Pastor’s Page

 

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

 

What We Hear Whispered

Matthew 10:24-39

 

There is a lot to chew on in our reading for today.  Jesus makes the point that we are to be like him, instead of trying to find a way to be better than him.  Jesus makes the point that change can be hard, even when the change is necessary and good.  Jesus makes the point that people will resist change in ways that are unnecessary and not good.  Jesus makes the point that God sees through the resistance, which will be exposed for what it is, in the end.

 

That, all by itself, could be a sermon series for a month, or several chapters in a Sunday school study book.  But Jesus is not done yet – Jesus goes on.  He tells us that we are worth more than sparrows.  After all the challenging things Jesus says, we grab on to this hopeful comment as a reason to sing.

Why should I feel discouraged
Why should the shadows come
Why should my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home

When Jesus is my portion
A constant friend is he
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me

 

Outside of the church, however, most people already believe that they are worth more than a sparrow.  The sparrow is the most common, ordinary, blend-into-the background kind of bird there is in the world.  And most people believe that they are rare, unique, valuable, significant individuals in their own right.  On average, most of us, most of the time, feel pretty good about ourselves and our place in God's love.  So of course, we agree with Jesus that we are worth more than sparrows.

 

But Jesus is not done yet – Jesus goes on.  Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of the people who can kill you for being my disciples.  If you follow me, in your heart and in your life, it will be tough.  Even your own family won’t always get why you should care about enemies and strangers, outcasts and lepers.”

 

This is the point where I think most church growth people cringe.  They would have you believe that you can’t grow a church by telling the people that their life will be so much easier if they don’t join.  You can’t expect people to line up at the door if the path to the kingdom of God is lined with pain and suffering and rejection and conflict.

 

But that is exactly what Jesus is doing in our reading today.  Take up your cross and die to this world, choose Jesus over all others, and follow him as we march into certain conflict.  Do this, and we will finally live into those words of David: “he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

 

Well, it turns out, as it always does, that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he said all these challenging things.  I read an article this past week written by Curtis Almquist, who is the director of personnel for a medical relief program in the Catholic Church.  Part of his work is giving the orientation to the new workers who will be sent out to serve in one of the 80 poorest countries in the world that his mission serves.  He wrote that the orientation “included preparing and orienting our medical workers for what they would encounter in their host culture.  We always told them in great detail the worst they would likely experience: the extremes of the weather, the meager diet, the primitive sanitary conditions, the political tensions with the host government, the competition among various religious and political groups in their area, the lack of privacy, the prospect of their becoming sick, the homesickness and loneliness they would feel, the possible strains on their family, the desperate need for their work… and the haunting guilt they would probably feel being such privileged people in the face of such great poverty.”

 

How many of you are sitting there thinking, “I want to go and experience all of that!  No food, bad weather, debilitating disease, separation of family, political persecution, nagging guilt – what an attractive offer!  Where can I sign up?”

 

Almquist then explained what his experience and ongoing research has shown, and what Jesus always knew.  First, the missioners didn’t need to be told about all the good things that come from being engaged in mission work.  They were already looking forward to the adventure, the virtue, and the “God moments” of connecting with persons in need and knowing that Jesus is there with them.  This is the promised expectation of being a follower of Jesus Christ.  This is why they were going into mission work.

 

And second, and this is the real point, their experience and research has shown that when people are prepared for the worst, they can find a way deal with it so they can do their best.  If the bad things that could happen are not a surprise to them, then the workers are able to keep their eyes on the work they were called and excited to do.  If the bad things are expected, then it is just part of the process that has to be worked through, in order to reach the God-intended goal.

 

The world tells us that it is better to be prepared for the best that can happen.  We are to expect the best, believe we can have it, and that we deserve it.  Keep your eyes on the prize, and it can be yours. That is the American belief system.

 

Because of this, we tend to believe that if something bad happens, it is a judgment.  And it is not just a judgment – it is God against us.  Because of this, it can be hard for us to believe that God is still at work among us, when something bad happens.  If we are only expecting good things, and for everything to always go smoothly and pleasantly in our lives, then the bad things will feel like judgment.

 

This is why Jesus said what he said to his disciples.  The God-honest, God-given truth is that people are not going to like everything we do in the name of Jesus.  Do it anyway.  There will be resistance to the coming kingdom of God, and it may be violent.  Keep moving forward anyway.  People won’t always understand what you are doing or why you are doing it, and they may even be members of your family.  Love and forgive everyone anyway.

 

This passage can sound daunting, but right in the middle of it, there is a ray of hope.  It's only a glimmer if you are not looking for it, but it is the light of God when you see it.  We often miss its hopefulness because of the world we live in.  We find this shining ray of light at verse 27, which is the verse on the front of your bulletin.

27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light;

and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.

 

We often miss the hopefulness of this verse because we read it against the background of today’s news. This verse sounds a lot like the process of leaking to the press information you want out there, but don’t want traced back to you.  Instead of sounding like a word from God, this verse sounds more like the mission statement for Wiki-Leaks.

 

Yet, I believe this one verse is the good news that Curtis Almquist didn’t need to mention with his missioners.  This is the verse which promises the adventure, the virtue, and the God-moments of connecting with persons in need and knowing the Jesus is there with us.  I believe this enough that, this week, I wrote a new hymn about it. (tune: LOS CERRITOS)

 

O what the Lord now says to you, O what you hear in the night

“Proclaim the good news everywhere, and chase the dark with my light!”

The whispered hope of God’s presence with us through every trial in life.

O what the Lord now says to you, proclaim, and live in the light!

 

The whispered peace which now assures, the whispered love in our heart:

Now take the good news everywhere, forgiveness gives us our start!

The whispered hope of God’s presence with us through every trial in life.

O what the Lord now says to you, proclaim, and live in the light!

 

The faith we have in Jesus Christ, the confidence to be bold:

The Holy Spirit gives to us the message to make us whole!

The whispered hope of God’s presence with us through every trial in life.

O what the Lord now says to you, proclaim, and live in the light!

 

This is the good news in this verse – God speaks light into the darkness.  God speaks hope when all seems hopeless.  God speaks forgiveness when the unforgivable happens.  God speaks peace when the ways of the world threaten to divide us.  What Jesus says to us in the darkness of our sin, tell in the light of his grace and love.  What we hear whispered by the still, small voice of God when we humble ourselves and pray, proclaim from the rooftops so that the light of Christ may shine like a city on a hill.

 

This is what Paul wrote to the church at Rome (chapter 8), as they were faced with persecution, when the worst things that could happen to them were actually happening to them: 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

It can be hard to remember this when you are in the midst of the trials.  It can be hard to remember this when it feels like the judgment of darkness is smothering you.  It is especially hard when you think that you are facing the trials alone, that there is a clear separation from God.

 

What Jesus tells us in this verse, and over and over again throughout his life, is that God never leaves us. In our sin, we may believe either that God has left us, or that God has abandoned those who oppose us. We may think we are engaged in a spiritual battle on the side of God, when it is really only our sin that causes our conflict.  In every case, the clear choice presented by the world when we are in conflict seems to be that we are to abandon forgiveness, and mercy, and hope, as we choose to be separated by something so much less than God.

 

And it doesn’t matter if the trials or conflicts we face are something big, or something theological, or something cultural, or something trivial.  There is a congregation not too far from here which had a big fight a few years ago that caused people to leave the church.  The conflict was so great that a fist fight almost broke out in the church kitchen among the women over this issue.

 

So, what was the issue so important that church members had to be separated before coming to blows?  The issue that was more important to them than the victory of Jesus over sin and death was whether pies served at church dinners should be cut into six slices, or seven slices.  Jesus might have forgiven those who crucified him, but cutting a pie into seven slices was unforgivable!

 

With all the shouting going on in the world – between family members, between political parties, between countries, between people in the churches – it can be hard to listen to the still small voice of God, whispering in our hearts.  With all of the shouting going on in the church, it can be hard for us to hear that the resistance and the trials and the division are to be expected.  And with all the shouting, it can be hard to remember that all of this sound and fury is not the final word from God.

 

When the world gets loud, and the way seems to have too many hills and valleys, and the path twists and turns in the wilderness, we need to take a moment to prepare the way of the Lord again.  When we are faced with temptations and trials, we need to set down our judgments and take up discernment.

 

Discernment is the spiritual art of identifying all the competing voices that clamor for our attention.  Discernment is the practice of setting aside every voice except that of God.  Discernment is the gentle and necessary art of setting aside even our own voice, so that we can focus on and listen to the one voice of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, and offered anew through the Holy Spirit.

 

This is easier to do if we remember that Jesus has already told us what the Spirit will say.  It may not be in these exact words, but according to the Scriptures, this is what the Spirit will tell us. And, if it doesn’t sound like any of this, then it likely is not from the Holy Spirit.

 

+ God is with us, inviting us to trust in God more than in ourselves.

 

+ God is with us, offering us grace so that we may have the faith to trust in God.

 

+ God is with us, allowing us to fall down and urging us to learn from our mistakes so that we will not repeat them.

 

+ God is with us, sometimes saying and doing things that are confusing and difficult to hear, which we may not understand until the right time.

 

+ God is with us, watching over us, both those who now believe and those we can help believe.

 

And if that is too much remember, then remember how the Spirit said it through the prophet at the birth of Jesus: “they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

 

Sometimes, people disagree.  Sometimes, people are disagreeable.  Sometimes, things don’t go as well as they should.  Sometimes, things don’t go at all.  Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be enough time, or money, or volunteers.  But what the Spirit tells us, that whispered message of hope in the darkness, is that none of these things are the final word from God.  None of these things are more important that what Jesus has done for us.  None of these things can separate us from the love of God, if we are following Jesus.

 

This morning, we are called again to follow Jesus.  What Jesus says to us in the darkness of our sin, tell in the light; and what we hear whispered in our hearts, we are to proclaim from the housetops.  We are the forgiven, redeemed Body of Christ, called to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the victor over sin and death.  And we are to live as those who know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ!

 

FWS 2129        “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

 

 

To read other sermons, go to Sermons Delivered.

 

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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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfYQ7knzRwo&list=UU5iWWLf7nqmMd5-3F-CnEVQ&index=4&feature=plcp