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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ring Out, WIld Bells!

December 21, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

“Ring Out, Wild Bells”

A Christmas Poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas and a blessed new year!

Merry Christmas!


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

We will gather to celebrate the arrival of Christ this Saturday at 5:30 pm for our Christmas Eve Service. It will feature carols, candlelighting, and a very unique "radio drama" sermon. Join us, and bring a friend! We will also have a regular service at 10:10 am on Christmas morning.

In observance of Christmas, the church office will be closed next Monday and Tuesday. Magrey and his family will be traveling after Christmas, so the Mid-Week Message will resume on Wednesday, January 11. Happy New Year!

Help us end the year strong with your generous contributions to the church’s general budget. Just a reminder, to have your gifts counted toward your 2010 giving statement, they must be postmarked to the church by December 31.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bearing the Word

December 14, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

This week’s message marks a bit of a minor milestone for me, as it is my 200th Mid-Week Message since becoming your pastor in 2007. I would otherwise let the occasion slide by unnoticed, except that I have to acknowledge some surprise at reaching this benchmark. I was quite unsure when I started writing these four years ago whether I’d have both the regular content and the ongoing stamina necessary to keep writing them. Nor was it clear whether I could fit it into the rigors of writing both the weekly sermon and the Sunday morning radio program. So it is not without some level of astonishment that I share this observance with you.

I can only hope that you’ve received as much benefit from reading these messages as I have had in writing them. The discipline of producing them has sharpened my command of language, in a form and scope quite different from the auditory experience of a live sermon. More importantly, as the messages have gotten longer, more substantive, and more varied, I have strengthened by ability to theologize on a broader array of contemporary issues at the intersection of life and faith. Words, after all, constitute my stock in trade, so writing these Mid-Weeks has made me a better preacher, a more effective pastor, and a more capable spiritual leader.


Whenever I’ve felt tempted to cut corners on the Mid-Week, I think about a shot in the arm I received exactly one year ago today. On December 14, 2010, Duke Divinity School’s Faith and Leadership website published an article by the Rev. Lillian Daniel called “Pastors Writing Badly.” [1] It is a call for ministers to give renewed attention to one of the most basic, yet most overlooked, forms of pastoral communication: the epistle. Daniel laments the lost art of simply writing to one’s congregation, whether it take the form of a monthly newsletter article or a weekly e-mail message. Too many pastors, Daniel argues, ignore the importance of writing these pieces well:

Pastors tired of writing newsletters would do well to remember that most Sunday worship attracts a fraction of our members. That means that more people may be touched by that newsletter than by our worship. The newsletter may be the only connection a home bound and elderly member has to the church. Just when I am convinced no one reads the newsletter, I hear a story about an article that truly turned someone’s attention back to God at a crucial moment.

And for good or bad, they have a wicked long shelf life. They lie on people’s kitchen counters for a neighbor to pick up, they get sent off or emailed to relatives if a child’s name is mentioned within, and they are even perused by petty clergy colleagues with an axe to grind.

I do have an axe to grind, and it is this. As much as I appreciate the minister’s workload, I want to suggest that even in the busiest week, we prioritize. As long as the newsletter is an afterthought, we miss an opportunity for ministry.

Lastly, sloppy newsletter articles are, in their frequency and practice, a rejection of one of Christianity’s historical treasures -- the well-written epistle. We are a religion in which we gather to worship, to hear the gospel, the prophecies, the songs, and then, as odd as it may seem, a letter. A letter from a pastoral leader to a church.

I don’t aspire to write like Paul in every issue of the Pilgrim newsletter, but I am humbled to note that 2,000 years later, we know him by his letters, and not his preaching. We also know those churches. And in their struggles, in their arguments, and in their growth, they had a leader who wrote to them carefully, critically, lovingly and with all he had. It’s time to reclaim the pastoral epistle at the local level, move the newsletter article higher up the list and take it seriously again.

Daniel captures perfectly why it is so important for clergy to maintain the discipline of good writing, and why writing these weekly messages is such an important part of my ministry to each of you. I’m grateful for any benefit it brings you.


In case you think clergy are the only ones who have the responsibility of influencing the world with their words, guess again. You do too. You don’t need to have a seminary degree, or formal religious training, in order to have the ability to be word-bearers.

Just ask Mary.

It is not a coincidence that this 200th message coincides with the Sunday that we turn our attention to Mary, for no one knew better the significance of bearing the Word than her. Orthodox traditions name her as the Theotokos, or “bearer of God.” Christian doctrine is careful to specify that Mary’s bearing of Jesus does not make her older than God, the creator of God, the source of Christ’s divinity, or even divine herself. What it simply means is that she was the vessel through which God gave the world God’s best, most complete self-revelation of love for humanity. Without Mary bearing the Word, the world would not know love in the Word made Flesh.

While most Protestants do not give Mary the kind of doctrinal prominence that our Catholic and Orthodox siblings do, hers is a critical example to incorporate into our discipleship. You don’t need to be a minister, drafting sermons and weekly messages to be a conduit of God’s grace. The Word that you bear may take a number of forms:

A timely word of encouragement to a troubled friend in need.
A prophetic word of truth for someone living amid the shadows of sin.
A liberating word of hope for a person gripped by grief, anxiety, or loss.
A reconciling word of forgiveness, to mend a broken relationship.

As noted preacher and author Barbara Brown Taylor once said, “You are a word, about the Word, before you even say a word.” And whatever form that word takes, yours may be the vital link connecting someone else to an experience of God’s love. Just like Mary, you may be exclusively chosen by God to carry that word for a specific person. So may you birth that word in the way you live, speak, and relate to others, that you may say, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Peace and Joy,


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

[1] http://www.faithandleadership.com/blog/12-14-2010/lillian-daniel-pastors-writing-badly

Thank you for the tremendous response to our new winter outerwear ministry. Every day, new loads of coats, hats, and mittens arrive for distribution on Saturdays. There is now a need for snow boots, for all ages and sizes. If you have new or gently used boots to donate to families in need, please place them on the table outside the church office.

You all continue to prove to be a congregation of generous hearts. Thank you for your donation of over $750 to Stan Sitzmann’s Needy Children project, and for your efforts to ring bells for the Salvation Army, which has raised over $1,800 so far this December. You are truly putting God’s love into action!

Thank you for your faithful giving to support the ministries of the church throughout the year. You can help us end the year strongly and start 2012 without any operational deficits. For your gifts to be counted toward your 2011 statements, please postmark your contributions by December 31.

Join us for another beautiful Christmas Eve Candlelight service on December 24 at 5:30 pm. We are also having a regular service on Christmas morning, Sunday the 25th, at 10:10 am.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rhyming John the Baptist Sermon

For those interested, here is the audio from last Sunday, December 4, 2011. It's my rhyming sermon on John the Baptist, based on Matthew 3:1-17.

Matthew 3:1-17

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.” ’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An Advent Prayer for Our Relationships

December 6, 2011

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Most popular depictions of the holiday season would have us believe that this is supposed to be a time of good cheer for everyone. Yet, despite musical pleas to make this “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and the “happiest season of all,” we find our relationships with others strained under stressors too numerous to count. You don’t need me to remind you that despite our best efforts, Christmas festivities tend to amplify our most deeply hidden family dysfunctions, and intensify the subtle fractures that exist in our relationships all year long.

We remember that even Jesus himself was born into a dysfunctional family. His mother bore the scandal of a pregnancy out of wedlock, and his father was the subject of public scrutiny. Even Jesus’ ancestry is a roll call of the scandalous and malfeasant, including a foreigner, a liar, a prostitute, and an adulterer. We might even come to the conclusion that when it comes to the Christmas story, there is no such thing as a “normal” family at all!

It is therefore in the spirit of that reality that I offer you this pastoral prayer, for any strained relationships you have with family members, friends, or loved ones.

An Advent Prayer for Healthy Relationships

O God our Creator, whose breath formed us into being, and in whose triune image we are called into relationships of mutual love and support, we thank you for the gift of yourself in Jesus Christ, whose Advent we anticipate once again.

Though you desire this season to be filled with joy and peace, we confess that we have fostered relationships soaked with brokenness and dysfunction. We admit our longing for health and peace in the way we treat one another, yet we are an imperfect reflection of your self-giving example, and we are prone instead to dispute and disruption.

For every household filled with chronic anger and wearying quarrels, bring to light neglected faults, in a spirit of new understanding and peace.

For every gathering of family and friends that verge on the edge of squabble and scorn, unstable because of fault lines of unnamed hurts and past sins, pour out your spirit of confession and forgiveness.

For every family dealing with the haunting influences of addiction, substance abuse, and mental disease, grant your spirit of courage and compassion, to be bold in truth and generous in love.

For every marriage troubled by unfulfilled expectations and chronic miscommunication, grant your spirit of understanding and empathy. Rekindle within them an awakening of boundless, unconditional love.

For every set of siblings long plagued by competition and resentment rather than encouragement and affirmation, grant a new spirit of peace and cooperation.

For every old wound bandaged by tenuous scars, whose injurious past can be recalled with the most inadvertent reminders, grant your spirit of healing.

For every person whose ongoing grief for loved ones lost skews this season of hope and promise into a time of sadness and loss, grant your comfort and constant presence. Remind these persons that in your being, the bonds of love never end.

For every young family adjusting to new life with a child, and negotiating new ways to relate as a family in the midst of transition, grant a spirit of child-like wonder, and a desire to mature.

For every couple struggling with infertility, in the midst of a season based on the birth of a Child, grant a spirit of hope, and the reminder that they are not without ability to provide other enduring legacies of love.

For older couples separated by distance from children and grandchildren, or widows and widowers who have long lived alone, grant a spirit companionship, and surround them with new friends and cohorts on their journey.

For those who live in the shadow of their own mortality, in fear of their own death and disease, offer a reminder that you are the source of all life, encouraging them to embrace their lives and the lives of others with courage, unafraid of joy and pain, sickness and health. May your love be made real in our care for others.

O God of hope and promise, you revealed your power in the self-giving love of Jesus, whose birth in lowly means exemplifies your call to servanthood and humility. May we, in the strength of your spirit, receive the gift of your son, living out his image in all that we say and do. May this season truly be one of preparation, that our hearts, minds, and souls may be awakened to a hope that brings holiness, for ourselves and the people we love. Enliven us by your spirit, that we may live in the fullness of your reign.

In the name of Immanuel, your presence among us, we pray.


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

Tonight we offer a worship service at Bethlehem Lutheran Church at 7:00pm for those grieving the loss of loved ones. In partnership with Bethlehem Lutheran, St. Paul’s UMC, Memorial Presbyterian, and Greenwood Funeral Home, the Candlelight Service of Remembrance features the reading of names and the lighting of candles in memory of people that we love. Join us for this meaningful worship experience.

Our music ensembles have been diligently preparing a wonderful program of songs and readings to prepare us for the coming of Christ. Join us at 4:00 this Sunday afternoon for our annual Christmas Cantata.

Our children’s ministry will be leading us in worship this Sunday for their annual Christmas program. Come experience the birth of Christ offered through spoken word and song. Following the service, you are invited to join us in the Fellowship Hall for a soup and hot dog luncheon.

The Adult Class is once again sponsoring a cookie sale this Sunday. Reserve a batch or two of your holiday cookies and bring them to church this Saturday or before 9:00am this Sunday. They will be prepared by class members and offered for sale during the luncheon. Proceeds will fund projects sponsored by the Adult Class throughout the year.

Thank you to all of you who have already turned in a pledge for our annual stewardship campaign. Those who have not yet done so can pick up a stewardship packet in the narthex or in the church office. Thank you for turning it in as soon as you can, so that our Finance Committee can determine final approval of our 2012 General Budget.

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com
To unsubscribe from this e-mail distribution list, please reply to this e-mail and write "UNSUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.