xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: March 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Golgotha's Cross

March 26, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Golgotha’s Cross

By Raymond Kresensky, 1892-1955

What is the cross on Golgotha to me – 
But the brave young Jesus murdered there?
Roman justice debased?
Israel’s Messiah lost?
The tender lips agonized?
The active mind bewildered?
The feet, that walked fair Galilee,
Pierced by nails?
I have tried to speak
The words those lips revealed.
I have tried to think as he thought.
I have taught my feet to walk
Humbly as he walked.
And God prepared me a cross.
The arms reach out to gather in
The cripples, the blind, the weak.
The arms reach out to feed them,
To give them to drink.
In these hands the nails are driven.
But the cross points upward.
The arms fold me.
The cross lifts me.
Golgotha’s cross is the road to heaven.

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

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

Join us this week for a powerful service of remembrance and celebration:

Thursday, March 28, 7:00 pm:
Maundy Thursday Service of Remembrance and Communion

Friday, March 29, 7:00pm:
Good Friday Service of Tenebrae

Sunday, March 31, 7:00am and 10:10am:
Identical Easter Sunday Worship Services

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dreaming of a White Easter

March 12, 2013

Dear Snow-Packed Pilgrims,

What a difference a day makes.

This is now my sixth Iowa winter.  And while we’ve had worse winters since the time I arrived, I can’t ever remember as jarring a change in the weather as what we saw this weekend.  On Friday and Saturday, we enjoyed a long, soaking rain, as it washed away the last of the ice and gave our soil some desperately needed moisture.  Then, on the same night that we lost an hour of sleep, we lost our early spring, as a blizzard blew through northwest Iowa, whipped us with over thirty mile per hour winds, and buried us in a thick layer of snow that last all day and into the night.  By the time we woke up on Monday morning, we looked out of our windows at the deep blanket that smothered our town.  We had gone from no snow on the ground to fourteen inches on the ground in about twelve hours.  This may be old hat for some of you winter veterans, but I’d never seen anything like it. 

Like many of you, I spent most of yesterday morning digging, shoveling, and clearing my way back into a normal routine.  I came inside to warm up, and the preacher instinct in me kicked in, the one that tries to turn misery into sermon illustrations.  I wondered if people in the Bible ever had to contend with a snowstorm. 

Nope.  As it turns out, they did not.  The word snow occurs twenty-one times in Hebrew and three times in Greek, but it is never used to describe an actual weather event.  Instead, the word is used literarily, as a figure of speech to describe a human condition.  Sometimes, it is used to depict leprosy, as in Exodus 4:6, when Moses looked at his hand and noticed it was “leprous as snow.”  Other times it is used to describe garments, as in the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 28:3, when Jesus’ clothing turned “white as snow.”

Many times, however, snow is used to describe a soul wholly devoted to God, which makes this blizzard a timely occurrence, given our current sermon series on “Tending the Soul.” 

Consider these verses:

“Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.”  (Psalm 51:7; King David, confessing his sins to God)

“Come now, and let’s settle this, says the Lord.  Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow.  If they are red as crimson, they will become like wool.”  (Isaiah 1:18; A word from God to a wayward people, offering them forgiveness of sins.)

“Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and don’t return there without watering the earth … so is my word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty.  Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend.”  (Isaiah 55:10-11, describing the power of the word of the Lord to transform lives.)

Yes, the timing and volume of the snow came as a surprise.  But as you look out your window at the blanket of pure white that surrounds us, ask yourself this question: 

“How is it with your soul?”


Last Thursday, twenty-four members of the church joined me in a congregation-wide fast.  For just about everyone, this was the first time they had ever fasted for spiritual reasons.  Given their permission, I thought I would share anonymously just a few of their reflections on the experience. 

The fasting experience was definitely good for me.  I have never fasted for the correct reasons and, truthfully, I thought it wasn’t for me.  The peace and trust that came from the surrender of food was wonderful.  To give “my” control up – or, better yet, the control that food has on me – and know that God is in control is what surrender is all about…A hymn that came to mind was “Make me a captive, Lord / And then I’ll be set free.”  How beautiful is that?  If I choose to be a captive of God’s will and be free of the “somethings” in life having control over me, I will have peace.

Yes, I would participate again.  I was able to focus on the devotions and I made an effort to give each lesson meaning to myself as to how it applies to my life.  I especially like being spoon-fed the scriptures and the focus questions that followed them.  I find that this is the guidance I need when reading scripture.

This morning I drove to Omaha to catch a flight to Denver. The back road along the Loess Hills is always beautiful, but since I wasn't snacking I was even more aware of it. Even in the brown drear of March I sensed the peacefulness of nature and the impending change of seasons - it made me very happy to be aware of this. And when I drove through Rodney, I saw a goat sitting on a picnic table. I wished I'd had the nerve to stop and take a picture, but I won't forget it! For me, the renewed appreciation of the beauty of our Earth and the pleasures we can find if we only take time to observe them was the gift I found from God through fasting. I hope to try this again.

This last message comes from Charlie Leissler, our wonderful resident guitarist/lyricist: 

I had not fasted in this way before. During trying times or just needing to clear my mind I would always sit and play a guitar. That eases and relaxes me. What I found out during the last 24 hours is that there is one more window, or level that I can get to through prayer and fasting. What a find! So, the refrain to the song I wrote last week fits nicely.

“Keep my eyes wide open
Keep my heart wide open
To His unending light
That fuels my soul”

If you were not able to join us on the fast last week and would like to try it on your own, I’d be happy to share with you the seven messages I emailed participants every three hours during our fast.  You can use them to guide your own experience at your convenience.  Just let me know.

Grace and Peace (and Happy Shoveling!),


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

If you missed the service last Sunday because of the weather, audio CD recordings of the service are available for you by request from the church office at no charge.  I would be happy to email you a manuscript of the sermon as well, if you would like. 

Join us this Sunday as our own David and Judi Klee offer their wonderful ministry of music for the full worship hour.  As you know, they are now actively putting God’s love into action through their music in churches all throughout northwest Iowa.  You won’t want to miss this very special time of praise, prayer, and testimony from these two talented musicians. 

The girls and I will be out of town from this Thursday, March 14, to Wednesday, March 20, spending part of Spring Break and into next week celebrating Grace’s birthday.  We drive to Chicago, from which I found inexpensive airline tickets to take the girls on their first ever visit to New York City.  We’ll be taking in a broadway show (“Wicked!”) and perhaps pay a visit on Monday to the Rockefeller Plaza to hold up a “Happy 12th Birthday, Grace!” sign outside the set of the Today Show.  Thanks for prayer for safe travel, and in the event of an emergency, please contact the church office.  The Mid-Week Message will resume during Holy Week, March 25. 

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit http://mdevega.blogspot.com.
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Not for Treasures or Trophies

March 5, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

As many of you know, we are in the midst of observing three funerals over a period of five days.  Tomorrow’s celebration of Judy Miekle, along with Phyllis Elliot on Saturday and Edie Holler yesterday, mark the passing of three women who lived out their faith with great compassion and strength, and were members of this church for a combined total of over one hundred and fifty years. 

It has certainly been an active year for funerals for me, as I have performed thirty of them over the past twelve months, with most of them non-members.  This busy stretch over the past few days prompted me to pause yesterday and ponder for a moment how families work through their loss of a loved one.  Writing today’s Mid-Week Message, then, has been as helpful to me in processing through these eventful days as it hopefully will be to you in reading it. 


The time I spend with a family to plan a funeral is one of the most important, most sacred occasions in my profession.  I am there to serve as a counselor, a resident theologian, and a pastoral wordsmith.  Every critical component of my calling to ministry is represented in that hallowed hour.  Most of all, I am there to elicit and gather stories that capture the family’s fullest remembrance of their loved one. 

It often takes little prompting on my part to get the stories started. The stories often come randomly, from different members of the family, with no prescribed order or flow.  Sometimes family will share a choice story from their loved one’s youth, then skip ahead to the final days, then back to their marriage.  There’s no planned sequence.  A story about a loved one’s difficult days is followed by a happy memory, then someone tells a funny story, followed by a poignant memory, and just like that, the family is moved to tears. 

This kind of story telling and story gathering is critical in the grieving process.  Families will share a story immediately as it comes to mind, hoping that in its uttering, it can be captured and preserved.  Like catching fireflies on a summer night, they work quickly to capture the stories that might become the small, flickering lights they can cherish in the midst of their darkness.


Though the stories are as varied as the people we’ve remembered, there is one common facet among them.  Loved ones aren’t remembered for their possessions or their achievements.  Not their gadgets or their toys, or their properties or portfolios.  Not their successes or their trophies, or their distinctions or their diplomas.  None of those things ever seem to matter when it comes to important family memories. 

What does a family remember the most?  The relationships.  The people.  The people that were impacted by their loved one’s talents and time.  Those who were privileged enough to be within that person’s sphere of influence.  Each person who says, “I will never be the same because that person was in my life.”

That’s the common thread that I’ve heard over and over again, story after story, funeral after funeral, dozens of times over the past year, and countless times over my years in ministry.  The true treasure in life is found in the relationships one builds and maintains over the course of their lifetimes.
Here’s the thing that has been stirring in me throughout these last days.  In the end, after we are gone, we are going to be remembered.  Not for our treasures or trophies, but by the quality of the love that we shared, gave, and received with those around us.  That will be the most important thing that we leave behind, and the only thing – the only thing – that will truly matter.

Maybe you and I both need to do some work investing more into those relationships with people.  Cherish the relationships you have with those around you.  Love them, spend time with them, make memories with them, and tell them how you feel about them before their funeral, rather than after. 

You won’t have them forever.  And they won’t have you forever.  Today is a gift, and you have been given a treasure.  Don’t waste it. 

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

As a reminder, don’t forget to adjust your clocks one hour ahead this weekend, as we begin Daylight Savings Time. 

Join us this Sunday as we continue our sermon series on tending the soul.  We will turn our attention to the Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, which describes the relationship between a faithful person and the law of the Lord.  We’ll learn ways to incorporate scripture reading and study into our daily discipline to grow in our faith.

Last Sunday we learned about the theology and practice of the spiritual discipline of fasting, and I extended a church-wide invitation for people to join me in a fast from noon this Thursday to noon on Friday.  If you would like to participate, let me know by email and I will send you messages with prayer, scripture, and encouragement several times throughout our fast.

This Sunday we will receive an offering for the One Great Hour of Sharing, which supports the United Methodist Committee on Relief.