xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Mid-Week Message: February 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Live! From the Red Carpet!

February 24, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Sunday, February 22, 2015    7:20pm CST

Daydreaming a bit while watching the Oscars red carpet coverage ….

Robin Roberts:  Hello, ladies and gentleman, and welcome to our very special broadcast.  We’re here, live from the red carpet just outside Jerusalem, awaiting the arrival of this year’s biggest stars. We’re giving you a front row view of all the big name celebrities as they arrive for this year’s big festival. We’ve put together a terrific broadcast team to bring you all the action, up close and personal.  First, let’s send it over to Lara Spencer.  Lara?

Lara Spencer:  Thanks, Robin. I’m here with at Reuben Ben-Tobas, owner of Reuben’s Livery Stable. He has been attending the festival for the past thirty years and has seen some major stars come through. Reuben, tell us how you’re doing. What have you seen today?

Reuben: Well, so far the crowd seems a lot bigger than in years past. And business has been very good, with lots of people renting my donkeys to haul their souvenirs around. In fact, I just rented my last animal this morning. Interesting fellows. Said they were out of town, and I told them all I had was this young colt - -  

Robin: - - Sorry to interrupt, Lara, but we’re here with our first big celebrities. James and John, sons of Zebedee.  (Crowd cheers.  “Thunderous” applause.)  It’s an honor to welcome you to our red carpet show. First of all, you both look fabulous. I love what you did with your hair, James.

James: Oh, thanks. Glad you like it. John and I were having this discussion on the way here about whose hair was the greatest. You can’t imagine how heated it got. But I think we both look pretty good. 

Robin: And tell us, John. What do you expect from tonight’s festivities? Who are you hoping to see?

John: Well, I’ve been a big fan of Billy Crystal since he first hosted the seder in my hometown. Never been a better host in my opinion.  Makes this night more special than any other night. 

Robin: And I think a lot of people here would agree with you. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with the festivities.  And now, look who it is. Speaking of big names, it’s Peter!  Welcome, Peter, how are you doing?

Peter: WOO-HOO! FREEDOM! (Crowd cheers loudly)  Fine. I’m doing fine.

Robin: As we all know, it’s been a big year for you. Your mother-in-law came back from a grave illness, you got front row tickets to see Elijah and Moses, and .. you walked on water!  Tell us, how was that?

Peter: Biggest thrill of my life.  For a while.  And then…well, no comment.

Robin: (laughs) I see. How about telling us who you are wearing tonight?

Peter: Oh, this? This is the latest John the Baptist. He specially designed it just for me before he, you know, got his head served on a platter.  But this isn’t just any camel hair coat.  It’s got a cool zipper pocket for me to hide this sword. (Waves sword awkwardly) I’m not very good with swords, but you never know when one might come in handy.

Robin: Wow. Fascinating. Now, Peter. Let’s talk about your latest project. You are currently on tour with the traveling Jesus show. We all want to know: what has it been like working with such an amazing cast of people over the course of these past several months? Give us one bit of juicy gossip about one of your cast mates that folks at home would never know!

Peter: Well, let me think.  There’s not a whole lot I can say, really. We’re all very different, with little personality quirks. Andrew keeps trying to bring new people into the production, so that’s good. Matthew, he’s a tax collector, so the others kind of leave him alone.  James and John? They seem to like to argue.  Like all the time.  And then there’s Judas.  I tell you, that guy is really going to make a name for himself some day.

Robin: You heard it here first, folks.  Thanks so much, Peter, and have fun tonight!

Peter:  Thanks, Robin.  FREEDOM!  (Crowd cheers wildly)

Robin:  And here he is, the one everyone has come to see.  Just look at all the palm branches waving, and the folks throwing their coats on the ground in front of him.  Let’s go back to Lara, who is right there for an interview.  Lara?

Lara:  Yes, Robin, I’m here with Jesus of Nazareth.  (Crowd cheers)  My goodness, Jesus. Listen to this crowd! I can’t say that I’ve ever seen such a big crowd for a red carpet event. Look at them all, chanting “Hosanna, Hosanna!” Must make you feel pretty special, huh?

Jesus:  I have come not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.

Lara: (chuckles) Oh, there you go again, always ready with the sound bite! Now tell us, all the reporters are buzzing about this young colt you are riding!  What gave you the inspiration for such an eye-catching fashion accessory?

Jesus:  Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Lara:  Profound, Jesus. That prophet Zechariah sure had a way with words, huh?  Now let me ask you. There has been a lot of speculation in the press that you have come today to make a big announcement about the next major project in your career.  A career, as we all know, that has commanded crowds all across the land, with healing, teaching, and miracles. We all want to know, Jesus: what is next in store for you?

Jesus:  Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.  

Lara:  Oooh!  Sounds like an action film!  You heard it here first, folks. No more dramas or documentary movies – it sounds like Jesus will be branching out to star in his first ever big budget blockbuster!  We will all be waiting to see it, I’m sure!

Jesus:  You will all fall away, for it is written: "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”

Lara:  Heh, heh.  Good one, Jesus.  Oh, wait.  Robin has a question.

Robin:  Thanks, Lara.  Yes, Jesus, this is Robin Roberts from Good Morning Jerusalem.  I was wondering, with all of the great lines you’ve delivered in your storied career, which one do you want to be remembered by?  I mean, Arnold has “I’ll be back” and Tom has “Life is like a box of chocolates.”  When you’re dead, what do you want your tombstone to read?

Jesus:  He is not here. He has been raised.

Robin:  I love it. Well, Jesus, enjoy the rest of your time here. Now go meet your adoring fans! Look how they love you!

Jesus:  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

Robin:  Oh, that Jesus. Always a kidder. Thanks for joining us, everyone!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Let's Race! (Then, Let's Walk)

February 17, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Once again, it is Shrove Tuesday, on the cusp of another Lenten season. This evening, we will join with festivities around the world with our own version of Mardi Gras: a Pancake Race from City Hall to the front steps of the church, with a worship service and pancake supper to follow. We are anticipating local television news coverage from ABC affiliate KCAU ABC9, so you might check tonight’s news broadcast for coverage of the event. You can read more about the return of the race in last week’s Mid-Week Message, and it’s still not too late to register to race by visiting www.pancakerace.com

Then, starting tomorrow, we will embark on the sacred 40-day journey that leads us from the ashes of repentance to the glory of the resurrection. To guide us along that journey, I would once again encourage you to sign up for a project I have been a part of called #pictureLent.  It is a series of daily devotions written by me and clergy colleagues that will focus your attention on seven key words:

  • Return: To remind us of the temporal nature of human existence, and to return to Christ, who is the source of all life.
  • Reveal: To be open to the many ways God is revealed to us in every day moments.
  • Reflect: To internalize the words and work of God in our lives through meditation, prayer, and study, and then to reflect God’s love to others.
  • Reject: To confess the ways we have rejected Christ, and to renew our commitments to acts of mercy, piety, and justice.
  • Remember: To recall the stories of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and to live into the example of Christ through daily living. 
  • Replace: To give thanks for the sacrifice of Christ, who took our place on the cross and saved us from our sins.
  • Resurrection: To rejoice in the new life and power God gives to us through the resurrection.

Each of these weekly key words will be interpreted by a daily devotional written by a United Methodist clergy person, and we have expanded the number of writers this season to give you a wider, fuller diversity of authors.  As during #pictureAdvent, you can share a picture of how you interpret these key words via social media, constructing an expansive virtual gallery of fellow sojourners on the journey.

In addition to family activities for parents and children, there are also new resources for churches that you can share with family and friends in other congregations: sermon ideas for preachers, youth group activities, bulletin inserts, and much more.

To sign up, simply visit www.lecfamily.org/lent and register your email address.  The journey begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, with a devotional written by me.

So tonight, let’s race!  And tomorrow, let’s walk. Let’s take this Lenten journey, one step at a time, and discover all that God has to share with us.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race, 2015

February 10, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Come next Tuesday, February 17, our return to the new kitchen and dining hall will be complete.

That is the date that we will once again be observing The Great Cherokee Pancake Day Race and Shrove Tuesday Luncheon, after a long two-year hiatus.  It was three years ago this month, a week after the Pancake Race of 2012, that a fire destroyed our lower level church facilities.  Every year since, we have debated how or if we might continue the pancake race tradition we started in 2009, but we could not figure out the logistics of hosting it on our campus and doing the event justice.

So, next Tuesday will be a joyous moment for our congregation and our community. Not just because it culminates our return to the kitchen and dining hall, and not just because it resumes an event that for three years had gained Cherokee regional notoriety and news media coverage. But after major floods two out of the last three years, the closing of a major employer here in town, and numerous private and community-wide setbacks that have drawn our spirits downward, it will be great to celebrate all that is best about living in Cherokee: community pride, care for each other, fortitude through tough times, and a willingness to have a good old fashioned fun time. 

As a reminder of what the pancake race is all about:  Next Tuesday, February 17, a crowd of women dressed in skirts, aprons, and head-kerchiefs will race 415 yards in possible freezing temperature, while carrying a cast-iron skillet and a pancake.  In a Shrove Tuesday tradition harkening back to Olney, England since 1445, contestants will begin with a flip of a pancake in a provided cast-iron skillet, and conclude the race with one more flip.  And standing at the finish line,  greeting these heroines in house dresses, will be yours truly, ready to award the winner with the traditional “Kiss of Peace” accompanied by the words, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.”

This is also a worthwhile fundraiser.  After the Shrove Tuesday service and awards ceremony in the sanctuary, we will gather for a pancake supper down in the Dining Hall, where folks can leave a free-will donation.  All of the proceeds will go to support the food pantries at the Christian Action Program, Mid-Sioux Opportunities, Inc., and the Trinity Lutheran Church food bank.  The idea that other people’s food pantries will be replenished on a day usually set aside for cleaning out your own is deliciously ironic. And it is always great to see churches cooperating together with an ecumenical spirit.  Clergy from the Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, and other churches will all be present to help officiate some part of the race. 

All you have to do is sign up to help!  If you are a women who would like to run the race, or if you would like to put together a team of people to run it as a relay, registration forms are available at the church office or by visiting our exclusive website at www.pancakerace.com.  If you would like to help with set up, clean up, or cooking pancakes, contact John Cook, Jenny Burroughs, or a member of the Adult Class. At the very least, come watch the race, attend the brief worship service, and be generous in your donation at the pancake supper. None of this happens without the passion and energy of lay people like you.  

So, women, get ready to start your pancakes!  See you next Tuesday!

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Haunted by a Heresy, Part 2

February 3, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

The response to last week’s Mid-Week Message suggests that my description of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) really resonated with many of you. For those of you who missed it, it is available online here.  MTD asserts that God is knowable only from a distance, rarely intervening in our lives unless we are in need of something.  It describes God as a cosmic butler, requiring little more of us than simply being nice to others.  It is a stealthy and pervasive modern day heresy, and last week I admitted my own inadvertent contributions to its spread.

So today, I want to offer an antidote.  It is no silver bullet by any means, as something so widespread as MTD requires more than just one solution.  But the heart of the Wesleyan faith contains one key to countering it, as expressed in the most famous prayer John Wesley ever wrote.   

It begins with these words:

I am no longer my own, but thine.

Forget anything that MTD suggests about a God who is simply there to serve our needs.  Forget any viral egocentricism that has infected your Christian belief and practice.  Like Copernicus’ discovery that the earth is not the center of the solar system, this prayer fundamentally shifts our focus Godward, so that our primary interest is not in what God can do for us, but in what we are created to be in God. 

Here is the whole prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

The Wesley Covenant Prayer knows nothing about a God who is distant, only intervening when necessary.  Instead, God is perpetually engaged in every aspect of our being, wanting nothing less than our complete surrender to whatever fits God’s best purposes for the world.  Forget about only wanting God to serve our needs.  This prayer says, “God, because I belong to you, I am willing to go through suffering.  I am willing to be laid aside for you.  I am willing to be brought low for you.  I am willing to be empty.  I am willing to have nothing.”

“And in those moments when life seems blessed beyond measure, when I am full, when I have all things, when I feel useful and active and exalted … then I know it is simply because you own me, and all I have and all I am is yours.”

Each line is a couplet of extremes, covering the entire range of life’s complexities.  Sometimes there are hills, and sometimes there are valleys.  After every triumph, there seems a tragedy lurks around the next corner.  Some days are great, and others are not.  And while MTD would suggest that such randomness can be explained by a God who is distant from our every day existence, the Wesley Covenant Prayer takes this evidence to prove the exact opposite: since our lives belong to God, we do not have the right to chart our existence according to our own wishes.  God has always had – and always will have – a bigger picture in mind.

The prayers pulses like a heartbeat, drawing energy and sustenance straight from the Source of all Life.  It challenges us to recalibrate our relationship with God to make it less about what we need and more about who we are called to be.  Like branches are to a vine, we cannot exist apart from God, and God demands nothing less than our fullest participation in the life of God in the world. 

That’s why it ends the way it does:  I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.

Try this for the next several weeks.  Memorize the prayer.  Commit it to memory.  And until you do, read it every morning as one of the first things you do when you wake up.  Remind yourself of whose you are, and consciously dismiss every suggestion that God is simply here to meet your needs.  And pledge to spend every moment, to the best of your ability, to allow God to use you – or not use you – in the best ways that God sees fit.

And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.


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