xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

"So Hallow'd and So Gracious is the Time"

Christmas Eve, 2014

From “Hamlet”

by William Shakespeare

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm;
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s UMC, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

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

Join us for the celebration of Christ’s birth for our annual Christmas Eve service at 5:30pm.  It will feature a rhyming sermon including many favorite characters from classic holiday films.  For the first time, an overflow live video feed will be available in the dining hall to make room for people no matter how large the crowd.  As an act of hospitality, we invite you to park your car as far away as you are comfortable in walking in order to accommodate the hundreds of guests we will have tonight.

We appreciate your generosity to help us close the remaining gap between income and expenses by the end of the year.  To have your contribution count toward your 2014 giving statement, please postmark your gifts by December 31, 2014.

In observance of the Christmas holiday, the office will be closed on Friday, December 26.  Magrey and the girls will be out of town visiting family in Florida from December 30 to January 5, so the Mid-Week Message will resume during the week of January 11. 

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Advent Prayer for You

December 16, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

To round the corner and head down the home stretch toward Christmas, we have to pass through December 21.  That is the date of the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky in relation to the northern hemisphere of the earth.  This means that December 21 has the shortest period of daylight, and the longest period of night, in the entire year. 

That’s the astronomical explanation; the reality is that many of us have been encountering many long nights throughout this Advent season.  It is hard for many to begin to experience the “happiest season of all” when we are immersed in more stressors than we can count. 

Many of those difficulties emerge out of our frail and bruised relationships with others.  The holidays, for all of their festivities and good cheer, tend to amplify our most deeply hidden fracture lines with others, and intensify the sore spots that we try to conceal throughout the rest of the year. 

We remember that even Jesus himself was born into a dysfunctional family. His mother bore the scandal of a pregnancy out of wedlock, and his father was the subject of public scrutiny. Even Jesus’ ancestry is a roll call of the scandalous and malfeasant, including a foreigner, a liar, a prostitute, and an adulterer. We might even come to the conclusion that when it comes to the Christmas story, there is no such thing as a “normal” family at all!

It is in this context that I once again offer a pastoral prayer for you and for any one struggling with long nights and weary souls.

An Advent Prayer for Healthy Relationships

O God, in whom we live and move and have our being, and who fashioned us in your image to be in relationship with you and others, we thank you for the coming gift of Jesus, whose Advent we anticipate once again. 

As daylight dwindles and the darkness grows, we acknowledge to you the frailty of our relationships with one another.  We confess that, despite your desire for wholeness and health, we have not been kind to one another.  We are far too prone to anger and bitterness, rather than peace and joy.  We are an imperfect reflection of your self-giving love.

As Advent people, we yearn for healing, and long for hope:

·      For every household filled with chronic anger and endless disputes, illumine neglected faults, in a spirit of new understanding and peace.

·      For every gathering of family and friends that bring to light concealed dysfunctions, and verge on eruption because of the fault lines of past hurt, pour out your spirit of confession and forgiveness.

·      For every family dealing with the haunting influences of addiction, substance abuse, and mental disease, grant your spirit of courage and compassion, to be bold in truth and generous in love.

·      For every marriage troubled by unfulfilled expectations and chronic miscommunication, grant your spirit of understanding and empathy. Rekindle within them an awakening of boundless, unconditional love.

·      For every set of siblings long plagued by resentment and unhealthy competition, rather than mutual encouragement, grant a new spirit of peace and cooperation.

·      For every parent disenfranchised from their children, distanced by resentment and wounded by past scars, grant new insight and the power of reconciliation. 

·      For every person whose ongoing grief for lost loved ones skews this season of joy into a time of sorrow, grant the comfort of your constant presence. Remind these persons that in your being, the bonds of love never end.

·      For every young family adjusting to new life with a child, and negotiating new ways to relate as a family in the midst of transition, grant a spirit of child-like wonder, and a desire to mature.

·      For every couple struggling with infertility, in the midst of a season based on the birth of a Child, grant a spirit of hope, and the reminder that they are not without ability to provide other enduring legacies of love.

·      For those who face this season alone – widows and widowers, divorcees, single adults, and the elderly - grant a spirit of companionship, and surround them with new friends and cohorts on their journey.

·      For those who live in the shadow of their own mortality, in fear of their own death and disease, offer a reminder that you are the source of all life, encouraging them to embrace their lives and the lives of others with courage, unafraid of joy and pain, sickness and health. May your love be made real in our care for others.

O God of hope and promise, you revealed your power in the self-giving love of Jesus, whose birth in lowly means exemplifies your call to servanthood and humility. May we, in the strength of your spirit, receive the gift of your son, living out his image in all that we say and do. May this season truly be one of preparation, that our hearts, minds, and souls may be awakened to a hope that brings holiness, for ourselves and the people we love. Enliven us by your spirit, that we may live in the fullness of your reign.

In the name of Immanuel, your presence among us, we pray,



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

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

John the Baptist in Rhyme

December 9, 2014

Hello, and Good Day, St. Paul’s Family,
How are you doing, in this Advent Week Three?

How’s your shopping been going, your gift-buying lists
Have you checked it all off, or does it give you fits?

The new socks for Sally, pajamas for Tim,
You hope she likes pink, and the PJs fit him.  

Were you crushed by crowds shopping on last Black Friday
Cruising for deals while dodging pepper spray?

Have you scanned all the flyers, the coupons, the ads,
To find the best bargains on all of the fads?

Then there’s parties to go to, and people to host,
You have trees to light up and some wreaths soon to post.

Your to-do list is long, and your attention is short
“Just get me to December 26,” you might snort.

Is that the way, really, you think Advent should be?
A horse race?  A contest?  Who can be most busy?

Your hunch is correct, if you think that there’s more
To preparing for Christ than the deadlines galore.

Maybe in God’s word today, a new voice will rise
That will help you see Advent with more focused eyes.

So, come, let us go, to a land far away.
Let us meet a strange person, let us meet him today.

We whisk back in time, to a time long ago.
To a far away place.  Where we are, we don’t know. 

It seems we are now in the middle of nowhere.
The air is quite dry, and there’s sand everywhere.

It’s hot and it’s muggy, with a blazing, bright sun
Dick Point says, “You didn’t bring us to Florida, did you son?”

No, I say, sheepishly.  This ain’t Florida, no way.
There’s not enough traffic to be the Sunshine State.

True enough, we’re alone, in this sparse wilderness,
Wondering how we’ve gotten into this mess.

“I’m hungry,” says one of you. “I’m thirsty,” one says.
“I’m on it!” says Sherry Held, and she dashes away.

Before she runs off, we see someone appear.
There, at some distance, we see someone draw near.

He comes closer, we notice, this person’s a guy.
But he looks quite unlike any you’ve seen, nor have I.

The first thing we notice is how he is dressed.
He’s wearing a furry, old camel-hair vest.

“Who are you?” he says to us, “What are your names?”
I say, “Funny, we were going to ask you the same.”

“My name’s John,” he responds, with gruff, raspy haste.
His leathery voice was like the belt on his waist.

“What are you doing here in the midst of this dessert?”
To which someone yelled, “Whoa, did he just say dessert?”
“Ah, you’re hungry, huh?  Well, I don’t blame you.
“Out here in the wilderness, I get hungry, too.

“Where are my manners?  Let’s all have a snack.
So pulls out some food from a ratty knapsack.

He spreads out a tablecloth, and on it he lays
What seems like a joke, we can’t eat this – no way!

The first thing’s a honeycomb, all sticky and sweet,
But next to it’s something that’s just too gross to eat.

“I think they’re bugs!” someone cries out, dismayed.
“Eww!”  says another,  “They are crawling away!”

“What, these are locusts.” John says, “Delicacies!”
“Maybe to you!” Sherry says, “But they’re not to me!”

“Well, suit yourself.  This is who I am.
“What were you expecting?  Green eggs and ham?

We’re all a bit queasy, with no appetite,
As we watch John eat bugs.  It is quite a sight.

So, we sit down with him, as he munches away.
Silence drifts by, then there’s something to say.

“Tell us, John, sir, what is it you do?
“Why do you dress in the way that you do?

He looked up and said, “Wanna know about me?”
“Why I look like I do, from my head to my feet?”

“Okay, I will tell you my whole life’s story”
“All the way back from when I was a baby”

My mom is Elizabeth, my dad’s Zechariah
He works in the Temple, so he’s no pariah.

He was promised one day by an angel, you see,
That he and my mom would soon give birth to me.

My parents are old, though, like, maybe 103?
Anyway, they’re members of AARP

So when they found out they were pregnant with me,
My dad laughed and laughed, ‘cause it was all so silly.

So for nine whole long months, the angel struck him dumb
(Meaning he couldn’t talk, not that his mind was numb)

My mom said those days that my dad couldn’t talk
Were the most joyous months she could ever would want.

Anyway, nine months later, when my time of birth came
I popped right on out and they wanted a name

Some folks said, “Zack, Jr.,” of course makes good sense.
Let’s name the kid after one of his old parents.

But my dad, still quite mute wrote, “No, his name is John.”
“Like the angel told me, from nine months now long gone.”

Suddenly, my dad could speak out, clear and loud.
His voice had come back, once he obeyed the Lord.

“Wow,” we all said, “Your name came from an angel?”
“Was there anything else that was to make you special?”

“Why, yes,” he said, digging at one last locust.
“There were other things that my parents had promised.”

“To show that I’m chosen to serve God’s good delight,
“They vowed to raise me as a good Nazarite.”

“Meaning three, things, really, that I couldn’t do.
“The first is cut hair off my lustrous hairdo.

“For all of my life, no blade gets near this head.
“I know, ZZ Top’s who I look like instead.

Second, I’m not allowed to touch any dead corpse.
Which means I can’t work for Boothby, of course.

Finally, and you might think here’s the real kicker.
I cannot drink beer, or wine, or any liquor.

Half of you gasp when he says that last vow
You know who you are, you’d like wine about now.

“My goodness,” we say.  “That is quite a big list.”
“Of things that the angel made your folks promise.”

“But what we don’t get is why you live this way?
“Out in the wilderness, day after day.

“Why the vest made out of camel hair, why?
“And why the weird meals made of insects that fly?

“Tell us,” dear sir, “The big question for you”
“Is what your job is.  What is it you do?

“Are you a performer, an artist, or such?
“Are you a hermit, do you see people much?

“Are you a shepherd?  If so, where is your sheep?
“Or maybe you’re jobless, outside do you sleep.

“Oh, tell us, good John. Please us, do inform:
“What is the service to God you perform?

He smiled, then he said, “There’s just one thing to do.”
“Rather than say, let me just now show you.”

He started to walk, so we followed behind,
What would he show us?  Would it blow our minds?

Over hills and past trees, through thickets and creeks
What was John looking for, so eager to seek?

Suddenly, past a small ridge, there were some folks.
A small crowd had gathered, maybe forty or so.

They were gathering some food, just some berries and such.
It didn’t look like they were up to too much.

But, lo and behold, when they looked up and saw
This John guy approach them, they all dropped their jaws.

His outfit, his hair, was all too much to shake
So they walked straight toward him, a beeline did make.

Then, John, with the people all gathered around,
Started to speak, with his gruff, grumbly sound.

“REPENT!” were his first words.  He shouted them loud.
“AND BE BAPTIZED!” he said at the stunned crowd.

Whoa, we all thought, this guy’s making no friends.
I bet they’re all thinking, “When’s this gonna end?”

But then he kept going:  “You’re a big bunch of snakes!”
“There’s doom that’s approaching you, for heaven’s sake!”

“Don’t rely on your ancestors, your past, and that stuff.”
“Don’t say, well, we’re Israelites, and that’s good enough.”

“’Cause God’s got an ax, and will strike at the root.
“Of any old tree that is bearing no fruit.

“And the best I can tell, no one’s good here, not one,
“And you should all fear God’s wrath that will come.

“But what should we do?” some of those folks say,
“How can we flee from this wrath of today?

“What you should all do – listen everyone:
“Is share of your goods with those who have none. 

“If you have two coats, and your neighbor has none
“Then go to your closet, and then give him one.

“And be fair in your business, like you tax collectors.
“Take only what’s yours, and give folks their fair shares.

“And if you’re a soldier, and bearing a sword,
“Then be honest and noble, and do keep your word.

We were stunned by his words, and all that he said.
Maybe his job was to make people upset!

He’s no politician, that’s for sure, we could see
That no one would elect him for his policies.

He was telling folks things they wouldn’t want to hear
About stuff in their lives that they needed to clear.

What would these folks say, this crowd that was here?
Would they jump out in anger, with sneers and with jeer?

We looked at their faces, and much to our surprise:
They were silent and stunned, some with tears in their eyes.

“We want forgiveness!” one said with a shout
“I confess all my sins!” said one, “I’ve been found out!”

“I want to be clean, and to start new, from scratch”
“I want to be free from my gross, sinful past!”

We couldn’t believe it.  One by one they stepped forth
To John they confessed, full of pain and remorse.

These strangers responded to John’s stern rebuke
With hope in their eyes, and with trust in their look.

John said to them, “Well, there is one thing to do.”
“One thing that now is required of you.”

He walked to a river nearby, then got in.
He told them, “Jump in!  And be free from your sin!”

He dunked them down deep, in the cold river stream.
And brought them up free from their sin, and so clean.

“I baptize you now,” he’d say to every one.
“But just know, after me there is coming someone

“Who will baptize you greater than I ever could
“Not with water, but fire, and the Spirit of God.

“He’s coming, you see, to right all of your wrongs
“Unworthy for me to untie his sandal’s thong.

“He’ll raze every hill and each valley he’ll raise
“Each rough patch he’ll smooth, each crook he’ll make straight.

“I’m hear just to tell you on this special day
“That all of us now should prepare him the way.

“A way to draw near and to enter your heart
“A way to be cleansed from our sinful, dark parts.

“A way to be free from our darkest of pasts
“A way for new joy to be born that will last.

“He’s coming, you see, and you must be ready.
“For salvation will be here, for you all to see.

John the Baptist was done, he turned and walked off
And left us alone, to our feelings and thoughts.

We were stunned by this scene, and all that we saw
How John’s job was simply to be the voice of God.

To get people ready for a blessed Advent
The coming of Christ, the one heaven would send.

His message was clear, to us, simple and plain.
It took little for us to get, and to explain.

Be fair with others, and share with them all.
Give of yourself, gifts no matter how small.

In the midst of your shopping and holiday stress,
There’s one gift to give that will beat all the rest.

It’s the gift of yourself to others in need.
Through service and love, through word and in deed.

Not fancy toys, or with fads that will fade.
Not gift-wrapped in paper that will be ripped away.

Give the gift of yourself that no money can buy.
Give a coat, or ring bells, or give heifer a try.

But most of all, know that the way to prepare
For Christmas to come is to all be aware

Of the ways that your heart can be cleansed of its sin
Repentance, forgiveness, will let Jesus in.

All God wants for Christmas is your attention
For you to be free from the burdens of sin.

So slow down your life, be released from the stress
And focus on all of your spiritual mess.

Pray, and be silent, and draw near to God
Who comes to bring you a new hope from above

Hope that is born in a back manger stall
Hope that will come soon for you and for all.

Hope that you’ve prayed for, desired for so long
Hope that will come through the birth of a son.

Jesus Christ, God with us, Immanuel,
Will come to you soon to proclaim “All is Well.”

The world needs Christ now, you, me everyone,
So prepare ye the way for the Savior to come.

In the name of our God who created the heavens,
And redeems us, sustains us, we all say, Amen.

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

Luke 3:1-17

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
   and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
   and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Join us this Sunday as our Children's Sunday school shares the story of the birth of Jesus in our annual Christmas Program.  Following the service, you are invited downstairs for a soup luncheon, with a free will offering.

Attention, cookie bakers!  Be sure to save a batch or two of your cookies as you bake them this week and bring them to the church by Sunday morning, in time for the Adult Sunday School Class to package them for our annual cookie sale.  Proceeds from the sale with fund campus improvements and projects by the Adult Class.

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving Tuesday

December 2, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

One of the signs of how consumer-driven our culture has become is the way we have allowed retailers to holidize the act of gift giving.  We have used the term “Black Friday” since the 1980s to prompt the busiest retail day of the year.  Since then, we’ve added “Cyber Monday,” “Small Business Saturday,” and most recently, “Gray Thursday.”

I’m reluctant to add yet another “day” to the mix, except this one is really worth bringing to your attention.  Today only – December 2 – the United Methodist Church Board of Global Mission is sponsoring “Giving Tuesday,” and you can give a gift in honor of someone that will make a real difference in the world.

If you visit www.umcmission.org/give or click here, you can choose from over 2,000 missionaries and missions agencies that are putting God’s love into action all over the world.  You can make a contribution of any size as a gift to someone on your list, but here’s the best part:  For today only, the Board of Global Ministries will be contributing up to one million dollars in matching funds contributed to these various Advance projects.  That means that the impact of your gift will be multiplied to help people in need.   

After the girls and I discussed it, we have decided to give a gift in honor of you, the people of St. Paul’s UMC.  It is one small way we can thank you for the amazing privilege it has been to be your pastor, in gratitude for the deep love and support we have felt from you over this past year.  So, we will be making a contribution to a project called Literacy for All, sponsored by the organization Alfalit.  They teach people around the world to read, write, and do basic arithmetic, and our contribution will fund an individual’s entire year of education.

I hope that, in the midst Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzies, you will pause for a moment today to give a gift that really matters.  Visit umcmission.org/give or click here, and be sure to designate your membership at St. Paul’s UMC.  That way it will get credited toward our Rainbow Covenant Missions effort.  And you’ll want to let Carolyn VanAmberg, our Missions Committee chairperson, know about your donation so she can include it in her figures for this year. 


I’m grateful for the response from many of you from our current Advent sermon series.  Every week, we will be analyzing a classic Christmas movie through a biblical lens, and welearned a great deal last Sunday from the timeless classic It’s a Wonderful Life.  This Sunday, you’ll want to join us as we follow the boyhood adventures of Ralphie, who dreamed of getting that special BB gun in A Christmas Story.  Rest assured, I’ll be practicing how to say “Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle.”  And I’ll try not to shoot my eye out!

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

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Proclamation, a Poem, and a Prayer

November 25, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

For this week in which we gather with family and friends to give thanks to God for the many blessings in our lives, I offer to you a trifecta of passages to guide you in your gratitude.  The first is the presidential proclamation in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln, officially designating the last Thursday of every November as the day of Thanksgiving.  You will want to listen to our local KCHE radio station at 9:15am today (Tuesday) and 1:15pm Wednesday for a five-minute broadcast by myself, Rev. Ethan Sayler (Memorial Presbyterian) and Rev. Larry Ostercamp (Meriden Evangelical Free).  We did a joint recording of our reading of this proclamation, to remind residents of this community of the sacred focus of this secular holiday. 

The second is a poem by the great e.e. cummings, whose trademark playfulness with punctuation and grammar is evident in this immersive description of a life centered in gratitude to God.

The final selection is a prayer of thanksgiving, adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, which is suitable for use at your Thanksgiving gatherings this Thursday with family and friends.


By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

2.  POEM

“i thank You God for most this amazing”
by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)


A Thanksgiving Prayer – adapted from the Book of Common Prayer

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you’ve done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for our successes, which satisfy and delight us — but also for the disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ — for the truth of his Word and the example of his life.

We thank you for his dying, through which he overcame death — and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your Kingdom.

God, may we — at all times and in all places — give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!


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

The following time slots are still available to ring bells for the Salvation Army.  With Black Friday this weekend, this is a prime time for you to help raise money to help local people in need.  For those concerned about the cold weather, Fareway has allowed us to be inside the store this year, rather than in the entryway.  Please contact Mary Jo Carnine to sign up. 

Fareway -10am- 2pm
Kmart – 12:00 to 1:00pm
Hy-Vee 12:00 to 1:00pm

Fareway -10:00-1:00pm
Kmart – 10:00-1:00pm
Hy-Vee – 11:00-2:00pm

Go to www.lecfamily.org/advent to sign up for #pictureadvent, which will deliver daily devotions to your inbox, along with family-oriented crafts and activities for you and your children.  You can also participate by uploading pictures for the daily key words and joining hundreds of people across the country in this special journey.

Thank you to all who have already submitted your commitment cards for our most recent “Building the Kingdom” stewardship campaign.  You can still turn in your cards to the church office or the Sunday morning offering plate. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The War on ... Advent?

November 18, 2014

Brace yourselves, everyone.  The “War on Christmas” is coming.

It seems like we go through this every year.  Self-appointed cultural critics bemoan the replacement of Christmas trees with “Holiday Trees,” the renaming of school Christmas concerts as “Winter Concerts,” and the removal of nativities and crèches from public display.  Never mind the fact that these same critics may be among the millions on Black Friday battling for bargains and slugging it out with fellow shoppers for big screen televisions.  Little do they realize that their mad dash for the checkout lines will do more to demean the sacredness of this season than the store clerk who wishes them “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” 

For my part, I choose not to get involved in this alleged “War on Christmas.”  For one thing, I really admire the words of my Florida Bishop Ken Carter, who once advised followers of Jesus today to be “pacifists in the culture war.” 

Besides, this whole hullabaloo over “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” is really a false choice to begin with.  As far as the church is concerned, Black Friday does not begin the Christmas season, so wishing each other “Merry Christmas” before Christmas Eve is quite the misnomer.  And it’s not even accurate to say “Happy Holidays,” since the “holy days” of Christmas and Epiphany are also further down the road. 

The most accurate thing we can say, really, is “Blessed Advent.”  (Imagine the look on the face of the store clerk when you say that.)  Advent is the season that we observe starting November 30.  It is the four weeks of preparation that we mark with the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love, with symbols of wreath candles and Chrismon trees. 

Despite what cultural zealots might want us to believe, the real war going on is not against Christmas.  It’s against Advent.  It is waged by an instant, on-demand society that wants to skip right past Advent, right past the preparation, right past the waiting, and observe Christmas much too soon. 

The bottom line:  do you want to "keep the Christ in Christmas?”  Then observe Advent first. 


So here’s a practical way I’m inviting all of us to observe Advent together.  I would love for you to participate in a new project that I have been working on with some fellow clergy friends over the past few months.  It is called #PictureAdvent, and we have written a collection of daily devotional readings that can be sent directly to your email inbox starting the first day of Advent, on November 30.  Each reading is centered on a key word for the day, such as “light,” “prepare,” “darkness,” “share,” and “Immanuel,” that will focus your heart and mind on your own spiritual preparation for Christmas. 

In addition to reading the daily message, there is a family activity that you and your kids or grandkids can do together for a hands-on experience of the daily key word.  Sometimes it will be a craft, other times it will be an act of kindness or service for others.  This will be a great way to remind everyone in your family that this season is not just about purchasing and wrapping presents:  often, the best gift you can give is yourself, and quality time with your family.

Finally, you are invited to participate by sharing a photo on Facebook or Twitter that captures your creative imagination and your own artistic interpretation of the daily key words.  The resulting "cyber gallery" will be a collective conversation among hundreds of other Advent pilgrims, sharing the ways that the Spirit is moving each of us in hopeful anticipation of Christ’s birth into our lives.

All you need to do is sign up with your name and email address, on the website www.lecfamily.org/advent or by simply clicking here.  The cost, of course, is totally free. 

To date, there have been over two hundred individuals from about ten different states who have jumped on board, and the number is expected to grow over the next two weeks.  I am hopeful that many of us in this congregation will sign up, as it will form the basis of our Advent sermon series this year, simply called “Picture Advent.”  It will be a great way for each of us to connect with God (through the daily devotional readings) and each other (through the shared pictures) as we journey to Bethlehem once again.

 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

This Sunday is the culmination of our stewardship campaign and our “Kingdom of God” sermon series.  You are invited to bring your completed commitment card to worship, if you haven’t turned it in already.  And after the service, join us in the dining hall for our annual Thanksgiving Luncheon, featuring turkey and all the trimmings.  You don’t need to bring a dish to share, and a free will donation will be received. 

To view past editions of the Mid-Week Message, visit  http://mdevega.blogspot.com
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The 2014 Pastor's Report

November 11, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

It was a great privilege to host last night’s Charge Conference for the congregations of Alta-Schaller, Hinton-Merrill, Marcus, Aurelia, Sutherland-Larrabbee, and Hostein.  It was especially gratifying to hear the many positive comments about our new kitchen and dining hall from the large crowd of attendees, and I was pleased by how the technological capability of our new audio/video system enhanced the experience for everyone.

Thanks to the many folks from our own congregation who attended, and for the good work we did in charting a course for our future ahead.  And for those who didn’t make it, the following is my Pastor’s Report, celebrating another great year of putting God’s love into action.

Pastor’s Report
St. Paul’s UMC Charge Conference
November 10, 2014
The Rev. Magrey R. deVega

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

This year marked a significant moment in the life and history of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, as we finally returned to a fully restored and renovated Kitchen, Shuldt Dining Hall, and Feller Lounge following the devastating fire of 2012.  After many long months of planning, pondering, watching, and waiting, we can rejoice that our campus is not only back to normal, but better than ever before, and prepared to serve the mission of this church for years to come. 
But there is even more to celebrate:  Following the four-fold mission statement of the church adopted in 2008, we give thanks for another great year of putting God’s love into action. 

WORSHIPWe worship with joy, because Christ is among us and deserves our praise.
            St. Paul’s continued to offer vibrant and vital worship services that attract people of all ages.  Our music ministry is as strong as ever, with the Bell Choir and Chancel Choir served by faithful volunteers and the capable direction of Joe Vannatta.  Our children’s choir sings faithfully once a month, thanks to volunteer director Crystal Samsel, and the Memorial Committee recently purchased a new set of children’s handbells, which debuted during our recent Children’s Sabbath.  Our Christmas Eve service drew the largest crowd any one of us can remember, with over 450 in attendance, and we look forward to the capability of offering closed circuit, overflow seating in the Dining Hall for even larger crowds. 
            Overall, worship continues to be the work of the people, with faithful teams of volunteers serving as lay liturgists, children’s sermon providers, greeters, ushers, musicians, and audio-visual support.
We have experienced several sermon series throughout the year, the highlight of which was an extensive exploration of the life of Joseph, which carried us through Epiphany and Lent.  Others included “Hearing God,” “Alive,” “The DNA of the Church,” and “The Kingdom of God.”

DISCIPLESHIP: We grow in our faith, practicing every day what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
            We give thanks for our dedicated Sunday school teachers who provide excellent care and ministry to our children every week.  Last Spring, they offered a wonderful end-of-the-year Sunday school celebration to conclude a great year of ministry, and worked very hard to offer another terrific Vacation Bible School, serving over seventy-five children in our community.  Our senior high students are once again fortunate to be served by Craig and Monica Schmidt, and their wonderful Wednesday night “Teen Time” program.  They continue to see strong, active participation, with over twenty youth attending per week, many of whom are invited friends.  They went on their annual Ski Trip, did their December missions outing to the Midwest Christian Children’s Home, and helped with our recent Ingathering.
Many of our adults continue to be actively engaged in small group discipleship opportunities, with our Friday morning men’s group, a Thursday night Bible study led by Jenny Burroughs, three active United Methodist Women’s Circles, and our wonderful Sunday morning Adult Class.

FELLOWSHIP:  We care for each other as an encouraging, supportive, and growing family.
            One of the major developments in the area of fellowship and membership care is the recent revision of our membership directory.  This painstaking process, coordinated by Andrea Cook and a few of our volunteers, involved a detailed audit of our entire membership record, dating back to the earliest years of our church.  They were able to reconcile our membership books with our new computerized church database, enabling us to modernize the way we keep track of all of our congregational information.  This culminated in the production of our most recent church directory, which will serve our congregation for some time to come. 
We can also celebrate another good year in gaining church members.  We added twenty-one new members, by Profession of Faith (7), Transfer of Membership (9), and Confirmation (5).  After accounting for members that we lost through death and transfer, we saw a net overall increase in membership this past year.
             Membership care continues to be a high priority for this congregation.  Our Visitation Team continues to link lay visitors with shut-ins and homebound persons.  They distribute audio recordings of the service and a bulletin to members, and check on them for pastoral and personal concerns.  We are grateful for the wonderful team of visitors who make these connections every week. 
            This has continued to be an important church for providing funeral services and ministry to grieving families.  Since the last Charge Conference, I performed sixteen funerals, most of which were for people who weren’t members of the church.  Our Funeral Luncheon Team continues to provide an amazing level of generous hospitality for families grieving the loss of loved ones.  With great grace and efficiency, they provided wonderful luncheons throughout the year.  Thanks to Phyllis Parrott, Jean Anderson, Shelley Lenz, and Linda Rutter for their coordination.
            Finally, St. Paul’s remains an epicenter of care for people seeking wholeness and health.  We now host several Alcoholics Anonymous groups throughout the week, as well as Moms on Meth, Narcotics Anonymous, and a weight loss group.  The church also hosts a monthly gathering of the Foster Care Review Board. 
SERVICEWe share with others to meet their physical and spiritual needs, and invite all people to faith in Christ.
            There is no doubt in my mind that this congregation takes seriously its call to put God’s love into action.  The recent closing of the Tyson production plant in town prompted tremendously generous giving by our congregation, raising over $1,500 for our local food pantries, the Ministerial Assocation, and the Salvation Army.  That is coupled with another terrific bell-ringing effort last December, where we raised over $3,500 for the Salvation Army, 90% of which stays in town to help local people in need.  Our Ingathering effort produced a record number of kits that were distributed to people all over the world, and we have donated hundreds of shoes to our ongoing Soles4Souls collection program.  The sum result is that we once again achieved Third-Mile status in the Conference’s Rainbow Covenant Missions giving program.  Thanks to Carolyn VanAmberg and her team on the Missions Committee for prompting our giving and raising awareness of these worthy causes.  And of course, we give thanks for the amazing work and constant vitality of our United Methodist Women, who raise money for ministries to children, women, and missions around the world through projects such as the recent Election Day Luncheon and Bake Sale.    
            We rejoice in the faithful stewardship of the people of St. Paul’s.  We have been blessed with a remarkable year of financial giving, ending the summer with income ahead of expenses for the first time in recent memory.  Giving continues to be strong and on pace to end the year once again in the “black,” which of course includes paying our apportionments in full. 

But the best news of all is that our future together looks even brighter.  With our campus back to normal, we look forward to the return of the Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race this February, and the hosting of several events for the community and the district.  We can also turn our focus on the repayment of the debt related to the renovations to the kitchen and dining hall, and our Trustees and Finance Committee have a solid plan to aggressively pay down that debt in a short period of time.  2015 will see a new roof for our sanctuary, finally addressing the numerous leaks in our ceiling with a solution that will fix it once and for all.  Our Administrative Board has just approved goals for next year that will expand our small group offerings, explore the addition of a Christian Education director, extend care to our less active members, and extend hospitality to community groups through the use of our new kitchen and dining hall.  And we will keep a watchful eye on further progress to be made on renovations for energy-efficiency in the Education Wing, according to our long-term strategic plan adopted six years ago.

            It has again been my deepest privilege to serve as your pastor, and I give thanks for all that we have been able to accomplish together.  We trust in the movement of God’s Spirit as we claim our mission of putting God’s love into action by transforming lives, improving the community, and changing the world.

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Magrey R. deVega

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

Mark your calendars to join us for our annual Thanksgiving meal after the service on November 23.  You will not need to bring any dishes to share, as turkey and all the fixings will be provided, and a free will donation will be accepted.  That is also the day for us to bring in our commitment cards for the upcoming year, as part of our Commitment Sunday celebration.  

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.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Three Challenging Notions for Election Day

November 4, 2014

Dear St. Paul's Family,

Today, citizens around the country will be heading to their local voting precinct to exercise their civic duty.  Regardless of your party affiliation, we can all celebrate that by day's end, we will have a welcomed respite from the barrage of negative ads that have snuck into our airwaves and bandwidths.  I think I can speak for many of us out of my own weariness of politicians who have slung mud, polarized us with their rhetoric, and catered to our least common denominators.   Most wearisome are campaigns that lobby for the Christian vote by feigning theological language and thinly veiled religious values.  

As a salve to such pandering, and to prepare myself spiritually for the day, I took some time to re-read what has become my go-to gospel text for stemming civil religion and redefining the relationship between the state and the church:

          When Jesus went to Capernaum, a centurion approached, pleading with him, “Lord, my servant is flat on his back at home, paralyzed, and his suffering is awful.” 
          Jesus responded, “I’ll come and heal him.” 
          But the centurion replied, “Lord, I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. I’m a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”
          When Jesus heard this, he was impressed and said to the people following him, “I say to you with all seriousness that even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this. I say to you that there are many who will come from east and west and sit down to eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.” Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it will be done for you just as you have believed.” And his servant was healed that very moment.  (Matthew 8:5-13)

Matthew portrays the centurion as a man of the state, with extraordinary influence and power.  He was a soldier, a defender of the kingdom, and a servant of Caesar.  He commanded about one hundred soldiers and many servants, not for frontline combat or conquering new territory, but for maintaining law and order as a peacekeeping force throughout the empire.  He was a constant visual reminder to all citizens of the power of the state.   

As modern-day hearers of Matthew's story, we might see the centurion as a symbol for all the political kingdoms of our world, including those of our own country.  Matthew would want us to see the meeting of the centurion and Jesus as one of cosmic significance:  it is the State meeting the Church.  It is the kingdoms of this world confronting the Kingdom of God.  It is political, economic, and military power, man to man with the Son of Man.   

This compelling cage match follows suit with some of the great religious-political confrontations throughout the Bible:

Moses challenging the Egyptian Pharoah.
Nathan condemning the great King David.
Elijah confronting evil King Ahab.
And now, this centurion talking to Jesus.

Except there is one major difference in this story from the others.  Here, the centurion comes to Jesus, and not the other way around.  This story is also in Luke, but there, the centurion sends some messengers, they talk to Jesus, and they carry his message back to the centurion.  It’s a back and forth game that continues until the servant is healed.  Jesus and the centurion never meet in Luke, but they do in Matthew. 

I think we know why:  Matthew wants to suggest that even the greatest kingdoms of this earth, including those in this country – are in need of Jesus.  And here we learn the first of three challenging notions we would do well to remember on this election day:

Challenging Notion #1:  Despite all our power, we are ultimately powerless.

The centurion comes to Jesus begging for his paralyzed servant’s life, and asks for help by acknowledging the paradox of his own existence:  he is extremely powerful, but he is so utterly powerless.  Listen again to the impressive resume he offers Jesus:

“Lord, I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. I’m a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.”

Pretty impressive.  But what is compelling here is not that the centurion shares his resume with Jesus, but why.  Not to impress him with his power.  Not to intimidate him with his influence.  Not to coerce Jesus into helping him. 

The centurion is simply recognizing the ambiguity of his own existence.  All of this power at his disposal was not enough to conquer death and disease.  He had ascended to prestige and influence among his peers, amassing countless numbers of subjects below him, yet when faced with evil, tragedy, and chaos, he could do nothing.

Likewise, this country is so powerful, yet it remains so powerless.  We, too, must recognize the ambiguity of our existence.  Only when we humbly acknowledge that our own political, economic, and military power alone is not sufficient to build God’s kingdom on earth will we ever find a solace to our suffering.

And like the centurion, we need to go to God, rather than demand that God come to serve us.  When politicians coerce the faith for political expedience, it's like trying to get God on their side.  Instead, we should ask if we are on God's side. 

After all, remember that this story comes directly on the heels of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."  And here is a man who embodied just that.

Challenging Notion #2:  We must care for the oppressed.

The second surprising thing we learn is that the centurion had compassion for his subjects.  It would have been very easy for the centurion to just go find someone else to replace his ailing servant.  People died under his command all the time, and he could have sought a quick substitute.  But not this centurion.  He cared about the powerless.  He cared about the oppressed.  He saw someone under his authority who was suffering, and he felt compelled to do everything he could to ensure that he would live.  He risked his reputation as a strong, self-sufficient Roman official by going to a Jew - an outsider - for help.

It means nothing to have all the power in the world if you don’t care for the powerless.  The only way to true greatness comes when we take all of the manufactured power of our human energies and channel them toward the benefit and restoration of all those who are left out in the cold.  Our country, and all the political systems within it, is called to exercise not the power of dominance, retribution, and aggression, but of justice, mercy, love, and healing.  To pursue the former is fleeting.  To pursue the latter is kingdom-building.

Again, this story immediately follows Jesus’ challenge that “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  And the centurion exhibited that very quality.

The actions of this centurion were so astonishing.  He came to Jesus, when he could have ordered Jesus to come to him.  He was humble and meek, when we'd expect him to be self-aggrandizing and self-sufficient.  He was caring and compassionate, though we'd expect him to be authoritarian and insensitive.  

No wonder Jesus was so impressed by this centurion.  “I say to you with all seriousness that even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this."

Challenging Notion #3:  God’s reign knows no human boundaries.

But we have one more surprise in this text.  Not only do we discover that human institutional power is ultimately powerless against evil.  Not only do we learn that true power comes in caring for the well-being of the oppressed.  But listen to this radical vision of the kingdom of God:

"I say to you that there are many who will come from east and west and sit down to eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom will be thrown outside into the darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.”

Now it’s fair to say at this point, “Aw, Jesus, why did you have to say that?”  Wouldn’t it have been easier, and a whole lot cleaner, to simply go ahead and heal the servant after acknowledging the centurion’s faith? 

Instead, Jesus is so amazed by this Gentile’s faith that he describes a vision for the kingdom of God that knows no political, ethnic, or social boundaries.  This is a radically inclusive vision of the kingdom that is wide enough and big enough to include both Jew and Gentile.  To include both oppressed and oppressor.  To include both saint and sinner.  To include both male and female, Democrat and Republican, gay and straight, poor and rich, American and foreigner.  It is an expansive, exhaustive, and ultimately tireless vision of a God who will go from east to west to find residents of this kingdom. 

The kingdom of God is not confined by human institutional political boundaries.  God is not tied to obedience to any one throne, does not belong to any one political party, does not pledge allegiance to any one flag, and does not favor any one people group over another.  It is not a question of which country God blesses the most.  Because God wants them all. 

This, after all, is the same Jesus who had just said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The centurion is someone who understood that the kingdom of heaven was available for even him, a foreigner and an outsider.

Then, this powerful story ends simply and abruptly.  Jesus says to the centurion, “Go; it will be done for you just as you have believed.” And his servant was healed that very moment.  Nothing fancy.  No elaborate rituals, no mysterious performance.  The powerless centurion acknowledged the power of Jesus.  He exercised compassion for his servant, and learned about the radically inclusive love of God.  So, according to his faith, his servant was healed.

Today, as we head out to the polls and perform our civic duties as citizens of this country, let us acknowledge that we are foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God.  And let us remember that true and lasting healing for the brokenness of our world rests in humble surrender to the compassionate heart and radically inclusive love of God. 

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

For those who did not pick up their packet of stewardship material after church last Sunday, look for it in the mail this week.  It contains important information regarding our campaign to reduce the kitchen and dining hall debt, as well as our budget for next year.  Prayerfully consider your financial commitments for 2015 and return your pledge card to the church by Commitment Sunday, November 23.