Midweek Message: Five Other Bible Verses For Jeff Sessions to Consider

Midweek Message: Five Other Bible Verses For Jeff Sessions to Consider

Dear Hyde Park Family,

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
Romans 13:1

When U.S. Attorney General cited Romans 13:1 in defense of the administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families, my ears perked up. During my senior year of high school, my Bible class studied the book of Romans, verse by verse, resulting in a one-question final exam: “Explain Romans.”

I became familiar with the most popular way that verse has been used throughout our nation’s history: to divinely sanction governments as instruments of God, and coerce people into obedience.

British loyalists used it to counter the American Revolution. Slaveholders used it to promote slavery. Advocates of the death penalty use it to defend capital punishment. And Jeff Sessions has now invoked it to promote an inhumane method of addressing border security.

But if there is anything I learned from having to “explain Romans,” it is that one should never take a single verse out of context. Panning out to all of chapters 12 and 13 reminds us that this is not about the government getting to do whatever it wants to do, under the cover of God’s blessing. It is more about abhorring evil and doing good (12:9), practicing hospitality (12:13), being at peace (12:18), overcoming evil with good (12:21), loving our neighbors (13:8-10), and laying aside immoral actions (13:12-14)

But here is the biggest fallacy in using Romans 13:1 the way Sessions used it. Even if it were true that God has certified worldly governments to carry out divine will, there is still always one divinely sanctioned entity that predates and supersedes political institutions.

The family.

Before there were tribes, nations, borders, political parties, and earthly laws, God created the family. It is the preservation of the family, and particularly the protection of our children, that guarantees our flourishing and fruitfulness as a people. 

We remember that Jesus had words for the Romans as well, in his command to “let the children come to me, for such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14) It was an indictment of the way Roman culture had allowed the exploitation and dehumanization of children. Jesus was in no way interested in telling his followers that the abuse of children was allowable as a divinely sanctioned policy.

You may have heard that Jeff Sessions is a member of a United Methodist congregation in Alabama, and that reaction from our denomination has been swift. Our Bishop Ken Carter, recently elected as the President of the Council of Bishops, issued a strong denunciation. [1] The United Methodist Women has issued its own condemnation, [2] as has a growing list of at least 600 fellow United Methodists who have filed a formal church complaint against him. [3]

The problem is not with a politician quoting Scripture. Promoting biblical literacy in the public square can be a good thing. The biggest problem is not even with misinterpreting scripture. We are all susceptible to it.

The problem is in its misuse, to promote an agenda that is not only antithetical to the Gospel, but is destructive of the highest and best human institution that God created: the family.

So, here are five other Bible verses that I suggest Jeff Sessions consider:

Zechariah 7:9-10: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

Proverbs 31:8-9: “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

 Jeremiah 22:3: “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

 Isaiah 58:6-7: “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him.”

 Leviticus 19:33-34: “And if strangers dwell with you in your land, you shall not mistreat them. The strangers who dwell among you shall be to you as those born among you, and you shall love them as yourselves; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The list could go on and on. We are called to practice hospitality to strangers, promote human dignity and worth, preserve the sacred bonds of family, and protect the children: the immigrant, the unborn, the school aged fearing for their safety, the bullied, the abused, the disadvantaged, the minority, from every walk of life and corner of the world. They are not commodities or pawns in political power games. They are all children of God, and children of ours.

Grace and peace,


The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

[1] Methodist bishop condemns immigrant family separations

[2] United Methodist Women Statement

[3] Church complaint filed against Session

Among the ways you might discern responding to this crisis is to support the United Methodist agency Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON), which promotes a just immigration system and provides legal support for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. I have made a personal contribution to them in the wake of this recent government policy and am on their mailing list. If you feel led to learn more, visit fljfon.org for more information.

Hyde Park’s Home Communion Team

Hyde Park’s Home Communion Team

Once a month, 14 volunteers go out in pairs to bring communion elements to people who cannot attend a worship service, and in doing so bring a sense of connection and fellowship where they are. Together in their homes, they experience church. When this team visits people, all of us are part of what they’re doing: Making God’s Love Real.  This and all of our ministries and missions are supported by our weekly offering. If you would like to join this team as they serve communion, please contact the Rev. Sally Campbell-Evans, by email.

Midweek Message: A Prayer for Pastors in the Year Ahead

Midweek Message: A Prayer for Pastors in the Year Ahead

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Last week was the gathering in Lakeland of the Florida Annual Conference, comprised of clergy and laity from around the state. One of the highlights is always the service of licensing, commissioning and ordination, in which we celebrate persons newly serving as clergy.

Among them were our own Amy Greene (deacon) and Zach Hutchinson (local pastor), two people who grew up in our youth group and were confirmed here many years ago. It was also great to welcome back Michelle Shrader, whose calling into ministry is rooted at Hyde Park. After three years of serving in South Africa, she returns home to Florida, where she will be serving down in the Miami area. You can read more about her return home here.

I am thankful for the way this congregation has nurtured the call of many throughout the years into full-time Christian ministry. We are grateful to have Nicki Taylor, a candidate for ordained ministry, serving on staff as our Director of Small Group Ministries, learning and leading among us.

It is also a time to recognize the year ahead for all of us, and the six clergy persons at Hyde Park who are all returning for another year of ministry. Sally, Vicki, Kim, Debbie, Justin, and I are grateful to be coming back, and as always covet your prayers and support as we seek to fulfill our calling among such a loving, caring and committed congregation as this one.

I have posted similar prayers like this in years past, but I offer it again, in the hope that you will lift up the clergy of Hyde Park, as well as others throughout the denomination, over the months ahead:


Gracious God,

We thank you for your church, the living embodiment of Christ, empowered by your Spirit to reach a hurting world.  We thank you for the women and men who serve as clergy and lay preachers, who challenge, nurture and order the life of your people.  And we thank you for lay people, and their rich array of skills and passions. Together, we are your church, from all walks and seasons of life.

We thank you for candidates for ministry, and those who are newly licensed, commissioned, and ordained for ministry, who are entering the tender years of their work. We especially give you thanks for Amy, Zach and Nicki. And we thank you for those who are retired, continuing to serve your kingdom in renewed ways. May all clergy, at every stage of ministry, fulfill their sacred calling for years to come.

We pray for our Bishop Ken Carter, his cabinet, and all our Conference leaders, as they lead us through times of adaptation, healing and growth. Grant them wise discernment and grace-filled leadership.

We thank you for your presence amid transition, particularly for clergy who are moving, and for churches receiving new pastors. Bless spouses, families, friends and all those impacted by these changes. Grant them strength for the journey ahead and a confidence that your kingdom will be built by the best people serving in the right places.

Even amid our gratitude, we acknowledge hardship. We recognize that the journey is often difficult for those who pursue your call. We pray for clergy who are dealing with physical, relational, emotional, mental or financial strains. Grant them courage to face their limitations, wisdom to make the tough choices, supportive loved ones to surround them in their darkest days, renewed strength for their moments of fatigue and the willingness to make necessary changes toward health and wholeness.

We pray for those struggling to find adequate balance between the demands of leadership and their responsibilities to family and self-care. Grant them the ability to discern healthy choices, prioritize what is most important and tend to those areas of life that nourish their souls and relationships.

We pray for pastors whose current spiritual state is likened to a dry, parched wilderness. For those whose difficult years in ministry have sapped them of joy, creativity, and innovation, we ask that you restore their energies and inspire them to new ways of serving your church. Buoy them with hope, fill them optimism and holy humor and remind them that “the joy of the Lord is their strength.” 

Over the year ahead, renew within preachers a holy passion for the Scriptures. Open their eyes to new interpretive possibilities, and fill them with new zeal for its preaching, its teaching and its embodiment through their example. May they fall in love once again with the beauty of language, and its power to name and sustain our commitment to be your people.

We give you thanks, O Lord, for all you have done in and through the faithfulness of clergy and lay people throughout the years. May we continue to serve as the living expression of your love, made real for the world to see. May all of us be led by the one whom you sent for our sake, Jesus the Christ, who is the head of the church, and in whose name we pray, Amen.

Grace and peace,


The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

Roger Scholtz Preaching July 8

We welcome back to the Hyde Park pulpit the Rev. Roger Scholtz, interim preacher prior to my return, on Sunday, July 8. An incorrect date was published in last week’s Midweek Message. He will also be offering a workshop the following Tuesday, July 10.

VBS Supports Hillsborough House of Hope

Thanks to Angela Schroden, Director of Hyde Park United Methodist’s Vacation Bible School (VBS), for involving Hillsborough House of Hope this year.
The 2018 VBS theme is SHIPWRECKED and is focused on teaching children that no matter what shipwrecks happen in life— Jesus Rescues. Whether they are lonely, worried, struggling, have done wrong, or powerless— Jesus rescues. Linda Walker, Hillsborough House of Hope Program Director will speak to the children attending VBS about how the women in the program, just released from jail, need faith too.
This year’s VBS has chosen to support a mission that exemplifies what the youth are learning. Hillsborough House of Hope is honored to be chosen as an example that when you are lonely, worried, struggling or powerless-Jesus rescues!
VBS is supporting the Hillsborough House of Hope mission by donating the dollars (and cents) that VBS campers bring in each day from June 25-29.

Want to see the House of Hope and get a tour? Attend their open house July 11, 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Please RSVP by calling Linda Walker at 813.231.5122 or hhhope@verizon.net

For more about Hillsborough House of Hope, click here.

Pick Up Your T-Shirt Prior to VBS

Camper and Volunteer T-shirts are available for pick-up every Sunday in June in the Hyde Park Courtyard.

For pick-up during the week, please visit the Ministry Offices.

Monday: Thursday – 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.

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