This is an article I wrote for a local newspaper's Religion column.
I think one of the most important verses in the entire Bible comes right after one of he most well known.
In the third chapter of John’s Gospel, a leader of the Temple, Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night. Nicodemus wanted to understand what Jesus was teaching. After their discussion about how people must be born from above, Jesus explained what his mission on Earth is.
16 (Jesus said,) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:16-21 NRSV)
The verse of John 3:16 is the second most well known piece from all of Scripture behind Psalm 23. But I think the next verse has the more important theological insight.
John 3:17 says that Jesus was not sent to judge us, but that through him, we may be saved. Not just us, but all of creation. That verse doesn’t get quoted anywhere near as much as its predecessor, but it should. Because we love to think Jesus is going to condemn a lot of people, particularly, those who don’t agree with us.
Throughout John’s Gospel, he makes a lot of references to light and darkness. He refers to those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ as living in darkness. I think of it as turning their back on the Light. If you stand outside on a bright, sunshiny day and turn away from the sun, you notice that you cast a large shadow. You can’t see the light, and instead live in darkness.
I believe it is the same as when we turn our back on the Light, and turn away from the Son. We live in the darkness, and we cast a large shadow.
When we think we have done too much to be loved by God, we turn away from the Light, and we live in a darkness of our own making. But if we turn, ever so slightly, we see the Light, we are warmed by the Light.
When we feel alone and without value, we prefer the darkness. The darkness has its own culture and rules. If I don’t value myself, why would I value you or anyone or anything else?
But the Light is love, and acceptance, and mercy. We think that the Light exposes and shames. But the Light is a beacon. The Light is a signal to come home. If we can remember that the Son of God came into our world to save the world, and not to condemn it; if we can remember that the Son of God asks us only to believe that He is who he said He is, and trust in his call, then we are His.
Too often, we think with human hearts and minds, and recall all of the times we came up short and disappointed ourselves, and others, and we think we’ve disappointed God as well.
But God’s mind, and heart, are not human. God’s love is divine. God’s love is for all of the people, all of the world, and all of creation.
God’s love is expressed in the Light that has come into the world, if only we can bring ourselves to turn and embrace it.
May you embrace the Light of God’s Love.
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell
ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish
Our Savior’s + Greenwood; Nazareth + Withee, Emmanuel + Longwood
Go and Tell. Do Not Be Afraid!
This is my written text for my Easter Sunday sermons on March 27. The lesson is Mark 16:1-8. I've included my Small Talk (Children's Message) because it connects to a part of my message that I wanted to be sure didn't get lost in the activity at the end of my sermon.
I have a gift for each of you. Do you know what it is?
It kind of looks like an Easter egg, but they aren’t a bright color, are they. And they have holders, can you read what they say on there?
He has risen!
Do you know who they’re talking about? JESUS!
That is what we celebrate today is that Jesus has been raised from the tomb. And while this looks like a grey Easter egg, it really represents the tomb that they put him in when he died on Good Friday.
Open up the tomb. He is not there, but a cross is.
Because he died on the Cross, we are forgiven for our sins. That is what makes Good Friday good.
Because the tomb is empty, because he is not there, because he has been raised, then we too will be raised after we die.
What Jesus did on Good Friday on the Cross, and on Easter Sunday with the empty tomb means that we cannot do anything to separate ourselves from the love of God.
The cross reminds us that he has taken our sins away, and the empty tomb means we will go to heaven to be with him.
So these two things go together and will remind you of how much Jesus loves you.
- + -
In Mark's Gospel, there are two unique parts the story of the Resurrection.
One, no one actually sees the Risen Christ. The women only have the word of the young man.
Two, no one shares the news that Jesus has been raised. The women tell no one because they were afraid and alarmed.
These two features so troubled people that they decided to correct them. That's why Mark has three different endings. You have the original ending that we read, you have the shorter ending with a quick summary borrowing from the endings of the other 3 Gospels. The longer ending incorporates details from Luke’s Gospel. If you don’t believe me, look at your Bible when you get home. The stuff after verse 8 has brackets around it, and probably a lot of footnotes. If you can’t wait, get out your phone and look it up in your Bible app.
Does it matter that no one has seen the Risen Christ? The women have seen that the tomb is empty. The angel told them Christ has been raised.
Because he has been raised, because the tomb is empty, our tomb shall be empty, too. We will be raised. He died to show us that we can not do anything to separate ourselves from the love of God.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
While we are alive, Christ was raised from the dead for us.
In between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Christ descended to the dead, or into hell. That’s what we proclaim in the Apostle’s Creed. He shared the Good News of the love of God with the dead, and they believed. His death and resurrection make God’s love and salvation available for all. We cannot do anything to separate ourselves from the love of God.
We are dust, and to dust we surely will return, but because the tomb is empty, and because he has been raised, we won't remain dust. Death has been defeated. God loves us so much that we will spend eternity in God’s divine presence.
Good Friday and Easter Sunday both lead to resurrection. We understand resurrection in terms of life, but can we also understand it as a new life without the weight and burden of our sins dragging and holding us down? It is like new life coming in the Spring after a long, cold, hard winter.
Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified – he has been raised!
The impossible is now possible; what cannot be is. That is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God that Mark proclaimed at the beginning of his Gospel. Mark’s listeners had to decide if they believed that He has been raised, just as we do. None of us know anyone who has seen the Risen Christ.
Somebody got unafraid. Word got out that the tomb was empty; Jesus was not there. He has been raised. And the people they told believed. That is the story of our faith. We have been told that the tomb was empty; he is not there; he has been raised.
The women were told that Jesus was no longer in the tomb; he had been raised.
They were told to share this Good News. But they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone.
I can just imagine how the women must have felt when they returned home.
"Hey Salome, where did you go at the crack of dawn?"
"Oh, I just went for a walk with Mary and Mary."
"That's nice. What happened to all those spices you bought before the Sabbath?"
"Ummmmm, we took them with us."
"Where did you go?"
"Never mind; enough about me. What are you going to do today?"
Mark tells us why the women don’t tell anyone. They were alarmed. They were afraid. Fear makes us quiet.
But that makes sense. You see, Mark has told us, over and over again, that Jesus tried to teach the disciples that he would suffer, be killed, and rise again from the dead. They didn’t understand.
It is a pattern in Mark's Gospel. The people who should know what's going on, like the disciples, don't. Jesus teaches them, and they don’t understand. The people who do know who Jesus is can't be trusted. The demons Jesus casts out know he is the Son of God. The Roman centurion watches Jesus dies and says, "Truly, this man was God's son." Everyone who should know, don't get it. Those who do, can't be counted on.
But there's another who has seen and heard everything Jesus has said and done.
Someone who heard the Good News at the empty tomb and heard the order to go and tell. Who is it? It's you, and me, and all who have read or heard Mark's gospel.
Mark was counting on those who heard from him to go and tell.
Do not be afraid. Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, he has been raised; he is not here. Go and tell.
I’d like everyone to take out their cell phones, turn the ringers ON, and text, email or message someone that #HeHasBeenRaised. That message, with the hash tag is in our bulletins. Leave the ringers on to hear the responses. This church’s Facebook account sent that message when the service started so you can share and pass it along when you get home.
Share the Good News. The tomb is empty. He has been raised. DO NOT BE AFRAID!!
I am always encouraging people to spend more time reading the Bible. Now, I am going to suggest a way to engage the Bible, and spend LESS time doing it!
#30SecondBible is a project by Jim Kast-Keat, a pastor and theologian from New York. The series is described as:
The #30SecondBible series features dozens of voices reflecting on the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, you will hear summaries of each book and reflections on the good news they contain. Follow along each day to hear progressive and liberal voices claiming the Bible as book that they know and love. This is the Bible for busy people, thirty seconds at a time.
Each book of the Bible is covered in at least two videos, one summarizing the book and the other addressing the Good News in that book. It is being uploaded daily during Lent of 2016, and as of February 12, covers Genesis through Ruth.
I am proud, and a bit intimidated having heard the ones already available, to be a part of this project. I will be providing my insights on 2John in the next few weeks.
I really encourage you to check out #30SecondBible. It may just inspire you to read that book of the Bible, and then go on to read others!
This is the text of my Christmas sermon. Text in italics are quotes from Luke 2.
Just in case your Christmas shopping isn't done, or you need to get something extra for someone because they ignored limits or went over the top, I have a gift for you to give. It isn’t a two-pound bag of frozen lutefisk, but if that seems appropriate, there are some bags still in the freezer at Our Savior’s.
Actually, I’m going to tell you to give the gift given on the first Christmas morning. I’m not suggesting gold, frankincense or the ever-popular myrrh.
It is actually much worse than that. I’m asking to you share the Good News of the birth of Christ. Yes. I am suggesting that you re-gift.
Now, I have a problem with re-gifting, where you take a gift that someone gave to you and re-wrap it and give it to someone else. Personally, I have one exception – fruitcake. I think there really is only one fruitcake in the world and it is involved in a global game of hot potato. If you are in possession of the fruitcake at the end of the holiday season, you have lost.
But re-gifting the telling of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ has been happening since his birth. Look back at the passages you read from today’s lesson. Those of you who were angels told the shepherds this was good news.
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
It is good news for everyone. The promised savior has come. The angels were even kind enough to describe how the shepherds would know who the messiah was. He would be the newborn baby wrapped in rags who has a feeding trough for his first crib.
Not exactly the way you would expect the Son of God to come into the world, but those would be sufficient identifiers to find the child and his parents. The shepherds used that information after the angels left.
Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.
So they went, with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the child was lying in the manger. Then what did they do? They re-gifted the Good News that the angels had given to them.
They made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
They even kept on re-gifting.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Now, I will admit that this is taking the concept of re-gifting and stretching it to fit this story. But it does fit. You receive a gift, a gift that was picked out with you in mind, a gift with special value for you. In this case, the gift of a savior was given for all people, but the news of his birth was given to those at the bottom of society, to shepherds. Had the heavenly host given the good news to the kings and queens, to the leaders of the Temple, to the powerful and wealthy, they almost certainly would have kept it as a gift for themselves. They would have thought they were entitled to this messiah. It would have been a sign of God’s favor.
But to those at the bottom of society, to the outcasts and the marginalized, gifts are meant to be shared because they don’t come around very often. You share your toys with others, because it is more fun to play with them as a group than on your own. You share the plate of brownies because they are too good to keep to yourself, and you can’t eat them all by yourself. OK, you COULD eat them, but you choose to share them.
The good news of great joy for all the people of the birth of the Savior was too good to keep to themselves, especially when the Christ was a newborn baby wrapped in rags sleeping in a food trough.
He did not come to earth in glory. He was born in a barn. He did not come to reward some & punish others. He did not come to divide and isolate, or to shun and hate. He came out of boundless love for all people.
He came to save all of us, to redeem everyone. Salvation came, not to those who thought they were worthy of God’s love, but to ALL of us. There is no one who is worthy of God’s love. We all sin & fall short. But we are beloved by God anyway, because that is who God is. God’s favor and love can’t be earned; we already have it.
Our Savior, the Messiah, the Christ, Our Lord was born in a barn to be united with those who are on the outsides, those for whom there is no room in the inn. He died a horrible death on a cross to be united with all of us, so that our deaths are not final.
This message of salvation was proclaimed to the shepherds, who proclaimed it over and over, sharing the Good News with everyone they met. That was the first exchange of presents to celebrate the birth of the Son of God.
The love of God through Christ Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving. It is the gift that should continue to be given to everyone we meet, and through all the world.
For you is born a Savior, who is the Messiah, Christ the Lord.
Merry Christmas and Amen.
I want to say thanks to the Toad Lilies. They are a band that I found on the YouTube. I was looking for a Christmas song that referenced the Baby Jesus as a king. The readings in the Narrative Lectionary were pointing to the question, "Whom will you serve?" One pastor was using the title "Game of Thrones." I wished I would have thought of that, and when I saw it, it was too late to use.
Through the powers of Google, I came across this song.
The lyrics are below.
King of Kings
King of Kings, lying in a manger
Lord of Lords, so frail so small
Prince of Peace, son of the almighty
Came to earth, to give his life for all
No trumpet sounds, no fanfare, the stillness all around
On a night so cold and empty, in the sleepy little town
No royal pal - ace no castle no priceless gems, no crown
Just the cry of a helpless baby from a stable on the edge of town
From a stable on the edge of town Chorus
A child born in Bethlehem, in pure humility
He came for shepherds. He came for kings. He came for you and me.
Let heaven and earth adore him, let all creation sing
Peace on earth, goodwill to all, hallelujah to the King of Kings
Hallelujah to the King of Kings Chorus
It fit in with the themes building through Advent and with what I felled called to share for my Christmas message. I contacted the band and asked what I would need to do to use this song. They said to give them credit in our bulletins (we did), and to send them a recording of the performance.
Here are different videos of King of Kings being sung. The first two are excerpts from our Sunday School Service, (top) a rehearsal and (bottom) the congregation joining in.
This is the text of my Christmas Eve sermon. Text that is in italics are quotations from Luke 2. Text that is in bold italics are quotes from the song, King of Kings by the Toad Lilies.
I REALLY hope that your Christmas shopping is over. But I realize you might not be done because there is always that ONE person. You know what I mean – and if you’re sitting next to them, try not to stare. But everyone has that ONE person for whom, trying to buy any present, let alone the right one, is a struggle, possibly even near impossible.
For me, this was my mom. My dad was easy to buy for. He was an avid reader. He collected figurines of Santa Claus dressed in different outfits. Dad was a duck hunter and deer hunter. Dad was SO easy to buy presents for.
Then there was my mom. I love her dearly, but she was SO hard to shop for. She really didn’t have any hobbies. She did crafts; she would make Christmas ornaments to sell at local craft shows, but she would get her own supplies. She was not a reader, not a fan of anything special, she only collected souvenir spoons and already had several racks of those. I felt bad buying her cooking stuff, blenders, cookers or stuff like that. The only cooking instrument she said she wanted was a George Foreman grill, and how many of those can you give someone?
So I bought her “festive holiday sweaters.” REALLY Festive sweaters. YOU might call them ugly Christmas sweaters, but she treated them just like my horrible artwork from elementary school. She wore them proudly. But that was all that I could figure to get her as a Christmas present.
It is hard to figure out a way to show someone how much you love them. It is hard to show someone what they mean to you. Sometimes, you just don’t know what to do to let someone know that they are special, that you would do anything for them.
We are like that for God. The whole story of the Old Testament is a series of ways that God tried to show all of humanity, but especially God’s Chosen People, the Israelites, how much they were loved.
God chose Abraham out of everyone in the world to receive God’s blessings. God promised to give Abraham and Sarah more descendants than stars in the sky, and to bless them so they could be a blessing to the whole world. God wanted to give them God’s love, and for them to take that love and share it, to give it to others. That way, people would choose to love God because they could see and experience God’s love. But those descendants who became more numerous than the stars in the sky began to sin; they strayed from God’s commands and walked away from God’s love.
God left them to suffer the consequences of their actions, but then God would forgive them and bless them again. Then they would sin and stray and shun God again, and they’d pay for what they did, and God would forgive and bless them. The cycle continued; Lather – rinse – repeat.
And we really can’t look down on the ancient Israelites, shaking our head and saying, “Tsk, tsk.” We do the same thing. We know what God wants us to do; we know that God wants us to take the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness God has given us, and give it to others. In fact, we are commanded to do just that.
The proclamation of the army of angels that appear to the shepherds appears to be a pronouncement. But it can also be read as a command. Glory to God in the highest, & on earth peace-good will toward all people! All it takes is adding a verb here and there.
GIVE Glory to God in the highest, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. Meanwhile, here on earth share peace and show good will toward all people! In other words, love your neighbor as yourself; love each other as God has shown love to us.
God realized the Israelites just couldn’t understand what Divine love was like. So God decided to give all of humanity a gift that would express that love. God gave us the gift of God as one of us, God with us, Emmanuel.
God became human. God became a baby. Because God acts in unexpected ways, God became the baby boy of a poor teenage mother. They couldn’t get a room, so God’s gift to humanity was born in a barn, with a feeding trough for his first crib.
King of Kings, lying in a manger - Lord of Lords, so frail so small - Prince of Peace, son of the almighty, came to earth, to give his life for all.
That is how hard we are to give a gift.
To announce the birth, God could have had the heavens ripped open and have the whole host of heavenly angels proclaiming the birth of God made human. And God did just that. The angelic choir proclaimed the Good News of Great Joy, which shall be to all people to a bunch of shepherds. Not to kings or queens. Not to the media. Not to religious leaders. To shepherds. Common people. That is who God had the hosts of heaven proclaim Good News of Great Joy, which shall be to all people.
THAT’S how hard it is to give humanity a gift.
A child born in Bethlehem, in pure humility. He came for shepherds. He came for kings. He came for you and me. Let heaven and earth adore him, let all creation sing, Peace on earth, goodwill to all, hallelujah to the King of Kings.
God wanted the Good News of Great Joy, which shall be to all people to get to ALL people. So the proclamation started at the bottom. The Good News came to the people who most needed to hear it. The King of Kings had to start out at the bottom, sharing love with those who don’t feel loved, those who don’t feel included. So, on behalf of Our Savior, Emmanuel, Jesus of Nazareth, let me say this clearly and plainly: You are loved and valued by your Creator. God loves you.
No matter what you have done, God loves you.
No matter what you have NOT done, God loves you.
No matter who doesn’t love you, God loves you.
No matter who you love you, God loves you.
No matter who has made you think you are unworthy, you are worthy, and God loves you.
God wanted to show humanity how much we are loved. God gave us the gift of God’s son who would deliver us from death and would forgive us of our sins in an unexpected way.
Please share this gift of love with someone who needs to hear that message. Share the message of Good News of Great Joy, which shall be to all people because, to all of us is born a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
That is the greatest gift we could be given.
Hallelujah to the King of Kings
Merry Christmas and Amen.
This is my article for the Owen-Withee Enterprise newspaper for their Christmas edition. It is also the centerpiece for the sermons that I gave at various assisted living and nursing home centers in the weeks before Christmas.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is my favorite show about Christmas, and I think it helps to explain God’s love for us. For me, the best symbol of that love is Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
The tree is just sad. It is one droopy branch that can barely support a single red ball.
It doesn’t compare to the other beautiful trees, especially the ones in your homes.
But that is why I love it. Because it symbolizes how Christ came to us.
Jesus was born to a poor teenage girl and her new husband. They could not find anyplace to stay in Bethlehem, so the stayed with the animals. When the baby was born, his first blanket were strips of rags. His first cradle was a feeding trough.
The angels were so excited about the birth of the Messiah, the Savior, that they had to tell the Good News. But they didn’t go to the important people of the time. They didn’t tell Caesar, or kings and queens. They didn’t tell the leaders of the Temple. They didn’t tell the rich and powerful.
Instead, they went and told shepherds.
I don’t want to offend anyone who works with sheep, but at the time Christ was born, shepherding wasn’t a highly regarded profession. It actually was what you did if you couldn’t do anything else. It also was not a profession where people were well thought of. You spend all day and all night outside. Your sheep go all over the place and onto other people’s land. Plus, you wind up smelling like sheep. For all of these reasons, the shepherds were at the bottom of society in this time.
And that is to whom the hosts of heaven proclaimed the Good News of Great Joy which was for them and for all people.
Because by coming to those on the bottom rung of society’s ladder and who were outside of accepted norms, the angels’ message that the Savior had come for ALL wouldn’t be lost. Had the Good News come to the leaders, the rich and the powerful, they would have thought it was a sign of God’s blessings for them. But the shepherds weren’t expecting to be blessed, so they understood that the message was for them and for everyone.
Then the army of angels told them how to find the newborn baby. He will be wrapped in rags – that is what swaddling clothes are, bands of cloth. He will be lying in a manger – where the animals feed from. That is how the Son of God comes into the world. He is a poor baby, dressed in rags, sleeping in a feeding trough in a barn.
That’s why I love Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. It is like the newborn Christ, unassuming, unappreciated.
At the end of the show, all of Charlie Brown’s friends get together and decorate the little tree, and it transforms into a beautiful sight. Linus says, “I never thought it was a bad tree. It just needed a little love.”
That is the message of Emmanuel, God with us; the Prince of Peace made incarnate. God didn’t think humanity was so bad; we just needed a little love. So He sent His Son to show us what a life lived in love looks like. To show us that a life lived of giving and helping and caring and sharing and loving can do miraculous things. To call us to live lives like that, to live in order to give, not to take.
We are called to share the gifts God has given us with others, especially those whom society has shunned.
We are called to find the droopy little trees in our lives and give them a little love.
That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
This is my written text for my sermon at our Joint Worship Service on August 16th at Longwood Park. I didn't stick to the script, but this the intent of the message I gave.
The lesson for the day is Psalm 40, which is in a series of images at the bottom of the post.
The video - which I didn't play, is the song, "40" by U2.
I first time I heard of Psalm 40 was as a song. And I heard the lyrics wrong. But I actually got it right. Before I got it right, it changed my life.
While I was in college, my roommate introduced me to the music of an Irish rock band, U2. I remember listening to their albums over and over my senior year. Well, as much over and over as can be when you had to get up to turn the record over to hear the other side.
I noticed on one listening that the last song on the album mentioned God. Here are the lyrics to the U2 song, “40.”
I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit, out of the miry clay.
I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long; how long to sing this song?
He set my feet upon a rock and made my footsteps firm.
Many will see, many will see and hear.
I didn’t think much about the song after that. I remember hearing that the band took the lyrics from the beginning of Psalm 40, and I opened up a Bible to check it out, and didn’t read beyond verse 3, which is where they stopped borrowing inspiration. And I didn’t think about it for a long, long time.
When I finally got called back to being in a relationship with God, when I had someone put the Scriptures in my hands and told me to read them, I came across Psalm 40 again.
I was reading an article about U2’s lead singer, Bono, and his work with the charity, ONE. The article dealt with his motivation to use his celebrity and fame to do good works for the poor, the sick and the voiceless. He said the motivation came from his faith. As he elaborated, the author of the article referenced a quote Bono gave in a previous interview. He said that the psalms feel like the blues; man shouting at God.
At a time when I was trying to rebuild my faith, redevelop a relationship with God, the idea of shouting at God was interesting. So I pulled out a Bible, and flipped around to find where Psalms was located. I realized there are a whole lot of them. So where to start? I knew about two Psalms. I knew 23 didn’t include any yelling.
So, what about 40?
As I read it, I realized this was my story, or what I hoped my story would be, could be.
The Psalmist tells about God’s deliverance; God saving them from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog. Miry bog spoke to me – that’s a Scottish reference. A miry bog is a swamp, but the type of swamp that pulls your boots off. It’s the swamp you can’t get out of on your own. The more you struggle, the worse it gets. The mud, the muck and the mire just pull you down.
That’s where I felt in my life. That in my sin and my life away from God, I was in the miry bog. I got in there on my own. But on my own, I could never get out. I was stuck in the swamp of my sin.
You set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
The only way out of the swamp was to be pulled out. Or plucked out. Airlifted by God, not because I deserved it, or was worthy of rescue. But saved from the swamp of my sin by the goodness and grace of God. Delivered because no matter what I had done, I was a beloved child of God.
You may not have been stuck in the miry bog, in a swamp of your own sin. But given the wonderful winters of Wisconsin, I’m sure you can relate to being stuck with no hope of getting out on your own. Your tires spin and spin and spin and never get any traction. It is only through someone coming along to help push or pull you out. That feeling of relief and gratitude is set(ting) your feet upon a rock, making your steps secure.
Our response to that salvation – being saved from being stuck, is the new song.
When I realized that God could draw me up from the pit, lift me out of the miry bog, I realized that the only response was to let others know that there was a way out of the swamp of our own sin. That’s what we are called to do. Many will see and hear, and put their trust in the LORD. Happy are those who make the LORD their trust.
I think this was about the time that I felt that I should not just go to church to worship, but to get involved in what my church was doing. That’s when I asked my pastor words that any pastor loves to hear, “What can I do to help out the church?” Soon after, I was on a couple of committees, and was helping to lead worship. Then, after worship one Sunday, a little old lady told me I should be a pastor.
40 changed my life.
It’s story of how God pulled the Psalter out of the miry bog, and set their feet upon a secure rock gave me reassurance that God could do the same for me. The Psalter goes on to tell that in response to God’s salvation, they will sing a new song so that others can hear of God’s love. They go on to explain what that song is.
God doesn’t want our sacrifices; God doesn’t want us to try to buy forgiveness. Rather, God gives us an open ear. God wants to hear from us. God wants us to share our lives, our worries, our successes, our joys and pains with God.
I thought that I needed to work off my debt. I thought I had to repay God. And you might think that’s what I’m doing as a pastor; that in response to God’s gift of forgiveness, I’ve given God my life. You’re close, but also so far off target.
I became a pastor because I want others to realize there is a way out of the miry bog. I became a pastor because I want others to know that struggling in the swamp of sin, beating yourself up and blaming yourself for getting stuck is just a waste of time and energy. We can’t get out of the bog by ourselves. We are rescued from the swamp, saved and set upon a rock by Our Savior. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are given a new life on earth, saved from the worries of trying to earn God’s love and mercy. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are given a new life after death, to be with our loved ones and the one who loves us the most, our Creator.
40 tells my story.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation. See, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
When I realized, with the help of Psalm 40, that God could forgive someone who walked away from the church; when I realized that God still loves someone who has turned their back on God, I thought, why don’t people know this? Why do we let the perception that God only loves those who obey and do what God has said.
Parents don’t stop loving their children when they are disobedient. They may not always like them, but they always love them. Why do we think that the Creator cares for us any less because we have been disobedient?
When we know that God loves us despite of the mess that we are; despite the messes we make in our lives; despite the messes we make OF our lives – how can we not tell everyone?
We will tell others about a new recipe, about where gas is a nickel cheaper, about a bargain we got, about how the fish we caught was THIS BIG, but we are reluctant to tell people we care about that God loves them and forgives them, no matter what.
May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. May those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
So I’ve told you about how I heard Psalm 40 as the song 40. And I’ve told you about how 40 changed my life; how it actually gave me a guide for my life & my calling.
But I haven’t told you about how I misheard the lyrics, but actually got them right.
I waited patiently for the Lord.
But that wasn’t what I heard. I heard “I waited IMPATIENTLY for the Lord.” That made more sense to me. Because if you are waiting patiently, why are you asking how long to sing this song? If you wait patiently, you won’t mind singing this song over and over and over. But if you are IMPATIENT, you want to know how long you have to keep going.
As I read the psalm, studied the psalm, I found more hints that the Psalter was impatient.
O LORD, make haste to help me.
You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.
The writer of the psalm knows God will deliver him; has delivered him. But he wants to know FOR SURE. He wants to feel God’s love and embrace.
Three years ago, at the Synod Assembly, Dr. Rolf Jacobson, an Old Testament professor from Luther Seminary and scholar on the Psalms, lead several Bible studies. During one, he mentioned 40.
He said that the Psalter looks over their shoulder to the past at the tough times they have been through and tells about how God has taken care of them. But it's a crappy translation. The Hebrew says, “To wait, I waited.” It intensifies the waiting.
If your waiting is intensified, you are not waiting patiently. You are IMPATIENT. You are looking at your watch. You’re pacing. You are letting out exasperated sighs. You are not waiting patiently on the LORD. You are impatient – Come ON, God.
That’s the lesson I hadn’t yet learned from 40.
I hadn’t realized that sometimes you are in the miry clay, in the swamp because your time in the swamp changes you.
I heard Dr. Jacobson’s talk the first weekend of June in 2012. I’d been back from Michigan for 3 weeks from my mom’s funeral. I was up to my eyeballs in the miry bog and clay.
And I was not waiting patiently for God to incline and hear my cry.
I was screaming for help. I was drowning in grief.
Hearing about Psalm 40, that it really should be translated as IMPATIENTLY made me go back to read 40. I rediscovered its promise. I was reassured in my trust.
I was reminded that singing that new song isn’t a metaphor. It is a literal response to God’s goodness and grace. In my case, the song is a metaphor – because I can’t sing. But proclaiming God’s deliverance must be our response. After God has helped you through the tough times, you have a new song of praise to sing.
So to all of you here, and to the members of our congregations who aren’t here, we have a new song to sing. God has been good to us. While things haven’t always been easy; while things haven’t gone the way we want; while we have had to struggle and stumble and deal with strife and the messiness of life; we have never been alone. God has been with us, holding us up in the miry bog. God has supported us in our swamp of sin.
God has heard our cry, because God has been with us all along. He has lifted us up and set our feet upon a rock, and made our steps secure.
Now, it is time for us to sing a new song so that many will see and hear. It’s time for us to share the blessings God has given us. It’s time for us to be disciples and share God’s love and the Good News with our families, friends and neighbors.
As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.
And that’s why I wear 40. It changed my life.
In the latest issue of The Lutheran, my buddy (pictured above with me), Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, writes about a "prescription against paralysis."
I love her quote that "It is not up to us to fix the church or the world—that has already been done in Christ. And since the victory has been won we are free in this in-between time to live into the new life God has brought about in this world."
She refers to the Ascension of Christ, and the two men in white robes asking the disciples if they're going to stand there all day, looking and waiting for Jesus to come back.
It connects with the sermon Bishop Rick Hoyme has provided for Sunday's services while many of us will be at they Synod Assembly. What are we doing while the Master (or Messiah) is away?
We don't have to save the world -- as Bishop Eaton says, that's been done.
We just have to live in the world, and share the Good News and the love of God.
After all, that is our Mission from God.
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.
ONE in Christ
on Social Media
Our Savior's Facebook
Our Savior's / Emmanuel: 715-267-6142
Nazareth's Office: 715-229-2051
is at 8:00 a.m.
is at 9:30 a.m.
is at 11:00 a.m.