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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Unnamed Heroes

August 26, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Moments before the sermon last Sunday, I took a quick sip from one of the bottles of water stacked behind the pulpit.  It is a supply of about twenty bottles that just appeared one day nearly a year ago, and I have no idea who first put them there.  Every Sunday, when I finish a bottle, there is a fresh one to take its place the following week.   I’ve probably gone through dozens of bottles over the past year, but it is still as freshly stocked now as the day I first discovered this surprise gift.

To this day, I don’t know who is responsible for it, or even if they receive this Mid-Week Message for me to express my thanks.  But I am grateful for them.  Not just for the water, but for the reminder that the mission of the church is advanced not just by people in the spotlight, but by humble, faithful, and seemingly anonymous people like them.  These are people whose actions and impact are widespread, even if their identities are not. 

Consider all of the people whose anonymous activities in the Bible made huge differences in putting of God’s love into action.  In fact, let’s imagine putting them into something like a Hall of Unnamed Heroes, where we can finally acknowledge their contributions to the faith.  Were there literally such a Hall, it would be more prestigious than Canton or Cooperstown, for these people impacted the world through achievements that the Bible has recorded throughout time. 

·      When you first walk into the Hall, you might notice a little knapsack.  It’s the one that an anonymous little boy used to carry his lunch of bread and fish, which he willingly turned over to the disciples for Jesus to multiply into a feast.   (John 6:10-14)

·      Look down the way you’ll find a mat, used as a makeshift gurney by some anonymous friends to lower their paralyzed buddy through a rooftop, into a crowded house, and toward the healing hands of Jesus.  (Luke 5:19)

·      Don’t blink or you’ll miss the corner of the room, where an alabaster box is in proud display.  That’s the one that an unnamed woman used to pour some precious perfume, which she used to anoint Jesus’ feet.  It was an act of devotion and worship that Jesus used as an object lesson for the disciples.  (Luke 7:37)

·      Right next to it is a simple wooden crook, used as a staff by one of the shepherds when they were tending their flocks on the night the angels lit up the night sky with good news.  We don’t know their names, but we surely remember their joy.  (Luke 2:8-20)

·      In an open floor area of the Hall is a bale of hay and a leather strap.  It’s what some unnamed individual used to care for a young colt, which he had raised for months and kept from being ridden until he turned it over to the disciples for a special purpose:  as a courier for the King on the first Palm Sunday.  (Luke 19:28-38)

·      And don’t forget the two coins.  In a Hall this grand you are likely to miss them, sitting there in the Temple treasury box.  It’s what that lowly widow contributed one day, in an offering that went largely unnoticed, but caught the attention of Jesus. He turned that anonymous widow’s offering into a stirring illustration of generosity and sacrifice.  (Luke 21:1-4)

·      And in the middle of this grand Hall of Unnamed Heroes is a table.  It has seating for a guest of honor and twelve special friends.  And in the middle is a plate and a chalice, along with a basin and towel.  Who made the arrangements for the very first Last Supper?  We don’t know his name, but he owned that upper room, and he made sure that everything was set for this final feast among friends.   (Luke 22:7-13)

That’s just a small portion of the magnitude of people who have driven the mission of God forward across time.  You are among them, you know.  Never think for a moment that God’s love is put into action by just those of us who wear a collar, or are on a church’s payroll.  There are unnamed heroes among us, just like whoever it is that stocks the pulpit with water for me every Sunday.

·      Did you know, for example, that some of our church members come to trim the bushes around our sanctuary whenever they need it?  And that people have been coming to cut the church grass without need for public thanks?  Or weeded the south gardens to make sure it was presentable to the public?

·      The next time you fill out your attendance form with a freshly sharpened pencil, who do you think sharpened that pencil and placed in the pew for your use?

·      Last week, we printed new church directories for our office and lay committees, containing updated address and phone information for people in our congregation.  Two people have spent the better part of the past year updating our membership books, cross-referencing it to our membership software, and making sure that every bit of information in these directories is accurate.  And they don’t want to be publically thanked for it.

·      How about those beautiful flowers that have adorned our pulpit and lectern throughout these summer Sundays, especially when flowers have not been purchased for our altar?  Did you know that two women have faithfully brought beautiful, freshly cut flowers from their gardens to make sure that our chancel is always adorned with beauty.

.      Every Sunday, much of our worship content is shown on the screens, and there are two people who put together the Powerpoint presentations that make it happen.  Every hymn, every prayer, every scripture reading, all done with great care.  And they do this without the need for acknowledgment.  

·      How about our precious shut-ins and homebound residents?  Did you know that each week, they receive a visit from one of our church members, along with a CD recording of the previous Sunday service and a copy of our bulletin?

Oh, I could go on and on.  In a church like ours, with only one pastor, and a small group of part-time support staff, volunteer contributions of time and energy that might seem insignificant actually make a huge impact.  We all might not share the spotlight, but we can all share the light of Christ out of our talents and giftedness.   It’s no wonder that Jesus said “Those who are first will be last and the last will be first.”  And I’m so grateful for those of you who have “come not to be served, but to serve.”

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

We resume our regular schedule on September 7, with Sunday school beginning at 9:00 and worship at 10:10.  Wednesday Teen Time for high schoolers begins on September 10 at 6:30pm at Craig and Monica Schmidt’s house, and music rehearsals for Bell Choir and Chancel choirs also begin on September 10. 

Starting this Sunday, items from the Feller Lounge will be sold via silent auction.  It will include a number of furniture pieces that will be replaced with new furnishings.  End tables, bookcases, and other items will be displayed in the hallway outside the office over the next three Sundays, and you can place an anonymous bid on the sheets adjacent to each item.  Proceeds will be used to purchase new furniture for the lounge.


We are receiving a special offering over the next two Sundays to assist those affected by the closing of the Tyson plant next month.  Make your check payable to St. Paul’s UMC and designated for “Local Aid.”  Your contribution will be sent to the local food pantries and to the Cherokee Community Ministerial Association, which works with the Salvation Army.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

An Illustration from Nature

August 19, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Sunday before worship, our Lay Leader Linda Appleby told me about the recent trip that she and her husband Dave took to Estes Park, Colorado last week.  She told me briefly about a walk that they took together along the Cub Lake Trail in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

“I want to tell you about something we saw on the trail, because we thought you might be able to make a sermon illustration out of it.”

Challenge accepted.

She said that in 2012, the national park was ravaged by a massive wildfire that consumed 3500 acres, the largest fire in the national park’s history.  And then the following year, in 2013, overwhelming flood waters devastated that same general area in the park, causing further damage to an area still in recovery.

The Applebys walked the trail last week and were surprised by what they saw.  While there were still signs of devastation all around them - scorched earth, blackened trees, brush and debris littered randomly along the landscape - there was also evidence of new life:  robust grasses and ferns, beautiful flowers in full bloom, and lush, verdant trees so green and mature that it is astonishing to imagine that they somehow survived the fire and flooding.

My first response when Linda described the scenes, and again when she showed me the pictures was captured in one word:  “Resurrection.” I said.  “There is always new life after death.” 

I was reminded then of something that my pastoral theology professor, Dr. Carolyn Bohler, once said to her students.  “If, tragically, this planet were to suffer a nuclear winter, then in the aftermath – even the following day – we can believe there will be flowers growing in the fields again.”

Her point was simple:  just like nature finds a way to endure and flourish through trauma, so it is that we can find hope and promise in the wake of every trying time.  All of this points to the reality of the resurrection, first evidenced by the empty tomb, but apparent in a myriad of ways all around us, every day. 

I hope that if you are going through the fire or treading water through the floods of your life today, you will remember this:  God doesn’t give up, and won’t give up on you.  There is still resurrection available for you today.   Believe in it.  Claim it.  Then live it.

It’s interesting that a few hours after Linda told me her story on Sunday, my iTunes music file was playing randomly through my song catalog.  And this song, by one of my favorite Christian artists, Steven Curtis Chapman, started playing:

His Strength is Perfect

I can do all things
Through Christ who gives me strength
But sometimes I wonder what He can do through me
No great success to show
No glory on my own
Yet in my weakness He is there to let me know

His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
He'll carry us when we can't carry on
Raised in His power, the weak become strong
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect

We can only know
The power that He holds
When we truly see how deep our weakness goes
His strength in us begins
Where ours comes to an end
He hears our humble cry and proves again

There’s good news, friends.  God’s strength, and God’s ability to resurrect new life from the dead, is indeed perfect.  And it is working in and through you, even right now.

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

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Monday, August 11, 2014

The Closing of Tyson

August 12, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Perhaps you have noticed an important trend throughout our current sermon series on the book of Acts.  Giving of ourselves to people in need has always been an essential part of our history and our DNA.  Before the church erected any buildings, formalized its doctrine, or codified its canon of scriptures, it maintained a strong social witness and care for the poor. 

All the believers were united and shared everything.  They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them.  Acts 2:44-45

There were no needy persons among them. Those who owned properties or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds from the sales, and place them in the care and under the authority of the apostles. Then it was distributed to anyone who was in need.  Acts 4:34-35

One of them, Agabus, stood up and, inspired by the Spirit, predicted that a severe famine would overtake the entire Roman world. (This occurred during Claudius’ rule.)  The disciples decided they would send support to the brothers and sisters in Judea, with everyone contributing to this ministry according to each person’s abundance.  Acts 12:28-29

They were united.  They sold.  They shared.  They distributed.  They contributed.  Just reading through the verbs in the book of Acts will give you all you need to know about what our Christian forerunners felt was most important about our mission to the community.  When someone is in need, it is our job to help. 


As we all know, a few weeks ago, the Tyson Foods company announced that they would be closing three major production plants in the country, including the one that employs hundreds of people in this town.  The news has come as a devastating shock to many of our nearly 5,000 residents, many of whom have been employed with the company for decades. 

Communally, we have been moving through the various stages of grief, as would be expected when individuals deal with death and loss:  shock, denial, anger, despair.  Many have commented on the widespread economic and social impact this will have throughout Cherokee.  Others have reacted with blame and anger at various groups for not doing enough to prevent the closing.  Some have jumped quickly to predicting the demise of the town in the future.

I would remind us that, as a church, we are called to this important response:  to seek the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).  We are called to minister to more than simply the brothers and sisters in our own faith community.  We must minister to those throughout our town who are in need, underscored by the mission statement we adopted in 2008: “Transform Lives, Improve the Community, and Change the World.”

Whereas others might grieve, we must choose to give. 

So, here are three ways that people in this church can respond to the Tyson closing:

1.  Pray.  Pray for those whose lives will be most directly impacted by loss of employment, including the ancillary jobs throughout Cherokee not immediately employed by Tyson.  Pray for the civic and business leaders who are actively working to find a new tenant for the facility.  And pray for the overall economic, social, and civic climate in this town, that we can continue to attract and maintain stable employers in Cherokee.

2.  Help.  All of us, I suspect, know at least a few families who are going to be looking for new work after the plant closes on September 27.  Let us do whatever we can to be attentive, supportive, and helpful to our friends and neighbors.  Provide them meals.  Cut their grass.  Send them notes of encouragement.  Babysit their children as they go out to look for work.  Connect them to possible employment.  Sit and listen, and be a presence. 

3.  Finally, give.  I am proud of our Missions Committee, who last week voted to take up a special offering during the weeks of August 24, August 31, and September 7.  Money collected on those Sundays will be evenly distributed to agencies in town that will work with those affected by those with emergency financial needs:  the Salvation Army, the local food pantries, and the Cherokee County Ministerial Association.  One hundred percent of those funds will be distributed to people who will have trouble paying bills, purchasing food, providing for their children, or even finding places to live because of their job loss.

The book of Acts offers a very clear picture of what is both past and prescription.  In moments of crisis, the body of Christ has always taken care of the poor and downtrodden among us.  So we are called to do that again, for such a moment as this, to “reach out in concern and service to the world,” as our liturgy states.

As always, it is good to be the church.

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, August 5, 2014

Half Full or Half Empty?

August 5, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I have a new answer to an age old question.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before:  “Is the glass half empty, or half full?”  Answer it as half full, and you are an optimist.  “It’s better, than nothing,” you tell yourself, as things could be a whole lot worse.  You choose to see your situation as better than it could be.

Answer it as half empty, and you are a pessimist.  You see the situation for what it could be, but isn’t.  You see unmet potential, disappointing results, or evidence of failure.  You dwell on the negative.

I think most of us tend to vacillate between the two options at various stages of our lives, depending on the situation.  I prefer to see myself as an optimist - - joyful and cheerful, hopeful about the future.  But I can still worry with the best of them, anxious about a future that has no guarantee of ever happening.  I can hope and I can worry, choosing not to fixate on one at the expense of the other.  Maybe most of the time we’d prefer a third option:  it’s both.  The glass is half full and half empty.  That answer would be true, albeit non-committal.

But I think I have an even better answer now:  The glass is neither half full nor half empty.

The glass is always full.

It doesn’t take a college degree in physics to understand this.  If you focus only on the glass and the water, then you are forced to choose between the two extremes.  But in reality, the other half of the glass – the half without the water – is not empty, or void, or meaningless.  It’s actually full of something invisible, but very real. 

It is the presence of air. 

It is air that fills the rest of the glass and interacts with the surface tension of the water.  It is air that gives the water its shape.  It is air that even maintains the water in its liquid state.  It’s true.  If you take a half-empty glass of water and vacuum out the air, the pressure in the top half of the glass drops dramatically and causes the water to bubble, and eventually boil.  It boils, not because heat is added to the water, but because the water turns to gas in order to equalize the lack of pressure in the top half of the glass.

But that’s not all.  Because it takes energy to move water from a liquid to a gaseous state, the remaining water – that which has not yet vaporized – has released so much energy that its temperature drops dramatically enough to freeze into ice.  [1] 

In other words, if you take a glass that is half filled with water and remove all the air, you wind up getting steam, then ice, then no liquid water at all.  That air may seem invisible, but it serves a vital purpose! 

So here’s the point:  If you are in a situation right now where you are tossing between optimism and pessimism, between what is and what can be, between hoping on the positive or dwelling on the negative, then maybe you should realize that your glass is neither half full or half empty.  There is something with you – right now – that is as invisible as air but is as active as energy.  And it ensures that your glass, in fact, is always full.

The Holy Spirit is with you. 

It’s no wonder that when the Bible describes the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, it often uses the image of air.  Ruah  (Hebrew) and pneuma (Greek) are two of the Bible’s favorite words for Spirit, and they both mean wind and breath.  It is an acknowledgement that the Spirit’s work is invisible yet indelible.  You may not always see the Spirit’s presence, but the Spirit is always at work. 

In those moments when you are caught in a seemingly hopeless situation, when the glass feels half empty, and you can’t help but focus on what is wrong, what has gone wrong, and what might go wrong, then the Spirit is there to fill your life to the brim with hope, courage, and a strength that you may only recognize in hindsight.  And without the Spirit’s presence, your situation would bubble, boil, and freeze into something even worse than it is.

Likewise, when you feel like things are going quite well, when your glass seems half full, and the trajectory of your life is on the upside, then the Spirit is there to open your blinders, caution you against temptation, and alert you to the sinful parts of your life that need more attention than you are willing to afford them.  And it is always, always, good to remember that even the good things in your life – your achievements, successes, recognitions, and rewards – have not solely come from your own merit or effort.  All good and perfect gifts come from God, whose Spirit is with you every step of the way.

So maybe learn to adopt this new guiding principle for your life.  Your glass is, in fact, never half full or half empty.  Your glass is always full.  Because regardless of what you are going through in your life, for whatever triumphs or tragedies happen to greet you each day, the Spirit of God is right there with you, to fill your life to the very brim with blessing, encouragement, guidance, and joy. 



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

[1]  John Hopkins University conducted an experiment that you can watch on YouTube that illustrates what happens when you vacuum out the air from a glass half-filled with water.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UG7nsZkVZc0