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
I Have Seen the Lord: While Disbelieving
When I was in seminary, one of the ways we were taught to organize and present a sermon was called the “homiletical plot.” That is seminary talk for setting up your sermon as if you were telling a story which was to be experienced, rather than as a set of points to be understood. To make it so that we would remember how to do this, Gene Lowry, our preaching professor and the author of the book “The Homiletical Plot,” gave each part of the story-telling process a decidedly un-seminary-like name: Oops! Ugh! A-ha! Whee! and Yea! – though in its re-issued version, A-ha and Whee are now combined.
On occasion, I have used this outline. I have heard other preachers use it, and often to good and faithful effect. But like any system for organizing, I have also heard preachers use this outline to create stories which led people farther away from faith in Jesus and closer to faith in conservative politics or closer to faith in a liberal social justice movement.
When I was growing up, the most common outline for a sermon was known as “three points and a poem.” The classic three points were, and still are: #1 all have sinned and fallen short; #2 Jesus died for our sins on the cross; and #3 believe in Jesus and be saved. This was then followed by a simple poem with a simple rhyming pattern.
On occasion, I have used these three points, and I have heard other preachers use them as well, and often to good and faithful effect. I have even closed with a poem, though I do try to avoid the temptation of writing my own poetry – a temptation some preachers give in to but who really shouldn’t.
But I have also heard preachers use this outline to create points which led people further away from faith in Jesus and closer to faith in abusive systems. The classic abusive outline was, and still is: #1 we used to live in paradise; #2 we don’t live there anymore because of Eve, or Cain, or Noah’s son Ham, or whoever it is that we think we can blame for our current problems; and #3 therefore women, or whoever it is we have blamed, must be subjugated and kept in their God-appointed place.
One of the more popular sermon outlines today is sometimes called AB/BA. In this organizational scheme, you can A) describe something in life, and then B) explain how scripture applies to that life. Or, you can change things up by B) explaining a passage of scripture, so that you can then A) describe how it applies in life.
On occasion, I have used this outline. I have heard other preachers use it, and often to good and faithful effect. But like any system for organizing, I have also heard preachers use this outline to take scripture out of context to apply it to life, or they have narrowly interpreted something in life to make it fit a passage of scripture.
All of these outlines have their strengths. All of them have their weaknesses. All of them have their fans. All of them have their detractors. What speaks to one person may be incoherent to another. What may be enlightening to one person may only serve to muddy the waters for someone else. This is why most preachers will use a variety of sermon styles. They know that no one style will reach everyone, and that the gospel is to be shared with everyone.
If we have a deep and abiding faith, that faith can come shining through no matter which tool we use. If we don’t have a deep and abiding faith, then we may be able to attract a lot of folks by utilizing a particular style, but we won’t be making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Some scriptures work better with some outlines than others. But sometimes, none of these outlines seems to be the right one to use for proclaiming the scripture passage as good news. Sometimes, they are all inadequate for conveying the new thing God has done in Jesus Christ. This new thing is more than what can be conveyed in a story, or reduced to three points, or universally applied in life.
And this difficulty isn’t because we don’t understand the text. It isn't because we are having trouble applying it to our life. It isn't even because we are unsure of what it is we are being called to believe.
We get tripped up, not by the things we believe, but by the things we disbelieve. An authentic Christian life is full of moments of disbelief. We see something amazing, we experience something powerful, and all we can say about it is “I can’t believe it!” That is a moment of disbelief.
“Disbelief” is not the same thing as “unbelief.” We don't doubt what we have seen. We readily accept what we have experienced. It is just that we are having trouble wrapping our heads around what has happened. It doesn't fit with what we know to be true, and yet we know this new thing to be true.
Our reading today is the classic example of this. The scripture tells us that Jesus appears to the disciples, that the disciples were in their joy, and that they are both disbelieving and wondering. They know it is happening. They know it is good news. They know it is more than what they can figure out and explain.
That is different from unbelief, which is when we won’t accept what has happened. Unbelief would be the disciples trying to explain it all away as a dream, or a wish, or an hallucination. Disbelief, on the other hand, arises out of an honest struggle to reconcile what we have known to be true with what we have seen to be true. Disbelief is the willingness to be completely and totally humble before God.
The resurrection experiences of the disciples were a new thing that God was doing in Jesus Christ. Each moment was startling, unexpected, joyful, wonderful, confusing, eye-opening, and overwhelming. The disciples believed, they could not control it, but they had trouble expressing it. The disciples disbelieved, because it was too good to be true but they knew it was completely true. In that moment, in that experience, they were making the transition from wondering to wonderment.
And how am I, or any preacher, supposed to convey wonderment? This is where we discover that a poem is not enough, that a story will always falls short, that three points can't cover the experience, and that this scripture makes every AB or BA the work of a lifetime.
Because I am still called to share with you the good news of Jesus Christ, I want to try a new thing this morning. If it works, then it is a new thing that God is doing among us. If it doesn’t work, well that is all on me, or maybe a little bit on you if you are not open to new things from God. I am going to take something from all those ways of organizing a sermon and stir them together – even as I know that this may lead to wondering and disbelief – which is kind of the point!
I am going to weave the scripture with a poem as we retell the story and how it applies to our lives. I will be using part of a poem by Lynn Marie, titled “Kaleidoscope.” To identify all the parts of this presentation, I am going to ask you to do something so that you can experience it.
I will place my hands forward when sharing the poem. When I do this, I want you to do this, too. I will raise my hands when it is scripture. When I do this, I want you to raise your hands, too. I will spread my hands when is a point or a story. To make it your experience, I invite you to do the same. We will do this together because the resurrection was not something that happened in the heads of the disciples. It was not a private revelation. It was a shared experience in the community of disciples.
Let's practice: poem - hands forward. Scripture - hands up. Story or point being made - hands out. Again: poem - hands forward. Scripture - hands up. Story or point being made - hands out.
Are we ready?
through a tiny lens held firmly with hands eyes gaze in awe . . .
with a simple twist colours explode harmoniously bright, sparkling, blinding . . .
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
The peace Jesus offers is for his disciples – his scared, guilty, inadequate, failing disciples. To these disciples, Jesus appeared, and in this twist of good news, they are filled with awe.
the colours are stunning so vivid, so alive with truth as in life . . .
this ever-changing vision is but broken glass shards not whole, not complete . . .
37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
We are often afraid of new things. We are afraid even when we can see that this new thing is full of life. The change these new things bring us can terrify us as we consider the loss of old ways. The change can recall the ghostly things of the past, which are always beyond our grasp.
fragmented, swirling on command no direction, they stop;
at one's touch and through this seemingly disconnect . . .
39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Whenever we are afraid, Jesus provides us with the evidence we need to move forward. Jesus gives us the assurance that he is with us in ways which can take away our doubts and fears. Jesus is with us in ways as real as anything we can touch and see in this life.
revealing the essence of life, humanity and all who breathe for they gloriously join; naturally . . .
41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
When we accept that Jesus is with us, what we are to do next will present itself as the intended will of God. For example, when people are hungry, we will feed them, knowing that this is how Jesus still comes among us, just as he promised.
simple, plain, tiny pieces they don't fit, they don't belong different shades, different sizes . . .
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”
The scriptures have always pointed to this moment in Jesus. It is only when we try to separate the verses and chapters from the whole that we become separate and broken before God. It is only when we split apart the Word of God that we are split apart from those we are to love as Christ loves us. In Jesus, victor over sin and death, God's will is made complete and whole, the pieces are revealed in a new vision, and we find the integrity by which all the rest of the scriptures are to be interpreted.
therein lies their beauty for these tiny glistening pieces imperfect jewel tone shades, dance; together . . .
45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
The peace which passes all understanding comes when we can hold the fullness of the gospel in our hearts, minds, and life. Whenever we try to diminish the new thing God was doing in Jesus Christ to a point or two, or to a position on an issue, or to a universal application in life, we will find ourselves on the path of conflict and sin. The Messiah suffers again, and we must again be startled by the Risen Lord. Only then can repentance and forgiveness be possible. We have to start where we live, if we are to be faithful.
to inspire joy, excitement, wonderment the green piece could be a used wine bottle
tiny violet piece from a castaway vase . . .
48You are witnesses of these things.
We are all part of this kaleidoscope of God's wonderment. The resurrection of Jesus binds us together – the broken, the fearful, the outcast, the disbelieving – and the light of Christ shines through us. Separately, we are broken, and fearful, and not sure that we can count on this amazing grace and forgiveness of God. But together – ah, together! – we are the Body of Christ, risen from the dead, filled with the abundant and eternal life which finds its fulfillment when we love God and love our neighbors as Christ has loved us.
All right, bring your hands in. Bring your hands together, close your eyes, and bow your heads. Listen expectantly to the Silence, which is on fire with the presence of the Risen Lord. And try not to be startled when I begin to pray for us.
(listening in silent expectation)
Let us pray:
Risen Lord, there is so much we know to be true, which is only true in our fear and our brokenness. We are still startled by your grace and forgiveness, and we find it hard to believe that you have chosen us to love when others hate, to forgive when others sin, to welcome when others exclude. Appear again to us so that we may move from wondering to wonderment. Appear again to us so that we may be filled with your joy. Appear to us again so that we may become your family when we share your meal. Do not pass us by, but appear in your risen glory, so that your glory may shine through us. Amen.
UMH 351 “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”
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.