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

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Your Pastor Just Committed a Crime

April 14, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Last week, I committed a crime.  And I learned about grace in a most difficult, most embarrassing way.  

While on the south end of town last Wednesday, I stopped at the Cherokee Country Store gas station to pick up a bottle of iced tea before returning to the office.  The attendant rang up my purchase, took a look at me, then paused.

He said to me, “You need to know that you drove off last week without paying for your gas.”

“What?” I said, completely incredulous.  “You’re kidding!  I did that?”

“Yes,” he said.  Apparently, at some point last week, I had come in, pumped gas, and then driven off without paying for it.  He recognized both my face and my vehicle, and was certain that it had been me.

I was absolutely shocked to hear the news.  But what he said next totally floored me.

“Just wanted you to know that I paid for your gas out of my own pocket.”

I was stunned. I thanked him profusely for not calling the police, or reporting it as theft.  I quickly imagined my name in the next Cherokee Chronicle Times in the criminal report section, and then thanked him again.

“It’s okay,” he told me.  I knew you would be back here someday for me to tell you.  So I covered you.

I walked away from that conversation feeling the most sheepish I’d felt in a long time.  But I was also filled with immense gratitude.  I had not gotten what I deserved.  And this man had given me something I could not earn. 

Then the preacher instinct in me kicked in.  

There have been a lot of theories postulated by theologians over the centuries about what Jesus exactly did on that cross.  Some prefer to think that he paid a ransom for the sin that held us captive.  Or that he took the punishment of sin in our place.  Or that he conquered sin and was victorious.  Or that his blood satisfied the penalty of our sin.  

Regardless of one’s preferred theory of atonement (which is a fancy word theologians use to describe how Jesus saved us), one thing is perfectly clear: Jesus did something for us that we did not deserve.  

There’s a point to which my gas station metaphor breaks down, of course.  In the end, I quickly repaid the gas station attendant the $21.63 that he used to cover my crime.  In truth, I should have given him a lot more in gratitude.  But I at least was able to make things right.

That’s not something we can do with God.  We won’t ever be able to repay God for the immense grace shown to us through Jesus. And what’s amazing is, God will never expect us to.  Instead, God expects us to live a life of obedience and gratitude, not in order to receive God’s grace, but because of it.  

So, from now on, I’ll be extra careful to make sure that I pay for my gas before driving off (I swear this is the only time I’ve done this … that I know of!)  And I’ll be a grateful fan for life of the Cherokee Country Store gas station.

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


Vacation Bible School plans are well underway for this year’s event from June 8-12, 9am-12noon.  We have a terrific team of leaders putting it together, but we still have a critical need for adult volunteers in order for this year to be successful.  Please consider serving in one of two ways:

1)  Be a small group chaperone.  This involves simply walking a small group of older elementary children around from station to station throughout the morning.  It requires no preparation, and you will have a great time with the kids.

2)  Be a preschool lesson provider.  The team has all the material you need to lead a simple, 30-minute Bible story lesson for the preschool children.  It is really fun and easy to make the Bible come to life for the kids.

If you can’t serve all five days, the team would love to have you help for the days that you can.  If you are interested, please contact one of the following co-leaders of VBS this year:  Melissa Schlenger, Natasha Timmerman, Korrie Waldner, Laura Benson, or Crystal Samsel.


Over these next several weeks, I will need to be devoting a significant portion of my energy to tending to the various pastoral transition issues necessary for preparing the next pastor for his arrival.  I will therefore be taking a brief hiatus from writing the Mid-Week Message for the next several weeks, and will resume writing it before I depart at the end of June.  Should there be any important words I need to communicate to the congregation, I will do so through this format, but for now, I look forward to preparing the soil for the next season of ministry at St. Paul’s (a metaphor I know many of you farmers can appreciate right now!)  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Make 'Em Laugh!

April 7, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

There are so many people in this church and this community that I have had the deep privilege of getting to know over these past eight years, including so many of you. When I start to make a mental list of names, it becomes nearly innumerable to count.  But I think you would agree that one of the most memorable – and most beloved – is the one we knew and loved simply by his first name:  Barney.

Barney Hester was one of the first people I met at St. Paul’s, and one of the first I took a real liking to. The best way to describe him would be the way playwright Ernest Thompson described Norman Thayer in “On Golden Pond:”

His hair is white. He wears glasses. He walks slowly but upright. On the one hand he is boyish and peppery, having hung onto his boyish humor, but at the same time, he is grand, as he has a manner that seem to belong in another era.  Norman likes to keep people on their toes.  He is lovable but crotchety.

Henry Fonda played that role beautifully, but I think Barney was a close second. He was a fixture in our sanctuary every Sunday morning, sitting in an aisle seat on the last pew in the southeast corner of our sanctuary.  And every Monday morning, without fail, shortly after I arrived in the office, there would be Barney Hester, sitting in the front office waiting for me, with a stack of papers in his hand.

Barney made it a point every Monday to give me a hefty supply of jokes, riddles, and funny stories he had been collecting from family, friends, and website perusals from the previous week.  Most of the time, his thick stack would number in the dozens of pages. And in what became our ritual to start every week, I would go through them, one by one, chuckling at some, howling at most, as he watched for my expressions with every turn of the page.

I started collecting those jokes and keeping them in my own “Barney Hester” file in my desk drawer.  Yesterday, I pulled it out, and found this choice one that pretty much exemplifies Barney’s sense of humor:

A man boarded a plane with six kids.  After they got settled in their seats, a woman sitting across the aisle leaned over to the man and asked, “My goodness, are all those children yours?"  “No ma’am,” the man replied, “I worked for a condom company and these are customer complaints.”

I wondered during the first few weeks why Barney gave me these jokes.  I thought at first that he was hoping I would use them in sermons, until I realized that more than half of the jokes weren’t appropriate for me to use.  I wondered if he just enjoyed the company, and saw the jokes as a ticket to see me. 

But it eventually dawned on me that Barney simply loved watching me laugh, just as he enjoyed offering the gift of laughter to every one around him.  That was his own, special, ironic way: beneath the crusty exterior was the playful, mischievous heart of a child, always ready to catch you with a zinger and set you up for your next knee slapper.


Barney died rather unexpectedly in February, 2010, and when I walk past his favorite seat in the sanctuary, I still think of him.  He came to mind this week because he really would have loved this Sunday, the Sunday after Easter.  The early church began designating it as Holy Humor Sunday, and many Christian traditions have since resurrected it (pun intended) as a way of celebrating what happened in the empty tomb.  Worship services would feature preachers and congregation members telling their favorite jokes, and some would expand the event into a festival featuring games, costumes, and frivolity. For Barney Hester, Holy Humor Sunday would have been his high holy day. 

Holy Humor Sunday emerged from the writing of early church theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, who interpreted the resurrection as God playing the ultimate practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead.  They coined the term “Risus paschalis,” or the “Easter laugh.”

So, this Sunday, I’ll tell a joke or two, as we begin our brand new sermon series on 1 John called “In the Light: Living into the Light of the Resurrection.”  And maybe one of those jokes will come from my Barney Hester file (if I can find a clean one in the stack!)


And if you are looking for a real hearty, side-splitting laugh, allow me to put in a personal plug for the Cherokee Community Theater’s upcoming production of “Noises Off,” which starts its two-weekend run this Friday.  I have been cast in the role of Gary LeJeune, in a play that many believe may be the funniest stage play ever written.  And that’s no exaggeration.

I won’t spoil too many details of the plot, but it’s adequate to say that you will see some things on that community theater stage that will have you howling with laughter – not once or twice – but at least once a minute. And without giving away too much of my character, let’s just say I get my shoelaces tied, a phone in my crotch, and I fall down a flight of stairs.  And that’s just my character.  And I’m one of the lucky ones. 

Tickets for the general public are on sale now and can be reserved by calling the box office (225-4440) or online at cherokeect.org.  The box office has had some issues with their phone system lately, so if you can’t get through, try the website. 

So, Happy Easter, everyone.  And join us this weekend for some uproarious laughter.  Christ is risen!  Christ is Risen Indeed!


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

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Love So Astonishing

April 2, 2015

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

It was a dark week,
that week that was ultimately to be called 
Holy Week.
For Jesus it must have held a terrible realization that he was not understood,
not even by his closest friends.

He knew the painful loneliness caused by that woeful lack of understanding.
He knew that those who hated him and wanted him dead
were going to have their own way and that death would be neither quick nor easy.
Perhaps the human Jesus, in his loneliness and anguish, lashed out at the fig tree.
Someone has suggested that perhaps Jesus saw himself as that fig tree,
unable to bear fruit out of season.

What a terrible thought, but it shouldn't be pushed aside as impossible.
We will never know why Jesus cursed that fig tree.

Not in this life.

We are not able, with our finite minds,
to comprehend that Jesus was mortal and immortal, human and divine.

It is too much.

But if I accept Jesus' humanity as well as his divinity,
then I must allow the human Jesus to do things I don't like.

The Incarnation does not mean that God was willing to become mortal
for the sake of us mortal creatures,
that Infinite Power and Love willingly and lovingly
went through every temptation that comes to any one of us.

It is a love so astonishing that it can only be 
rejoiced in,
lived by,
but never understood."

Madeleine L’Engle, from “Penguins and Golden Calves”

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of St. Paul’s UMC, I wish you and yours a blessed Holy Week and the joy of Easter resurrection.

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


April 2, 7:00pm Maundy Thursday Service of Holy Communion
April 3, 7:00pm Good Friday Service of Tenebrae
April 5, Easter Sunday
            Identical Services at 7:00am and 10:10am

            Easter Brunch sponsored by the Youth Program, 8:00-10:00am