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
Tried and True
When I was much younger, I spent a lot of time dealing with asthma. I would play with my friends in the yard – have an asthma attack. Go to my parents' friends’ farm – have an asthma attack. Take a hike around the neighborhood – have an asthma attack. Allergies and exercise seemed to be my triggers.
If I was paying attention, as soon as I started to wheeze, I would stop whatever I was doing. Most of the time, I would stop wheezing after a while. If I wasn’t paying attention, it would get to the point where my only remedy would be to lock myself away in the bedroom until the attack had passed.
Because my parents couldn’t afford to get me medications that would help, those were my choices. Either I had to pay attention to my triggers, or I had to learn how to be alone while waiting out an attack. So, as a kid, there were a lot of times when I would be inside wheezing, when everyone else was outside playing and being part of life.
There came a time when I decided that I was tired of having to choose between those two choices. I wanted to find a way to make my lungs stronger, so I could be part of the world which was going on without me. The question was how I was going to accomplish this, since medications seemed to be ruled out.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but I thought the answer was to take up the discipline of long-distance running. The way to get over allergy and exercise-induced wheezing was to spend more time exercising where my allergies were the worst. It sounded crazy, but I had done my research.
Running back then was becoming a national craze. Before then, no one really ever thought of jogging as a way to get healthier. But the discipline of running promised all sorts of benefits, including better breathing.
At that time, freshmen were still considered to be in junior high, but they were allowed to go out for the high school cross country team. This was my opportunity. I wouldn’t just be running – I would be running under the direction of a coach, and have teammates to help keep me accountable! Those two things helped make this a discipline, and not just a resolution.
For the first few weeks of practice, before classes began, I settled into a demanding and uncomfortable pattern. I would go to practice in the morning, fueled by the adrenaline of wanting to make the team, and then go home and wheeze for a couple of hours. I would go to practice in the afternoon, and then go home and wheeze for a couple more hours. Run for an hour, wheeze for two; then repeat.
I thought I was managing my plan all right, if you considered the big picture. When school started, and practices got longer, we started to emphasize speed work after running 7-10 miles. Adrenaline wasn’t always enough, so sometimes I would wheeze during practice, as well. It was one thing to wheeze in the privacy of my home; it is quite another to wheeze in front of my coach and teammates.
When I asked to take a break so that I could recover, the coach suggested that maybe I should just quit the team, instead. I was embarrassed in front of my teammates. I was embarrassed because my coach and teammates thought I was whining. And there was no place on this team for whiners.
That was not the answer I had hoped for. I had a reason for wanting to be on the team. I needed to be on the team if I was ever going to breathe better. But instead of being helped, I was now embarrassed and humiliated.
Last week in the lectionary reading, Jesus was tested, John was arrested, and then Jesus went to work as the messiah. And that is important for us to remember. The arrest of John made it clear that there would be consequences for Jesus, even when he passed the test. Knowing that there would be consequences, and that these consequences could be embarrassing or even deadly, Jesus didn’t stay safely inside a synagogue, but he went out into the world.
In this week’s reading, Jesus tests the disciples by telling them what to expect if they follow him. He wants to see if they will follow him even when there are consequences they may not like. To refresh our memories, the consequences for the messiah, and likely his followers, are suffering, rejection, and death – oh, and if you believe in that sort of thing, resurrection.
Their response makes it clear that, if these are the consequences, they don’t like the idea of following Jesus, at all. Specifically, Peter tells Jesus that he has it all wrong. Peter is not ready to follow anyone who expects this kind of life for the messiah. Peter can’t follow Jesus, not unless he can convince Jesus to get it right about what being the messiah means.
Peter just knows, as everyone knows, that following the messiah is supposed to be about glory, not suffering. Following the messiah is supposed to be about being loved and accepted, not about rejection. Following the messiah is supposed to be about being lifted high before you die, not about dying before you can rise.
We then get the preacher-abused rebuke that Jesus says to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” This gets abused as “Jesus leads, I follow – and if you don’t follow me, then you better get out of the way or you will get run over.” That interpretation might make for an inspirational and dynamic leadership model, but it doesn’t fit with the example of Jesus. Remember, Jesus will later tell his disciples to put away their swords when he is arrested and crucified. He tells them this because true victory is not won in this world by killing others, but by dying to sin.
We get so focused on the first part of what Jesus says next to Peter that we miss what he does to all of his disciples. We miss what Jesus says to the crowd in front of his disciples. What Jesus does next is test them to see, if you will, if they are wheezing or if they are whining.
If they are wheezing, if they just need a break to catch their breath and process what Jesus is telling them, then there is hope that they can grow as disciples. The wheezing can pass. But if they are whining, if they just don’t want to do it anymore, then they aren’t really interested in growing as disciples. If they are whining, they just want things their way. And if they are whining, they might as well quit being part of Jesus team.
This is how Jesus sorts out wheezing from whining: Jesus calls the crowd to the disciples, putting them on display. Jesus then restates the terms for following him. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This is the same thing Jesus has already told the disciples, but now he offers discipleship to the crowd.
To say this yet another way: These are the conditions for following Jesus. Not your will, but God's will. Not what you want, but what God wants. Not your life your way, but your life God’s way, even if it means that God may require it.
On its face, that is a bad deal to take – unless you remember the big picture. If your vision isn’t any bigger than “what’s in it for me,” then your vision isn’t big enough. Your vision isn’t as big as the vision Jesus lifted up, the vision of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
But that vision is so big that even a lot of Christians today can’t see the big picture. This is why so many Christians settle for the visions of politicians or political parties. We settle for a vision of earthly power, conformity, and security which we can see. We choose this vision over loving God and loving our neighbors as Christ has loved us. The church is wheezing because it doesn’t have the breath of God, which moves us from the inside of the church and out into the world where life is going on.
That’s what Jesus said next: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Jesus says to us: Choose your own limited vision, and be lost. Choose the vision of Jesus, die to the world, and you will be reborn.
What Jesus is declaring in this test is this: if the disciples don’t like these conditions – if they are just whining, they are free to go. We can almost hear Jesus saying, “Look around – there are plenty more people I can choose from to be my disciples. It doesn’t have to be you.” If I am sitting at the feet of Jesus when he says that, I am embarrassed.
And then, just to make sure they are clear about this, Jesus said, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
There is a difference between being embarrassed and being ashamed. Embarrassment is about suddenly being self-conscious, and realizing that there is a discrepancy between how you usually see yourself and how you see yourself in that moment. Wheezing can be embarrassing.
Yet, embarrassment is usually temporary. You can change how you see yourself. You can change to become the person you want to see. There are ways to deal with embarrassment.
Shame, however, is about how society sees you. Shame is about the discrepancy between how you behave and how society says you should behave – and knowing that society is right. Shame is about knowing what to do, and then whining about it. The measure you fall short is how much shame there is. Shame stays with you until society changes how they think of you – even if you change the behavior and do what is right.
After the coach suggested that I quit, I knew I had a choice to make. I could either let my embarrassment be the deciding factor, or I could keep coming to practice. One choice would be hard, but the other choice would bring me shame. The choice was made easier when I remembered the big picture of why I wanted to run in the first place.
I showed up for practice again the next day. The coach seemed satisfied with my showing up, that the issue really was wheezing and not whining. The next time I started to wheeze, he gave me a break. Even so, my coach still expected me to do what I was supposed to do without whining.
Most of you know about my interest in John Wesley’s prayers and sermons. In his “Collection of Forms of Prayers for Every Day of the Week,” Wesley included questions for further exploration of our faith journey. His questions for Thursday evening reveal the same test that Jesus put his disciples through in our reading. The only difference is that the questions are asked from our perspective. They include:
Have I tried to will what God wills, and only that? Have I received everything that happened to me, that was not of my own choosing, as the choice of infinite wisdom and goodness for me, with thanksgiving? After doing all that God requires of me, have I left all future things concerning what I have done totally to God’s disposal? That is, have I labored to be wholly indifferent as to how God may use me next? Have I thought to reclaim my body, soul, friends, fame, or fortune after I have given them over to God? Have I withdrawn any of these gifts, when God has already accepted them from me?
Those questions are very formal, and formal questions are sometimes hard to keep using long enough to make any difference as a spiritual discipline. So, let me try restating these questions this way: When I find things challenging, whether in my faith or in my church, am I wheezing or am I whining? Do I just need to catch my breath, and breathe in the Holy Spirit; or am I insisting on my will over the will of God?
The will of God is revealed in Jesus as perfect love. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we learn that “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Jesus knows that this love of God for us doesn’t end, even if we are going to wheeze sometimes. It is this perfect love which assures us that Jesus will wait for us to catch our breath, to catch the breath of God, so that we can continue to follow him.
The Lenten season is about getting stronger in our faith. We don’t want to be inside wheezing, questioning our faith, while God calls us to be outside playing, outside living our faith in the world. We practice the spiritual disciplines so we can get stronger in our faith, and go on to perfection in love. The spiritual disciplines are to help us live into the tried and true confession that “we love, because God first loved us.”
God’s love for us, however, does not mean that have permission to whine. We do not get stronger in our faith by whining. We cannot, as it says in the Letters to the Hebrews, “run with perseverance the race that is set before us,” if we are whining.
Jesus has told us what the conditions are for being on his team. Not your will, but God's will. Not what you want, but what God wants. Not your life your way, but your life God’s way, even if it means that God may require it.
Jesus is still looking for disciples. Jesus still offers discipleship to the crowd. You have heard how John Wesley asked the question. You have heard how I have asked the question. And now we will hear how Isaac Watts asked the question in his 18th century hymn. Let us stand and sing, and if you are ready to become a disciple, or to renew your commitment to be a disciple, I invite you to come to the altar rail as we sing.
UMH 511 “Am I a Soldier of the Cross”
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.