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  • Reclaiming virtue

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

    February 20, 2023


    By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:22-26)


    This year the season of Lent arrives as an unexpected and surprising gift. Of course, Lent always comes as a gift; albeit it often arrives as an awkward and peculiar gift.


    Too often Lent feels like an archaic and outdated season. It appears to be a token of nostalgia, and a practice of a lost and unsophisticated world. And yet, the gift of the season of Lent is its invitation to reflect upon a variety of themes and practices that sit at the foundation of Christian spirituality.


    For instance, Lent summons us to take stock of our lives as we live in the midst of a consumer culture that emphasizes unlimited choice and unfretted desire. It calls us to enter into a time of disciplined confession and repentance for the ways in which we violate God’s good intention for our lives. Like King David, Lent implores us to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). It invites us also to ponder the journey of faith, to think about how we travel with Jesus in obedience and trust. 


    Certainly, all of those themes are good gifts for consideration. They are motifs that would help us to observe a holy Lent this year. It occurs to me, however,  that Lent offers us another theme for our consideration. It provides us with a gift that is essential for our life together—the gift of reclaiming virtue.




    “Virtue” may appear to be an unusual gift and theme for Lent because it is a notion that we most often associate with the phrase “civic virtue.” Of course, civic virtue—everything from hard work to moderation to frugality to temperance to patriotism to civility—is rooted in Western philosophy. Civic virtues are the behaviors, dispositions, and practices that give order to a society and that provide for its common good. In a National Constitution Center blogpost, Jackie McDermott writes: “Civic virtue describes the character of a good participant in a system of government—the personal qualities associated with the effective functioning of the civil and political order or the preservation of its values and principles.”[1]


    In recent years, both civility and virtue have fallen on hard times. So much so that many of us now wonder: Is civic virtue dead? Can the common good be renewed? Is our democracy and society sustainable? Certainly, civic virtue is on life support. But it is not dead yet. Hope remains that we may be able to reclaim the virtues that nurture and sustain our common life.




    While virtue may be an odd gift and topic for Lent, it goes to the heart of Christian faith, practice, and spirituality. Christian virtues are both similar and different to civic virtues.  Christian virtues give direction and guidance to the four essential relationships that form the connective tissue of Christian spirituality. They are behaviors and practices that inform how we relate to God, to our neighbors, to creation, and to ourselves. Get these right and Christian virtues will not only ensure a healthy and robust congregational life, but a good and beautiful life of discipleship as well.


    In his letter to his church friends in Galatia, the apostle Paul wrestles with two critical faith questions: First, how do we relate to one another? Second, how should we best live? Paul answers both of those questions by saying:


    Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for those are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

                                                                           (Galatians 5:16-17)


    After urging the Galatians and us to “live by the Spirit,” Paul then enumerates a list nine virtues to assist us in doing two-things: cultivating the common good and living a good and moral life. Of course, we know Paul’s list of virtues as the “Fruit of the Spirit:” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.    


    The apostle Paul, however, is neither the first nor the only person to identify a list of dispositions that are essential to promoting the common good and to living a moral life. Three hundred and fifty years before Paul, the Greek philosopher Aristotle named four virtues that he viewed as vital to living an ethical life: temperance, justice, prudence, and courage. Following in the footsteps of Aristotle and Paul, Benjamin Franklin outlined a list of thirteen virtues in his autobiography. Franklin saw his list of virtues as necessary for doing good in himself and others, and he recommended that his readers try to master one virtue at a time in pursuit of becoming a better American.[2] More recently, in his book, Elusive Grace: Loving Your Enemies While Striving for God’s Justice, Presbyterian minister Scott Black Johnston has identified the virtues of temperance, justice, wisdom, courage, faith, hope and love as the ingredients needed for restoring our life together and redeeming our souls.[3]


    Inspired by the apostle Paul, Aristotle, Ben Franklin, and Scott Black Johnston, I thought it might be fun to consider with you some of the virtues that sit at the center of our faith in a sermon series that I have entitled: “Reclaiming Virtue.”  


    Throughout Lent, I will be inviting us to reflect on the following virtues: humility, temperance, justice, wisdom, courage, faith, hope, and love. Our sermon series will begin on Ash Wednesday and conclude on Easter Sunday. During Lent, I will be inviting us to ponder the eight Christian virtues that I have identified as the foundational practices for both cultivating our life together and nurturing our individual discipleship and spirituality.


    Candidly, I have four modest hopes for our Lenten sermon series. First, it is my hope that by focusing on virtue we will rediscover the importance and necessity of civility. Second, it is my hope that Christian virtues (the fruit of the Spirit) empower us to live beautiful and faithful lives. Third, it is my hope that we will discover that Christian virtues show us as Christ’s own. After all, we are called to be and to live differently in the world. As those baptized in Jesus’ name, we are not to be like everyone else. Lastly, it is my hope that with a little bit of intentional practice that we may make virtue fashionable again.


    And so, welcome to Lent 2023, and to its unexpected gift and surprising offer of reclaiming virtue.



    Holy God,

         throughout these forty days,

              empower us to cultivate and ponder your gifts of

                     humility, temperance, justice, wisdom, courage, faith, hope, and love

              so that we may observe a holy Lent.

    In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. 

    [1] Jackie McDermott, “Civic Virtue, and Why It Matters,” blogpost, February 20, 2020.

    [2] Cameron Gunn, Ben & Me: From Temperance to Humility—Stumbling Through Ben Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues, One Virtuous Day at a Time (New York, NY: Perigree Books, 2010), pp. xiii-xvii.  

    [3] Scott Black Johnston, Elusive Grace: Loving Your Enemies While Striving for God’s Justice (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2022), pp. 9-10.

  • An Invitation and A Summons

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

    January 3, 2023

    Isaiah 12:1-6

    Revelation 1:1-8

    John 7:37-39

    New Year’s Day marks a dramatic fresh beginning. It is a day when we dream, imagine, and ponder fresh possibilities for our lives. It is a day when we resolve to be different, to be better and newer versions of ourselves.

    The beginning point of the new year is a great time to consider fresh starts and new beginnings. But it is also a good moment to think again about our identity and vocation as the people of Jesus. In these readings, we are invited to a dual consideration. On the one hand, we are called to think imaginatively about God as the giving and renewing source of our life. On the other hand, we are summoned to reflect upon our vocation as the people of Jesus, people who are called to be conduits and holy agents of life and love.


    In the poetry of Isaiah, the prophet takes the image of a deep well filled with fresh water and transposes it into a metaphor for God. The invitation of the poetry is to “draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). It is an invitation to discover that God is a reliable source of water that refreshes, renews, and gives to us a new quality of life. In the gospel narrative, Jesus imaginatively takes up the imagery of Isaiah’s poetry for himself when he says: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7:37b-38a). In his invitation to come and to drink, Jesus makes a bold theological claim that he is “the well of salvation.” He makes the assertation that he is the true source of water…life…salvation. He is the one who quenches the deep thirst of our lives. The invitation is to draw water from the deep well of his life.

    The imagery is different in the reading from Revelation. But the point is the same. Jesus is the true source of our life. Here, the image is not “water” but “blood.” In an ascription of praise, John of Patmos writes, “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood…” (Revelation 1:5). We are given new life—salvation—because of the blood of Jesus. John is not articulating some silly theory of atonement. He is not saying something magical or mystical. He is not even doing detailed systematic theology. Rather, he is doxological and poetic. In his lyrical imagination, he uses the word “blood” as a way of talking about Jesus’ self-giving, vulnerable love. We have life because Jesus gives his life away in love. Blood is life. Blood is now gospel. Blood is now good news. Blood is the sign and symbol that Jesus is the source of our life and that we have been given a new quality of life. We have life because Jesus gives his blood…his life away for us.

    Taken together, all three readings make the point that God/Christ is the true source of life:

    • God is a deep, inexhaustible well of salvation.
    • Christ is refreshing water that quenches thirst.
    • Christ’s blood liberates and give new life.

    While the new year may be a good time to ponder the invitation that Christ is the true source of our life, it is also an occasion to consider all of the places where we have tried to find life that turn out to be either dry wells or venues of death. The list of dry wells and deathly venues is long and obvious. It certainly includes our endless pursuit of more sex, bigger cars, larger portfolios, more weapons, copious amounts of food and alcohol, mind and body numbing drugs, or whatever. Our society seems to always believe that the source of life is found in the consumer goods of sex, money, power, and weapons. Our society is deep into such empty wells and deathly venues. They are a powerful temptation to us all.


    While we consider the invitation to draw water from the deep well of salvation, I want us to notice one more thing. Both the readings from John and Revelation make an additional move. They make a pivot. They make a turn from Christology to ecclesiology. They shift from talking about Jesus to talking about us. I am always amazed at how quickly the writers of the New Testament pivot from Jesus to us. I

    n the gospel narrative, Jesus quickly turns from his invitation to come and to drink from his life to issuing a strong summons to us: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38b). While Jesus is the source of living water, this source is to have many conduits—“the hearts of believers.” From our hearts will flow rivers of living water. We are a source of life for others. We too are a source of living water.

    Once again, the imagery is different in the reading from Revelation. But the point is the same. We are called to be a source of life and well-being for others. In the middle of his doxology, John of Patmos sings of our vocation, “…And made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:6). We are priests! We are holy agents of love, praise, prayer, service, and sacrifice. We are summoned to an alternative life, a life that gives life by giving its life away for the sake of the other.

    So, take your pick. Name the image that speaks to you most clearly about your vocation as a disciple of Christ:

    • a conduit of living water;
    • or a priest serving God.

    Can you imagine being a conduit of living water? Can you imagine goodness, life, love, hope, and well-being flowing through you? Can you imagine people being refreshed by the living water of Jesus flowing through you? Can you imagine people find healing and new life because of your priestly care and holy way in the world? Can you imagine such a holy, life-giving vocation? Sometimes it is difficult to own the good that is done through us. It is a challenge for us to acknowledge or believe that people have been refreshed by the living water of Jesus that flows through us. But we are indeed conduits of Christ’s living water, flowing love, and infinite life.


    Indeed, the new year is about fresh starts and new beginnings. But it seems to me that the new year is a moment for accepting an invitation and embracing a vocation that the world doubts:

    • accepting the invitation to drink living water from the deep well of Christ’s own life;
    • embracing the summons to be a conduit of living water.

    And so, here we are at the beginning of the new year with our deep thirst, unquenched, standing by the well of salvation with bucket in-hand, hearing the invitation and the summons:

              Let anyone who believes in me drink;

              Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

    What an invitation! What a vocation! What a beginning to a new year!


    God of new beginnings and fresh starts, you are a deep well of salvation. In you, we find living water. We give thanks that you invite us to come and to drink of your life, to drink living water that you give. Quench our thirst. Renew our souls. Empower us to be a conduit, a source of living water for others. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

  • Saints

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

    November 1, 2022

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

    Today is All Saints Day. Today is one of the great feast days of the Church. And yet, with the exception of Catholics and Episcopalians, many Christians do not recognize or know about All Saints Day, which is observed annually on the day after Halloween.  

    On All Saints Day the Church is invited to make two important affirmations: 1) We affirm that our dead who have died in Christ are safely with God. We honor our ancestors in the faith who have joined the Church triumphant. 2) We affirm that we who live in the Church are not only deeply connected to Christ but also to our loved ones who lived and died in the Lord. As the writer of Hebrews says, “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”

    Today, on All Saints Day, we make concrete what we confess when we say: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

    As I have thought about All Saints Day, I have found myself wrestling with these questions: Who is a saint? What does it mean to be a saint of God? What does it mean to be a part of the communion of saints? What are the marks of the communion of saints?  

    In a delightful New York Times guest essay entitled, “Halloween Is for Heroes, Not Ghosts,” New Testament scholar Esau McCaulley writes, “…Saints are recognized by widespread affirmation of the lasting impacts of their lives.” For McCaulley, saints are special people known for their great achievements. They are faith heroes who hold a special place in our memories.

    In her book, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Nadia Bolz-Weber offers an alternative definition for “saints.”  According to her, anyone can be a saint because saints are sinners through whom God works. Bolz-Weber writes:

    "…It has been my experience that what makes us saints of God is not our ability but rather God’s ability to work through sinners. The title “saint” is always conferred, never earned….I have come to realize that all saints I’ve known have been accidental ones—people who inadvertently stumbled into redemption like they were looking for something else at the time, people who have just a wee bit of a drinking problem and manage to get sober and help others to do the same, people who are as kind as they are hostile." *

    As you consider that saints are, on the one hand, individuals who are recognized for the lasting impact of their lives and who hold a special place in the Church’s memory, and on the other hand, saints are sinners through whom God works, I would like to share with you my definition of “saints.”  

    I have developed three ways of talking about saints. First, Saints are those upon whom the light shines and shines through. In a church window, where the sun shone through a little girl said, “Oh, saints are the ones through whom the light comes upon us.” Saints are those who radiate and reflect the light and love of Christ. Saints are those who emulate and exhibit Jesus Christ, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

    Saints are also those who honor and respect the dignity of difference. Saints know and speak the primal language of the other. Saints are generous, kind, loving, and respectful of others—others of different race, age, class, culture, ethnicity, and even orientation. Many people fear the other; however, saints know that it is in the face, hands, and feet of the other that we see and meet God.

    Lastly, saints live at the intersection of death and life. Saints do not run away and hide when we smell death. When saints smell the stench of death, we stay alert and present, bringing the generative gifts of love that transform the valleys of death and negation into oasis of hope, life, and well-being.

    So, think about these three marks of the Church (the communion of saints):

    1. where the light shines and where love flows;

    2. where the other is loved and respected;

    3. where death and life intersect and death is defeated.

    And then, think about your life and our life together at Sinking Spring. For two-hundred-fifty-years, Sinking Spring has been a gathering place for the saints of God. It is a place where Christ’s light shines and God’s love flows. It is a fellowship where the other is joyfully welcomed, valued, and loved. It is a community that lives at the intersection of Main and Pecan streets, an intersection where death and life regularly meet, and the smell of death is overcome by the fragrant aroma of love.

    Today is all about saints. Today is our day. Therefore, affirm and celebrate and ponder and sing. Yes, above all sing a song to and of the saints of God:

    I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true,

    who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.

    And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess

    on the green: they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping to be one too.


    Lord Jesus, pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

              assist us to be saints

                        where your light shines and your love flows,

                        where the other is welcomed, valued, and loved,

                        and where the smell of death is trumped by love.

    In your life-giving name, we pray. Amen.

    Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: finding God in All the Wrong People, (New York: Convergent Books, 2015), p. 7.

  • The Journey of Faith

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

    October 11, 2022


                            “When my soul was embittered,

                                when I was pricked in the heart,

                            I was stupid and ignorant;

                                I was like a brute beast toward you.

                            Nevertheless, I am continually with you;

                               you hold my right hand.”

                                                                             (Psalm 73:21-23)


    “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

       (Ephesians 4:22-24)


    During my time of daily prayer and Lectio Divina this morning, I spent some time thinking about the spiritual life. Specifically, I spent time contemplating the journey of faith:

    •          How are we to be about the journey of faith?
    •          Why do we embark on the journey of faith?
    •          Who do we travel with on the journey of faith?

    One of the defining images of biblical faith and Christian spirituality is the motif of the journey. From beginning to end, the Bible is a record of God calling all kinds of people—men and women, boys and girls, old and young, rich and poor—to the journey of faith. As the people of Jesus, we, too, are summoned to undertake the journey of faith. We are called to travel in Jesus’ path, follow in his wake, and to imitate his self-giving life and love daily in our own lives.


    Since we are called to be about the journey of faith, consider these questions: How is it currently with you on the journey of faith? Perhaps your travel is smooth, metaphorically speaking, with clear skies, no wind, and a clear road. Perhaps your travel is full of traffic accidents, potholes, flat tires, and unintended pitstops. Perhaps you have gotten lost along the way. Perhaps you have taken a wrong turn or two and had to make some U-turns. Perhaps you have not even embarked on the journey of faith. Perhaps you have stopped, given up on the journey of faith. How are you about the journey of faith?


    As you think about your journey of faith, I want to share three thoughts with you that occurred to me about the journey of faith during my time of reflection this morning:


    First, the journey of faith is about transformative newness. It is about genuine human change. It is about letting go of the old, tired, and crippling identity. It is about “putting away the former way of life and being clothed with the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-24). It is about casting aside the old brokenness that enslaves us and moving toward a new way of being named, embraced, and loved. The journey of faith is always about the move from death to life, from hopelessness to newness, from testing to gifted assurance, from exclusion to inclusion, from isolation to community, and from estrangement to unconditional love.


    Second, have you ever noticed how often we wander away from God as we are about the journey of faith? I do not know how familiar you are with Psalm 73. Candidly, it is not at the top of too many reading lists. Psalm 73, however, is a meditation on the journey of faith and the temptation to wander away from God. In the long plotline of the Psalm, the Psalmist reflects on how he or she became distracted from the journey of faith by envying the prosperity of the wicked and wandered away from God. The Psalmist, in a moment of startling candor and lament, says, “I was like a brute beast toward you” (Psalm 73:22b).


    Wow! I find the Psalmist’s words breathtaking. Can you imagine describing yourself in relation to God as a “stubborn mule” or a “beast of burden?” Do you exhibit any mule-like tendencies in your relationship with God? I do! Can you imagine wandering away from God in your distracted, busy, and overcrowded life? I can!


    The hymn composer Robert Robinson certainly could imagine being like a “brute beast” and wandering away from God, which is why he penned the third verse to the beautiful hymn, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:


              O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!

              Let that grace now, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.

              Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;

              Here’s my heart; O take and seal it; for thy courts above.*


    Like the Psalmist, we become easily distracted from the journey and practice of faith. It maybe envy that tempts and distracts us, or it may be something else. It could be our individual successes and failures that distract us. It could be the demands of modern life, the overcrowding of our lives with the busyness of work and the muchness of family so that we are stretched so thin that we have no time left for God and the weighty matters of the gospel. It could be that we look for the source of our spiritual life in the distractions of television, technology, big-time athletics, celebrity, money, sex, beer, cosmetics, social media, etc. And then, in our distraction and wandering from God, we may act, as the Psalmist laments, like “a brute beast toward God.”


    Third, and most importantly, we are not alone on the journey of faith. We have a traveling companion. Christ is with us. Christ is beside us. Christ is in us. Christ is before us. Christ is behind us. Ever faithful, Christ is holding us, loving us, and guiding us while we are about the journey of faith. Even the Psalmist, immediately after confessing that he or she acted like a “brute beast toward God,” acknowledges, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand” (Psalm 73:23).


    I share these thoughts about the journey of faith with you to urge you to think deeply and seriously about your relationship with God, to encourage you to live a disciplined life of faith, one with intentionality and purpose, and to assure and to affirm that we do not undertake the journey of faith alone. We are surrounded on the way by Christ who is the source of our spiritual life.


    This is an old Scottish blessing, “May you have traveling mercies.” It is my prayer for you this day and every day as you are about the journey of faith.




    Holy Companion, Traveling Partner,

                as we follow in your wake,

                            travel in you path,

                                        and imitate your self-giving life and love

                hold us by the hand,

                            surround us,

                                        and give to us your traveling mercies. Amen.        

    *Robert Robinson, Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, 1758.

  • Thin Places

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

    August 30, 2022

    Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”

        (Genesis 28:10-12)

    As some of you are aware, I spent last week at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery, in Moncks Corner, SC, studying the life of the sixteenth century Christian mystic St. Teresa of Avila. It was a delightful and restful time of retreat, silence, and study.

    Before I left for my week of continuing education, however, a number of people reached out to me to inquire as to why I wanted to spend a week at a Trappist monastery learning about St. Teresa of Avila. And then, interestingly, after returning to the office this week, a handful of people have expressed curiosity and interest in hearing about what I experienced and learned last week. 

    In response to all of the interest and questions, I thought it would be fun to share with you why I chose to spend last week at Mepkin Abbey in retreat, silence, and study. Candidly, there are two primal reasons:

    First, I wanted to be with the One who loves me deeply, who is Breath of my breath, and who is the Lover of my soul. I wanted to spend the week with Christ. I desired to be re-centered in Christ’s life, presence, and Spirit. I longed to spend the week in contemplative prayer and silence, listening for “the still small voice of God” (2 Kings 19:12). In her book, The Life, St. Teresa of Avila offers a simple definition of contemplative prayer that nicely summarizes why I spent a week at Mepkin Abbey. She writes, “Contemplative prayer is simply, and nothing more than, a sharing among friends.”*  Simply put, I spent last week at Mepkin Abbey because I wanted to be with my friend. I craved Christ’s company.

    Second, I wanted to be at a place where the threshold between heaven and earth is thin. Mepkin Abbey is what is called or known as a “Thin Place.” Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of “Thin Places.” It is an elusive and evocative expression that comes from the wisdom of the Celtic Christian tradition. And yet, it is not an exclusively Celtic idea or phenomena.

    A “Thin Place” is a sacred spot. It is a space where the mysteries of heaven and the concreteness of earth converge. According to Christian mystic and writer Carl McColman, it is “where the veil that separates our world from the otherworld, the world of eternity and silence, is especially thin.” It is a liminal space where we sense the eternal. In the words of the Psalmist, a “Thin Place” is the spot where “steadfast love and faithfulness meet,” where “righteousness and peace kiss each other,” and where “faithfulness springs up from the ground and righteousness looks down from the sky” (Psalm 85:10-11). 

    Last week, I experienced Mepkin Abbey as a “Thin Place.” During my time at the monastery in contemplative prayer, silence, and study, I felt and saw God’s Spirit touching down concretely and setting both the world and my life aglow in beauty, holiness, love, and wonder.

    As I think about Mepkin Abbey being a “Thin Place,” it occurs to me that the Bible is littered with stories about “Thin Places.” It is full of narratives about spaces and locations where the curtain between heaven and earth is pulled back, and the holiness of God touches down concretely setting life aglow. For instance, mountains seem to be particularly “Thin Places” in the Bible. Mount Sinai is the locale where Moses stood in the cleft of the rock and as God walked by Moses was permitted to see the backside of God (Exodus 33:17-23). It is on an unnamed mountain where Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured and talking with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28-36).  It is on the mountain island of Patmos where John had a vision of “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1).

    The temple is another arena where the gate between heaven and earth is especially thin. It is during a moment of national grief and lament that the prophet Isaiah sees “the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his throne filling the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). It is in the temple where Jesus in a fit of anger turns over the moneychangers table and declares, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). 

    Lastly, the wilderness also appears to be an extremely “Thin Place” in the Bible. The wilderness is where Israel lived and wandered for forty years as God led them in pillar of cloud and fire. It is in the wilderness that the prophet Ezekiel witnessed a valley of dry bones brought back to life (Ezekiel 37:1-4). The wilderness is the place where Jesus went for forty days to gather his energies for his ministry and vocation. It was in the wilderness that Jesus faced temptation, but also where he was ministered to by the messengers of heaven (Matthew 4:1-11). And most certainly, the patriarch Jacob discovered the wilderness to be a “thin place.” While camping at a “certain place” (an in-between place, a liminal space) between Beer-sheba and Haran, Jacob envisions a ladder connecting heaven and earth with the angels of God ascending and descending the ladder. Jacob is so moved and transformed by his vision and experience that he marks the spot with a pillar of stones and names the place Bethel.

    Of Course, Mount Siani, the temple, the wilderness, and Mepkin Abbey are not the only “Thin Places” in the world. There are many other locales where the goodness of heaven touches down concretely on the earth. I am sure that you can identify a few “Thin Places” yourself. 

    Nevertheless, you may be asking yourself, “Why is this important? Why does this matter” It matters because “Thin Places” are real. They point to something bigger than themselves. They point to something that is true and universal. They point to something that is deeply human and at one with the radiance of heaven. They remind us that what happens on earth matters in heaven. They help us to recall that our faith is a faith of beauty, grace, love, mercy, and redemption. They assure us that we are never separated from God and God’s deep and broad love for us. 

    Well, I hope that gives you some sense of my “why” for going to Mepkin Abbey, for taking a week of continuing education to study the life of St. Teresa of Avila, for spending five days in silence and contemplative prayer, for spending time with the One who deeply loves me (and you), and for standing in a “thin place” that is a threshold between heaven and earth.


    Holy God:

         In Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior,

              heaven and earth meet;

                   righteousness and peace kiss.

    Touch down concretely

              And set our lives aglow for your holy purposes.

    In His name, we pray. Amen.

    *St. Teresa of Avila, The Life, (Chapter 8, paragraph 5).

  • Hard-Hearts/Tender-Hearts

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

    August 8, 2022

              O that today you would listen to his voice!

              Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

              As on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

              When your ancestors tested me,

              And put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

                                                                                              (Psalm 95:7b-9)

    The book of Psalms is my favorite book of the Bible. I read at least one psalm every day. It is my favorite book because it is so brutally honest. In the psalter, no human secret is hidden from God. Every human emotion, feeling, and thought is expressed without pretense to God. The psalms give voice to the breadth and depth of human spirituality. Without a doubt, it is the most genuinely human book in the Bible.

    During my times of daily prayer over the past week, I have been reading and pondering Psalm 95. It is a brief two-stanza psalm. It is only eleven verses in length. In spite of its brevity, it is a rich hymn of joy and praise that is full of pregnant images and metaphors for God and our relationship with God, such as:

    • Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! (v. 1b)
    • For the Lord is…a great King above all gods. (v. 3b)
    •  …Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! (v. 6b)
    •  …We are the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand. (v. 7)

    While no one knows who penned Psalm 95, it is a robust hymn that celebrates God as the creator who maintains and governs all parts of the cosmos. I imagine Psalm 95 being a liturgical fragment, a worship element, leftover from the Jerusalem Temple. I suspect that the psalm was a communal hymn that may have been sung each time a new King was enthroned to govern Israel.

    Nonetheless, the image that has caught my eye and captured my attention is found in the second stanza of the psalm. At the mid-point of v. 7, which begins the second stanza, there is an abrupt and sudden change in the psalm’s tone and voice. In the first part of the psalm, it is the psalmist who is the speaker of the psalm. But, in the second stanza, it is Godwho speaks. Out of the blue, almost out of nowhere, God’s voice interrupts the psalmist’s

    summons to make a joyful noise to issue a stringent and prophetic urging:

              Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

              as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,

              when your ancestors tested me,

              and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.

                                                                                (Psalm 95:8-9)

    Interesting phrase and reference, “Do not harden your hearts.” On the one hand, the phrase introduces a summons to an act of remembrance. The worshiping community is encouraged to recall the time when their ancestors were in the wilderness, not long out of Egypt, and complained against God and Moses because they had limited resources—no food and no water. In their complaint, the wilderness community did not trust God to

    provide what was materially needed for abundant daily life. Therefore, the imperative, “do not harden your hearts,” is an invitation to not be like their ancestors in the wilderness. It is an urging to trust that the Lord will provide what is needed.

    On the other hand, the imperative, “do not harden your hearts,” is a pregnant biblical and spiritual metaphor. It aptly describes the gradual process that takes place in our relationships with God and others when we stop listening, become distracted, turn away, cease trusting, and grow self-absorbed. Becoming “hard hearted” may happen in our relationships with God and others as it did with Pharoah in his unwillingness to listen to God and let the Israelites go free (Exodus 8:15); as it did with the Israelites complaining in hunger and thirst against God in the wilderness (Exodus 17:1-7); as it did with disciples and their lack of understanding after Jesus’ miracles of feeding the five thousand and walking on the water (Mark 6:52).

    Has your heart grown hard toward God? Have you stopped listening to God? Have you become so distracted by the demands and pressures of family, work, and life that your heart has become hard toward God? Have you ceased trusting God? Have you grown cold and self-absorbed, forgetting about God as the ground of your being?

    The Quakers, use the “tender” to describe the opposite spiritual process of becoming more sensitive to God’s voice. How do you keep your heart tender before God? How do you keep your heart from becoming hard to God?

    For me, it is the practices of daily prayer, contemplative meditation, and silence that keep me open to God’s presence and voice. But daily prayer, contemplative meditation, and silence are not the only ways to stay tender to God. Practices such as fasting, labyrinth walking, sabbath keeping, journaling, hospitality to strangers, self examination, and service to others are some other ways that help keep our hearts open and receptive—tender—to

    God’s voice.

    As I said in the conclusion to August 7th's sermon, the great challenge facing the Church is learning again what it means to live by faith. The primal way that we live by faith is by being tender-hearted—being open, receptive, and trusting of God. Our spirituality begins with God, depends on God, and ends with God. In her book, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, Marjorie J. Thompson provides a wonderful definition of tender-hearted spirituality when she writes, “We owe our capacity to be spiritual to the grace of One who creates us free to share love with our living source.” *

    And so, my dear sisters and brothers, in the urging of the psalm, “do not harden your hearts.” Instead, be open, tender-hearted, and alive to the voice and presence of God both in your life and in the life of the world.


    Loving God:

           Soften our hard hearts.

           Make them tender and warm.

           Fill them with love,

                  so that we may be open

                  to your commanding voice and transformational presence

                         that makes all things new, even us.

    In His name, we pray. Amen.

    * Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Louisville, KY: Westminster John

    Knox Press, 2014), p. 8.

  • Called to Freedom

    Happy Fourth of July!

    Today is the most quintessential of American holidays because it acknowledges and celebrates

    the birth of the nation. Today is all about family, hamburgers and hot dogs (yuck), baked beans,

    potato salad, corn on the cob, fireworks, patriotism, and freedom.

    Personally, I have always found the Fourth of July to be an odd holiday. I struggle with the

    myths and stories that we tell about the birth of our country and the cost and meaning of our


    Over the past several days, I have spent some time reflecting on freedom. I have wrestled with

    questions like:  What is the source of our freedom? Are we truly free? Is there any such thing as

    freedom? Is freedom an illusion and myth that we tell ourselves? What are we set free to do? Is

    freedom about rights or is it about responsibility?

    As I pondered those questions, I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s lengthy discussion about

    freedom in his letter to his church friends in Galatia. It is a troubled and divided congregation. It

    is a fellowship that has split into “us” and “them” factions over the practical and theological

    issue of circumcision. While the question of circumcision may seem far removed and silly to us,

    let me invite you to think about ordinary, everyday church folk dividing up into “us” and “them”

    groups arguing over such weighty matters as abortion, race, gender identity, sexuality, the color

    of the church’s carpet, and whether or not it is better to attend worship in-person or via live

    stream in a post Covid world. Can you imagine church people splitting up into factions and

    arguing over those theological and practical matters? I certainly can.

    Paul cuts underneath the dispute about circumcision to remind these day-to-day Christians in

    Galatia that Christ’s spirit has touched down concretely in their lives and set them free. Late in

    his discussion, Paul writes:

    For freedom, Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the

    yolk of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

    The point is so obvious that it is easily forgotten. The church keeps its life and lives its life in

    Christ alone. Christ is the source of not only our life together, but our freedom too.  As I

    consider the source of our freedom in Christ, I am reminded of some of the cultural myths that

    we tell about the source of our freedom. Culturally, politically, and socially, we believe that the

    source of our freedom comes from such things as the Declaration of Independence, the

    Constitution of the United States of America, a strong national military presence, the right to

    carry a concealed weapon, the story of Manifest Destiny, etc.

    But the truth is, the source of our freedom is not really found in any of those things. It is, rather,

    found in Christ. And it is in the stories about the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of

    Christ that we discover the source of our freedom. It is the reason why we tell our Jesus stories.

    In the stories of Jesus, we see who God calls us to be and how we are summoned to live our

    lives in the world as the people of Jesus. Christ is the decisive point of our lives and our life


    As Paul continues to write to these day-to-day Christians about the freedom that they and we

    have in Christ, he says something else that is important about freedom. Paul writes:

    For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an

    opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the

    whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as

    yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).

    It occurs to me that much our talk about freedom in our contemporary U. S. cultural context is

    about self-indulgence. Much our rhetoric about freedom is self-centered talk about personal,

    individual rights: the right to carry a concealed handgun, the right to an abortion, the right to

    same sex marriage, the right to use the bathroom of the gender with which I identify, and so

    on. Many of our macro-conversations around freedom are about indulging our personal


    Mostly in our culture, however, we associate freedom with consumer desire. We are shaped

    deeply—whether we know it or not—by desiring new items that we can buy. We associate

    freedom with the ability to buy and consume things: the freedom to buy the newest cell phone

    or computer, the freedom to buy the most expensive home we can afford, the freedom to go

    on an expensive and luxurious vacation, or the freedom to buy name brand and designer

    clothes. We have this sense that freedom is, “If I get this thing, I’ll be okay. I’ll be pretty. I’ll be

    smart. I’ll have it made. I’ll be free.”

    But Paul tells his church friends and us that freedom is neither about individual, personal rights

    nor is it about possessing unlimited consumer goods. Rather, it is about responsibility. We are

    set free not for self-indulgence, but for responsibility to one another and to our neighbors. Paul


    “…But through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a

    single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

    We have been set free to live in the ethic, meaning, and way of love, which, of course, is the

    way of Christ. His life was an unending giving away of his life in freedom for the sake of the

    other. He opened the eyes of the blind, unstopped the ears of the deaf, cleansed the skin of the

    leper, forgave the sinners, welcomed strangers, ate with tax collectors and prostitutes,

    proclaimed good news to the poor, set prisoners free, announced the God’s jubilee, and even

    raised the dead. Christ was completely free, and he lived his freedom in love for the other.

    As those who travel in his wake, we are summoned to live our lives—to live in freedom—as

    Christ lives his life, always for the sake of the other. And so, my dear sisters and brothers, as

    you eat your hamburgers and hot dogs and watch your fireworks, let me summon you to

    ponder your freedom. Consider the true source of your freedom. And then, think about why

    you have been set free.

    “For freedom, Christ has set us free.”

    Happy Fourth of July!

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

  • A Prayer for the Abingdon Town Council

    Rev. Kevin M. Campbell

    (The occasion of this prayer was the Abingdon Town Council meeting (June 12, 2022) where the Town

    Council acknowledged by proclamation Sinking Spring’s 250th anniversary.)

    Creator of all that was...of all that is...of all that ever will be,

              we give thanks for this day of your sure making.

    We give thanks for the tasks and work that

              you have given us to accomplish.

    We give thanks for tourists and visitors

              who have traversed our sidewalks

                        and have been blessed by the hospitality

                                  and vitality of our community.

    We give thanks for those who serve our community

              in devotion and love and at great risk

                        so that we may live safely.

    We give thanks for the play of our children this day

              as they enjoy their summer break.

    For all that has given energy and life

              to this day and to our community,

                        we give thanks to you, God of life,

              because all that borrows life from you

                        is ever in your care.

    We pray, then, as the day grows short

              that you will closely watch and listen intently

                        as these servants of the people of Abingdon

                                  come together as one body to serve the people

                                            with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

    Give these men and women courage

              to do good, to seek peace, and to pursue it.

    Use these men and women to do your transformative work

              that dares to execute justice for the oppressed,

              that gives food to the needy,

              that sets the prisoner free,

              that welcomes the stranger,

              that lifts up those bent low by poverty,

              that upholds the most vulnerable among us—

                        orphans, widows, the unsheltered, the elderly,

                                  and all who do not have an advocate--

    and that imagines that even the dead can be raised.

    Empower these men and women to enter into

              the hard places of conflict and difference of opinion

                        with grace, listening ears, and understanding.

    Give these men and women strength and conviction

              to resist the temptation to reduce complex issues into

                        simple pat answers and easy solutions.

    Help these men and women to avoid

              the seduction of inflammatory, dehumanizing speech

                        so that the dignity of all may be cherished and respected.

    Assist these men and women in not making snap decisions,

              but assist them in being deliberative, discerning, curious, and open.

    Let these servants of the people continue

              to nurture the good and commonweal

                        that flows naturally in our community. together is not easy.

    And so, when the work of this Council is complete this evening,

              grant these men and women satisfaction

              in fidelity, hope, charity, and service.

    Give us assurance that you have heard our prayer,

              because we pray in the Spirit of the One

                        who we believe has helped our Town in ages past,

                                  is our help in years to come,

                                            and is with us even now.