xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Time Draws Near

The time draws near the birth of Christ;
The moon is hid--the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound.

Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate and now decrease,
Peace and good-will, good-will and peace,
Peace and good-will to all mankind.

Rise, happy morn! rise, holy morn!
Draw forth the cheerful day from night;
O Father! touch the east, and light
The light that shone when hope was born!

“The Birth of Christ”
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and yours all the hope, joy, and love of the Christ child, born anew in our lives.

Merry Christmas!


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

Despite the blizzard, tonight’s Christmas Eve service will continue as scheduled for 5:30 this evening. Please use your best judgment in deciding whether to come, and be safe as you travel. For those of you unable to attend, we will re-broadcast the service on DVD after the service this Sunday, down in the Fellowship Hall.


Magrey and his family will be traveling after Christmas, so the Mid-Week Message will resume on Wednesday, January 6. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jon, and Kate, and Tiger! Oh, My!

December 15, 2009

Dear Advent Stargazers,

This is the time of year when many preachers become cultural critics. American consumerism is a common target, mixed with the occasional rant against “Happy Holidays.” But lately I’ve thought about a more recent, subversive threat, exhibited in the names that fill our airwaves and our newsprint: Jon and Kate. Paris and Britney. Brad and Angelina. And, of course, Tiger.

We are addicted to celebrities.

The latest Newsweek magazine has a photo of Tiger Woods on the cover with the compelling headline: “Why We Can’t Look Away.” Inside is a cover story by Neal Gabler, titled “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Among his arguments is that our fascination with celebrities now goes beyond the art that they produce. Rather than being entertained merely by their character portrayals (as actors) or their thrilling victories (as athletes), we crave something more real: the lives of the celebrities themselves. We novelize them into a narrative that not only captivates us, but draws us together. In a time when we are deeply polarized along a myriad of cultural lines, tabloid stories have become our shared reference, our “modern denominators,” as Gabler calls them:

In the past, television, movies, music, even books were sources of national cohesion. Dramatically lower ratings for broadcast television, reduced film attendance, and plummeting CD sales have all loosened the national bonds. We have become a nation of niches. Celebrity is one of the few things that still crosses all lines. As disparate and stratified as Americans are, practically all of them seem to share an intense engagement, or at the very least an acquaintance, with the sagas of Jon and Kate or Brad and Angelina or Jennifer and whomever, which is oddly comforting. These are America's modern denominators, and in some ways Jon and Kate are our Fred and Ginger—not, obviously, talentwise, but in the way they provide escape and give us something we can all talk about. [1]

Gabler offers a serious indictment against American culture. We look to fallible, fame-addicted performers and transform their sordid narratives into sources for meaning. And when that happens, we can’t enough of them. We’ll read their tweets, Google their latest photos, and post updates on FaceBook. We embed them into our collective consciousness, preferring to follow their sensationalized lives rather than stories that contain any real value.

So when a story of genuine significance comes along, like the one about a God who became human so that we could learn true love, we don’t know how to respond. We treat it like ancient history, package it into something more marketable, or, worst of all, ignore it altogether.

This is a troubling trend for people of Advent, for we too are bound by a story replete with scandal. Jesus was born of a dubious pregnancy, under the jealous gaze of a paranoid king, in the midst of a people crushed by political and economic oppression. He was greeted by shepherds, not dignitaries; among animals, not royalty. If you want tabloid-grabbing headlines, then turn to the gospels.

But make no mistake: the story of Christ’s birth is no celebrity narrative. It is not a tale we construct to reflect our deepest desires for fame and fortune. It is not a tragic story of an ordinary man ascending the heights of notoriety, only to watch it all come crashing down. You won’t find this on Access Nazareth or E! True Bethlehem Story. Instead, this is a subversive tale, about a God who tossed aside the trappings of fame, in order to become ordinary like you and me. It is about God’s downward, not upward, mobility. And it doesn’t get more meaningful, or more real, than that.

So forget about Tiger, Jon and Kate, and Paris and Lindsey. Instead, focus on the only story that really matters. The story of a celebrity who became one of us. And if you need a reminder of how the story goes, then join us for worship this Sunday. The Chancel Choir will be presenting a lovely cantata titled, “Rise Up,” a musical retelling of the birth of Christ. It will be a wonderful way to detoxify yourself of the clashing cultural narratives around us, and help us focus on the only Celebrity that really matters to us.

Hope, Peace, and Joy,


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

[1] For the full text of Neal Gabler’s article, visit http://www.newsweek.com/id/226457/page/1)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Allison's Gift

December 8, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

When one of our youth, 12-year old Allison Van Vactor, thinks about her grandfather Jerry Sorensen, she beams with memories of fishing trips, building little wooden airplanes, and plenty of good times. But mostly, she remembers the big hugs. Not just gentle pats or courteous cuddles, but giant, cumulous cloud hugs. The kind you lose yourself in and forget all the cares in the world.

So when Jerry died of cancer last October, Allison was devastated. She had lost more than a family member, she lost a close friend, and the warmth of those hugs.

Then, weeks later, a baby sitter for Allison and her sister Alea brought some old fleece blankets and taught the girls an interesting new craft. After cutting off the finished borders, the girls cut the edges into strips and tied two blankets together. The result: Allison’s first tie blanket.

Feeling the warmth of the blanket’s embrace, Allison knew who needed to be the recipient of her first creation. She gave it to her grandmother, Mary Beth Sorensen, still grieving herself over the loss of her husband Jerry. The hug of that new blanket became for the two of them a vivified reminder of Jerry’s deep love.

Allison then had an inspired idea. What about sharing this special gift with more people, as a way of honoring her grandfather? She got right to work, securing more fleece blankets from the Hy Vee Drugstore, where her dad Jason is the manager. And after several weeks, she had created an impressive stack of twelve blankets. Believing she could make a difference in the lives of those who fought cancer just like her grandfather, she gave all of them to the oncology department of the Cherokee Regional Medical Center.

Last Thanksgiving Eve, Allison presented her blankets to Rita Comstock and other hospital personnel. They expressed their deep gratitude and said how impressed they were by this young lady’s thoughtfulness and generosity. But to Allison, this kind of benevolence should be the norm, not the exception.

“It’s always more important to give than it is to receive,” she said. [1]


I think about Allison in relation to a recent story in the New York Times, in which scientists have determined that cooperation and helpfulness are innate, not learned, human traits. [2] Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, writes in a new book titled “Why We Cooperate:”

One of the great debates in Western civilization is whether humans are born cooperative and helpful and society later corrupts them (e.g., Rousseau), or whether they are born selfish and unhelpful and society teaches them better (e.g., Hobbes). As with all great debates, both arguments undoubtedly have some truth on their side. I will argue and present evidence that from around their first birthdays – when they first begin to walk and talk and become truly cultural beings – human children are already cooperative and helpful in many, though obviously not all, situations. And they do not learn this from adults; it comes naturally.

If Dr. Tomasello’s theories are correct, then families play a critical role in fostering, not diminishing, a child’s natural sense of cooperation. And the same can be said of the role of the church. Otherwise, children can be corrupted by cultural forces that would convince them otherwise.

It is in that spirit of care for our children that you can be proud of the youth and children of St. Paul’s. In addition to Allison’s example, other kids are actively engaged in putting God’s love into action during this Advent season. Last Sunday, 16 of our youth gave up part of their weekend to serve the boys at the Midwest Christian Children’s Home in Peterson, Iowa. Using the money they raised at their cinnamon roll sale a few weeks ago, they purchased and delivered a microwave oven, a DVD/VCR player, and numerous books, toys, games, and videos. They then spent an afternoon socializing with the residents, playing games and bringing good cheer. Many of the boys and all of the staff expressed their gratitude for all that the St. Paul’s youth did to brighten the spirits of these boys.

This Sunday, you’ll be able to witness the joy of the Christmas message through the words and singing of our children’s ministry, who will be offering a program called “The Not-So-Silent Night.” It promises to be a creative, engaging addition to this Advent season, and you won’t want to miss it.

I can’t help but remember this Advent oracle from the prophet Isaiah: 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. (Isaiah 11:6) As we continue our journey to the Child who leads us to new hope, let us follow the lead of our own children, who can show us how to put God’s love into action.

Peace, 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

[1] To read the Cherokee Chronicle’s story about Allison’s gift, visit: http://www.chronicletimes.com/story/1590441.html
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01human.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1
[3] Tomasillo, Michael. “Why We Cooperate.” Boston: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Testament to Peace

December 1, 2009

Dear Advent Pilgrims,

The next time you’re in the downtown area, swing by the Sanford Museum Park, between the movie theater and Jane’s Salon. A few feet past the park benches, adjacent to the winding path of brick pavers, you’ll be greeted by a tall, eight-foot post, planted squarely between the two buildings. Looking more closely at the bright-green pole, you’ll notice three white plaques on each of the pole’s four sides, adorned with different languages in bold black lettering. Once you find the English version, you’ll discover what all the language proclaim in unison: “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”

Nearly two weeks ago, the Cherokee Peace Pole was planted as a lasting declaration for peace for our time. It joins the 200,000 Peace Poles in town squares, city halls, schools, gardens, and places of worship around the world. Among them is the one at Pasadena Community Church, my home church in St. Petersburg, Florida. I remember passing by it on a weekly basis on my way to worship and youth group meetings. Even back then, I thought the pole was a stirring way to connect our congregation with a witness for peace shared by communities near and far. And now our town joins the ranks of those who share that desire.

The thing that I am most proud of is how homegrown this pole is. It is not something that was ordered from a manufacturer and installed by a third party. It is the product of a community partnership, beginning with Sister Janice Hoffman, and members of this congregation and the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Thank you to Linda Burkhardt, Jenny Burroughs, and Jessica deVega for their efforts on the committee. Then, with approval from the Cherokee County Ministerial Association, we conceived the details of the pole, including the selected languages. We wanted to reflect all of the world’s major population groups, and represent the ethnic makeup of the people of Cherokee. So we decided on these translations:

English / German / Hebrew / Arabic
Chinese / Korean / Spanish / Swahili
Swedish / Indian / Gaelic / Lakota Sioux

Denny Holton from Holton Signs donated the parts and labor in designing the twelve plaques, and expertly attached them to the pole. The pole itself is a statement of ecological responsibility, as it is made of 100% recycled material and was generously donated by Steve Thomas of R.J. Thomas Manufacturing. The Depot Renovation, Inc. and Cherokee Lumber contributed additional resources for getting the project off the ground. Altogether, this is a wonderful collaboration of selfless people and fine companies in Cherokee.

And now you can see it for yourself. Sometime in the spring, we’ll invite you and the whole community to gather for a formal dedication of the Peace Pole, perhaps on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010. I can’t think of a better day to make a united pronouncement for peace with Christians around the world.


Of course, the timing of this announcement isn’t bad either. On this second Sunday of Advent, we’ll hear the timeless words of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin and the forerunner of his arrival. With the boldness of a prophet and the artistry of a poet, John minced no words in telling the people to shape up:

'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

In classic covenantal language, John offers both a promise and a prescription. Yes, the Lord is coming to fill every valley, plane the rough edges, and straighten out the crooked. But we have a responsibility: Prepare the way. Straighten up. Get our act together. Though the promise of peace will be realized someday, it will only come when we share in its creation.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our Advent sermon series called “What Child is This?” We’ll explore different aspects of this child who is to be born fresh and anew in our midst, and discover the implications that his arrival bears in our lives. This week, we’ll focus more on John the Baptist’s declaration with a sermon titled, “A Child Who Sets Things Straight.” And we’ll conclude the service by gathering at the communion table, the best nourishment for our Advent journey.

See you on the road,


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

(for more information about peace poles, visit www.peacepoles.com)

Luke 3:1-6
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,
2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dear Baby Jesus?

November 24, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Given our assumptions about Christmas, one would think the gospels were written by either Currier or Ives. We delight in tranquil nativity scenes of lowing cattle and nightscapes both silent and holy. The Christ of our imagination is born under twinkling angel light, when all is calm, and all is bright. But such imagery is fabled, if not fabricated. The gospels portray a birth narrative replete with danger and paranoia, filled with the stress of census crowds, the threatened throne of an angry king, and the pulsing contractions of painful labor.

Make no mistake: the first Advent was neither silent nor calm.

Yet, our tendency is to sterilize the story for our comfort. We favor plastic cheer over steady discipline, and sedation over somber reflection. We prefer a God who coos and cuddles, rather than one who demands and challenges. Jesus, after all, came to us as a baby: innocent, cute, and charming. How could a God who gurgles and grins be anything but adorable?

The problem, of course, is that constructing a god who pleases us, who offers on-demand, real-time service for our desires, is nothing short of idolatry. And the only cure for that kind of false veneration is to open ourselves up to the possibility of surprise. To a God who comes in ways we least expect.

A God of Advent.

I’m reminded of the scene from Will Ferrell’s comedy movie Talladega Nights, in which his character Ricky Bobby offers grace before a family dinner. His prayer is as silly as it is self-centered, but it does embody the kind of idolatry we assume when we worship a god we create on our own terms:

RICKY: Dear Lord Baby Jesus, or as our brothers in the South call you, Hay-zoos, we thank you so much for this bountiful harvest of Dominos, KFC, and the always delicious Taco Bell. Dear tiny, infant Jesus - -

CARLY (Ricky’s Wife): Hey, um, you know, sweetie. Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd to pray to a baby.

CAL (Ricky’s Friend): Well, look, I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to “Grown Up Jesus,” or “Teenage Jesus,” or “Bearded Jesus,” or whatever Jesus you want.

CARLY: You know what I want? I want you to do this grace good so that God will let us win tomorrow.

CAL: Dear tiny Jesus, with golden fleece diapers, with your tiny, little, fat, balled-up fists -


RICKY: Look! I like the baby version the best, do you hear me? I win the races and I get the money!

CARLY: Ricky, finish the grace!

RICKY: Okay. Dear 8 pound, 6 ounce, newborn, infant Jesus - don’t even know a word yet. Just so infant and cuddly, but still omnipotent - we just thank you for all the races we’ve won and the 21.2 million dollars I’ve won…..We thank you for all your power and grace, dear baby God. Amen.


Thankfully, there is no gospel according to Currier and Ives, or Ricky Bobby for that matter. Instead, we are guided by Advent Scriptures like Jeremiah 33:14-16 that open us up and show us a God who shocks us into a new reality.

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

Forget about a helpless baby with golden fleece diapers and fat, tiny fists. This is a God who comes to us with power and strength, with command and authority, and we best be ready when that time comes.

It’s an idea powerfully proclaimed by Alfred Delp, the Jesuit priest who stood up to the Nazi regime and was eventually hanged for his treason. In his sermon “The Shaking Reality of Advent,” he summons an awakening to Advent’s true intent:

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. In this way we force reality to take us to itself by force - by force, in much pain and suffering. 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 with God's promises, which constitute the hidden happiness of this time. These promises kindle the inner light in our hearts. Being shattered, being awakened - only with these is life made capable of Advent.

During this blessed season, we are asking the question of the timeless Christmas carol: What Child is This? We will discover that this God is one who calls, not coos, and shocks us out of our steady holiday diet of tinsel and toys in order to be people of discipline and preparation. His arrival is assured, for this God is faithful and reliable. But our task is not merely to wait and anticipate; it is to prepare and make his path straight.

Join us for the next four Sundays, as we observe a vigilant, attentive Advent. May we allow this God to surprise us, and shake us, once again.

Peace, 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

Luke 21:25-36
25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
27 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees;
30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.
33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly,
35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.
36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

What Child is This?
Advent 2009

“A Child Who Brings Surprise”
Jeremiah 33:14-16, Luke 21:25-36
November 29

“A Child Who Sets Things Straight”
Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6
December 6

Children’s Christmas Musical
December 13

“Rise Up”
Chancel Choir Cantata
December 20

“The King Who Feared the Child”
Isaiah 9:2-7, Luke 2:1-20
December 24
Christmas Eve Service at 5:30pm

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finances and Feelings

November 17, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The other day my older daughter Grace asked me to describe my happiest memories. I told her about the moments she and her sister were born, about the day I married their mother, and about the night I was ordained a minister. She agreed that those were good memories and was satisfied by those answers.

But what if she asked me to assign a monetary figure to those events, with a question like, “Daddy, what was the dollar value of those happy memories?” In other words, how much money would I have to get in order to feel as happy as any of those events? $5,000? $10,000? More?

Would that seem like an odd question? That’s the one posed by an Australian professor named Paul Frijters, who this past week published the results of a surprising eight-year study. [1] After surveying 10,000 people, he developed dollar values to the emotional effects of events such as marriage, childbirth, divorce, and home purchases. Positive dollar amounts indicated “psychic benefits,” and negative dollar amounts showed “psychic costs.” For example:

· A man getting married feels like he just received $32,000. To women, it only feels like $16,000.
· Divorce feels like a $110,000 loss to a man, but only $9,000 to a woman.
· The death of a spouse or a child feels like minus -$130,900 to a woman, and a whopping $627,300 deficit to a man.
· And moving into a new home? A positive $2,600 for a woman, and a negative $16,000 to a man.

Frijters suggests that the study’s value might be in assisting insurance companies and lawyers in assigning dollar compensations for certain life events. He summarizes his study with this statement: “Losing or gaining money can offset the effect of other life events quite well, and that is what we are formally looking at - the amount needed to offset an event or keep someone happiness-neutral.”

I don’t know about you, but the word outlandish comes to mind.

You know as well as I do: you cannot quantify your feelings with dollar signs, and you cannot put a price tag on life’s most significant moments. Yet that is precisely the subversive cultural myth pervading our airwaves, advertisements, and innermost drives to accumulate. The only solution to this kind of wayward thinking is to align our finances around the biblical principles of generosity and stewardship. It’s captured in Jesus’ words to his disciples:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 6:19-21)

This Sunday, we will have an opportunity to set our treasure right where it belongs: in the hands of the God who grants us joy, peace, and an abundant life that no dollar sign can define. We’ll offer our pledge cards designating our financial commitment for 2010, and then celebrate all of God’s good gifts to us in our annual Thanksgiving luncheon.

Let’s get our priorities straight, and experience true joy, through contentment and generosity.

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

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/national/money-can-buy-you-love-economist-says-20091115-igd8.html

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Cure for the Common Cold Heart

November 10, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

It’s rare that Hollywood movie releases coincide with a church sermon series, but last weekend’s number one film was the debut of A Christmas Carol. This latest version of Charles Dickens’ classic features Jim Carrey as the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” Ebeneezer Scrooge. And in preparation for watching the movie this week, I re-read parts of the book. Once again, I was struck by Dickens’ vivid wordsmithing in describing the crusty main character:

The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice…. External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.

Feel the chills yet? Scrooge was one cold customer. Of course, by the end of the story, old Ebeneezer discovered that the only antidote to his cold heart was a warm dose of generosity. After confronting the ghosts of his past, present, and future, he chose to live a life of self-giving love.

Dickens’ classic makes it clear: Generosity is the cure for the common cold heart.

It’s a point reinforced by our scripture passage for this Sunday. Consider how Proverbs contrasts the Scrooge inside each of us with a life transformed by generosity and love:.

Some give freely, yet grow all the richer;
others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.
A generous person will be enriched,
and one who gives water will get water.
Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favour,
but evil comes to the one who searches for it.
Those who trust in their riches will wither,
but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.

There is an old Jewish story about two brothers who were in the flour milling business. One was married with children, the other was single. As equal partners in the business, they made an agreed that at the end of each day, they would take any extra flour that had been milled and divide it into equal shares, with each brother taking his share into his storehouse.

But one day the single brother thought, "Here I am, unmarried with only myself to care for and my brother has a wife to support and children to feed. It isn't fair to divide the flour evenly. My brother should have more of the flour. So that night, under the cover of darkness so as not to embarrass his brother, he took a bag of flour from his own inventory and secretly left the flour in his brother’s storehouse.

But at that very moment, the other brother thought, "Here I am with the richness of a family. I have a wife. I have children, and my brother has no one to take care of him when he gets old. It's not fair to divide the flour evenly. My brother should get more, so he too took some of his flour and slipped it into his brother's storehouse. Every night, unbeknownst to the other, each brother did this, always amazed the next day that the level of flour in their storehouses appeared never to diminish.

Then, one night, their arms laden with sacks of flour, they met each other in the darkness and realized what had been happening all along. With tears of loving joy, the two brothers embraced. And according to the old tale, when God saw this, God touched that spot on the earth and said, "This is where I will build my house. For my house must always be a place of great joy."

Over and over again, the scriptures are clear. If you want to experience real, full joy, you must live a life of generosity. It is no wonder that a tenth of the gospels and a third of the parables deal with our relationship with money, for there are few greater obstacles to God’s joy than selfishness, greed, and an unhealthy relationship with money.

Join us this Sunday as we continue our stewardship sermon series “Enough: Experiencing Joy through Contentment and Generosity.” We’ll learn practical ways to get our financial world ordered around God’s values and open our hearts to God’s promise and provision. And if you weren’t in church last Sunday to pick up your stewardship packet, one is coming to you by mail. Or, you can stop by the church office to pick one up.

Together, let’s discover the cure for the common cold heart, and experience the warmth of real joy.

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

Proverbs 11:24-31
24 Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.
25 A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.
26 The people curse those who hold back grain, but a blessing is on the head of those who sell it.
27 Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favour, but evil comes to the one who searches for it.
28 Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves.
29 Those who trouble their households will inherit wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise.
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away.
31 If the righteous are repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Worship, Grow, Care, and Share

November 3, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

At last night’s Charge Conference, St. Paul’s received my annual report to the congregation, highlighting some of our many accomplishments throughout the past year. In case you were unable to attend, I invite you to read the report below and celebrate all that God has done through your faithfulness and commitment over the past year.


The best way to consider all the ways that St. Paul’s has put God’s love into action is to do so in the context of our four-fold mission statement:

WORSHIP: We worship with joy, because Christ is among us and deserves our praise.

  • Last spring, St. Paul’s fulfilled one of the goals of the 2020 Vision Plan by expanding the musical offerings of the church and engaging new volunteers in music ministry. Under the direction of Dr. David Klee, we started a new praise band, which leads worship monthly. They have offered a fresh, contemporary addition to our worship experience.

  • Our sermon series have been varied and relevant, and have included series on the life of David, on refreshing one’s faith, and on living the resurrection.

GROW: We grow in our faith, practicing every day what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

  • We have fulfilled the goal of our 2020 Vision Plan by starting four new small groups this Fall: “Jesus the One and Only,” “The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen,” “Companions in Christ,” and “The Miracle of Life Change.” Thanks to C.W. Miller, John Chalstrom, Marilyn Brubaker, Mollie Johnson, and Andrea Cook for their leadership. A number of first time small group attendees were part of these new groups.

  • Children’s and Youth Ministry continue to be vibrant and active. The youth went on a Ski Trip in February, and did a service project at the Midwest Christian Children’s Home in the Spring. The Children had the best Vacation Bible School ever, and raised money to purchase dozens of pairs of shoes for underprivileged children locally and around the world through TOM’s Shoes.

CARE: We care for each other as an encouraging, supportive, and growing family.

  • We fulfilled the goal of our 2020 Vision Plan of establishing a new Helping Hands program, designed to link the skills and energy of people in the congregation to assist other people with basic needs. This year we have helped many individuals with yard work, car rides to the doctor and to church, home repair, and packing/moving. Thanks to Sheree Hausmann, Marlene Kelly, and all the Helping Hands volunteers for launching this new program so successfully.

  • Under the direction of our new Administrative Assistant, Andrea Cook, we have a new team of ten people who make weekly visits to our shut-ins and nursing home residents. They deliver a CD recording of the service, the weekly bulletin, and check on them for pastoral and personal concerns. It has been a wonderful addition to our caring ministries.

SHARE: We share with others to meet their physical and spiritual needs, and invite all people to faith in Christ.

  • We celebrate once again being a Third-Mile Rainbow Covenant Missions congregation, and are on track for that same designation at the end of this year. We received special offerings for the Kies’ family, Nothing But Nets, and TOM’s shoes. We are also up to date on apportionment giving for the year.

  • In February, we hosted the first-ever Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race and Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, which involved over 80 racers and included hundreds of Shrove Tuesday worshippers and diners. The event raised the visibility of both St. Paul’s and the town of Cherokee, in the spirit of ecumenical cooperation with many other local churches. It garnered regional media coverage on newspaper, radio, and television, and we are looking forward to another great race next February. The fundraiser raised over $1,000 for the two local food pantries. Thanks to John Cook and the Adult Class for spearheading this memorable, and highly effective, evangelistic and missional event.

  • In September, we improved our hospitality to visitors by redesigning our Sunday worship bulletin. The new bulletin communicates clearly the mission, vision, and values of the church to everyone in attendance, and more effectively solicits prayer requests and first-time visitor information from people in the pews. We have already seen improvements in the way people are informed of ministry opportunities, and enhanced our ability to prayer needs.

Finally, the Building Committee has been very busy in fulfilling the Campus Facilities goals listed in our 2020 Vision Plan. We approved the purchase of the two residential lots south of the church for the purpose of additional parking, and have secured the services of both an architect and contractor to begin work on the lots in upcoming months. The committee has met nearly every other week with the architect to work on plans for the three-story education wing, focusing on improvements to the kitchen, dining hall, fellowship hall, basement level, classrooms, and façade of the education wing. We anticipate that a completed plan will be proposed to the congregation, along with the start of a new capital campaign, sometime in the next year.

These have been exciting, fruitful days in the life of the St. Paul’s congregation, as we continue to live into our vision and fulfill the goals of our long-term plan. Many thanks to the lay leadership and faithful support of the people of this church. Together, we are truly putting God’s love into action, with an exciting future ahead of us.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, October 26, 2009

The Mirrors of Christ

October 27, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Saints,

G.K. Chesterton once described St. Francis of Assisi as a “Mirror of Christ,” just as the moon is a mirror to the sun. Since staring at the sun damages our eyes, the moon enables us to see the sun’s light without harm. So it is with the saints, who reflect Christ’s light as mere mortals like ourselves. “Christ, being God’s son,” Chesterton wrote, “may seem too bright, like the sun itself, too holy for us to look at long enough to see our lives in him. But Francis, like the moon, is closer to us, a mere mortal, a bearable reflection of the sun’s light.” [1]

With similar affection, I recall the mirrors of my own past, many of whom are now long gone. There was Ruth Ferrell, my second-grade teacher who first introduced me to a Jesus who loved me. Her tender words and gentle ways embodied and expressed a divine love. There was Harold Byrd, a kind, elderly neighbor who jimmy-rigged broomsticks into fishing poles. I’d visit him every day, sit in the pretend-boat on his driveway (two lawn chairs) and waste away the hours talking, listening, laughing, and “fishing.” And there was Ed Norman, my family’s first pastor in the United States, who shepherded a congregation we would warmly call home.

Today, there are living reflections, saints I am still privileged to see: Paul Shedd, a Spanish teacher who taught me humility and service; Mike and Nancy Gilson, my church youth leaders who welcomed this bashful Filipino teen into their fold and taught me acceptance and self-confidence. Jack Stroman, the senior pastor of the church that confirmed me, formed me, and called me into ministry.

I suspect it would not take long for you to gather your own list of saints. Family and friends, teachers and pastors, past and present - - these are your Mirrors of Christ. And if we join our collective gaze to the past, we would recall shared ancestors whose reflected light illuminates our path today. Among those saints we would include:

· Hildegard of Bingen: the Christian mystic who saw the nurturing quality of God and described the Living Light of Love that drives the universe.

· Meister Eckhart: the passionate spiritualist who believed that we could engage God with our whole minds.

· Julian of Norwich: the wondrous visionary, who modeled how to be enveloped by the warm, comforting love of Christ.

· George Herbert: the British wordsmith whose poetry portrayed an extraordinary God in the midst of our ordinary lives.

· Swami Abhishiktananda: the French Benedictine monk who linked Hindu and Christian spirituality. He taught that “praying is simply believing that we are living into the mystery of God.”

· Charles de Foucauld: the Catholic priest who lived in the deserts of North Africa. He tapped into the power of Christian communal living for the sake of the world’s needy.

· Dorothy Day: the American journalist who advocated for the poor, convinced that they needed more than a handout; they needed a defender and a voice.

· Dietrich Bonhoeffer: the Lutheran minister who stood up to the Nazis and warned of a “religionless Christianity” based on “cheap” grace.

Each one, in their own way, reflect the light of Christ for us.

This Sunday is All Saints’ Sunday, when we remember the “great cloud of witnesses” testified in Hebrews 12. We will hear the names of members of this church who have died since last November and light a candle in their memory. And as we gather around the communion table, I invite you to think of the words of Geddes MacGregor, author of The Rhythm of God, He described a priest who, when asked, 'How many people were at the early celebration of the Eucharist last Wednesday morning?' replied, 'There were three old ladies, the janitor, several thousand archangels, a large number of seraphim, and several million of the triumphant saints of God.' Such a 'cloud of witnesses' answers a deep human urge to be part of something larger, to not stand alone, to give our little lives meaning. One drop of water, left alone, evaporates quickly. But one drop of water in the immense sea endures." [2]

Join us this Sunday, as we hone our collective gaze on the saints, see the light of Christ among us, and remember that we are never alone.

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

[1] Howell, James. Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2000. 5.
[2] MacGregor, Geddes. The Rhythm of God: A Philosophy of Worship. Seabury Press, 1974.

Join us for a time of celebration and connection with other local United Methodist congregations. We will also tend to the important annual business of St. Paul’s, including ministry goals and the church budget. The event is next Monday, November 2, at 7pm in our sanctuary. Every member of the church is a voting member of the Charge Conference.

Be sure to adjust your clocks back one hour prior to bedtime Saturday night, in observance of the end of Daylight Savings Time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Life in the Narrative Gaps

October 20, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Most biblical scholars agree that the public ministry of Jesus spanned three and a half years. But considering that the gospels only record about seven total months of activity, there are about thirty months of unaccounted time in Jesus’ ministry. In seminary, I learned to call these blanks in the biblical accounts “narrative gaps,” for which we are left to interpret and fill for ourselves.

We can imagine that if the Bible had a message board, it would be filled with questions like these:

· Jesus, what really happened on those “silent days?”
· What did you feel after a day when no one was healed or you didn’t preach a word?
· Did you ever have a day filled with nothing but bickering disciples and pesky critics?
· How about a whole day with nothing but meetings and paperwork?
· What were the “days after” like? Like the day after you fed the hungry crowd? Or the day after you raised Lazarus? The day after you walked on water? Were those down days for you? They had to pale by comparison.

I wonder about these things because it seems a majority of our time is also spent in the “narrative gaps.” Sure, we could all identify significant faith moments that evoke memories of profound spiritual significance. But at the end of many days – most days – we think back and wonder whether we’ve seen the gospel embodied at all.

Not when you and I are busy hunting for matching socks for our kids to wear in the morning. Not when we’re stuck in line at the grocery story behind the person who needs every purchase price-checked. Not when we’re waiting to get our driver’s license renewed. Not when we’re home all day fighting the flu.

In case you’re wondering, this is as common for pastors as it is for lay people. I can remember many nights when Jessica would ask about my day upon my return home. Rather than unpacking the whole day’s worth of staff disputes and long, droning meetings, I would simply respond, “I don’t think I saw the Kingdom built at all today.”

On these days, it seems we have only two options. The first is to over spiritualize each moment. To look for God as we’re driving, search for God as we’re laundering, think about God as we’re writing our bills. It’s certainly fine – even healthy - to stretch and extend our Godward reach. But doing so without caution runs the risk of manufacturing a divine presence simply on our own terms for our own needs, a sure definition of idolatry if ever there was one.

The other option is to give in to frustration and believe that Jesus never had days like these, which means we must be doing something wrong. But that option makes him more out of reach, and much less approachable than what the Incarnation intends. If we really believe that God became human, to experience all the profundity of human existence, then we have to believe that Jesus had days like these.

So, just like silence can bring meaning to music, the narrative gaps in the gospels remind us that the whole of the Christian life is not only in the sum of its significant moments. It is all-encompassing, including the most mundane and the most trivial. Fortunately for us, God’s presence in every moment of our lives is not contingent on our ability to perceive it. It is ever-present, invisible as air, gentle as the breeze, and as powerful as the wind.

See you in the gaps,


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

This Sunday our sermon series focuses on one of the most difficult and commonly asked questions of the spiritual life. What do we really believe about healing and miracles? Perhaps you or someone you know is struggling with that question even now, so let’s join together in searching the scriptures for answers. We’ll have James 5:13-20 as our primary text for a sermon titled, “When All Else Fails: What Do We Really Believe About Healing and Miracles?”

Q. What is the church’s progress on developing the parking lot on the newly acquired properties?

A. The Building Committee has been meeting every other week with our architect to draw up plans, and has decided that the most fiscally responsible course would be to proceed with adding approximately ten spaces along the western edge of the lot, to be accessed as street side parking similar to the spots outside the west door of the church. The project would also modify the sidewalk from our west door to the alley to provide a gentle slope and eliminate the rather high curb. All of the necessary approvals with the city. The goal is to get as much work done before the cold weather hits, then resume work in the spring as weather permits.

Q. Why not develop the rest of the new property at this time?
A. The remainder of the property will be beautified but initially left without parking until a suitable long term parking arrangement is developed. The most accessible parking along the street was first priority. Parking on the rest of the lot will come after some retaining wall, drainage and parking layout issues are fully resolved. The Building Committee has decided at least for now to proceed with the street side parking, since that will be the same regardless of what happens to the rest of the property.

Q. How is all of this going to be paid for, given the church’s current operating budget concerns?
We anticipate a Capital Campaign sometime next year to underwrite the parking lot and all of the improvements to the kitchen, fellowship hall, dining hall, and education wing. Any expenses or loans related to the parking lot will be paid out of Capital Campaign pledges at that time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

M.D. / M.Div

October 13, 2009

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The idea that John Wesley, ordained Anglican priest and founder of the Methodist movement, would pen a volume on medicine and personal health might seem a little odd to our contemporary hearing. After all, our culture has a fairly defined separation between faith and reason, between religion and science. We would no more ask a doctor to conduct a baptism than we would ask a pastor to perform surgery. So the fact that Wesley dispensed medical advice in a widely distributed book would seem like an anachronistic anomaly (which itself sounds like a medical condition!)

But in digging around for choice nuggets for this Sunday, I came across a wonderful article from last December’s Yale Journal of Biological Medicine, written by Daniel E. Hall, a surgeon and ordained minister.[1] While his essay mainly explored the intrinsic connections between the altar table and the surgical table, he did a wonderful job tracking the joined history of medicine and religion throughout human civilization.

I did not know, for example, that while the practice of medicine has been around for millennia, the institution of hospitals did not exist until the monastic era, when monks were trained in the healing arts and even grew medicinal plants on monastery grounds. A notable physician-priest named Niels Stensen (1638-1686) is best known for discovering the parotid gland duct which now bears his name (ductus stenonianus). Later, he would convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism, become Bishop of Titiopolis, and write more than a dozen theological volumes.

In 17th century England, it was quite common to see clergy with both theological and medical training. So when young Puritan clergy found it difficult to find appointments within the Church of England, they fell back on their medical expertise for alternate sources of income. In fact, many English universities included medical courses among the curriculum for divinity students. In 18th century America, Methodist circuit riders often practiced medicine out on the frontier along with their pastoral duties, following the example of Wesley, whose medical guide Primitive Physick became a bestseller throughout England.

Dr. Hall concludes this fascinating survey with this surprising statistic. By his count, there are 230 individuals in the United States who today serve as “physician clergy,” ordained ministers who serve as psychiatrists, surgeons, and other medical specialties. And a good friend of mine in Tampa, having worked decades as a cardiologist, is now exploring hospital chaplaincy during his retirement years. He says his new mission statement is “I will seek more to comfort than cure, treat the soul more than the heart, and foster the healing of reconciliation for all.” His is a wonderful example of the holistic healing which Christians have understood throughout history.

I find all of this fascinating, not only because of my own background (a Bachelor’s degree in Biology/Pre-Med and a Master’s of Divinity degree.) I also think there is great congruity between the healing that takes place in one’s body and that which takes place in one’s spirit. Throughout the gospels, Jesus’ ministry is portrayed as healing and teaching, tending to people’s physical and spiritual needs.

It is that conviction that lies at the heart of our current sermon series on personal health, and draws us to this Sunday, when we’ll take a closer look at the medical advice dispensed in Wesley’s little volume. We’ll also hear the story of Naaman, the foreign general who came to the prophet Elisha for healing. We’ll discover how he received more than healing for his leprosy, but a cure for his prideful spirit as well.

See you this Sunday!


2 Kings 5:1-5
1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favour with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.
2 Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.
3 She said to her mistress, ‘If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’
4 So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said.
5 And the king of Aram said, ‘Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.’

[1] http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=2605310

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Daniel's Defiant Diet

October 6, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Before the lion’s den and the fiery furnace, the story of Daniel begins with a simple meal.  Whisked away to a foreign land and forced into a boot camp for enslaved exiles, Daniel had everything taken from him, including his homeland, his future, and even his name:  Daniel (“God is my judge”) became Belteshazzar, “Prince of the King.”
The only details we’re given of his time in training was the menu.  He was commanded to eat the king’s royal rations, which included foods that were as unholy as they were unhealthy.  But what they lacked in nutritional value, they compensated in theological symbolism.  Eating these foods would mean allegiance to the king, and adherence to his pagan ways.
So Daniel had a choice to make:  Bend to the culture and eat junk, or stay true to the God of the Hebrews and stay fit.  And for Daniel, this was a no-brainer.  His choice to eat only vegetables and water rather than the king’s food was based on more than dietary reasons.  It was an act of spiritual allegiance.   
He dispelled the old cliché, “You are what you eat” and chose to believe,  “You eat what you want to become.”  
If you want to be just like the culture around you, then consume it.  Gobble it up voraciously, and hoard it for yourself.  But if you want to be a follower of God, set apart for a unique purpose to make a difference in the world, then start with the way you treat your own body.  What you do with your physical well-being is the most solemn, and most basic, act of stewardship you’ll ever offer.  Because you cannot do what God calls you to do if you don’t take care of the body God has given you.

It’s the same principle portrayed in the 1981 Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire, in which the character Eric Liddell viewed running as a way of glorifying God.  He competed in the 1924 Olympics prior to serving as a missionary in China, and when his sister Jennie questioned Eric’s commitment to missionary service in lieu of his training, Eric responded, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  Liddell knew that his service to God began with a commitment to his own physical well-being, and that stewardship of his body gave God great pleasure.
This Sunday, we’ll hear more of the story of Daniel and his friends, and learn how they fared (no pun intended) in this fabled food experiment.  More importantly, we’ll hear sage words of advice from health care professionals in our community and learn practical ways for us to take care of our bodies.  It’s all part of our current sermon series on health called, “To Your Health:  God’s Prescription for a Healthy Life.”  And as a reminder, keep on walking!  We’ve been doing a great job engaging in physical exercise as a congregation for our 25 million step challenge.  Report your steps to the office or on an attendance sheet this Sunday.
See you Sunday!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Circle That Takes Us In

September 29, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Stan Mooneyham is a former director of World Vision, a charitable agency that combats global poverty and hunger. At a national gathering of religious leaders from a wide spectrum of faith traditions - Catholic and Protestant, conservative and liberal – conversations quickly devolved into sharp disagreements and fractious arguments.  At the end of the first day of meetings, a weary Mooneyham was ready to relinquish to someone else the role of facilitating these discussions.
But the next day, an inspired Mooneyham turned to a flip chart and drew a number of little dots, each with a circle around them.  He told the bickering leaders that this was how they perceived themselves and their relationships with others – as isolated individuals hedged by self-protection.
Then, Mooneyham drew a large, all-encompassing circle around all the dots, and read a portion of Edwin Markhams’s poem, “Outwitted:”
            He drew a circle that shut me out –
            Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
            But Love and I had the wit to win:
            We drew a circle that took him in.

Mooneyham concluded, “I may not be in your circle, but you are in mine, and there is nothing you can do to get out.  You can’t resign, walk out, or run away. If you try it, I will just draw a bigger circle.”  
Immediately, the bitterness and strain in the room evaporated, as each person recognized their own protective bubbles, and remembered that God’s wide circle included everyone in the whole world. Starting that day and for the rest of their time together, Mooneyham and the religious leaders had the most productive time building relationships that World Vision had ever experienced. [1]
I wonder sometimes if God looks at the global church and wearies of its divisions.  Disagreements over doctrine, polity, and liturgy seem to spawn more division and less dialogue, more cracks and less common understanding.  As my friend Jim Harnish likes to say, “We all tend to draw circles defining who’s in and who’s out.  And inevitably, we draw those circles around ourselves.”
It is in these moments that we can remember the words of the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy:”
           For the Love of God is broader / Than the measure of our mind;
            And the heart of the Eternal / Is most wonderfully kind.
            If our love were but more simple / We should rest upon God’s word;
            And our lives would be illumined / By the presence of our Lord.

If God’s mercy is so wide, and God’s love so all-encompassing, why do we try so hard to monopolize it for ourselves?  In the end, shouldn’t our efforts to define who’s right and who’s wrong defer to the realization that we are all in this kingdom building business together?
The need for this reminder is what makes observing World Communion Sunday every year so important.  It reminds us that our little patch of ground on Sixth and Main has not cornered the market on Christian expression, and that we are connected to a cosmic family that stretches as much across time as it does around the globe.  And regardless of the differences we have with other denominations (indeed, even with other United Methodists!), there is a wideness to God’s mercy. A wide, all-encompassing circle of love.
Read this quote by Cyprian, the third century bishop in North Africa.  It’s long, but well worth the effort.
The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness.  As there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in the sources.  Separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not allow a division of light; break a branch from a tree, - when broken, it will not be able to bud; cut off the stream from its fountain, and that which is cut off dries up.  Thus also the Church, shone over with the light of the Lord, sheds forth her rays over the whole world, yet it is one light which is everywhere diffused, nor is the unity of the body separated.  Her fruitful abundance spreads her branches over the whole world.  She broadly expands her rivers, liberally flowing, yet her head is one, her source one; and she is one mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness; from her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are animated. [2]
Join us this Sunday as we observe our global connection with the body of Christ around the world.  We are grateful once again to Judi Klee, who will be providing breads from around the world made in her restaurant The Spice Rack (www.homemadepizzelles.com).  Let’s be the rays of light, united for the world.
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

[1] Toycen, David.  The Power of Generosity:  How to Transform Yourself and Your World.  (Waynesboro, GA:  Authentic Media, 2004)
[2] Nicene and Post-Nice Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Vol. VIII (New York:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Pubishing Co.) pp. 15-16.

Thank you to everyone who helped to make our Children's Sabbath a fun and memorable service.  It would not have been possible without our Sunday School students and teachers, those who worked the sound booth, our organist, pianist, and bell choir director, the UMW for providing the materials, and of course all those who brought breakfast cereals.  45 boxes of cereal were donated and will be taken to Mid Sioux. We will also be able to count this as part of our Rainbow Covenant Missions program.
Thank you for all you did to support another successful pork feed.  Thanks to the Parker’s for the delicious tenderloins, and for the hard work of Jeff Blum, the Adult Class, and the Finance Committee.  We raised over $1,000 for the Next Generation Fund, and we congratulate the following persons for their award-winning recipes:
   “Pastor’s Winner”  (Healthiest and Most Flavorful):  Kay O’Connor; Runners Up:  Mary Chisman and Bu Fee.
  “Congeniality Award”  (Best Appearance, and Able to Accompany Everything):  Jenny Burroughs
  “People’s Choice”  (Most Indulgent and Best Tasting, when the Pastor’s Not Looking): Betty Forrest
  “Kid’s Choice”  (Children’s Favorite)  Patty Blum
We are happy to provide child care for your child, ages 0 to 2nd Grade.  3rd Graders and older are encouraged to attend the worship service with their parents.  Busy bags to occupy them are available in the lobby of the sanctuary.  In accordance with our new Child Protection Policy, please sign your child in, listing your child’s name and check-in time.  You will need to be the one to sign-out your child, unless you give instruction to the staff that someone else will be picking your child up.  Also, so that you may be contacted immediately on campus in the event of an emergency, please pick up a pager and write down the number on the sign-in sheet.  Alternatively, you may leave your cell phone number. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Point of Saturation

September 22, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
In April 2007, Plymouth County hosted an event to raise awareness of child abuse throughout the state.  Among the exhibitors was the Child Advocacy Board (CAB), who displayed eight pairs of children’s shoes – each signifying a child in Iowa killed in the previous year as a result of abuse.  Visitors were visibly shaken by the display, and left with a profound sense of loss and a determined commitment to the cause.
Given the powerful response to that image, the CAB offered the same exhibit the following year.  In 2008, the number of abuse-related deaths jumped to sixteen, so they increased the corresponding number of shoes in the display. Naturally, they assumed an even greater reaction from attendees:  a doubling of shoes should evoke an exponential increase in anger and passion.  But they were wrong. This time, visitors casually walked by, virtually unaffected by the symbolism.
Planners were perplexed.  Why would eight shoes generate such a strong response, but sixteen result in apparent apathy?
Psychologists would suggest that somewhere between eight and sixteen was a point of saturation, that point in which the scale of the problem became too overwhelming for individuals to handle.  When the number was small, people could relate intimately with individual children, conceiving faces, names, families, and stories. But beyond that number, the problem became too overwhelming, prompting people to distance themselves from the issue out of sheer helplessness.
In preparing for this Sunday’s Children’s Sabbath, I read the following statistics, which seem pretty overwhelming, way past my own point of saturation.  According to the Children’s Defense Fund (www.childrensdefense.org
), every day in America:
  • 78 babies die before their first birthdays.
  • 404 children are arrested for a drug crime.
  • 928 babies are born at low birthweight.
  • 1,154 babies are born to teen mothers.
  • 2,224 babies are born without health insurance.
  • 2,479 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.
  • 2,583 babies are born into poverty.

These numbers seem too huge for us to conceive, let alone associate with individual children.  Rather than use this data to prompt us to action, it is much easier for us to lump these statistics together and sigh with a collective feeling of powerlessness.  Or, worse still, a sense of apathy.
I think that is why the gospel writers share this poignant episode in the ministry of Jesus, who likely never heard the term point of saturation but surely knew the importance of putting a face on a problem:
He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  (Matthew 18:2-5)
The next time you feel overwhelmed by the growing crisis of global poverty and disease, remember that Jesus could envision the Kingdom of God in the face of a little child.  While statistics can seem daunting, they essentially represent individual children, each created with their own unique God-given potential. And it is to such as these that the Kingdom belongs.
This Sunday we observe the Children’s Sabbath, a program sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund and endorsed by the United Methodist Women. It is a worship service led by the children of this congregation and highlights the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of other kids around the world.  Come be inspired to do your part in fulfilling this year’s theme: “Create Change for Children Today: Bring Hope for a Better Tomorrow.” In conjunction with the service, you are invited to bring breakfast foods with you as a donation to the local food pantry at Mid-Sioux Opportunities, Inc.
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

September 27
“Create Change for Children Today: Bring Hope for a Better Tomorrow”
Why Should Christians Care about Children and Poverty?
(Children’s Sabbath)
October 4
“Hungry World, Hungry Souls”
Why Should Christians Care about Global Hunger?
(World Communion Sunday)
October 11
“Let’s Get Physical”
How Do We Get Healthy?
(A Forum with Health Care Professionals)
October 18
“Paging Dr. Wesley”
What Did John Wesley Say about Health?

October 25
“When All Else Fails….”
What Do We Really Believe about Healing and Miracles?

November 1
“Resurrection…of the Body?”
What Do We Really Believe about Life after Death?
(All Saints’ Sunday)

We will be receiving a special offering toward missions this Sunday, which will be evenly distributed among Human Relations Sunday, Native American Sunday, and Peace with Justice Sunday, which all contribute to our Rainbow Covenant Missions Program.  In addition, we will be taking up a loose change, “Noisy Offering” to support children and youth ministries.

Join us after the service this Sunday for our annual Pork Feed, from 11:30-12:30pm.  Please bring your most flavorful and most nutritious side item or salad, in keeping with our health-conscious sermon series. Prizes will be awarded by a panel of judges.  Donations to the free will offering will support the Next Generation Fund, which supports future opportunities for ministry.  In addition, we are looking for volunteers to help set up the Fellowship Hall this Saturday at 10am.  Contact the church office if you are able to help.
We had a positive response to the new sermon series on personal health introduced last week.  We gave away all of the free pedometers, in conjunction with the challenge to walk a congregational total of 25 million steps between now and November 1.  If you did not get a free pedometer, they are available in town at a nominal cost.  You can report your weekly step count on the Sunday morning registration forms or by contacting the church office.
Mid-Highs are invited to the deVega’s and Senior Highs are invited to the Wilkies for a fun night of food around the fire. The event is from 5:30-7:00pm.