xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: March 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shrieking Stones and Missing Palms

March 23, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I’ll admit that even though this is my third Holy Week with you, I am still not accustomed to ordering imported palm branches for Palm Sunday. In Florida, they were easy pickings from just about any home, and the church usually invited children to “B.Y.O.P.B.” For our two girls, it usually meant my taking out a last-minute machete before we left for the service. No problem.

Maybe Luke’s rendition is most suitable for us snow-thawed, flood-receding, Upper Midwest folks. Because his is the only version not to say a word about palm branches. Whereas Mark is obsessed with the details of the branches (calling them “leafy” and “cut from the fields”) and John is the only one to name the branches as “palm,” Luke is disinterested in this kind of biblical botany. It could be that since Luke is writing to a generally Gentile audience, he feels it unnecessary to portray the Messiah with Jewish symbolism that would be lost among his readers.

But deep down inside, I’ll prefer to think of Luke as an Iowan at heart.

What Luke lacks in heavenly horticulture, he makes up for in divine drama. His is the only gospel to record the dialogue between the Pharisees and Jesus after his arrival. The charge is disturbing the peace (“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”), to which Jesus offers an unusual response: if he silenced them, then the stones would resume the shouting.

Shrieking stones is a strong image, in light of a God who with a hefty resume of bringing life out of inanimate objects. God breathed life into a lump of clay to create human beings. God spoke judgment to Habakkuk through stone-filled walls. And in this gospel, John the Baptist affirmed God’s ability to raise Abraham’s descendants from the stones (Luke 3:8). Clearly, if the disciples went silent, the stones would be ready.

But the disciples were not silent. They threw caution to the wind, displaying a free, unfettered enthusiasm, unencumbered by societal restriction or personal inhibition. Their response is a complementary bookend to the parable of the talents, which Luke places immediately prior to Jesus’ triumphal entry. Whereas Matthew and Mark locate the parable long after Jesus’ arrival, Luke’s placement suggests a model for how followers of Christ are to behave as they enter the passion of Holy Week: ready to take a risk, unafraid of cultural pressure, and determined to live self-sacrificially, rather than cautiously.

Of course, seasoned Lenten pilgrims are well aware that this is just the beginning. The disciples, over a week’s time, do become silent. They fall away from Jesus, one by one, until he is left to die, alone, on Calvary’s hill. But by week’s end, a stone will cry out. The one that is rolled away from the tomb becomes the first witness to a resurrection that has triumphed over death, and signals the arrival of a new dawn.

Join us this Sunday as we mark the beginning of the week that changed the world, and we continue our sermon series “Facing Life with Faith.” The sermon is titled, “How to Be Passion-Prepared.”

See you along the way,


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

Luke 19:29-40
29 When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples,
30 saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.
31 If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” just say this: “The Lord needs it.” ’
32 So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them.
33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’
34 They said, ‘The Lord needs it.’
35 Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it.
36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.
37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen,
38 saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’
40 He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’


Maundy Thursday: Service of Holy Communion
Thursday, April 1, 7:00pm

Good Friday: Service of Light and Darkness
Friday, April 2, 7:00pm

Easter Sunday: Service of Resurrection
Identical Services at 7:00am at 10:10am
Easter Brunch sponsored by the youth group, 8:00-10:00am

The youth group will be offering a church-wide brunch on Easter morning, and would appreciate anyone who would contribute breakfast dishes or assist with clean-up throughout the morning. If interested, contact Lisa Sampson or Karla Wilkie.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Pastor as Spiritual Docent

March 16, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Years ago a clergy colleague in Florida gave me one of the best book recommendations I have ever received. She told me that Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant should be required reading for every pastor who has served for at least five years in the ministry. Since that’s how long it had been since my ordination, I picked up a copy and started reading.

Early in the book, Peterson claims that there are two common types of clergy, each equally unhealthy. The first is the messiah. Messiahs seek out wounded, broken people, and seek to make them healthy again. It is a noble task, except for its motivation: messiahs work to feel needed and useful, and they consider healed people to be mere numbers, accumulated to suggest pastoral effectiveness.

Then there are managers, who seek not the unhealthy but the healthy: talented, devoted, faithful, and prepared. Managers search them out and plug them in, finding the right places for them to serve in an ever-growing, ever-expanding congregational machine. The bigger the church gets, the better managers feel effective and useful. Once again, people become numbers.

Peterson’s two images made a deep impression on me, because I knew that at my core, I have both messianic and managerial tendencies. It is too easy for congregants to become statistics, which I can use for my own external motivation: to boost my self-esteem, inflate my self-worth, and assure my sense of clergy effectiveness.

That realization prompted me to search for a new pastoral identity, one that treated people more personally and grounded me in a purer sense of my calling. Last week while traveling with my family in Paris, I remembered that image during a visit to the world-renowned Louvre.

Rather than being your messiah or your manager, I see myself as your docent.

Clergy are docents of the church, showcasing to the world the architecture and artistry of the Christian faith. We are tour guides, leading people from one gallery to another, shifting their attention from one work of God to the next. At times, we offer language to describe the unutterable: magnificence, awe, distress, anguish. We make a living with our remarks, becoming wordsmiths for life’s most muted moments.

Sometimes that moment demands explanations, and like a docent we offer you helpful information, novel perspectives, and doses of insight. We love it when you look at a familiar passage of scripture in a fresh way, or unpack some mystery of God in your life, or discover some truth that transforms your life. Those are galleries that buzz with energy, excitement, and new possibility.

But other rooms we visit demand nothing but silence. We pause, speechless, when confronted by the mysteries of our liturgy: the breaking of bread, the lifting of a cup, the pouring of water. And there are times when our silence emerges from the ache and anguish of our souls: the graveside of a loved one, a doctor’s diagnosis, or a future swirling with darkness and shadows. Our job in these moments may not be to speak but to stand. To stand with you and let you know that you are not alone in this gallery, and that you have someone who has been there before.

We also know that our tours are temporary, as is the relationship between docent and patron. Our paths have crossed for this period of time, and I consider it a holy privilege to serve as your pastor. Itineracy and other forms of mobility ensure that our relationship is only for a season, so we cherish this time together.

Which leads me to best reason I adhere to this metaphor: the docent never steals attention from the artist. I can tell you about some amazing works I’ve seen, even most recently as last week: the Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, the Code of Hammurabi, and The Thinker. But I can’t for the life of me remember the name of a single docent that explained them to me. And I think that’s the way it should be.

Today, too many churches are served by pastors who would rather have the attention focused on their own celebrity: their skill, their charisma, their passion, their personality. Congregations might swell in numbers as they gravitate toward these larger than life, spotlight-dwelling preachers. But I’m learning that such a model is as much blasphemous as it is unbiblical. Pastoral Docents merely point to the Artist, rather than becoming the art itself. We must decrease, so that God might increase.

Of course, the docent image isn’t perfect, just as most metaphors have their flaws. We shouldn’t think of churches as museums, mere tributes to the past, or mausoleums of entities long deceased. People are drawn to churches that are committed to missions and movements, not to monuments. We serve a living, organic faith, that forges a dynamic path into an exciting future.

Nevertheless, the idea of serving as your docent energizes me and grounds me in my calling. I am neither your messiah, or your manager, and you are much more to me than statistics and numbers. Together, we journey in awe through the splendor and artistry of the work of God in our lives and throughout the world. It is my joy to accompany 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

We continue our Lenten sermon series with the compelling story of Mary’s anointing of Jesus in John 12:1-8. We’ll hear about the stunning contrast John offers between Mary and Judas in their responses to Jesus, and discover how to live a cross-shaped life.

All youth are invited to join us at the church this Sunday from 4:00-5:30, to hear our very own Adam Timmerman. He is a retired NFL player who played with the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams. You’ll want to hear him share his faith and his stories of life as a professional football player.

We are currently taking orders for Easter lilies from Rhoadside at a cost of $12.00. You can purchase them in honor or in memory of a loved one, and the deadline for ordering is next Monday. Contact the church office, or place your order on an attendance form this Sunday.