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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Disciple's Path

September 24, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

“Nature does not proceed by leaps and bounds.”  - Carl Linnaeus

Grace was eager to come home from school yesterday to demonstrate what she learned in Mrs. Rochleau’s science class.  She said it quickly, each word rolling off the tongue with a confident cadence and precise diction:

“Kingdom, Phyla, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species,” she trumpeted, proudly.  The old biology major in me couldn’t be prouder. 

She had memorized the essential categories of the timeless classification system developed by Carl Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish biologist known as the father of modern taxonomy.  His work was based on a simple premise:  the more we can classify specific details of every organism, the better we can appreciate both the interconnectedness and diversity of all of life. 

I asked Grace if she could categorize human beings, and she correctly identified our genus species name as homo sapiens.  Eventually, she will be able to complete our taxonomy, as Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Primates, Genus: Homo, Species:  Sapiens.  Once she is able to do this, she will be able to see how we fit in the grand scheme of all living things.

Grace’s eagerness to learn this classification system made me think about our own identity as a St. Paul’s congregation.  It may be a crude analogy, but we can classify our existence as Genus: St. Paul’s, Species: United Methodist, Order: Wesleyan, Class: Protestant, Phylum: Christianity….

…. and then, of course, Kingdom: God.  We are all part of the Kingdom of God. 


Just as learning the Linnaean Classification System helps humans see their place in the world, discovering who we are as United Methodists clarifies our place in the Kingdom of God.  That is why, starting October 6, we will begin what may be the most important series I have offered in my six years as your pastor.  It is a six-week series that will help us learn more about what it means to be United Methodists committed to Christ through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, which are the vital components of our membership vow.   

The series is called “A Disciple’s Path,” based on a curriculum distributed by the United Methodist Publishing House.  It is written by my good friends, Rev. Jim Harnish and Rev. Justin LaRosa, and developed at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida, where I served prior to coming here.  To date, A Disciple’s Path has been used by over 4,000 churches across the country, helping its members grow in their commitments to Christ and remember their mission and purpose as a congregation.

A critical part of this series will be your participation in a weekly small group.  I am grateful to the following people who are volunteering as facilitators of these groups, as they will host and guide conversations that will take your discipleship to the next level.  They will start October 7, using a workbook that will be available for purchase.  To secure a spot soon, please respond to this email or contact the church office with your preference.

·      Sheree Hausmann and Jenny Burroughs:  Monday evenings, 7:00-8:30, Home of Sheree and Louis Hausmann 
·      Connie Hankens and Meribeth Adams:  Tuesday afternoons, 1:00-2:30, Church Library
·      Bruce Dagel and Magrey deVega: Tuesday evenings, 6:30-8:00, Church Library
·      Dave and Linda Appleby and Linda Burkhart: Wednesday afternoons, 12:00-1:30, Church Library
·      Laura Benson and Missy Jenness:  Wednesday evenings, 6:30-7:30, Church Library


Linnaeus once said, “Nature does not proceed by leaps and bounds.”  It is rare, if not impossible, for organisms to develop new characteristics with any degree of suddenness or spontaneity.  For life to advance to greater levels of complexity and achievement, it must do so with hard work, gradual change, and steady commitment. 

That’s precisely the way we grow as Christians.  John Wesley said, “Every one, though born of God in an instant, yet undoubtedly grows by slow degrees.”  The sanctifying grace of God empowers us to make daily, deliberate choices to grow in our faith, deepen our commitments to God, and live into the image of Jesus Christ.  That is my ultimate hope for you, and why I would urge you to participate in A Disciple’s Path small group.  Step by step, let us take the path that will strengthen our discipleship.

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

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Songs for the Children

September 17, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

When I was younger, I attended a small, private Christian school in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Emblazoned on the south wall of our gymnasium, just below the scoreboard and above the exit doors, were these words in big green letters: 

I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children walk in the truth. – 3 John 1:4

Whenever we’d gather for school assemblies, pep rallies, or home ball games, these words served as a visible reminder of the school’s primary purpose:  to create a safe, nurturing environment in which every child received a good education and a solid foundation in the Christian faith.  I would like to think that I am a beneficiery of that school’s success in accomplishing its mission.


In a way, that ought to be the mission of every church:  to ground its children in the foundations of the Christian faith, nurturing a safe environment to explore their beliefs and form their convictions.  In the words of this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, it is about teaching our children to “sing” the language of our faith: 

     “Home, My Little Children, Here are Songs for You”

     Come, my little children, here are songs for you;
     Some are short and some are long, and all, all are new.
     You must learn to sing them very small and clear,
     Very true to time and tune and pleasing to the ear.

     Mark the note that rises, mark the notes that fall,
     Mark the time when broken, and the swing of it all.
     So when night is come, and you have gone to bed,
     All the songs you love to sing shall echo in your head.


You can be proud that in many ways, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church is taking seriously the call to foster its children in the faith.  I am grateful to report to you the great start of our new Wednesday night youth programs.  Despite graduating a large number of seniors last year, the senior high teen time has fifteen active kids, meeting at the home of Craig and Monica Schmidt from 6:30-8:00pm.  A number of those kids are new to the area, who came by the invitation of friends.

We also started two new mid-high groups:  One for 5th-6th graders, led by Nicci Lundquist, and the other for 7th-8th graders, led by Diane Rochleau.  Both meet from 6:30-7:30pm at the church and include a light supper.  Last week, we had a total of twenty mid-highers, including many folks that were invited by a friend.

And this Sunday, we will be celebrating the nine children in our third-grade class who will be receiving their very own Bible.  As my friend and former senior pastor Jim Harnish likes to say, handing a Bible to these kids is one of the most dangerous things a church can do.  It can empower them to live as God created them to be, to become agents of love and healing for a broken world.

This Sunday will be a special one, indeed, as we continue our sermon series on the life and ministry of Paul by looking at the pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon.  Our text will be an appropriate one for the day, as we strive to be a living embodiment of the way that young Timothy received his faith from his ancestors, learning the songs of Christian conviction until they “echoed in his head.”

I’m grateful to God, whom I serve with a good conscience as my ancestors did. I constantly remember you in my prayers day and night. When I remember your tears, I long to see you so that I can be filled with happiness. I’m reminded of your authentic faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice. I’m sure that this faith is also inside you. Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands. God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.  (2 Timothy 1:3-7)

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Paul's Favorite Phrase

September 10, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
- David Foster Wallace [1]

After sixteen years of ministry, I have discovered several reoccurring quirks in my writing and preaching.  I improperly begin too many sentences with the words And and But.  I have a long-term, first-order habit of over-hyphenating words.  I am also an alliteration addict.  When I preach from the pulpit, I point with an open hand, leaning forward with my right foot in front of my left.  When I preach in front of the altar, I stand on the precipice of the chancel, my toes peering over the top step like a parrot on a perch.  These are all things you’ve probably noticed.  I’m sure you’re aware of many more.  

A few months ago Grace peered over my shoulder as I was typing a sermon on the computer.  “Daddy,” she said, “I’ve memorized your whole sermon plan.  You do the same thing every week.  You read the scripture, then you talk a little bit, then you compare it to a real life thing, then you crack a few jokes.  Then you say, ‘Now we’ll take up an offering.’”

She knows me all too well.


I’d like to think that I’m not the only preacher with idiosyncrasies, which is why I was happy to spend some time with yesterday’s daily scripture bookmark reading the book of Ephesians, the next stop in our sermon series on Paul.  Paul had a favorite phrase that consisted of two little words.  And there is no better example (there I go again, beginning a sentence with And) than in the opening chapter of Ephesians:

From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will.  To the holy and faithful people in Christ Jesus in Ephesus….God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world….This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth. We have also received an inheritance in Christ….We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ.

Throughout his epistles, Paul uses some form of the phrase “in Christ” 165 times, and it occurs more often in his letter to the Ephesians.  It appears 36 times in that book, ten times in the first chapter alone.

What did Paul mean by that phrase?  Many scholars, from the great Albert Schweitzer in the early twentieth century, to contemporary scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, believe that Paul used that phrase to describe his ongoing, mystical relationship with Jesus Christ.  It was, first of all, ongoing: it began with his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, but it continued throughout his life and ministry. 


Second, his relationship with Christ was mystical.  Granted, that word, well, mystifies us.  We often associate the practice of mysticism with some eccentric set of gestures and incantations designed to elevate ourselves to oneness with the divine.  According to German theologian Gustav Deissmann, that is a “proactive mysticism,” in which following strict, regimented behavioral patterns guide an ascent toward God.  That is the opposite of Paul’s mysticism.  His spirituality was not proactive, but reactive, which depended not on right works to get to God, but on a faith that leads to an awareness of God’s presence already in and around him through Jesus Christ.  [2]

Like a fish becoming aware of the water that was the very source of its life, Paul described his awareness of Jesus Christ to the people at the Areopagus as the one in whom we “live and move and breathe and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  For Paul, living “in Christ” meant nothing less than surrender and submission to the person and work of Jesus Christ, fully participating in his life, death, and resurrection.

And if you look closely at Ephesians 1 (there I go with And again), Paul used the words in Christ to describe more than a private, individual experience of Christ, but a communal, corporate experience within the body of believers.  Whereas many religious mystical traditions require complete isolation, practicing transcendence in hermit-like seclusion (notice the hyphen), Paul believed that a mystical relationship with Christ was best experienced with fellow Christians, in a mutually caring, refining, and serving community.  Borg and Crossan describe that relationship in this way:

For Paul, life “in Christ” was always a communal matter. This was so not simply because “it’s important to be part of a church,” but because his purpose, his passion, was to create communities whose life together embodied an alternative to the normalcy of the “wisdom of this world.”[3]

As we continue in this journey through the wonderful words and witness of Paul (another  alliteration) let us grow in our awareness of God’s constant love and strength that surrounds us in Christ, and seek to live out our faith in community with each other. 

In Christ,


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

[1]  “David Foster Wallace on Life and Work.”  The Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2008. 
[2] Stewart, James.  A Man in Christ.  New York, Harper and Row Publishers.
[3]  Borg, Marcus J.; Crossan, John Dominic The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church's Conservative Icon HarperCollins, 2009.

Attention, all 5th through 8th Graders!  We are eager to announce three new youth small groups throughout the school year:

5th-6th Graders, 6:30-7:30pm, with Nicci Lundquist in the 5th-6th grade Sunday school classroom at the church.  A light supper (pizza and drinks) will be served.

7th-8th Graders, 6:30-7:30pm, with Diane Rochleau in the Chapel at the church.  A light supper (pizza and drinks) will be served.

9th-12th Graders, 6:30-8:00pm, with Craig and Monica Schmidt, in their home.  Dinner will be served.

Come and join them, and bring a friend!

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Prayer for Syria

September 3, 2013

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

We join with others around the world witnessing the atrocities committed in Syria, particularly troubled by the alleged use of chemical weapons against its own citizens.  As President Barack Obama and leaders in Washington debate possible military intervention, we unite with people of faith around the world praying for a peaceful resolution and an end to the violence. 

Pope Francis has designated this Saturday, September 7, as a worldwide day of prayer for the situation in Syria.  To that end, I offer my own prayerful reflection, which may guide your own thoughts throughout the week.

“The Lion Roars Again”

The Lord has said to me:
When the lion growls,
    the young lion, over its prey,
    though a band of shepherds is summoned against it,
    isn’t scared off by their noise
    or frightened by their roar.
So the Lord of heavenly forces will go down
    to fight on Mount Zion and on her hill.
Like birds flying aloft,
    so the Lord of heavenly forces will shield Jerusalem:
    shielding and saving, sparing and rescuing.  (Isaiah 31:4-5)

Spirit of God, and Source of True Peace,

The lion roars again.

We watch unfolding events in Syria and gasp at atrocities committed by leaders and rebels, by militia and civilians, and we fear for them.  Like helpless sheep, they hear the growl of violence, that inner stir that causes them to rise up against each other, with a lust for supremacy in a perpetual fog of self-protection.  By the thousands, they fall dead:  cruel victims of more than modern weapons and wicked hearts, but also the notion that violence  must be fought with violence.  

Their proud and noble history is hunted by this prowling lion, this predatory cycle of violence that has gripped humanity since the beginning:

Cain against Abel,
     Jacob against Esau,
          Siblings against Joseph,
               Judas against Jesus,
                    Brother against Brother.

Their struggle exemplifies the complexity of the human heart.  We confess that all of us, to some degree, long for a security that endures, but often falls prey to the roaring lion of redemptive violence.  And so, hearing that same roar, we too are tempted by war.  We sense the allure to attack. To summon “bands of shepherds,” whose brandished weaponry and clamoring blare, we believe, will vanquish the bloodshed with greater bloodshed. 

But the lion “isn’t scared off by their noise or frightened by their roar.”

Therefore, as the prophet summons, so we entreat you:  descend upon us as "birds flying aloft."  Grant to us a way through the violence that is greater than our earthly means.  Show the people of Syria, and all of us, the way of true peace. 

Through laying down arms, not taking them up. 
     Through seeing your face in the eyes of each other,
          rather than hearing the lion in each other’s voice.
               Through sacrifice for the common good, not a lust for supremacy. 
                    Through diplomacy and international pressure, not unilateral military action. 
                         Through forgiveness, not revenge.

Match the forces of wickedness with these mighty forces of your kingdom, and

          Spare, and
                    All your people. 

O God, we ask your blessing upon our President, and leaders of all countries, as they weigh the heavy matters of this time.  Forgive us for entrusting to our human institutions the responsibility of providing a peace that only you can provide.  And may all of us be conduits of that same peace, in the way we treat one another.  Teach us to live by this enduring hope, and by the promise of your ultimate vision: 

The lion roars again. 

But it will lie down the Lamb someday.

So be it.  Amen. 


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

We continue our sermon series on the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul with a return to our regular Sunday morning schedule.  Sunday school begins at 9:00am and worship starts at 10:10, with the children’s sermon resuming as part of our service.  We hope to see you there!

Starting this week, we are excited to offer the following small group opportunities for our youth:
Senior High Teen Time, Grades 9-12:  Starts tomorrow, Wednesday, September 4.  6:30-8:00pm, at the home of Craig and Monica Schmidt.
7th-8th Grade Small Group:  Starts Wednesday, September 11.  6:30-7:30pm, led by Diane Rochleau at the church.  Food and refreshments provided.
5th-6th Grade Small Group:  Starts Wednesday, September 11.  6:30-7:30pm, led by Nicci Lundquist at the church.  Food and refreshments provided.