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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The World Between the Testaments

November 27, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Imagine waking up this morning after having been asleep for the last four hundred years.

It would mean that the world you once knew was back in 1612, just five years after the first English settlers founded the Jamestown colony in Virginia, a few years after Captain John Smith met the famed Pocahontas, and back when the first seeds of tobacco were ever planted on our soil.

Then, you wake up from your four century long slumber, and you see the United States as it is today.  A jungle of concrete and cables, with sprawling cities and cultivated farmlands, filled with millions of people living in a high speed, completely digitized world.

Culture shock?  Probably so.

To a large degree, that is precisely what readers of the Bible experience when they skip from the Old Testament into the New Testament.  The jump from Malachi to Matthew may be a mere flip of the page in our Bibles, but it is a hyper-speed time shift of four centuries in the Ancient Near Eastern world.

In that period of time, commonly known as the Intertestamental Period, seismic events shaped the world into which Jesus was eventually born.  The land of Palestine, occupied by the returning Israelite exiles, became the brokered pawn of major empires that entered and exited the world stage.  The great Persian empire fell with the rise of the Greeks and Alexander the Great, whose demise gave way to independence under the Ptolemies, eventually to succumb to Caesar and the mighty Romans.

Consider all the changes that occurred to the Hebrew people between the Old and New Testaments.  

        •    They learned to speak new languages (Aramaic for every day conversation, Greek for international commerce, while still maintaining Hebrew for worship.)
        •    They saw the rise of new religious leaders that would react either favorably (Sadducees) or against (Pharisees) prevailing Greco-Roman influences.
        •    They would gather in new facilities called synagogues for religious instruction and community affairs.
        •    The isolated communes of farms and villages would evolve into expansive metropolises connected by modern roads and common currency.
        •    Even the way the Hebrew people referred to themselves changed, from the ancient name Israelite (which connected them to their ancestor Jacob, meaning “mighty with God”) to the modern name Jew (which connected them to Judah, the sole surviving tribe which returned from exile).
        •    And it is here we find the origins of Hannukah, the festival of lights that Jewish people still observe today, based on the miracle that occurred at the dedication of the Temple during the second century B.C.

Most importantly, this period gave rise to the chief theological concern of the Jewish people:  the arrival of a messiah, who would bring them political freedom and cultural independence.

I don’t think it’s possible to fully understand and appreciate all that the arrival of Jesus means to us this Christmas without knowing what happened in the years just prior to his birth 2,000 years ago.  That’s why I’ve decided to devote this Advent season to a deeper exploration of the significant changes that occurred in the people of God between the testaments.

Over these upcoming weeks, we’ll discover how the return from exile and the dominant Greco-Roman world contributed to the world that Jesus knew, and why they are so important in understanding the message of the gospels.

More importantly, we’ll learn how to cultivate and maintain hope amid the cultural and societal shifts taking place in our world today.  If you are looking for ways to find a solid anchor in your life in a time when so much around you and within you is changing beyond your control, then join us for this special Advent series.  It will be both informative and formative, preparing you once again for the arrival of the Messiah.

Between the Testaments:
The World Awaiting Jesus

December 2
The Exiles Return:  The People Long for a Messiah
Jeremiah 33:14-16

December 9
Children’s Christmas Program
Malachi 3:1-4

December 16
The Greek Empire:  Changing the Way We Think

December 23
The Roman Empire:  The World of Jesus
Micah 5:2-5a

December 24
A St. Paul’s Christmas Carol
Luke 2:1-20

December 30
Jesus:  What the World Needs Now
Matthew 2:13-23

Happy Advent!


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 on December 9 for our special Christmas program featuring our Children’s Ministries.  They will lead us in the singing of carols, and a vivid retelling of the nativity story.

Once again, our Adult Class will be sponsoring a sale of Christmas cookies to support ministries and projects for the church.  Reserve an extra batch or two of your favorite holiday cookies and bring them to the church Sunday morning, December 9, where they will be packaged as part of our sale.

If you have not yet done so, please turn in your stewardship commitment card to the church office, so that the Finance Committee can make budgetary plans for next year.  Extra pledge cards are available in the office or in the sanctuary pew racks.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Poem for Thanksgiving

November 21, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

From Pulitzer Prize winning poet Carl Sandburg, from his collection Cornhuskers, with these simple directions:  “Written to be read aloud, if so be, Thanksgiving Day.”

“Fire Dreams”
by Carl Sandburg (1918)

I remember here by the fire,
In the flickering reds and saffrons,
They came in a ramshackle tub,
Pilgrims in tall hats,
Pilgrims of iron jaws,
Drifting by weeks on beaten seas,
And the random chapters say
They were glad and sang to God.

And so
Since the iron-jawed men sat down
And said, “Thanks, O God,”
For life and soup and a little less
Than a hobo handout to-day,
Since gray winds blew gray patterns of sleet on Plymouth Rock,
Since the iron-jawed men sang “Thanks, O God,”
You and I, O Child of the West,
Remember more than ever
November and the hunter’s moon,
November and the yellow-spotted hills.

And so
In the name of the iron-jawed men
I will stand up and say yes till the finish is come and gone.
God of all broken hearts, empty hands, sleeping soldiers,
God of all star-flung beaches of night sky,
I and my love-child stand up together to-day and sing: “Thanks, O God.”

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and yours a week of grateful acknowledgment of God’s blessings in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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

As you prepare your shopping lists to purchase Christmas gifts for loved ones, consider using our annual Alternative Christmas Gift catalog, sponsored by the Missions Committee.  Starting this Sunday, you can buy gifts in honor of loved ones that support numerous local and international agencies, including Heifer International, Church World Service, and the Cherokee Needy Children Program.

Thank you to all of you who contributed to our recent food drives for Mid-Sioux and the Christian Action Program.  Your donations totaled 482 food items, just in time for the holidays.  Thank you!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tales of a Flying Preacher

November 13, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

As many of you know by now, the girls and I have landed roles in the Cherokee Community Theater’s upcoming production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: The Broadway Musical.  The girls are part of the town choir, and I – if you can believe it – am playing the Ghost of Jacob Marley.

Try to imagine your pastor dressed in a ghostly white vest, tailcoat, and knee socks, encumbered by drooping chains, locks, keys, and cash boxes.  I’ll even be wearing a pigtail wig.  The role also involves singing, of course, which means that the song “Link by Link” has been irrevocably scarred into my brain. (“Link by Link / My chain was getting longer / Link by Link / I should have heard it clink / Link by Link / Each year a little stronger / Link by Link by HORRIFYING Link!”)

Oh, and did I mention the part requires flying?

That’s right, I’ll be entering the stage suspended about twenty feet in the air, then bouncing ethereally around the set during my encounter with Scrooge.  (And by bouncing ethereally, I should rather say “clumsily thumping around like a medicine ball on beach sand.”)  Yes, this pigtailed preacher will be flying.  Which means hell will soon freeze over, followed by the Cubs winning the World Series.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  You take one look at me and say to yourself, “Wow, that preacher really looks like nineteenth century Londoner.” Okay, maybe not.  I look as much like Marley’s ghost as I would, say, Annie.  Which is why I had to chuckle a bit when the director Andy Linn offered me the part with the comforting caveat that the theater’s makeup department would be purchasing “lots of white powder.”

During one of our earliest conversations in rehearsal, Andy asked me to channel my inner instincts as a preacher to understand Marley’s character.  Dickens used Marley’s life as a morality tale, a kind of sermon illustration for Scrooge, from which he could learn the mistakes of living a radically self-centered life, obsessed with the accumulation of money.  Marley’s repentance is fueled not by genuine remorse, but by a bitterness brewed over years of regret for knowing neither the error of his ways nor the consequence of his choices.

Like a good preacher, Dickens used an image as an object lesson to drive home his main point:  in this case, a chain.  If you live a life of selfishness rather than generosity, it will be as if you are encumbered by heavy chains around your soul.  (“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself?  It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since.  It is a ponderous chain!”)

Since I’ve been living in Marley’s skin over the last two months, it seemed natural that I would connect Dickens’ tale with this stewardship sermon series called “The Spirit of St. Paul’s.”  This Sunday, as we observe Commitment Sunday and bring forward our pledge cards for 2013, it is my prayer that the same transformation that occurred in old Ebenezer will take place in any one of us who chooses the path of generosity:

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”

Let us surrender to the power of God who has come to set us free, laying aside the heavy shackles that have turned our hearts inward upon themselves.  And let us experience the joy that comes from abundance and charity, and a life of service to God and others.

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

Tickets for the general public went on sale yesterday, and tickets will be going quickly. There will only be eight performances during the six-day run, November 30, December 1, 6-9.  Tickets are $12 adult and $8 children under 12, and can be reserved online through cherokeect.org or by calling the community theater box office at 712-225-4440.

We are once again ringing bells for the Salvation Army, and 90% of the proceeds will stay right here in the county to help people with emergency needs.  We will be ringing at Hy-Vee, Fareway, and K-Mart, and the dates begin Friday, November 23, followed by every Saturday until Christmas Eve. Sign up sheets are in the narthex for time slots from 10am-2pm on those days, and for more information contact Mary Jo Carnine.

Philip Gulley, a Quaker pastor and bestselling author, will present the annual Morningside College Wright Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, at Grace United Methodist Church, 1735 Morningside Avenue in Sioux City.  The lecture is free and open to the public.  Gulley has published 17 books, including the “Harmony” series of novels that chronicle life in the Quaker community of Harmony, Ind., and the bestselling “Porch Talk” series of inspirational and humorous essays. His most recent book is “The Evolution of Faith: How God is Creating a Better Christianity.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The 2012 Pastor's Report

November 6, 2012

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

For those not in attendance at last week’s Charge Conference, I want to share with you this year’s pastor’s report, which offers the main highlights of our year together.  I invite you to read it and join with me in celebrating another great year of putting God’s love into action, even despite our recent church fire.


Pastor’s Report
St. Paul’s UMC Charge Conference
October 29, 2012
Magrey R. deVega

When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you. I am the LORD your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior.
– Isaiah 43:2-3
       This will forever be a memorable year in the history of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.  On February 26, 2012, a fire that started on the north stove of the kitchen destroyed the entire kitchen and Schuldt Dining Hall, and caused significant smoke damage to the sanctuary and Feller Lounge.  The devastation was shocking news to a congregation that had never had a fire in its 154-year history.
        But just as a fire in nature has a way of forging the potential for new life, this congregation has displayed an amazing vitality in the weeks and months following the disaster.  We relocated our worship service to the Cherokee Community Center for seven months, and continued gathering for excellent, inspirational worship without suffering our normally sizable drop in summer attendance or giving.  In fact, the different space created an opportunity for a casual, fun worship environment, and the great sound system ensured that people could hear everything from the stage.
        By far the greatest blessing through this ordeal has been the amazing leadership offered by some incredible leaders and committees in the congregation.  The Board of Trustees, led by the inimitable Don Witcombe, were immediate, proficient, and thorough in their response and recovery efforts.  The Building Committee, led by Gene Anderson, has faithfully engaged a long, comprehensive process of designing the new facilities with our architects and engineers, negotiating through tough decisions, and soliciting feedback and support from the congregation.  And many in the congregation have stepped in to offer many hours of volunteer service to help us work through this recovery.  
        On September 30, a little over seven months since our fire, we returned to worship in the sanctuary.  After a thorough cleaning by ServiceMaster, a new coat of paint (including a repair to the ceiling in the southwest corner), and new pew cushions and carpet, the sanctuary feels (and, more importantly, smells!) as good as new.
        We are now in the process of completing our negotiations with the insurance company and general contractor to begin work on the new kitchen and dining hall. The church’s leadership has spent much time designing the facilities that this church will need to carry out its mission through future generations, and they have paid careful attention to make sure that all the plans comply with newer code requirements.  We look forward to seeing the new rooms when they are completed.

        We celebrate the fact that even though the fire was the major headline in our church family over the past year, it did not preclude us from doing some amazing work for the kingdom of God.  Last December, St. Paul’s had a very busy Advent season, introducing some new ways to engage people in the work of mission throughout the community. We started a Winter Outerwear Ministry that solicited donations from the congregation and aided dozens of families with coats, jackets, and other cold weather clothing.  For the first time, St. Paul’s sponsored a Bell Ringing program for the Salvation Army, providing volunteers to ring bells and solicit money at Fareway, Hy-Vee, and K-Mart during the weekends of December.  Your support raised over $3,500, 90% of which stayed right here in Cherokee. And, the Missions Committee offered its second annual Alternative Christmas Gift Catalog and saw an increase in the number of gifts people gave to Heifer International, Church World Service, and Stan Sitzmann’s Needy Children Project.  Finally, the youth program did another service project for the Midwest Christian Children’s Home.
        Last February, a week before the fire, we hosted another successful Pancake Day Race and Shrove Tuesday Service, raising around $1,000 for the two local food pantries.  And then in May, despite the fire, we were able to participate once again in Cherokee Hot Dog Days, thanks to Jeff Blum, Rodney Bainbridge, Darly Gochenour, and several other wonderful volunteers. We used that as an outreach opportunity to promote our upcoming Vacation Bible School.
        And what a VBS it was!  We relocated our program to the lower level basement, which we remodeled with a new kitchenette, carpeting, and a fresh coat of paint thanks to Rod Brown.  As a result of the great leadership and creativity of coordinator Karen Long, we were able to have over eighty children participate in a powerful experience of God’s love, made real for them.  Thanks to their efforts, and those matched by the congregation, the children were able to raise over $1,500 for needy street children in India through a United Methodist-sponsored program.
       Speaking of children and youth, these months have been marked by amazing growth in our ministry to our young people.  Craig and Monica Schmidt continue their tremendous work with our senior high, now hosting about twenty teens in their home every Wednesday.  Our kids are even exchanging friendly debates with their classmates about which church has the best youth group! Thanks to Emily Kramer, we have started a new program for seventh and eight graders on Wednesday nights, and we are getting about eight to ten kids, with new kids every week.  And we are grateful once again to John Chalstrom for coordinating a ski trip for the kids last February, which attracted about thirty kids, our highest total ever.
        We certainly cannot summarize the past year without celebrating the incredible way this church offered ministry and hospitality to the thousands of bicyclists that came through Cherokee in last July’s RAGBRAI event.  We offered two feeding sites, a lunch-time “Cowboy Oasis” on our church’s front lawn, and an evening meal at “Mustang Sherry’s” at the community center.  We offer great thanks for the leadership of Jenny Burroughs (who ensured that we carefully followed – and passed! – all health code regulations), John Cook, Sherry Held, and their great team of volunteers.  Additional thanks to Kristal and Curtis Phillips for arranging our use of the corn roaster for the event.  In all, we served about 1,000 hungry bicyclists, who were grateful for the great food and warm hospitality.  And, we hosted about 75 riders in our own building, along with hundreds more housed by individual church members.  We were glad to welcome the thousands of bicyclists to Cherokee, and thrilled to say good-bye to them when they left!

        Even by numerical standards, this has been a great year.  Last March, our statistical report to the Conference celebrated forty-eight new members at St. Paul’s over the prior twelve months, nearly half of them by profession of faith.  That means many new folks have joined the church who have never made a commitment to Christ or joined another local church.  And, once again, we achieved third-mile status in our Rainbow Covenant Missions giving, the highest distinction offered by the Conference.
But of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story.  St. Paul’s has continued to provide great pastoral care and support to people in need throughout this past year.  Our Visitation Program continues to link lay visitors with shut-ins and homebound persons.  We continue to be the epicenter of care for people seeking health and wholeness, with four Alcoholics Anonymous groups, Moms on Meth, Narcotics Anonymous, and our Wednesday morning weight-loss group, called WOW (“Weight Off Wisely”).
        Our Funeral Luncheon Team continues to provide incredibly generous and gracious hospitality for grieving families in Cherokee, and we extend special thanks to Bethlehem Lutheran Church and Memorial Presbyterian Church for allowing us to use their facilities for funeral luncheons and weddings.  Finally, our Helping Hands program, under the guidance of Sheree Hausmann and Marlene Kelly, continues to link the skills and energy of people in the congregation with those in need.

The prophet Isaiah offered a word of encouragement to God’s people, that when they go through the fire, they would not be burned.  It is that same promise of comfort that gives us hope as we look ahead to even brighter days together.  These last few months, while memorable, have been a blessing to us.  God has brought us together, uniting us with determination and joy for the future.  Now more than ever, these are exciting days to be a part of St. Paul’s UMC.  I count it a deep privilege to have served another year as this church’s pastor, and I look forward to another great year of putting God’s love into action!

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

We join with all Americans today in exercising the privilege and responsibility to vote for our elected leaders.  As you make your choices, please offer a prayer for civility and fairness in all of today’s proceedings, along with unity for our country starting tomorrow.

This Sunday we observe an important milestone in the faith journey of our eighth graders.  We celebrate the commitments they will be making to Jesus Christ, the church, and the ministries of St. Paul’s.

We continue our annual stewardship campaign, themed “The Spirit of St. Paul’s,” with a sermon this Sunday titled “The Spirit of St. Paul’s Present.”  Watch your mail in the next few days for the arrival of a special mailing from the church, which contains a copy of the 2013 budget and your commitment card for this year.

I am currently in Leesburg, Florida, for one of my two annual weeks serving the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Florida Annual Conference. I will be returning on Friday in time to preach this Sunday.  In the event of an emergency, I will be checking email periodically, or you can contact the church office.

“Thanks to all for your cards, memorials, and prayers for Don Henderson.  He is in a better place.”  - Ellen Henderson and Family