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
Filled with Guests
I have a preacher-friend, now retired, who use to enjoy repeating one verse of this wedding party passage over and over again: there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. I don’t know if that can be tied to the fact that he had also been married twice, but it seemed to come up a lot. I wondered this because there used to a show that made that connection between weddings and the gnashing of teeth.
Some of you may have watched it, but the name alone made that unnecessary if you wanted to know what it was about: “Bridezilla.” That name alone conjures up images of a woman possessed of making sure she gets exactly what she wants for her wedding day, even if everything and everyone in her way must be destroyed in order to get it. That experience would surely lead to weeping and the gnashing of teeth!
To be clear, this is not my experience with weddings. Since Pam and I paid for our own wedding, and we were both poor, there were never any atomic-blast mutant monster arguments about how things should be done. As a pastor, nearly all the weddings I have done have been simple religious ceremonies where the families knew what the budget was, and the emphasis remained on the commitment that was being affirmed at the altar. And my experience as a parent at a wedding is a little different from most, because I also got to officiate at the services for my children.
The most important part of this parable, fortunately, is not the weeping and gnashing of teeth. The vital part of this parable is that there are two invitations given. The people who think they are worthy enough for the king turn it down. The people who had no expectation of ever being invited are welcomed in.
How do we know this is the vital part of the parable? Most of the time, if no one wants to come to your party, you cancel the party. Yet this king still has the party, and it will be a glorious party. There will still be a party because of the Son's new relationship.
It is also important for us to remember that this is a parable, and not an allegory. A parable makes one important point. In an allegory, each part of the story represents something else, and its meaning is discovered by making the connections with those “something else’s.” The importance of this difference becomes really clear if we try to make the king represent God.
The king’s intent is to throw an extravagant party for other people in power, while ignoring the poor. The king gets mad when he is snubbed by people who rank beneath him. The king reacts to this snub by sending out troops to murder and destroy.
So far, this part of the story does not come as a surprise to the people listening to Jesus tell the story. Even so, I am pretty sure that we don’t want that king to represent our God! Yet, because this is a parable, a story about the kingdom of God, Jesus continues.
The king invites the elite to his celebration for his son, but they all turn down the invitation. While we may not think of ourselves as elite, we all know a little something about turning down invitations. We have all come up with excuses as to why we couldn’t do something that we knew would be worthwhile.
But finding a good excuse is not always an easy thing to do. Consider what these parents wrote for their children, as an excuse for missing school.
“Dear School: Please excuse John from being absent on Jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33.”
“Please excuse Brian for being. It was his father's fault.”
“Please excuse Sara for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.”
“Sally won't be in school a week from Friday. We have to attend her funeral.”
As Matthew relates this parable, we are not told the reasons or excuses given. We are told only what the invitees do after they reject the invitation. Perhaps, we don't really need to know their excuses, because the excuses are not the important part of the parable. The important part is the invitation.
This doesn't mean that when Jesus first told this parable that excuses were not part of the story-telling. If Jesus was the kind of story-teller who could draw crowds of thousands – and he was – I think he also would have fleshed these stories out and made them even more engaging. But in the sharing of this parable with others, it is natural to share what we think are the main points, even as we drop some of the other details in the story. And that would be fine, except that the main points remembered may be different for each person.
For example, we find in the apocryphal “Gospel of Thomas” what seems to be this same parable. And if it is not the same parable, it is pretty closely related.
It reads: “Jesus said, 'A person was receiving guests. When he had prepared the dinner, he sent his slave to invite the guests. The slave went to the first and said, "My master invites you." The first replied, "Some merchants owe me money; they are coming to me tonight. I have to go and give them instructions. Please excuse me from dinner."
The slave went to another and said, "My master invites you." The second said to the slave, "I have bought a house, and I have been called away for a day. I shall have no time."
The slave went to another and said, "My master invites you." The third said to the slave, "My friend is to be married, and I am to arrange the banquet. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me from dinner."
The slave went to another and said, "My master invites you." The fourth said to the slave, "I have bought an estate, and I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. Please excuse me."
The slave returned and said to his master, "Those whom you invited to dinner have asked to be excused." The master said to his slave, "Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you find to have dinner. Buyers and traders will not enter the places of my father.”
Saying 64, as the scholars identify it, is now just a dinner, instead of a wedding banquet. It gives four rejections of the invitations instead of three. Slaves are not abused or killed, and the king does not retaliate. New guests are invited in both versions, but there is no mention of wedding robes, since this is only a dinner. It then ends with Jesus declaring that it is the traders and merchants who will not enter God’s kingdom, instead of the one person improperly dressed. And there is no weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In both versions, each person who rejected this invitation to the king’s party had weighed the benefit of accepting against another possibility. These other possibilities are not necessarily evil things to do. In fact, without the invitation, they are precisely the kinds of things we would expect responsible people to be doing.
The problem is that they believe their own needs and wisdom are greater than the king’s. They don’t see the value of an invitation from the king, so they reject it. Most of the time in our lives, that would be the end of the story. Most of the time in our lives, there is the expectation that there will be another invitation, another opportunity to be with the king, which will come to us at a later time.
But Jesus tells us that there is still going to be a party, and that the invitation is for now. The party is for those who will accept the invitation. Among the people who accept are both the good and the evil.
That is good news for us, because both characteristics apply to all of us at some time. No one here is 100% good and holy all the time; and no one here is 100% evil incarnate. The king invites people like us to come and be part of the king’s joy, for we are vital for God’s kingdom. And we are here today because we have accepted the invitation to the party.
We come to worship, and we eat the sacred food, and we sing the holy songs. We are engaged in the party. But then, sometimes we notice that worship doesn’t always feel like a party. That reality is evident in the parable as well, at least for one person. There is one person who is not wearing a wedding garment, who has stuck around even as they have shrugged off the party.
We usually assume that a wedding robe is something we wear over our other clothes – much like my wearing a preaching robe. In that day, however, taking off the robe would have left you naked. Being naked in Hebrew thought was a way of being a curse to those who saw your nakedness. Or, to say it another way, you are not a blessing to others if you are not engaged in worship, but are only going through the motions.
That is one form of nakedness in the church. But there are other kinds of nakedness that can also curse us. Reinhold Niebuhr, the early 20th century Methodist theologian and author of the Serenity Prayer, often quoted a remark made to him by an agnostic friend. This friend objected to the church, "not because of its dogmas but because of its trivialities." When we are preoccupied with trivial concerns, rather than on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we have shrugged off the wedding garment. And that kind of nakedness before God is a curse upon the church.
The late Fred Craddock, professor of homiletics at Candler School of Theology for many years, was once invited to attend a prayer meeting at a home in a wealthy suburb of Atlanta. He said the group shared “weighty” prayer concerns like a date coming up on Friday night and the purchase of a new car. One man proudly announced they had had 75 answered prayers since the group had started meeting. Then one of them turned to him and asked, “What do you think, Dr. Craddock?”
Craddock, who was usually a very polite individual who would never consider criticizing someone’s praying, was offended by the reduction of Israel's God to what Paul Tillich called, “the Cosmic Bellhop.” He just couldn’t bring himself to smile insincerely and say, “Isn’t that nice?” or even “God certainly is good.”
Instead, Dr. Craddock said, “Do you mean to tell me when people are starving in Africa, and the poor are suffering in India, and parents in Latin America can’t sleep through the night wondering if the death squads will visit them, you folks are praying about dates and new cars?” Their prayer life exposed their naked intent before God. And that kind of nakedness before God is a curse upon the church.
Remembering that this is a parable about what the kingdom of heaven is like, it is important that we know what we are expected to put on when we are part of the kingdom, so that we are not naked before God. We want to be like the guests at the party. We do not want to be like the party-crasher who has to be tossed out on their ear and into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The letters of Paul help us to understand that we are to put on Christ and his glory. John Wesley, in his sermon on this parable, said, “Without the righteousness of Christ we could have no claim to glory; without holiness we could have no fitness for it. By the former we become members of Christ, children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. By the latter “we are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Wesley went on to say that it isn’t the presence or the lack of particular outward religion symbols, but instead only the renewal of our souls through Jesus Christ that ultimately matters. That is what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3, that we must be born again, born anew, born from above – that our souls must be renewed in love through the grace of Jesus Christ, so that the Holy Spirit may work through us, and that we may be clothed in Christ’s glory. And the evidence of our renewal is that we love God and we love our neighbors as Christ has loved us.
Jesus tells us that there is going to be a party, and that the invitation is for now. We have no right to expect such a magnificent invitation, but through the grace of Jesus Christ, it is offered to all of us, and any of us, who will accept the invitation. The kingdom of God is filled with the guests of Jesus Christ.
The sign of our accepting the invitation is putting on the habits of holiness so that Christ’s glory and love might be seen through us. The other option is, as my friend used to remind his congregation, is to be a curse to others, which leads to weeping and gnashing of teeth. Let us receive the Spirit of God, so that we may be clothed in righteousness for the party of God!
UMH 420 “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”
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.