who came into contact with you,

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ let it flow through me as well.

Fill me with the vision, the tenderness and the passion

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ that filled you.





Leviticus 20:10


If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.


John 8:3-11


The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. ​​ Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. ​​ Now what do you say?” ​​ They said this to test him,​​ so that they might have some charge to bring against him. ​​ Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. ​​ When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” ​​ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. ​​ When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. ​​ Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? ​​ Has no one condemned you?” ​​ She said, “No one, sir.” ​​ And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. ​​ Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”


Romans 7:17-24


But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. ​​ For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. ​​ I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. ​​ For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. ​​ Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. ​​ For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin​​ that dwells in my members. ​​ Wretched man that I am! ​​ Who will rescue me from this body of death?


Rev. Paul Wrightman


(The underlined words simply indicate what I would emphasize if delivered orally.)


Today’s Scripture reading consists of three texts: ​​ the law from the Old Testament proclaiming adultery a capital offense, the story from the Gospel of John in which Jesus forgives an adulterous woman (by the way, one should ask “Where’s the guy?” – presumably it takes two to commit adultery!), and a reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which he confronts the power of his own brokenness to sabotage his best intentions.


The story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman taken in adultery is celebrated because it shows Jesus compassion toward broken people and powerfully demonstrates his consummate skill in making a point.


Today I would like to consider this text in the overarching context of how Jesus fulfills Old Testament law. ​​ 

It is way too simplistic to say that the Old Testament was​​ harsh​​ and​​ judgmental, in​​ contrast​​ to Jesus, who was​​ compassionate​​ and​​ forgiving, and that Jesus’ compassion and forgiveness simply override the harshness and condemnation we find in the Old Testament.


If we take the teachings of Jesus seriously​​ as​​ a​​ whole, and resist the temptation to​​ discard​​ those teachings which we happen to find​​ unappealing, we are faced with the challenge of​​ reconciling​​ certain teachings of Jesus which, on​​ face​​ value, seem to​​ contradict​​ each other.


For example, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Jesus makes the following blanket​​ affirmation​​ of the Hebrew Scriptures: “Do not think that I have come to​​ abolish​​ the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to​​ fulfill. ​​ For truly​​ I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18, NRSV).


In light of this blanket​​ affirmation​​ of Old Testament law, Jesus​​ seems​​ to be about the business of​​ breaking​​ this very law in today’s reading from the Gospel of John.


To undo this seeming contradiction, I need to make a few general comments regarding biblical interpretation and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments.


The giving of the law was understood by the Hebrew people to be a great act of​​ love​​ on God’s part. ​​ The Ten Commandments, for example, were considered to be ten life-giving, life-protecting​​ “words” from God to God’s people. ​​ They provided a​​ fence, so to speak, beyond which it was dangerous, even fatal, to​​ go. ​​ They remind me of the fences and signs on some of our local beaches basically warning that “beyond this point your life is at risk.”


Many of the laws recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures seem overly harsh to us today, but in the Old Testament context of trying to create a stable and just society, they can be understood as where God’s love​​ met​​ God’s people at​​ that​​ particular point in​​ their​​ history. ​​ 


To put it bluntly, at this point in their relationship with God, the people were primitive in their understanding of God and God’s law. ​​ The only way they could see God was through the lens of their own harsh limitations.


The Bible tells us again and again that God does not change. ​​ Applied to the concept of law, we can say that God’s law, which is ultimately the law of love, does not change either.


But God is committed to​​ meeting​​ people where they actually are, limitations and all. ​​ And at this point in their history, God’s people are not able to think of law in terms of love, but are stuck with seeing law in terms of retribution: ​​ “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…”


But God has a plan. ​​ God knows that slowly and gradually under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, human understanding of God’s law of love will​​ develop​​ and​​ deepen. ​​ 


We could say that under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, the human understanding of God’s law​​ evolves.


Many would say that God’s deepest and highest expression of love was embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.


Back to our original question: ​​ how, then, does Jesus​​ fulfill​​ God’s law when he​​ seems​​ to be​​ breaking​​ it?


To approach this question we need to ask the further question: “What does fulfillment​​ mean​​ in the context of fulfilling the law?”


Are we​​ limited​​ to an​​ equivalency​​ definition of fulfillment, in which each of the 613 commandments recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures must be exactly obeyed? ​​ 


Or can we claim a​​ paradoxical​​ fulfillment of all 613 commandments in the​​ person​​ of​​ Jesus, specifically in the​​ forgiveness​​ that he freely offers?


If the ultimate​​ purpose​​ of God’s law was to enable people to live together in​​ shalom​​ by living lives of wholeness and integrity, we need to ask ourselves the question of​​ how​​ that​​ shalom,​​ how​​ that fullness of life with God, neighbor, and self​​ actually​​ comes​​ into​​ being.


One of the great insights​​ of both Jesus and (through Jesus) Paul is that the​​ law, in and of​​ itself, has no​​ power​​ to bring about its own fulfillment. ​​ 


Paul speaks eloquently about his​​ desire​​ to keep God’s law and his​​ inability to do so in the seventh chapter of his Letter to the Romans. ​​ The flat, rather lifeless translation that you read earlier doesn’t really do justice to the intense feeling expressed in this passage, so I will quote Eugene Peterson’s take on this passage from his contemporary rendering of the Bible (The Message) as a counterpoint:


“But I need something​​ more. ​​ For if I​​ know​​ the law but still can’t​​ keep​​ it, and if the power of sin within me keeps​​ sabotaging​​ my best intentions, I obviously need help! ​​ I realize that​​ I​​ don’t have what it takes. ​​ I can​​ will​​ it, but I can’t​​ do​​ it; I​​ decide​​ to do good, but I don’t​​ really​​ do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it​​ anyway. ​​ My​​ decisions, such as they are, don’t result in​​ actions.


Something has gone​​ wrong​​ deep within me and gets the​​ better​​ of me every time. ​​ It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. ​​ The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. ​​ I truly​​ delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not​​ all​​ of me joins in that delight. ​​ Parts​​ of me covertly​​ rebel, and just when I least expect it,​​ they​​ take charge. ​​ I’ve tried​​ everything​​ and​​ nothing​​ helps. ​​ I’m at the end of my rope. ​​ Is there​​ no​​ one​​ who can do anything for me? ​​ Isn’t that the​​ real​​ question?”


Paul immediately goes on to​​ answer​​ his own question, and his answer to that question gives us the​​ key​​ we need to understand the way that Jesus is​​ fulfilling​​ the law in​​ forgiving​​ the adulterous woman. ​​ Paul writes: ​​ “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ​​ can​​ and​​ does. ​​ He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different (Romans 7:24-25,​​ The Message).”


Paul is talking about receiving from Jesus the​​ power​​ to grow​​ beyond​​ his life of brokenness and contradiction. ​​ And as Paul repeats many times in his various letters, the life-giving​​ power​​ that he received from Jesus consisted in his​​ acceptance​​ of Jesus’​​ forgiveness​​ and​​ love. ​​ This is the​​ same​​ power that Jesus gives to the woman in our reading from John’s Gospel when​​ he says to her: “Neither do I condemn you. ​​ Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” ​​ 


Returning to our question of​​ how​​ Jesus​​ fulfills​​ the 613 commandments in the Old Testament, the answer would be that he​​ fulfills​​ them by giving people the​​ power​​ to​​ live​​ them, and that he gives people the power to​​ live​​ them by giving them God’s​​ own​​ love and forgiveness.


We can say that God’s​​ forgiveness​​ is the deepest and highest​​ fulfillment​​ of God’s​​ law​​ because God’s forgiveness is the​​ only​​ reality capable of empowering people to​​ live​​ God’s law, which, ultimately, is the law of​​ love.


The Beatles were onto something with their megahit​​ All You Need Is Love.


Surprisingly, Augustine was saying something quite similar when he stated: “Love – and do what you will.”


But, of course, the love which both the Beatles and Augustine are talking about is a love that goes well​​ beyond​​ simply​​ feeling​​ good​​ and embraces​​ uncompromising,​​ unconditional​​ love toward God, neighbor, and self.


In his moving and challenging book​​ The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning gives us a powerful example of love and forgiveness in​​ action. ​​ He lets us in on an AA meeting that he attended in New Orleans: ​​ 


“That night, Jack was the appointed leader. ​​ ‘The theme I would like to talk about tonight is gratitude,’ he began, ‘but if anyone wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it.’


Immediately Phil’s hand shot up. ​​​​ “As you all know, last week I went up to Pennsylvania to visit family and missed the meeting. ​​ You also know I have been sober for seven years. ​​ Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.’


The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.


‘You all know the buzz word, H.A.L.T., in this program,’ he continued. ​​ Don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired or you will be very vulnerable for the first drink. ​​ The last three got to me. ​​ I unplugged the jug and…’ ​​ Phil’s voice choked and he lowered his head.


I glanced around the table – moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing the only sound in the room.


‘The same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed drunk for a year.’


‘Thank God you’re back.’


‘Boy, that took a lot of guts.’


‘Let’s get together tomorrow and figure out what you need relief from and why.’


‘Hell, I never made even close to seven years.’


As the meeting ended, Phil stood up. ​​ He felt a hand on his shoulder, another on his head… ​​ ‘You old ragamuffin,’ said Denise. ​​ “Let’s go – I’m treating you to a banana split at Tastee Freeze.’”


It has been demonstrated over and over again that the​​ threat​​ of​​ rejection​​ and​​ punishment​​ does​​ nothing​​ to help a person change for the better. ​​ 


It has been demonstrated over and over again that​​ love​​ and​​ forgiveness​​ are the two greatest​​ catalysts​​ for personal and societal transformation.


Many of us know how​​ true​​ this is from our own personal experience.

Jesus​​ understands​​ these​​ dynamics.


He has the highest respect for God’s law, going so far as to say that he did not come to​​ reject​​ it but to​​ fulfill​​ it. ​​ But he​​ also​​ knows – and Paul​​ echoes​​ this – that the law,​​ in​​ and​​ of​​ itself, cannot bring about its own fulfillment. ​​ He knows that only God’s love and forgiveness can empower a person to live God’s law, which in itself is life-giving and good.


One could go so far as to say that the most​​ concrete​​ expression of God’s love for us​​ is​​ forgiveness, given the fact that we have​​ all​​ alienated ourselves from God, neighbor, and self, and stand desperately in need of forgiveness, which is just another word for​​ restoration.


I think St. Catherine of Siena was deeply onto something when she writes at the end of her poem “And the Christ, knowing all minds, replied, ‘Forgiveness​​ is the​​ foundation​​ of God’s being.’”


By not condemning the woman taken in adultery Jesus is showing us that God’s​​ deepest​​ will is not​​ rejection, but​​ love, not​​ punishment, but​​ restoration.


I’d like to close this sermon by quoting the words to the song​​ Forgiveness​​ by Matthew West. ​​ Diane Goyette introduced me to this song, and its words perfectly capture the dynamics of what we’ve been wrestling with today:


“It’s the hardest thing to give away

and the last thing on your mind today

it always goes to those that don’t deserve


it’s the opposite of how you​​ feel​​ 

when the pain they caused is just too real

it takes everything you have just to say the word…





It flies in the face of all your pride

it moves away the​​ mad​​ inside

it’s always​​ angers​​ own worst enemy

even when the jury and the judge

say you gotta​​ right​​ to hold a grudge

it’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘set it​​ free





Help me now to do the​​ impossible


Forgiveness, forgiveness


It’ll​​ clear the​​ bitterness​​ away

it can even set a prisoner free

there is no end to what its power can do

so,​​ let​​ it​​ go​​ and be amazed

by what you see through eyes of​​ grace

the​​ prisoner​​ that it​​ really​​ frees is​​ you


Forgiveness, forgiveness

Forgiveness, forgiveness


Show me how to love the unlovable

Show me how to reach the unreachable

Help me to do the impossible



I want to finally set it free

so show me how to see what your mercy sees

help me now to give what you gave to me

forgiveness, forgiveness






  • ​​ What do you think of the concept that God’s nature doesn’t change; it’s our understanding of God’s nature that changes? ​​ And the related concept that God’s law of love doesn’t change, it’s our understanding of God’s law that changes?











  • ​​ How have God’s love and forgiveness been empowering in your own life?

















CLOSING PRAYER  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ William Temple, 1881-1944


O God of love, we ask you to give us love;

Love in our thinking, love in our speaking,

Love in our doing,

And love in the hidden places of our souls;

Love of those with whom we find it hard to bear,

And love of those who find it hard to bear with us;

Love of those with whom we work,

And love of those we take our ease;

That so at length we may be worthy to dwell with you,

Who are eternal love.





SUGGESTED MUSIC  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Matthew West – Forgiveness (Lyrics) ​​  ​​ ​​​​ You Tube









Patiently and persistently, God loves.


Relentlessly and unconditionally, God loves.


Now and forever, God loves.























Independent and United Church of Christ