xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: May 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Much Comforted and Strengthened Thereby"



May 30, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

On March 3, 1785, John Wesley wrote a brief essay titled “Thoughts Upon Some Late Occurrences,” which included reflections on the first time he gathered clergy together for what would become an annual time of conferencing:

"In June 1744, I desired my brother and a few other clergymen to meet me in London, to consider how we should proceed to save our own souls and those who heard us. After some time, I invited the lay preachers that were in the house to meet with us. We conferred together for several days and were much comforted and strengthened thereby."

For many years, Wesley invited only a small group of clergy and lay preachers to this annual meeting, hand selecting a mere ten or twelve to gather with him and his brother Charles.  He did not want the traveling expenses to be too burdensome on the hundreds of preachers that could have attended.  Nor did he want those congregations to be without a preacher during the time that the conference met.  But over time, Wesley realized that the long-term viability of the Methodist movement depended on all of the preachers coming together for a time of holy conferencing, to conduct the important work of maintaining “doctrine, experience, right conduct, and discipline as essential to the permanency of Methodism.”  [1]

286 years later, United Methodist clergy and lay delegates still gather every year for those same purposes, along with celebrating ministries, worshipping together, establishing leadership teams, approving budgets, and deciding missional and strategic goals for the work of the church.  The core purpose of the annual conference gathering, however, is still the same as it was for John Wesley and the first delegates:  to be “much comforted and strengthened thereby.”

Over the next two weeks, I will be reconnecting with old friends and establishing new relationships at both the Iowa and Florida Annual Conferences.  In and among the regular business of the Conference, we will sharing with each other our own reflections on the prior year of ministry.  At times, those stories will be ones of joy and achievement:  fruitful ministry, transformed lives, and personal growth.  Yet there are also stories of private and professional pain:  church conflict, troubled economies, pronounced fatigue, and spiritual weariness.

It is fair to assume that given the events of this past year in my life and ministry, I am looking toward these conferences to be a source of much “comfort and strength” for myself.  So, as I do every year at this time, I want to offer a prayer that you might use as a guide for remembering me and all the clergy of the United Methodist Church over the upcoming year.

 

A PRAYER OF COMFORT AND STRENGTH FOR PASTORS

Gracious God,

We thank you for the many women and men who serve as ministers in your church. You have composed a rich and diverse covenantal communion, whose pastors display a wide range of skills and passions, from all walks and seasons of life.  We remember that theirs is a holy calling, for the work of challenging, nurturing and ordering the life of your people.  We thank you for fostering this calling with moments of joyful fulfillment: of seeing lives transformed and hearts shed abroad with your love; of participating in the building of your kingdom throughout the world; and of serving as agents of forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace.  These are gifts of encouragement for which we are grateful.

Yet, we acknowledge that the journey is often difficult for those who pursue your call. We pray for those who are dealing with physical, emotional, relational, or financial difficulties.  Grant them fortitude to overcome these hardships, and surround them with loved ones who can offer wisdom, guidance, and support during their darkest days.

We pray for those struggling to balance the demands of leadership with their responsibilities to family and self-care.  Renew their commitment to health and wholeness, and grant them a discerning ability to prioritize those areas of life that nourish their souls and tend to their relationships.

We pray for pastors who are lonely.  For those who are separated geographically from close friends and colleagues, or who serve in communities where pastoral boundaries preclude close friendships with those whom they serve, we pray for a resurgence of companionship.

We pray for pastors whose current spiritual state is likened to a dry, parched wilderness. We pray for those whose difficult years in ministry have sapped them of delight, robbed them of joyful vitality, and drained them of divine creativity and imagination.  Strip away the layers of painful memories and disheartening trends that now muffle the clarity of your Spirit’s work in and through them.  Restore their commitments to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible reading, ministry to the needy, fasting, tithing, meditation, and study.  Teach them to flex these long atrophied muscles, that they may expand their capacity to serve over the long haul.  Restore their energies, fill their work with humor and laughter, and help them rediscover what first drew them to the ministry.

Reinvigorate pastors with a passion for the Scriptures. Open their eyes to new interpretive possibilities, and fill them with new zeal for its preaching, its teaching, and its embodiment. Introduce them once more to the sacred task of being wordsmiths of the Word, and may they again be awed and enamored by the beauty and power of language.

We pray for pastors struggling with congregations mired in conflict, who must mediate between people caught in sharp disagreements and taxing arguments. Grant your spirit of peace, and empower a commitment to reason and compromise.

We pray for the Bishop and the Cabinet, and for the weighty demands they bear in making and setting pastoral appointments. We pray for your guiding spirit in every stage of the process, and for all parties involved - - departing and arriving pastors, sending and receiving churches, and all spouses and families impacted - - that your Kingdom will be built by the best people serving in the right places.

We pray for the emergence of new people into the ministry. May each local church claim the responsibility of seeking, cultivating, and calling people into this sacred task, and we even pray for an influx of younger pastors to lead the church for generations to come.

We give you thanks, O Lord, for all you have done through the faithfulness of your people throughout the years.  May we continue to serve as the living expression of your love, put into action for the world to see.  May all of us, clergy and laity alike, be led by the one whom you sent for our sake, Jesus the Christ, who is the head of the church, and in whose name we pray,

Amen.

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] from the 1903 biography John Wesley the Methodist, pseudonymously written by “A Methodist Preacher.”



WORSHIP THIS SUNDAY
This Sunday we will be observing Trinity Sunday, the only holy day of the Christian liturgical year named after a doctrine of the church, rather than an event in the gospel.  Join us as we rediscover what it means to live a holy life based on the calling of the prophet Isaiah.  We will also be observing the sacrament of Holy Communion.

MID-WEEK MESSAGES
Over the next two weeks, I will be attending both the Iowa and Florida Annual Conferences, attending a meeting with the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, and traveling with the girls to visit family in Florida.  As a result, I will be taking a break from writing the Mid-Week Message until the week of June 18.  Past copies of The Mid-Week Message are available at mdevega.blogspot.com.

FIRE RECOVERY UPDATE
Sanctuary – The painters have now completed their work, including the removal of pew cushions for replacement of the fabric.  Members of the Building Committee are now in the process of selecting upholstery fabric and carpet.

Kitchen and Dining Hall – The architects and engineers will be meeting with the Building Committee on Wednesday, June 6, to discuss the latest plans for renovation.

Basement Level – Grundman Hicks began replacing the inoperable alley exit door, as well as installing the new sink and countertop. Robinson’s Furniture and Flooring dropped off new temporary carpet for Vacation Bible School, and Rod Brown will be finishing painting the walls.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BOOM Goes the Pentecost!


May 22, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,
 
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability .… All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
  
Step aside, Avengers.  Take note, Jerry Bruckheimer and J. J. Abrams.  The story of Pentecost has more special effects packed into three verses than any other story in the Bible.  First, there is the sound.  Not just a wind, and not just a strong wind, but a rushing, violent wind.  Luke would want you to feel the brisk, gale force power of the Spirit’s arrival on the earth, as if you were right there.

And then, feel the heat.  Not just a fire, but “divided tongues…resting on each of them.”  This was no slow-burning smolder, but an instantaneous blaze, engulfing every spectator present. Not even Industrial Light and Magic could manufacture a fire this big, this hot, this suddenly.

And finally, there were the voices.  A crowd of people began speaking in strange languages, the cumulative drone likely so loud and lively that the sum effect was sheer, unbridled energy.

If there was a biblical Academy Awards category for best audio and visual effects in a Scripture story, Acts 2:1-11 would win hands down, each and every year.


BOOM! GOES THE SPIRIT

At my previous church, I served as an associate pastor whose responsibilities included the planning and implementation of creative ideas for weekly worship.  I led a fabulously talented team of musicians, graphic designers, video producers, and dramatic artists whose task every week was to make the scripture passage come to life in a meaningful way each Sunday.

Pentecost Sunday, as you might imagine, was always our high holy day for creative worship.

One year, we staged a dramatic reading of the Pentecost story by four individuals who read the passage in their own native language:  French, German, Spanish, and Chinese.  Another year, our excellent video producer created a “soundtrack” for Pentecost, immersing the sanctuary in the sounds of wind, fire, and language.

But not all our ideas were home runs.

In 2003, our Creativity Team wanted the congregation to have a full, multi-sensory experience of Pentecost.  We wanted them to feel that rushing, violent wind.  We wanted them to see those “tongues of flame” descend on people. We wanted to give everyone a taste of the energized  chaos of that powerful day.

So, of course, it involved confetti cannons.

We contacted one of the local event staging companies and asked to rent a few of their high-powered, turbo-charged blowers.  We mounted them atop the video and audio booths, at the rear of the worship space, high above the heads of the congregation.  Surely, we thought, they would create the wind effects we were looking for.

And what would we shoot out of those confetti cannons?  Why, rose petals, of course!

One of our team discovered the ancient liturgical practice of using rose petals on Pentecost.  Many basilicas in Europe have a circular opening called an oculus the top of the dome, and volunteers use that hole to drop huge quantities of rose petals onto the congregation, a stunning visual symbol of the Spirit’s fiery descent on the people.  It is a practice that is still performed today in many basilicas throughout Europe.  But our worship center had no such opening through the roof.  So the confetti cannons would have to do.

We purchased several bags of fake rose petals, scrunched them into the cannon bays, and awaited the signal.  Then, when it came time to debut what we thought would be a groundbreaking liturgical contribution in the rich annals of corporate worship, we flipped the switch.

The best way to describe what happened next would be to take liberties with the Pentecost narrative:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like a throttled porcupine tossed into  the turbines of a giant lawn mower, and its violent sound filled the entire worship center where they were sitting.  Divided rose petals, gashed to shreds, launched into the air, dropping onto the disciples like bleeding beetles cast to their doom.  All of the people started shrieking, or howling, in laughter or in fear, as the Spirit gave them ability.  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

Ah, good times.


THE PENTECOST STORY, IN AND THROUGH US

I’m pretty sure that this Sunday, when we gather in the Community Center to celebrate yet another Pentecost, we won’t be shooting flowers out of air cannons.  But I do know that we’ll be invited to enliven and embody this story in the way we think, act, and work together in community.  We would do well to remember this stirring challenge by John Wesley, who called Christians to new obedience to God and openness to the Holy Spirit:

The cause of this [apparent decline in the vitality of the church] was not, as has been supposed, because there was no more occasion for the [gifts of the Holy Spirit], or because all the world was become Christian.  This is a miserable mistake; the real cause was, the love of many, almost of all Christians, so called, was waxed cold.  The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine his Church, could hardly "find faith upon earth." This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church -- because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. (from the sermon, The More Excellent Way)

This, brothers and sisters, is why the Pentecost story is so important for the church to hear today.  Not just for the razzle and dazzle of its visuals, or because it is the clich├ęd “birthday of the church.”  We hear this story in order to make it real once again, in and through our lives.  To remind us that our greatest purpose on earth is to serve as both the receptacle and conduit of the Holy Spirit’s work throughout the world.  And to make sure that the practice of our faith is alive, and not a “dead form left.”

So join us this Sunday, in celebration of the triune God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and for the sake of the world.

Happy Pentecost!

Magrey  

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


WEAR RED NEXT SUNDAY
In observance of Pentecost this Sunday, we invite you to wear the color red, a symbol of the fire of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost day.

FIRE RECOVERY UPDATE
Sanctuary: Painting has been completed, and the scaffolding has been removed.  Carey’s Electronics has begun reinstalling the cameras and projectors, having completely cleaned out the equipment of soot.  We are awaiting carpet samples from the company in South Sioux City that installed the prior carpet, as it has since been discontinued.  Pew cushions will be removed shortly so that they can be replaced.  The Sunday school closet behind the narthex has been cleaned out to make room for a new food preparation area that will serve after church coffee when we return to the sanctuary.  Electrical service has been installed, and Grundman Hicks will be installing the countertop, sink, and cabinetry.

Kitchen and Dining Hall: ServiceMaster did another ozone treatment on the areas to remove odors, and the painters subsequently sprayed Killz on all the surfaces to permanently seal out any remaining odors.  The architect and mechanical engineers spent a good part of the day last Thursday doing additional survey work.

Lower Level Basement: To accommodate this year’s Vacation Bible School, in light of our recent fire, our insurance company has authorized additional funds for the updating of our lower level basement.  Grundman Hicks will put in a new (working!) exit door into the back alley, as well as putting in a new countertop and cabinetry.  The new kitchenette will have a double sink, a full-sized residential refrigerator/freezer, and microwave oven, for use for snacks for VBS as well as groups who use the room.  Rod Brown is painting the walls of the basement, and tomorrow, Robinson’s Furniture and Flooring will be delivering some new temporary carpeting.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In Memory of Walter Wink

May 15, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Last Thursday, Walter Wink died.

You may not have heard of him, as his death was largely ignored among the many news headlines of last week.  Yet, his influence throughout the church as an advocate for peace and non-violent resistance has left an enduring mark on many people, including this preacher.  

Sixteen years ago, my seminary mentor recommended that I pick up a book called “Engaging the Powers,” written by Wink, a United Methodist minister and professor of biblical interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City.  I started reading over my Christmas break in 1996, and I could not put it down.  Reading that book was a singularly transformative moment in my life and ministry, broadening my worldview and drawing me closer to the message of Jesus Christ unlike any book prior.


THE MYTH OF REDEMPTIVE VIOLENCE

Wink coined the phrase “the myth of redemptive violence” to describe the subtle, subversive way that violence permeates every aspect of our lives.  In the most biblical sense, it is a demonic power:  we become convinced of its value, while we are unable to perceive its destructive allure.  The opening chapter begins with these provocative words:

Violence is the ethos of our times.  It is the spirituality of the modern world. It has been accorded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience to death.  Its followers are not aware, however, that the devotion they pay to violence is a form of religious piety.  Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things.  It is what works.  It is inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts.  It is embraced with equal alacrity by people on the left and on the right, by religious liberals as well as religious conservatives.  The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors.  It secured us forty-five years of a balance of terror.  We learned to trust the Bomb to grant us peace.

Wink then offered the popular comic strip Popeye as an example.  In each installment, there is this recurring narrative:  Popeye is the hero, Bluto is the villain; Popeye wins, Bluto loses; and Popeye always resorts to violence in order to defeat Bluto.  That, Wink said, is the myth of redemptive violence. It is the widespread, subversive belief that violence is necessary to vanquish evil in the world.

In short, it is the conviction that violence saves.

Fans of popular culture need not press much further to think of other examples:  A man in a red cape and a chest-emblazoned “S” overpowers enemies with a swift fist.  A camouflaged muscle man named Rambo sprays bullets at his enemies.  A Lone Ranger dressed in all white shoots silver bullets at the bad guys dressed in black.  Even the number one movie in the country today is about a team of Marvel comics superheroes that perform preposterous acts of violence against invading alien enemies.

The theme is so pervasive that we are unable to discern its destructive power.  For this is the deeper question:  if we truly believe that only good guys are entitled to use violence to defeat the bad guys, then who decides who the heroes and enemies are?  That, of course, is the great danger of the myth of redemptive violence.  People always think that they are the heroes, and that everyone else is the enemy.  

Consider the brutal beating of a gay college student in Illinois back in April.  He was surrounded by a gang of people who thought they were the good guys, and that he was the villain.  Or how about the growing violence in Syria, between the Sunni and Alawi people, two communities that are convinced that each other is the enemy that must be eradicated.  Or look at the recent shooting in Tucson, in which a gunman was convinced that the government was the enemy for “brainwashing” people.  Or consider the worst instance of domestic terrorism in our history:  the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, conducted not by a Muslim extremist, but by an American Christian, who believed that "Once you bloody the bully's nose, and he knows he's going to be punched again, he's not coming back around."  And, of course, we all remember the tragic shooting at Columbine High School, when two shooters thought they were the heroes, and that athletes, Christians, and popular kids were the enemies.

When tragedies like this capture our attention, we are quick to point the finger at the most obvious, most convenient targets.  We blame the media, or the shooter’s family, or the faltering economy, or the government. But Walter Wink challenged us to dig deeper.  He blamed it on the demonic influence of the myth of redemptive violence.  And then he invited us to look deep within ourselves to see how we might be just as guilty of falling for the same myth as those whose violent deeds grab the headlines:

Whenever you watch a movie, and you are pleased that the movie ends with the violent killing of the villain, you fall for the myth of redemptive violence.

Whenever you watch the news and wish physical punishment on someone else for their crimes, you fall for the myth of redemptive violence.

Whenever you play a video game that gauges success through numbers of kills and accumulated corpses, you fall for the myth of redemptive violence.

The problem is that we do not, never have, and never will, live in a world where the lines of hero and villain are so clearly drawn that violence is ever, ever justifiable.   But we continue believing in those clear distinctions, and its consequences filter down to just about every aspect of our lives.  It results in such horrible sentiments as: “That man deserved to die because of his crimes.”  “That child deserved to be beaten because he misbehaved.”  “The people of that country deserve to suffer because of its cruel leader.”  “That nation deserves a military response because of their actions.” “Those people deserve to have AIDS because of their lifestyle.”

Even worse, many choose to pull God onto their side, in order to make some outrageous claims that we would be considered laughable if they weren’t so destructive.  I shudder whenever I hear anyone suggest that AIDS was brought into this world as God’s punishment for homosexuality, or that sexually transmitted diseases are a divine punishment for promiscuity.  It is nothing more than misguided jingoism to suggest that since we are a “Christian” nation, we have the divine right to drop bombs on other countries who don’t share our faith convictions.  And I am horrified by preachers who see natural disasters as God’s punishment for human wickedness.

Against all of these warped ways of thinking, Walter Wink was very clear:  Whenever you use the phrase “violence” and “deserve” in the same phrase, you have fallen for the myth of redemptive violence.  And it is blatant blasphemy to suggest that God resorts to the same.


THE WAY OF THE CROSS

In contrast, Wink invited people to consider the words of Jesus.  When someone strikes you, Jesus said, turn the other cheek.  When someone takes your coat, give them your cloak as well.  When someone forces you to walk a mile, walk a second mile with them.  And to put it most clearly, Jesus said, “Love your enemies.  Pray for those who persecute you.”

And then, remember Jesus’ actions.  Consider all the violence inflicted upon him: the savage beatings, the unbearable humiliation, the inhumane torture.  If anyone should have been entitled to assume the hero role and exact violent revenge on his enemies, it was Jesus.  Yet he chose to respond with resurrection, not revenge. He did not say, “You’ll get yours;” he said, “Father, forgive them.”  He did not trade punches, but he transformed lives, offering them new life instead of expediting death.

After all, Jesus’ death and resurrection were as much for that centurion who pierced his side as it was for you and me.

For followers of Jesus Christ, adhering to the myth of redemptive violence is never an option.  Instead, we have the way of the cross.  For on that cross, good triumphed over evil, not through the exercise of vengeful force, but through sacrificial love and self-sacrifice.  Rather than demonstrating a love for power, which fuels redemptive violence on every level, just practiced a powerless love.

Last Thursday, the world lost a gentle spirit and a fierce prophet for peace.  I invite you to honor him, and the God who loves him and loves us all, by choosing a more excellent way.  A way of justice not served through violence, but one that is secured through the strength of compassion and the hope of transformation.

Grace and Peace, Indeed,

Magrey

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



OFFICE CLOSED TODAY
ServiceMaster is conducting an ozone deodorizing process on the kitchen and dining hall today, so the building will be locked and the office closed until tomorrow.  Please feel free to contact Andrea and me through email in the event of an emergency.

REMINDER:  WORSHIP AT 9:30
We have now begun our summer worship schedule, with services beginning at 9:30 from now through Labor Day.

GRADUATION SUNDAY
Join us this Sunday to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduating seniors.  We give thanks to God for their achievements and pray God’s blessing upon their future.

FIRE RECOVERY UPDATE
Sanctuary:  The painters have completed repainting the sanctuary and narthex and are working their way down the east entrance stairwell, and scaffolding is being removed by Grundman Hicks.  The pew cushions have been removed to begin the process of replacing them, and we are reviewing possibilities for new carpet and upholstery.  Because of the projected length of time to replace the cushions, it is now likely we will not be back in the sanctuary until the end of June or early July.

Kitchen and Fellowship Hall:  On Wednesday, members of the Building Committee met with the architect, our insurance representative, and two mechanical engineers to continue plans for the renovations.  In order to provide temporary food preparation and hospitality services in the church after we move back to the sanctuary, our insurance representative has authorized outfitting two new areas for basic food and beverage service. 1)  Part of the Sunday school closet behind the narthex will be cleaned out for the installation of a new sink, counter top, and cabinetry in order to provide after church coffee and communion preparation.  2)  The lower level basement will receive a new sink, counter top, cabinetry, microwave, and refrigerator, along with a new exit door, for use by our upcoming Vacation Bible School.  That work has already begin and will continue over the next several weeks.

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL JUNE 18-22
This year’s theme is “Sky!” and promises to be the most exciting week ever!  VBS is for kids ages 4 through completed 5th grade and will take place June 18-22, from 9am to 12pm.  Registration continues this Sunday.  We are in particular need of volunteer “crew leaders” whose job will be to guide the groups of kids from station to station every morning.  Six more crew leaders will fill out all our volunteer needs for this year!  Also, be sure to check out the VBS donation board in the community center so that you can provide supplies and food items and help defray costs.  To help out, contact Karen Long, at karedlong@yahoo.com.


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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Motherly Love

May 8, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I’d like to tell you about my mother.

Her name is Teresita deVega, but most everyone calls her “Tessie.” She and my dad have been married for over forty years, with three handsome, charming sons.  She was born into a large family, with five brothers and two sisters, who grew up in the seaside town of Calapan, on the northern coast of Mindoro, the Philippines’ seventh largest island.  My mother’s family was well known in the region, since her father owned a large shipping business that distributed numerous products all throughout Mindoro.

Her family also had a home in the tiny barrio of Silonay, a secluded village of a few hundred families accessible only by a half-mile long foot bridge.  Cars and roadways were therefore non-existent, and houses were clustered together around communal courtyards and water wells.  Living necessities, such as groceries, clothing, and household goods, were purchased outside the barrio and were carried in by foot or bicycle into the village.

By the time she was twenty, she had earned her college degree in marketing from Far Eastern University in Manila, and soon afterwards met my father.  They began a courtship that soon blossomed into a romance.  With my father determined to raise a family in the United States, in order to give his children the best chance at the best possible life, he left for America in 1968 to find work, promising to return someday for my mother in order for them to get married.  For several long months, with just a few dollars in his pocket, my dad crisscrossed the country, from San Diego to Key West, looking for employment, finally earning a job as a chemical engineer in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Because of limited funds, my parents could not afford long-distance telephone calls between the U.S. and the Philippines, and mail delivery was quite unreliable.  So for four long years, as my dad earned U.S. citizenship and established his new life here, they could not communicate a single time.

Yet, they waited for each other.  And true to his word, when my father became a U.S. citizen, he went back to the Philippines for my mother, and they were married at the Garden Crest Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, in January, 1972.  A year later, they gave birth to me.

Today, they continue to live in the same city, in the same house, with the same jobs as when me and my brothers were born.  My dad still works as a chemical engineer with that same company that took a chance on that Filipino emigrant forty years ago, and my mom is still maintaining a house and home with grace and love.


A MOTHERLY LOVE

Mom grew up a devout Roman Catholic, attending a private school called Holy Infant Academy when she was a girl.  The Christian faith was such a significant part of her upbringing that neighbors would tell stories of how little Tessie would sometimes stop right in the middle of playing with other friends in the street so that she could pray for a sudden need.  After marrying my father, she became a practicing Protestant (first a Presbyterian, and now a United Methodist), and she maintained her strong belief in the power of prayer.  She still prays her rosary beads every day, and includes in that ritual a daily prayer for me and my family.

My favorite childhood memory of my mother comes from the time I contracted a terrible case of the chicken pox.  Prior to the vaccines that are now standard for children, it was never a question of whether my friends and I would get the chicken pox, but when.  I knew from their accounts what symptoms to anticipate:  the burning itch, the irritation, the fever, and all the aches and pains.  Nonetheless, I was ill prepared for how miserable having the disease actually made me.

In the exaggerative mind of this ten year old, I was certain I was on death’s door.  There was only one thing I knew to do, only one thing most desperate kids would do in dire straits.  I called for my mother.

She came into my room, and with barely enough energy to mutter a word, I simply said, “Hold me.”  She sat on my bed, wrapped me in her arms, and in the warmth of my mother’s embrace, I finally fell asleep.

It was not until a few days later, as I was on the mend from the chicken pox, that I discovered something else about my mother’s life in the Philippines.  In all her years of growing up in that country, and in the brief amount of time she had thus far spent in the States, she had never had chicken pox herself.

She knew that, but I did not.  We both knew that I was contagious, but she did not care.  All that mattered to her in that moment was that her child needed her.  He was beset by illness, he was moaning in despair, and her motherly instincts kicked in.  She knew how difficult life would soon become for her – and, in fact, her case of chicken pox was twice as bad as mine – but nothing was more important to her than comforting me, caring for me, and nurturing me back to health.

It was not until I went to seminary that I reflected theologically on that childhood episode in metaphorical terms.  Her sacrifice for me was decidedly Christological, embodying for me a vivid example of what Jesus Christ did for humanity.  The church has often depicted sin as a woeful disease inflicted on humanity, passed from generation to generation, that must be overcome.

So Jesus came to assume our disease, knowing it would cost him dearly.  He would be abandoned by his friends, publicly embarrassed and shamed, abused by his tormenters, and even forsaken by God.  Ultimately, it would cost him his life on a hilltop cross.  But Jesus knew that not dying would result in our living in the painful disease of our own sin.  So he took on our misery.  He bore our sins so that we would not have to, so that “by his stripes, we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:5)

Now a parent myself, I am well aware of the sacred opportunity parents have to reflect divine love to our children.  No parent is perfect, and many of you can attest that we do the best we can when we can, and we still make plenty of mistakes.  But at our best, we can embody for our children the kind of unconditional love that God has for the whole world.  No wonder one of the last things Jesus said before entering Jerusalem for the final time was a parental word, a lamenting word, a word of consolation for a people afflicted by sin:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem...How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”  (Luke 13:34)

Sounds like something any good mother would say.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey  

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



MOTHER’S DAY MEMORIES ON FACEBOOK
Share your favorite memories, and even pictures, of your mother by visiting the church’s new Facebook page, facebook.com/cherokeespumc.  You do not need to be a member of Facebook in order to access the site and upload your contributions.  You can even read what others have shared.

SUMMER WORSHIP TIME
Because of scheduling conflicts with the Community Center, we will begin our summer worship time this Sunday, May 13.  Worship will begin at 9:30am from now through Labor Day.

HOT DOG DAYS
Once again, St. Paul’s will be participating in Cherokee Hot Dog Days, this Thursday, May 10, starting at 5:00.  To help out, contact the church office or see Jeff Blum or Darly Gochenour.  Your efforts will help promote our exciting upcoming Vacation Bible School.

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL JUNE 18-22
This year’s theme is “Sky!” and promises to be the most exciting week ever!  VBS is for kids ages 4 through completed 5th grade. Registration will take place on May 13 and 20, and will take place June 18-22, from 9am to 12pm.  We are in particular need of volunteer “crew leaders” whose job will be to guide the groups of kids from station to station every morning.  Six more crew leaders will fill out all our volunteer needs for this year!  Also watch for our VBS donation board in the community center over the next few weeks so that you can provide supplies and food items and help defray costs.  To help out, contact Karen Long, at karedlong@yahoo.com.

CAMP FUND SPECIAL OFFERING
How about honoring your mother by helping send a child to a United Methodist camp this summer?  This Sunday, we’ll be taking up an offering that will help children in our church and our community have a life-changing experience at Lake Okoboji this year.  Make your checks payable to St. Paul’s, and designate them for the “Camp Fund.”

FIRE RECOVERY UPDATE
Sanctuary – Painters have finished painting the sanctuary, and are now moving to the narthex and the stairwells.  As such, Grundman Hicks has begun tearing down the scaffolding.  Carey’s Electronics has cleaned out all of the audio, visual, and computer equipment, and has begun pre-wiring the sanctuary for reinstallation of those pieces.  The Trustees and Building Committee have begun exploring options for replacing the pew cushions, as well as looking at samples for new sanctuary carpet.

Kitchen and Dining Hall – The architect and some mechanical engineers came to do an onsite study of HVAC and electrical needs for the new kitchen and dining hall.  The Building Committee will be meeting with them this Wednesday night to see updated plans.  Our insurance representative met with us to check in with progress and has been apprised of the latest developments.



To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com  
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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Our Number One Job

May 1, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Later this month, my seminary will be celebrating the retirement of Dr. Kendall McCabe, who for over thirty years trained pastors to preach and lead worship.  He was the single most important influence in the way I fulfill my Sunday morning duties.  I learned how to order a worship service, write a pastoral prayer, and observe the church’s liturgical year.  But most of all, he taught me to appreciate the liturgies of the church, those ancient words that deepen our faith, connect us to the saints, and deter an egocentric approach to the work of worship.

On the very first day of his “Work of Worship” class, we learned that the word liturgy means “work of the people” (laos = “people”; urge = “work”).  When we gather for worship, we get down to business, performing the most important job God has given us: to give praise to God.  Worship is not a spectator sport, nor is it sheer entertainment.  It is our primary purpose in life, and the fulfillment of our created being.  When we gather to worship, we get right to work.

And the words we use in worship matter. Our liturgies matter.  The words of communion, baptism, funerals, weddings, and membership into the church are not fabricated by contemporary committees, nor are they localized expressions that vary from church to church. They are ancient words, inherited from centuries of faith communities prior to our arrival.  To cast aside the language of the liturgy would be like chemists creating their own private periodic tables, or physicists inventing their own laws of thermodynamics.  The art and artistry of our faith remind us of our grand connections to people past, present, and future.  That alone makes them both historic and relevant, for in the context of worship, there is no greater comfort than the knowledge that we are not alone.

If I ever needed a reminder of the power of liturgy to draw us beyond ourselves, I need only look at our journey together over the past few months.  On March 4, we moved our worship service to the Cherokee Community Center, as we began the process of recovering and rebuilding from our recent fire.  We sat on stackable chairs, rather than pews, facing a stage with a folding table, rather than a chancel with an altar.  On the surface, there was little to distinguish what we have been doing on Sunday mornings from what the Cherokee Symphony and the Cherokee Community Theater do throughout the week.

Except on that first Sunday, we also gathered for communion.  We spoke the ancient words of the Sursum Corda (“The Lord be with you.  And also with you.”)  We stood in unison and recited the Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of Power and Might.  Heaven and earth are full of your glory…”)  We proclaimed together the Memorial Acclamation, the “Mystery of Faith”:  (“Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.”)  We heard the epiclesis, inviting the Holy Spirit to come down upon us (“Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine.”)

And, of course, we relived the actions of the Words of Institution.  Jesus took the bread.  He blessed it.  He broke it.  He gave it to his disciples.

In that moment, when I lifted the bread, and elevated the chalice, it didn’t matter that we were sitting in stackable chairs instead of pews, or that we were in an auditorium instead of a sanctuary.  With the communion elements held high in sacred silence, you and I both realized that we were observing a holy moment, on holy ground.

The liturgies of the church are our connection to a God through all the highs and lows of life.  Like the wandering Israelites who packed a portable tabernacle to worship in unlikely places, we are led by a God who is guiding us as we recover from recent tragedy.  And that’s true for you personally as well. No matter what you are dealing with, the work that you put into corporate worship – which, again, is your most important occupation on this planet – will remind you of God’s intimate connection and inexhaustible love for you.

So in a few days, when we meet in the Community Center for another Sunday morning, let us gather around the communion table and remember our primary task:  to worship God.  Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.  For it is right to give our thanks and praise.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey  

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



SUMMER WORSHIP TIME
Because of scheduling conflicts with the Community Center, we will begin our summer worship time on Sunday, May 13.  Worship will begin at 9:30am.

GENERAL CONFERENCE UPDATES
Follow the latest developments, plenary sessions, debates, votes, and worship services out of General Conference in Tampa, Florida by visiting gc2012.umc.org.  Please continue to keep this quadrennial gathering of United Methodists from around the globe in your prayers.

HOT DOG DAYS
Once again, St. Paul’s will be participating in Cherokee Hot Dog Days, on Thursday, May 10, starting at 5:00.  To help out, contact the church office or see Jeff Blum or Darly Gochenour.  Your efforts will help promote our exciting upcoming Vacation Bible School.

CELEBRATE MOM ON FACEBOOK
Visit St. Paul’s Facebook site and share your favorite memories and celebrations of your mother, and even upload a favorite picture.  You don’t need to be a member of Facebook to visit our page:  facebook.com/cherokeespumc.

VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL JUNE 18-22
This year’s theme is “Sky!” and promises to be the most exciting week ever!  VBS is for kids ages 4 through completed 5th grade. Registration will take place on May 13 and 20, and will take place June 18-22, from 9am to 12pm.  We are in particular need of volunteer “crew leaders” whose job will be to guide the groups of kids from station to station every morning.  Six more crew leaders will fill out all our volunteer needs for this year!  Also watch for our VBS donation board in the community center over the next few weeks so that you can provide supplies and food items and help defray costs.  To help out, contact Karen Long, at karedlong@yahoo.com.

FIRE RECOVERY UPDATE
Sanctuary - Painting continues in the sanctuary and is progressing well.  Champion Electric came in to repair the lighting system, which will involve the replacement and relocation of one of the lighting dimmer packs.

Kitchen and Dining Hall - The Building Committee met last Tuesday with the architect to go over the latest drawings.  The committee was pleased with the new layout and equipment, along with initial conversations about finishes (ceiling, floors, cabinetry, doors).  The committee will meet again with the architect in two weeks, during which time additional engineers will come to assess mechanical support.  We anticipate that toward the end of May, the committee will seek feedback from the congregation regarding the plans thus far.


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.
Visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/cherokeespumc.