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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Meaning of Scars

April 27, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Apparently Jesus’ resurrected body had some unique abilities, like walking through closed doors and ascending into the clouds. But despite these ethereal qualities, it also had a surprising human feature.

It still showed the scars.

His hands, feet, and side bore the marks of the nails and the spear, even though the rest of his body had been made perfectly whole. His heart resumed the pumping of his blood, and his brain again processed his senses and thoughts. But his skin? Not so much. The blemishes from his suffering were still there.

John’s gospel would have us believe that they were there for a reason: to identify Jesus to those who doubted. For anyone who wondered whether the resurrection was real, the scars dispelled the possibility that an imposter was in their midst. They would come to recognize Jesus not by his voice or his gait, nor by his mannerisms and motions, but by his scars. Jesus’ had suffered extraordinary brutality, and he alone had the marks to prove it.

Some of us go through life with scars, wishing they would disappear forever. I have a burn mark on my arm when I once touched a hot piece of equipment. Madelyn has a scar over her left eye from stitches she needed after falling off her bicycle. Grace has a scar on her cheek from when she was born. And I, like many of you, have scars that are invisible to the eye. They are from wounds in our spirit that reach deep within our past, etched by heartache, grief, doubt, or remorse. Perhaps our scars have faded some since their original severity. But they remain, reminding us of what we’ve been through, and what we’ve become as a result.

Consider the enduring scars of people in the Bible. There’s Jacob’s limp, or Adam’s sweat, or Paul’s thorn. Consider stories from the wider culture, and you’ll see the scar on Odysseus’ foot when he fought with a boar, and Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand after his duel with Darth Vader. Alice emerged from Wonderland with scrapes on her arm. And Harry Potter survived his childbirth encounter with Lord Voldemort with a tingling, lightning-shaped mark on his forehead.

Yes, scars recall old wounds. But they also offer encouragement. They remind us that in those moments when we could have played it safe, we chose to take a risk. When we could have chosen the easy way out, we decided to stay and struggle. When times got tough, we didn’t run and hide. Instead, we succumbed to the brutality of the moment, persisted through the pain, and survived to tell about it.

And, not only did we endure the suffering, we were transformed by it. Often, life’s most formative experiences are not the triumphs on the mountain top, but those born in the crucible of our deepest anguish. Those are the moments that stretched us until we thought we would break, bruised us until we thought we were bloodless, and pushed us until we thought we would never stand again. But the scars remind us that we did more than survive. We experienced the most powerful and central Christian realities:


Look back on your life. Yes, you have been through a lot. More than you might feel you deserve. And at the time, it was more than you thought you could handle. But look at yourself, at all those scars and bruises (especially the ones so deep inside you that only you and God can see.) There’s no reason to be ashamed of them. No reason to hide them. Because they are living proof that God has seen you through.

“Jesus showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (John 20:20)

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 “The Seven Next Words of Christ” with a focus on Jesus’ words to the disciples, “Peace Be With You” in John 20:19-31. The service will include a celebration of Holy Communion.

Ahoy, mates! Sign up your children for another exciting Vacation Bible School! “High Seas Expedition” takes place from June 9-13, 9am-12noon, at a cost of $7 per child (ages 3 through completed 5th grade.) Register this Sunday at the VBS table, or simply drop by the church office. Registration begins now and continues over the next two Sundays. Scholarships are also available for anyone in need.

At last Sunday’s District Conference, St. Paul’s received official word that we are just one of fifteen churches among the 100+ churches in the district to achieve Third-Mile status for Missions giving in 2009, according to the Iowa Conference Rainbow Covenant Missions initiative. Between missions and apportionments giving, the people of St. Paul’s gave over $57,000 for the work of God here in Iowa and around the world: that amounts to over $82.00 per member!

Come offer a helping hand to beautify the church campus after a long winter. We’ll be gathering on Saturday, May 8, from 8am-12noon. You can bring cleaning equipment and materials with you if you wish, and the church will be providing ample supplies as well. Youth are also encouraged to attend, as their time can count toward the Silver Cord volunteer program at the high school. For more information, contact Evan Knapp.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Follow Me

April 20, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

After a breakfast of bread and broiled fish, the resurrected Jesus shared a private conversation with Peter. In John’s gospel, it would be their first exchange since Peter’s tri-fold betrayal during Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. We can only imagine the red-faced mea culpa Peter was internally rehearsing prior to their conversation. “Jesus, I’m sorry for not trusting in you. Forgive me for falling away from you and denying that I knew you. You have every right to be mad.”

We hear nothing of Peter’s apology, but we hear volumes of Jesus’ forgiveness. Instead of condemnation or punishment, Jesus offers redemption-in-triplicate. Three times, he asks Peter for his love and loyalty, and each time, Peter agrees. And after each response, Jesus gives Peter a new command. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.

And at the very end, Jesus summarizes his command to Peter with two words: “Follow me.”

It would be over three years (and twenty gospel chapters) since Jesus first uttered those words to his disciples. Back then, the call was exciting, ambiguous, and wonderful. But now, those words would be tempered with suffering, challenge, and risk. They had now seen the cost of following Jesus: rather than glory or crown, there was death and a cross. But this time, the disciples were witnesses to the transformative power of the resurrection. And so are we.

For the past several months, many of our St. Paul’s youth have been exploring the question of what it means to follow this Jesus in light of the resurrection. And this Sunday, when they are confirmed in the faith and profess for themselves the vows that were taken on their behalf at their baptism, they will respond as Peter, the disciples, and every follower of Jesus has responded over the centuries.

In their own words, here is a sampling of what following Jesus means to them:

Hannah Burkhart: Following Jesus means to me that I will always think, “WWJD.” I will always commit myself to being a wonderful Christian. I will attend church regularly, without complaining. I will be thankful for my church family, including Pastor Magrey. I will read my Bible more often. I will pretty much do what Jesus would have done in every situation as possible. Jesus now means the world to me.

Jacob Frye: Following Jesus means to me a unification: being brought into a family, being brought to a loving Father, being the hands and feet of something greater than all of us, and following a blind faith.

Courtney Johnson: Following Jesus means to me that I trust in him, I know that he loves me, and I will pray. I will always try my best to follow his commandments. I will believe in him with all my heart when I have my ups and downs. I will come to church as much as I can even though I know I will not be in confirmation anymore.

Derek Bechtel: Following Jesus means to me that my life is whole and holy. It means that my life in Jesus is pure even when I sin, and that no matter what happens in life someone will always love me.

Brett Stange: Jesus means to me that I have someone to talk to, and that I will worship him for the rest of my life.

Marshall Stief: Following Jesus means to me that I will love Jesus for the rest of my life and give him my all in worship.

Connor Voge: Following Jesus means to me that we shouldn’t be afraid of our Christian faith and we should dedicate our lives to Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly come up with better definitions of Christian discipleship than these. We would all do well to follow in the example of our confirmands and respond to the call of Christ in our lives. I hope you will join me this Sunday in celebrating the confirmation of these wonderful kids, and experience with me the power of this exchange between Jesus and Peter in John 21. It’s all part of our current sermon series called, “The Seven Next Words of Jesus.”

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

John 21:15-19
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
16 A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’
17 He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.
18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’
19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Thanks to your generous support of all the local and global missions initiatives of this church, we have successfully gained Third-Mile giving status under the Conference’s Rainbow Covenant missions giving program. Between Rainbow Covenant giving and our annual apportionments, the people of St. Paul’s gave over $57,000 for the work of God here in Iowa and around the world: that amounts to over $82.00 per member! Thank you for all you have done to put God’s love into action!

The Cherokee Fire Station is holding a Pancake Fundraiser on Sunday, April 25, from 9:00am until 1:00pm for Keith Willis. St. Paul’s will be providing goods for a bake sale in conjunction with the fundraiser. You may drop off your baked goods or other edible items of all kinds on Saturday, April 24, at the church, or by 9:00am Sunday at the fire station.

Come give a helping hand in doing some spring cleaning around the church campus. We’ll gather from 8am-12noon on Saturday, May 8, and lunch will be provided. Youth can count this toward their silver cord hours for school.

We are looking for people to assist with transporting Lillie Keller to church from the Careage Hills care facility throughout the summer. Ideally, a team of four or more people can rotate responsibilities. Contact Sheree Hausmann or Marlene Kelly for more information.

The Northwest District Office has relocated to a new facility in Storm Lake, and they are hosting an open house to show off the new space. It takes place Tuesday, April 20, from 2:00-7:00pm, and is located at 404 E 7th St Ste 2, the site of the former Fareway building.

This annual gathering is scheduled for Sunday, April 25, from 2:30-5:30pm, at the Alta United Methodist Church. It is composed of all clergy, diaconal ministers, church lay leader, president of UMW, and lay members of the annual conference. There will be reports, Rainbow Covenant Recognition, election of officers and committees, approval of district askings, and other business of the district.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Believe, ______ Help My Unbelief

April 13, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Lately, my older daughter Grace has been obsessed with playing Mad Libs. She asks us for verbs, adjectives, nouns, and adverbs, and Jessica and I often oblige with some 0ff-beat contributions. She scribbles them down on the game pad, then reads back to us a hijacked, hysterical version of the original story.

There are moments when I think the gospel is playing Mad Libs with us, with no better example than the story in Mark 9. A man’s son was possessed by an evil spirit, rendering the poor boy uncontrollable and mute. When the father brought his child forward for healing, Jesus greeted him with a stern rebuke: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?”

Not exactly catching Jesus “in the mood,” I’d say.

The man responded by unloading the boy’s whole case file on Jesus, his complete medical history, and ended with a pious plea. “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us!” Then Jesus answered, “If you are able! All things can be done for the one who believes!”

And here it is, in Mark 9:24, the gospel’s version of Mad Libs. “Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe, help my unbelief!’”

I believe, help my unbelief.

Or, if you’re playing along at home:

I believe, ___________ help my unbelief.”

How in the world do we make sense of this statement? Two disparate ideas, juxtaposed with no reasonable connection. How can he both believe and not believe? “Um,” we might say. “How about a conjunction? How about some kind of connector between these two phrases? What’s the relationship between ‘I believe’ and ‘Help my unbelief.’”

So first, we try the word, “However.”

That seems reasonable enough. “Lord, I believe, however help my unbelief.”

Of course that works. It works for many of us. Yes, we believe. But, we still doubt. Yes, we know we are supposed to be unabashed, unashamed believers and followers of Christ. But, we still fall short. We know the standard to which we must strive, and know how far we are from meeting it. “Yes, Lord…But, Lord….” It’s a reasonable conjunction because it’s so autobiographical.

So is that the nature of this man’s peculiar response? Equal parts profession and confession? An affirmation of his faith in Christ, yet a repentance for his own shortcomings?


If “However” is a reasonable possibility, I would offer another. Maybe one that is more likely, and, I think, more suitable for the complexities of every day living.

How about the word, “Therefore.”

“Lord, I believe, therefore, help my unbelief.”

It would be as if Mark is telling us, “Don’t be surprised if tension and ambiguity creep into your discipleship, for ambiguity is a by-product of discipleship.” Just as light creates shadows, so does our commitment to Christ produce internal tensions. Struggles deep within us that do not convey how weak we are, but simply how human we are. Faith is not the absence of doubt, after all, but the embrace and ultimate transformation of it. Courage is not the elimination of fear, but the regular interplay and conscious choice against it.

It’s interesting to note Jesus’ response to the man after he said this. Whereas in other stories Jesus praised a person for their faith, or indicated how impressed he was by them, Jesus said nothing.

Nothing at all.

Mark moves on with the story as if the man had not uttered a word. And so we are led to believe that Jesus found the man’s response to be neither troublesome or noteworthy. Perhaps it’s because he found it so, well, natural. Whereas we might labor over what the man’s true motivations were deep down inside, it seems that Jesus knew. He knew that the man was simply exhibiting what it meant to be human. This, after all, would be the same Jesus that would later in his life say, in the same breath, “Let this cup pass from me. But not my will but yours be done.” Jesus knew what it meant to be internally conflicted.

And so Jesus gave this man the most salvific non-response in the gospels. Instead of responding verbally, Jesus moved on to the important business at hand. He entered right into the midst of the man’s tension and spoke the demon out of his son’s body.

Jesus’ response to the man’s response was to bring healing.

There is a lesson here for all of us. When we are at our most vulnerable, at the point of acknowledging our deepest tensions, we are neither judged by God or praised by God. We are simply transformed by God. Healed by a God who experienced the greatest internal paradox of them all: fully human and fully divine.

When the disciples later wondered out loud why they couldn’t cast out the demon like Jesus did, Jesus offered the only prescription Mark gives us in the entire story:

“This kind can come out only through prayer.”

Let it be so.


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

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Case of Mistaken Identity

April 7, 2010

Dear St. Paul’s Family

If I didn’t know any better, there are parts of the gospels that I could easily mistake for an episode of Three’s Company. Misunderstandings, hidden identities, and clever confusions seem to jump off the pages like the escapades of Jack, Janet, and Chrissy.

Take Matthew for example. His parable of the final judgment between the sheep and the goats is a classic case of mistaken identity. The master reprimands his servants for not serving him when they were on earth. “But when did we ever have a chance to see you?” the bewildered servants asked. “When you’ve done it to the least of these,” the master responds, “you’ve done it to me.” Jesus is revealed as one who is evident among the naked, hungry, and imprisoned – just where you least expect to find him.

Mark’s version of the gospel is filled with Jesus urging his disciples to keep a secret. “Don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen or heard, until the time is right.” It is not until the very end of the gospel, with Jesus dying on the cross, that the Messianic secret is revealed by – of all people – a Roman centurion.

John is the only gospel to record a post-resurrection encounter between Mary and the risen Jesus, except Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener. It is not until Jesus calls Mary by name that his identity is revealed, and Mary experiences the resurrection first hand.

And then, there is the text for this week. Luke alone records the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus, when they are suddenly accompanied by a traveling companion. After discussing with them the events of the crucifixion and reports of the resurrection, Jesus reveals himself to be the mystery stranger.

Luke is very clear: the moment of revelation occurred as Jesus was breaking bread with them, an act that Luke intends to connect to the sacrament of communion. Jesus shared this meal only twice during his time on earth. The first occurred before he died, when no one, including the disciples could understand its significance. And the second time is here, when the reaction by these two followers was entirely different:

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

This resurrection revelation around the shared table reminds me of Jurgen Moltmann's description of Easter:

Easter is the feast of freedom. It makes the life which it touches a festal life. “The risen Christ makes life a perpetual feast,” said Athanasius. But can the whole of life really be a feast? Even life’s dark side – death, guilt, senseless suffering? I think it can. Once we realize that the giver of this feast is the outcast, suffering, crucified Son of Man from Nazareth, then every “no” is absorbed into this profound “yes,” and is swallowed up in its victory.” (The Power of the Powerless)

This Sunday, we will gather around the communion table and share in this holy feast. And it is my prayer that when we partake of the bread and the cup, the mysteries of Christ’s resurrection will be fully revealed to you, and that you might not mistake the identity of the one who has come set your hearts on fire.

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

Luke 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,
14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,
16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.
18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’
19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.
21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.
22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,
23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.
24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’
25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!
26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’
27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.
29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.
34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’
35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

from The Crucified

by Kahlil Gibran

Oh, crucified Jesus,
who art looking sorrowfully from Mount Calvary
at the sad procession of the Ages,
and hearing the clamor of the dark nations,
and understanding the dreams of Eternity:

Thou art, on the Cross,
more glorious and dignified
than one thousand kings
upon one thousand thrones
in one thousand empires.

Thou art, in the agony of death,
more powerful than one thousand generals
in one thousand wars.

With thy sorrows,
thou art more joyous than Spring with its flowers.

With thy suffering,
thou art more bravely silent than the crying of angels of heaven.

Before thy lashers,
thou art more resolute than the mountain of rock.

Thy wreath of thorns is more brilliant and sublime
than the crown of Bahram.
The nails piercing they hands are more beautiful
than the scepter of Jupiter.
The spatters of blood upon thy feet are more resplendent
than the necklace of Ishtar.

Forgive the weak who lament thee today,
for they do not know how to lament themselves.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that thou has conquered death with death,
and bestowed life upon the dead.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that the strength still awaits them.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that every day is thy day.