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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Welcome Home, St. Paul's!

September 25, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

In preparation for this Sunday’s return to our sanctuary, I have been reading the Old Testament book of Ezra.  The context for that book is an Israelite nation that had been separated from its sacred homeland for seventy years due to their traumatic exile to Babylon in 586 B.C.   During that time, they were forced to maintain allegiance to God without the comforting confines of their house of worship, which had been destroyed by invading armies.  Upon their return, the Israelites were a different people:  they spoke differently (adapting their Hebrew language into the Aramaic of Jesus’ day), they marked time differently (making significant changes to their calendar), and they transformed their religious practices (making the Torah central to their lives, giving rise to the scribes and sages as Jewish leaders).   

Most importantly, they expanded their view of God.  Before the exile, the Israelites believed in a God who was fixed and immobile, and seated on the throne of the Temple mount.  This was a God they had to approach, ascending a mountain to visit.  But their traumatic displacement taught the Israelites that their God is not static after all, but free to accompany them, even into a foreign land, continuing to guide them no matter where they were.

Naturally, we can draw some parallels between the Israelites’ return to the Temple and our return to the sanctuary after seven months of being in “exile” in the Cherokee Community Center due to our fire last spring.  We, too, have learned a lot about ourselves and about God.  We’ve learned that the mission and ministry of St. Paul’s is not confined to the bricks and mortar of our sanctuary, but is housed in the hearts and hands of its faithful people.  We’ve learned that God can be praised any time, at any place, even from the auditorium of a community center.  We’ve learned that the body of Christ is bigger than the People Called Methodist, as we have been graciously hosted by the Lutherans and the Presbyterians for weddings, funerals, and luncheons.  And, we’ve learned that God can use the tragedy of a fire to galvanize a community and unite them in common cause, as we have worked together to accomplish the mission of the church.  Despite the fire, we were able to serve a record eighty-five children for Vacation Bible School, feed a thousand cyclists for RAGBRAI, support local and global missions through our special offerings, minister to many grieving families through our funeral ministry, continue the same standard of excellent, inspiring worship for which we have become known, all without the typical summer slump in worship attendance and financial stewardship.

Our building may have been destroyed, but our building the kingdom never ceased.

And now, this Sunday, we are ready to return.  It’s interesting to read what the Israelites and their leader Ezra did once they first stood on the remains of the old temple, preparing to lay the new foundation.  Notice Ezra’s descriptive language:

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.  (Ezra 3:10-13)

The scene was both so moving and so festive that folks didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  So they did both.  They were completely overcome by joyful emotion that their God had seen them through their toughest and darkest time, and enabled them to seize a future with hope.  When they realized the enormity of this gift, the gift of coming home after so much time away, they wept for joy.  They shouted out loud.  And people could hear them for miles.

This Sunday, we will gather to worship, and raise our voices high so that we can be heard from afar. You will not want to miss this historic occasion, when we sit in worship together to give praise to a God who journeys with us, empowers us for the living of these days, and, ultimately, leads us home.

Welcome home, St. Paul’s!  Welcome home!


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 celebrate the ongoing success of our senior high youth “Teen Time” with Craig and Monica Schmidt, which has been involving about eighteen youth every Wednesday night. Last week, a new Wednesday night mid-high youth group led by Emily Kramer started in the lower level basement, and seven youth came.  We are grateful for the wonderful impact this church is making on the lives of our young people, and to the volunteers who are leading them. If you know of a youth who is looking for a fun, safe environment on Wednesday nights to explore issues of faith and life, please invite them to these weekly gatherings.

A big thank you to all of you who helped with the campus wide clean up day Saturday.  If you were unable to make it and are available to help with smaller projects throughout the week, please contact the church office.

I am currently in Florida leading a retreat for some area church leaders.  I will be back on Saturday, in time to preach on Sunday. In the event of an emergency, please contact the church office, or respond to this email.

Our District Superintendent Tom Carver has scheduled our charge conference for Monday, October 29, at 7:00pm, here at St. Paul’s.  We will again be gathering with First UMC in Aurelia, Grace UMC in Marcus, and the churches of Sutherland-Larrabbee.  All members of St. Paul’s are voting members of the charge conference, which will celebrate ministries in the past year, approve the 2013 budget, and set goals for next year.

We are looking to fill our lay liturgist and children’s sermon schedule for this fall, so if you are interested in helping out in these important roles, please contact Sue Parker, Kim Luetkeman, or the church office.

Along with resuming all of our Sunday school classes, we will finish up last spring’s Confirmation Class with this year’s eighth graders starting next Sunday, from 8:50-9:50am, in the church library.  Seventh grade Confirmation will begin next January.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Golden Rule for Real Life

September 18, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Over the past several weeks, our news headlines have been dominated by a grating political campaign season, violent and deadly demonstrations in North Africa, and the nation’s ongoing financial slump.  It would have been very easy, then, to miss these four inspiring stories that may have slipped past your news radar.


Last Monday, an 18-year old youth named Takunda Mavima appeared in court to hear a judge sentence him for the accidental deaths of 17-year old Tim See and 15-year old Krysta Howell, passengers in the car that an intoxicated Mavima crashed while driving home from a party in Wyoming, Michigan.

Having pled guilty to all charges, Mavima stood tearfully before the judge and repented: “I’m so sorry that I took two bright, intelligent, wonderful people out of this world …. I wish … I’m so sorry.”

One of the victim’s sisters then stood before the judge and spoke these astonishing words of forgiveness and mercy: "I am begging you to let Takunda make something of himself in the real world -- don't send him to prison and get hard and bitter, that boy has learned his lesson a thousand times over and he'll never make the same mistake again.”  And as Mavima was walking out of the courtroom,  the victim’s father stood up, went over to Mavima, and gave him a hug.  [1]


In roughly a month, Terry Williams is set to be executed in Philadelphia for the 1984 murder of  Amos Norwood.  Until then, a collection of advocates is pleading for clemency from Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, on the grounds that he was only eighteen at the time of the murder, and a childhood victim of numerous sexual abuses by neighbors, teachers, and even Norwood himself.

What makes this petition so extraordinary is that among the lawyers, advocacy groups, and religious figures pressing for clemency is none other than Mamie Norwood, the widow of the victim. At first, her husband’s murder was “unbearable” for her.  But then, she wrote in her petition:

“Several years ago, after much prayer and self-reflection, I found the strength and courage to forgive Terry Williams.  I do not wish to see him executed.  His execution would go against my Christian faith and my belief system. He is worthy of forgiveness, and I am at peace with my decision to forgive him and have been for many years. I wish to see his life spared." [2]


Earlier this month, a family from California gathered in a Honolulu courtroom to face the young man who killed their daughter in a jet ski accident last August.  20-year old Tyler Dagby had been speeding while posing for pictures on his watercraft on Hawaii’s Keehi Lagoon when his negligence caused him to crash into 16-year old Kristen Fonseca, who died of brain injuries the following day.

Dagby wept as the family read a poem Fonseca had written about her dreams and hopes for her future.  Then, Evangelina Canton, Fonseca’s mother, addressed the court:

"I cry in the morning, I cry before I go to sleep, I cry randomly during the day looking for justice.  I mean, I'm not trying to make this guy suffer, but I need for him to understand that there's a consequence to every decision we make. That's the kind of daughter my daughter was, a very forgiving child, and so I know that it's what she would want me to do.”  [3]


Finally, you might remember last month’s horrific shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in which a lone gunman motivated by white supremacy took the lives of six people and injured four others.  What you probably did not know about was the candlelight vigil that took place two days later, where residents in the community joined with Sikh faithful to remember the victims.

Observers were amazed by the response of the Sikh congregation.  Instead of anger, revenge, or bitterness, Sikh congregants were unified in their message of forgiveness for the shooter.

Police chief John Edwards was among those amazed by their response. “In 28 years of law enforcement, I have seen a lot of hate. I have seen a lot of revenge. I’ve seen a lot of anger. What I saw, particularly from the Sikh community this week, was compassion, concern, support.   What I didn’t see was hate. I did not see revenge. I didn’t see any of that. And in law enforcement that’s unusual to not see that reaction to something like this. I want you all to understand how unique that is.”

Teri Pelzek was one of the Oak Creek residents who was startled by the Sikh’s reaction.
 “It surprised everyone when they were victims of someone so full of hatred. Because of their reaction, saying they’d like to forgive and move on, I think that’s quite the attitude to hear after what just happened.  I knew nothing about them at all. I don’t think a lot of people did. When we don’t know about somebody’s religion we assume the worst.”  [4]


The common thread among these four amazing stories is clear:  there is transformative power in forgiveness.  No, it does not restore things back to the way they were.  But the act of forgiveness can bring a healing to those whose wounds are deep and grievous.   And while you will rarely find stories like this from news agencies that prefer scandalous, more controversial headlines, you can believe that moments like these are exactly what Jesus had in mind when he spoke what we commonly call “The Golden Rule,” our text for this Sunday as part of our sermon series “A New Look at Old Favorites.”

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

We like this verse because it is pithy, quaint, and a tidy reminder to respect other people around you.  It makes for a good bumper sticker, but rarely do we think through its weighty implications.  Let’s remember that in the context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain in Luke, this command by Jesus is much more demanding, much more complicated, and much less popular:

I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.  (Luke 6:27-31)

We can admit that what Jesus asks for here seems remarkably unreasonable.  Turning the other cheek and giving up your shirt seem as ineffective as they are foolish.  Frankly, if we really thought about what Jesus meant when he first offered the “The Golden Rule,” we’d wonder why it’s become as popular as it is today.  Yet, there is no mistaking what Jesus meant.  Forgive.  Show mercy.  Demonstrate compassion.  Offer others what you’d hope they’d offer you, if the tables were turned, no matter how hard it might be.

Join us this Sunday as we take a closer look at “The Golden Rule,” and search for ways to better understand what “turning the other cheek” and “offering your shirt” meant to Jesus, in the context of first century Greco-Roman culture.  We’ll discover that these actions are not signs of weakness, acquiescence, or helplessness, but bold and courageous demonstrations of strength.  And, we’ll learn how fulfilling Jesus’ call for forgiveness and empathetic compassion can transform our lives and change the world.

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
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/father-michigan-car-accident-victim-hugs-teen-driver-caused-crash-article-1.1158364
[2] http://articles.philly.com/2012-09-07/news/33651428_1_sexual-abuse-clemency-petition-elmo-smith
[3] http://abcnews.go.com/US/jet-skier-killed-16-year-hawaii-set-released/story?id=17162774#.UFfgfM3yjrM
[4] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3742957.ece

Help us prepare to move back to the sanctuary by participating in this Saturday morning’s church-wide clean up day.  From 9:00 to 12:00 noon, we need people to help with various cleaning projects around the campus.  Consider bringing the following supplies with you, if you have them:  Rags, Glass Cleaner, Buckets, Furniture Polish, Dust Mops, Brooms, Paper Towels, Clean Paint Brushes, Small Vacuums, Drop Cords, Small Hand Tools, Hammer,  Small Ladder,  Step Stool,  Rakes,  Trimmers, Pruning Shears, and Yard Waste Containers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Now You Know the Worst"

September 11, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

On this eleventh anniversary of the events of 9/11, this poem by the great Wendell Berry captures the solemnity, challenge, and promise of this day of remembrance.

Now You Know the Worst

By Wendell Berry

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know

there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

May we all take a moment to remember the past and present victims of that fateful day, give thanks for the heroes who have sacrificed their lives with honor and courage, and pray for the ongoing work of peace throughout our war-torn, violence-addicted world.  May God’s perpetual light shine on all of us.

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
Email:  mdevega@sp-umc.org

This Sunday we continue our sermon series that takes a fresh look at some of the best known passages of scripture.  We’ll turn our attention to the 23rd Psalm, one of the most widely translated, memorized, and spoken passages in the entire Bible.

We will be returning to our Sanctuary on September 30!  We anticipate that the pews will be reinstalled next week, the last major piece in recovering the use of our sanctuary from the fire last Spring.  In addition, all of our Sunday school classes will resume on that date.

We can use as many volunteers as possible on Saturday morning, September 22, to help do some final cleaning in the church buildings to prepare for our return to the sanctuary on September 30.  From 9am-12:00pm, we’ll need folks to do a variety of projects on the campus.  If you are interested in helping, please respond to this email or contact the church office.

Starting Wednesday, September 19, we are offering a new mid-week youth group gathering for mid-high students in grades 7-8.  Emily Kramer, one of our young adults, will be leading this new program that will include fun, interactive, and in-depth conversations about life and the Christian faith.  They will explore issues relevant to the lives of youth today, all in the context of Scripture, in a casual, safe atmosphere.  Gatherings will take place in our newly refinished lower level basement on Wednesdays from 6:30-8:00pm, and mid-high students are encouraged to bring a friend.  For questions, or to volunteer to provide snacks, contact Emily at 229-2303.

Dear young adults and young parents of St. Paul’s, we want to let you know of a new ministry possibility that is in development.  Liza (Parker) Fuller is interested in helping lead a new small group Bible study, specifically targeting young adults and young parents.  The content, day, time, and location will be determined by those interested in participating.  This can be your chance to take your faith to the next level in a friendly, safe environment among people you know who are a lot like you.  If we have the study here at the church, St. Paul’s would be very willing to explore funding child care in the nursery so that those with children can participate.  If you are interested, please contact Liza right away at 261-5492, or lizafullada@hotmail.com.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Monumental Moments

September 5, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

One of my favorite finds this summer came during our recent trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  After taking in the breathtaking spectacle of Mt. Rushmore, the girls and I went in to one of the gift shops, where I found a picture of the mountain before it was sculpted into the famous faces we see today.

This picture, taken in 1905, shows peaks of rugged granite towering over Ponderosa pine trees at 5,725 feet above sea level. It is a picture majestic in its own right, stirring in its natural beauty, even before its carvings made it famous.   

A postcard of pre-monument Rushmore now sits in my office, my favorite souvenir from that trip.   Every time I look at it, I am reminded of the ongoing work of God’s sanctifying grace in our lives, which patiently, diligently carves away at the hardened facades that conceal the image of God that lies deep within us.  Just like famous sculptor Gutzon Borglum’s work on Rushmore took fourteen years to complete and extended even past his death, the process of becoming more like Christ takes time, work, and patience.

When I was a senior in my private Christian high school, each of my classmates were asked to select a “life verse” that would be read as we walked across the stage when we received our diplomas. I chose this one, from Philippians:

For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

There would have been no way to imagine back in 1990 when I selected that verse how much my life would have changed in the ensuing twenty-two years.  Ups and downs, twists and turns, highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies.  The range of events is not uncommon to most of us, as I’m sure you’ve had your own fair share of transformative moments in your life, both positive and negative.

In retrospect, you and I can see that at every turn, God has been at work, chipping away at our hardened hearts and rough-edged personalities, teaching us – sometimes painfully – about being utterly dependent on God and clear in our commitment to God’s ways.  Just like Borglum’s crew used both explosives and nail files to carve into the granite, our lives are filled with monumental moments, both great and small, that change our lives forever.

But pondering the Philippians passage, and looking at that 1905 picture of Rushmore can give us hope.  They comfort us with the certain reminder that God is not finished with us yet.

The great sculptor Michelangelo once wrote a letter to his friend Benedetto Varchi, an Italian historian and poet.  In that letter he described his process of sculpting his great works:  “I saw an angel in the marble,” he wrote, “and I worked to set it free ... Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

That’s the way the sanctifying grace of God works.  As my clergy colleague and friend Jim Harnish likes to say,  God’s grace loves us enough to meet us where we are, and loves us too much to leave us there.  Behind the cleverly constructed facades we use to mask our fears and conceal our weaknesses, God sees an imago dei, God’s very own image, waiting to be set free.  The process of releasing that image takes time, and is with no small share of difficulty.  But over time, we can see the face of God, shining through us for all to see.

Regardless of what twists and turns life has thrown at you, no matter how painful or traumatic, know that you are never outside the loving hand of a God who sees you for more than your past.  God envisions a future for you, more content and more blessed than what you can imagine.  It may take work, as you and God strip away surfaces long calcified by sin, resentment, and regret.  But believe this:  the God who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Here’s the most interesting fact I learned about Mt. Rushmore.  It’s still not finished.  And it won’t be completed in our lifetimes.  Not in a thousand lifetimes.  But it’s getting closer to being finished every year.  It’s just the way Gutzom Borglum planned it when he began work on the sculptures:

I am allowing an extra three inches on all the features of the various Presidents in order to provide stone for the wear and tear of the elements, which cuts the granite down one inch every hundred thousand years.  Three inches would require three-hundred thousand years to bring the work down to the point what I would like to finish it.  In other words, the work will not be done for another three hundred thousand years, as it should be.

We are all works in progress.  The winds of change and difficulties of life may weather us, but life is an ongoing process of conforming to the likeness of Jesus Christ.  And even when things are at their toughest, we can trust in God, the author and perfecter of our faith, the sculptor of our souls, who will be faithful to complete that good work in us.

So be encouraged, dear friends, and trust in God.


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

Join us this Sunday as we start a new series called “A New Look at Old Favorites.”  We’ll explore fresh interpretations of some of the best known scripture passages, including Psalm 23, the Golden Rule, and Genesis 1:1.  We’ll kick off the series with John 3:16.

As a reminder, we will begin our fall worship schedule this Sunday, with worship beginning at 10:10.

We will be returning to our Sanctuary on September 30!  We anticipate that the pews will be reinstalled the week of September 17, the last major piece in recovering the use of our sanctuary from the fire last Spring.  In addition, all of our Sunday school classes will resume on that date.

We can use as many volunteers as possible on Saturday morning, September 22, to help do some final cleaning in the church buildings to prepare for our return to the sanctuary on September 30.  From 9am-12:00pm, we’ll need folks to do a variety of projects on the campus.  If you are interested in helping, please respond to this email or contact the church office.