xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: December 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Up-Down, Down-Up

December 18, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Ah, the joys of church maintenance.

Our elevator broke on Sunday.  After church, as people were taking the elevator down to the fellowship hall, the doors froze shut, trapping them inside.  And to make matters worse, when they pressed the “up” button, the elevator went down.  And when they pressed the “down” button, the elevator went up.  Fortunately, nobody panicked, and after just a short while, they were able to exit unharmed, albeit bewildered and relieved that their church campus roller coaster ride had come to a safe and complete stop.

The elevator repair company came this morning to give us the verdict.  A small piece of candy had fallen into the door sill and jammed the doors.  All of that fuss, all the disruption, and all the trauma of an elevator literally turned upside-down — caused by an innocent piece of spearmint hard candy.  

Sometimes the smallest, most unsuspecting events can cause the most turbulent of upheavals.

Just ask the gospels.  Over 2,000 years ago, the world was flipped on its ear.  A reversal of seismic proportions shook humanity at its core, and its after shocks continue to this day.  Up became down, and down became up:
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
    “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
    “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

All of this change was caused by a tiny baby, candy-wrapped in swaddling clothes.  This baby is still turning our world upside-down, proclaiming a message of peace in a world addicted to violence, self-sacrifice in a culture compelled by its self-interests, forgiveness for relationships bruised by revenge, and powerless love amidst people who love power.

In “The Disarming Child,” Jurgen Moltmann wrote:

“For to us a child is born.  To us a son is given.  The government is upon his shoulders.”  The liberator becomes a pleading child in our world, armed to the teeth as it is.  And this child will become the liberator for the new world of peace.  That is why his rule means life, not death; peace, not war; freedom, not oppression.  This sovereignty lies on the defenseless, innocent and hopeful shoulders of this child.  This makes our fresh start into the future meaningful and possible.  The oppressed will be free from oppression.  And they will also be free from the dreams of darkness, the visions of revenge. They stand up and rejoice, and their rejoicing frees their masters too from their brutal armaments.  The oppressors with their cudgels, their iron shoes and their bloody coats will be freed from their grim machinations and will leave the poor in peace.  For the new human being has been born, and a new humanity will be possible, a humanity which no longer knows either masters or slaves, either oppressed or oppressors.  This is God’s initiative on behalf of his betrayed and tormented humanity.  “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”’ It is the zeal of his ardent love.

This Sunday, we make our penultimate stop on our road to Bethlehem.  Join us as we “Experience the Wonder” of Christ’s arrival with a sermon titled “The Wonder of Peace.”  And be sure to come by early for our Advent Festival from 9-10am.  Children, families, and people of all ages are invited to this special time of  Christmas crafts, songs, stories, and an old-fashioned taffy pull.  And, of course, be sure to join us on Christmas Eve at the 5:00 or 6:30 service, featuring candle lighting, carols, and the coming of Christ once again into our world.

Grace, Hope, and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Matthew 1:18-25
18  Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
19  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
20  But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21  She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
22  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23  "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."
24  When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
25  but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Be the Gift

December 11, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

One of my persistent pet peeves with most churches is that the secular world seems to do a better job marketing commercial messages than we seem to do with the Good News.  A great example is the Master Card “priceless” commercials, that have the consistently poignant punchline, “There are some things that money can’t buy.  For everything else, there’s Master Card.”  If only we were as effective making the same pitch for the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ!

Nevertheless, this is the time of year that many equate the purchase value of a gift with the sentiment expressed by it.  Every year, it seems this season of giving gifts becomes more stressful and more hectic than the one before.  The shopping lists get longer, the mall crowds get crazier, and the debts sink deeper.  And then, come December 26, the real rest begins.  

But the gospels make the case that the very first Christmas happened despite chaos and anxiety, not because of it.   Over and against the hustle and bustle of a government census, the fear and paranoia of political systems, and the constant oppression of a community under siege, God gave a priceless gift.  It wasn’t a gift that God shopped for, gift-wrapped, and sent special delivery.  Instead, the gift was God’s very own self.  The present was the Presence.  God became the gift.  

And what a gift it was.  Listen to how the words of Isaiah capture the experience of wonder of God’s self-giving act:   

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:4-6)

Here’s some good news.  If you’re looking for the perfect gift to give someone, try shopping at your local mirror.  You have the image of that very same self-giving God within you, and that might be exactly what someone else might need.  Your joyful spirit of service, sacrifice, and loving presence, with no strings or gift receipts attached, might be the perfect gift that money can’t buy.

It was no less than the gift of Jesus himself, given to us.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey deVega

The Rev. Magrey R. deVega
St. Paul's United Methodist Church
531 W. Main St.
Cherokee, IA  51012
Ph:  712-225-3955

Isaiah 35:1-10

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus
2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God's people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The 20/20 Vision Team

December 4, 2007

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

We have entered a season of expectation and hope, looking ahead to God’s presence born anew in our world.  As we anticipate all that God will do both in us as individuals and through us as a congregation, we hear God’s word to the exiles and claim its promise for ourselves”

Behold, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)  

This is a simple formula:  God acts, then we notice and respond.  When God does something new, it is our job to perceive it.  For nearly 150 years, the people of St. Paul’s have responded faithfully to the call of God to minister to the people around us, to build the kingdom of God, and to ensure the transmission of the faith for the people that will follow us.  With our sesquicentennial celebration next year, the imminent pay-off of $750,000 in renovation debt, and new energy and momentum building with each passing week, it is our time to ask the question, “What’s next?” and listen perceptively for the answer that God provides.  

I am excited that at the Charge Conference gathering last Wednesday evening, the church unanimously approved a process that will lead us to discerning God’s vision for the future and developing a plan to get us there.  It approved the formation of a group called the
2020 Vision Team, which will listen to the people of this church, the needs and trends of the surrounding community, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit through prayer and study to develop a comprehensive plan that will answer the question, “What is God calling this church to look like by the year 2020?

The following is the document presented to and adopted by the Charge Conference as the framework of the 2020 Vision Team:

The 2020 Vision Team
Planning for the Future of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church

The Purpose of this team:

The purpose of this team is to develop a comprehensive long-term strategic plan for the church, to be presented to the 2008 Charge Conference for adoption.  This plan will include recommendations in areas including, but not limited to, programs, facilities, personnel, and resources.

The work of this team will include:
Where we are now:
•    Comprehensive assessments of programs, facilities, personnel, and resources
•    Current patterns in membership, worship attendance, and Christian education
•    General spiritual vitality of the congregation and level of commitment to Christ
•    An assessment of the needs of the city of Cherokee and the wider community
•    A study of the demographics and population trends of our surrounding area

Where God is calling us:
•    Develop a clear mission and vision statement that will shape our corporate life and prioritize our actions.
•    Envision what this church will look like if we were fulfilling God’s purposes for this church and this community.
How we will get from here to there:
•    Maintain open, regular communication with the congregation at every step of the process.
•    Work in partnership with committees in the areas of Finance, Staff-Parish, Trustees, Worship, and Administrative Board in developing a plan.
•    Produce a plan of recommended action steps, including timeline and budget implications in time for 2008 Charge Conference.

Limits of this team:
•    Not an implementation team.  This team will be responsible only for producing the recommendations.  Administrative Board, Charge Conference, and the whole congregation will be responsible for implementation.

Again, by unanimous vote, the Charge Conference approved this framework, and the following people to serve on this team:

Linda Appleby
Linda Christensen
John Cook
Bruce Dagel
Sue Parker
Joyce Pyle
Keith Willis

Throughout the year, this team will turn to you for help in the discernment process.  I suspect that we will be asking you to participate in church-wide surveys and small group feedback sessions.  And we will rely on your prayers for clarity for this team we listen for God’s voice.  Along the way, this team will faithfully keep you informed as to its progress and its discoveries.

As we journey into another season of hope and promise, we wait for the advent of God’s new work in our life together.  These are truly exciting days to be the church!

Hope and Peace,