“A Temporary Assignment”

A friend of mine has a T-shirt that reads: “Life Is a Temporary Assignment.” Most interim pastors know that
feeling. As you and I say “hello” to each other, I am keenly aware that “interim” means “for now, temporary.”
Or, as the interim mantra goes, we are the “faster pastors” who try to do a lot in a short time.

However true that statement may be, there are spiritual paths that characterize our common journey of faith.
Meister Eckhart, the twelfth-century mystic, identified four paths we travel.

1. The Positive Way: This is the path that leads us to the awe and wonder of creation and the Incarnation of
Jesus Christ.
2. The Negative Way: This journey teaches us how to let go of possessions, loved ones, health, and finally,
life itself. The Cross is the sign of this spiritual path.
3. The Creative Way: Here, we discover that God has given us gifts to discover, develop, and use. The
Resurrection marks this spiritual journey.
4. The Transforming Way: Being guided by the Holy Spirit to do the Will of God is the chief characteristic of
this path.

For most people, the Negative Way is the most demanding. And yet, it is also the key to entering fully into
the other three major spiritual paths.

Interim ministry means journeying with you through all four of these spiritual paths. That is both an exciting
and challenging opportunity for everyone. Together we will discover who and what God is calling us to
become as we serve our Lord Jesus Christ here and now.

I look forward to serving with you at Presbyterian Church of the Master. Know that I will pray for you and
value your prayers as well. May the One who calls us to life and life anew be at our side.

Grace and peace,

Thank you

Thank you. I’m writing this on my last full day in the office, staring at things still needing to be packed and basking in the glow of the celebration we had Sunday. There are some things for which I want to thank you, beyond what I said on Sunday.

Thank you to everyone who cooperated to make the best party any church could possibly have had. I wonder if anyone knows who all was involved! Decorations… food… beverage… set up… clean up… the program… the speeches… the invitations… keeping track of RSVPs… what am I missing? Right after we completed our first capital campaign together I said, “This Church has shown it can do anything it wants to do.” Mounting this huge event and pulling it off continues to prove what you are capable of doing. I hope you remember that about yourselves.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to making Sunday’s time of worship special. Many of my friends have watched it on YouTube and have remarked on it, as have those who traveled to be here with us in person. It was a blessing to have my family here with me so they could meet my church family.

Finally, after the guests had left and I was alone in the apartment on Monday evening, I poured a glass of wine and opened the cards you left me. And I want to thank you for showing I was wrong about something I said in my sermon on Sunday. I said you would probably remember our time together for the building remodeling. I was wrong. You did remark on that, but overwhelmingly your words of appreciation pointed to things that matter more: preaching, prayer, the Year of the Bible, and how well we came through these last two years of pandemic church. These matter more to me; I’m grateful that they also matter more to you.

Well, it is impossible to say enough how much I admire and appreciate you. So I will simply stop with these words of thanks and get to my packing. It is time for me to get out of the way so the future may begin.

Bob Keefer


Pastor Bob’s May Message

Dear people of God:

Years ago an elder at a church I was leaving gave me a children’s book, A Snowman Named Just Bob. It is a delightful story about friendship; the last page shows only the puddle where the snowman had been and a sign, “Bob Was Here.” She wanted me to know that even though that church relationship had ended unhappily, nonetheless people had benefited from my presence.

Both Benson Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Church of the Master have had difficult endings to pastoral relationships, yet you also hold many joyful thoughts of how you have benefited from the presence of your pastors. I am grateful that we are concluding happily, having worshiped and served together for nine years. I hope that, on balance, my presence with you has benefited you: that you are more confident, or more faithful, or more hopeful, or more committed to Jesus Christ and his Church. Or perhaps all of these.

You have had a positive impact on me personally and spiritually. I will carry a boxcar full of joyful moments, times of laughter and fun, and the sharing of important and meaningful tears. I hope to find good opportunities to express my appreciation to you for your love, your faithfulness, and your encouragement.

What more shall I say to you? I pray that you will have as much hope in yourselves as I have in you. You are dedicated, winsome, curious, and hard-working. These are qualities that make you potentially a powerful tool in the hand of Christ. Have faith in God, in each other, and in yourselves and you will do many beautiful things for God.

To quote the Apostle Paul (Romans 15:13): “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s April Message

Dear people of God:

I’m going to depart from my usual plan in order to highlight some events coming up. I hope you will participate as you are able.

Sunday, April 3: Confirmation. We have a confirmation class of nine young people; they have studied hard this year and worked with their mentors. We will welcome them into church membership today at 10:30.

Sunday, April 10: Palm Sunday. This begins our Holy Week pilgrimage; we also expect to baptize some of our children that day.

Thursday, April 14: Maundy Thursday. We’ll have a salad supper at 5:30 pm in the Fellowship Hall, including the Lord’s Supper.

Friday, April 15: Good Friday. Two different services will mark the crucifixion of our Lord for our salvation: a service of the Passion at noon, and a service of Shadows at 7:00 pm. The evening service will also be webcast.

Sunday, April 17: Resurrection Day! Sunrise service at 6:30, followed by continental breakfast. Worship at 8:00 and 10:30, with brunch at 9:00. You can sign up for brunch on OneChurch or on the clipboards in the Sanctuary.

Sunday, April 24: The talented singer Camille Metoyer Moten will sing for us during worship (10:30 only). Please don’t miss this!

Sunday, May 1: May Day celebration following the 10:30 service!

Sunday, May 15: One service only at 10:30; my last Sunday with you. I hope to see your wonderful faces!

Sunday, May 22: Summer schedule begins; one service only at 9:30.

God bless you and all God’s Church!

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s March Message

Dear people of God:

I remember my first experience of a “Lent study:” when I was in high school, we did a special Lent study on Jesus Christ, Superstar. It was interesting to study the libretto and compare it to the Scriptures, to think about the portrayal of Jesus in the rock opera and in the Bible.

Before then, I don’t remember paying much attention to Lent in Church. We joked about Catholics giving up something for Lent, which we didn’t do. Over the years, we Presbyterians have paid more attention to Lent, both as a time for study and as a time for self-discipline. Self-discipline, to my mind, is what the “giving up something” is about. But there are any number of other disciplines one could choose.

In seminary I think some of us were inclined to take Lent a little too seriously. Well, we were young and tended to go overboard on just about everything. Anyway, some of our schoolmates thought the rest of us were overdoing the whole “penitential season” thing and so they hung a large banner in the dining hall proclaiming “Bruce Springsteen Appreciation Week.” It wasn’t only a week; it was the whole season of Lent. I doubt we found it as funny then as I do now.

This season of Lent I will lead a study and I invite you to join me. It will be Seeking the Intercultural Church and I will lead it in person and via Zoom on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 Central time. I’ll post the joining information on our website and on Facebook before we begin on March 9. And do join us for observance of Ash Wednesday on March 2. Cindy Harvey and I will again provide drive-through ashes at the front door from 3 to 5 pm and we will have worship at 7:00 pm, both in-person and livestream. Of course, if you stay home and watch the livestream, you’ll need to find your own ashes. Try the fireplace!

Lent is important and an opportunity for spiritual growth through study, prayer, and fasting. And we don’t need to overdo it, as my schoolmates were quick to point out.

Pastor Bob

Pastor Bob’s February Message

Dear people of God:

I just finished writing the piece about Lent and Easter for our February newsletter The Voice; it got me thinking about certainty and uncertainty. As long as the earth is still turning on April 17, sunrise in Omaha will be at 6:42 CDT and so our sunrise service will be at 6:30 am. That’s fairly certain. But what will we do for Maundy Thursday? Will we be able to have supper together, as we have sometimes done? Or will we have a simple service with the bread and “wine” of the Lord’s Supper but no other food?

We don’t know yet. Before long the Worship Committee will start planning, but always aware that whatever we plan is subject to change. That is always true, but it is clear this year. In 2001, when I was serving in Cincinnati, we had a wonderful Holy Week experience planned, including Maundy Thursday evening, Good Friday noon and evening, Holy Saturday Easter Vigil, and Easter morning. Then the riots erupted after the killing of Timothy Thomas and the Mayor imposed a sunset-to-sunrise curfew. Suddenly all our evening services were canceled and we had to reshape the remaining services to manage. We did very well.

Someone recently said that the idol of our era is “certainty:” we want to know what is going to happen and be prepared for it. When has life ever been certain? The people of Tonga no doubt thought they knew what they would be doing the week following January 15 and then the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano erupted and suddenly everything was uncertain. We have seen over the last two years that resilience – the ability to recover quickly in changing circumstances – is celebrated as a great virtue, whereas before March 2019 we hardly ever used the word.

We live in the confidence that Christ is raised from the dead and is Lord; that our life is in his care; that we are part of the great work that God is doing in the world. Will we get to celebrate that truth with an Easter brunch this year? Lord, I hope so. Of that we cannot be certain. If the earth is still turning and we’re still alive on it, we can be certain we will celebrate that event on April 17. “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Pastor Bob

Remarks at January Meeting

Here is the text of my remarks at our congregational meeting on January 16.

State of the Church 2021
January 16, 2022

One saying I remember my Mother quoting frequently is, “Perhaps the greatest miracle is simply keeping on keeping on.” Before I read our Annual Reports, I expected that to be my theme today: we kept on keeping on. And we did. There was not a Sunday that we did not worship the Lord, whether in-person, via YouTube, or both. Building and Grounds kept up with our facility’s needs so that we should never have to deal again with the deterioration that comes from deferred maintenance; they even took over care of our huge lawn while Denny was recovering from surgery. The Deacons continued their ministries of compassion and the Mission Committee maintained their vast commitments to the well-being of people.

As I said in my sermon last Sunday, this year was also a time when many of us felt more sadness and became more pessimistic than we had anticipated; it was a year of promise that failed to fulfill its promise. I think I was feeling some of that when I wrote my written report for you. Today I want to draw on what actually happened last year to emphasize the promise of the future. I’m not going to be optimistic; an optimist simply puts the happiest cast on everything. I am hopeful; hope is built on experience and evidence and the life of this Church gives more than enough evidence for hope.

I want to thank you for the November-December surge. I think it’s about time for the word “surge” to have a positive association, and we have two surges for which to thank you. The first is the way you responded when we laid out honestly your Church’s financial difficulties. You provided so much extra giving that our huge deficit was turned around. The second is your response to our call to pledge for 2022: you committed yourself to increasing your financial support. All that we have continued to do and the difficult and responsible decisions we have made for the Church’s financial well-being are both reasons to be proud to be associated with Presbyterian Church of the Master. But to show you why I am hopeful for your sake, let me remind you of new things that happened during this difficult year.

We were a strong presence in the Heartland Pride celebration; many of our members marched in the parade and we were one of two churches present for the festival in Baxter Arena. We made an important witness of welcome by our participation and I had some great conversations with people who wanted to talk with a pastor. Our More Light Task Force organized our participation and the Outreach Committee provided material support and give-aways for the festival. We are unique in Nebraska in our identity as a fully welcoming Presbyterian Church; your Outreach Committee will make good use of that uniqueness in their ministry of evangelism.

We did the Year of the Bible. Many members began and thirty members completed reading the entire Bible in a year; some have committed themselves to doing it again. We now have a large cadre of people who know and understand the Bible much better than they did before, which bodes well for the future of the Church’s spiritual life.

The Aesthetics Committee improved the sense of hospitality in our Commons by improving both its functionality and its appearance. The Commons is a true community area, where people enjoy being together in a beautiful setting. But it is not only beauty: the Sanctuary doors highlight our bell tower and our Mission Statement; the north end reminds us of our identity as a congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA); the stained glass window shows we are not just another organization but the Church of Jesus Christ.

The Personnel Committee made rapid progress in completing a well-written, focused Ministry Information Form in order to seek an interim pastor. Once it is approved by our Presbytery, that Committee will be hard at work screening candidates.

Christian Education created the Pray-ground in our Sanctuary, resumed in-person Sunday School, organized a Confirmation Class that will add nearly a dozen young people to our Church’s active membership, and adopted a new curriculum for the younger children. The Committee has a big challenge before it to maintain what they are already doing and to grow the program in new directions. In particular, there is still no regular Adult Education beyond the things that I do. Listen to the voice of God in your heart: what can you do to help with the education of all our people in the Faith of Jesus Christ?

Before I finish, I urge you to read the reports either on paper or online to see what everyone has been doing in the name of Jesus Christ and in your name. Look, for example, at the breathtaking number of ways the Mission Committee has been doing and funding mission. Can you connect there?

Some of the largest improvements in the past year that enhance our worship, outreach, and mission came from the Technology Committee. You can read about those improvements and I, frankly, don’t know what some of them mean. But these are visible to all of us: the new monitors in the Sanctuary, which are a major improvement to our worship infrastructure. New Wi-Fi throughout the building. The OneChurch software platform, about which you will be hearing more soon. And the “Owl,” making hybrid classes and meetings easier and more natural. I mention these because I use all of these; you may find yourself using them, too.

You see, even during a pandemic, the people of this Church figure out ways to make things better. You seek to improve your facility, your service to others, and your spiritual life. You have done all these things in the past year. Don’t you see why I am hopeful for your future?

Pastor Bob’s January Message

Dear people of God:

Wow; January 2022. I remember how excited we were a year ago; we were sure that 2021 was going to be the year that we emerged from the pandemic, that we started rebuilding, that we rediscovered the best of our life together as church and society. I feel much humbler about my anticipations for 2022; how are you feeling?

It’s January: there are a couple more minutes of daylight every day. Yes, it’s winter, but the seed catalogs will soon be arriving in the mail. And we have a few days of the Christmas celebration until Epiphany (January 6) wraps it up for another year. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to put away (or throw away) the tree and take down the lights.

Remember what we sang on Christmas Eve:

            We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
            Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.
            O, shine all around us by day and by night.
            Jesus, the light of the world.

“Jesus, the light of the world.” I think part of the challenge of faith is to keep our eyes open to the light. So much else around us is shiny, from the skyscrapers downtown to the bling we wear, that it is easy to get distracted from the “light of the world.”

Yet stubbornly, like the sun, Christ keeps on shining. He taps us on the shoulder. He speaks to us when we read the Bible (and sometimes when we read other things as well!). He feeds us at his Table. He shows up quietly and sits nearby when we feel lonely. And he insistently whispers, “Follow me” whenever everything else that is shiny grabs our attention.

It’s a new year, a new chance to recommit to Jesus and his Church, a new challenge to “walk in the light, beautiful light” where the “dewdrops of mercy shine bright.” Let’s all walk there together.

Pastor Bob

The Longest Night

Dear people of God:

The night of Tuesday the 21st – the winter solstice – will be the longest night of the year. For some of us, a Christmas Eve spent alone or a News Year Eve without a party may feel like the longest night, but in terms of hours of darkness, it’s the night of the winter solstice.

With that in mind, your Church will once again hold a Longest Night Service. This simple time of Scripture, song, silence, and prayer is a chance to rest, reflect, or simply “be” during the madness of the final days before Christmas. For those who grieve or are sad, this service dignifies that sadness. For those who need a break, this service is a chance to focus.

Although it uses Christian Scripture and songs, it can be a time for spiritual and emotional healing for anyone, regardless of their religious commitment. So you may have a friend or relative you wish to invite, whether they are part of a church or not.

The service will be in our Sanctuary on Tuesday, December 21 at 5:30 pm and will also be webcast live on our YouTube channel. I invite you to join me in honoring the light that the darkness cannot comprehend.

Pastor Bob


December Message

Dear people of God:

I’ll be home for Christmas; You can plan on me. Please have snow and mistletoe And presents on the tree.

Now a Christmas standard, the song was written in 1943 from the point of view of a soldier yearning to be with his family at Christmas. He would not, of course, be home for Christmas; as the last line says: I’ll be home for Christmas If only in my dreams.

Many of you will travel somewhere to be “home” for Christmas, wherever you consider home to be. Decades ago I said that home is wherever my books are, but even so when I lived farther east I would travel to Pennsylvania for a few days after Christmas Day to see my family. I was always “home” for Christmas – at whatever church I was serving, in whatever town – but wanted to see family too. Likewise, some of you travel, and some of you have family who travel here to Omaha for Christmas.

Your Church is your spiritual home; if you’ve been away, please come home for Christmas. Of course, the pandemic is not over and if for the sake of good health you prefer not to be in public among the family of faith, that makes good sense. But if you’re confident, you’re vaccinated, and you wear a mask to indoor public places: please come home.

If you’ve stayed away because you’ve grown comfortable watching a service on the computer rather than participating in it yourself: please come home for Christmas. If you’ve stayed away because Pastor Sara is gone and I’m still here: please come home for Christmas. If you’ve stayed away because you’re out of the habit of public worship: please come home for Christmas.

And not only in your dreams. We’ll be here. Christmas Eve we’ll have services at 7:00 and 11:00 pm and on December 26 a service at 9:30 am. Please come home for Christmas.

Pastor Bob