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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Important Mid-Week Message Announcement

June 30, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Read ahead for some news I am excited to share with you, as well as an important announcement regarding the Mid-Week Message during the month of July.


I was not born to be a writer.  Perhaps most people aren’t.  If anything, I was wired to be a rhetorician, more comfortable from behind the pulpit than holding a pen.  When I was ten, my mother walked into my room and caught me practice-preaching to my pillows; I mimicked the movements and phrases of the preachers I saw on television.  In my world, words are released into the open air, caught for a moment, then gone.
But two years ago, upon my arrival as your pastor, I started writing this weekly e-mail message.  It is a tactic I learned from a clergy friend at my previous church, and its intent has always been two-fold:  to minister and to market.  My hope has been that along the way you’ve gained some useful insight into the spiritual life, and given you some incentive to come each Sunday and hear more.  My Mid-Week Message is meant both to teach and to tease.
Along the way, something intrinsically beautiful has happened. Knowing that people would read my words in the comfort of their environment, at the pace of their own reflection, I’ve thought more carefully about the shape of my writing. These aren’t transient words, which may or may not fall on people’s ears as they float about in a sanctuary. These words can take hold, dig deep, and grow to lingering impact.  And the reason I know this is quite simple. Writing the weekly message has changed me.  Taming the language to express my deepest reflections has helped me observe the complexity and nuance of every day life, connecting the daily practice of living with the mystery and ambiguity of my own spirituality.  The weekly discipline of constructing a written word has honed my attentiveness to the activity of God in and through mundane events and ordinary people.
And more surprisingly, many of you have told this non-writer-since-birth that I need to explore these composition skills further, and see where it might lead.  Among these people is my wife, who encouraged me to apply for a unique experience offered by the Collegeville Institute, an educational retreat center in St. John’s University near St. Cloud, Minnesota.  


It is called “Writing and the Pastoral Life,” and is a week-long exploration of how the discipline of writing can deepen and strengthen my work as a pastor.  It is led by Eugene Peterson, the renowned professor, pastor, and author of the international bestseller
The Message.  After submitting a sample of my writing back in February, I was privileged to be one of 12 individuals from around the country selected to receive a grant and an invitation to be part of the workshop, which will take place from July 6 – 13.  (For more information about the event, visit http://collegevilleinstitute.org/writing.)
There are many reasons I am eager to attend this event.  Among them is my excitement in meeting and learning from Eugene Peterson, whose writing has been formative in my ministry over the years. More importantly, I believe that becoming a better writer will make me a better pastor.  As I clarify my voice and sharpen my language skills, I will gain a deeper understanding of my vocation as your minister, and aid others connecting the simplicity of the gospel with the complexities of human existence through my sermons, newsletter articles, Mid-Week messages, and weekly radio broadcasts.  Whether or not this leads to some kind of publishing opportunity, I hope that becoming a better wordsmith will make me a better Word-bearer.  I appreciate your prayers for me to that end.
Because I will be gone next week for this experience, and will be spending July 20 – August 1 with the family in Florida and Washington, D.C., I will be suspending the writing of the Mid-Week Message until August.  During the two Sundays that I will be out of the pulpit, I am grateful to have the Rev. Harold Werley (formerly of the Aurelia church) preach on July 12 and Chuck Tolzin preach on July 26.  During the days that I am gone, the office will have a list of area pastors who have agreed to respond to pastoral emergencies in my absence.
Thank you, St. Paul’s, for being the fertile ground for my freshly discovered writing gifts. I look forward to sharing the fruits of these discoveries with you.
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 as we continue our sermon series on the life of David with a sermon called “Standing Up When Life is Down.”  Hear the extraordinary story of David’s life on the run, and the incredible choices he made when life was tough.  We’ll be observing the Sacrament of Holy Communion together.  And if you have not yet picked up your daily scripture reading bookmark, stop by the church or visit our website.  

“The Boy Who Would Be King”
Lessons from the Life of David

July 5
“Standing Up When Life is Down”
(Hanging Tough in Tough Times)
1 Samuel 21:1-9, 24:1-22
July 12
Rev. Harold Werley
Guest Preacher
July 19
“Crime and Cover-Up”
(David’s Sin and Confession)
2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51
July 26
Chuck Tolzin
Guest Preacher
August 2
“Passionate Praise”
(David the Worshipper)
2 Samuel 6
August 9
“Looking to the Future”
(David’s Last Words)
2 Samuel 23

Mowers, start your engines!  It’s time again for us to solicit volunteers to assist in cutting the church’s lawn every weekend. A sign-up sheet is available at the church or by calling the church office.  Contact Al Henn with questions.  
Back by popular demand, we will be having our annual summertime pool party at the Bacon Aquatic Center on Sunday, July 12, from 8:00-9:30pm.  Individuals and families of all ages are invited, and best of all, the cost is free!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Biblical Bromance

June 23, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Much ink has been spilled chronicling the growing pop culture phenomenon known as “bromances:”  deep friendships between two heterosexual men marked by emotional connection, free-spirited fun, and physical expression.  Just take a look at some recent box-office hits for the latest bromance near you:  
I Love You Man, Year One, and The Hangover, just to name a few. They’re all examples of a new kind of open, expressive masculinity grounded in deep, solid friendships.
There are a lot of theories to explain this trend.  Some see this as an emerging kind of masculinity:  sensitive, emotionally open, and vulnerable.  Others relate this to more and more men waiting later in life to get married, turning instead to male friendships for camaraderie and companionship.  Personally, I think the reason is simpler still.  
Plainly put, we’re craving real friendships.
In 2006, a Duke University study concluded that Americans on average now have a smaller circle of friends than they did in 1985 – in some cases, as much as a third fewer friends.  The “General Social Survey” asked a simple question:  “Who have you discussed important matters with?”  The result:  the number of “close confidants” people turned to has decreased, while the number who would name spouses has increased since 1985.  (
“Americans Have Fewer Friends, Researchers Say,”  ABC News, June 23, 2006)
What this means is that we are developing fewer close, trustful friendships with people outside our families.  And it’s not just Americans; similar findings have been released throughout the world, including the Netherlands and Hungary.  

This decrease in social interaction not only produces heightened loneliness and isolation.  It also means we are more susceptible to high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression.  And add to this how modern technology (e-mail, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter) is actually desensitizing our neurological abilities to have real, face-to-face, personal interactions.  (“Meet Your iBrain,”
Scientific American Mind, October 2008)
No wonder there’s such a renewed interested in real friendships.  
Over and against this cultural landslide, and before the days of Felix and Oscar, Starsky and Hutch, and the Lone Ranger and Tonto, we get this story, about the first biblical bromance:

When  David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul….Then Jonathan made a  covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped  himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour,  and even his sword and his bow and his belt.
(1 Samuel  18:1-4)
Isn’t it bromantic?

How about you?  Have you discovered the treasure of a true friendship?   Are you craving the kind of intimacy and trust we all need in order to deal with life’s daily burdens?  Perhaps you have yet to find what Aristotle described:  
It is those who desire the good of their friends for the friends' sake that are most truly friends, because each loves the other for what he is, and not for any incidental quality."
If that’s the case, then join us for worship this Sunday, as we continue our sermon series on the life of David with a sermon called, “The Treasure of True Friendships.”  Come hear how God desires companionship for each of us along life’s journeys, and calls us to live in loving community with one another.
Love, indeed,

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

Mowers, start your engines!  It’s time again for us to solicit volunteers to assist in cutting the church’s lawn every weekend.  A sign-up sheet is available at the church or by calling the church office.  Contact Al Henn with questions.  

Back by popular demand, we will be having our annual summertime pool party at the Bacon Aquatic Center on Sunday, July 12, from 8:00-9:30pm.  Individuals and families of all ages are invited, and best of all, the cost is free!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Winning a Different Way

June 16, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
It’s been said that the toughest Bible passages are not the ones we don’t understand; it’s the ones we believe we know well enough. Such is the case for this Sunday’s text, the story of a young shepherd boy and a menacing giant.  
We’ve heard the story of David and Goliath so many times that it has become its own cliché - the underdog emerges victorious.  We’ve adopted it as our own cultural narrative:  the colonies toppling the mother country, the last place team rising to first, the young karate kid knocking off the big guy at the end.  We cheer for the underdogs because that’s who we think we are, convinced that the Goliaths in our lives don’t stand a chance.
That’s all well and good, for there is certainly ample evidence to support this.  Consider the richly detailed description of Goliath’s armor:  a bronze helmet, a 125-pound suit of armor, a 15-pound spear, and a shield so heavy he had someone carry it for him.  In the opposite corner?  A kid with a sling.  No chance, buddy.  This is like the New England Patriots playing a pee-wee football team. Roger Federer serving to some guy with a butterfly net.  Or Tiger Woods golfing against, well, me.
But rather than overlay our own underdog narratives onto the story, maybe there’s a different perspective here.  It’s found in this compelling behind-the-scenes-look at the moments before the battle:
Saul clothed David with his armour; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armour, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.’ So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

Imagine what would have happened if David had slumped onto the battlefield armor-heavy, unable to move.  Goliath would have rumbled over and clobbered him with one swoop. Instead, David chose to forego conventional methodology or fight Goliath on his own terms.  And it was that choice (along with a well-placed pebble) that gave him the victory.
If he tried to fight Goliath giant-style, he’d lose.  If he tried to match him pound for pound, strength for strength, he’d get crushed. So instead of fighting fire with fire, he reframed the conflict.  He made it more about speed, precision, and rhetorical skill.  Even though he was outweighed, out-armored, and out-experienced, he won because he changed the terms of battle.
Sure, David was an underdog.  But he was also a sly dog.  In the end, he defeated the enemy by choosing not to mimic the enemy.  
The story of David and Goliath is one of breaking cycles and changing paradigms, and refusing to engage the enemy by becoming one in response.  This is a message the Bible offers with great frequency:  A soft answer turns away wrath, says Proverbs.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, says Paul.  Turn the other cheek, says Jesus.  
So, indeed, let’s identify with the underdog, knowing that doing so demands a different kind of attack plan:
·     Stripping away our protective armor by forgiving rather than retaliating.
·     Engaging our adversaries with the power of words, rather than with brutish strength.  
·     Breaking the cycles of addictions that have been passed to us from generations.
·     Refusing to fight terror of any kind by employing terrorist tactics.
·     Responding to a harsh word with a calm word of understanding and cooperation.

Yes, the little guy won.  But don’t overlook the way he did it.  By refusing to engage the enemy on the enemy’s terms. By choosing cunning without diminishing confidence.  By choosing to trust in God, rather than manufactured means.  
Come this Sunday to hear more about this compelling and utterly intriguing story.  Let’s hear this old, old story, with new, fresh ears.  And let’s learn more about facing our giants, choosing the path of trust, faith, and confidence in God.  
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 Samuel 17:41-50
41  The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him.
42  When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.
43  The Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
44  The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.’
45  But David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.
46  This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,
47  and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.’
48  When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet the Philistine.
49  David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.
50  So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it.  When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Don't Judge a ... Well, You Know

June 10, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
Just out of seminary, I served a small church in which I was the first ethnic minority pastor in its long, 185-year history. I knew from the beginning there would be a familiarity curve to negotiate in this all-white church, both for them and for me.  After my first Sunday service, a woman came up to my wife, delighted to greet the two of us into their church family.  In her sweetest, most well-meaning voice, she said to Jessica, “You know, Magrey doesn’t speak the way you’d expect him to.”
Jessica and I laughed about that for days. It has been no small temptation for me to arrive at a new congregation and begin with a broken, halted, “Sorry – me no speak no English,” and watch the faces of the people melt.  I almost tried it two years ago.
Maybe that church member’s reaction echoed that of the prophet Samuel in this Sunday’s scripture reading.  One by one, he evaluated the sons of Jesse, searching among them for Israel’s next king.  On the outside, they were perfect fits:  strong, handsome, well-bred.  And one by one, their outward appearance didn’t match their inward condition.  I could almost hear Samuel, muttering under his breath, “You know, these boys don’t quite match up the way you’d expect them to.”  
Then God spoke to Samuel:  
“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  
Perhaps when we hear these words, we feel duly reprimanded.  Every bit of our glamour-addicted, tabloid-obsessed culture could take a good lesson from this subversive text.  For every Britney, Paris, and Lindsay, this comes across as the scriptural equivalent of Susan Boyle. And when the last – and the least – of Jesse’s sons is anointed king, we get the message, loud and clear.  
That is, until the very next verse:
“Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.”  Go figure; he was holy and hot.  But at least he was beautiful from the inside out, rather than just on the outside.
From here, the Bible launches the story of David:  the second, and greatest, king of the Israelite people.  I’ve heard it said that we know more about the whole of David’s life than we know of any other character in the Bible.  From his humble beginnings to his ascent to power, his life reads like an epic novel, replete with  passion, conquest, transgression, and redemption.  Through every episode of David’s life, we see a bit of ourselves, a mirror to both our darkest and our noblest capacities.  
For our series, I’ll invite you to follow along with our new scripture bookmark, which you’ll receive in church this Sunday and will be available on our website next week.  Also, I highly recommend to you the book
Passion, Power and Praise: A Model for Men's Spirituality from the Life of David written by Jim Harnish, the senior pastor at my previous church in Tampa, Florida.  It is an excellent, accessible overview of David’s story, and it would make a terrific gift for the fathers in your lives for this Sunday.  You can order the book through the Cokesbury website: http://www.cokesbury.com/forms/ProductDetail.aspx?pid=439787

Come along for this thrilling journey, and discover some great lessons from one of the Bible’s greatest figures.  And for those who feel like they know this story already, come anyway.  This is David, after all.  There’s always more than meets the eye.
Grace and Peace,

1 Samuel 16:1-13
1  The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.’
2  Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.’ And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.”
3  Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.’
4  Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’
5  He said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6  When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’
7  But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’
8  Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’
9  Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’
10  Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’
11  Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’
12  He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’
13  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Finding Comfort in the Mystery

June 2, 2009
Dear St. Paul’s Family,
At five years old, our younger daughter Madelyn has been fairly insulated from the harsh inevitabilities of life, including the reality of death.  But on Sunday, we received word that Casey, our twelve-year old Cocker Spaniel/Poodle, needed X-Rays to determine whether his sore left leg was reparable.  The veterinarian was straight-shooting:  there was a good chance there wouldn’t be much he could do.  
Later that day, we sat the girls down to talk to them about our puppy.  We told them that the next day might bring news that would be hard to hear, and that our little friend who has been a mainstay in our family since before our two girls were born might have to be put to rest.
Tears flowed, and Madelyn sat on my lap for a while.  Nustling her little forehead in a nook of my neck uniquely shaped for moments like this, she lay silently, choking back staccato breaths between her tender sobs.  She said, “He was really hurting this morning.” After several moments, her eyes darted around the room, and I sensed she was wrestling with the newness of her first-ever waves of real human grief.  Finally, quietly, she whispered, “My tummy hurts.”
She has always been terribly empathetic to others’ pain, particularly with animals.  Her response was visceral, painful, and real, and I wanted to do anything to help her cope.  I had to repress every temptation to take cheap shortcuts to stop the tears. I couldn’t promise her that Casey would be okay.  I couldn’t enter into abstract language about how Casey would be going to Heaven. I couldn’t anesthetize her pain by distracting her with a game or a snack.  Instead, the best thing was to sit in the grief, and let the two of us share the moment.  
It’s funny what a preacher thinks about in moments like this.  With Trinity Sunday coming up this week, I thought about a line in one of Eugene Peterson’s books that reminded me that in every significant life-stage moment, we speak the name of the trinity.  It’s true.  When a child is baptized, when a couple is married, when we break the bread, when we say farewell: we speak in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
When life gets most chaotic, with both joy and sorrow, there is something stabilizing, albeit ironic, about invoking the mystery of God.  Yes, we would prefer certainty over our doubts, and the tangible over the abstract.  But if all of life could be understood on our own terms, then there would be no possibility of any reality beyond ourselves.  Beyond the hurt and the pain, beyond the highs and the lows.  As our liturgy prays, so we believe:  “When all else fails, you still are God.”
The vet gave us the news yesterday.  Casey has bone cancer.  We’ll have him on some strong medications that will ease the pain and give him comfort as he lives out the rest of his days with us.  And when that time comes, when we say good-bye for good, we’ll know we are not alone.  We will be preserved and strengthened by a God in whom we live, move, and have our being.  
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,