P. O. BOX 222811


(831) 624-8595










Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor


Independent and United Church of Christ




February 28, 2021


Dear Friends,


Tomorrow is the big day – the day of our first Quarterly Church Family Zoom Meeting! ​​ We’ll all miss the incredible potluck – something to look forward to again, hopefully in the not-so-distant future. ​​ But at least all of us will be able to hear each other, and most of us will be able to both see and hear. ​​ If you haven’t done so yet, there’s still time to get a Zoom link from Jane:​​ janeheider@hotmail.com. The meeting will start with​​ time to visit from 2:15-2:30, then the meeting proper at 2:30. ​​ Hope to see and hear you there!


Please remember that Community Church is still committed to collecting food for the Food Bank at St. Mary’s in Pacific Grove. ​​ Bring any non-perishable items to the church office. ​​ Many thanks!


If you received a bouquet and vase, and would like to recycle the vase for future bouquets, please drop​​ it​​ off at​​ the​​ church office or ask Cindy Daniel to stop by your home to pick​​ it​​ up. ​​ Her number is 1-208-941-1160. ​​ And all of us express our deep appreciation to Heidi Quandt for her amazing flower ministry!


Stay Safe, Take Care, and Always Remember that Jesus IS Emmanuel –​​ 

God WITH Us! ​​ Pastor Paul







By love may He be gotten and holden; but by thought never.

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ --The Cloud of Unknowing


The greatest thing that can happen to any human soul is to become utterly filled with love; and self-sacrifice is love’s natural expression.  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ –William Temple


Love to God is the slowest development to mature in the soul. ​​ No man ever learned to love God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself, in a day.

--Henry Ward Beecher


When you love you should not say, ‘God is in my heart,’ but rather, ‘I am in the heart of God.’ And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ –Kahlil Gibran


Would’st thou learn thy Lord’s meaning in these things? Learn it well: Love was His meaning. Who showed it thee? Love. What showed He​​ thee? Love. Wherefore showed it He? For Love. Hold thee therein and thou shalt learn and know more in the same.  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ –Lady Julian of Norwich


Existence will remain meaningless for you if you yourself do not penetrate into it with active love and if you do not in this way discover its meaning for yourself. Everything is waiting to be hallowed by you; it is waiting for this meaning to be disclosed and to be realized by you. . .Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet God. ​​ If you wish to believe, love!  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ --Martin Buber


SUGGESTED MUSIC: ​​ Standing at the Future’s Threshold  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ You Tube

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ NCH 538 “Standing at the Future’s Threshold”

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara – UCC


OPENING PRAYER:  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Helen Thomas, Contemporary


He makes me so damned angry, Lord. ​​ Forgive me. ​​ I cannot explain it or justify it and I recognize it as a lack of love. ​​ What am I to do? ​​ The minute I see him my nerves stand on edge and when we talk my temper tries at once to break loose​​ from its tenuous moorings. ​​ Yet to avoid talking is unkind and cowardly. ​​ Give me forbearance I beg you, so that I do not judge or argue with everything he says, but try to understand what he is saying and how I might respond in love. ​​ Amen.




Our Father,

who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come.

Thy will be done on earth

as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those​​ 

who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever. ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Amen.




“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. ​​ If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. ​​ I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.


This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ​​ No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ​​ You are my friends if you do what I command you. ​​ I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.




Rev. Paul Wrightman


(The underlining indicates what I would emphasize if delivered orally.)



The divisions within American Christianity are at a boiling point, parallel to the political divisions in our country, which are also at a boiling point. ​​ This sermon looks at “radical” or “progressive” Christianity and fundamentalist Christianity and finds both lacking. ​​ My description of each is not intended to judge but to understand. ​​ Then we move on to the task of asking how​​ “moderate” Christians, which most of us are, can build bridges and not walls between people.


Perhaps the​​ single​​ biggest factor keeping many people​​ away​​ from a real​​ relationship​​ with God is the​​ false​​ image they have of who God​​ is.


How​​ we think about God​​ matters.


We need to free God (and ourselves!) from our wrong-headed approaches to​​ Scripture, and the bad theology​​ flowing​​ from our wrong use of Scripture.


If we were​​ Roman​​ Catholics, God would need to be freed from spiritual abuse by the​​ hierarchy​​ and the manipulative use of​​ tradition. ​​ Indeed, many Roman Catholic theologians and spiritual writers are talking about what needs to be done to free God within their own tradition, Pope Francis not least among them.


As​​ Protestants, our theology is derived from our understanding of the​​ Bible, which means that correcting our image of God with Protestantism means​​ correcting​​ our​​ abuse​​ of​​ Scripture.


Today I would like to critique two popular but​​ extreme​​ approaches to Scripture which I believe are​​ equally​​ bankrupt: ​​ so-called “radical” or “progressive” Christianity, on the one hand, and​​ Christian fundamentalism, on the other. ​​ I offer these criticisms of each position because I believe that contemporary Christianity in the United States is​​ broken. ​​ And in order to put the broken pieces back together again – or at least to get them talking with one another​​ again! – one needs to understand the nature, or content, of each broken piece. ​​ Often one needs to take something apart before it can be put back together again.


I’ll be presenting each position in very broad brush-strokes. ​​ However, broad​​ brush-strokes are sometimes a​​ necessary and effective way to make a point.


“Radical,” or “progressive” Christianity is a child of the​​ Enlightenment, the intellectual movement of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries which in many ways substituted​​ reason​​ for​​ God.


According to the Enlightenment, anything in Christianity – or any other religion, for that matter – which went​​ beyond​​ the​​ boundary​​ of​​ reasonableness​​ had to​​ go. ​​ Thus, the Incarnation, the redemptive nature of Jesus’ death, and the Resurrection were all impossible by​​ definition.


According to radical Christianity, Jesus is a great​​ teacher​​ and moral​​ example, but nothing​​ more.


One of the main goals of the Enlightenment was to liberate​​ science​​ from its​​ domination​​ by​​ religion. ​​ It succeeded magnificently in doing this.


However, in setting up reason and rationality as​​ ultimates, the Enlightenment​​ overreached​​ itself. ​​ Today, many who practice the scientific disciplines of physics, astronomy, cosmology, and biology are arguing that​​ reason simply doesn’t go​​ far​​ enough, and that a​​ truer​​ understanding of the nature of reality has to include​​ paradox​​ and​​ mystery.


Many eminent scientists​​ affirm​​ the paradox and mystery of the Christian understandings of​​ incarnation​​ and​​ resurrection​​ as being truer to the nature of reality than reason​​ alone.


Thus, it is highly​​ ironic​​ that many radical Christian Scripture scholars and theologians, in being so quick to​​ embrace​​ the​​ hyper-rationality​​ of the​​ Enlightenment, and​​ reject​​ the paradox and mystery inherent in Christianity, are actually a century or so​​ behind​​ the times in terms of many of their​​ scientific​​ colleagues, who have no trouble embracing the very things that radical Christians are often quick to reject.


Radical Christianity is​​ one​​ of​​ two​​ extreme forms of Christianity that is alive and well today. ​​ The​​ other​​ extreme – much more prevalent in the United States than radical Christianity – is​​ fundamentalism.


Let’s look at a caricature of the fundamentalist God, “Good Old Uncle George,” portrayed by Gerald Hughes, an English Jesuit priest, in his book​​ God of Surprises:


“God was a family relative, much admired by mum and dad, who described him as very​​ loving, a great​​ friend​​ of the​​ family, very​​ powerful, and​​ interested​​ in all of us. Eventually we were taken to​​ visit​​ ‘good old Uncle George.’


He lives in a formidable mansion, is bearded,​​ gruff, and​​ threatening. ​​ We cannot​​ share​​ our parents’​​ professed​​ admiration​​ for this jewel in the family.​​ 


At the end of the visit, Uncle George addressed us. ‘Now​​ listen, dears, he begins, looking very​​ severe. ​​ I​​ want​​ to​​ see​​ you here​​ once​​ a​​ week, and if you​​ fail​​ to​​ come, let me just​​ show​​ you what will​​ happen​​ to you.’ He then leads us​​ down​​ to the mansion’s​​ basement.


It is​​ dark, becomes​​ hotter​​ and​​ hotter​​ as we​​ descend, and we begin to hear unearthly​​ screams. ​​ 


In the basement there are​​ steel​​ doors. ​​ Uncle George opens one. ​​ ‘Now look in​​ there, dear,’ he says. We see a​​ nightmare​​ vision, an array of​​ blazing​​ furnaces​​ with little​​ demons​​ in attendance, who​​ hurl​​ into the​​ blaze​​ those men, women, and children who​​ failed​​ to​​ visit​​ Uncle George or to act in a way he approved.


‘And if​​ you​​ don’t visit me, dear, that is where​​ you​​ most certainly will​​ go,’ says Uncle George. ​​ He then takes us upstairs again to meet mum and dad.


As we go home, tightly clutching dad with one hand and mum with the other, mum leans over us and says, ‘and now don’t you​​ love​​ Uncle George with all your heart and soul, mind and strength?’


And we,​​ loathing​​ the monster, say, ‘Yes​​ I​​ do,’ because to say anything​​ else​​ would be to join the queue at the​​ furnace. ​​ At a tender age​​ religious​​ schizophrenia​​ has set in and we keep telling Uncle George how much we​​ love​​ him and how​​ good​​ he is and that we want to do​​ only​​ what​​ pleases​​ him. ​​ We observe what we are told are his wishes and dare not​​ admit, even to​​ ourselves, that we​​ loathe​​ him.” ​​ 


What I have just shared with you is a fundamentalist​​ Catholic​​ portrait of God, a God who sends people to hell if they commit the​​ mortal​​ sin​​ of skipping​​ Mass​​ on any given Sunday.


A fundamentalist​​ Protestant​​ portrait of God would feature a God who sends people to hell for not​​ believing​​ the​​ right​​ things​​ about​​ Jesus.


Both fundamentalist Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants are​​ stuck​​ at a​​ primitive​​ level in their understanding of God, a level captured in the Old Testament injunction “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” ​​ (Exodus 21:24)


Thus, if you don’t go to Mass or if you don’t believe the right stuff about Jesus, God is going to get​​ even​​ with you and send you to​​ hell.


Fundamentalist Christians tend to assign the​​ same​​ value or importance to each biblical text. ​​ Each verse becomes, in effect, a separate, fixed truth.


Fundamentalist Christians fail to see that the Bible is the awesome record of how human understandings of God​​ developed​​ or​​ deepened​​ over the centuries.

Thus, in terms of forgiveness of enemies, the Bible documents how we humans – with the urging of God’s Spirit –​​ grew​​ from a state of​​ unlimited vengeance: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech​​ seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:24), to the​​ limited-in-kind vengeance of “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24).


Sadly, because this “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” commandment is stated in the​​ Bible, many Christians stop​​ there, believing rather simplistically that because this is a verse occurring in Holy Scripture, this​​ must​​ be God’s will for​​ all​​ time.


It​​ isnt.


They fail to see that​​ Jesus​​ himself​​ cited this verse only to​​ correct​​ it. ​​ Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “You​​ have​​ heard​​ that it was said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ ​​ But​​ I​​ say​​ to​​ you​​ ‘Do not resist evil with evil.’”


Many Christians thus​​ limit​​ themselves to one of the more primitive moral commandments of the Old Testament, instead of embracing the​​ higher​​ and​​ deeper​​ understanding of​​ Jesus.


Many members and friends​​ of Community Church have asked me: “If we are not a radical church or a fundamentalist church, then what kind of church​​ are​​ we?” ​​ My response is: “We are simply a church that tries to follow the​​ way​​ of​​ Jesus.”


Refusing​​ to​​ grow​​ into the moral vision of Jesus is one of the​​ many​​ ways Christians can give God a​​ bad​​ name, one of the many ways in which our image of God stands in need of being corrected.


Dennis Linn writes:


“For​​ years​​ I tried every kind of healing prayer in order to be rid of my​​ self-righteousness. ​​ Although these prayers healed me of many things, my self-righteousness did not change. ​​ I often wondered​​ why, when I prayed so​​ hard, God did not heal me.


Then one day, I noticed that my self-righteousness had nearly disappeared. ​​ Why, I asked, after so many years of struggle, was there suddenly and almost automatically such a wonderful​​ change​​ in my life?”


Linn continues: ​​ “I​​ changed​​ when​​ my​​ image​​ of​​ God​​ changed.


Most of us recognize that we become like our parents whom from early on we adore, even with all their faults. ​​ We may not realize that we also​​ become​​ like​​ the​​ God​​ we​​ adore.”


Linn concludes: ​​ “In​​ every​​ aspect​​ of​​ our​​ lives, we become like the God we adore.


For example, in a time when we have the capacity to annihilate one another with nuclear weapons, many churches have issued pastoral letters on peace. ​​ Our church’s pastoral letter says that we can​​ never​​ use nuclear weapons against our enemies.


However,​​ if​​ my​​ God​​ can send​​ God’s​​ enemies​​ to​​ a hell inferno,​​ then​​ I​​ can send a nuclear inferno on​​ my​​ enemies. ​​ 


But if my God​​ doesnt​​ treat people that way, I can’t​​ either.


We find that a key to personal and social healing is healing our image of God.”


When I read the amazing teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, one of the questions I find myself asking is: “Does​​ God​​ follow​​ Gods​​ own​​ rules?”


In other words, if God through Jesus admonishes​​ us​​ not​​ to fight evil with evil, does that mean that​​ God​​ will not fight evil with evil?


If God through Jesus admonishes​​ us​​ to​​ forgive​​ those who wrong us not seven times, but seventy times seven, meaning, of course,​​ unlimited​​ forgiveness, does that mean that God​​ also​​ practices unlimited forgiveness?


You know my theology well enough by now to know that I would answer a hearty “YES!” to both these questions. ​​ I can’t see God giving​​ us​​ one​​ set of commandments and​​ God​​ following​​ another.


The fact that​​ Gods​​ standard is to be​​ our​​ standard comes out clearly in today’s Scripture reading.​​ ​​ There, Jesus calls​​ us​​ to live out the​​ same​​ commandment to love God and one another as​​ God​​ loves Jesus and us.


There is​​ not​​ one standard for​​ God​​ and​​ another​​ for​​ us. ​​ The standard for​​ both​​ God and us is​​ love.


And it needs to be said that love as defined by​​ Jesus​​ is not the​​ feeling-based love that we celebrate today, but the​​ decision-based love to honor another even when we​​ dont​​ feel like it and​​ especially​​ when they have wronged us.


To say that God can do as God pleases simply because God is God is to worship an​​ arbitrary​​ and ultimately​​ immoral​​ God who will eventually turn​​ us​​ into persons who are​​ arbitrary​​ and​​ immoral.


We​​ become​​ like​​ the​​ God​​ we​​ worship.


The sad reality in the United States today is that we are a divided people, both religiously and politically. ​​ The political divide between the “democratic socialists” and those who follow Trump mirrors the religious divide between “radical” and fundamentalist Christians. ​​ Individuals and churches who do not pledge allegiance to one side or the other are too conservative for the radicals and too radical for the conservatives. ​​ 


Most of us as individuals and thus our church as a whole would describe ourselves as left of center or right of center. ​​ The​​ common​​ word in that sentence is not “left” ​​ or “right,” but​​ center.


And this gives us a strong hint about how we as Christians are to go about demonstrating our love for those with whom we disagree religiously​​ and politically:​​ we act out our love by doing everything in our power to find areas that we​​ share​​ in​​ common​​ with those with whom we disagree.


My critique of radical Christianity and fundamentalist Christianity was given because we have a responsibility, first of all, to​​ understand​​ where those with whom we disagree religious are coming from.​​ 


Given that knowledge, I can imagine a scenario in which a radical Christian who questions the reality of the resurrection can be reminded that Jesus himself did not require belief in his resurrection. ​​ What Jesus required was love of God and neighbor, and this is something that a “moderate” Christian and a “radical” Christian have in​​ common. ​​ A response like this would be building a​​ bridge​​ instead of building a​​ wall.


I can imagine another scenario in which a fundamentalist Christian critiques Jesus’ correction of “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” with the assertion that this is a more fundamental principle than Jesus’ “Do not use evil means to fight evil.” ​​ After all, it’s in the Bible, and it’s earlier, thus more foundational. ​​ Instead of hurling a fistful of counter texts at them, building a wall, the bridge-building thing to do would be to gently remind them that Jesus’ statement is also in the Bible and sincerely ask them to help us figure out how both texts can be true.​​ 


Again, the inspiration of the Bible is something that we “moderate” Christians share in​​ common​​ with Christian fundamentalists. ​​ Beginning from a place​​ we share in common rather than beginning with dismay and debate is one of the few things that could draw us together rather than further divide us.


We “moderates” – both religiously and politically – have our work cut out for us right now. ​​ With radical Christians attacking fundamentalist Christians and Democrats attacking Republicans and vice versa, we are in a position to listen and learn from both sides, and then do whatever we can to get the antagonists to find some common ground.


Moderate churches like ours could be a real source of healing and reconciliation for our country. ​​ May God give us the strength and determination to turn God’s desire into our reality!






  • Have you had any experience with “radical” or “progressive” Christianity? ​​ If so, please describe.











  • Have you had any experience with fundamentalist Christianity? ​​ If so, please describe.














  • Based on your own experience, do you have any insights into how to build bridges rather than walls between people?











  • What is your favorite reading from the medley of readings on love? ​​ Why?










CLOSING PRAYER:  ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Edna Hong, Contemporary


Teach us, dear Father! ​​ Teach us that you are not only a God of abstract forgiveness but that you in very fact and act can accomplish it in us. ​​ We pray not for a Sunday sense of forgiveness. ​​ We pray not for momentary acts of forgiveness. ​​ We pray for the spirit of forgiveness. ​​ 


We pray for the power of will to emigrate from our present state and move into the new state your son Jesus Christ created for us, the state of forgiveness. ​​ We pray that we may become fully naturalized citizens of the state of forgiveness. ​​ We pray in your son’s name. ​​ Amen.



SUGGESTED MUSIC:  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant?  ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ You Tube

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ The Servant Song with Lyrics

 ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​​​ jack terrell-wilkes




Patiently and Persistently, God Loves.


Relentlessly and Unconditionally, God Loves.


Now and Forever, God Loves.








Independent and United Church of Christ