Midweek Message: The Two 3:16s

Midweek Message: The Two 3:16s

Dear Advent Pilgrims,

So, how’s the Christmas gift buying going? I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that every year, the December shopping frenzy in this culture feels more frenetic and hectic than the year before. The shopping lists get longer, the mall crowds get crazier and the debts sink deeper. And it’s not until Dec. 26 that the real rest begins.

But the gospels make the case that the very first Christmas happened despite chaos and anxiety, not because of it. Over and against the hustle and bustle of a government census, the fear and paranoia of political systems and the constant oppression of a community under siege, God gave a priceless gift. It wasn’t a gift that God shopped for, gift-wrapped, and sent special delivery. Instead, the gift was God’s very own self.

The present was the Presence. God became the gift. 

And what a gift it was. Listen to how John describes the wonder of God’s self-giving act in his gospel, in the famous John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

But he’s not done. By the time he gets to writing his first epistle, he takes the gift-giving one step further, telling us that we now get to be the gift: “This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16)

So, putting these two “3:16s” together, John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16, here is what John is telling us this Advent: God became a gift to us. So, now become a gift to one another.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift to give someone, try shopping at your local mirror. You have the image of that very same self-giving God within you, and that might be exactly what someone else might need. Your joyful spirit of service, sacrifice and loving presence, with no strings or gift receipts attached, might be the perfect gift that money can’t buy.

It was no less than the gift of Jesus himself, given to us in love.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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


THIS WEEKEND: THE 1033 MARKET

This weekend, if you’re still searching for gifts for people in your life, stop by the 1033 Market, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 and Sunday, Dec. 9 in the Harnish Activities Center on our Hyde Park campus. Know that your purchase will benefit someone in need locally or even globally. Buy from many local vendors. Many gifts available through our Silent Auction. All purchases support missions.

VISION TEAM TOWN HALLS

For those unable to attend either of the first two Town Hall meetings, in which the Vision Team is sharing the Vision Plan, there is one more to attend: This Sunday at 6:45 p.m. at The Portico. Or, you can watch a video archive of a prior town hall gathering. We have called a special church conference on Dec. 17 at 6:30 p.m. for the congregation to approve the plan.

END OF YEAR GIVING AND PLEDGES FOR 2019

For those who have turned in a pledge card or 2019, and faithfully given to this year’s budget, thank you! We encourage everyone to turn in an estimate of giving for next year, (pledge online) to help us adequately fund and support all God is calling us to do. And we would appreciate your generosity to help us meet our expenses for this year. At this point, our income is still behind actual expenses, so please help us finish the year strong!

Midweek Message: God’s Vision Includes You

Midweek Message: God’s Vision Includes You

Dear Hyde Park Disciples,

Advent is a time of longing, expectation and hope, and is therefore the perfect time to share with you the results of long-term strategic visioning process that our Vision Team has been conducting over the past fourteen months.

I invite you to attend one of the remaining Town Hall Meetings on Dec. 5 or Dec. 9, to hear details of the plan by members of the team. It charts for us an exciting framework of re-centering and refocusing, as we seek to make God’s love real in a changing world.

Before you attend a Town Hall Meeting, I invite you to prayerfully prepare by reading a three-page document I have written called “The State of Religion in a Changing Culture”. I referenced it heavily in my sermon last Sunday, which I invite you to watch. It provides the clearest explanation I can give for why we have come to a critical time in our church’s history, to remember who we are and clarify our work for the future.

I’ve provided a few key highlights here:

1. For most of the history of Christianity in our country, the church has functionally operated as the religion of the culture,” in the words of former Florida bishop Tim Whitaker. It has been commonly assumed that to be a citizen of a community, one was also a participant in organized religion. That assumption is no longer true:

We are in a time of profound change in the relationship between culture and organized religion. We can no longer assume that participation in church life, or the practice of personal spiritual disciplines, is an assumed aspect of cultural life. Biblical literacy, and even basic fluency in the language of the Christian faith, is no longer a presumptive part of a person’s cultural formation. Many people no longer turn to the church to be an authoritative voice on matters of morality and ethical living.

2. The good news is that God has already given us everything we need to share the good news of Jesus in new ways to a changing world, if only we will claim the vision and do it:

This is the great challenge of Hyde Park United Methodist. We are blessed with a congregation of faithful, generous people who care deeply about the advancement of God’s mission… And we are blessed with an abundance of resources, including facilities, staff, financial resources, and laity to make things happen. But it is not only possible — it is probable — that we are currently equipped to minister to a world that is rapidly diminishing, replaced by a culture in which a growing number of people have little interest in organized religion.

3. At the core of God’s blessings on this church is our Wesleyan heritage, which not only defines who we are, but can be singularly attractive to the 60% (and growing) of the wider population who is disinterested in organized religion:

John Wesley practiced a centered, both/and approach to fusing together oppositional qualities, to create a way of living into the center of the Christian faith. Living out of our Wesleyan heritage is a key to reaching out to the “nones and dones” and the 60% of people disconnected and disinterested in the Gospel. When we offer religion at its best, we help others overcome the problems they have experienced with religion at its worst.

4. So, this is our task, and this is the foundation of our vision for the future:

Ultimately, the task of the church today is not to cater to culture, or to assume privileged status as the religion of the culture. It is to create an alternative community within the culture, that fully embodies the message of the Gospel. It is to create connections between people that deepen their love of God and widen their love to all people. It is to be united in all that we have in common, and to express charitable generosity in what makes us different. And it is to be adaptive in our means to make God’s love real to the world.

I hope you’ll participate in this process by hearing the details of the Vision Plan and joining us at our church conference on Dec. 17 as we adopt this plan with great joy and excitement. The future of this church is a bright one, thanks to the Spirit’s guidance and your full, enthusiastic, participation.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: A Thanksgiving Poem

Midweek Message: A Thanksgiving Poem

Dear Hyde Park Family,

When Giving Is All We Have
Alberto Ríos, 1952

One river gives
Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.

On behalf of the clergy, staff and lay leadership of Hyde Park United Methodist, I wish you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving Day. Join us this Sunday as we celebrate this end of the Christian year with on observance of Christ the King Sunday and the conclusion of our “Remarkable” worship series.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United

Midweek Message: How Much Is Your Happiness?

Midweek Message: How Much Is Your Happiness?

Dear Hyde Park Family,

A few years ago, Grace asked me to describe my happiest memories. I responded with some of the more obvious answers: the moments she and her sister were born, the day I married their mother, the night I was ordained as a minister. She agreed that those were good memories and was satisfied by those answers.

But what if she asked me to assign a monetary value to those events, with a question like, “Dad, what was the dollar amount of those happy memories?” In other words, how much money would I have to get in order to feel as happy as any of those events? $5,000? $10,000? More?

Wouldn’t that seem like an odd question? But that’s the one posed by an Australian professor named Paul Frijters, who back in 2009 published the results of a surprising eight-year study. [1] After surveying 10,000 people, he developed dollar values for the emotional effects of events such as marriage, childbirth, divorce, and home purchases. Positive dollar amounts indicated “psychic benefits,” and negative dollar amounts showed “psychic costs.”

For example, this is what the study concluded:

  • A man getting married feels like he just received $32,000. To women, it only feels like $16,000.
  • Divorce feels like a $110,000 loss to a man, but only $9,000 to a woman.
  • The death of a spouse or a child feels like minus $130,900 to a woman, and a whopping $627,300 deficit to a man.
  • And moving into a new home? A positive $2,600 for a woman, and a negative $16,000 to a man.

Crazy, right? Frijters suggested that the study’s value might be in assisting insurance companies and lawyers in assigning dollar compensations for certain life events.

He summarized his study with this statement: “Losing or gaining money can offset the effect of other life events quite well, and that is what we are formally looking at — the amount needed to offset an event or keep someone happiness-neutral.”

I don’t know about you, but the word outlandish comes to mind.

You know as well as I do: you cannot quantify your feelings with dollar signs, and you cannot put a price tag on life’s most significant moments. Yet that is precisely the subversive myth pervading our airwaves, advertisements, and innermost drives to accumulate more material possessions.

The only solution to this kind of wayward thinking is to align our finances around the biblical principles of generosity and stewardship. It’s captured in Jesus’ words to his disciples:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

This Sunday, we will have an opportunity to set our treasure right where it belongs: in the hands of the God who grants us joy, peace, and an abundant life that no dollar sign can define.

We’ll offer our pledge cards designating our financial commitment for 2019. Thank you to the more than 200 of you who have already turned in a card. And if you’d prefer, you can turn in your pledge online right now here.

And, we will celebrate all of God’s good gifts as we volunteer at the Metropolitan Ministries holiday tent for our annual SERVE Day. There are still many open slots for you to volunteer. Details here

Let’s get our priorities straight, and experience true joy, through contentment and generosity.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: What Heartens Me

Midweek Message: What Heartens Me

Dear Hyde Park Family,

“Jesus sat across from the collection box for the temple treasury and observed how the crowd gave their money. Many rich people were throwing in lots of money. One poor widow came forward and put in two small copper coins worth a penny.” – Mark 12:41-42

When the poor widow dropped her two coins into the Temple treasury, something remarkable happened. It’s not just that she entrusted her last bit of her wealth to God’s work, though that alone is a lesson for us. It is also that Jesus even noticed her do it.

Jesus often had a way of keenly noticing possibilities of God’s activity all around him, even when things felt dire and hopeless. When others saw a hungry crowd, he saw a boy’s fish and loaves and turned it into a meal. When the crowd was pressing in on him as he passed through Jericho, he noticed a short tax collector named Zacchaeus and went to his house for supper. When others saw grains of wheat, mustard seeds, sparrows and lilies, he viewed them as portals to deeper spiritual truths about God’s grace, love and power.

All of us have had our own personal responses to last Tuesday’s election. Regardless of what our own political philosophies may be, all of us had elections that went the way we hoped, and others that didn’t. Some races we felt we “won,” and others we felt we “lost.” That’s the nature of elections, especially in an era of broken, binary, polarized politics.

I wonder if this text from Mark, our Scripture passage for Sunday, might be an invitation for us to focus on the little things, the small glimpses of God’s grace and hope that might strengthen and encourage us, regardless of whether our candidates won or lost.

  • I’m heartened by my two daughters, Grace and Madelyn, who are so energized to be able to vote someday soon that they woke me up early on Tuesday morning to make it to the polls. They wore their “Future Voter” sticker proudly for the rest of the day.
  • I’m heartened by the many parents who brought their children to the polls, including one mother who responded to her son’s questions. “Why should we vote, Mom?” “Because,” she said to him, “it is a right we should never take for granted.”
  • As the father of two daughters, I’m heartened by the election of so many women to the U.S. House of Representatives, a historic number, both Democrats and Republicans, and a diversity of backgrounds: African-American, Hispanic, White, Native American, Christian, Muslim, LGBTQ and various ages.
  • I’m heartened by our decision to restore voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians who have paid their debt to society for their past crimes.
  • I’m heartened by Hillsborough County’s decision to raise needed funds to strengthen the infrastructure of our public schools. I drive by the makeshift air conditioning system at the gym of Plant High School every day. Our children deserve better, and I’m glad the voters agreed.

But there is also a spiritual reality at play for me.

As Christian people, we can’t ever conflate our citizenship in this country with our primary allegiance to the kingdom of God. And that means we should not ever expect the systems of this earth to provide a security and well-being that only God can provide. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses,” says Psalm 20:7, “but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

What if we took some time to notice how God is working in and through this church, in simple and subtle ways, through the widow’s mites that are offered in the ministries of this church every single day?

  • I’m heartened by stories like a young man named Michael, who became interested in Christianity while living in a country where those interests subjected him to persecution. So, his parents bought him a one-way ticket to this country last September in order to pursue his growing interest in Christianity. After spending a few days in Washington, D.C. and Orlando, he found his way to downtown Tampa, where the host of his hostel told him about a place called The Portico, an unconventional place to draw spiritually seeking people into the love of Christ. And on Oct. 14, Michael was baptized into the Christian faith.
  • I’m heartened by our upcoming SERVE Day at the Metropolitan Ministries holiday tent, in which hundreds of our congregation will make a difference in the lives of needy families and children. You can sign up now to help out on Sunday, Nov. 18.
  • I’m heartened by a Vision Team that is putting its final touches on an exciting vision plan for our future, that we will be sharing with you in some upcoming town hall meetings after Thanksgiving. You will want to attend one of those meetings and get a glimpse of the bright future God has for us.

There are many others. What glimpses of God’s grace have you noticed? Reply back to this email. I would love to hear from you.

For now, I invite you to read these words from my daughter Grace. She writes a weekly column for the youth group called “Glimpses of Grace.” This most recent one was written before last Tuesday’s election. Here is an excerpt:

“I am reminded of a quote by Abraham Lincoln, ’The strongest bond of human sympathy…should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds.’ He spoke so assuredly during such a polarizing time in our nation’s history about the importance of unity, and I encourage everyone to reciprocate those sentiments in order to mend some of the brokenness that the world feels today.”

Thanks, Grace.

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: Remember Roy G. Biv?

Midweek Message: Remember Roy G. Biv?

Dear Hyde Park Family,

“Roy G. Biv”
“Every Good Boy Does Fine.”
“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
“I before E, except after C.”

You recognize these. They are tools we learned as children to collect and retrieve facts that would be helpful throughout our lives.

But something has happened. With today’s portable personal technology, designed to store more and more personal information, our ability to remember has actually decreased. In a study a few years ago by Ian Robertson, professor at Trinity College in Dublin, dependence on such devices to remember birthdays, phone numbers, email addresses and other important data has diminished the memory capacity of our brains!

“People have more to remember these days, and they are relying on technology for their memory. But the less you use of your memory, the poorer it becomes. This may be reflected in the survey findings which show that the over 50s who grew up committing more to memory report better performance in many areas than those under 30 who are heavily reliant on technology to act as their day to day aide memoir.”

Here’s the lesson: True remembrance takes intentionality and effort. And that is as true of spiritual matters as it is of dates and numbers. It’s one thing merely to recall central elements of our faith. It’s quite another to allow those memories to shape our conscience and inform our behavior.

On over ninety occasions in the Bible, God called people to remember God’s saving activity throughout history, through rituals, prayers, and symbols. From the Psalms to the seder, from the Ten Commandments to the Beatitudes, the Bible is filled with reminders of our identity and calling as kingdom people.

ALL SAINTS’ SUNDAY

This Sunday, there will be a convergence of reminders — each one recalling our identity in Christ and our connection with those who have gone before us.

  • We will begin each service with a remembrance of the saints — the thirty members of our church as well as our loved ones and friends who have died since last November.
  • We will conclude each service by gathering at the Lord’s table, remembering our past and our future in Christ through the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.
  • And, after the 11 a.m. services, you are welcome to join us in the beautifully renovated Memorial Garden, between the Sanctuary and Knox Hall, for a brief consecration. We give thanks to Celia Ferman and her team of volunteers who helped re-envision the perfect place of remembrance for those who are laid to rest there.

A PRAYER FOR THE VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE

We continue to grieve the loss of eleven lives in the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last Saturday. We also remember the shooting at a grocery store (and attempted shooting at a black church) in Jeffersontown, Kentucky and the politically charged mail bombing attempts last week. These are difficult days to be at peace, and to believe in the possibility of peace.

Let us be in prayer together, and then turn those prayers into action. Perhaps you might choose to offer this prayer, which prompts us to name our grief, acknowledge our brokenness and channel our thoughts and prayers into action in the voting booth this Tuesday:

Gracious and Eternal God, we acknowledge just how far this world still is from being the whole and restored creation you intend it to be. These days have been filled with violent reminders of injustice and hatred, and the evil that still resides in the human heart.

We are horrified by acts of political, racial and anti-Semitic terrorism. We have again seen the capacity of human beings to commit acts of violence with bombs and guns, targeting others who are different in political ideology or religious expression. We pray for the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. We pray for those targeted by the alleged postal bomber. We pray for the victims of the shooting in Kentucky, and for all those who have died from gun violence.

Most of all, we pray your forgiveness for any ways we have failed to bring healing to our divisions, and fueled the polarized nature of our time. Forgive us, Lord, for the ways that we demonize others, rather than see Jesus in them. Empower us, Lord, to seek the way of peace, empathy and love. Show us the way, Lord, to resist evil, injustice and oppression. Help us, Lord, to channel our grief into action, exercising our civic duty to vote this Tuesday.

Grant us wisdom to discern those elected officials who will serve the common good, promote healing over divisiveness, and orient us toward the way of peace with justice. May the results of this election be in keeping with your best purposes for our community and our world. And remind us that only you, and no government agency or legislative act, can transform the human heart.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

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