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

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Happy Easter!

March 25, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen, indeed!

First of all, a word of celebration.  Over the course of four days, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, we had a combined attendance of over 450 for all four worship services, including over 300 on Easter morning!  Thanks to the Chancel Choir and all the people who served as ushers, greeters, and communion servers for a job well done in welcoming all of our guests.  This was the place to be in Cherokee for celebrating the risen Christ!

Now we can move on to the business of living into the resurrection.  I can remember as a college student going through a period of doubt about my Christian convictions.  I struggled over even the most basic matters of the faith – the existence of God, the veracity of the Scriptures, and the purpose of the church.  But eventually, what brought me back to the faith was the resurrection.  In my rational, scientific mind, I figured, “Well, if they ever found the body of Jesus, that’s when I’ll let this faith stuff go.  But until then, I’ll keep believing.”

I still consider that to be a reasonable argument, but I have since discovered an even greater burden of proof.  Living proof, in fact.  I have come to realize that resurrection is not just a one-time event in the past, relegated exclusively to the person of Jesus.  It is an ongoing reality, in which God is constantly brings new life and new possibilities out of dead ends and hopeless causes.   God elicits promise and peace out of situations that seem chaotic and desperate.  

God is still, as ever before, in the resurrection business.  There is proof all around us.

In fact, there is proof within you.  This Sunday we start a new sermon series that will carry us through the Great Fifty Days of Easter, called
“Living Proof:  Making the Resurrection a Reality in Your Life.” It is based on the classic seven virtues of the Christian faith, which are marks for every life transformed by the power and love of the risen Christ.  As we go through this series, ask yourself how you are doing in expressing each of these virtues, and look for ways for the Spirit of Christ to raise your spiritual life to new heights.

This would also be a great series to which you can invite a friend.  Share this journey with them, as I look forward to sharing this journey with you.

Happy Easter!


Living Proof:

Living in Light of the Resurrection

March 30
Wisdom:  Is It Okay to Doubt?
John 20:19-31

April 6
Self-Control:  Avoiding Fatal Attractions
1 Corinthians 9:1-27

April 13
Love:  What Matters Most
1 John 3:1-24

April 20
Justice:  God’s Remedy for a Broken World
Amos 5:1-27

April 27
Faith:  From Generation to Generation
Hebrews 11
(Confirmation Sunday)

May 4
Hope:  You Will Receive Power!
Acts 1:1-11
(Ascension Sunday)

May 11
Courage:  Fulfilling God’s Purpose
Acts 2:1-21
(Pentecost Sunday)

Thanks to everyone for making our Easter Brunch such a success.  We had a steady stream of people throughout the morning, and the youth program wishes to thank you for giving over $300 of donations, which will go toward the sanctuary renovation fund.  Thank you to those who brought in numerous breakfast goods as well.  

On April 13 we will once again be receiving a special offering for Larry and Jane Kies, United Methodist missionaries to Zimbabwe.  They are instructors at Africa University educating people in English and agriculture.  Your generosity to this faithful couple has been wonderful over the years, and we look forward to sending them additional support this year.  Your gifts will assist the church in giving toward the Iowa Conference Rainbow Covenant Missions Program, so thank you for your prayerful, generous spirit.

If you missed any of the worship services from last week, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Sunday, audio recordings are available by request.  Contact the church office for more information.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Sage and the Seeker

March 18, 2008
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
With the pageantry of Palm Sunday now behind us, our gaze fixes squarely on the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  We prepare ourselves for what we know will soon come.  With betrayal, bloodshed, and burial imminent, we try to anesthetize our nerves with the assurance that Easter is just around the corner.  Sunday will be here soon.  The resurrection is coming.
As quickly as John moves to get to the events of Thursday and Friday, he is the slowest to get to Easter.  He draws out the passion narrative more patiently than any of the other gospels.  There is a lesson to be learned, and John does not want us to miss it by skipping ahead to the empty tomb.
Much of John’s version of the passion is consumed by Jesus’ confrontation with Pilate, the Roman provincial governor and ultimate adjudicator of Jesus’ fate.  His portrayal is 50% longer than in the other gospels.  This Pilate is also more inquisitive:  he asks nearly twice as many questions of Jesus as the other three gospels
combined.  And, unlike the other gospels, where the extent of Jesus’ rebuttal is only a handful of words, this Jesus engages Pilate more fully, with talk about the kingdom of God and the purpose of his mission.
But most interesting is the open-endedness with which John explores Pilate’s internal struggle. The other gospels quickly and summarily dismiss Pilate as a self-serving antagonist to Jesus.  Matthew’s Pilate washed his hands of the mess in order to prevent a riot.  Mark concludes similarly:  Pilate wanted to “satisfy the crowd.”  Luke’s conclusion is the boldest:  Pilate and Herod “became friends” after this event.
But John’s assessment of Pilate is not as straightforward.  John’s Jesus questions Pilate directly: “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you?”
And later, they share this exchange:
Pilate:  So you are a king?
    Jesus:  You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
    Pilate:  What is truth?

This is not an exchange between a hero and a villain.  It is more like a test between a sage and a seeker, between the confident and the curious.  
Such exchanges occur consistently throughout John’s gospel.  Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the blind beggar – all of them had personal encounters with Jesus and were forced to make a choice:
  • Was he the Son of God or not?  
  • Was he to be believed or denied?  
  • Did he speak the truth, or lead others astray?

According to John, Pilate struggled, even until the very end, and perhaps even retained a shred of pro-Jesus sentiment. Pilate had a sign on the cross above Jesus that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”  The Jewish leaders responded, saying, “Do not write, the ‘The King of the Jews’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’”
And these are the last words we hear Pilate speak:  “What I have written I have written.”
In the end, our struggle must be the same as Pilate’s:  What will we do with this Jesus?  Will we believe him, or will we deny him?  Lest we are too hasty to decide and too quick to skip to the resurrection, John invites us to ponder our surroundings.  
  • The call of the crowds is deafening.
  • The culture around us is convincing.
  • The cost of following Jesus just seems too great.

And as difficult as it is to choose, it is a choice we must make.  We must decide.  There is no middle ground.  In his book
John:  The Maverick Gospel, biblical scholar Robert Kysar writes:
Interestingly, (Pilate) is the supporting actor in the whole drama of the Gospel whose character is explored most fully.  It appears that the evangelist did not want us to slip through the Gospel without becoming aware of how dangerous it is to try to remain neutral to this Jesus figure.

This Thursday and Friday, as we gather together to hear again the stories of the week that changed the world, come with hearts and minds ready to answer the greatest question humanity must answer:
What will you make of this Jesus?  
Grace and Peace,

Thursday and Friday night feature two very different worship experiences.  Maundy Thursday is a standard service with sermon, Holy Communion, and music offered by the Chancel Choir.  Friday night features a powerful Tenebrae service, with readings from John’s passion narrative interspersed with anthems and hymns led by the Chancel Choir.  Nursery care is provided for both services.  

  • March 20        Maundy Thursday with Celebration of Holy Communion       7:00 pm
  • March 21        Good Friday Service (Tenebrae:  Service of Darkness)         7:00 pm

EASTER SUNDAY, MARCH 23        “Something to Believe In:  I am the Resurrection and the Life”    John 20:1-18
This Sunday, we will be offering two identical worship services, both led by the Chancel Choir and with the same sermon.  The early service will also include the Celebration of Holy Communion.  Because there is no Sunday school that morning, we invite everyone to join us between services for a wonderful Easter Brunch provided by the Youth Program.  

  • 7:00am          Easter Sunrise Celebration with Holy Communion
  • 8-10:00am     Easter Brunch in the Fellowship Hall
  • 10:10am        Easter Celebration

We now have an audio recording of all the sermons given during the recent “Sermons A La Carte” program at Memorial Presbyterian.  Let me know if you would like a copy.  In addition, all the recordings are available for download from our blogsite, http://blog.cherokeespumc.org or from our iTunes Podcast.  

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why Palm Sunday?

March 10, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,
As Holy Week draws near, we approach the firm footing of some very familiar territory.  As veterans of Lenten seasons past, we know what lies ahead:  the waving of palm branches, the breaking of bread, a kiss of betrayal, and the agony of death.  These stories are etched into our collective memory, and we think there are no surprises.
Such perspective might make it difficult to enter the story of Palm Sunday in real-time terms. We might find it difficult to identify with the cheering crowds in Jerusalem, knowing that in a few days time, they would turn against Jesus.  “Surely we would not make the same mistake,” we convince ourselves. We want to believe that we are much clearer about Jesus’ mission.  He did not come to instigate a political overthrow or a military mutiny, as the crowds had wanted, but to usher in a broader, deeper, more cosmological reality – God’s kingdom on earth.
In the span of a few days, the communal psyche of the crowd shifted, from “Hosanna” (which means “Save us”) to “Crucify him!”  While all four gospels record this event, John is clearest in pointing out this sudden mood shift.  Whereas the other three gospels spend time chronicling the events of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, John skips right ahead, going from Palm Sunday in John 12 to Maundy Thursday in John 13.  And, while the other gospels talk about Jesus riding a donkey as he was greeted by the crowds, it is only in John that Jesus gets on a donkey
in response to the crowds.  With people expecting their warrior king to come riding in on a mighty stallion, it is as if Jesus said, “You think I’ve come to meet your expectations?  Well, guess again.”
By the time the week’s public opinion polls close, the people have shifted, from praise to prosecution, from adornment to indictment.  It turns out, we now know, that the people were expecting an entirely different kind of king, who would address an entirely different set of their needs.  
Before we cast aspersion to this crowd with the kind of clarity that only hindsight can offer, let’s let the scriptures speak to us today.  Aren’t we as guilty of offering the same kind of hollow praise as the Palm Sunday masses?  Isn’t it possible that, even in our best efforts to worship God, we really emphasizing ourselves – our own needs, our own desires, our own expectations?
Maybe we can call it “boomerang praise.”  It is a feigned worship of God that circles back to our own needs.  It’s a kind of devotion to God that is more descriptive of ourselves than it is directed toward God:
  • We pray to God, but our prayers contain more personal pronouns that divine ones.  
  • We celebrate God, but only to the extent that we are in the mood.
  • We come to worship, so long as we find it entertaining.
  • We give God our gifts, so long as we have ability to do so (and as long as we have enough left over.)
  • We will follow this Jesus, so long as it costs us little.

No, we may not have the palm fronds in our hands, but we have the sentiment in our hearts.
So why do we observe Palm Sunday at all?  To remind us that the Lenten journey is not at all about aligning Jesus with our needs and expectations.  It is to radically reorient our lives toward the way and will of Jesus.
Biblical scholar Alan Culpepper writes:
“How, then, can the church’s celebration of Palm Sunday be such an act of reflection and remembrance?  When the church celebrates Palm Sunday, when it shouts, “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” it is not participating in a victory march.  Palm Sunday is not one more excuse for a parade; it is, rather, a moment for communal reflection on Jesus’ identity.  The life of the church derives form the life and love of Jesus, and the Palm Sunday liturgy invites the church to remember the shape and character of that life and love.”

I invite you to join us this Sunday for all the pomp, pageantry, and passion of this most important week of the year.  Come experience again the wonder and glory of Holy Week, and rediscover Something to Believe In.
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

15:1  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.
2  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.
3  You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
4  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
5  I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
6  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
9  As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
10  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
11  I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12  "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
13  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.
14  You are my friends if you do what I command you.
15  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
16  You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
17  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

March 16        Palm Sunday     “Something to Believe In:  I am the Vine” John 15:1-17
March 20*        Maundy Thursday with Celebration of Holy Communion       7:00 pm
March 21*        Good Friday Service (Tenebrae:  Service of Darkness)         7:00 pm
(*Note:  Nursery care is available for both the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services)

EASTER SUNDAY, MARCH 23        “Something to Believe In:  I am the Resurrection and the Life”    John 20:1-18
7:00am          Easter Sunrise Celebration with Holy Communion
8-10:00am     Easter Brunch in the Fellowship Hall
10:10am        Easter Celebration

Share in the joy of Easter morning as our youth program once again hosts a brunch for the church.  This is a wonderful gift to those who come to worship at our 7:00 and 10:10 worship services.  Families are needed to provide brunch items and help host/clean-up during the event.  If interested, contact Karla Wilkie.

The youth group had a wonderful time on its Progressive Dinner on Sunday night.  Thanks to Dick and Betty Point, John and Kay O’Connor, John and Jill Chalstrom, and Gene and Jean Anderson for hosting the kids throughout the night.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Science Meets the Gospels

March 4, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,
It’s been 15 years since I took Physics in college, but every once in a while I like making connections between my undergraduate science degree and my seminary training.  
You may have never heard of a hodograph before, but I’m sure you’ve witnessed its practical applications. It’s one among the many useful diagrams physicists use to describe the direction, velocity, and trajectory of objects in motion.  Without getting into mind-numbing equations and elaborate explanations, the most basic definition of a hodograph is that it analyzes a single point in time and space and charts motion in relation to that point.  
It has widespread use among astronomers, engineers, and biologists, but its most practical use is in meteorology.  Weather forecasters use hodographs to analyze wind speed and direction at various levels of the atmosphere, helping them track weather patterns and emerging storm systems.  
Hodograph comes the Greek roots hodos, meaning “path,” and graph, for “drawing.”  Interestingly, the word hodos is the same word that Jesus used in describing himself.  Hear the words from John 14:6:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way (“hodos”) and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Right there, in the middle of John’s gospel, is a hodograph.  John offers a chart that invites readers to plot their movement and direction in relation to a single point, Jesus Christ, the “Way.”  
And what is that way?   It is not the way of pride, self-promotion, or heartless ambition.  It is not the way of power or destruction.  It is certainly not the way of vindication or violence.  It is nothing less than the way of love and the way of self-sacrifice.  In the thirteen verses prior to this one, Jesus sets up the costly expectation of those who choose to follow the way of Jesus:
“Where I am going, you cannot come.  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  (John 13:33-34)
Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now?  I will lay down my life for you. Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me?  Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”  (John 13:37-38)
Following the way of Jesus is costly, for it leads to no other place but a cross.  It challenges our ways of believing and behaving, and aligns us with values and priorities that are kingdom-shaped and counter-cultural.  But its rewards are priceless.  It unites us with others on the journey, forms us into a new community, and anticipates a life abundant and eternal.  This hodograph is heaven-bound!
Jim Wallis, Christian author and activist, wrote in his book
The Call to Conversion:
"The early Christians were known for the way they lived, not only for what they believed. For them, the two were completely intertwined. The earliest title given to them reflected the importance of their kingdom lifestyle. They were not called the people of the experience or the people of right doctrine or even the people of the church.
Rather, they were the people of the Way. It is equally significant that the Christians were known as the people of the Way. More than just individuals who had been converted, they were now a people, a new community of faith, which had embarked together on a new way of life. To follow Jesus meant to share Jesus’ life and to share it with others.”
I invite you to join us this Sunday as we continue our journey through the “I am” statements of Jesus in John’s gospel with a sermon titled, “Something to Believe In:  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  We will discover how we can be “People of the Way” once again!
See you on the way,

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

John 14:1-7
14:1  "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.
2  In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
3  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
4  And you know the way to the place where I am going."
5  Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"
6  Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
7  If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

Thank you, St. Paul’s, for a wonderful response to the One Great Hour Special Offering.  Your contributions total over $600.00 to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.  Know that as natural disasters strike all over the world, your gifts allow the United Methodist Church to be among the first on the scene.  We still have a steady stream of coin banks and other donations coming in, so it’s not too late to contribute.  Thank you!
Marilyn Brubaker, chair of the Missions Committee, has learned that the Conference has recalculated our missions giving for 2007.  We are very pleased to announce that your giving has enabled us to surpass not only First-Mile giving but also Honorable Mention giving!  For the first time, St. Paul’s is a SECOND-MILE GIVING CHURCH!  And we thought recounts only happened in Florida elections!  Praise God, and thank you!  

Thank you, St. Paul’s, for a tremendous response to the congregational survey  With over 100 surveys returned, you produced a terrific 25% return rate on the surveys.  The team has gone through the results and is mapping out the next steps in our long-term planning process.  These steps will include:
  1. A meeting in the next few weeks with heads of local community service agencies, to listen for needs and opportunities for service by the church.  
  2. A meeting soon after with civic and business leaders to hear their sense of community trends and challenges that might be served by the church.
  3. A series of focus group “feedback sessions” with members of the congregation to follow up on results from the survey.  These sessions will commence shortly after Easter.
  4. Analysis of demographic data for the surrounding community
Please continue to keep this team, and this process, in your prayers.  Thanks again for your response to the surveys!
We are looking forward to a very exciting, highly creative VBS this year! It is themed “Power Lab” and promises to be a thrilling, high-energy time for children in the community. We need volunteers with varying skill sets and creative abilities to make it happen, so this would be the perfect time to help if you’ve never served before!  Please come to a brief orientation after church next Sunday, March 9, in the Feller Lounge.  For more information, contact Carmen Teoli.
Attention, youth grades 7-12!  Join us this Sunday for a fun, delicious progressive dinner, and hear the story of the passion of Christ.  Mid-highers will begin at the church at 4:15 and will be finished at 6:45.  Senior highers will begin at 4:45 and be finished by 7:15.
This annual ecumenical series concludes with services on March 5 and March 12, at Memorial Presbyterian Church.  Services begin at 12:05pm, followed by a fellowship luncheon at 12:30.  Magrey will be preaching this Wednesday.
We are now receiving orders for Easter lilies that you may purchase in honor or in memory of a loved one.  The cost is $11.00, made payable to the church.  Please give us your order, including the names of those honored, by Wednesday, March 5.