xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: 2008

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lights On!

December 31, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Allow me to give you a glimpse into one of the quirky aspects of my childhood.  
I grew up with what my parents claimed was a traditionally Filipino observance of the New Year. “Every light must be on,” they said.  So with minutes before midnight on December 31, my brothers and I would race around the house, frantically turning on every light we could find – without exception.  The chandelier, ceiling fan lights, Disney nightlight, aquarium hood, oven light, outdoor spotlight, and even the refrigerator and microwave doors gave way to our frantic, anti-environmental rampage. Then, with seconds before the big moment, my mom would shove coins into our pockets and dollar bills into our hands.  At the precise instant that the big apple on the television hit the Times Square crowd, we would leap as high as we could into the air.  It was an annual occasion:  New Year’s Eve, courtesy of Dick Clark and the deVega’s.  
I wonder in retrospect how many things my parents got us to do by convincing us that it was “Filipino tradition.”  I have entertained the notion that at 12:01 they winked at each other with a knowing smirk: “Looks like we got them again. Next year let’s see if they’ll sing
Auld Lang Syne with Spam in their mouths.”
They claimed that having money in your hands and pockets was a sign of prosperity for the year to come.  Jumping high into the air would bring the promise of growth and health.  And the lights?  It was the symbol of joy and peace vanquishing the darkness from you and your family for the next year.
Whether or not this is a cultural tradition, I still find the practice endearing, partly because the image of light has solid biblical footing.  After all, the gospel writers are captivated by it this time of year.  In the wake of a baby born under the gaze of angelic star light, we are reminded:
‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’
“And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
This Sunday is Epiphany Sunday, in which we usher in the new year by welcoming the new light of Christ into our lives.  Just as the magi were led to Christ by following a star, we are called to follow the light of Jesus into the days and months to come.  There is no guarantee, of course, that 2009 will be any better or any worse than the year we leave behind, just as I can’t prove that pocketed coins and mid-air leaps will bring prosperity and health. But there is this biblical assurance:

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
(Isaiah 60:1)

May we remember that whatever we face in the coming year, we will be accompanied by the guiding, ever-present, and illuminating light of Christ.  
Happy New Year!

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

“Into The Darkest Hour”
by Madeleine L’Engle

May you and yours experience the light of Christ, born anew in your hearts.  

Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Longest Night

December 16, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Each year, December 21 marks the winter solstice, in which our northern hemisphere is tilted furthest away from the sun.  Winter will officially begin with the longest period of nighttime all year.  From then, our daylight will gradually lengthen, which is profoundly good news for a certain Florida transplant still getting adjusted to sunrises at 7:47am and sunsets at 4:49pm!

Churches around the country will observe this longest night with an invitation to gather and name the dark sadness and shadowy pain of their own lives.  For many people, this Christmas will not be a season of festive joy and holiday cheer, but of profound loss and grief.  You may be among them.

•    This may be the first Christmas you will observe without that special loved one around.
•    You may be facing certain financial hardship during these painful economic times.
•    You may have a haunting anxiety over health concerns from a rough year of diagnoses.  
•    You may be feeling the strains of broken relationships, broken promises, or broken dreams.  

Your nights are long, indeed.

I find it interesting that in the daily calendar of the saints, December 21 is designated as the feast day for St. Thomas.  Yes, that Thomas, the one who doubted.  Of all the characters in the gospel, we would wonder, “Why this one?”  Why not Zechariah or Elizabeth, or Mary or Joseph?  How about even the innkeeper who fluffed up the hay in the manger?

But Thomas?  The one who wallowed in disbelief in the midst of his pain?  The one who found himself grieving in the wake of Jesus’ death?  The one who chose to find comfort among the trusted company of friends?  

Come to think of it, maybe Thomas is the perfect saint for the longest night.

It’s interesting.  When Jesus finally convinced Thomas that he could trust and believe the good news of his resurrection, he was careful in his method.  He did not wage an intellectual debate with Thomas, to convince his mind that dead things could come back to life.  He did not punish Thomas for his disbelief, in order to condition his spirit into believing the unbelievable.

Instead, Jesus’ proof was in his blood-stained hands and in his pierced side.  In effect, he said to Thomas, “Look.  You wanted to believe in a God who could avoid death and suffering.  I’m showing you a God who identifies with you in suffering and can lead you through it.  These pierced hands and wounded feet are evidence that this God whom you worship can connect with you in your deepest pain and lead you to a new and living hope.”

So now, consider your Christmas in light of this news.  

•    If you question the presence of God in the midst of your suffering, consider a God who chose not to dwell in the realms of the ethereal, but to touch the world in the form of the earthly and a become a human to identify with our weakness.

•    If you question a God who might allow bad things to happen to good people, consider instead this God who was voluntarily subjected to the temptations and evil forces in this world and gave us a human example in Jesus to conquer violence with forgiveness, hatred with love, temptation with patience, and fear with courage.

•    If you question a God who seems too distant to be believed, or sing carols that seem too plastic to be personal, or hear a gospel that is too difficult to be received,  then consider a God who sees your suffering, your doubt, and your pain and chooses to draw near to you, as your constant companion and lifelong friend.

Your Immanuel, your God With You.

Praying Light for Your Longest Night,


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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Unplug, Rewire, Get Real

December 10, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Then the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; I am bringing you good news by e-mail and text message.  You can visit his Facebook page and follow him with Twitter.  Be sure to check out his new website, and download his iPhone App….

Neuroscientist Gary Small has studied the effects that this vast array of digital technologies has had on the human brain.  With every moment spent on the internet, e-mail, smart phones, PDA’s, television, and the like, our brains are literally being rewired, through complex biochemical and neural reactions.  

There have been several benefits, of course.  Generally speaking, hand-eye coordination has improved, as well as our ability to multi-task.  But it has also had harmful effects.  Changes in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – the part of our brain responsible for decision making – make us less able to focus on one task at a time, diminish our short-term memory, and produce a state of “continuous partial attention,” in which we find it more difficult to spend a prolonged time in patient, thoughtful contemplation.

Despite our new abilities to communicate efficiently with more people at a time, our rewired brains also make it harder for us to deeply and intimately
connect with people one on one.  We become unable to recognize subtle meaning in a person’s facial expressions, and be fully present with them in conversation.  We lose the “personal touch.”

And most disturbing of all, Dr. Small has discovered that our hippocampus – the part of our brain that, among other things, determines feelings of self-esteem and self-worth – is gradually
shrinking.  This explains what many describe as “brain strain” or “digital fog” after spending long hours with their digital devices.  We feel irritable, lonely, tired, and of general low self-worth.   

Now pardon the utter irony in the fact that I discovered Dr. Small’s findings while perusing the web, in an article from the latest issue of
Scientific American Mind  (“Meet Your iBrain:  How the Technologies That Have Become Part of Our Daily Lives are Changing the Way We Think.”)  And excuse the fact that I’m sharing this with you through yet another e-mail that you have to read lest it clutter up your inbox.  

I offer this caution to myself as much as to anyone else.  As a 35-year old Gen-Xer among the first generation to grow up  in the digital culture, I am as big a techie as the next person, with my laptop computer, wi-fi access, iPod, smart phone, and cable television.

But I think this all points to another way to prepare for and appreciate what God did through Jesus Christ.  When God chose to offer an ultimate revelation to humanity, God did not choose another written edict, or another cryptic message hidden in creation for us to decipher.  God chose a personal, one-on-one encounter, spending time with us, experiencing life as one of us, the Creator becoming creation.  

God chose the Incarnation, and we called him, “God With Us.”  

Maybe there’s a lesson here for all of us brain-strained, digitally-fogged creatures.  About the importance of being present and personal with each other, just as God did for us.  

  • It might mean only checking e-mail a few times a day.  Turn off the computer after 8:00 or 9:00 at night.  Set aside your PDA or smart phone.  Remember, you’re not that important.  

  • Remember that family dinner table?  Put it to good use again, and remind your kids what it means to interact with someone, face to face.

  • The next time you think about sending an e-mail, trying giving that person a call.  If possible, pay them a personal visit and look them in the eye.  Or try actually handwriting a note, with your own hand, in an envelope stamped with your own spit (do they even make licking stamps anymore?).

  • Read an actual book that you hold with your hands.  Or a newspaper that you peruse with your own fingers.  Given the awful news about the Tribune Co. declaring bankruptcy, it would be good to remember the benefits of print media.

And that dusty book of chapters and verses sitting unused in your house?  Open it up.  Reading the written Word is the best way to get to know the Word Made Flesh.  One on one, face to face.  Spend some time, distraction-free, focusing only on this God who went great lengths to draw near to you.  It’s time to return the favor.

Together, let’s prepare the way.


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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Does God Want for Christmas?

December 2, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Is God on your Christmas list?
That’s the question that will be guiding us throughout this Advent season.  Last week we discovered that high on God’s wish list is the gift of our attention, gift-wrapped in “flashing blue and red lights,” urging us to keep alert.  This week our focus turns to Mark’s gospel, whose opening lines call us to give God the gift of our obedience.
One way to see the story of Jesus’ birth is through the eyes of a long string of obedient people.  Consider the alternatives:  what would have happened if these people had not been so willing?  
·     If Mary had said, “I’m sorry.  Too much pressure.  Go find another girl.”
·     If Joseph had said, “Nope.  No way.  Too risky.”
·     If the shepherds had said, “Us?  In the presence of a king?  You’ve got to be kidding.”
·     If the magi had said, “Herod must hear about this at once.”
·     And, in this week’s passage, what if John the Baptist had said, “You want me to eat what?  And wear what?”
To set the tone for this enduring sequence of obedience, Mark’s narrative opens his new story with an old reminder from the prophet Isaiah:
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

The word “straight” is Mark’s favorite word. The Greek word occurs seventeen times throughout his gospel, translated in different ways.  It most often occurs as
immediately, which we tend to associate with being “instantaneous.”  But it also has the sense of being “straight up” or “straight forward.”  Consider how this nuance changes the way some of these passages in Mark might be read:
·     “Then Jesus perceived
with clarity and focus in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves.” (Mark 2:8)
·     “But when the grain is ripe, he goes in with his sickle
with discipline and efficiency, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:29)
·     “But Jesus spoke to them
with straight talk, and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  (Mark 6:50)
·     “Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’  Then he was able to see
straight and true and followed him on the way.”  (Mark 10:52)
From the beginning of his gospel until the very end, Mark’s primary concern is that we understand that living the life of Jesus is one of focus, discipline, and intentionality.  Follow the commandments. Don’t deviate.  Stay focused and don’t lose track.  (And by all means, don’t speed!)
If you are interested in giving God a gift this Christmas, there may be no better one than the gift of your obedience to the way and will of Christ in your life.  That is our theme for this Sunday, and I encourage you to spend some time in these upcoming days to confess openly and prayerfully all those things that have kept you from a full and free obedience to God.  
According to Mark, there can be no better preparation for Christmas than the one you do in your own soul.  Let us all prepare the way of the Lord, and make his paths
Peace, Love, and Joy,

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

Mark 1:1-8
1  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2   As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way;
3  the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
   “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” ’,
4  John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
7  He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.
8  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slow Down!

November 25, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Yesterday I received a sermon illustration in a most unfortunate way.

I picked up the girls from school and headed out for the hour-long drive to Sioux City to pick up Jessica, who was flying home from a conference in Boston.  The girls settled into the back seat to watch
Mary Poppins on the DVD player, and I spent the drive working through the myriad of items on my mental checklist:  follow-up work on Commitment Sunday, preparations for a big funeral today, Advent starting this Sunday - - all in a shortened work week.  Check, check, check.

I don’t know how long I had been driving before I noticed the flashing blue and red lights.  When the officer approached me, I still had know idea why I had been pulled over.  

“Do you know how fast you were going?” he asked me.  Well, that answered that question.  I wanted to say, “You have no idea how fast I’ve been moving today.”  I wanted to show him my to-do list, my day runner, and my e-mail inbox.  Take a radar gun to that, I thought to myself.

When he told me how fast I was going, I knew there was no squirming out of it.  My 7-year old, Grace, looked up from her movie to notice what was happening and frantically asked:


The officer chuckled and took my license back to the squad car, as I said to her “Don’t give him any ideas.”

Of course, speeding was just a symptom of the deeper problem.  I had become more absorbed by the world inside my head, instead of focusing on the road.  And it took flashing lights and a badge to shock me back to reality.   

Now, turning this into a sermon illustration may be my blatant attempt to self-justify my speeding ticket, but I did wonder if this is what the gospel writer had in mind when penning the words that serve as our text for the first Sunday of Advent:

"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken…Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come….And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

It’s not the way we would expect – or even want – to start our Advent journey.  We’d prefer placid scenes of hillside shepherds, starry nights, and lowing cattle.  But not this.  Not vivid violence and ominous urgency.  These words read like flashing blue and red lights in your rear view mirror.  “Pull over! Keep alert!  Snap out of it!  You’re drifting off into a different reality rather than the one that is set before you.”
  • You’re living in an artificial world of your own construction, rather than a world that invites the mysteries of faith and trust.

  • You’re stuck in a pressurized world of deadlines and instantaneous results, rather than a lifelong commitment to gradual maturity.

  • You’re speeding through a world jaded by cynicism and worry, instead of embracing a world of imagination and possibility.

You might even say you’re not quite ready for Christmas or Advent yet.  And that’s precisely the point.  We’re not ready for the inbreak of God in our lives, because we are too busy living in our own self-made world.  

I love the way Alfred Delp, the twentieth-century German priest and martyr under the Nazi regime put it:

Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves.  The necessary condition for the fulfillment of Advent is the renunciation of the presumptuous attitudes and alluring dreams in which and by means of which we always build ourselves imaginary worlds…This shocked awakening is definitely part of experiencing Advent.  But at the same time there is much more that belongs to it.  Advent is blessed God’s promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time…Being shattered, being awakened – only with these is life made capable of Advent. (“The Shaking Reality of Advent” from When the Time Was Fulfilled.)

So is your life yet capable of Advent?  If not, then pull over.  Snap out of yourself for the next four weeks, and surrender to the mystery, the complexity, and the wonder of the incarnation once again.  

Come along for the journey, and keep alert.

Grace and Peace,


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

Mark 13:24-37

24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25  and the stars will be falling from heaven,  and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26  Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27  Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
29  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30  Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
31  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32  ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
34  It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
35  Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
36  or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
37  And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Advent 2008:  “What God Wants for Christmas”

“What God Wants for Christmas Is…Our Attention”
Mark 13:24-37
November 30

“What God Wants for Christmas Is…Our Obedience”
Mark 1:1-8
December 7

“Live From Bethlehem”
Children’s Christmas Program
(and Adult Sunday School Cookie Sale)
December 14

“The Winter Rose”
Chancel Choir Cantata
December 21

“What God Wants for Christmas Is…Our Love”
Luke 2:1-20
December 24, 5:30pm

“What God Wants for Christmas Is…Our Trust”
Luke 2:22-40
December 28


Thank you to everyone who helped make last Sunday’s Thanksgiving Sunday such a special one for our church, especially Sherry Held and her team for a wonderful meal, and the adult Sunday school class for coordinating the trimming of the new Chrismon trees.

We received a very good start to our pledges for 2009, and we will be giving you a numerical update soon.  If you have not yet turned in your pledge card, you can bring it to the church office or put it in the offering plate this Sunday.  Thank you!


We are taking orders for poinsettias to adorn our chancel during Advent.  The cost is $12, which you can purchase in honor or in memory of a loved one.  Please call your orders in to the church office or write them down on your attendance sheet.  The poinsettias will be arriving from Rhoadside Blooming House in time for our service on Sunday, December 14, and can be picked up after our Christmas Eve service.  Please make your check payable to the church.


Starting next Sunday, our mitten tree will be placed at the base of the stairwell near the north entrance for you to bring your mittens and other items for our annual mitten tree donation drive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dream On

November 18, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Last night, walking through our living room, I noticed our 5-year old daughter Madelyn standing at the window, looking out.  Probably watching the neighborhood kids, I figured.  But it was too dark to see anything.  Maybe she was blowing her breath on the windows and drawing shapes.  That would leave a mark, I worried.

So I sidled up next to her, gazed out the window, and noticed that there was nothing to see.  No kids playing outside.  No animals.  No hot breath on plate glass.  Nothing.  Nothing but pitch-black darkness.

I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “What are you looking at, baby?”

And then, with a whispery soft voice that could melt any father’s heart, she said, “Daddy, I’m waiting to see the first star, so I can make a wish on it.”

I wanted to ask her what she was wishing for.  I wanted to ask her how she learned about wishing on stars.  I wanted to ask her whether she believed in that stuff.  That’s what rationale does.  It pokes at imagination, punctures creativity.  I felt bad.  Why make her grow up faster than she needed to?   

Later, I thought about Paul’s words to the Corinthians, in a passage I’ve preached dozens of times, mostly in weddings:

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly…”

Every time I’ve preached that text, I’ve considered Paul’s words to be an admonition.  “Grow up.”  “Quit being a baby.”  “Make your faith mature.”

But maybe Paul was saying the opposite.  Back when he spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child, maybe he was able to wish like a child.  Dream like a child.  See like a child.  And when he became an adult, all that came to an end.  No more stars and no more wishes.  And all he saw out the window was pitch-black darkness.  A mirror, dimly.  

Maturity brings murkiness.  That’s what happens when we grow older.  We lose our ability to dream.  To wish for a future that is better than our present.  We become saddled by reality and its sobering admonitions:  Quit dreaming.  Quit hoping for a better tomorrow.  Forget about it.

I think that’s why we have Christ the King Sunday.  Before we close the book on a long Pentecost season, and before we tear open the gift wrap of another Advent, we pause.  We remember what it was like to dream like a child, hope like a child, and see like a child, before we put an end to childish ways:

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

Yep, a little child will lead them.  

It will be a child born in a series of dreams.  Born of an earthly father who was told by the heavenly father not to be afraid of the future – through a dream.  Visited  by shepherds who first were led to the child by following the wishes of a star shining in that pitch-black darkness.  Presented with gifts by stargazers in the east whose lives were transformed and whose journey home was forever altered – by a dream.

Don’t grow up too fast.  Don’t let the cold, bitter harshness of your reality squelch your ability to envision better days.  Let the process of maturing empower you to work toward those dreams, not undermine them.  And as a church, let us continue to forge ahead, building the kingdom one transformed life at a time, improving the community, and changing the world.

Dream on.

Faith, Hope, and Love,


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

We celebrate all of God’s blessings in our lives as a church family this Sunday with our annual Commitment Sunday and Thanksgiving Luncheon.  Bring your stewardship commitment cards to church and turn them in at the conclusion of the service as an act of joy and gratitude.  Then, join us after the service down in the Fellowship Hall for a delicious turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  There is no need to bring any food, and a free will offering will be taken.  Call in your reservation to the church office or respond to this e-mail.

Join a new group of folks journeying through the Old Testament and focusing on the Psalms every Sunday morning from 9am to 10am in the church library.  For more information, contact Marilyn Brubaker or Betty Ammons.

Back by popular demand, we are having a progressive supper for the youth on Sunday night, December 7.  We are in need of two more families willing to host two separate groups of about 8 youth for either the appetizer or soup/salad course.  No need to entertain or provide a program – just an open door and a warm heart!  Please let Lisa Sampson know if you are interested.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our New Mission

November 11, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
On Monday night we shared an exciting and important moment in our ministry together.  By unanimous vote and joyous applause, you adopted the long-term strategic plan set forth by the 20/20 Vision Team.  We now have a clear set of mission, vision, and values statements that frame our purpose and identity.  And, we have a comprehensive set of thirty strategies that we will pursue to accomplish God’s work in and through this church.
After the Charge Conference, there was a tangible set of energy among the many who stuck around to chat about the plan.  These two stories stand out among many, and these people both gave me permission to share them with you.


One member told me her story of how she and her husband first came to St. Paul’s many years ago. After visiting numerous churches and giving worship at St. Paul’s a try, she said this felt like this was the place for both of them.  A member said to her at the time, “I think St. Paul’s is a sleeping giant. There is so much potential here, and they could do such great things, if they would only stop thinking about buildings and their own needs and start focusing on the needs of others outside the church.”  
This woman said to me that as a result of  Monday night’s adoption of the 20/20 Plan, she feels like a spark has been lit all throughout the church.  She feels like the church is finally “waking up” to the possibilities of doing great things, and she and her husband were so excited coming home after Charge Conference that they could not sleep.  They stayed up until 1:00am buzzing with energy!  She said, “I’m ready to start working on this stuff tomorrow, I’m so excited!”
Now tell me how many Charge Conferences you’ve attended that have had that kind of effect!


The other woman came to me the morning after Charge Conference to say that she was having breakfast with a friend, who was expressing some discomfort with the church she was currently attending.  Our church member listened to her frustrations, then remembered an important part of our new mission statement that talks about being a “People in the Center.”  
She told her friend, “You know, I’ve come to discover that St. Paul’s is not one of those churches that is at the extreme right of things, and we are not at the extreme left. We are right in the center. We don’t judge, and we are not narrow-minded.  We are really open to people.  You may want to come check us out.”
How about that? It’s amazing what clarity about our mission and our values can do:  it even makes
evangelism easier!
Without a doubt, these are exciting times to be a part of St. Paul’s.  There does seem to be a tangible excitement about our future, and I am grateful that you are willing to be a part of it.
In case you have not seen our new mission, vision, and values statements, here they are:


God’s Love in Action

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church is a community of people united by the love of God and dedicated to putting that love into action through ministries of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and service.  
We worship with joy, because Christ is among us and deserves our praise.
We grow in our faith, practicing every day what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  
We care for each other as an encouraging, supportive, and growing family.
We share with others to meet their physical and spiritual needs, and invite all people to faith in Christ.


As we fulfill our mission, and put God’s love into action, we will see:
Transformed Lives – people will come to find new purpose and passion in their lives.
An Improved Community – we will make a difference in the quality of life in our community.
A Changed World – we will do our part in building God’s kingdom around the world.


As United Methodists, we put God’s love into action as:
People of the Word
We share a foundation in the written words of the Bible, and share a passionate devotion to the living Word in Jesus.

People of Grace
We strive to be a perfect place for imperfect people, supporting and encouraging each other to discover the value of their unique gifts.

People Who Welcome
As our denominational motto states, we are a church with “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” We welcome a diversity of people and a diversity of perspectives with warmth and hospitality.

People in the Center
As mainline Christians in the Wesleyan tradition, we negotiate a living, vital balance between heart and mind, passion and knowledge, truth and love, and personal salvation and social action.   

Part of a Global Church
We celebrate our commitment to the universal body of Christ, and commit our support to the ministries of the United Methodist Church around the world.


Over the next several weeks and months, we will start the hard work of implementing the thirty strategies for improving our ministries of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and service.  The newly elected Building Committee will also begin laying out the groundwork for the next phase of campus renovations.
These exciting projects invite the participation of everyone in the church, including you.  In the next two weeks you will be given a chance to offer your financial commitment to God’s work in the church through this year’s stewardship campaign.  I hope you will come this Sunday to hear a sermon called, “Worship, Grow, Care, and Share” and pick up your stewardship packet after the service. The packet will contain a detailed brochure of the 20/20 Vision Plan, a flyer connecting the plan with the 2009 budget, and a commitment card for you to prayerfully consider.
Then, on November 23, Thanksgiving Sunday, we invite you to come to church to turn in your commitment card as an act of gratitude and generosity.  Then stay after church for our annual Thanksgiving Fellowship Luncheon.  All the food will be provided, and a free will offering will be taken.
I can’t say it any better than what that member said to me earlier:  “A spark has been lit throughout the church.  I’m so excited, I can’t wait to get started!”
These are great days to be the church!
Grace and Peace,

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

We have much to celebrate!  St. Paul’s UMC contributed to another successful Ingathering for the Iowa Conference.  Your donations enabled our volunteers to put together 254 kits, valued at $3,594.00, which will be sent around the world.  This is the largest number of kits we have ever produced.  In all, the Northwest District contributed over $160,000.00 of supplies, toward a grand state-wide total of over $921,000.00.  Thanks, St. Paul’s!
What a wonderful event we had last week!  Thank you to the many of you who contributed to another successful bazaar, in which you served over 370 meals and brought in a gross take of $4,426.20. Well done!
Have you ever bowled a “turkey”...with a real turkey?  Well now’s your chance!  Help celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with a version of bowling you’ll never forget.  The event is Sunday, November 16, from 5:00-7:00 and is open to all youth grades 7-12.

Our new bishop, Julius Calvin Trimble, will be visiting the Northwest District on Wednesday, November 19.  He will be meeting with clergy at 4:00 pm at the Storm Lake UMC, followed by a gathering with lay people at 5:30 over a light dinner.  Local church lay leaders and lay members to the Conference are encouraged to come, and reservations are required for the dinner.  Contact the District Office at (712) 732-0812.
United Methodist Men from around the district are invited to attend a rally focusing on spiritual development and service, on Saturday, November 15, at Grace UMC in Spencer. (311 2nd Ave West, Spencer, IA 51301).  For a brochure and registration form, please contact the District Office at (712) 732-0812.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Three Questions

November 4, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family.

I have three questions for you.  

In the last ten months, I have come to know that there are three simple questions that require answers from every church.  A congregation should be able to go to their pastor and hear concise, complete, answers to these questions.  And those answers should be understood by every member for a church to be vital, growing, and healthy.  

What is our mission, and how will we fulfill it?
What is the central operating principle around which we will coordinate our activities, order our structures, prioritize our resources, and gauge our effectiveness?  What is the one thing that we need to make sure we do well, at the expense of everything else we might do?  

Without adequately answering this question, a church can be busy and active, without truly accomplishing anything of lasting value to the kingdom of God.  It is like a giant rowboat, in which all the oars are paddling at different paces and various rhythms.  There’s a lot of activity, but no movement.  There’s a lot of energy, but no direction.  The ship stays in place or spins in circles, but never moves forward.  A clearly stated, widely-internalized mission and vision unifies a congregation and enables it to align its energies.  

2)  What is a disciple, and how will we make them?
It was the final commandment from Jesus to his disciples:  “Go therefore,” he said, “and make disciples of all nations.”  Make no mistake about the gospel’s careful wording here.  People need to become disciples of Jesus Christ, and God has empowered the church with the ability to make them.  The phrase, make disciples is actually a single word in Greek, meaning to teach or to instruct.  It is the duty of every church to engage others in on-the-job training to become disciples of Christ.

But before a disciple can be made by a church, it must be defined.  You don’t build a house without a blueprint, embark on a journey without a defined destination, or cook a dish without a meal in mind.  Disciple-making must be an intentional process, in which the expected outcome is understood.  What does it mean to be a disciple in this particular church?  What is expected of me to be a disciple in the context of this community?  What must I do, and what will I become?  Without answers to these questions, a church merely makes members, but not disciples.  

Who is our neighbor, and how will we love them?  
The gospels tell us in three different places that the greatest commandment is to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Luke’s version advances this with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” and follows with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It is a story with an unmistakable conclusion:  we must see those around us as our neighbors, not as outsiders, and we must love them, regardless of the cost.  

A church must determine to reach out to its neighbors near and far,  loving them in the way the Samaritan loved the man on the street.  Whether those neighbors are across the street or around the world, whether their needs are physical, emotional, or spiritual, our task is clear.  Simply, to love them.   

These three questions demand answers from every pastor and every congregation in every church.  Without a clear sense of its mission, an intentional process of disciple-making, and an ongoing desire to serve its neighbors in love, no church can be healthy and growing, and achieve its God-given task of building the kingdom.


Ten months ago, when your 20/20 Vision Team began its work of listening for the long-term strategic plans of this church, it organized its energies around finding answers to these three questions.  The result is the 20/20 Vision Plan, a comprehensive set of strategies that include proposals for new programming, personnel, facilities, and resources in order to be the church God wants us to be by the year 2020 and beyond.

More importantly, it offers clear and complete answers to all three of these questions.  

It outlines a very clear statement of mission, vision, and values.  It defines discipleship and outlines a path for individuals to experience the life transforming love of God in their lives.  And it sets out a bold plan for reaching out in concern and service to others in the community and the world.   

If you weren’t here last Sunday to hear the presentation by the 20/20 Vision Team, I invite you to stop by the office for a copy of the plan, or I can e-mail you a copy of the full booklet.  Study it, prayer over it, and ask all your questions to a member of the 20/20 Vision Team in the upcoming week.  And then, join us next Monday night at 7:00, when we will gather together for our Charge Conference and vote to adopt these recommendations.  

It would be no understatement to say that these next three Sundays may be the most important sermons I have preached thus far in my brief tenure as your pastor.  This week we begin both our stewardship campaign and the process of adopting this new vision for our life together, with a sermon called,
“God’s Love in Action,” titled after our new mission statement and based on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  I invite you to be in prayer for this church over the next three weeks, as it discerns its adoption of the vision plan and its financial commitments to God for the next year.

These are truly exciting times to be a disciple of Jesus Christ here at St. Paul’s.  Now, as always, it is great to be the church.  Come along for the ride!

Grace and Peace,


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

Luke 10:25-37
25  Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’
26  He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’
27  He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’
28  And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
29  But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’
30  Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.
31  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
32  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33  But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.
34  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.
35  The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.”
36  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’
37  He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

As you exercise your civic privilege to cast your votes for the leaders of our day, take some moments to pray for God’s guidance and strength to be on all our elected leaders during these challenging times.  And include in your prayers a request for God’s spirit to bring healing for the deep divisions that have emerged throughout our country from the polarizing activity and inflammatory rhetoric that have emerged throughout these last several months.   

Thank you to all of you who helped make last weekend’s Ingathering another success.  Much gratitude goes to all of you who supplied and made kits, packaged  boxes and loaded trucks on Saturday, and sent them off for delivery on Monday.  You truly helped make a difference to people all over the world.

Due to a recent upgrade in our computer system, we need to update our information to include anyone who has ever received or now wishes to receive our monthly Dome newsletter by e-mail.  Please send your information to Linzi Gum at lgum@cherokeespumc.org if you have been or would like to be included on that distribution list.    

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What's Past is Prologue

October 28, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

“What’s past is prologue.”

I’m not usually one to quote much Shakespeare, but this phrase from Act II of
The Tempest has been getting a lot of attention lately.  Carved on the National Archives Building in Washington D.C., this statement has been uttered by a number of political candidates during this election year.  It is a call to remember the past, but not to be anchored by it.  It prompts us to honor those who have gone before us by moving forward into a future they helped carve but could not claim.  It is a humbling reminder that we live in a momentary link between yesterday and tomorrow.  

This Sunday, we honor our past with the observance of All Saints Sunday, as we read the names of those in our church who have died in the past year.  With the lighting of a candle and the ringing of a bell, we remember their ongoing influence upon us, encouraging us to live out our days with courage and faith.  

For just as we mourn the realities of death, we can claim the promise of life and the mystery of life beyond death.  Our faith in the power of the resurrection enables us truly to believe that what’s past is indeed prologue.  The arrival of death is merely a doorway to new life and new possibilities for us who remain.  It is a reality reflected in the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, our text for this Sunday:

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”


My friend Dwight Grosvenor, pastor of Hope Parish (Pocahontas, Havelock & Plover), attends our weekly clergy lectionary group and writes beautiful “nestings.”  He e-mails them daily to friends and colleagues, and this one caught my attention as particularly appropriate for the week:

  Seeds for the future.
    Seeds for the future
    are formed as the flowers mature.
    Seeds for the future
    are formed.  
As the flowers mature
   the blooms turn into seeds.
    Seeds for the future
    are formed.  
As the flowers mature
   the blooms turn into seeds,
    while the plants are dying.

What’s past is prologue.  As we honor our past, we are given new energy and clarity for the future.  And that’s why I invite you stick around for a while after the service this Sunday.  


After church, I invite you to come down to the Fellowship Hall and hear the presentation by the 20/20 Vision Team, as it outlines its comprehensive proposal for the long-term strategies and goals of the church.  Come hear the new mission, vision, and values statement that will serve as the backbone of our life together.  Hear the proposals for strengthening our ministries of worship, discipleship, fellowship, and service.  And listen to the plans for the next phase of campus renovation.  All of these proposals come directly from what the team heard from you and members of the Cherokee community, and you will have a chance to ask questions and offer your comments as we put the proposal in its final form.

This is all to prepare us for our Charge Conference on Monday, November 10, at 7:00pm, which I encourage you to attend.  Together we will formally adopt this plan and claim the future that God has set before us.  

Indeed, what’s past is prologue – a foretaste of God’s vision for the next chapter of our life together.

What a great time to be the church!

Grace and Peace,


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

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
1  For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3  a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5  a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6  a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7  a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8  a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

The theme for this year’s bazaar is “American Dreams,” sponsored by the UMW.  Let’s all join together in making it another success; if you would like to help, here are some things you could do:

  1. Do you like to bake?  Consider baking some of your favorites for the morning coffee or bake sale.
  2. Are you crafty?  Call Phyllis Parrott (225-5265) or Shelly Lenz (225-5505) if you need craft items picked up or if you need any additional information.
  3. Make a salad for the salad bar.  Contact Amy Stief (225-3614) and she will get you the recipe and container in which to bring it.
  4. Would you rather make a pie?  Many are needed for our dessert table.  Again, call Amy at 225-3614.

If you are not able to help in any of the above areas perhaps you can bring your friends to the Bazaar for morning coffee (8:00 to 10:30) or invite them to our noon luncheon (11:00 to 1:00).  While you are there be sure to shop our bake sale and craft tables.  All of your donations, your help, and your attendance will be greatly appreciated.

As part of the UMW Bazaar, the Missions Committee will be offering Christmas decorations and creches from A Greater Gift, a program provided by SERRV International.  Come purchase these fairly-traded, hand-made crafts that will create opportunities for artists in 36 countries around the world.  

We will once again be hosting a lock-in for all district United Methodist youth from Friday to Saturday, October 31-Nov.1, from 9pm to approximately 10am.  The lock-in is in conjunction with the Ingathering and will conclude with the loading of kits onto the trucks at Western Iowa Tech.  All youth grades 7-12 are invited to participate and need only bring a snack or 2-liter bottle of soda.  Pizza and breakfast will be provided.  We are in need of adults to supervise the kids in order for our youth to participate.  If you are interested, please contact Karla Wilkie by tomorrow night.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Belong Totally to God

October 22, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Do not look forward to the mishaps of this life with anxiety, but await them with perfect confidence so that when they do occur, God, to whom you belong, will deliver you from them. He has kept you up to the present; remain securely in the hand of his providence, and he will help you in all situations.”

In a time of great economic uncertainty and global instability, we would do well to remember these words from St. Francis de Sales, the seventeenth century bishop of the diocese of Geneva.  His life and example are a call to steadfast faith amidst troubling times.

He was born in France in 1567, and after studying both law and theology in Paris, he dedicated his life to the priesthood, a decision that surprised his parents.  The pastorate was not initially a natural fit for him.  Although fully committed to serving the church, he had to get over the fact that doing so would mean he would have to cut his long, golden, curly hair.  One historian characterized his preaching as “when he preached, the listeners thought he was making fun of them.”  And people began to complain to the bishop that de Sales was too conceited and controlling.

But over time, and with practice, de Sales matured into the ministry.

He developed a passion for evangelism, and saw a vast mission field available to the church in Geneva, Switzerland, a bastion for Calvinist Protestantism.  He organized a missionary envoy to go and convert them, and in the end, his team consisted of two – him and his cousin.

Talk about a tough day in the office.  Throughout his efforts to build the kingdom, he had doors slam in his face and rocks thrown at him.  In the bitter winters, his feet froze so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. He slept in haylofts if he could, and once had to sleep in a tree to avoid wolves. He tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out and was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down.   After three years of evangelizing, his cousin had left him alone and he had not made one convert.

But de Sales did not quit.  Because he could not get a face-to-face audience with people, he wrote his sermons down, reproduced them, and slid them underneath people’s doors.  To this day, he is known as the patron saint of journalism because of his printed efforts.  Slowly, his efforts warmed the hearts of the people of Geneva, and it is said that he returned to France having converted 40,000 of them to Catholicism.

Over time, his spiritual journey brought him to Christian mysticism, and he developed a passion for spiritual direction.  People, clergy and lay alike, began to come to him to learn how to practice the devout life, and to hear the voice of God.  He is credited during this time period as opening the way of spiritual practice, holiness, and devotion to common lay people.  When it was thought that spiritual piety was reserved only for the professionally religious, de Sales offered all people the way to practice this kind of holy life.

In fact, his hallmark book,
Introduction to a Devout Life, originally a collection of letters he wrote to people seeking his direction, became widespread in its popularity all throughout Europe in 1608.  His writings included this pamphlet, “Wise and Loving Counsel,” in which he called those who wishing to live a devout life to “belong totally to God.”

Do not look forward to the mishaps of this life with anxiety, but await them with perfect confidence so that when they do occur, God, to whom you belong, will deliver you from them. He has kept you up to the present; remain securely in the hand of his providence, and he will help you in all situations. When you cannot walk, he will carry you. Do not think about what will happen tomorrow, for the same eternal Father who takes care of you today will look out for you tomorrow and always. Either he will keep you from evil or he will give you invincible courage to endure it.
    Remain in peace; rid your imagination of whatever troubles you.
    Belong totally to God. Think of him and he will think of you. He has drawn you to himself so that you may be his; he will take care of you. Do not be afraid, for if little chicks feel perfectly safe when they are under their mother's wings, how secure should the children of God feel under his paternal protection! So be at peace, since you are one of these children; and let your weary, listless heart rest against the sacred, loving breast of this Savior who, by his providence is a father to his children, and by his gentle, tender love is a mother to them.
    First thing in the morning, prepare your heart to be at peace; then take great care throughout the day to call it back to that peace frequently, and, as it were, to again take your heart in your hand. If you happen to do something that you regret, be neither astonished nor upset, but having acknowledged your failing, humble yourself quietly before God and try to regain your gentle composure. Say to yourself: "There, we have made a mistake, but let's go on now and be more careful." Every time you fall, do the same.


    The writings of St. Francis de Sales would later become a significant influence on a young Anglican priest named John Wesley, whose sermons would often echo a familiarity with de Sales.  From his sermon “On Love,” Wesley writes:
The love which our Lord requires in all his followers, is the love of God and man; -- of God, for his own, and of man, for God's sake. Now, what is it to love God, but to delight in him, to rejoice in his will, to desire continually to please him, to seek and find our happiness in him, and to thirst day and night for a fuller enjoyment of him?
    As to the measure of this love, our Lord hath clearly told us, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." Not that we are to love or delight in none but him: For he hath commanded us, not only to love our neighbour, that is, all men, as ourselves; -- to desire and pursue their happiness as sincerely and steadily as our own, -- but also to love many of his creatures in the strictest sense; to delight in them, to enjoy them: Only in such a manner and measure as we know and feel, not to indispose but to prepare us for the enjoyment of Him. Thus, then, we are called to love God with all our heart.

    This Sunday,  I invite you to come hear our District Superintendent, Bernie Colorado, offer a sermon based on Great Commandment of Jesus in Matthew 22:34-36.  He will guide you through the classic Wesleyan formula for the devote life, summarized recently by Bishop Reuben Job as “The Three Simple Rules:”  

    1.  Do no harm.
    2.  Do good.
    3.  Stay in love with God.

    Come discover how obedience to these principles will free you to live in the fullness of God’s grace and peace, amidst a world of fear anxiety.

In God’s Love,


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

Matthew 22:34-46
34  When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,
35  and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
36  "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"
37  He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
38  This is the greatest and first commandment.
39  And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
40  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."
41  Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:
42  "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David."
43  He said to them, "How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
44  'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet"'?
45  If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?"
46  No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Plan on joining us for a celebration of ministry in our sanctuary led by our District Superintendent Bernie Colorado and Field Outreach Minister Sarah Stevens.  The event includes the congregations of Aurelia and Sutherland-Larrabee, and begins at 7:00pm.

Following the service on November 2nd, you are invited to the Fellowship Hall for a chance to hear details about the 20/20 Vision Plan, the long-term strategic plan of the church that will be considered for adoption at our charge conference on November 10.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Religion and Politics

October 15, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

In the immortal words of Linus Van Pelt in the classic
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown:  “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people:  religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

I’m pretty sure the gospels are ominously silent on the topic of the Great Pumpkin (sorry, Linus!).  But I believe it has much to say about the first two.  In a country grounded by the separation of church and state, we are tempted to compartmentalize our religious convictions from our political ones.  Many think there should be no overlap between the church life we live on Sundays, and the civic life we live the rest of the week.  But a careful reading of the gospels can lead to only one conclusion.

Religion and politics
should mix.

Notice the claim is not that religion and political
power mix.  In fact, just the opposite is true.  The church and political power have always been disastrous bedmates.  The Crusades, the Inquisition, the support of slavery, and the subjugation of women are just a few of the examples of how a fusion between the church and political power only wind up corrupting both and enhancing neither.

Nor is the claim that religion and
partisan politics mix.  Nowhere do we get the sense that Jesus would have been a Democrat or a Republican.  The point of the gospels is not to bow allegiance toward one political party over the other.  In fact, to squeeze a political endorsement out of Jesus would be a gross profaning of the Scriptures.  In the words of a popular bumper sticker advanced by the Christian group Sojourners, “God is not a Republican or a Democrat.”

We would do well to remember the words of Abraham Lincoln.  When asked whether God was on the Union side, he replied:

I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right.  But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

So why do religion and politics mix?

Because they did for Jesus.  He lived a life immersed in the complicated political structures of his day.  He was surrounded by the dichotomy of haves and have-nots.  He ministered to people who were marginalized by society.  Jesus’ every word and every action was performed in a grand political matrix of Roman and Jewish relations.  

This is a direct counter to those who believe that Jesus came only to speak in ethereal, spiritual terms, only to minister to the souls of people and little else.  Those with this belief would render Jesus mute when it comes to oppressive political systems or economic injustice.  They would rather see him merely as a pastor than a prophet as well, who only comforted the afflicted rather than afflicted the comfortable.  

But consider our text for this Sunday’s sermon.  If Jesus was disinterested in speaking politically, then how does one explain this exchange in Matthew 22:15,17?

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “…Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’

Richard Horsley, in his excellent book
Jesus and Empire, asks, “But if Jesus’ questioners and listeners all assumed such a separation of Caesar and God into utterly separate spheres, then how could the question have possibly been part of a strategy to entrap Jesus?”

This Sunday, we will explore how a thoughtful, mainline, centerfield Christian can be actively engaged in the world of politics.  We will do so without advocating for one political party over the other, and without seeking a kind of political influence that has produced a dangerous mix throughout the history of the church.

Instead, we will learn to look at our world through the eyes of Jesus, who was neither interested in political power nor apathetic to the real needs of real people.  In a time when presidential campaigns and political rhetoric occupy our attention at nearly every turn, let’s negotiate a vital balance between faith and politics, as Christians and citizens.  Let’s learn to be the church, in the context of the state.  

(And we can leave the Great Pumpkin to someone else.)

Grace 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 22:15-21

15  Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.
16  So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.
17  Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’
18  But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?
19  Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius.
20  Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’
21  They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

It’s what it sounds like!  A time of wild, wacky fun for all youth grades 7 – 12.  Join us at 5:00 for a snack supper, a time of great fun, and an inspiring lesson ending at 7pm.  You won’t believe the stunts you’ll be doing!

We are now taking orders for delicious, homemade apple pies and crisps made just for you!  Place your order at the church ($6.00 for crisps, $7.00 for pies) and plan on picking them up shortly after they are made.  Pies will be made on Thursday 10/16, Monday 10/20, and Thursday 10/23.  For more information, contact Phyllis Parrott or Jean Anderson.

Plan on joining us for a celebration of ministry in our sanctuary led by our District Superintendent Bernie Colorado and Field Outreach Minister Sarah Stevens.  The event includes the congregations of Aurelia and Sutherland-Larrabee, and begins at 7:00pm.