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

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Reflection of the Saints

October 28, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I have to admit being initially disappointed by last Thursday’s partial solar eclipse.  I had eagerly anticipated something more apocalyptic, along the lines of Moses vs. Pharoah, or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  But at 4:30, I looked out my living room window and saw nothing but normal daylight.  I even went outside to look at the sun directly. 

Whoops.  That was a mistake. 

With my eyes still squinting from sun shock, I drove to the middle school to pick up the girls.  A small crowd had gathered in the parking lot, next to the van from the Sanford Museum and Planetarium.  They had set up a “Solar Eclipse Watch Party” for the public, and I started to walk over to express my condolences.  “Bummer of an eclipse,” I was prepared to tell them. 

But Linda Burkhart, the director of the museum, saw me and waved me over.  “Want to come take a look?” she asked excitedly.  Take a look at what?  At a non-event?  I glanced up at the sun to see if anything had changed. 

Oops, I did it again. 

Partially blinded once more, I stumbled over to their table and noticed they had set up some contraption.  It was called a solar scope, a fancy version of the shoebox pinhole reflector that we learned to make as kids.  Sunlight entered a small orange tube that protruded through a large cardboard box, then reflected off a convex mirror near the base.  The reflected image bounced onto a large display area on the box lid.

There was no mistaking what I was looking at on the display of the solar scope.  It was an impressive image of the partial eclipse, perfectly rendered to show even the sun spots in the center of the sun.  I could hardly believe what I was looking at.  I instinctively glanced up at the sun again, for the third (and, thankfully, final) time.  Then I stared at the reflection, and realized details I couldn’t possibly capture with my naked eye.

The partial eclipse was happening, after all.  I just needed the aid of a reflective device to enjoy it without hurting myself. 

When my girls finally came out of the school, I yelled to them.  “Look, girls!  It’s the partial eclipse!  Look up at the sun!”

“Right.  Whatever, Dad,” Grace said.  “We’re not dumb.”  They walked straight over to the solar scope and enjoyed the show, proving once again a capacity for common sense that sometimes eludes their old man. 


Once again, I have this irresistible urge to translate an experience into a sermon illustration.  When I looked at the sun’s reflected image through the solar scope, I remembered one of my favorite quotes by theologian and author G. K. Chesterton. 

In his biography of St. Francis, Chesterton described the venerable saint as “the mirror of Christ rather as the moon is the mirror of the sun. The moon is much smaller than the sun, but it is also much nearer to us; and being less vivid it is more visible. Exactly in the same sense Saint Francis is nearer to us, and being a mere man like ourselves is in that sense more imaginable. Being necessarily less of a mystery, he does not, for us, so much open his mouth in mysteries.”

I love Chesterton’s description, not just of St. Francis, but of all the saints who have gone before us.  They are for us what the moon is to the sun:  a glimpse of the sun’s radiance, in a form that we can comprehend.  To consider the fullness of God’s glory, given our limited and finite capacity, would be like staring directly in the sun.  It would offer us little benefit, and it might even cause us harm. 

So we turn to the saints, that grand collection of spiritual ancestors whose faithfulness and example pave the way for our own life of faith.  Sainthood is not a concept that gets used regularly in Protestant circles; we often leave it up to our Catholic siblings to talk about canonization and feast days for the saints.  But the letter to the Hebrews makes it clear that those who have finished the course before us comprise a “great cloud of witnesses” that can encourage us with perseverance and faith. 

This Sunday, we will have our annual All Saints’ Sunday celebration, where we will begin the worship service honoring the members of our church who have died since last November.  We will name them, light a candle in their memory, ring a bell in their honor, and stand in solidarity with their life and legacy.  It is always one of the most moving moments in our worship life together, and you will want to be part of it. 

Together let us give thanks for these saints, who are a reflection of God’s glory to us all.

Grace and Peace,


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

Join us at the parking lot of Western Iowa Tech this Saturday morning to help with the Iowa Annual Conference’s Ingathering effort.  Just a few hours of effort with sorting, counting, and packaging materials will make a huge difference to people in need all around the world. 


As a reminder, be sure to set your clocks an hour back this Saturday night, as we return to standard daylight time.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Dear God ....

October 21, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

While visiting the website beliefnet.com the other day, I found these actual prayers to God, written by children:

“Dear God, Please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter.  There is nothing good in there now.” 

“Dear God, I want to be just like my Daddy when I get big but not with so much hair all over.”  - Sam

“Dear God, Are you a ninja?  Is that why I can’t see you?”  - Jacob

“Dear God, If you watch in church on Sunday, I will show you my new shoes.” 

“Dear God, If you let the dinosaur not go extinct, we would not have a country.  You did the right thing.” 

“Dear Jesus, Please don’t come back before the next Cars movie.”  - Stevie

I chuckled at most of them.  They were poignant and humorous, revealing a bit of what it means to have a child-like faith.  But sprinkled among the laughs were prayers like this: 

“Dear God, Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you have now?”  - Jane

I like Jane’s prayer for its honesty, and its ability to capture our own sense of powerlessness in the face of suffering and grief.  We might imagine more prayers like this one, written by children throughout the world, facing various degrees of tragedy and trauma. 

Dear God, please keep my family from being so hungry all the time … Dear God, please help my parents find a job …  Dear God, please stop the bombs from dropping on our neighborhood …  Dear God, I’m afraid of the guns that might be in my school …  Dear God, please help me be free of this slavery …  Dear God, please stop them from hurting me again …  Dear God, please cure my family of Ebola …  Dear God, help me see my next birthday.

If you listen carefully, you can hear these prayers.  They are lifted straight from the headlines of newspapers and newsfeeds.  They are on the faces of children you see near and far, from Cherokee streets to TV screens.  And they are praying for a chance to forge they future they deserve.

It is to this end that the non-profit Children’s Defense Fund was established forty years ago, in the context of the Civil Rights movement and the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Current president Marian Wright Edelman serves as its chief spokesperson, advocating for the rights of children in this country and beyond, and raising awareness and imploring justice for millions of voiceless children around the world. 

Each year, the United Methodist Women encourage every United Methodist congregation to host a “Children’s Sabbath” worship service, and I am proud that such a service has a long-standing tradition here in St. Paul’s.  This Sunday, I invite you to join us as our very own children lead us with music, readings, and preaching, and to join with the prayers of kids lifting their deepest longing heavenward. 

We are also inviting you to bring non-perishable food items starting this Sunday, and throughout the weeks in November, as part of our annual food drive for our local food pantries.  The Children’s Sabbath has consistently been a highlight of our year together, and you won’t want to miss this inspiring, challenging, and poignant time together.

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pastor deVega Goes to Mass

October 14, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

As some of you know, last Saturday afternoon I decided on a whim to attend Catholic mass at our local Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.  It had been years since I attended a Catholic service, as I frequently attended them when I was a child (mostly as a ring bearer for countless weddings involving Filipino nurses).  My mother was raised a devout Roman Catholic, and though she now considers herself a United Methodist, she prays with her rosary beads on a daily basis. 

The people of the Philippines, after all, are over 80% Catholic, so when I was a child growing up in Florida, we would often attend the St. Jude’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, where Father Bernabe, a Filipino priest, would often preside.  I think the last Catholic service I attended was in 1986, when we attended a peace vigil that my father organized during the famous People Power Revolution in Manila, when the regime of Ferdinand Marcos was remarkably overthrown without a single drop of blood. 

I’m not sure why I decided to visit last Saturday.  Just last Thursday I attended a ministerial association meeting that included my friend Father Dan Guenther, the recently appointed priest at Immaculate Conception.  “You’re welcome to join us,” he said, in response to my inquiry on the starting time for worship.

So, at 4:00 in the afternoon, I arrived at the church.  I was coming in close to the last minute, so I tried to sneak in through one of the side doors unnoticed.  Big mistake.  I soon found myself alone in a small hallway with no sense as to how to get into the sanctuary.  I opened the nearest door I could find, only to be greeted by total darkness.  (Nice going, Magrey.  I found out later from a parishioner that I had walked into the confessional booth.) 

Eventually, I found my way into a sanctuary nearly filled with parishioners, and was immediately greeted by Father Dan, who was about to start the service.  He looked at me warmly and said, rather wryly, “Welcome to the Catholic faith.”  I shook his hand and replied, “It’s good to be here,” which is Methodist-speak for, “Whoa, hold on.  I’m just visiting, not converting.” 

Instead of printed bulletins or orders of service, all of the play-by-play was found on the hymn board at the front of the sanctuary.  The numbers corresponded to pages in the missal and the hymnal, the books that are readily accessible in the pew racks.  For all the trepidation that some Protestants have about feeling lost and confused during a Catholic service, it was really just a matter of Follow the Leader.  And in some cases, Copy Your Neighbor.  The liturgy was fairly easy to navigate, the hymn tunes quite familiar, and the music was led by an experienced cantor.  There were only a few times that I had to look at the people around me to know when to stand, sit, or kneel, mostly because I forgot to read the rubrics in the missal.

Of course, I didn’t go up to receive communion.  But simply joining with other Christians in a spirit of prayer and worship provided a keen sense of unity and camaraderie.  The combination of ancient liturgies, unison acts of physical movement, lengthy moments of silence, and dramatic ritual evoked a deep sense of holy time and place.  And the forty-five minute mass was over before I knew it.

I offer this report to you perhaps as an encouragement for you to attend mass yourself and gain a different appreciation for the historic church.  But mostly, it is to remind us that we are united in faith with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.  For all of the differences we might have in certain parts of our theology and practice, we share much more in common in our beliefs.  We commonly affirm the centrality of Scripture, and the saving work of Jesus Christ.  Protestants and Catholics share three-fourths of Christian history in common, after all.  And in a time when the culture around us would rather delineate our differences and divide people into camps, we can affirm that we really are the body of Christ together

I came home from the service and read one of my favorite sermons by John Wesley, called “Catholic Spirit.”  Listen to the way he described the kind of unity in the faith that reaches across denominational and faith traditions:

Although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection?  Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.  Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.  These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.

Grace and Peace,


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


Join us this Sunday as we continue our sermon series on the Kingdom of God with a sermon based on the most famous sermon Jesus ever preached.  It begins in Matthew 5:1-12, popularly known as "The Beatitudes," and serves as our text for the service.  We'll discover the new way that Jesus opens the Kingdom of God to surprising groups of people.

(Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Chronicle Times, by Mike Leckband)

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Cellist of Sarajevo

October 7, 2014

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

I just finished reading a book by Steven Galloway titled The Cellist of Sarajevo, a fictionalized retelling of the horrors of the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, in which the capital city of Sarajevo underwent the longest siege of a major city in modern warfare.  It lasted from 1992 to 1996, during which time nearly 14,000 people were killed and about 100,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. 

One of those buildings was a bakery, which was bombed on May 27, 1992, killing 22 people waiting in line for bread.  In the immediate aftermath of the attack, rescue personnel and neighbors rushed to the scene to help the victims, including a 36-year old gentleman named Vedran Smailovic.

Smailovic was not a doctor, or politician, or soldier.  By many standards, he was essentially powerless to address the persistent rain of mortar shells and random sniper fire that deluged his beloved city on a daily basis.  Instead, Smailovic was a musician, an accomplished cellist with the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra. 

In the wake of the bombing at his nearby bakery, Smailovic did the one thing he knew how to do well.  He took his cello to the very site where those 22 innocent victims were killed, and he began playing the hauntingly melancholy Adagio in G Minor by Tomaso Albinoni.  For twenty-two straight days, one for each of the victims, the cellist played the same song, in various places around Sarajevo where violence and destruction had consumed the city.  He often played right in the midst of rubble, or at funerals of the deceased, or even in open courtyards in the dead aim of sniper rifles, as bombs and bullets continued to wreak havoc around him.

His music brought comfort to the grieving, and a therapeutic salve to a war-weary country.  He provided a real-time soundtrack to the agonies of the suffering, and expressed both latent and blatant pain in a way only music can.  But more than that, his public performances embodied a bold confrontation to the powers at large, proclaiming that no act of violence, and no evil deed, could thwart the spirit of a people determined to live in freedom.

Smailovic is now living a life of relative seclusion, but his reputation has spread globally and caught the attention of celebrities far and wide.  Bono, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and many other noted musicians have clamored to perform with him, and composer David Wilde wrote a piece entitled The Cellist of Sarajevo, which famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma recorded as a tribute to him. 

After reading the book and subsequently learning more about Smailovic’s life, I began to wonder if he represents the kind of holy task to which God is calling the church.  Like the cellist, we have no rightful claim to political power or military might.  The church is neither politician nor soldier, and history has shown the tragic consequences whenever the church has tried to assume either.  And our discipleship demands that our tactics to address evil must be born of a separate standard and a different ethic, lest we become the very evil we strive to overcome.

The cellist of Sarajevo might remind us that the church’s calling is one of melodic defiance.  Our task is neither to fight nor to cower, but to sing.  It is to claim the songs of peace, comfort, and courage, and dare to perform them where the world most needs to hear them:  not in the shadows, or in the security of safe distances, but directly in the face of the oppressor, in the line of fire, as a living, lyrical witness to the power of the resurrection. 

Despite what the secular voices may say, the church is far from weak, or powerless, or irrelevant.  Rather, the church can offer the very thing that would most remedy a world caught in an endless cycle of self-destructive behavior:  a subversive, surprising song.  A song whose lyrics speak of self-giving love rather than self-addicted agendas.  A song whose sounds are counter waves to the thrum of war chants and the clanging of swords.  A song whose melody drives us upward towards holiness and purity, rather than into the darkest recesses of our sinful instincts.  A sacred harmony that pulses with God’s unconditional love, and calls us to forgiveness. 

Yes, it is a dark and broken world.  And the temptation might be to cower in fear.  But ours is a holy calling.  The church has a song to perform, and we each have instruments to play.  And God has stepped onto the podium, baton in hand. 

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