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
The Light in the Darkness
It is getting hard to turn on the news each night. It is even harder to follow the news if you are getting it from social media sites. I don't mean the physical act of turning on the television, or your laptop or tablet. That has become easier and easier, as the news get pushed to our devices, whether we want it or not. It is hard to turn on the news because of how bad the news has been.
There was a study done many years ago that claimed that if something good happens, you tell one or two other people; if something bad happens, you tell seven or more. With social media, however, bad news gets told to everyone.
Bad news spreads rapidly, and there is an awful lot of bad news. There is so much being shared that we can’t even agree on what the bad news is. It seems that every news report gets filtered and re-shaped by a political perspective. Even the facts are being questioned or redefined. As a result of all this spin, what one group considers to be bad news another group considers to be progress for their cause.
It is almost as if something dark and forbidding has been positioned between us and the light of goodness, between us and the promise of America, between us and the vision of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It is almost as if we were in the midst of an apocalyptic, end-of-the-world, eclipse-as-a-dark-omen, moment in history. It is almost that moment in time when we will be forced to choose sides, and take up arms, and fight for our vision of what life is supposed to be, or else watch it all be taken away from us.
That is enough reason for people to be discouraged about our future together. For me, even more discouraging are all the political pundits pontificating purposefully. They declare that every position other than theirs is hopeless, helpless, and pointless. They are also certain that the divisions in our society are so deep and permanent as to make them irreversible and unresolvable, apart from the abdication or the oppression of the opposition.
It is precisely at moments like this when we need to ask again, “Is there any word from God?” But even that question is suspect, as those declaring that they have the definitive word from God often depend on a god who looks just like them. They conform to a god who acts just like them. And they have confidence in a god who has the same vision that they do.
This is why this morning I want to share with you the wisdom of the shamans, the holy men, and even some preachers. When you are standing on the rim of the volcano, and it is about to erupt with cataclysmic force, there is a secret they have shared which must be shared again, if there is to be any hope for the future.
Are you ready for this ancient secret to be revealed? I should warn you that this secret will not be easy for everyone to hear, as it will fly in the face of what their own experience and reason assures them to be true. This secret will defy the wisdom of those who are most loudly predicting doom, but I assure you that what I am about to tell you is the God-honest, God-confirmed truth.
Here is the ancient secret: “We have seen this before. This is not the end of the world. The light will shine again.” That secret deals with the past – we have seen this before. It speaks to the present – this is not the end of the world. It has the promise of the future – the light will shine again.
The solar eclipse tomorrow is a good image for this wisdom. The darkness it will create is predictable. This temporary effect is both extraordinary and memorable. And, I assure you, it will pass. The sun will shine upon us again.
I can say this with all confidence because, after all, the sun doesn’t really go away. The sun will still be there, even as the moon is blocking the sun. Yes, there will be increasing darkness before the totality, and it won't immediately be all bright and sun-shiny afterwards, but the sun will still be where it has always been. The sun will keep doing what the sun has always done before.
There has been a lot of talk about eclipses recently. When you are focused on something that unique, you start to see it everywhere and involved in everything. An eclipse can even seem like a reasonable answer to solve some problems – like, how did God make the darkness happen when Jesus was crucified on Good Friday?
Some people have suggested that there was an eclipse on Good Friday. That seems like an obvious answer to the problem of how it could get dark on a Friday afternoon, and the sun refuse to shine for a period of time. For some people, that makes what happened on Good Friday easier to believe.
There are two ways to test this answer. One way involves a lot of math, and figuring out the timing of orbits and when an eclipse would occur, and if those shadows would have been cast over Jerusalem, and if any of those dates coincide with a possible Passover Friday. All you have to do is trust the math and the science to know if you have a good answer. The other, easier way to find the answer is to remember that the timing of Passover is based on the full moon – when the moon is fully reflecting the light of the sun, instead of blocking it.
This is just to remind us that sometimes the obvious answer is not always the right answer, after all. That is when we need to go back to the basics. We have seen this before. This is not the end of the world. The light will shine again.
So, what is it that we have seen before? And what does this have to do with our reading for today?
In Jewish time-keeping, a new day begins when the darkness comes. Sunset ends one day and begins the next. This was to remind the Chosen People that it was out of the darkness God brought forth light, and called it good. When the darkness comes, the old day ends, and a new day begins, and it will be good.
Or, as our earlier hymn said it, “the day those gavest, Lord, is ended.” However our life had been, before the darkness, whether it was a time of formation or testing, that day is over. However our life had been, a new day of God is coming, and it will be good.
The people of the Bible were not so much concerned with explaining how the darkness was created. They were more interested in why it got dark. That answer was clear and faithful: “God did it.” So, however it was that God chose to make the world dark at the crucifixion of Jesus, I think they understood it as is a sign that the old day of sin and death had ended, and the new day of Christ’s redemption and reconciliation was coming – and it would be good.
In our reading, we are introduced to a Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter. The Canaanites were the native people, there before the coming of the Chosen People. In some parts of the Bible, it is suggested that they were all driven out when the Chosen People entered the Promised Land. It might be more accurate to say that the Canaanites that remained were reduced to being “non-people” in the eyes of the new majority.
The Canaanites would have been the people holding protest signs, proclaiming “Canaanite Lives Matter.” Or, they would have held those signs, if it might have made any difference. As a practical matter, they didn't have any rights or opportunities, as long as they were under the authority of the Jewish leaders and the Roman officials.
The Canaanites were a shadow people, living in the dark corners of society. That existence would have been more than enough darkness for most people, but this woman’s life was darker still. Her daughter is demon-possessed, making her an outcast among the outcast. This woman knows that “the day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended.” There is no bright sun-shiny day for her. What she doesn't know is if the light is ever going to shine again.
One day, this Canaanite woman with the demon-possessed daughter encounters Jesus. We have this conversation recorded where we hope that the obvious answer is not the right answer. If we approach this passage from our perspective today, spinning it to match what we know to be true in our world, Jesus seems to exclude the woman, and then insult the woman, only to finally praise the woman and heal her daughter.
The twist in that story doesn’t make any sense on its face. But that doesn’t mean that preachers haven’t tried to make it fit what they already believe about Jesus. Some suggest that it is the woman’s humility in the face of being insulted that won her the day. Others suggest that it was the woman knowing her place that is the important take away in this story.
But those suggestions would have us believe that the compassion of Jesus is limited and reserved only for those who deserve it. If that is the case, then the shadow people stay in the shadows until they can prove they deserve to be saved. If that is the case, then the disciples of Jesus are not obligated to show compassion to the shadow people unless and until they can find their own way into the light.
What is it that we have seen before, that would help us find the good news in this encounter with Jesus? We have seen that Jesus was a rabbi, and he taught using techniques that many other rabbis used. And when we remember this, the good news can be revealed.
When trying to make a point, the rabbinic method challenges everything someone says, thinks, believes, or supposes to be true. They do this to see if what is claimed to be true can be justified as true. They want to see if the claim being made is in keeping with what is accepted and revealed in the Word of God. And when it is your concern to distinguish between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the people, this is a very important process.
Today, we would call that “playing the devil’s advocate.” The questions don’t have to represent your position, but they are asked in order to help clarify our understanding as we look at it from as many angles as we can. Our hope is that if we examine something closely, we can find the truth.
The challenge of this is that just because someone could make a convincing argument one day didn’t make it universally true for everyone else on another day. A different argument, approached from a different angle, might be tried that changes the way the problem is viewed. We see this method still being used in our courts, as attorneys try new legal theories to justify doing something today that may have been prohibited yesterday.
In the time of Jesus, the problem of take food meant for children and giving it to the dogs was a familiar argument. Most rabbis argued that, as a matter of hospitality and justice, foreigners and outcasts were allowed to glean the fields after the harvest. The argument went that the grain which dropped from the stalks that was missed by the harvesters was by God’s mercy to be available to the poor, the stranger, the sojourner, and the foreigner. By applying that same reasoning, the crumbs that fell from the table should be available for others to eat as a sign of God’s mercy. That was a winning argument.
One day, a shadow woman approaches Jesus, sharing her darkness. Jesus waited to see what his disciples have learned from him about hospitality and justice. Apparently, not enough. They ask Jesus to send her away because they don’t want to be bothered with her. Their request is based on the belief that Jesus came only for the right people – people like them.
So, Jesus asks them to defend this belief that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. This is another way of asking them what they have seen Jesus do before. And what they have seen before is Jesus healing lepers, and a centurion’s servant, and the Gadarene demoniac, and the paralytic, and two blind men, and a mute, and a man with a withered hand – shadow people all. The disciples could not support their argument for sending the woman away.
The shadow woman knelt before Jesus and offered a prayer very similar to the one Peter offered in our reading last week: “Lord, help me.” And as with Peter, Jesus answers her prayer.
When I was defending my master’s credo, one of the professors told me that when someone tosses you an easy pitch, you are to knock it out of the park. Jesus tosses this woman one of the easiest pitches of all time. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The shadow woman replied, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. Even shadow people may receive God’s mercy.”
Jesus acknowledged that this woman has just hit the ball out of the park, and her daughter was healed instantly. The darkness had come, the old day had ended, and the light of Jesus chased all her shadows away – and it was good! And I know this to be true because Jesus will never desert us or forsake us – Jesus is always there, doing what Jesus always does, even when the shadows of life come.
Tomorrow, many people will be looking up at the sun at the moment of totality. Hopefully, they will be looking through special glasses to prevent damage to their eyes. After a couple of minutes, the sky will start to brighten again, and we will have a rare shared experience to reflect on.
When we look up to Jesus, we see the totality of God’s love for us. We only need the lenses of our faith to see him “bright shining as the sun.” It is by God’s mercy, revealed and received through the grace of Jesus Christ, that we can know the darkness of our sins taken away and we can receive the new, Son-filled life. No matter how dark the world may seem, we have seen this before. It is not the end of the world because we can always look up to Jesus. The old day that God gave us has ended, and a new day begins in the light of Jesus – and it is good!
UMH 452 “My Faith Looks Up To Thee”
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.