“I want to encourage you to enjoy really close fellowship today — about 15 people to a pew,” said Pastor Mark Wilkinson as the congregation poured through the doors of the small, spare church. The San Diego Church of Christ is divided into numerous congregations; four times a year, they all meet together for worship and fellowship, and about once a month, one congregation will visit another. On Sunday, Tri-Valley came to visit the West, and the crowd had to set up chairs in the vestibule. “Good morning!” said West member Carol, welcoming the Tri-Valleys. “I know that for my kids, it’s always fun when they have friends over, but it’s best when they get to play with their cousins. That’s what this morning is like — it’s great to be part of the family of God!”
And when that family joined in song, they made their numbers felt. “We’re gonna raise the rafters,” said one song leader, and he was only half joking. The low ceiling caught the sound and held it close, and the room hummed with the force of it. The women began: “Re-JOICE, Re-JOICE in the law of the Lord/ Med-i-TATE on His LAW all the day and the night.” Then the men came in with a countermelody: “Happy is the man/ Who is like a tree/ Planted by a stream/ In season bearing fruit.” The multipart harmonies continued throughout the singing, which contained a couple of notable Old Testament military-style sentiments: “Our God, like chaff, blows the wicked away.” “Let not my enemies triumph over me.” As one hymn ended, an older woman leaned toward the two younger men in front of her. “It’s like angels singing,” she said, smiling.
Wilkinson’s sermon was based on Paul’s statement: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” “I’ve been meditating on this passage every day for the last couple of weeks,” he began. “I really believe...you cannot get too far from the shadow of the cross.”
He lauded the American belief in success through hard work, but warned against applying that belief to “our stand before God.... We know we’re not perfect, but we begin to think we’re not all that bad. And the title of the sermon today is, ‘You’re just not that good.’”
Laughter rose from the congregation, along with a murmur of mock shock. “Come on, preach it!” someone called. “Encourage us!” joked another. “That’s right, Mark — I’m not offended by that,” said a third.
Rather, said Wilkinson, “the only way to be saved is through grace alone. It doesn’t matter that you’ve served and bled, that you went everywhere and gave everything. You’re not that bad, but you’re not that good, either. We forget that, and that’s why we have to stay near the cross.”
However, he said, “it’s grace alone, but grace is never alone.” He quoted Paul: “His grace to me is not without effect.” “The amazing truth is, Jesus loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you there. You cannot stay that way. When you understand how much God loves you, how dare you not change?”
And, finally, he said, “we need to complete the circle of grace. Grace isn’t your ticket stub that you hang on to so you can get into heaven. Grace is a circle of life that we participate in. Grace is God moving to you and loving you...and from you it goes to others. You start loving your neighbors — because grace has had an impact on you. Love the people around you and love God — that is the minimum requirement.”
A congregant came forward to give the Communion meditation and read from John’s Gospel — Christ’s prayer before the Passion: “‘Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say, Father? “Save me from this hour?” No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ It’s sort of like, ‘Go ahead, God. This is what I’m here for: to glorify you.’ In going to the cross, He glorified God by completing His life’s mission.” He concluded with a passage from Romans: “‘Use your whole body as a tool to do what is right for the glory of God.’ I really think that sums it up.” The murmurs and comments ceased, and silence held sway as the Communion plate was passed, broken only by the gentle ping of crisp bread cracked against metal.
What happens when we die?
“I guess that depends on who we are when we die,” said Wilkinson. “The saved go to heaven and the lost don’t — that’s all there is. Beyond that, when it comes to the afterlife, there are so many things we don’t know. If I said something, I’d only be guessing, so I’m not going to worry about it.”
Denomination: Church of Christ
Address: West congregation meets at Bible Believer’s Church, 3410 Mt. Acadia Boulevard, Clairemont, 858-578-1480
Founded locally: about 30 years ago
Senior pastor: Mark Wilkinson
Congregation size: 100
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: 40
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: yes
Dress: casual to formal
Sunday worship: 12 noon
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes