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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Future Unites Us

September 30, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

It has been over a year since I first arrived in Cherokee, and I have met many new people along the way.  First-time interactions with new people tend to follow the same script:  they ask about my family and what I do for a living.  But they often begin with the inevitable question:  

“So, where are you from?”

I’m never quite sure what answer people are expecting with that question.  Sometimes, if they are really asking about my ethnicity, they will draw the question out with inadvertent hilarity, speaking slowly, and loudly, in case I don’t understand them.


In those moments, the playful side of me....okay, the irreverent side of me....will often respond:


Which typically surprises them, since they’ve never heard of that country.

It’s true:  you can find out a lot about a person by asking about their past.  But if you really want to get to know them – I mean really get to know who they are deep down inside – don’t just ask about their past, find out about their future.  Don’t just ask them where they’re from.  Ask them where they’re going.

In answering that question, you would find out a lot about me:

About where I hope to see myself twenty years from now.
About how I hope to grow old with my wife.
About how I want someday to see my daughter’s graduate from high school, and dance at their weddings.
About how I want to feel, at the end of my life, that I served the church to the best of my abilities.

The past may identify me, but the future is what defines me.


As true as that may be for us as individuals, it’s even more true for the church.  My favorite contemporary theologian, Marjorie Suchocki, writes about the nature of the church:

Consider the unity that is created if many people share in an identity formed through faith in Christ.  The unity we see in a family group stems from its past:  brothers and sisters, by sharing the same parents, share the same family identity.  Their common past, whether by birth or adoption, defines them as family.  For the family that is the Christian church, unity comes primarily from a shared future.  Just as the sharing of a past creates a real kinship, even so the sharing of a future creates a real kinship.  If John’s identity is formed through Christ, and if Kwasi’s identity is formed through Christ, and if Ti-Fam’s identity is formed through Christ, then all three share in the same identity and become brothers and sisters to one another even though they live so widely scattered in the world.  Christ, as the source of their identity, is also the ground of their unity, creating in them a bond as real and as close as family, creating them as the community of church….In an orientation toward service, unity will become apparent, almost as a byproduct of responsiveness to the one God, leading us in ways of well-being.  The future, not the past, clarifies the unity of the church.

So what is that shared future that unites us as the church?  I like to point toward Revelation 7:9-17, our text for this Sunday:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’  And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
This is our common purpose.  To join with Christians from around the world, throughout all time, overcoming our earthly differences to fulfill our created design:  glorifying and celebrating God with word and deed.  

This is where we are going, and we are on the journey together.  No greater idea defines us as the church.


Join us this Sunday as we observe our global connection to Christians around the world, affirming our common destiny as joint-worshippers of the Lamb who sits on the throne.  Our World Communion Sunday observance will feature delicious breads from around the world, prepared once again by Judi Klee, owner of The Spice Rack downtown.  For more information about her products, visit www.homemadepizzelles.com.  Let us come with renewed spirit and dedication to the mission of God in the world, and let us so live as we pray:

“Pour out your Spirit upon us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we might be, for the world, the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.”

So, where are you from?  And more importantly, where are you going?

It’s still great to be the church!


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

Revelation 7:9-17
9  After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
10  They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’
11  And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God,
12  singing, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’
13  Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, ‘Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?’
14  I said to him, ‘Sir, you are the one that knows.’ Then he said to me, ‘These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15  For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16  They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

Thank you for your generous response to our pork feed last Sunday, particularly to those who brought sides and desserts, worked in the kitchen, and to the Parker family for their delicious main course.  Your donations brought in over $1,000 toward the Next Generation Fund, which supports future opportunities for growth in the church.

Senior Highers grades 9-12 are invited to the Wilkie’s for a fun bonfire and games from 6:30-8:00pm.  Mid-Highers grades 7-8 are invited to the Dagel’s from 6:30-8:00 for a similar time of fun and fellowship.  

St. Paul’s is joining with the Ministerial Association to explore installing a peace pole in a visible place in Cherokee.  There are thousands of such poles in cities around the country, and are inscribed with messages of peace in languages from around the world.  We are meeting to make initial plans this Thursday, so if you are interested, please contact Magrey.

The family of Joyce Phipps  Pyle invites you to join them for coffee & dessert, honoring Joyce, on  Sunday, October 5th from 1:00-3:30pm in the Fellowship Hall.  No gifts, please.   

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Who are We, Really?

September 9, 2008

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

See if these election-time questions sound familiar:

  • Do we choose change or experience?   
  • Do we look for charisma or pedigree?   
  • Do we hope for the future or reclaim past glory?  

These might sound like they were snapped off the latest public opinion polls, but it may surprise you to hear that these were asked by people in the nation of Israel, in 930 B.C.  King Solomon had died, and the great empire built by him and his father David was in the midst of tremendous political upheaval.  In its midst was this central question:  “Who will be our leader?”

Opinions were divided into two camps.  There were those who believed in following the succession of blood relatives of David.  He was, after all, the one with whom God had made an everlasting covenant, promising his heirs on the throne forever.  These were the “pedigree” people, and they lived in Judah, in the south.

To the north were the “charisma” people, who believed that their king should be determined by one’s ability to demonstrate that God was with them.  If they could prove that they had what it took to defeat foreign enemies, call people to obedience to God, and usher in a future of promise, then they were the ones that God had chosen for that time.  

These divisions were so deep that the nation was irreconcilably split into two nations in 930 B.C.  There was the Southern Kingdom, with Solomon’s son Rehoboam as its king in the capital of Jerusalem.  And, there was the Northern Kingdom, with Jeroboam as its king in the new capital of Shechem.  


It has often been said that elections are more than about who we want as a leader.  They are also about who we believe ourselves to be.  This was never more true than in the case of Ancient Israel, for their divisions were more than about policies and issues.  They were about national identity, as well as their belief in God.

The Southern Kingdom, those who adhered to the promise of the Davidic covenant, believed in a God who was fixed, immobile, and always faithful to keep his promises.  Theirs was a belief in an immutable, changeless God, whose presence could always be found in the Temple, and whose King was a living embodiment of the eternal promise made with David.  This was a God of stasis and faithfulness, and this God didn’t move.  

But those in the North had a different perspective.  They identified God as the one who led the people from slavery to freedom in the wilderness.  A God who was always on the move, charging forward as a pillar of cloud by day and a fire by night.  This God was free to choose as he desired the best course of action for any given moment.  Instead of believing themselves to be a “Temple” people, the tribes of the North were a “Tabernacle” people, who believed that God was on the march, and they best choose a leader whom God had anointed for that given time.  And whenever that leader failed to perform, it was time to select a new king (often by assassination, which is why kings in the south always served until natural death.)  


I did some calculating today.  This will be only my fifth presidential election.  And in many ways, it feels like the most important one.  Not just because the issues of war, the economy, health care, immigration, and education are so critical, but because it feels like we are a nation at a critical crossroads in determining our identity.

Susan Page, a political columnist for the USA Today, touched on this with an excellent front page article last Friday:

The nation is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, a diversity that has spread across the country. Aging Baby Boomers remain the biggest generational group in the electorate, but second in size are the Millennials — 18- to 31-year-olds who have distinctive attitudes toward race and politics. In the space of a generation, Americans have seen dramatic changes in the roles of women, the structure of families and the nature of the workplace. There has been a revolution in the technology that delivers information and knits communities….Presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama personify that changing nation in striking ways. In age, race and life experience — even in use of innovative technology in the campaign — they mirror a nation in transition.  (“Stage Set for Pivotal Realignment in ‘08”, USA Today, September 5, 2008)

And later in the article, William Frey, a Brookings Institution scholar who analyzes population trends, offered,
"This is a pivotal moment in the sense that the politics is catching up to the demographic changes."

As a result, both presidential tickets are attempting to negotiate these massive demographic plates shifting beneath our culture.  Both offer a balance between novelty (Obama and Palin) and pedigree (Biden and McCain).  Both have seized the “change” mantra while attempting to reassure experience and instill trust.  

And this has translated into widespread interest in both campaigns.  Millions in record numbers have watched both conventions, and voter registrations throughout the country are at an all-time high.  People are recognizing that the historic significance of this election is broader than just having the first African-American president or first female vice-president.  Deep down inside, I think we realize that this election will say volumes about who we believe we are, and where we believe we are headed.  

In the end, I am confident that our fate will not be the same as that of ancient Israel:  irreconcilably divided into two separate nations.  But this is all the more reason to take this election seriously, be fully informed about the candidates and not just rely on campaign spin, to get involved in the process, and by all means, exercise our freedom to vote.

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

Join us for worship this Sunday as we  continue in our sermon series on Jonah with a sermon focusing on his prayer in the midst of the fish’s belly.  You can read ahead by looking at Jonah 2-3.  

We have a number of youth interested in going to this Saturday’s trip to Adventureland, but we have a shortage of adults able to stay in the park and serve as chaperones.  Please let Karla Wilkie know by this Thursday night if you can help, so we can let the youth know if this trip will go forward.  The cost of your ticket will be covered.

Ever wonder what your faith has to do with the way you live, and with issues that are facing the world?  Starting this Sunday, senior high youth are invited to join John Chalstrom on a six-week exploration of the United Methodist Social Principles.  Join us for this informative and inspiring class on Sundays at 9am.

It’s that time of year again!  Mark your calendars for our annual Pork Feed on September 28 to help raise money for our Next Generation Fund.  Once again, the Parker family will be providing the delicious main course, and we are asking you to bring a side dish to share.