Help Us Grow

Electronic Giving is a convenient, consistent way to help our church grow.

Consider scheduling a recurring electronic contribution today. It’s easy! You will no longer need to write out checks and prepare envelopes every week. Even when travel, illness or other circumstances prevent you from attending services,  your electronic contributions will continue to be received on an uninterrupted basis.

Get started today!

Fill out the authorization form (in Commons area) and turn form in to the office with your information.

Calvin Crest Family Fun Day – August 24

Camp Calvin Crest is hosting a family fun day on August 24th from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Here’s an opportunity for everyone to have fun with a familiar figure.

Pastor Bob will be manning the “dunk tank”.  Here’s your chance—come and check out your aim!  There will be many activities to take part in—worship service, silent auction, raffle, hayrack rides every hour from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Pool, sand volleyball, maze, gaga ball and crafts  – to name a few.

The baskets for the silent auction provided by PCM were made by Missions and will be auctioned to help provide scholarships to young people attending Calvin Crest. Plan to attend and enjoy the day.

 

Welcome To The New Website

Welcome to the new Member area of the PCM website. Click the “Email Notification Sign-up” link under the “More…” on the menu bar if you would like to register to receive email notifications when new posts are published to the site.

Children’s Library Donations

From time to time we receive lovely donations from congregational members for our Children’s Library.  Please contact Diane Frans at 402-572-1158 or dianefrans@outlook.com if you have books that you have left in the library for that purpose.

Unfortunately it is hard to know if books left in the library are for a donation or are simply someone’s personal book(s) that were left in the library.  Properly informing me would help me to decide about placing the book in our library and properly marking them as PCM property.

Thanks!

PCM Care Line

Wondering who might be in need of your care, prayers, and concern? One way to identify some of those individuals and families is through our telephone system—the Care Line.

During office hours, 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM, simply call the church and ask to be connected, extension 303. The volunteer at the reception desk will dial the extension. Should you only be able to call outside of those hours, then call the church and when prompted, dial 303. This will connect you.

Additions and changes to the call line can be made by contacting Winnie Pinch at 402.571.0606 or through email wjepinch@hotmail.com at any time of the week.

Those whose prayer requests on Sunday indicate a desire to be included on the care line are added early in the week. If you have questions, contact Winnie.

 

Sermon for August 11: Seek Justice

Pentecost IX (O. T. 19); August 11, 2019

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

I’m going to elaborate briefly, and will try to be simple, clear, and measured, but the summary of today’s message is this: anyone who says that politics does not belong in Church is denying the Bible.

I would love to get down-and-dirty with this harsh, beautiful, and stirring prophecy of Isaiah, to go through it with you line-by-line. Instead I’ll apply it more generally, but please note this: the Prophet’s words are judgment against a people and against the people’s government. The people are doing their religious duty, but the Lord God is weary of people making sacrifices, singing hymns, saying their prayers, and failing to serve the needs of the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow. God judges us when we use our religion as a cover for injustice.

So, that is the first takeaway from Isaiah’s prophecy. If your religion does not affect your politics, then you’re not doing it right. You and I have a responsibility not just to be members of a church, to get good feelings from worship, and to give some money from time to time, but actually to be disciples of Jesus, people of God. There is a familiar line in what Guy read to you (Luke 12:32-40): “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” People often turn that around, but Jesus has it right: your heart follows your money. Wherever your money is invested, that’s where your heart is going to be. And so most of us make our decisions about voting and public policy based not on what the Bible says, but on how it will affect our family’s income. That makes sense, and Jesus knows it: your heart follows your money. And he forces us to ask ourselves whether we’re putting our treasure (money, vote, energy) where it will be faithful to the Word of God.

Second takeaway: as far as God is concerned, government does have a responsibility to the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow. You will hear people in this country say that government has no responsibility for social well-being. People are allowed to think that, but not if they believe the Bible. Remember the beginning of Isaiah’s prophecy of judgment was against the rulers, and then also the people.

Let me try to tease out something appropriate to say about the matter of gun violence in this country. It’s come to the foreground again, after last weekend’s two attacks, but the reality is that mass shootings are a small percentage of the deaths by gun violence. In 2018, there were 39,773 deaths by gunshot in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of those were by suicide; less than one percent were from mass shootings such as what we see on the news; and the remainder were from homicides, home defense, and accidents.[1] So the Prophet Isaiah says three things to this situation. First, government has a responsibility to respond. Government is the agent by which communities supervise ourselves and so government has a responsibility. Second, people of God are not permitted to use our religion as an excuse not to advocate; indeed, the Prophet says: “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Our faith in God is not a substitute for action; rather, it is to motivate us to action on behalf of those who do not have social power. And the third thing the Prophet says is that the problem is deep, that our society is sick. The suicide rate in this country, plus the fear many of us now have to go out to public gatherings, come from a deep illness in our social fabric that government cannot solve. We have Good News that can address that sickness, and there is part of our evangelistic challenge.

So far I have said that the Prophet claims that our faith in God demands political involvement and, second, that government has a responsibility to those who are out of power. But I will not claim that the Prophet states what the government is supposed to do. That is where people of faith may disagree: we must agree that people of faith are required to hold the government accountable for the weakest in our society – represented in Isaiah’s day by the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow – but we may disagree with each other on what the government is to do. If the preacher says that governments must take action in light of the epidemic of gun violence in our society, I am on firm Biblical footing. But if I say, “And this is what that action must be,” then I am expressing my own opinion.

Yes, this is a heavy sermon, isn’t it? These are heavy times. But to the third takeaway, and then I’ll be done. This story is a good lead-in. In a previous church, I had a wonderful friend and parishioner, Dr. Campbell. Now his political views and mine were completely at odds, but we loved each other. Anyway, in a sermon one Sunday I wanted to play on our political stereotypes in America, so I said something about “God-fearing Republicans and godless Democrats;” Dr. Campbell loudly replied, “Amen!” One of the few times I’ve gotten an Amen in a sermon.

Anyway, the third takeaway is this: the Prophet Isaiah reminds God’s people that we are to be the Kingdom of God. We have a loyalty that is higher than loyalty to a political party, higher than loyalty to the nation, higher even than loyalty to a college football team: the Kingdom of God. And though some of us think the priorities of the Kingdom of God are reprinted in the platform of the Republican Party, and others think they are the platform of the Democratic Party, they are not. And the United States of America is not the Kingdom of God. Isaiah’s country, Judah, was supposed to be the Kingdom of God in its government and organization, and you can tell from the reading that they didn’t get it right.

Part of the work of Jesus is to create a new Kingdom, one that has no political parties, no national borders, but that consists of that fellowship of all who know that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. Our life – the way we treat each other, the way we treat people who are different from us, the causes we advocate and the decisions we make – is the work of the Kingdom of God. We need always and in everything ask the question: What does Jesus want me to do? Not, “What will make me feel safe?” Not, “What will improve my stock portfolio?” But, “What will help the oppressed, the orphans, and the widows?”

The Prophet concludes by reminding us that the Lord will sort it out for us, forgiving us and cleansing us. Isn’t that what Christ does? We won’t get it right all the time, but do not despair. Christ offers forgiveness and new possibilities; your pastor is simply urging you to put your heart in the right place. Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska

 

[1] https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/past-tolls and a story from the New York Times, Dec. 18, 2018. 

Sermon For August 4: God to Us Fools

​I made my commentary about the mass shootings over the weekend during our prayer request time, and so that is not included in this sermon.

God to Us Fools

Pentecost VIII (O. T. 18)

August 4, 2019

Hosea 11:1-11

Hebrew prophets were strange. They would not fit comfortably into our nice, suburban, middle class environment. We love to read their poetry and think about their prophecy, but I don’t think you would want to invite one to dinner.

It’s somewhat surprising to me that Jesus was often invited to dinner, since his words and behavior did not always demonstrate good manners, either. In today’s reading from Luke (12:13-21) his words and behavior are not so bad, except for saying that anyone who considers wealth to be more important than relationships is a fool. You and I may well agree with him, and I think it goes nicely with the reading from Hosea, in which God is speaking to us fools about our priorities, and what God feels about it.

Generally, the prophets’ messages reflected what they learned about God from their own lives. So let’s start by talking about Hosea’s family life, and that will help us get a handle on his prophecy. Hosea felt very strongly that God was calling him to get married to a woman named Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Now Gomer was a prostitute by trade, and Hosea felt he was making a prophetic point by marrying her: Israel was prostituting itself by its failure to be completely loyal to the Lord God.

You probably don’t want me to say it, but here it is: in the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the relationship between God and God’s people is frequently compared to marriage. And the failure of God’s people to be faithful to the Lord God is described as “adultery” and “prostitution.” No matter how much the Lord God loves us, saves us, nurtures us, and guides us, we still go panting after every god who comes along in tight jeans, whether that god is wealth, property, nationalism, guns, military power, or ego… or anything else.

Anyway, Hosea made his first prophetic point by getting married to a prostitute named Gomer. She bore him a son, whom he named Jezreel, to remind the people of something terrible in their recent political history in the place named Jezreel. Then he got real explicit in his prophecy: Hosea and Gomer had a daughter, whom he named Lo-ruhamah, which means “Not pitied.” Because of their unfaithfulness, the Lord will no longer have pity on Israel. And then they had a son, Lo-ammi, which means “Not my people.” You get the point.

But then something happened: the Lord spoke to Hosea and said, “Call your daughter Ruhamah (‘pitied’), because I will have pity on Israel, and call your son Ammi (‘my people’), for Israel shall know that they are my people and that I am their God.” Hosea still spoke judgment and threats against Israel because they chased other gods, but the Lord was saying that their God would not completely reject them, even though they were unfaithful.

In the meantime, Gomer left Hosea and went back to prostitution. Funny thing: he didn’t write her off, but went looking for her. When he found her, he had to buy out her contract (fifteen shekels of silver, a homer of barley and a measure of wine – 3:2), and he took her home again. So all of his prophecy of judgment against Israel for its unfaithfulness was tempered by his love for Gomer and his forgiveness of her for her unfaithfulness to him. Maybe you could hear that in the plaintive cry of the Lord God in what I read to you: “I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”

There are five movements in the prophecy. The first remembers the Exodus, when the Lord rescued the people from slavery in Egypt, and they rewarded God by making sacrifices to the god Baal and to idols. Read the story for yourself; it’s all there. Now, it should be noted that there’s a certain practicality to what they did. Baal was considered an agricultural god, and so to ensure fertility of crops and of livestock it makes sense to make sacrifices to Baal. And the idols they made, such as the golden calf, were not intended to be substitutes for the Lord God but were intended to be representations of the Lord God. So again, they were simply being practical.

You and I are not inclined to offer sacrifices to Baal or to wander after the gods of other religions, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is when we hedge our bets, when we don’t do what God has explicitly commanded because we just don’t find it practical. Sure, Jesus is our Lord and Savior… but to be practical we have other lords and saviors, too.

The second movement is that God remembers teaching them to walk, remembers nursing them. God is saying, “When they turned away from me, they turned away from their own mother.” “They did not know that I healed them,” the Lord says. Wow, we could do a lot with that one thought: how much has the Lord done for us that we attributed to something else, so that we did not know that it was our divine mother looking after us?

The third movement is judgment: “They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king” and so forth. “Return to the land of Egypt” is symbolic; since they have been unfaithful to me ever since I brought them out of Egypt, I’m going to send them back there. But the threat of Assyria was real: Assyria was the growing regional power, and about ten to twenty years after Hosea’s prophecy Israel’s political alliances collapsed and they were overrun by Assyria. They were judged and Assyria became their king, just as Hosea predicted.

But remember: the Lord God told the prophet to call his children “Ruhamah – pitied” and “Ammi – my people.” Though the kingdom came to an end and their existence as a nation was over, it was not because the Lord God was overcome by wrath. It was inevitable, given their political and spiritual choices. But in the fourth movement of the poem the prophet tells us how God feels about it:

How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?

How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim?

(Admah and Zeboiim were two of the cities destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah.)

My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.

Despite what some religious folks say, God does not take delight in destroying the wicked and the faithless, but the Lord will let our choices have their inevitable consequences. That is why Jesus calls the rich man a “fool:” he is so devoted to his wealth, that he has no one to share it with, no wife, no family, no friends. And I think you and I are little better than fools if we do not see what the Lord has done for us and go chasing after other gods, out of the notion that we need to be practical, so we’d best make an idol here and a sacrifice to Baal there. And the Lord weeps: They did not know that I saved them.

The last movement of the prophecy is a vision of the people coming home, returning to the land and returning to the Lord. And they return trembling, because the Lord is not merely some wimpy, indulgent deity, but a roaring lion. I often think our worship would be more faithful if we would think of the Lord not so much as a kind grandpa who likes to see us enjoying ourselves, but rather as the roaring lion that Hosea sees. A little fear and trembling before the power that creates the galaxies would do us good.

So, in summary: sometimes we’re Gomer in the story, wandering away from God in the pursuit of more pleasure or excitement, and sometimes we’re Lo-ruhamah or Lo-ammi, forgetting the God who has given us life, nursed us, taught us to walk. But the Lord loves us and comes for us. Remember how Hosea bought out Gomer’s contract with some silver, barley, and wine? The Lord buys out our contract through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross so that we can return home, and the Lord does not reject or forget us. Indeed, the Lord calls us home, as a roaring lion summons the cubs. Let us come trembling before the Lord, who says:

I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst,

And I will not come in wrath.

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska

Time To Focus

Lent I; March 10, 2019

Luke 4:1-13

Your Worship Design Group has decided this Lent that we should focus on the Cross in its various forms. For years we have had a wonderful selection of crosses hanging in the front of our Sanctuary during Lent, but in the years I have been here we’ve never talked about them. This year we’ll tell you about each one and we’ll take time every Sunday to focus on them.

Whenever the many demands of life begin to feel overwhelming, it’s time to focus. Have you ever tried to have a meaningful conversation with a friend in a sports bar, where multiple screens all around you are showing several different events? If you are able to have that conversation, it’s because you have trained yourself to focus: you can focus on your friend’s face and your friend’s words, even though someone has just made a three-pointer or a terrific spike.

When we pray it usually helps to have a focus. Some may use a candle, others an icon or a picture, or a cross. And Lent is a good time to focus on the Cross, even if for only a few minutes, and to let the other distractions wait for those few minutes.

Jesus didn’t have a visual thing that he focused on during his time in the desert, but he had something internal. He had his calling. I don’t know what you pray about for forty days – I hardly ever pray for even forty minutes – but Jesus had a lot on his mind right after his baptism. Right after his baptism, Luke says, Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit,” and where did that lead him? To a great praise service with a really wonderful band? Last Sunday I preached in a Pentecostal church, New Harvest Church in San Juan de la Concepción, Nicaragua, and it was exciting. A great band with a driving beat, really raucous singing and praising, people jumping up and down and shouting “¡Gloria a Dios!” and “¡Alelúia!” It was grand. It was what you and I normally think of as being “full of the Holy Spirit.”

There was no drum set and subwoofer when Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit;” instead, he went into the wilderness and fasted forty days. And then he was hungry. Oh, yeah. And the rest of the story suggests to me that he spent a lot of his time there praying about his calling. I’ve had this amazing experience – the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, a voice saying, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” – so what do I do now? What is my calling? What is the road that I am supposed to walk?

The Devil came to Jesus, focusing on his surface needs: “Jesus, you’re hungry; why not make these stones into bread? You’re the Messiah of God and are to rule over the nations; let me make it easy for you. You need to reveal to people your glory; I know just what you ought to do.” The Devil tried to distract Jesus with his surface needs; they are real needs, but not his deepest needs. Jesus was able to stay focused on his deepest need: the need to follow his calling, to walk the way of God.

And so the Devil left him, figuring he would get his chance later. The Devil thought that the Cross would be his chance to get Jesus for his own. Boy, was he wrong. And maybe that’s why we focus on the Cross during Lent, because the Cross shows us that Jesus’ deepest need was to walk the way of God, a way that led him to the Cross.

Although all of us who think of ourselves as people of Jesus Christ have this in common, that we are trying to walk the way of God, each of us has a slightly different calling on that way. Perhaps you know clearly what your way is. Some of you may think you’re retired; no, you retire from a job but you don’t retire from walking the way of God. But I’ll bet a lot of us still struggle, every day, to know what our calling is, how to walk the way of God. It’s time to focus, to set aside distractions, even if for only a few minutes a day, and focus on the way of God.

Here’s a question for you to ponder this week: What can you use to help you focus on the way of God? Maybe you have a picture or an object or something you can look at every day for a few minutes to help you focus. Or perhaps it’s a song that puts your mind in the right place. Or a short piece of Scripture, or one of the Lent devotional books we have for you this year. What will help you focus?

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Omaha, Nebraska