Special Message from Pastor Bob

Dear people of God:

This week I finally got the Christmas lights down. Those of you who park in the South parking lot and have noticed the lights still up over the Apartment will be relieved to see that, the next time you are here.

Well, in my defense, I needed the right combination of circumstances. Good weather, for one thing. Someone around to call for help – since I needed to get on a ladder, and church policy specifies that someone has to be around when you get on a ladder – and Kathleen has been here. And, of course, a little free time. It took less time than I thought it would, but that’s often the case with this sort of project.

This is a good time for working on projects. Usually, in the winter, I have a list of “bad-weather projects.” This winter was relatively mild and I don’t think I got anything done from that list. But now I have my “COVID-19 projects;” things to do since we’re not going to the theater, not going out to dinner, not getting together (physically) with friends, and above all not going to meetings every evening. I’ve checked off a few of them; this week, “Christmas lights down.”

What are you doing with your time? Are you working through those projects that you’ve put off? One of you was telling me about a certain cleaning project that you hadn’t done not only for lack of time, but also lack of interest. You got it done, and now it’s behind you! What’s next?

I remember I used to tease my voice teacher; he and his housemate didn’t take their Christmas trees down promptly at Epiphany or even soon after. I remember saying, one year, “Bill, you can take down your Christmas tree; yesterday was Ash Wednesday.” Well, it’s about time I took down my Christmas lights. It’s almost Holy Week.

Pastor Bob

During the COVID-19 restrictions, I will post special messages from time to time. This one is from April 2, 2020.

 

Holy Week Summary

Holy Week (April 5 – 12)

Since everything is different this year, here’s a rundown of our plans for Holy Week.

April 5: Palm Sunday
Video service on YouTube Sunday morning.

April 9: Maundy Thursday
Pastor Bob will prepare a short message and a communion prayer. Please have bread and wine/grape juice ready at your dinner table. After you have had dinner, go to the Maundy Thursday video service and share the communion at home at Pastor Bob’s direction.

April 10: Good Friday
A service that focuses on the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus and includes special music will be on YouTube in the evening.

April 12: Easter
On Saturday evening (April 11) please watch a brief Communion video as part of your preparation for Easter. Or watch it early Easter morning. Then drive to the Church between 9 and noon for drive-through Communion.
            Also, Easter music and message will be available on YouTube Sunday morning.

All our video services are saved to YouTube; if you miss one, you can access it later. You can link to them from our website or from Facebook or search on YouTube by the name of the Church.

 

Siena Francis House Needs

Here is another opportunity for members and friends to continue your involvement in mission.

Sermon from Lent IV: Commandments 7 & 8

Respect
Lent IV; March 22, 2020
Exodus 20:14-15

In 1631 an edition of the King James Version of the Bible was printed in England by the royal printers. Soon thereafter, every copy that could be found was gathered and burned, and the printers were fined the equivalent of what is now about $58,000. The book was later called the Wicked Bible, and since most copies were destroyed, the ones that survived are highly valuable. There are two in the United States: one in New York and one in Houston. What makes this Bible so evil? A misprint. A word was left out of Exodus 20, so the people are commanded: Thou shalt commit adultery.

As if anyone inclined to it needed to be commanded!

I’ve grouped these two commandments together because they both say to me, “Respect other people. Respect their relationships; respect their property rights.” There’s a really strong subtext to both of them, that I think you’ll realize if you think about them a bit: respect yourself.

The commandment against adultery receives a lot of elaboration in the rest of the Law, as Moses helps the people understand what is adultery and what the various punishments for it are. At root is the realization that married people have made a covenant, and it’s good to have enough respect for ourselves and for each other to be faithful to the covenants we have made.

Whenever I work with a couple before marriage, I talk with them about covenants. That’s how we Jesus-types describe a number of our relationships, and primarily our relationship with God. Most of us, once we grow up, find ourselves signing various sorts of contracts. I remember when I bought my first car, when I was 25 years old. There was a lot of paperwork, and I didn’t read all of it before signing it. So afterward, the dealer said to me, “We’ll be over for your furniture on Monday.” When I looked dismayed, he laughed. It was his way of joking that you shouldn’t sign something without reading it first.

Anyway, I was signing a contract, and no, it didn’t include the provision that they could come take my furniture. But it did stipulate that I would pay a certain amount of money every month; if I broke the terms of the contract, they could take my car back. If you break the terms of a contract, the contract is broken. A covenant doesn’t work that way. If you break the terms of a covenant, the covenant is not broken. But it takes repentance and forgiveness and work to maintain a covenant. Married people do fail one another, even if they don’t commit adultery. We do not live up to the vows we made when we were married, but we can continue to honor the covenant with repentance, forgiveness, and dedication.

The commandment encourages us to try to keep our vows, out of respect for the covenant, out of respect for others, and out of respect for our own integrity. Don’t you want to think of yourself as the sort of person who keeps your promises? Without going into it, let me put this bug in your ear: all our covenants, all our vows, all our promises have their origin in one basic covenant: the covenant that God made with us in our baptism. This commandment to remind us to stay true to our promises in marriage and other relationships also reminds us to stay true to our promises to God. Stay faithful to one another; stay faithful to Christ.

But let’s talk about the commandment not to steal, because it also encourages us to respect other people, and particularly their income and their property. A pastor friend was talking about this commandment, and he wondered just how far the commandment goes. Is he stealing if he fails to report all his income from weddings and funerals to the IRS? He thought it probably was. But my friend went even further. He thought that it is stealing if he fails to give others all the praise and credit they deserve. That makes sense to me. God has always been interested in money and property, but has never been interested only in money and property. God is interested in justice, in fair dealing between people. So if you do something good, and I take credit for it, then I am stealing from you.

Our Catechism goes even farther. It tells us to go to work and provide for our well-being, but also to promote the work and well-being of others, and to be generous. This aspect of the commandment is going to be particularly important in our present circumstances. Although all of us are having to deal with some shortages and with the emotional toll of social distancing, some of us are not likely to suffer much economically. Those who have reliable income from a salary, from a pension or from Social Security are relatively secure. But those who rely on income from investments, or those who do hourly work that is threatened, may be hurting real bad, real soon.

My friend who was wondering about the extent of “stealing” had another example. He wondered if he went out and bought himself something he didn’t really need – noise-canceling headphones was the example he used – instead of giving that money to a worthy charity, was that stealing? He thought it probably was. So the commandment not to steal implies that the faithful person of God does not use money for luxuries that could help with a necessity.

One of our elders this week pointed out that it is possible that we will be receiving money from the federal government as a partial stimulus during this crisis. And he asked, “What are you going to do with your $1,000?” A lot of us don’t actually need that money, although we could find it useful. But there are a lot of people in this city who will actually need that money. Servers in restaurants, bartenders, people who work in cinemas, day care providers, and many others suddenly find themselves without income. They need that $1,000; and if the government provides me with $1,000, they will need it more than I will. So those of you who have some knowledge in this area can advise the rest of us what to do with our government check so that it will get to those who really need it. Sure, our net worth has plummeted, as I’m sure has happened to a lot of you, too. But most of you hearing this message, like us, will be able to go on eating, go on staying in out of the rain. God wills that we not use this money for a luxury when someone else may need it for food or shelter.

Another story one of our elders told that helps us see our duty. He was at Foodies, buying takeout, and the man ahead of him bought a $300 gift card. The man said, “I was going to buy this later anyhow, as a Christmas gift for a friend who likes to eat here. But I decided that you probably need the money now.” God not only wills that we give generously, but in times such as these it’s a good idea to do business wherever we can in such a way as to help our neighbors. I always make it a matter of policy to buy whatever I can from a local bricks-and-mortar store rather than from, say, Amazon, because I know that my money is going to wages for people who live in my community, pay taxes to my community.

One more thing and then I’ll stop. “You shall not steal” implies a respect for our relationship with the earth and all its creatures. There was a time in our history when we thought of the Earth as our Mother, and we treated it with respect. Somewhere along the line we began to think of the Earth as a resource to be exploited, and its creatures as sources of income. I do not deny the need for minerals from the earth, or the goods that come from its creatures. Goodness, I love a good steak as much as the next Omahan or a good Iowa chop too. But I affirm that we need a change of thinking toward the earth and its creatures, so that we not only refrain from stealing from Mother Earth but we refrain from stealing from future generations. Whenever we hear about the reluctance of our various levels of government to take seriously the need to address climate change, I want to go to Lincoln or Des Moines or, above all, Washington and wear a tee-shirt that reads, “Senator, I care about your grandchildren, even if you don’t.”

That sounds harsh, but sometimes it takes harshness to realize what is important. It is a violation of God’s commandments if we think that everything is here for us, and we can take what we want without regard to others. The commandments of God are to respect others: respect our covenants with them, respect their relationships, respect their property, whether those others are our neighbors, our families, local businesses, or generations yet to come. When you and I live with respect for others, it shows we have the integrity that allows us to respect ourselves.

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

 

A Special Message from Pastor Bob

Dear people of God:

What are you doing to keep your head on straight? We’re still early in this COVID-19 situation; it’s early in week two of something that will endure for at least six weeks. So it’s time to make choices about what will help us manage.

The experts tell us that it’s important to establish a routine. One woman told me that the first day of the “work at home” regime she spent the day in her pajamas. But she realized that to think and feel right about her work, she needed to keep to her routine, so she got up at her usual time, and dressed in her usual way.

Parents are encouraged to get your children up at the same time they would ordinarily if they were going to school, and to engage them in activities during the time they would have been at school. In addition to whatever lessons are being provided by the school, there are virtual opportunities at museums and other places. And, of course, Anne Weatherwax is providing weekly “Sunday School @Home” lessons you can do with them.

Although the circumstances are strange and we’re having to do worship in a different way, I’m sticking to the plan of working through the Ten Commandments and will continue with the story of the Exodus thereafter. Yes, I’m getting some flack for that, but I trust the experts who say that a semblance of normality is helpful to people.

So I’m keeping to routine, too. One thing I decided to do and will continue to do: on Sunday morning I put on my preacher clothes and open up the front doors of the church at 8:00 and keep them open until 11:30. I call it “drop-in hours;” we can’t meet for worship, but I can see you in ones or twos. This week I had one person come in, and two people phoned. It was nice.

Remember I’m offering times for “Word and Prayer” on Wednesdays (4:00), Thursdays (7:00), and Fridays (noon), should you want to get out of the house (as long as we’re able to) and come to the church. Contact Dee Moriarty to let her know, so that we keep the numbers to no more than eight.

In the meantime, comment below your answer to this question: What routine are you keeping or establishing to help you manage this difficult time?

Pastor Bob

During the COVID-19 restrictions, I will post special messages from time to time. This one is from March 24, 2020.

 

Important Information for the Church and Associated Groups

Important Information for the Church and Associated Groups
Please read all the way through; these are things you will want to know.

WORSHIP

  • Virtual worship will continue at least through the end of April. We expect to add elements that were not present in the first one (March 15). Also, we plan to have them ready and posted by Sunday morning, and will have a downloadable bulletin to go with the video.
  • A great way to use the video is to watch together. Get your family together in one room and watch together; say the responses together; if you feel daring, sing along on the chant and hymn.
  • We are planning on providing a format for communion-at-home for Maundy Thursday (April 9).
  • Likewise, we are working on a means for you to take communion (safely) at the Church on Easter (April 12).
  • Reminder: if you have a prayer request or a thanksgiving you want included in the Sunday prayers, email it to me (email address below) by Friday at 4:00 pm. Be sure to note if you want it included in the weekly prayer line; if you do not say so, I will assume you do not want it to be.

SPIRITUAL GATHERINGS

  • Beginning Wednesday, March 25, I will offer “Word and Prayer” gatherings for small groups in the Chapel. These will continue as long as we are unable to meet together for worship. There will be three every week: Wednesday at 4:00 pm; Thursday at 7:00 pm; Friday at noon.
  • These will be limited to EIGHT persons. To attend, you must sign up and wait for word that you have been enrolled. We are going to control enrollment to ensure that everyone who wants to participate is able to do so.
  • To enroll, email Dee Moriarty at moriartyd45@cox.net and tell her when you want to attend.
  • Child Care can be provided if you tell Dee that you need it.
  • Also, a gathering can be oriented to children and/or families if that is requested.
  • Contact Dee Moriarty or me for more information.

PERSONAL SPIRITUAL NEEDS

  • The office remains open; I of course remain available for talk or prayer as you request. Call the office or my cell phone (both numbers are in your church directory) or email me for an appointment.
  • I continue to make hospital visits whenever permitted.
  • In addition, I will have “drop-in” hours on Sunday mornings from 8:00 to 11:30. Of course, we cannot have more than ten persons in the Commons at a time, but I will be available if anyone should wish to drop in.

EDUCATION

  • Anne Weatherwax, our Director of Christian Education, is working on “Sunday School @Home” resources. Watch for information about accessing them.
  • The Common Ground series “The Welcoming Congregation” will be offered this Fall.

MEETINGS

  • All groups that are part of the Church’s ministry and all groups that meet on our Church property will meet subject to the Governor’s guidelines. That is, they may continue to meet if there are no more than ten persons in attendance and they are meeting in a room where appropriate social distancing can be observed. If the meeting involves more than ten (such as AA) they may meet if they separate into multiple rooms.
  • Committees of more than ten persons and that are unable to practice social distancing will meet electronically. Note: the Session’s Response Team is working on providing helps with an appropriate platform.

As always, contact me with questions about policy and our response to the guidelines offered by Douglas County Health Department. Also, contact me if you want to talk! Pray for yourselves, your loved ones, your Church, for those most vulnerable to this disease, and for health care providers who are being called upon to give so much of themselves.

Pastor Bob
robert.keefer@pcmwindow.org

 

Sermon from Lent III on the Sixth Commandment

Reconciled
Lent III; March 15, 2020
Exodus 20:13 (with Matthew 5:21-26)

The more I have thought about this Commandment (“You shall not murder”) the harder it has become to know what God wants me to say to you about it. My range of thinking about it keeps growing and growing, and I want the sermon to be brief and to the point. And Jesus – as is typical – messes it all up by getting to the heart of the matter. Well, I’ve decided to just reflect on some things around the Commandment and hope that one of them sticks with you.

You may have learned the Commandment as “Thou shalt not kill.” This is another one of those Hebrew verbs that doesn’t translate easily, especially since its meaning seems to have evolved over the 2,000-year story of the Old Testament. Generally, it seems to mean, “Don’t take matters into your own hands and kill someone just because you think they have it coming to them.” Now, that would ruin the plots of many movies, wouldn’t it?

One of the gifts we have as Presbyterians is the Westminster Confession of Faith and its catechisms. The Westminster Catechisms explore the Commandments and do something wonderful with them: they consider the implications, both positive and negative, of each Commandment. And the so-called Larger Catechism (Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church USA 7.245) notes several positive duties that are implied by this Commandment; I can summarize them in two things: Take care of yourself; advocate for the well-being of others.

“Take care of yourself.” The Catechism is thorough: it tells us to be responsible in the way we eat and drink, that we should get enough rest, not work too hard, take time for recreation, and do whatever we can to have a positive mindset. Of course, not only now when people are concerned about COVID-19, but every year during flu season and when colds are around you, protect your health as best you can, but don’t give in to fear. And be sure to take care of your emotional well-being. For example, if you find yourself obsessing over the current crisis, constantly trying to be on top of the latest news, then please: unplug. Hide your phone, turn off your TV or computer, and do something else with your mind. Take care of yourself.

The Catechism also says that the disciple of Jesus should always be ready to be reconciled; that’s part of what Jesus advocated in response to this Commandment. When someone has something against you, do whatever is necessary to set things right. I wonder which is harder: to be the one who needs to set things right, or to be the one who was harmed and is asked to be reconciled. Both are hard. It’s hard to realize I’ve hurt someone, and that I need to go to them and ask to be reconciled. And it’s hard to offer reconciliation when someone who has harmed me asks it.

No, wait; I’ve found that it isn’t so hard. I’m thinking of two different situations. In one, a person hurt me repeatedly and in many ways, and continues to insist, “I never did anything wrong.” I don’t know how to be reconciled to that person, and I wish I could get them to stop taking up room in my head without paying rent. In another situation, a man said some very unkind and hurtful things about me, and after he thought about it, he came to me and apologized. I think quite highly of him; he was always a faithful disciple of Jesus and talented in many ways, but now I also like him. So when someone who has hurt me takes Jesus’ advice and comes to me to talk about it, reconciliation is possible. I hope that I can be big enough to go to any I have hurt, as well. As the Catechism suggests, it is good for our well-being.

The Catechism also says we need to advocate for the well-being of others, including caring for the distressed and “protecting and defending the innocent.” Last Sunday was International Women’s Day, and we celebrated it this week by sentencing Harvey Weinstein to twenty-three years in prison. Okay, that was a cheap shot. But much of the attention this year was on the ways women have been victimized. In Mexico, “a day without women” called attention to the high level of violence against women in that country. A prayer published in our Presbytery’s newsletter called attention to women who have been physically and emotionally abused and whose voices have been silenced. I think it is a positive step that men can no longer assume that we can demand whatever we want of women, and even go so far as to blame the women for it.

So, take care of yourself and advocate for the well-being of others. Let me conclude by riffing a bit on what Jesus does with this Commandment. As usual, Jesus goes way beyond the simple question of behavior to a matter of the heart. Jesus just can’t leave well enough alone; he is so wise that he realizes that our salvation is not just a matter of getting us to behave right but is also a matter of straightening out our heads. So it isn’t enough merely to refrain from killing someone when you’re angry with them. You need to do something about the anger.

If only Jesus would stay out of my head; right? Yours too? Sometimes it is so delicious to nurture that anger against the one who has hurt you; and it’s even more delicious to try to find ways to hurt them that fall short of outright murder. Remember the Klingon proverb? “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Jesus demands that I not only refrain from murder but that I refrain from insulting the person who has hurt me. I suspect he was exaggerating a little bit when he said that calling someone a fool makes you liable to hell; after all, he called the scribes and Pharisees “fools” (Matthew 23:17). If Jesus means this as an absolute rule, then he breaks his own rule.

So please don’t get all legalistic and think you’re going to hell for what you said about your idiot brother-in-law, but do remember the will of God: work at overcoming your hostility toward others. I find a great tool for that is to try, honestly, to understand things from the other’s point of view. An illustration: One of the questions dividing our nation politically is pro-life vs. pro-choice. For various reasons, I align myself with the pro-choice group. And I work at understanding the point of view of those who call themselves “pro-life,” even if I think they’re wrong. I understand they believe they are advocating for the well-being of those who are most vulnerable among us. I understand they believe that a fetus that is on the path of becoming a human being has all the rights of a human being. And I appreciate this much: we are in danger of turning human life into a commodity, and the pro-life movement resists that trend. So even though I disagree with them, I’m not going to call them names or malign their motives; I’ll simply disagree. Please take that as an example and think of your own issues. Where are you inclined to speak and think badly of others; what can you do to understand their point of view?

Well, those are things that I feel compelled to throw at the wall; we’ll what sticks. “You shall not murder:” a few words that carry a big impact. Take care of yourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Be ready to be reconciled. May God bless you and all the people of God.

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

 

Special Message from Pastor Bob 3/17/2020

Dear people of God:

I knew that Sunday morning would feel weird, but I didn’t know it would hurt.

It was a great experience to work with Bill Norton to prepare the video worship for you. He and others and I will work together to try to improve the experience for all of you. Some of you have responded not only with gratitude but also with suggestions; for both I thank you.

Given the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I expect the current restrictions to stay in place for some time. We will probably not meet on Resurrection Day or for any of the usual services for Holy Week. I imagine we will not resume our regular schedule of worship until May. I do not know that for certain, but that seems most likely as of now.

I’m glad for how we did on Sunday and look forward to what else we can do. But I was surprised how much it hurt to walk through the building on Sunday. There was no one sitting at the tables in the Commons, sipping coffee and discussing basketball scores. Ushers were not scurrying around getting things ready. Children were not running down the hall.

Chris was here to play the piano, Bill was here to record, Kathleen was here to read Scripture, and I was here to offer a message. Above all, of course, God was here. But you were not here.

I have said it, because of my theological training, for years, but Sunday I experienced it and it was a blow. A Church building without the people of the Church is an empty shell.

Pastor Bob

During the COVID-19 crisis, I will post special messages from time to time. This one is from March 17, 2020.

 

More news about worship March 15

Good news… your Tech Committee met and will set up equipment to record music and message tomorrow (March 15); watch for it to be uploaded on Facebook and our website, hopefully by 10:30. If you have prayer requests or thanksgivings, email them to me at robert.keefer@pcmwindow.org by 8:00 am. By next Sunday we hope to be able to livestream worship; watch for news.

Cancellations Week of March 15

Dear friends in Christ:

Out of an abundance of caution, I have decided to cancel worship and Sunday School for Sunday, March 15, as well as Common Ground on Wednesday, March 18. However, for those who need spiritual consolation, I will be on duty Sunday morning in the Church Commons.

Several members of the Session have voiced support for this action. The Session will meet this week to appoint a Response Team, which will consider further actions. For now, other groups that meet in our building are invited to make their own decisions about meeting.

You know my reluctance to cancel worship; an AA member voiced it well, describing why they continue to meet, even in the worst weather: “Someone may need it.” The worship of God is not an optional activity, such as sports or entertainment, but is core to our humanity. Also, I do not presume to be wiser than our public health officials, who have not called for the cancellation of worship. Personally, I think the Catholics have the right approach: worship will continue, but do not attend if you are in the vulnerable population.

Yet in the present moment of uncertainty, I believe this is the right course. The novel coronavirus does not yet appear to have spread within the community, only to have come from elsewhere. But we can take this step to help prevent its spread, and protect the well-being of the faithful.

I regret that we do not yet have the means to provide for live-streaming or other opportunity to gather virtually. I hope that by next Sunday we will be able to offer you something. In the meantime, I will post on our website the sermon I had intended to preach. And I invite you to phone, email, or stop by individually with your prayers and thanksgivings.

In sum: no worship March 15 (and probably not for a while thereafter, but watch for news), but I will be available for prayer and Scripture conversation with individuals. No Common Ground on March 18. May God bless you and guide you in wisdom and faith.

Pastor Bob