Dr. Nick Campbell is a life-long Methodist. He was licensed as a local pastor in 1978, ordained deacon in 1979, and ordained elder in the former Missouri West Conference in 1982. He has earned the Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies, University of Missouri-Kansas City (1978), the Master of Divinity, Saint Paul’s School of Theology (1981), and the Doctor of Ministry, Saint Paul’s School of Theology (1994). Over the years, he has served congregations in rural, small town, county seat, suburban and urban settings. Dr. Campbell came to Nelson Memorial in July 2011.
Dr. Nick married Pam Shafer on July 4, 1980 at Saint Paul School of Theology, and together they have 2 grown children: Susan is married to Patrick Shuman, and works as a therapist for the Samaritan Counseling Center in St. Joseph, MO; and Wesley is married to Pamela Corder, and he is a trumpet professional living in Manchester, MO. They also have one granddaughter, Lilia Shuman; and two grandsons, Eric Campbell and Jensen Shuman. Nick and Pam’s pets include four cats – Sam, Callie, Sassy, and Gizmo; and two dogs – Spike and Molly.
Last Sunday’s Sermon
You Remind Me of a Man
John 1:6-8, 19-28
I have shared before that I spent about a year of my life wanting to be a stand-up comedian. I read books, learned jokes, and studied the techniques of Bob Newhart, Don Adams, and Bill Cosby. But because I was only 6 years old, my choice for audiences to practice this craft was pretty limited. My siblings were younger and not interested in, or really capable of, giving me critical feedback on timing and delivery. And most adults didn’t want to be bothered by a kid comic.
Mostly, my audience was my mother. Mothers, as a rule, love it when their children show initiative, so she was encouraging, if not exactly helpful. Her idea of helping me was to tell me what she thought was funny. I still remember her examples of humor, even if they were not exactly funny.
This was her favorite joke: What is big, and red, and eats rocks? A big red rock-eater. I was only 6 years old, and I thought even I was too old to tell that joke, but it always made her laugh.
Her favorite comedy bit came from a 1947 movie, “The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer,” that starred Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Shirley Temple. Back then, the movie would have been considered a romantic comedy, but in today's world, a romantic relationship between a 46-year old Cary Grant and a 19-year old Shirley Temple, who was playing a high school student, would just be creepy. It wasn't really any less creepy when a 39-year old David Bowie did the same routine with a 16-year old Jennifer Connelly in the movie, “Labyrinth.”
The routine went like this: You remind me of a man. What man? The man of the power. What power? The power of hu du. Hu du? You do! Do what? Remind me of a man. What man? The man of the power. What power? The power of hu du. Hu du? You do! Do what? Remind me of a man.
Round and round this absurd little routine goes – until someone puts a stop to it. It was a throw-away bit of cleverness in a silly post-war movie, but my mother and a team of Hollywood film writers thought it was funny.
I, on the other hand, thought that there was a rhythm in the routine which could help us understand our scripture reading today. If we apply this rhythm, it might sound something like this.
The priests came to John one day as he was baptizing at Bethany across the Jordan. The priests looked at John and said, “You remind me of a man.”
John replied, “What man?” The priests said, “The man of the power.” John replied, “What power?” The priests said, “The power of the messiah.” And John replied, “That sounds like hooey to me, because I am not the messiah.”
Then the Levites came to John as he was baptizing at Bethany across the Jordan. The Levites looked at John and said, “You remind me of a man.”
John replied, “What man?” The Levites said, “The man of the power.” John replied, “What power?” The Levites said, “The power of Elijah.” And John replied, “That sounds like doo doo to me, because I am not Elijah.”
The priest and the Levites came to John one day as he was baptizing at Bethany across the Jordan. Together, they looked at John and said, “You remind me of a man.”
John replied, “What man?” The priests and the Levites said, “The man of the power.” John replied, “What power?” The priests and the Levites said, “The power of the prophet.” And John replied, “That sounds like – no, enough of this. I am not the prophet who announces Elijah, who send the messiah, who leads the army to defeat the enemy to make Israel great again.”
The cycle broken, the priest and the Levites then ask John who he really is – if he is not the man of the power known as the messiah, or Elijah, or the prophet. They want to know who John is, and why he thinks he can baptize people at Bethany across the Jordan.
In the Gospel according to John, we are not told that John is a cousin of Jesus. We are not told of angels visiting John’s parents and the circumstances of his own miraculous birth. In the Gospel according to John, he is just John, a voice crying out in the wilderness of Bethany across the Jordan, that we need to make straight the way of God.
You don’t have to be a theological expert to know that the way of God, as taught and proclaimed by the priests and Levites, was a twisty, hilly, difficult path that tripped up and bruised everyone. People got lost in the arguments about what it means to be faithful. And in their wandering, they got lost because they trusted in the printed word of God, and the traditions of God, without also trusting in the Living Presence of God.
The path of the priests and Levites was a path on which people could lose their way as they argued about what God meant when God talked in the past – even as they neglected to talk with God now. It was a path on which people could get bruised as they argued about what God wanted the people to do when faced with tough choices – even as they failed to notice the new thing which God was doing among them. It was a path on which people were always getting tripped up on what God cared about – even as they cared deeply about things which pointed them away from God.
One day, John was baptizing at Bethany across the Jordan, which is that place where the wilderness ends and the Promised Land awaits just on the other side. He was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was proclaiming that the straight path to God is found when we set aside all the arguing and wandering, and when we start to focus again on being in a relationship with God.
John knows that Jesus is coming. John knows that Jesus is the messiah who will save us. John knows it is his job to let others know, and to get them ready, for the coming of Jesus.
John knows that true salvation is not about who gets worldly power but about who is humbled by the power of God's love. True salvation is not about making sure our food and our homes are ritually clean, but about whether our hearts are clean before God. True salvation is not about avoiding those who have been dirtied by sin, but about the cleansing that forgiveness brings when we love God and love our neighbors.
It is the focus on the things which make our life together all twisty, and hilly, and difficult – the things which were so important to the priests and Levites, both then and now – that keep us from the way of God. So, John is doing what any of us can do – he was calling people to make straight the way of God.
The priest and the Levites ask John, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are not the man of the power?” And John tells them that they are still missing the point. Telling people to get straight with God can be done by anyone. The water is just one way to get the message out to the people so that they will hear it. But, John says to them, even as memorable as that is, it won’t be enough to make the way to God straight.
What we need to get straight with God, John said to the priests and Levites, is someone who is already here among us. You don’t know about him because he is not a priest or a Levite. He doesn’t have the traditional trappings and titles to suggest that he has any authority in this world. But then, he doesn’t really need our say-so to be who he is.
John had made this point from as far away as Bethany across the Jordan, on the edge of the wilderness, and this impressed people. However, John says to the priests and the Levites, the one who is coming, and is here, made the wilderness, and the Promised Land, and the whole universe because he is the Son of God. Compared to that power and authority, what John has done is less impressive than being able to tie someone’s shoe laces.
Why was John baptizing at Bethany across the Jordan? It was to remind each of us that we can be the man, we can be the woman, we can be the youth, we can be the child, who reminds others of the man, the true man of power. This man we are to remind others of is Jesus, who comes to us in the baby of Bethlehem, who was raised in Nazareth, who ministered in villages throughout the country, who welcomed the stranger, who healed the sick, who raised the dead, who was crucified in Jerusalem, and who was raised on Easter morning. We are to remind others of the power Jesus has to see the image of God in each person, the power to forgive our sins, the power to conquer sin and death, and the power to make straight our way to God through his grace, mercy, and love.
And then we are to live our lives so that when someone looks at us, they will say, “You remind me of a man.” In humbleness, we can reply, “What man?” They will say to us, “The man of the power.” We can meekly reply, “What power?” And they will witness, “The power of Jesus, to love, to forgive, to show mercy, to do justice, to practice kindness – and that is no hooey.”
This is how we make straight the way of God – in our lives and especially for the lives of others. We don’t have to go to the wilderness. We don’t have to stand in a river. We don’t have to have the trappings of worldly authority. We don’t have to have our own miraculous back story. We just have to quietly remind the world of a man. The man of power. The power of God.
Our next hymn reflects that quiet witness. Let us stand and seek to remind ourselves, and others, of Jesus.
UM Hymnal 230 “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
To read other sermons, go to Sermons Delivered.
Dr. Nick’s doctoral work was in the area of Christian perfection and how this is interpreted in the life of the congregation and in discipleship. Some resources he has prepared include:
Deep and Wide: The Perfecting Love of Jesus Christ. (109 pages) Sections include: A history of interpretation; what does it mean to be perfect today; spiritual direction and formation methods; an integrated method of “going on to perfection”; the holy and unholy responses to grace; the praxis of perfection; and a bibliography
Casting Out the Evil Spirit in the Church a re-setting of John Wesley’s “A Collection of Forms of Prayer for Every Day of the Week” (1738)
John Wesley's Prayers for Children and Youth a re-setting of John Wesley’s twice daily prayers for children
Condensed Sermon Soup a paragraph-by-paragraph summary of “The Standard 44 Sermons” (4th edition, 1787), “to which reference is made in the Trust-Deeds of the Methodist Chapels, as constituting, with Mr. Wesley’s notes on the New Testament, the Standard Doctrines of the Methodist Connexion”
Dr. Nick has a Composer Page on the General Board of Discipleship website that posts musical pieces he has written, including prayers of Great Thanksgiving, service music, and hymns.
“Were You There (I Was There)” is a song written by Dr. Nick, arranged by his son Wesley Campbell, and sung by the Nelson Memorial UMC Choir. You can hear it by “right-clicking” on the link and opening in a new tab of window.