This is my Pastor’s Ponderings article from our May 2017 newsletter.
Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. + Isaiah 41:10
This is not an easy article to write, nor will it be an easy one to read. I hope it leads to challenging and uncomfortable discussions, because the cost of silence it too great.
I want to encourage you to think about, engage and discuss the topics of bullying and suicide.
In particular, I’m encouraging you to watch the Netflix TV series, 13 Reasons Why, and/or read the book it was based on Thirteen Reasons Why.
The series and the book tell the story of a young female high school student named Hannah who commits suicide, and leaves a series of tapes for the people who, in her mind, caused her to lose the sense of value for her life, and led her to commit suicide. The 13 hour-long episodes are tough to watch. Included in her story are under-age drinking, strong language, bullying-both personal and online, drug use, violence, sexual acts, rape and ultimately, the character’s suicide.
The issues that the teenagers in this series and book deal with may not be the ones our young people face. Or they may be. Or they may face comparable issues. Bullying is a concern everywhere. I don’t think we can be naïve to think today’s teenagers aren’t being confronted with choices and temptations that adults struggle with. I don’t think we can be naïve to think those things don’t happen here, in some form.
Why would I ask you to watch something like this? Because young people are.
The book was a best seller in the Young Adult and New York Times lists when it came out. Since the series debuted on Netflix at the end of March, it has been near the top of their most viewed lists.
The series has been criticized for not dealing with the mental health issues involved in suicide, not for having provided depictions of alternatives that were available to Hanna. I agree, those would have been useful.
But I think the show (I haven’t read the book, but plan to) does a wonderful job in showing how the actions of the other characters contributed to Hannah’s decent towards seeing ending her life as an option. It causes many of the recipients of the tapes to think and re-examine their actions and behavior.
And that is why I recommend that you watch the series. Then discuss it with other people, to talk about it with your family. I ask you to tackle this because none of us know the issues others are wrestling with inside of their own hearts and minds.
I do this because in watching this series, I was taken back to some of the darkest days of my life. I remembered when I was considering doing the exact same thing that Hannah did in the series. I was taken back to when taking my life was a real consideration.
I made a serious mistake at my work, and I thought it would cost me my job. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt totally alone. And the longer I was alone, the worse things got in my mind.
Thankfully, I had friends and loved ones who reached out to me, and shared that they loved me no matter what. I had people who prayed for me and reminded me that I am a beloved Child of God, and forgiven for my sins. I realized that I might have ended my pain, but I would have inflicted untold pain on those who I loved. I didn’t make the choice Hannah made because I knew I was loved.
But I wear a reminder of those dark days. On my left inner forearm, I have a tattoo that reflects a verse from Scripture, but it is also a semi-colon.
A semi-colon is used when the author could have ended the sentence; but chose to keep their story going. It is a mark that shows someone has decided to keep going. I chose to have mine in a more visible place, and it has led to some conversations I never would have otherwise had.
Whether you decide to watch 13 Reasons Why or not, I encourage you to be willing to have some uncomfortable discussions with others about what they are dealing with and what you are dealing with yourself. Be willing to share your concerns with others. Let them know you love them.
You should be willing to talk to your loved ones about tough topics because you may regret not having done so.
Know that you are a beloved Child of God,
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell
If you are concerned about a loved one, or about yourself, please feel free to contact me. Here are some other resources that are available.
This is my sermon text for Easter Sunday, April 16. The lesson is John 20,1-18, John's telling of the Empty Tomb and First Resurrection appearance. My message focuses on the Apostle to the Apostles, Mary Magdalene, (left) depicted in an icon that might have been the inspiration for one of my recent tattoos.
May God’s grace & mercy be with you forever. Amen.
There is a difference between the two terms that we use to describe those who travelled with, and followed Jesus. We refer to them as disciples and as apostles. The two terms are often used interchangeably. But they shouldn’t be. They have different meanings; they describe different roles. A disciple is a student, a follower. In the Jewish culture of the time, a disciple would study and learn under the supervision of a rabbi. An apostle is someone who has been sent out to perform a duty or set of responsibilities. An apostle may have begun as a disciple and learned, but then has progressed and moved on, and has been given the responsibility of doing what they have learned about. In short, a disciple learns, while an apostle uses what they have learned.
On the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene goes to the garden where the tomb of her rabbi, Jesus, has been laid. She arrives in the garden and sees that the stone set in front of the tomb has been moved. Her immediate response is to be afraid, and to not want to be alone. So she runs to retrieve two disciples, Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. She assumes someone has stolen Jesus’ body from the tomb.
The two men race to the grave. The beloved disciple gets their first, looks into the empty tomb and sees only the linens that Jesus was wrapped in. Simon Peter arrives and dashes straight into the tomb. He is joined by the Beloved Disciple. They see the set of linens in one place, and cloth that covered Jesus face in another. They didn’t understand what had happened, but the Beloved Disciple believed. Then they went back to their homes.
It is only after the disciples leave that Mary Magdalene looks into the tomb. She sees not just the linens, but two angels sitting where Jesus’ body had laid. They ask her why she is crying. She tells them that someone has taken her Lord, and she doesn’t know where he is.
She turns around to see Jesus, but she doesn’t recognize him. He repeats the angels’ question, “Woman, why are you crying?” Assuming he is the gardener, she asks where he has taken Jesus’ body.
We hear very little about Mary Magdalene in the Gospels. Most of what we think we know is wrong. She was one of the women who followed Jesus from the Galilee area, helping to financially support his ministry. She had seven demons cast out of her, and she was with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross.
She was not a prostitute, and was not the woman thrown in front of Jesus that caused him to say, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone.” She was not the one who anointed Jesus with oil. Instead, she was a disciple.
This group of women who travelled with, and supported, Jesus and those travelling with him are virtually ignored in the Gospels, other than a mention here and there. But when they are mentioned, we find that they have been travelling with Jesus since his time in Galilee. They’ve been along for almost the entire time. They have seen, and heard, and learned from Jesus just as have his male disciples.
Then the man who Mary thinks is the gardener calls her by name, “Mary.” She realizes it isn’t the gardener. It is the Risen Christ. It is her Lord, her rabbi. So she calls him by his title, “Rabbouni!”
What does the Resurrection mean? What does that fact that He is risen (He is risen indeed!) mean? Why is the celebration of the remembrance of that day so important as to cause Christians to change the calendar? The Sabbath had always been the seventh day of the week, Saturday. The week-end was the last two days of the week, Friday and Saturday. But because they wanted to celebrate the resurrection as a special day, they moved the Sabbath to Sunday, the first day of the week, and adjusted the concept of the week-end to wrap around to the last day and first day of the week.
The early Christians wanted to mark this day on a weekly basis and reconfigured the way we mark time in order to do so. So what does it mean that the tomb was empty and that He is risen (He is risen indeed!) mean?
If this promise is true, if He really was raised, then the other promises are easier to accept. If you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, as he told his disciples he would be, then you believe that God has the power to defeat death. If God raised the Son from the dead, and has promised to raise us from the dead as well, aren’t you more likely to believe the whole promise if the first part happened?
And if death has been defeated, then why do we doubt that God will forgive our sins? Why do we doubt that God loves us? Why do we doubt that God wants us to love others with the love given to us?
That is why Easter is so important, the most important day each year in our tradition. Because if you believe He is risen (He is risen indeed!) then everything else is easier to believe.
And if you’re sitting there, not believing, or not sure you believe, that’s ok. God believes in you, and loves you. God wants you to see the love God has for you, to feel the forgiveness provided for you, to know the grace given for you. God wants you to encounter God’s loving-kindness in your life, either on you own, or through others.
Jesus tells Mary to tell his brothers, his disciples, that he will be ascending to God. She goes to the disciples “I have seen the Lord;” and she told them that he had said these things to her.” Having heard and learned, she was sent out and given a mission. That is why Mary Magdalene is known as the Apostle’s Apostle. She was sent out to proclaim the Good News to those whom Jesus had sent out.
If you believe that He is risen (He is risen indeed!) and know what the Lord can do, you have to make a decision. Do you go home, like the Peter and the Beloved Disciple, either not understanding or believing, or do you go and tell? Having heard the Good News that Jesus Christ has been raised (He is risen indeed!) do you sit on that information and keep it to yourself, or do you tell others of God’s love and share the Good News?
Will you stay a student and follower, or will you answer God’s call to go and proclaim the Good News to all the nations, to feed the hungry, take care of the sick and the poor? Will you be a disciple or an apostle?
On this holy day, I give thanks to God for the Apostle’s Apostle, Mary Magdalene and her proclamation that “I have seen the Lord!” I give thanks to God for modern day apostles who continue that proclamation, those who go and do what Christ has called us to do through our baptisms.
This is Pastor Brian's article for the April newsletter.
I will instruct you and teach you about the direction you should go. I’ll advise you and keep my eye on you. – Psalm 32.8
My favorite TV series of all time is The West Wing. When a project or effort has finished, whether it went well or went horribly wrong, President Bartlett would ask his staff, “What’s next?” The work of the Presidency never stops; it moves from one thing onto the next.
We have finally completed our establishment of the ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish. It has been an effort that many of us have spent over a year on. My thanks go to everyone who helped to make it a reality. My hope and prayers are that it will serve the three churches, all of you, and the work of God well.
So, what’s next?
Personally, I want to get through to Easter. I’m going to take the weekend after Easter off and go to the Twin Cities to watch the Tigers play the Twins, and maybe catch a Minnesota United soccer match. I will have another pastor on call in case of an emergency.
But there are a few things on the horizon that I think we – the people of Our Savior’s, Nazareth and Emmanuel – need to think about and work on.
One, we need to take a serious look at the question For Christ’s sake, what are we doing? As the body of Christ, what are we doing for our neighbor? How are we serving our communities and addressing the needs they have? Our service to God is about more than an hour on Sunday morning; it needs to be about serving those in need.
Two, how can we reach out to the un-churched in our midst? What can we do to invite in those who have left the church (include ours) or who have never been in church?
Three, what can we do to meet the changing needs of our members, and others, to make worship more accessible? Let’s be honest. Sunday morning is no longer set aside for attending church. Or if it is, it isn’t every week. This isn’t to dump guilt on anyone. It is a reality. As the weather gets warmer, it becomes more obvious. I’ve had several conversations about an additional service during the summer on some evening. There will be a survey in the Easter bulletins about this. If you won’t be there and you’d like one, let me know.
I know many of you think that I’m trying to change too much too quickly. But I am afraid that we are approaching our Kodak moment.
Did you know Kodak invented the first digital camera? They did, back in 1975. In 1992, when they had 89% of the film sales market, they opted to not pursue digital photography because they thought it would take away from their film sales. They went bankrupt five years ago.
The ONE in Christ parish should provide stability for the three churches for several years. But there is still more work that needs to be done.
I invite you to think about my three top areas to address, and let me know your thoughts. What can we do? How can you help? Is there another concern out there that I’ve missed.
Please tell me, what’s next?
Let us be ONE in Christ,
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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