“Who’s the most important person in your life? How you think they see you is how you see yourself. Do you see yourself as the kind of person Jesus thinks you are?” said the Rev. Tony Campolo at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service. His sermon title was “Labeled by God,” and the Scripture reading was Romans 8:16.
“You heard the Scripture — the Spirit bears witness with our spirits so that we are heirs of God, labeled by God,” he said. “That is who you are; you may not feel that way but that is who you are.”
Campolo is Italian by heritage and grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood in west Philadelphia.
“There is an old story about two Jewish mothers who meet on the street. One asks, ‘How old are your children?’ The other answers, ‘The doctor is four and the lawyer is three,’ ” Campolo said. “My best friend, Albert Finkelstein, said one day, ‘Do you know the difference between our mothers?’ My mother asks, ‘Albert, do you have your books?’ Your mother asks, ‘Tony, do you have your lunch?’ Those Jewish children were defined as brilliant and wonderful.”
He cited sociologist Charles Cooley who posited that a person’s self-image is defined by the most important person in his or her life, and what you think that person thinks about you defines how you see yourself. Campolo, late for a class, was called upon by the professor to open the class in prayer.
“I started, ‘Dear God, I am grateful despite being so worthless,’ ” Campolo said. “The professor stopped me and said, ‘Mr. Campolo, you are not worthless, you are unworthy. Get the words right.’ ”
“You are not worthless, you are infinitely precious and even if you were the only person who ever lived, Jesus would have come just to save you,” Campolo said. “You might say, ‘You don’t know the sin in my life.’ I say, ‘If only you knew the sin in my life, you would not be here [listening to me].’ And if I knew all the sin in your life, I would not talk to you. Don’t get uppity; we are all here together. Amen?”
The congregation responded, “Amen!”
Campolo declared himself a mystic in that although he believes that Jesus died on the cross for him and believes in the creed, “it is my mystical relationship with the resurrected Christ that makes me a Christian. It is the resurrected Jesus who saves you. His spirit is in you, telling you who you are. It is the Spirit of God that bears witness in you that you are a child of God.”
He shared a story featuring preacher and homiletics professor Fred Craddock and his encounter with an old man in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Craddock and his wife were on vacation and a man stopped by their breakfast table and said, “You’re not from around here. What do you do, mister?” Craddock, trying to put the man off, told him, “I am a professor of homiletics at a theological seminary.” Campolo said when he wants to talk with someone sitting beside him on a plane, he tells his seatmate he is a professor of sociology.
“When I want to get some work done,” he said, “I tell them I’m a Baptist Evangelist.”
The man sitting with Craddock said he wanted to tell him a “preacher story.” The man said, “I was born in those hills out there and I was called ‘Ben, the Bastard Boy.’ I never knew who my father was and my mother would never tell me. One day, a new preacher came to town and everyone was talking about how powerful he was. I had never been to church so one day I went. He was good and so I kept going back, coming in late and slipping out early.
“One day, I could not get out fast enough and I found a large hand on my shoulder and the preacher staring down at me. ‘Who’s your father, boy?’ he said. I felt a lot of pain since I did not know. ‘I know who your father is — God, do you hear that? Don’t ever forget that you are a child of God.’ My life changed after that.”
He left Craddock’s table with a tear in his eye. The waitress came over and said, “Do you know who that is?” No, said Craddock. “That’s Ben Hooper, the governor of Tennessee,” she said.
“If you think that God does not care about you because of your sin, you are wrong. Jesus bore your sin on the cross and you are perfect,” Campolo said. “Your sins are forgiven, forgotten and buried in the deepest sea. The truth is you are cleansed, and he makes you new. He redefines you so that you are a joint heir with Christ. What God thinks about Jesus, God thinks about you. Jesus became everything we are so that we become everything he is.”
We are supposed to become what Jesus is.
“Is your heart broken by what breaks Jesus’ heart? We invite him to make us new, but we have to have the heart of Jesus,” he said. “In this presidential campaign, what the candidates can do for America is important because America has great needs, but there are great needs in the rest of the world. God save us from being people who don’t go beyond America. God so loved the world.”
“Does it break your heart that children die of malnutrition, that children suffer from bombings in the Middle East?” Campolo said. “There is a cross in front of an Episcopal church in Philadelphia with a plaque with a quote from Lamentations: ‘Does it mean nothing to you, o ye who pass by?’ ”
In this campaign we will hear a lot about tax breaks for the rich and little about the poor, he said.
“The candidates will call each other names,” Campolo said. “Are we ready to say we refuse to go by labels? Can you look at Donald Trump as Jesus does? Can you look at Hillary Clinton like Jesus does? Can you transcend your politics in the name of Jesus?”
Jesus is not a Republican or Democrat, he said.
“Jesus invades us and makes us heirs of God, joint heirs with Jesus,” Campolo said. “Be Jesus in this campaign time. In your everyday walk and prayer, remember the hungry, poor, imprisoned and downtrodden in the name of Jesus.
The Rev. John Morgan presided. Adel Assal, a scholarship student with the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons from Batroun, Lebanon, read the Scripture. He is a chemistry student at Lebanese University. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in “O Clap Your Hands” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Edmond E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund and the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy provide support for this week’s services.