Blog Archives

October Pastor’s Column

“The gifts of God for the people of God, for the world.” This is the theme that the Stewardship Committee has chosen for this fall. The first part of the theme “the gifts of God for the people of God” comes from the communion liturgy. After the breaking of the bread and pouring the cup, the minister holds up the elements and says that these are the gifts of God for the people of God and then welcomes all to the Table. The words are ancient and profoundly true: when we come to the Lord’s Table, we are receiving God’s most precious gift – God’s own self in the presence of Jesus Christ who gives himself for our lives and for the life of the world. More broadly, these words remind us that everything we are is a gift from God: the fact that we are alive is not of our own doing. It is God’s free and gracious gift!

“What shall I return to the Lord for all God’s bounty to me?” asks the psalmist (Ps. 116:12). The simple answer is: we respond by how we live our lives. As we grow in faith, we respond to God’s generosity to us by growing generosity. This has both spiritual and material implications. Generosity of spirit is seen in how we love others, how ready we are to forgive, to welcome, to share. Generosity of material possessions follows. Sharing what we have is also a spiritual discipline.

People often ask: how much should I give? The biblical model is the “tithe” or 10% of one’s income. Deuteronomy 26 describes the people of Israel coming together at the harvest time each year and bringing the “first fruits” of the harvest as an offering of thanksgiving to God. How does this model work for us today? As you plan your household budget, you might begin by asking what percentage of your annual income are you now dedicating to philanthropy: the church, school or college or seminary, arts organizations, other charities? If you are not yet at 10%, what steps might you take to move toward that goal?

“The gifts of God … for the world.” Our gifts to Highland Presbyterian Church touch the world in many, many ways. As being part of this church shapes you (through worship, fellowship, and study), so you influence others outside the congregation by the way you live. Our church property is home to two institutions (Highland Nursery and Weekday School and Kentucky Refugee Ministries) and multiple support groups that shape and support the lives of hundreds of people every year. Our care of this property makes these other ministries possible. Our direct gifts serve families and children in Louisville who are in need, and they support the ministries of the Presbyterian Church regionally and around the world.

I feel privileged to respond to God’s generosity by supporting the ministry of this congregation. I hope and pray that you do as well.

Cynthia Campbell, Pastor

August Pastor’s Column

Do you ever wonder, as I do with some regularity, where the time has gone? It seems like summer just began, and yet within weeks, children will be back in school. Young adults will be off to college by mid or late August. Our newsletter is full of announcements about the beginning of a new year for our church programs: youth group activities will begin; Chancel Choir reconvenes; and of course, there is PresFest … our annual street-fair picnic that is like a kick-off for fall.

It is not only the summer season that passes all too quickly. Years seem to fly by as well. It is startling for me to realize that Fred and I moved here to Louisville in August of 2011. As of September 1, I will have served as your pastor for four years. Where has this time gone?

One of the psalms prays, “Teach us, O Lord, to number our days.” There is a line from a prayer that talks about time being “made precious by its passing.” But often is seems that we lose count of our days, and we forget that each and every one of them is a precious gift. In order to help me remember how precious each day is, I often begin my prayers by thanking God for this particular day – a day that has never been before and never will be again. When we recognize that each day is a gift that we receive from God, we stand before the day and before God in gratitude and with hope as we look forward to whatever signs of God’s presence will come to us during the day.

I’m sure I don’t need to point out, however, that approaching time in this way is much easier said than done. Many of us are overcome with multiple demands – work, families, others for whom we care, volunteer work. We find ourselves tethered to calendars; we have to sync our calendars with others to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks. Most days, if not every day, the list of things to do is much longer than the time available. Sometimes, just thinking about what lies ahead, we are exhausted before the day even begins.

What to do? One thing I do is begin each day with some time of quiet reflection. Over the years, I’ve done a variety of things: I’ve divided up the book of psalms and read it through in a month; I’ve read one chapter a day of a gospel beginning with Matthew until I finished John; I’ve used daily devotional books, like A Year with Thomas Merton. If the beginning of the day is too hectic, perhaps getting to work a little early would allow you a few moments of quiet reflection. There is even an app that you could download to your computer, phone or tablet called “Daily Prayer” that is produced by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) using our Book of Common Worship.

Another practice that is really helpful is trying to reduce the amount of multi-tasking we do. For example, when you are driving, you might turn off the radio and resist the temptation to check email when stopped at one of Louisville’s really long traffic signals. Take that quiet moment to look around – see the colors, look at the sky, observe people and remember that each of them is as beloved by God as you are. And give thanks … for this is the day that the Lord has made for you to rejoice and be glad in it.

 

Cynthia Campbell, Pastor

March Reflection

            One of the major challenges many of us face in life is the ability to focus – to concentrate our energy and attention on a limited number of things. For many of us, life provides us few opportunities to focus on one thing at a time. In the first place, we are busy people: there are many demands on our time and energy. It starts young: because we want our children to be well-rounded and because advancement to higher education demands much more today than good grades, our children constantly juggle academic work, sports, church, music, special interest activities, service days, and more.

 

            In the second place, the variety of our technological opportunities makes multi-tasking almost expected. We sit in a meeting but we are also checking email and social media. We are stuck in traffic, so we get on the phone. We are on the computer but have several screens open at once moving back and forth between work and personal communication.

 

            None of those things is bad. It’s great for young adults to have multiple opportunities to learn and grow; to discover who they are and what they are good at. It is hard to imagine our personal lives let alone most types of work without access to electronic communication. But all of these good things make another good thing very difficult: the ability and opportunity to focus.

 

            Lent is the season of the year when we are invited to focus – to go deeper into our faith. In particular, we are invited to reflect on who Jesus Christ is, what it means that he was called to suffer and die and rise again, destroying the power of sin and death. If Jesus is our window into the heart of God, how do his living and dying and rising help us go deeper into our relationship with God?

 

            Where to start? Start simply. Find five minutes each day to sit and focus on that question. Re-read last Sunday’s scripture passages. Read the passages for the Sunday to come (which you can find on the website). Read the Lenten devotion for the day (the booklets are at church or you can ask the church office to sign you up to receive one meditation every day from now until Easter). Read. Reflect. Be quiet. Expect God to be present to you. Listen. Rest in God. Go deeper. Meet God who is ready to meet you.

 

Cynthia M. Campbell, Pastor

Ash Wednesday Meditation

Isaiah 58:6-9a: God speaks to Israel through the prophet’s words

 “Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them

and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up quickly;

your vindicator shall go before you,

the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

you shall cry for help, and God will say,

Here I am.

 

 

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” These are the ancient words used on Ash Wednesday as the mark of the cross is made on the worshipper’s forehead with a smudge of ash. On this day that marks the beginning of Lent, Christians are reminded of our mortality, our vulnerability, our frailty and moral failures. We remember a central fact of what it means to be human: that our lives have limits, the most notable of which is that we will all die; and that our individual lives and the life of our societies are fraught with brokenness, injustice, violence, and destruction.

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It does not take the insight of faith to see these things, of course. Everyone alive knows that he or she will die. We know all too well how vulnerable we are to disease and to the forces of nature. And simply listening to the news or reading the newspaper reminds us of the violence and destruction that humans inflict on themselves and others and nature. It does not take the eyes of faith to see that there is a lot that is broken.

 

 

But the eyes of faith see something else. The eyes of faith see that we are not just random accidents of nature; we are creatures of a Creator. The boundary of our lives is not simply our chronological life span. We have been called into being by God, and we are invited to find the true meaning in relation to God.

 

 

The words of the prophet Isaiah represent a breakthrough in religious insight in the ancient world. For many other peoples, the gods were arbitrary and capricious. It was easy to offend; prayers and sacrifices were needed to appease. But Israel knew a very different God. The Holy One was a God of justice who expected and hoped that God’s chosen people would emulate God’s ways. Isaiah makes this clear: the right way to worship God is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the poor and remove the injustice in society that leads to poverty.

 

 

But God is also a God of mercy whose steadfast love endures forever; who forgives us when we betray one another and ourselves and God; who longs for us to find our way back to right relationship with one another and with God.

 

 

Lent is an opportunity for us to focus – to step back from all the things that ordinarily seem so very important, so pressing, so demanding. To step back and focus on the relationship that in fact will lead us to our true selves. God invites us to discover once again who we are and whose we are and where our true fulfillment lies.

 

 

The God of justice shows us the path. The God of mercy invites us to start over and over and over again. The path leads to life. The path leads us home.

 

 

Cynthia M. Campbell

Pastor

 

 

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