COMMUNITY CHURCH OF THE MONTEREY PENINSULA
P. O. BOX 222811
CARMEL CA 93922
Rev. Paul Wrightman, Pastor
Independent and United Church of Christ
June 13, 2021
Only one more Sunday until we’re back in our sanctuary!
The Board of Governors promises adequate ventilation and hand cleanser, but for the time being asks you to wear a mask inside and to continue practicing social distancing (pews will be pre-marked with masking tape to indicate acceptable spacing, but couples and families should feel free to sit closer together), and to not come to church if you feel ill.
The congregation voted on May 30th to move our gathering time from 10 am to 11 am as a three month “experiment.” This is because a dozen parishioners came forward and shared the fact that making it to church by 10 is now literally impossible for them, as it takes four hours or more for them to get ready to go anywhere. They don't want to have to get up at 6 am to make 10 am worship – 7 am is somewhat more doable.
Some in the congregation are sad to see this change. They see it as severely impacting their Sunday afternoons. As this three month “trial” comes to an end, we will discuss the pros and cons of keeping the service at 11 or going back to 10.
This will be the last emailed and/or printed worship service that you will receive. I would like to continue it, but simply don’t have the time to retype the oral version of the sermon that I will use in church (double spaced with 16 point type) into the written version that you see here. However, anyone who is willing to put up with the clunky 16 point version is welcome to one! I will be happy to email it or mail you a hard copy.
There will be a few changes to our Order of Worship as we return to the sanctuary. One of the most positive aspects of the Zoom worship service over the past year has been some time for discussing the sermon. This discussion time will be continued right after the Benediction for those who would like to participate. We will limit ourselves to ten minutes or so and still have time to join with others for refreshments afterwards.
Since I will be leading the discussion right after the Benediction, I will no longer be able to greet people on their way out. I don’t want to lose this time for connecting, so I will greet people as they arrive for worship.
Since congregational singing is still considered to be one of the more dangerous activities that people can engage in, we will not have a choir until the pandemic is definitively over. Our new Music Director, Jon Close, will be improvising on the piano and playing instrumental versions of familiar hymns. He will also occasionally invite a singer or small group of singers to add to our experience of worship. They will be positioned way back from members of the congregation.
Carolyn Gray is now the new webmaster for our new website! All website updates and requests should be sent to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. (that’s cm_gray).
Tomorrow will be our last Sunday Zoom worship service.
Stay Safe, Take Good Care,
and Always Remember that Jesus IS Emmanuel – God WITH Us,
WORSHIP SERVICE FOR JUNE 13, 2021
INTRODUCTION: A FEW READINGS ON GOD’S CONTINUING PRESENCE
While I was reading the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I suddenly became aware that on the other side of the desk there was a presence. And the certainty was so strong that it was Christ standing there that it has never left me. This was the real turning-point. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said was true. I didn’t have all the answers, but having touched that experience, I was certain that ahead of me there were answers, visions, possibilities.
There was a time when I tended to think of God miles above the sky and therefore absent from everyday living. Christ was seen primarily as someone who lived two thousand years ago and distanced from us by time. My eyes were opened to the presence of God by an experience recorded by Joseph Estlin Carpenter. One afternoon he went for a walk in the country. He had not gone far before he became conscious of the presence of someone else. He felt he had as direct a perception of the being of God all about him, as if he were with a friend. The sense of a direct relation to God then generated in his soul became a part of his habitual thought and feeling. –William Sykes
What Christians claim in ‘Christian experience’ is not to pick up a body of wrought-out knowledge on the cheap, and to have a pat reply to all the mysteries of the universe, but to be aware of a Presence. . . As the Christian responds to the Presence and ventures forward, he be acquainted with a Person – holy, loving, and compassionate, and One who proves His personal care over all who turn to Him in trust. W.E. Sangster
SUGGESTED MUSIC: In the Garden (Acapella)
Anthem Lights A Capella Cover You Tube
OPENING PRAYER: David Adam (Contemporary)
Loving God, you are a present help in trouble.
In our darkness come as light
In our sadness come as joy
In our troubles come as peace
In our weakness come as strength
Come Lord to our aid
Open our eyes to your Presence
Open our minds to your grace
Open our lips to your praises
Open our hearts to your love
Open our lives to your healing
And be found among us.
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.
SCRIPTURE: Mark 2:18-22
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’
Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’
SERMON: HINTS ON HOW TO EXPERIENCE GOD’S PRESENCE
Rev. Paul Wrightman
(The underlining indicates what I would emphasize if delivered orally.)
Biblical scholar N.T. Wright writes about his family making ginger beer when he was a child. Although it was non-alcoholic, ginger beer still packed a punch in terms of fizz and taste. It was made by a process similar to fermentation. Wright shares how this process was so powerful that it would sometimes explode the bottles in which it was aging. He uses this experience from his childhood to illustrate part of today’s Scripture text, the verse about the danger of aging new wine in old wineskins.
Our text gives us three slightly different but closely interrelated observations concerning the uniqueness of Jesus’ ministry and how it is radically different from anything that came before. It is so different that widely accepted customs regarding religious fasting were upended. It is so different and so new that it simply cannot be assimilated to what is “old,” whether an old piece of cloth or an old wineskin.
Jesus claimed the authority to speak for God, and, speaking for God, makes it abundantly clear that God is deeply into justice, compassion, forgiveness, healing, non-violence, and love. All these qualities of God were already present in the Hebrew Scriptures, but they were often overlooked or given secondary status. Speaking for God, Jesus insists that these often overlooked qualities were by far the most important.
I want to focus on the first part of our Scripture reading, and take a close look at what Jesus is getting at when he asks the rhetorical question: The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?
What is known as the “messianic banquet” is a relatively minor but achingly beautiful theme in several Old Testament prophets. It looks forward to the time when God’s unique representative, the Messiah, will come in person to be with his people and lead them into a qualitatively new kingdom, a kingdom which embodies the very justice, compassion, forgiveness, healing, non-violence, and love of God.
In describing himself as the bridegroom at this wedding feast, Jesus reveals himself as God’s Messiah, the person who will lead people into this new vision of the kingdom of God.
This kingdom is characterized not by ritual observance but by personal relationship. Thus, the ritual observance of fasting is out, out for as long as the bridegroom is present.
Already at this very early stage in his ministry, Jesus knows that his teachings, his ethics, and his kingdom are too new, too radical, and too revolutionary for the religious and political establishments of his day to embrace, and that he will be put to death for espousing them. Thus, he adds the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
I suspect that when Jesus said this, he had not yet grown into the awareness that he would be resurrected, and that his personal presence would continue to be available to all people through the Holy Spirit. As with all of us, Jesus did not yet know how his story would end.
We have the benefit of hindsight, and know that the personal presence of Jesus is just as available to us as it was to his first disciples. They had Jesus present in body with them, we have Jesus present in Spirit with us.
Let’s look at this whole notion of Jesus’ continuing presence in more detail.
Roger Von Oech in his book A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, suggests: “Take a look around where you’re sitting and find five things that have blue in them. . . With a ‘blue’ mindset, you’ll find that blue jumps out at you: A blue book on the table, a blue pillow on the couch, blue in the painting on the wall, and so on. . . In like fashion, you’ve probably noticed that after you buy a new car, you promptly see that make of car everywhere. That’s because people find what they are looking for.”
Let’s apply this principle, the principle that people find what they’re looking for, to our awareness of the presence of God and Jesus. Sometimes God seems strangely absent in our lives. But is the truth of the matter that God is, indeed, absent, or simply that we have let our “God” mindset atrophy, or not developed it at all. If we were to develop more sensitivity toward God, to get on the same wavelength as God, so to speak, we might soon begin to experience God’s presence everywhere.
Jacqueline was an elderly woman who lived to take care of her daughter, who was wheelchair bound. When her daughter dies, Jacqueline not only lost her purpose for living, she lost her living companion. Her cottage in the country seemed as empty as an eggshell.
Occasionally a friend would call or a note would arrive, but most of her time was spent in oppressive, ongoing solitude. Her health didn’t allow her to circulate very much, and her best friends were now all in heaven.
One day Jacqueline’s Bible opened to Philippians 4:5 and four words struck her forcibly: THE LORD IS NEAR. If so, she thought, I should be more aware of it. “Lord,” she prayed, “I’m going to use my God-given imagination to visualize how very present you really are. Help me to [always] remind myself of the reality of your nearness.”
That evening as she retired, she said, “I’m going on to bed now, Lord. Will you please watch over me as I sleep.” The next morning on awakening, she said, “Good morning, Lord. This is the day you have made.” Sitting down with her hot tea, she read through the book of Philippians again, underlining chapter four, verse five. Then she prayed aloud for a long time.
At noon, she said, “Now, Lord, let’s watch the news on television, so you can show me things in this world I can pray for.” Jacqueline and the Lord watched the news together, then she prayed for flood victims in the delta, a newly-installed president in an African country, and for a man sentenced to life imprisonment.
At supper, she bowed her head and thanked the Lord for her food. But she didn’t feel her prayers were traveling up to heaven. She felt instead that she was talking to someone sitting across the table from her.
Gradually her attitude was transformed. The loneliness lessened, her joy increased, her fears diminished, and she never afterwards felt that she was alone in her house. Jacqueline was learning how to abide in the presence.
This is a so-called “experiment” we can all try. Instead of telling ourselves that God has abandoned us when God seems distant, perhaps we need to reverse the equation and face the fact that we are the ones who have abandoned God.
As we all know, it’s so easy to get caught up in busyness and let our relationship with God slip, or to let ourselves get caught up in resentment over what we consider to be unanswered prayer and put our relationship with God on a back burner.
Someone has asked the question “If you feel distant from God, who moved?” Jesus teaches that God will never, ever, move away from us. Therefore the only answer to this question is that we are the ones who have moved away from God.
And once we realize that, if we are sincere about really wanting to know God and to abide in God’s presence in the first place, we can do what Jacqueline did: We can use the everyday circumstance of our lives to practice seeing God in each of them.
One of the most beautiful sayings of Jesus has found its way into the most problematic of New Testament books, the book of Revelation. The resurrected Jesus is speaking and says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20).
Here we find the theme of the messianic banquet again, a banquet to which we are all invited. All it takes to experience that banquet is to hear Jesus knocking on the door of our heart and to invite him in.
Often it takes a child, or an adult with a childlike attitude, to remind us of what’s really important in life, crucial stuff like Jesus wanting to be invited into our lives.
Sue Monk Kidd writes: “When I worked as a nurse on the pediatric ward, before I listened to the little ones’ chests, I would plug the stethoscope into their ears and let them listen to their own hearts beating. Their eyes would always light up with awe.
“But I never got a response to equal four-year-old David’s. I gently tucked the stethoscope inside his ears and placed the disc over his heart. ‘Listen,’ I said. ‘What do you suppose that is?’
“He drew his eyebrows together in a puzzled line and looked up as if lost in the mystery of the strange tap-tap-tapping deep in his chest. Then his face broke out in a wondrous grin. ‘Is that Jesus knocking?’ he said. I smiled.
“Somewhere, maybe in Sunday School, David had obviously been told that lovely old illustration about Jesus standing at the door of our hearts, knocking.”
Sue Monk Kidd ends her reflection by saying: “Dear little David. You were exactly right. Inside your heart, and every heart, there is the faint, persistent sound of Jesus knocking. For Jesus comes to each of us every new day wanting to share its moments with us. And maybe it is only those with the faith and wonder of a David who hear that knocking beneath the clamor of a busy world, and open the door.”
The continuing presence of Jesus presupposes the reality of Jesus’ resurrection – the fact that he is not dead and gone, but just as alive today as when he walked the dusty roads of Galilee with his first disciples.
People sometimes ask me how they can know for sure that the Resurrection really happened. Most of my sermons on Easter present a great deal of evidence which points in this direction – that the Resurrection really happened and that Jesus is still very much alive today.
But evidence – even a great deal of it – cannot constitute proof. Ultimately believing in the Resurrection will involve taking a step of faith. Notice that I say step of faith and not leap of faith. I think it’s too easy for people to make wild leaps of faith based on flimsy evidence that will not ultimately hold up. Better, I think, to take a step of faith based on a large amount of reliable evidence. And this, I think, is exactly what we have with Jesus’ Resurrection.
But rather than rehearsing all the reasons for believing in the Resurrection, I’d like to mention a simpler method for ascertaining its reality: Try doing what Jacqueline did earlier in this sermon in practicing the presence of God.
When God becomes an undeniable fact of our own experience, we no longer need intellectual reasons, but can relax into the experiential reality of God’s real presence.
The following illustration by Marilyn Morgan King might help. She writes:
“When I was a teenager, I went through a period of questioning my faith. Luckily, I had an aunt who wasn’t afraid of questions.
“Once, just before Easter, I asked Aunt Alta about Christ’s Resurrection. ‘How do we know Jesus really came back from the dead? The Bible says he did, but how can we be sure those people didn’t just say they saw him?’
“Aunt Alta took me outside to a clump of gray, dead-looking branches by the fruit cellar door, cut off a couple of branches, and brought them in the house. In three days, those dead-looking twigs blossomed into a profusion of bright yellow, gloriously living flowers.
“Then Aunt Alta explained to me that just as forsythia bloomed when we brought them into the house, I needed to bring Christ into the center of my life. She said that if I’d do that I could know, firsthand, that the Resurrection was true, because his living presence would blossom within me.”
Marilyn Morgan King concludes:
“Whenever I find myself thinking of Jesus only as someone who lived two thousand years ago, I remember Aunt Alta’s forsythia and try to let [Jesus} back into the center of my life, where his living presence blossoms anew, dispelling my doubts. When the branches of your faith seem dull and lifeless, try bringing Christ back into the ‘living room’ of your soul and let him spring to life there.”
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
What is your favorite name for Jesus and why? (You can choose from the following or add your own: Advocate, Alpha & Omega, Author and Finisher of Faith, Bread of Life, Great Shepherd, Counselor, Deliverer, Emmanuel, Faithful & True, God With Us, Lamb of God, Light of the World, Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Messiah, Morning Star, Prince of Peace, Redeemer, Savior, The Amen, The Resurrection and the Life, The Truth, The Vine, The Way, The Word, Tree of Life, Wisdom of God, Wonderful, Word of God.)
Detail a time in your life when God’s/Jesus’ continuing Presence really stood out for you.
CLOSING PRAYER: David Adam (Contemporary)
God, I am poured out,
I come to you for renewal.
God, I am weary,
I come to you for refreshment.
God, I am worn,
I come to you for restoration.
God, I am lost,
I come to you for guidance.
God, I am troubled,
I come to you for peace.
God, I am lonely,
I come to you for love.
Come, Loving God,
Come revive me
Come re-shape me
Come mold me in your image.
Re-cast me in the warmth of your love.
SUGGESTED MUSIC: How Can I Keep From Singing – Audrey Assad You Tube
Patiently and persistently, God loves.
Relentlessly and unconditionally, God loves.
Now and forever, God loves.