xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: April 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


April 27, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

My decision to devote a large part of today’s
to the wedding of William and Kate came after some intense internal debate. There is part of me that has grown weary of all the hype and hoopla, as have many of you. A friend of mine living in England told me she is quite tired of seeing, hearing, and living with the “tatty memorabilia” being hawked on the streets, including knitting patterns you can use to make your own “Wills and Kate” dolls. So I offer my apologies to any of you hoping this message would offer a respite from Royalmania.

The other day, Grace asked if our wedding was broadcast on television, too. I had to tell her that though her mother looked like a princess that day, such extravaganzas are rare. She is about the age I was in 1981 when I watched Charles and Diana get married. Thirty years later, I’ll be one of the millions watching again, but for very different reasons.

I won’t be caught up in the fairy-tale dramatics of the day; I have no real interest in the style of the gowns, the choice of wedding colors, or the vast array of flowers. As one who considers wedding officiating to be a hefty part of my job description, I’ll be watching for the ceremonial elements of the morning: the liturgy used by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the homily delivered by the Bishop of London, and what will likely be the first 50-ft. white altar linen I have ever seen.

I will also be viewing with a fascination about what the royal family means to the British people. As an American with an inbred allergy to anything monarchical, and a United Methodist with an instinctive urge to reform anything Anglican, I have to admit that, like many Americans, I struggle to see why the royal family is so significant to the Mother Country.

My hunch is that the British are well aware that long gone are the days that the royal family wielded any significant military or political power. But I suspect that what the royals lack in governmental authority, they more than compensate in cultural and societal influence. In them, the people find their corporate memory and claim their communal identity. The royal family links their citizenry to centuries of rich heritage, and reminds them of what it means to be British.

This perspective as an outsider gives me some entry point into the world of the pre-monarchy Israelites, who studied the empires around them (and, perhaps, watched a royal wedding or two themselves.) They craved a warrior king to help them defeat their enemies, and serve as an idealized hero for their projections of strength and power. But deep down inside, they were looking for a person to embody their corporate identity, and remind them of what it meant to be an Israelite.

Samuel, the lead prophet, was dismayed. Not just because his job was in jeopardy, but because they had forgotten that the source of their identity as a people was not located in any one person, but in the God who constituted their past, their present, and their future. In response to the people’s request, God told Samuel: ‘
Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.’
(1 Samuel 1:3-9)

No, we Americans don’t have a monarchy to define who we are. Those days of patriarchal patriotism were left behind when the pilgrims crossed the pond. And United Methodists don’t have a pope or president who speaks on behalf of all of us. Instead, we believe that our identity in the kingdom of God is not found in a human being, but in Jesus Christ, whom we call our Lord.

and Kingdom may sound like antiquated, patriarchal terms, but they best describe the way Christ bears our communal distinctiveness. It is in Jesus that we find our joint purpose and meaning as a faithful people. And to call Jesus Lord is to join together with the confessions of the saints from long ago from whom we inherit the rich, grand tradition of the Christian faith.

This all leads to this Sunday, in an event that is, in my opinion, exponentially more significant than the royal wedding. Confirmation Sunday is a momentous occasion in the lives of our seventh graders, who will stand before you and before God to claim their identity in Christ. They will formally proclaim Jesus as their Lord, and will henceforth align their lives around the vision of God’s kingdom on earth. They will acknowledge the grace of God that has been operating in their lives even prior to their ability to comprehend it, and vow to live their lives as followers of the one who came to give himself for them.

I hope you’ll join us this Sunday for this deeply moving and significant moment in the lives of these young people. It will be a reminder to all of us that our identity does not rest in any one human being, royal couple, or figurehead leader. Our identity is found in the resurrected Christ, who is our Lord.

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

This Sunday we begin a brand new series based on 1 Peter called “Strength for the Tough Times.” We will see how the words of this epistle gave strength to the early Christians during their times of persecution and trial, and translate that into principles for combating the difficulties of daily living. We’ll start with a sermon based on 1 Peter 1:3-9, called “Living Hope: Faith for Our Future.”

1 Peter’s Prescription for Persecuted People

May 1
Living Hope: Faith for Our Future
1 Peter 1:3-9
(Confirmation Sunday)

May 8
A Love That Lasts: Faith that Endures
1 Peter 1:17-23

May 15
Safety with the Shepherd: Faith That Comforts
1 Peter 2:19-25

May 22
Growing Up God’s Way: Faith That Matures
1 Peter 2:2-10

May 29
Good Work! Faith That Works
1 Peter 3:13-22

June 5
Acts 1:1-11
Contagious Christianity: Faith That Spreads

June 12
Acts 2:1-21
Spirit Born: Faith Strengthened by the Spirit

Monday, April 18, 2011

Love at the Junction of Eternity

April 19, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

To Know Just How He Suffered
by: Emily Dickinson

To know just how he suffered would be dear;
To know if any human eyes were near
To whom he could intrust his wavering gaze,
Until it settled firm on Paradise.

To know if he was patient, part content,
Was dying as he thought, or different;
Was it a pleasant day to die,
And did the sunshine face his way?

What was his furthest mind, of home, or God,
Or what the distant say
At news that he ceased human nature
On such a day?

And wishes, had he any?
Just his sigh, accented,
Had been legible to me.
And was he confident until
Ill fluttered out in everlasting well?

And if he spoke, what name was best,
What first,
What one broke off with
At the drowsiest?

Was he afraid, or tranquil?
Might he know
How conscious consciousness could grow,
Till love that was, and love too blest to be,
Meet -- and the junction be Eternity?

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and yours a blessed Holy Week, a deeply moving Good Friday, and a joyous Easter celebration.

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 this week as we celebrate the power, passion, and drama of the last week of Jesus’ life:
· Maundy Thursday service, April 21, 7:00pm. Service of Remembrance and Holy Communion
· Good Friday service, April 22, 7:00pm. Service of Darkness, featuring the Chancel Choir
· Easter Morning, April 24. Identical services at 7am and 10:10am.

You are invited to join the youth as they sponsor an Easter brunch from 8:00 to 10:10 next Sunday. If you are interested in contributing a breakfast item, please contact Karla Wilkie. In addition, there is no children’s Sunday school that morning.

The following information comes from the District and Conference Disaster Coordinators, with ways for us to respond to the 27 tornadoes that touched down in our district about ten days ago.
· PRAYER: Please continue to pray for all the communities that have been affected, especially Mapleton, Early, Nemaha, Varina, Fonda, and all the farmers between those towns.
· OFFERING: Your financial assistance is greatly appreciated, and all of your gifts will go directly to support people in need. You can make your check payable to St. Paul’s and designate it for “Tornado Relief.”
· WATER: There is an urgent need for drinkable water for the communities of Varina, Nemaha and Mapleton. All sizes of containers can be dropped off at the church office, and we’ll make sure they get to the district office in Storm Lake for distribution.
· OTHER ITEMS: Heavy Duty Trash Bags, Work Gloves, Clean-Up Buckets, Cleaning Supplies, Power Washers with hose, (to loan with or with-out operators) and non-Perishable food items. For Mapleton in particular, there is a need for Clorox wipes, 1 Gallon ziplock bags, Liquid Nail, Caulking and caulking guns, Brooms and dustpans, Flashlights and "D" Batteries. Again, drop off the items at the church and we’ll make sure they are delivered.
· VOLUNTEERS: Your time and effort would be a huge help in recovery. We are considering taking a group next month, and if you are able, please let the church office know. Plan to wear sturdy shoes, gloves, and long sleeves. Because of the insulation in the air, a mask or respirator is recommended.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sugar Coating Death

April 6, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I still laugh to this day about my most embarrassing moment in ministry. I consider my relationship with you all mature enough that I am willing to share this story without fear of merciless teasing.

Alright, who am I kidding? But I’ll tell it to you anyway.)

Several years ago, while serving a prior congregation, I received a call from a fellow pastor letting me know that one of our church members was going to have her father taken off life support the next morning. This was going to be a difficult moment for the family, and a pastor needed to be with them. I told my colleague that I would be willing to join them, and that I would call them right away to let them know.

It was 10:00 at night when my colleague called, long past the time that this particular preacher has any coherent thoughts, let alone speaks them aloud. I called the family and prepared to fumble through a conversation with them, only to be caught off guard by the sound of their voicemail recording. I'm generally not one to leave the cleanest, most concise answering machine messages, even when my mind is alert. But in the late hours of the evening, I was a mess from the moment I started talking. Without thinking, I launched into my message.

"Hi, this is Magrey from the church. (From the church? How many other Magreys do they know?). I hate to be calling at such a late hour, but I wanted you to know that I was going to join you in the hospital in the morning. I understand you all are….umm….you all are....”

My brain totally froze. I had started a sentence without a clue as to how to finish it. Somehow, the proper phrase, “removing your father from life support,” totally escaped by mind. In its place, a flurry of inappropriate phrases fluttered into my head. I understand you all are “pulling the plug.” (No, no. I can’t say that.) I understand you all are “putting your father to sleep.” (Really? Is the doctor a vet?)

So after what seemed like an eternity of awkward voicemail silence, I finally stammered out the end of my sentence.

“….I understand you all are….doing a disconnection tomorrow.”

Doing a disconnection tomorrow? I slunked my shoulders and closed my eyes as soon as the words left my lips. I fumbled out the remainder of my message, clicked the end of the call and beat the phone against my forehead.

My kind, supportive wife overheard my message from down the hall. Struggling to contain her laughter, she called out:

“Who do you think you are? The cable guy?”


I receive minimal solace from the fact that when it came time for the gospel writers to describe the final moments of Jesus’ life, they were careful to find the right words. At the time of Jesus’ death, none of the four gospels come out and say, plainly and clearly, that “Jesus died.” Mark says that Jesus “breathed his last breath.” Matthew and John say that Jesus “gave up his spirit.” And Luke, perhaps to cover the bases, said that Jesus gave up his spirit and then breathed his last.

In fact, the phrase “Jesus died” occurs only one time in the whole New Testament. (1 Thessalonians 4:14). And while Paul uses the phrase “Christ died” a number of times, he is also quite fond of saying that when believers die, they merely “fall asleep.” So there you go. Maybe the veterinarian metaphor was not so awkward after all.

Why all the euphemisms associated with death? I’ll admit that as a pastor I have used my own fair share of them when talking to family members about their deceased loved ones: passed away, stepped from this life into the next, transferred their membership into the church universal, now experiencing God’s eternal embrace. It’s not that I shy away from saying the words “death” or “dying.” I certainly use them freely and frequently. But in the most tender moments of grief and loss, the other words seem more soothing. Perhaps the gospel writers felt the same way.

But where the New Testament might choose euphemisms to describe our physical deaths, Paul is quite direct when it comes to talking about our spiritual deaths. Consider Romans 6 as an example:

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

That’s fourteen instances of dead, death, and die in only eleven verses. The Bible is very clear: when it comes to living the kind of life God desires for us, we only have to die.

That’s really what Lent is all about. It is a time of deep introspection about the decaying, diseased parts of our lives, and letting them breathe their last breath. Put to death our old ways, die to our old self, and identify with the death of Jesus. Merely sleepwalking through the faith won’t do. Daydreaming in our discipleship won’t work. Only the full demise of our former ways of thinking, behaving, and relating to others will lead to a resurrection that offers new life.

By the way, I met with the family the next morning to be by their father’s side. They did not mention my phone message; they had other pressing matters to attend to. They were grateful for my presence, but I was more grateful for them. Together, we witnessed in somber silence the grand mystery of another life slipping into death, with serenity and peace. We mourned their father’s death, and dared to claim the promise and power of the resurrection together.

That is the promise that awaits us, just around the corner. This Sunday, we begin our final approach to the cross, to experience the power, passion, and drama of the week that changed the world. Let’s euphemize neither the death of Jesus or the way we are called to identify with his death. Without sugar-coating, short-cutting, or side-stepping, let us confront the cold, hard reality of Christ’s death straight on, and be unafraid to go all the way to the cross.

See you on the journey,


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

We are receiving initial reports from the District and Conference Disaster Coordinators regarding the 27 tornadoes that hit various communities throughout Northwest Iowa on Saturday night, particularly in Mapleton. They are asking churches to begin assembling volunteer teams to go to these disaster sites and start the urgent work of clean up. There is an immediate need for strong, able-bodied persons to head down to Mapleton, and there will soon be a need for others to help with other kinds of recovery efforts. If you are interested in taking a day trip down to Mapleton or some other affected area, please let the office know. We may have some people in the church willing to lead a crew.

If you are unable to help with physical labor, perhaps you can contribute items for the assembly of a cleaning bucket. These buckets are immensely useful to people in devastated areas, and you can find the items on the UMCOR website: http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/print/kits/floodbucket.stm. Bring the completed buckets to church, and we’ll make sure they get to the people who need them.

After delivering our latest shipment of donated shoes to Soles4Souls, the grand total of our contributions in just 12 months is 1,486 shoes. What a phenomenal response! Thanks, St. Paul’s! Many of the recent contributions will be delivered to people in need in Japan.

Our recent Capital Campaign has brought in about $260,000 in pledges. We are grateful for the congregation’s faithfulness and generosity! Although it is short of our goal, it is sufficient to move forward with the first parts of our renovation plan. The Building Committee met last Tuesday and is putting together plans to move ahead in phases rather than all at once so as not to incur significant loan indebtedness at this time. Plans are to begin with the replacement of the boiler with a high-efficiency unit, and we will be working with both Denny’s and Modern to secure estimates. Next, we will be moving ahead in retiring the debts associated with the new parking lot across the south alley. These plans will be recommended to the Administrative Board perhaps early next month, and we will keep you posted on actual costs and further refined plans as they develop.

We give thanks to God for the eighteen new members who have joined our church. Please wear your name tag over the next several weeks to help them feel welcomed.

Brian Benson
Roberta Bevington
Wade and Mary Cowan
Monica Cowan
Joyce Groff
Jessica Hunecke
Chris and Missy Jenness
Mitch Knippel
Kent and Nicci Lundquist, and sons Levi, Steven, and Trevor
Alan Piatt
Craig Schmidt
Richard Weathers

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com
For more information about St. Paul's United Methodist Church, visit our website at http://www.cherokeespumc.org
To download the latest Sunday "Daybreak" radio devotional, visit our blogsite at http://blog.cherokeespumc.org
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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

If You Can Sing It, You Can Perform It

April 5, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Whenever I visit Bob Stephenson in the nursing home, we inevitably swap high school band stories. He was, as many of you know, a long-time and well-loved director of bands here in town. And I was, as many of you don’t know, a long-time bass clarinet player for my junior and senior high concert bands. Bob and I love comparing notes when we visit: we talk about the pieces we enjoyed performing, state superior ratings we won over the years, and, most importantly, the valuable life lessons we learned from being involved in the arts as kids.

Last week, when I paid Bob a visit at the Villa, I asked him about a memory that had popped into my head. I said, “Bob, there was one practice session when our band director was rehearsing O Sacred Head, Now Wounded with us for state competition. We were having trouble playing in tune, breathing in the right place, and getting a feel for the intense emotional weight of the song. So then he gave us a set of instructions that caught us all off-guard.

“Everyone, drop your instruments,” my band director said. “Let’s start from the beginning, but this time, sing your parts.”

We were dumbfounded. Most of us couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and we were better off singing with the fire sprinklers on so we could pretend we were in the shower. But our director plowed ahead, handing out the lyrics so we could start. He raised his baton, and I started to sing the low, mournful bass line with the tubas and baritones. The clarinetists and flautists sang the haunting melody, and the French horn players and saxophonists sang the rich mid-range harmonies.

When I described the whole scene to Bob Stephenson, he smiled. “I bet it worked,” he said. “I used to do that with my kids all the time.” And he was right, of course. After we finished singing our parts and picked up our instruments again, we played the piece to near perfection. We played with better intonation, and a heightened sensitivity to the textures and emotions of the music. We listened to each other, breathed together, crescendoed together, and performed the piece all the way to a state superior rating later that spring.

“I don’t know why it works,” Bob told me. “It just does.”

If there’s a book out there titled, All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from High School Concert Band, surely there would be a chapter titled, “If You Can Sing It, Then You Can Play It.” Because I think there’s a valuable lesson here that can apply to many aspects of life, particularly to the Christian faith.

I think about the many songs that people in both biblical and church history learned to sing, guiding them to new visions of freedom and beauty. Only after singing these songs could they claim the promise contained in them. I think about Miriam, the Kingdom’s first band director, who led the former Israelite slaves away from Egypt and into the wilderness by teaching them to sing the Shirat HaYam, the “Song of the Sea,” recorded for us in Exodus 15:20-21:

‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’

And I think about the “Songs of the Suffering Servant,” from Isaiah, sung to a people in exile awaiting their liberation. The prophet stirred the imagination of the hopeless exiles, inviting them to envision the arrival of one who would bear their suffering and misery, and lead them to freedom.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench

(Isaiah 42:1-3)

And who can forget the incredible songs that emerged from the African-American slave experience? From them we learn a powerful example of how singing a song together can unify a people and encourage them never to lose heart in the face of seemingly insurmountable oppression. Can’t you hear them singing, “We Shall Overcome”?

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday.
The Lord will see us through, The Lord will see us through,
The Lord will see us through someday;
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe,
We shall overcome someday

And last February, with the world watching, millions of Egyptians marched through Tahrir Square in Cairo, staging non-violent protests against an oppressive dictator. Undeterred by threats of violence, the protestors pressed on, unified in one voice, singing together Sout al Horeya, “The Song of Freedom:”

I went down to the streets, vowing not to return
And wrote with my blood on every street
Our voices reached those who could not hear them
And we broke through all barriers
Our weapon was our dreams
And tomorrow is looking as bright as it seems
For ages we’ve been waiting
Searching but unable to find our place
In every street in my country the sound of freedom is calling

There’s power in singing together. It prepares us to perform.

I don’t know the kind of spiritual condition in which today’s Mid-Week Message greets you. We are, after all, in the middle of yet another Lenten season, traversing a journey that we know all too well. Perhaps your spirit has been numbed by familiarity, and you treat this Lent as just another season in just another year. Maybe, like our high school band that day, you’re just going through the motions, playing without passion, and thumbing through the notes with more apathy than melody. If your life is out of tune, and you feel like you’re not quite in harmony with God and those around you, then maybe it’s time to drop your instrument and start singing your part.

If you’re looking for a song to sing, then try this one. It’s the earliest Christian hymn, and one that is very appropriate to learn as we prepare for the cross:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:1-11)

If you sing it, then you can practice it. And if you practice it, then you can perform it with excellence, beauty, and joy. I don’t know how it works, and neither does Bob Stephenson. It just does, and it’s worth trying.

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

The United Methodist Review is the national newspaper of the United Methodist Church. Since we are one of four United Methodist churches to receive a clergy renewal grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc., we will be featured in an upcoming article. This is a wonderful way to share with the denomination the great work of St. Paul’s! The reporter would like to have some pictures of me doing clergy-related work outside the pulpit, so if you have any pictures we can borrow and scan, please send them to the church office.

We continue our sermon series through the seven atonement theories of the cross by focusing on the image of cleansing. The official theological term is “Expiation,” which is the work that Christ does to clean us of the sins that stain our lives. The sermon is based on 1 John 1:5-9.

Please consult the display in the narthex for items that you can purchase and donate for this summer’s Vacation Bible School. Monetary donations are also welcome. VBS takes place from June 13-17, from 9am to 12pm, and we will have registrations available for the first two weeks in May. VBS is for kids Pre-K through completion of 5th Grade.

All youth are invited to join us for a murder mystery event at the church on April 17 from 4:00-6:00. Please let the church office know by April 11 that you are coming, so that we can give you information about the character you are playing.

We are exploring participation in this year’s Cherokee Hot Dog Days on May 12, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. We would like to take part in the event as an opportunity to promote our upcoming Vacation Bible School to the kids who attend. We are needing people to help set up, cook, and serve on that day. If you would like to help out with Hot Dog Days, please contact the church office.

We are excited to welcome about twenty new members into our church on April 10. If you are interested in joining, please contact the church office. And as a reminder, please wear your name tag over the next several weeks so that our new members can learn who you are.

Chuck Tolzin has assembled an exciting group of about ten people to serve on the revitalized Talent’s Fund, and he continues to seek the input of interested persons. If you would like to explore ways for the church to creatively fund the hiring of a new children and youth person, join the team on this Sunday for a meeting after the worship service.

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com
For more information about St. Paul's United Methodist Church, visit our website at http://www.cherokeespumc.org
To download the latest Sunday "Daybreak" radio devotional, visit our blogsite at http://blog.cherokeespumc.org
To unsubscribe from this e-mail distribution list, please reply to this e-mail and write "UNSUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.