Pastor’s Message – July 23, 2020

Dear people of God:

I want to tell you about a decision your Session made this week and, in light of that, assure you of my readiness to listen to your concerns, questions, and ideas.

After a process of discernment that began more than two years ago (May 2018), involving prayer, conversation, reading, teaching, preaching, and lots of listening, your Session voted unanimously that we are a More Light Church. My experience of the wonderful elders on our Session is that not everyone is comfortable with it, not everyone is happy about it, but everyone believes that it is the right thing to do.

A bit on what that does and does not mean. It does mean that we are committed to full inclusiveness in our welcome and in our ministry. All who wish to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are welcome. In a society in which the loudest voices say, “We are Christians and therefore we reject gay people,” our voice will consistently say, “Gay people, Lesbian people, transgender people, non-binary people are welcome here. Come seek Jesus Christ every day, everywhere, in everyone.”

The experience of other Presbyterian churches is that this will not change us a great deal, even if you were hoping it would. Don’t expect LGBTQIA+ people from throughout Omaha to come flocking to our church. We didn’t do this as a church-growth ploy; we did this because it is true to our nature as an open, welcoming community. More Light Presbyterians will help us get the word out, but the primary means of evangelism will still be for you, the people of the Church, to invite others to know Jesus Christ within our community.

If we welcome all people, why make a point of welcoming LGBTQIA+ people? Because these are the people who are pointedly excluded by much of the Christian community. An analogy: some ask, “Why say that Black Lives Matter? Don’t all lives matter?” The best response I have seen is, “All lives won’t matter until Black lives matter.” Likewise, all people are not welcome in the Church until LGBTQIA+ people are welcome in the Church.

If you are concerned, troubled, or afraid of what this may mean for our Church, please know that I am ready to listen to you. I do not judge others; I will answer questions honestly and as faithfully to the Gospel as I know how. But as your pastor I care about you, so I will listen to you. And for those who celebrate this decision, I implore you not to judge your siblings who are troubled by it. Our mission statement says that we seek Jesus Christ every day, everywhere, in everyone, and that includes especially everyone who sees and understands things differently from ourselves.

After all, in the words of the Puritan preacher John Robinson, the Lord has yet more light to break forth from the Holy Word.

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s Message for July 10

Dear people of God:

During all the changes and stresses we are experiencing, it’s nice to be able to tell you about something positive and new. Your Session has established a new fund, inspired by one of you, and I want to tell you about it.

We’re calling it the Benevolence Fund; some of you may want to contribute to it and some of you may need to ask for help from it. I’ll tell you the story, and then tell you about the mechanics of the fund.

You may recall that back in March I told you of the suggestion from one of our elders: when you get your CARES Act money from the government, consider whether you really need it. If you don’t need it, then give it away to someone who may need it. Many of us have done that; I gave mine, for example, to two community food banks. But some people really want to make sure that it goes directly to a family, and some may want to help out someone in their own church.

So one of you came to me and asked if we have a fund that you can contribute to so that your CARES Act money will go to a family in our Church that needs help. We didn’t, so I talked to our Stewardship Committee about it; they recommended to the Session the creation of two funds (I’ll tell you about both of them) and the Session agreed.

The Pastor’s Discretionary Fund will be a small amount of money budgeted from our regular contributions to the Church. If a member or neighbor needs twenty bucks for groceries or a bus ticket to Lincoln to visit a sick parent, there will be small amounts available for such assistance.

The Benevolence Fund is something people can contribute to and will be available to church members for larger emergency needs: a month’s groceries during unemployment, or catching up on the electric bill; the sort of thing that happens during the Pandemic. This is not part of the budget, so it doesn’t have any money in it until people contribute. But the money doesn’t disappear at the end of the year; it stays in the bank until needed.

If you are holding onto your CARES Act money, or you have a windfall that you would like to do some good with, you can give it to the Benevolence Fund. Since you don’t control the recipient, the gift is tax-deductible. Give the money to Presbyterian Church of the Master and indicate that it is for the Benevolence Fund.

If you find yourself in an emergency need, contact me and inquire if there is any help available from the Benevolence Fund. I report all disbursements from it, but do not report who receives them, so the request and any assistance are confidential.

Thank you to the one who suggested it, thank you to your Session for making it happen, and thank you to all who contribute to it.

Pastor Bob

 

About Worship July 5

Dear people of God:

We are inviting people to come to the church-house for worship on July 5, for the first time in four months. We will also be webcasting the service for those who should not, cannot, or prefer not to come. Here is what you need to know.

For those who want to watch on the web: we will be webcasting live on YouTube, and the service will be recorded and available to view afterward, as well. The service begins at 9:30 CDT, so tune in shortly before then if you want to watch it live. As we have been doing, the bulletin will be available so you can print it at home. There are three ways to tune in:
1. In your web browser, enter youtube.com/presbyterianchurchofthemaster and you will see the window for the service below it.
2. Go to our website, pcmomaha.org, and follow the link from there.
3. Go to our Facebook page, Presbyterian Church of the Master, and follow the link from there.

For those who want to attend in person, please note:
1. Weather permitting, we will worship outside in the courtyard. Dress accordingly, and bring a lawn chair.
2. Whether inside or out, we ask everyone to wear a mask, except for those who should not. We will have masks available for those who do not bring one with you.
3. You may print the bulletin from our website or pick one up here, if you want one. There will be a monitor with words to hymns and prayers, but we cannot guarantee you will be able easily to see it!
4. Only the front doors – those opening from the Courtyard – will be unlocked, should you need to enter the building.
5. Child care will not be provided.
6. This Sunday we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. It will be prepared under sanitary conditions and will be served in a way designed to protect your health.
7. We will not share cookies or other snacks at the church. If you want cookies after worship, bring them with you, leave them in the car, and enjoy them as you drive home.

We will continue to monitor the situation and to adjust as seems right. Stay posted to our website or Facebook for the most current information.

May we all celebrate the goodness of God and take Jesus to the world.

Pastor Bob

From Pastor Bob: On Racism Study

Dear people of God:

I have promised a study on racism, so here is the information so you can participate. I’m using material from “The Thoughtful Christian,” a publishing enterprise under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Although this study is several years old, I believe we will find it helpful.

It’s an 11-week study, and we’ll start Wednesday June 24 and go every week (except when I take vacation in August) until we’re done. I’ll put the schedule at the bottom for anyone who wants that level of detail.

Every week I’ll post a handout for the next session. Your participation will be best if you print or at least read the handout beforehand. Then we will have a one-hour discussion on Wednesdays at 7:00 pm via Google Meet. I’ll repeat this with every week’s handout, but you can participate either of two ways:
The best way is at your computer or tablet, with a camera and microphone enabled, and follow this link: https://meet.google.com/ach-eefc-byg
If that isn’t possible for you, then phone 414-436-7533 and enter code 498 705 924‬#

I hope this will do two things for us: that it will enlighten us to the presence and reality of systemic racism in our society, and how we can combat it; and that it will give us all some face time with each other. Although we will likely soon have worship together, many of you will not be able to participate and I hope this way we will get to spend some together. I have missed you.

As always, be in touch by telephone (402-498-0871) or email (robert.keefer@pcmwindow.org) if you have comments or questions.

Pastor Bob

Probable schedule:
June 24: Why is it so difficult to talk about racism?
July 1: Racism 101
July 8: A History of Racism in the US 1
July 15: A History of Racism in the US 2
July 22: A History of Racism in the US 3
July 29: A History of Racism in the US 4
(August 5 & 12 Vacation)
August 19: White Privilege
August 26: The Bible & Racism 1
September 2: The Bible & Racism 2
September 9: Is Affirmative Action still needed?
September 16: Do segregated churches imply racism?

Assuming we’re able to gather again, I hope we’ll take up “The Welcoming Congregation” again after that!

A Call for Action

Dear people of God:

The same group of religious leaders who invited us to #standinsolidarity last Sunday met yesterday to prepare a statement, calling for action in Omaha in response to recent events. I attended the meeting where the document was prepared and I have signed it. The leaders hope that it will be published in the “World-Herald;” if it is and you see my name with it, I want you to know first from me that I have signed it. I will be happy to discuss it with any who care to talk with me about it. The statement follows:

CALL FOR ACTION
Voices United of Greater Omaha
June 2020

As leaders in the greater Omaha faith community, we applaud the new and renewed commitment we have seen by so many to overcoming the obstacles to achieving justice and equality for people of color in our community, nation, and world. We stand in solidarity with you, while acknowledging that commitment is meaningless unless it results in meaningful change.

We also acknowledge that true and lasting change is best ensured when the biblical mandate to “love your neighbor as yourself” is upheld even when we are in conflict with our neighbor. To this end, we make the following three proposals to help ensure the safety and well-being of both citizens and law enforcement particularly during times of conflict.

(1) We call upon our elected officials to enact legislation making it illegal for choke holds to be employed by police in situations that are not of immediate threat to their lives.

(2) We call upon the city of Omaha to fulfill with all due haste its commitment to outfit all police officers with body cameras that automatically activate whenever a gun or taser is drawn from its holster.

(3) We call upon our elected officials to enact legislation banning all carrying and use of firearms by the public specifically at public protests and rallies. To be clear, we do not call for a general ban on firearms. Rather, we call for the specific prohibition of firearms by the public in rallies and protests. The presence of such lethal weapons in these places is not only reckless and terror-inducing, but puts both the public and police at greater risk of injury and loss of life.

As clergy and faith leaders, we pray that these proposals make a modest contribution to an ongoing process of reform that will ensure greater justice and safety for all of our neighbors, particularly those for whom justice and protection have been denied in the past.

Pastoral Letter: June 1, 2020

Dear people of God:

I feel the need to start my Monday morning by writing to you in reflection on the events of this weekend here in Omaha and throughout the country. The killing of George Floyd has ignited another round of protests, accompanied by violence, as we face the ongoing reality of racial divide and disparity in our society.

The Presbyterian Book of Common Worship’s prayer for Monday morning includes this line: “We pray for understanding to live according to our faith.” What guidance does our faith provide this morning?

First, the Bible (in the prophets, the Psalms, the epistles, the teachings of Jesus) consistently calls people of faith to begin by self-examination. Before pointing a finger or denouncing someone else, you and I ask ourselves, “What role do I play in this situation?” I find it imperative to begin with the reality of white privilege. I admit I had only a vague sense of what that meant until your Church’s Men’s Book Club read Debby Irving’s Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Her well-written, careful analysis of her own life’s story as a middle-class white woman from New England gave content and understanding to the benefits I had only sensed as a white person in America. Before my white siblings rush to make proclamations about anyone, or to assert that you have not been privileged, please read the book, take its lessons to heart, and examine your own life. That is clearly an understanding to live according to our faith: examine your own life.

And take seriously the pain of others. I suspect that most of the violence and vandalism have been committed not by protesters passionately expressing their pain, but by opportunists taking advantage of the situation to commit mayhem. Kathleen worked in one of the neighborhoods most affected by the racial violence in Cincinnati in spring 2001 and she knew many of the neighbors; they knew firsthand who was protesting and who was taking advantage of an opportunity to loot. Please don’t let the violence of some distract you from the pain of those who live with realities most of us don’t grasp. These realities are many, but can be summarized as: if you’re black, and in the “wrong” neighborhood, you become a target. I can hear the angry responses from some of you already, but please, in the name of Christ, read, reflect, and pray.

As always, pray for our city: not only for peace, but also for justice. I hope that we will learn more about the story of the killing of James Scurlock, because rumor and sensationalism easily abound on social media. People of faith should be patient and await proper investigation and information from reliable sources of news. This morning’s psalm was Psalm 57, which includes this affirmation: “In the shadow of your wings will I take refuge until this time of trouble has gone by.” That is our hope not only for ourselves but for all who feel threatened, whether by opportunists or by police, by the authorities or by those who seek to undermine authority. As you live out this week, pray for understanding to live according to our faith.

Pastor Bob

Special Message from Pastor Bob

Dear people of God:

In the abundance of material I’ve received and read with advice about “opening” the church, one theme keeps coming through that has me a bit sheepish. Whenever the writer talks about what people of the Church can do, it says something along the lines of “Continue saying your daily prayers at home.” That has convicted me, because I have never given you any sort of guidance on saying daily prayers at home.

I certainly cannot do that justice in a brief column on website & Facebook, but I can share some thoughts. It would be good to do a video chat about that sometime, if you’re interested. But I do have one suggestion to start with, right now: the Presbyterian Church’s own resources for daily prayer.

Personally, I like holding books, so I use the “Daily Prayer” edition of the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (2018). It is easy to use, has readings for morning & evening every day, and a wonderful variety of prayers to follow the calendar or for particular occasions. There are four services for every day: morning, midday, evening, and night; I do morning and night every day, and evening from time to time. But you can always select from them the portions you want to do. They work well for individuals or for families or groups.

Those who enjoy electronic resources can get the same thing on an app for smartphone or tablet. On the Apple App Store, I see that 25 users have rated it 3.5 out of 5; not bad. You can read more about it on the Presbyterian Church’s website: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/daily-prayer/

The strength of the community at worship and mission depends on the prayerful life of the individuals in that community. I apologize that I have not said anything about this before now, but I hope to work on rectifying that in the future!

Pastor Bob

During the COVID-19 restrictions, I am posting special messages from time to time. This one is from May 29, 2020.

Special Message from Pastor Bob

Dear people of God:

I’ve been thinking of Frances lately. I knew her when I was in college; she was a professor at the Medical School, and to most of the world she was Dr. M–, the challenging teacher. But to me and others in my church, she was Frances.

She and I, and several others, went to a Bible study early on Friday morning; I seem to remember it was at 6:30. The Pastor would bring doughnuts and one of us would make coffee; we met in the Church Library and talked about the Bible. We were a diverse group: the Pastor, a homemaker, a physician, a sociology professor, a media specialist, Frances, and me. We read a lot of different books of the Bible and had a wonderful time, because we brought a wide variety of viewpoints to the discussion.

But the thing I remember most about Frances was the time she spent looking after the flowers at the Church building. This high-powered professor of medicine would get on her knees at the church planting annuals every Spring, and throughout the season would keep all the flower beds carefully weeded. One year she told me that the only time she could find that Spring to plant was late at night; she was out there digging in the ground in the middle of the night and the boys at the fraternity house next door came to ask her what she was doing. “I’m planting flowers.” “You know this is the Church’s property, don’t you?” She said she did. She told me she thought it was nice that the guys at SAE were looking out for the Church.

When people plant flowers at the Church, when they water them or weed them, when they want their Church building to look bright and happy, I think of Frances. As far as I know, she wasn’t recruited by the Building and Grounds Committee and the Pastor didn’t tell her to do it. She loved her Church and she loved flowers, so it came to her naturally. Thank you, God, for Frances.

Pastor Bob

During the COVID-19 restrictions, I am posting special messages from time to time. This one is from May 20, 2020.

Special Message from Pastor Bob

Dear people of God:

One of the things I’ve enjoyed during the pandemic has been weekly Rotary meetings via Zoom. I was resistant to online conferencing (experiences I had in early years had not been good), but I have really taken to it.

Well, to the point. Every week we’ve had a speaker present via Zoom conferencing, and we’ve had some time to visit with and check in with each other. One week recently our speaker was Brenda Banks, the founder and director of Cross Training Center (crosstc.com). The Center offers a variety of services, all supporting their central mission of vocational training and work experience for persons who have a difficult time getting work for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons may be incarceration, homelessness, or emotional disorders, for example.

Brenda was called to this work as an outgrowth of her Christian faith. I got the impression of a woman who saw her discipleship to Jesus Christ as not simply belonging to a church and enjoying the benefits of participation in a family of faith, but also as a calling to a changed life and to change other lives. That’s the principal meaning behind the “Cross” in their name, although she also enjoys the play-on-words of “cross training.”

When asked about how she started it, how she kept going, how she developed the funding, and the like: that’s when she told us about her faith commitment. And she said something memorable; she said, “It’s been difficult, but every life we’ve changed has been worth it.”

How many activities there are that can lead you to say that! Crossroads Connection, Habitat for Humanity, Benson Area Refugee Task Force… working as a teacher, a health-care professional, a parent, a pastor… volunteering as a mentor, a Big Brother/Sister, a coach… It is so easy to begin to question one’s value to the world, even when you’ve been taught (as we have) that our value is implicit, that we are valued because we are created in the image of God, we are loved by God, and we are redeemed by Jesus Christ. If you need something more, then take a moment to ask yourself if you have made a positive impact on anybody.

Most of us have not done anything so dramatic or powerful as Brenda Banks, but I daresay every one of us can find a way to say, “It’s been difficult, but every life we’ve changed has been worth it.”

Pastor Bob

During the COVID-19 restrictions, I am posting special messages from time to time. This one is from May 15, 2020.

This Week’s Message from Pastor Bob

Dear people of God:

Recently I was talking with one of you, and you said something I found very interesting. I added, “I think that should be the subject of my Pastor’s Message this week!” This morning I was running over the day’s expectations in my head, and started asking myself, “What was that I was going to write about?” I could not remember. I still cannot remember.

So I’m going to write about failure. Decades ago I had a fun practice: I took a book bag to church and would give it to one of the children. That child was to bring it back the next Sunday with something in it, and I would give a Children’s Message on the spur of the moment, based on whatever the child brought. The time a girl brought a Transformer toy was the easiest. Anyway, I was always ready – and finally I had to use – a message about failure, in case I couldn’t think of anything.

I hope that you’re not living up to your expectations. And I hope that you’re forgiving yourself for that. I always want better of myself: to run farther, or to read more, or to listen better. The day that I’m content and think there’s nothing about me to improve is the day they put my ashes in the ground, I hope. At the same time, it is essential to learn to forgive oneself, to face one’s failures honestly and move on, possibly to try again to do better. That’s one of the keystone reasons we confess our sins in church: to face our failures honestly, and to move on, with the intention of doing better.

Early in this emergency, I wrote about projects. I had a list of projects to do with the extra time I have, since we don’t go out to eat, don’t get together with friends, don’t go to the theater. I got through that list, and created another list. I haven’t done squat about the second list; in fact, the last couple of days I’ve spent a lot of my free time playing computer games. I forgive myself.

You don’t need to be a stay-at-home-family hero, a Facebook Influencer in the kitchen, a champion at making sculpture from found objects. If you forget to put pants on until mid-afternoon, or haven’t done yesterday’s dishes, or are sick to death of listening to your child or spouse slurp soup and are doing all you can not to scream, you’re okay. Forgive yourself.

Maybe, if you keep playing, you can make it to the next level. Oh, and maybe I’ll remember what one of you said to me so I can write about it next week. Or you’ll read this and remind me of it. I’ll try to do better next time.

Pastor Bob

During the COVID-19 restrictions, I am posting special messages from time to time. This one is from May 6, 2020.