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

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!