Adult Education Sept. 8, 15, 22

Join us for Zoom “Sunday School” on Wednesdays at 7:00 pm.

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us06web.zoom.us/j/95171009442?pwd=a2QrN0l0LzVTMWdueFFpOUJ3WnNpQT09

Meeting ID: 951 7100 9442
Passcode: 215835

Sept. 8: Song of Songs 5-8; Isaiah 1-14; Psalms 99-102; I Timothy 5-6; II Timothy 1-4

Sept. 15: Isaiah 15-30; Psalms 103, 104; Titus 1-3; Philemon; Hebrews 1

Sept. 22: Isaiah 31-44; Psalms 105, 106; Hebrews 2-6

We will not meet September 29.

 

Sunday School News

I caucused with the Christian Education Committee today after worship and we decided to begin in-person Sunday School for grades 1-6 next Sunday, September 12 at 9:00 am.
There will be one large, broadly-graded class.
For those of you who prefer to keep your children home (which we understand completely) we will attempt to provide the materials to you so you can do at-home lessons until we are able also to get a Zoom class up and running.
Since no one has been willing to take responsibility, we do not yet have a class for high school students. Grades 7-9 will be in confirmation class, which also begins next Sunday.
I will continue to do adult education on Wednesday evenings via Zoom. I hope we will be able to do in-person class before too long. The problem, once again, is lack of leadership. Since I am helping with confirmation class, I cannot lead the adult class as well.
If you have any questions, please contact Anne Weatherwax in the church office beginning Tuesday.
Blessings,
Pastor Bob

Sermon from September 5: The Unchained Word

The Unchained Word
Pentecost XV; September 5, 2021
II Timothy 2:1-13

Let me get this out the way right up front: if you have done any study of the New Testament, you may have been taught that Paul probably didn’t write II Timothy. Well, that was a prevailing scholarly opinion for over a century, but is not universal. There are good reasons to claim that Paul did write this, so I’m going to go ahead and speak about the author as Paul. And frankly, it doesn’t matter a whole lot, anyway. It’s still in the Bible.

Paul writes that he is committed to the gospel that claims that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, long expected by God’s people, and that Jesus is raised from the dead. In that light, he starts out by reminding us of the importance of passing on that gospel from one generation to the next. Human survival depends on people passing on lots and lots of knowledge from one generation to the next, and that includes the knowledge of God.

Let me dive into this a little deeper. Paul says that the Gospel is that Jesus is the Son of David and that he is raised from the dead. As the Son of David, Jesus is the human figure that people have longed for; he is the hope for salvation, the way of peace, the vehicle for God to turn this world more and more into the kingdom of God. God had promised David that he would have an heir who would be the righteous ruler of God’s people; Jesus is that heir. So Jesus is our salvation; Jesus is our hope.

Paul says that Jesus is raised from the dead: that means that he is alive, he is our living Lord, whom we can know and serve. He gives us grace; he receives our praise. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Paul doesn’t write, “Remember doctrine about Jesus;” he writes, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David.” I emphasize this to make clear the most important aspect of transmitting the Faith from one generation to the next. It is not most important to teach doctrines; Paul didn’t say to remember the doctrine of the Resurrection, but to remember Jesus Christ, who is raised. It is not most important to help young people become good church members. It is most important to teach each generation to know Jesus Christ. When you parents take vows of baptism, your promise is not merely to pass on information about Jesus to your children. Your promise is to help them to know Jesus.

If we fail to do it, I believe God will find a way to get it done, but we will have missed our opportunity. Though Paul is in chains for the gospel he serves, the word of God is not chained. If we chain our lips and do not teach a generation to know Jesus Christ, God will find a way to get the unchained word out just the same. But we will have missed out.

Now, to emphasize the seriousness of dedication to the gospel of Jesus, Paul gives us some compelling images: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. Can you identify with any of these? I know we have quite a few veterans in our congregation, and I wonder if Paul’s words ring true. He says that the soldier is not to get bogged down in trivialities, but is to have single-minded focus on the orders of the superior officer. Here’s a moment from my own life that illustrates that for me. For many years I played the role of the Lord Mayor at the Ohio Renaissance Festival. Now, in 16th-century England, mayors were not elected; they were appointed by the Earl or other noble responsible for the town. So I used to joke that I was a politician, but that I needed only one vote to stay in office: the vote of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick.

The soldier is devoted to the army’s discipline. The athlete is devoted to their sport. You may have enjoyed the Olympics this summer and admired the skill of these young athletes. Perhaps you heard or read about the hours they put into training, and the other aspects of life they neglect in their discipline. Perhaps you know dancers, and their hard work and training, and their strict diet and other discipline. And Paul also notes farmers, who if they work hard deserve to receive the benefits of the harvest.

Likewise, to know and follow Jesus Christ takes discipline. Worship, study, service, and prayer all interfere with other aspects of life, but they are worth the prize of knowing Jesus. Paul often uses the image of the athlete, and the reward of wearing the laurel wreath after winning the race. In our day, we would talk about the gold medal: all the training, discipline, and sacrifice are rewarded by wearing the gold medal. Likewise, the disciplined spiritual life is rewarded by knowing Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.

Paul finishes the section I read by quoting an old hymn, and it gives me a chance to say something about perfectionism. That is always the danger in any undertaking: the danger of being a perfectionist, so that if I cannot do it flawlessly, then I’m not going to do it at all.

Imagine you’re driving to Kansas City. You have a destination in mind, but you get distracted and miss your exit. Do you give up and go back to Omaha? No, you get back on track and find another way there. Is there a soldier who never gets off task? Is there a runner who never has a bad day? Is there a farmer who never misses a chore that should be done?

If you undertook the Year of the Bible but missed some days, and therefore figured you should just give up: please, try again. If you try to pray every day but missed last Thursday: don’t stop. If you’ve given to the last three emergency appeals and need to take a break to marshal your resources, you can give again later. If you fell out of the habit of attending worship, start again.

The hymn says, “If we deny him, he will also deny us; If we are faithless, he remains faithful – For he cannot deny himself.”

That felt contradictory to me until I found some help to understand it. This is what I take it to mean. If you intentionally turn away from Christ, if you deny your vows to him and leave his Church, then he will deny you as well. But if you are struggling to follow him, but don’t get it perfectly; you are trying to be faithful, but find that you are faithless, well, you still belong to Christ. If you are faithless, despite your best intentions, he will not be faithless to you. Christ cannot deny himself, and you are part of Christ.

If you forget all the rest of this sermon, please remember that: when you are struggling to live by the unchained word of God, you are part of Christ. When you are in his Church, you are part of Christ. When you remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David, you are part of Christ. The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
If we endure, we will also reign with him;
If we deny him, he will also deny us;
If we are faithless, he remains faithful –
For he cannot deny himself.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

Adult Education September 1

We keep reading and talking about the Bible! This week, September 1, at 7:00 pm CDT join us via Zoom.

We will talk about Ecclesiastes 6-12; Song of Songs 1-6; Psalms 95-98; and I Timothy 1-5.

Wednesday, 7:00 pm CDT at https://us06web.zoom.us/j/95171009442?pwd=a2QrN0l0LzVTMWdueFFpOUJ3WnNpQT09

Or open Zoom and enter:

Meeting ID: 951 7100 9442
Passcode: 215835

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s September Message

Dear people of God:

Since I have two things on my mind and I can’t decide which is more urgent, I’m going to write about both of them.

The first is to note that we are now two-thirds of the way through the year, meaning that we are two-thirds of the way through The Year of the Bible. I hope you’re still reading! It gets hard, doesn’t it? Many of us start a new discipline at the beginning of a year with great enthusiasm, but any discipline (whether it’s reading the Bible, practicing the piano, or working on your golf swing) can get awfully tedious. I hope you’re still at it, even if you’re behind or you find yourself skipping sections. Since we just finished Proverbs, I’m interested in hearing from you what your favorite Proverb was. I can’t pin down one favorite, but I have long appreciated this one: “Well meant are the wounds a friend inflicts, but profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (27:6)

The second is to add my caution to one you may often see on TV or the newspaper, although you may not often see it on the Internet. Beware of scams. Recently two of our staff got emails purporting to be from me, asking them to change their passwords and to send “me” their new ones. Fortunately, they looked at the email address and noticed that it wasn’t really from me. This sort of thing has been going on for some time. Years ago a staff member got an email from “me” asking her to buy gift cards for a worthy cause and to send the information to “me.” She checked it out with me – after all, my office is close by! – and it was a scam.

You may get emails claiming to be from a grandchild in prison, or from the IRS, or from your bank, or from a friend in a foreign country… you may get requests for money through Facebook… and you may, of course, get an email claiming to be from me and asking you for money. Always check it out. Don’t click on links in an email unless you are certain you know where it’s taking you; go to the appropriate website instead. Don’t buy gift cards or send money without checking if it’s legitimate. If it says it’s from me, don’t reply to the email; send a new email directly to my address. Phone or text me. My email address and cell number are in the church directory and have been published in the bulletin every Sunday for the last eight years. You have no excuse for not having them handy!

Smart people can easily get caught in scams, especially when, like you, they have a big heart. Jesus talked about the importance of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). When it comes to interpersonal relationships, be doves. When it comes to money: serpents. Please be careful.

Pastor Bob

Sermon from August 29: Practical Matters

Practical Matters
Pentecost XIV; August 29, 2021
I Timothy 3:1-13

Personally, I prefer Paul when he’s being theological: when he’s writing about the grace and work of God, rather than when he’s addressing organizational matters. Some of you may prefer pieces such as this one, when he’s being down-to-earth and practical. And there are those of you who don’t much care for Paul’s work at all, who will be glad when we finally get done with his epistles and turn to other Scriptures. September 19: Cindy will be preaching from the Book of Hebrews, which is not about a male barista. And also was almost certainly not, despite what you may have heard, written by Paul.

Most of the first epistle to Timothy is about leadership in the Church: the ministry of pastors, elders and deacons. Yes, verses 1 to 7 is about “bishops” or “overseers,” and the analogous office in our Church is that of the Ruling Elder. Don’t think of a guy in a robe and a fancy hat; think of your Session meeting and praying together to decide whether or not we should use wine with communion; who may use our building for gatherings; and so forth.

And please note that Paul assumed that these bishops and deacons would be men, although the ambiguity of translation of verse 11 is such that it may refer to female deacons. Just because Paul assumed they would be men doesn’t mean that God intended that they should always and only be men. But that’s another story. I thought I should point that out, given some of what it says.

Rather than expound on the qualifications for Elder and Deacon, which I could do, I feel called instead to talk with you a bit about theory and practice, about theology and polity, about the “why,” the “what,” and the “how.” Some years ago an Elder in the Church said to me, “This didn’t turn out to be what I expected. I thought we would sit around thinking beautiful thoughts.” It is a frustration of mine that we spend more time at Session meetings talking about money than talking about God, and my Elder was feeling that. It should be said, though, that what we believe is shown both by what we do and by the process we use to do it.

Some churches believe that all authority in the church resides in the clergy, and so the Pastor makes all the decisions about worship, the Sacraments, the building, and money. We Presbyterians are at almost the opposite extreme: almost all authority resides in the Session, and the Pastor has very little authority. And that is because we believe that all individuals are sinners, and even pastors are likely to be driven by self-interest, so it is better for authority to be lodged in a group of people who pray together, listen to each other, and decide together, rather than for such authority to be lodged in an individual.

When that process breaks down, there is something wrong. If people are unwilling to serve on the  Board of Deacons, then there probably should not be a Board of Deacons. Deacons can serve in commissioned ministry without being on a Board. If people are unwilling to teach Sunday School, then maybe the Church should not have a Sunday School. If people are unwilling to serve on the Session… well, then the Presbytery takes over and decides whether that Church maybe doesn’t need to exist any longer. The Church cannot function without ordered leadership.

Why? Because the Church of Jesus Christ is not a building where folks come to get a religious fix from a holy person: the Church of Jesus Christ is a community of people called by Jesus to follow him, witness to his grace, and baptize in his name. We are a group of disciples dedicated to making disciples; that is who we are, that is what we believe, and leadership is the means we have to do that. It’s both theoretical and practical; it is theology and polity.

Our public life is analogous. It has become popular to say nasty things about politics, and that’s probably because politics has become so nasty. Politicians have found that the best way to get elected is not to promote the benefits of our ideas or our party, but to convince people that the opponent is a baby-hating scumbag. Since, if you listen to everybody, our politics is dominated by baby-hating scumbags, it is no wonder that we despise politics.

But politics is simply the means by which people work together to get things done. There is good politics and bad; there is republican democracy and there is authoritarianism. You cannot have a human community without some sort of politics, some means of making decisions and getting things done. If you avoid politics then you are checking out of the community. That is the practical matter in which we express who we are and what we are about, whether we’re talking about the politics of our SID or city, our State or our nation, or the politics of the local school board or the Garden Club. What we do and how we do it are expressions of what we believe.

And sometimes it is a good idea to stop and ask ourselves why we do what we do. All human communities, not only churches, can easily fall into the habit of continuing to do something simply because it is what we do. If you know this story, please be patient as I tell it. A young man was fixing a ham for supper, and before putting it in the oven he cut about an inch off one end and set it aside to be cooked separately. His wife asked why he was doing that and he said, “That’s how my mother does it.” The next time they visited his mother, they asked her, “Why do you cut off the end of the ham before you bake it?” and she said it was because that’s what her mother does. At Christmas they saw his grandmother, so they asked her, “Gram, why do you cut the end off the ham?” and she said, “Because a whole ham is about an inch too long for my pan.” They continued to do the What, even though the Why was no longer relevant.

In the weight-management community I’m part of, we are frequently reminded, “Remember your Why.” You should read what the guys write on our message board. When one of them will moan about his tendency to binge-eat, or how sadness will drive him to the bag of potato chips, and he wants to know how to change his way of coping, at least one of the other men will say, “Remember your Why.” Why am I so careful about my health? This is what my Why reads: “I want to stay healthy for my family, myself, and the Church.” If you wonder why I avoid recreational sugar and why I make time for exercise, one-third of the reason is my love for you.

Why, What, and How are intimately related. What we do, how we do it, and why we do it: that connection is the supreme practical matter. That is true of any human community, including Jesus’ Church.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

Adult Education: August 25

We finished Proverbs and are into (drumroll) Ecclesiastes! And now we’re skipping through the little epistles.

Join us for conversation around Proverbs 23-31; Ecclesiastes 1-5; Psalms 92, 93 & 94; I Thessalonians 4-5; and II Thessalonians 1-3.

Wednesday, 7:00 pm CDT at https://us06web.zoom.us/j/95171009442?pwd=a2QrN0l0LzVTMWdueFFpOUJ3WnNpQT09

Or open Zoom and enter:

Meeting ID: 951 7100 9442
Passcode: 215835

Pastor Bob

Sermon from August 22: Dare We Talk About Judgment?

Dare We Talk About Judgment?
Pentecost XIII; August 22, 2021
II Thessalonians 1

There are always so many issues in any piece of Scripture, but it seems that what catches our attention is usually the part that feels wrong to us. So here I am, looking at a chapter of Scripture that overflows with thanksgiving and praise, feeling that I ought to talk about judgment. Well, it will all come together, I pray.

Paul writes some pretty judging words, doesn’t he? “It is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” “These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction.” And the like. Let’s start with an honest check-in. If you have struggled under an oppressive situation – say, an abusive marriage, a tyrannical boss, a toxic coworker – doesn’t it feel good when the other person “gets what’s coming to them”? When the abuser is called out? When the toxic coworker or tyrannical boss is fired? You feel somehow vindicated, don’t you? You and I have likely never lived with real religious oppression, and so we don’t know what it feels like. I pray we never will. Jews and Muslims in our country, on the other hand, have lived with real religious oppression. And folks to whom Paul wrote knew real oppression: at the least they would be shunned by neighbors and coworkers, by relatives and friends, for becoming Christians. At worst they could be arrested and even executed. You and I don’t really know the hope that is implied by the promise that those who afflict you will someday themselves be afflicted.

Well, the women who were harassed by Governor Cuomo or by Harvey Weinstein or by any number of other men who were finally called out for their behavior: they know. But let’s not protest too much what Paul wrote: those who have been afflicted can see the justice of God at work when what goes around comes around, when the afflicter becomes the afflicted.

But I need to say something about judgment in this light. We nice modern liberal Protestants don’t like to talk about judgment, but we avoid it only by avoiding large portions of the Bible. We can ignore judgment only by ignoring a lot of the teaching of Jesus. In sum, it does matter what we believe and what we do. What we believe about God and about ourselves plays a very large role in shaping how we treat ourselves, other people, and the world. And that matters. Judgment comes in large ways and small, and I do believe that a final judgment awaits us. Paul suggests here that those who oppose God and who oppose the people of God will find themselves eternally separated from God as a result of Judgment Day. I have often wondered if that wouldn’t be to get off easy: perhaps a real hell for those who despise God and God’s people would be to be forced to endure the presence of God for eternity. “I can’t stand to be in God’s presence for an hour a week, and now I have to be in the presence of God forever?” Understand this is merely my speculation: Scripture doesn’t say much about either heaven or hell. What it does say is that we all face judgment, and our beliefs and our behavior do matter.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m inclined to think of judgment less in terms of a courtroom and more in terms of an “O. R.” talk. You know “O. R.:” “our relationship.” “Bob, we need to talk about our relationship.” Are there more frightening words in life? I anticipate Judgment Day as sitting down, one-to-one with Jesus, who says, “Let’s talk about our relationship.” Uh-oh. Here it comes. What will I hear?

What did the Christians of Thessalonica hear? “Your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.” Isn’t that a great thing to hear!

Now it raises questions for me, including these. “Your faith is growing abundantly.” What is the measure of that? I know how to measure whether the value of my mutual funds is growing abundantly. I know how to measure whether attendance at worship is growing abundantly. How do I measure if my faith is growing abundantly? Or: “the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.” How do we know that? How do we know if our love is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same?

I don’t know definitively, because we can’t know exactly what the social circumstances were, because we don’t know exactly when the letter was written. But here’s my suspicion. Things were getting harder for them, and they persevered. They were having more troubles, and they looked after each other. When things get harder, what do you do? You give up, or you get tougher. When people around you are more troubled, what do you do? You hide, or you work harder at loving them.

Things were tough and the people of the Church in Thessalonica were not giving up. They were continuing to get together for worship, even though it could get them arrested or at least spat upon. They were looking after one another, even though folks had more troubles. I don’t know that, but that is what I suspect, and that is how Paul could measure their faith and love and say that they were growing. You put an egg in hot water and what happens? It gets harder. If you leave it in long enough, you’ll have a tasty hard-boiled egg that you can take with you on a picnic. Faith under oppression either gets stronger or it withers. Paul writes here that the endurance of the people of Thessalonica during their time of suffering is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that God judged well in choosing them, and that God is making them worthy of the Kingdom of God.

That’s another troubling word: “worthy.” How can we be worthy of the Kingdom of God? Or, as he writes later in the chapter, how can we be worthy of God’s call (v. 11)? Most of us humbly acknowledge that we are not worthy, that it is the gift of God through Jesus Christ to call us and include us in the Kingdom of God. That said, Paul wrote this, so I’m going to suggest an answer. What does God do to make us worthy of God’s call, so that – to continue with Paul’s thought – the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us?

God prompts us to keep showing up. Here’s a line you may have heard; Marshall Brickman and Woody Allen cowrote the screenplay for the 1977 movie Annie Hall. During an interview with journalist Susan Braudy, Marshall said, “I have learned one thing. As Woody says, ‘Showing up is 80 percent of life.’ Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed. I’ve done both.” Woody later said that his actual remark was that showing up is 80% of success. Either way, simply being present is most of what is needed for any endeavor, including becoming worthy of the call of God.

For the last eighteen months everything has been topsy-turvy in the life of the Church. You have continued to show up. When we resumed in-person worship, you started coming back to the church-house, and some started coming for the first time. When we were webcast-only, you tuned in. You didn’t gripe, “I don’t know how to do that;” you learned. You didn’t say, “I don’t think it’s real worship,” you did it anyway. You showed up. And whether you are here in person or are continuing to tune in to our webcast, you continue to show up.

The economy was uncertain; for some of you, your income was uncertain. You continued to show up as a disciple financially as well. You continued to give. We finished 2020 strong financially; we’re struggling this year, but because of your faithfulness we have good reason to hope that we’ll end this year well, also. You show up; you give as you are able. You don’t give more than you can and you don’t give less than you can. You show up.

When the Mission Committee puts out a call for people to bring supplies, to give money, to walk, to wield a hammer or paintbrush, you show up. You showed up for the Pride Parade and for the Pride Festival at Baxter Arena. You show up to serve meals at Siena Francis House. You show up to bring food for the families at Rainbow House. When the Board of Deacons makes Care bags to be delivered to folks, you show up at their door with a Care bag.

I know that you’re tired of all this, especially since it has gone on for so much longer than we anticipated. I can’t tell you how tired I am, so I understand. But you who cling to hope in Jesus Christ continue to show up for Jesus. On Judgment Day, I pray that that is what the Lord Jesus will remember: not our sins and failings, not what and whom we neglected, but that when things were tough you showed up. And I join Paul in praying that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

 

Sermon from August 15: Jesus Our Rescuer

Jesus Our Rescuer
Pentecost XII; August 15, 2021
I Thessalonians 1

As I walked into my Rotary meeting the other day, I greeted a fellow Rotarian and we walked in together. He said to me, “The world is going crazy.” I wondered if the world was indeed any crazier than it’s ever been, or if it simply seems that way because there are so many more of us. A retired physician who thinks scientifically while also a faithful Presbyterian, my friend said that with so many of us we are killing the Earth’s lungs by destroying the tropical rain forests. He said that our forests here in the North stop breathing during the winter, we rely on the rain forests, and we’re killing them.

And then the program that day was about a project to try to restore civility to our common life, a project undertaken by some students from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. That got me thinking about something that happened to another friend. He was distraught because a long-time friend of his, someone with whom he has had a great relationship, was threatening to cut him out of her life because they didn’t share the same political convictions. He didn’t want to talk politics with her; he wanted to share pictures from an art exhibit.

It does feel as though everything’s falling apart, both the ability of the planet to sustain our life and the ability of our social institutions to sustain our community. The latter is not new: human societies have always been fragile and they have all fallen into confusion from time to time. But the possibility that our own planet may try to kill us is indeed new.

It is tempting, then, to trot out a simplistic, “Trust in Jesus, and everything will be alright.” But those of us who are reading the whole Bible this year just finished the Book of Job, and part of the point of Job is that reality is never that simple. Yet I do want to explore briefly Paul’s statement that Jesus is the one who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. The words seem timely, however you think about “the wrath that is coming.” Whether you fear the possibility of civil war, which the White Nationalists have promised, or the increasing extreme weather events, which climate scientists forecast, it does feel as though wrath is coming.

When Paul wrote those words to the Christians in Thessalonica, I believe he was thinking about impending global catastrophe, the end of the world. Jesus had said he would return, and he talked about it in terms that sounded like the end of the world, and many of the followers of Jesus believed it would be soon. Apparently some of the people of Thessalonica, for example, even quit their jobs in order to wait for it! You and I have seen that happen in our society, too; every time the world is supposed to end or “the Storm” is supposed to come, people expect it. Yet we get through the day and the next day dawns and things are as they were. The “wrath that is coming” didn’t come when the people of Thessalonica apparently expected it to.

In a sense, though, it did come eventually, in that their society did collapse, things did fall apart, and they experienced the social wrath that many of us fear. It wasn’t in the lifetime of the people who first got this letter; it was some centuries later. But it came. And the promise that Jesus would rescue them from the wrath that is coming kept them going through the collapse. Christian faith flourished and grew deeper, even though Jesus didn’t swoop down on the clouds and snatch his people away. They weren’t raptured. The Emperor didn’t return to power to make everything alright. Everything fell apart, but they kept faith in Christ, who they believed in as their Rescuer.

Jesus confirmed for them the promise of God that God was for them. Even when things are relatively easy – no pandemic, no fear of climate change, a quiet society – life is difficult. You may struggle with your sense of self, when folks around you demand that you be something you are not. You may deal with difficult relationships. You may deal with ill health. Life is difficult. Jesus rescues us from having to do it on our own; even if the Church isn’t perfect, there will always be siblings in Christ who will love you and encourage you to be you. And when you stop and ponder the reality of Jesus’ gift of himself on the Cross, I hope that rescues you from fear of the wrath that is coming.

Jesus rescues us from that fear by being the one stable thing in our lives. We are living in a time of great uncertainty. To be honest, every day is uncertain; no matter what plans we make, we cannot guarantee that they will unfold as anticipated. Yet right now seems especially so. What will become of Afghanistan? The people there live with enormous uncertainty in the face of the Taliban takeover. Closer to home, right here in our church: we are laying plans for events in September and October, but it is possible that they will not happen. The latest resurgence of COVID-19 may cause us to cancel all we are planning.

In this reading, Paul says that the people of Thessalonica had turned from idols to the living God. If we rely on anything to be certain and stable, it will disappoint us and prove to be an idol. Government, family, work, even the Church: all is uncertain. But I have found that I can count on Jesus, on the love of God made known in Jesus. So he is Rescuer in times of uncertainty.

Paul mentions a couple of times in what we read the influence of the “word of the Lord” among the people of Thessalonica. That was something that kept them going in the face of the coming wrath and in just getting through their days: they relied on the word of the Lord. One prayer we sometimes use before reading Scripture says, “Silence in us any voice but your own.” How many voices do we have battering at us? The news. A disapproving parent. A judgmental preacher. Negative self-talk. A toxic co-worker. Social media. TV and movies. Can you still your mind, quiet your heart, and listen for the word of the Lord through all that noise? The presence of Jesus rescues you and me from the noise, speaking clearly to us the word of the Lord.

The big thing, of course, is the promise of resurrection. Whether Paul was thinking of that or not, that is certainly the cornerstone of our hope. We wake up each day with the confidence that even if it is our last, it is not the end of us. Whatever happens, whatever wrath overtakes us, the One who was raised from the dead is the promise that we too shall be raised; the One who feeds our spirits in the Sacrament of his body and blood is the assurance that we shall be rescued from any wrath that threatens to overwhelm, from extreme weather events to a pandemic to the collapse of the Empire.

As Paul emphasizes not only here but in the rest of this letter and the one that follows it, the effect of this confidence should not be to sit back on our butts and wait for things to happen. The effect is to face each day with hope, faithful to the word of the Lord. He warned those people of Thessalonica who had quit their jobs to get back to work (I Thess. 4:11; II Thess. 3:6-13). As we read to you, Paul celebrated that the confidence the Thessalonians had in the word of the Lord was so strong that people talked about it in Macedonia and Achaia and all over the place.

Would that not be a great reputation for us to have? That we have such confidence in the word of the Lord? It will show by how we live and by what we say. If we face a changing climate with the determination to do what we can to help, confident in the love of God for God’s creation; if we meet times of uncertainty with calm, seeking to do our best even not knowing what the next day may bring; if we respond to incivility by being ourselves persons of grace and kindness, especially to those who differ from us politically; that is, if we live as followers of Jesus the Rescuer, then we will gain such a reputation. Wrath is coming; wrath is always coming, although it does seem closer now. Rather than give in to it, we can be the people who follow the Rescuer.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska