Midweek Message: Duck Hunter Shoots Angel

Midweek Message: Duck Hunter Shoots Angel

Dear Hyde Park Family,

It’s hard to explain to you what the play Duck Hunter Shoots Angel is about without giving away all the fun. The title alone should be enough to suggest that if you watch the production at The Portico on April 27-28, you will walk away thinking you’ve never quite seen anything like it. That’s assuming you are still able to think straight after laughing so hard.

It’s a story by Mitch Albom about two cheerfully clueless Alabama duck hunters who think they’ve shot an angel and the sensationalist tabloid newspaper chasing the story. What results is a chuckle-inducing culture clash, along lines of race, geography, religion, sibling rivalries and tawdry journalism. It will show you how to laugh at the many ways our stereotypes inhibit us from learning about ourselves and each other. And it will remind us that some of our most important lessons come from the most surprising places.

Oh, and I should mention that I’m in the play.

My character is “Lester,” the gruff, go-getting editor of the tabloid publication willing to do anything to spin out a good story in order to increase his audience, even if it means stretching the truth.

I would like to think I was not typecast for the role.

I hope you’ll consider watching the production. It’s a staged reading, meaning actors perform with scripts in hand but with full blocking, costumes and a minimalist set. The performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, April 27 and 28. Tickets are $30, limited to 99 seats each night, and can be purchased through this link.

It may feel like a far cry from the kind of conventional ministries churches like ours offer. However, a key part of The Portico’s mission is to be a conduit through which the arts can speak to social issues. Not only does the content of the play spark insights about the human condition and our relationships with each other, a portion of the proceeds will also support Metropolitan Ministries. We are honored to work with Stageworks Theatre and their talented cast and crew to offer this wonderful event.

So join us for a time of laughter, with a whole lot of heart!


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

P.S. If you have any difficulty with the link, please contact Andrea Graham, the Stageworks producer for this production, at grahamandi@aol.com (phone 813.784.6832) and she will assist you.

Midweek Message: The Top Five Lessons I Learned From Jim Harnish

Midweek Message: The Top Five Lessons I Learned From Jim Harnish

Dear Hyde Park Family,

This Sunday, we have the honor of welcoming back Jim and Martha Harnish to Hyde Park. Jim was the senior pastor of this church from 1992-2014, the longest serving pastor in this church’s history. Under his leadership, the church experienced dramatic revitalization and growth, whose fruit endures to this day.

He is also the author of the new book Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve, which is the basis of our new four-week worship series. Jim will be preaching at all three Sanctuary services, and participating in the confirmation of forty-two students professing their faith in Jesus. Join us live or online for these special services!

In anticipation of Jim’s return, I thought I’d share some of the most valuable pieces of guidance I have received from the seventeen years I have known him as a colleague, mentor, and friend:

Excellence and Joy

Jim raised the expectation that every ministry of this church needed to be done with excellence, because God deserves our very best. But he always reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously. Excellence was always to be buoyed and tempered with joy, born out of the grace and forgiveness God gives us for our mistakes. It’s a balance we still try to strike today.

Movements, not Monuments

When I first interviewed to be his associate pastor in the spring of 2000, Jim gave me a tour of the campus. The Wesley Center had just been completed, the Ministry Offices were being built, and Knox Hall was just beginning its renovation. As he walked me through all the changes, he said, “We’re not into building monuments around here. We are into creating movements. We recognize that these buildings, as beautiful as they are, are merely the tools to accomplish our mission.” It is a guiding principle I have not since forgotten.

The Vital Center

Jim often told me stories from the early days of his tenure, when he had to remind the congregation that its primary calling as Methodists is to be centered in the love of God and others. And rather than getting pulled to the theological and ideological extremes, the strength of the Methodist movement has always been in its vital center. He once reminded me of the difference between the words middle and center. To be in the “middle” suggests being on the fence – mushy and wishy-washy. But to be in the “center” is to claim a firm anchor of conviction, holding fast to our core. In our deeply polarized times, I’ve come to appreciate that guidance even more.

Being Open

I have often said that as much as I have appreciated our mission and vision statements, it is the six core values that I believe best describes what is unique about the character of Hyde Park United Methodist. I can remember the ways Jim would talk about being Christ-Centered (“The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.”) and Biblically-Rooted (“I don’t want to hear that any other church has ‘out-Bibled’ Hyde Park.”) But living into the values of being Warm-Hearted and Open-Minded has been one of our deepest strengths and greatest attractions to the culture. I now say that being warm-hearted means being open to a diversity of people, and being open-minded as being open to a diversity of perspectives. And throughout my years of ministry with Jim, we’ve heard countless people say, “This is the church I’ve been looking for all my life; I just didn’t know it.”

One More Person

Jim always understood that our primary reason for existence as a church was to reach out to those on the outside who needed to experience God’s love. On Pentecost Sunday, May 29, 1994, when he was preaching about the church’s new mission and vision, he offered these words:

According to the New Testament, the point is not whether I prefer being a part of a small church or a large church. The point is not whether this congregation will continue to be a medium-sized church or become a large church. The only point about which the New Testament seems to care is this: is there someone in the city of Tampa who is waiting to experience the love of God through us? Is there someone for whom God’s love can be made real because of the witness of this church? If there’s one more person in Tampa who needs to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ, then this church is not yet big enough.

We are all grateful for that reminder, and for Jim’s leadership among us. Join us this Sunday to thank him personally.

Grace and peace,


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

Midweek Message: Hey, What’s So Funny?

Midweek Message: Hey, What’s So Funny?

Dear Easter People,

Think about the last time you laughed heartily at a joke, a story, or something you witnessed. What made it funny? Was it the timing? The surprise? The absurdity? And do you think that what you found funny was equally hysterical to others?

Those are the kinds of questions addressed in a wonderful book titled The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner. They are researchers and journalists who traveled 91,000 miles, across five continents, conducting experiments to answer this basic question:

What is humor?

Essentially, their theory for defining humor is called “benign violation.” Something is humorous when it

1) violates an expectation,

2) does so in a benign way, and

3) does so simultaneously.

In other words, we find something funny when it is wrong, unsettling, or threatening, but at the same time seems safe and harmless.

Consider these examples:

  • Someone tells you a joke: “Why don’t you ever see elephants hiding in trees? Because they’re really good at it.” (A violation, because it tricks you with a twist. But it’s benign, because it deals with an absurd scenario.)
  • Or this joke: “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?” (A violation to the monkey) Answer: “Because it was dead.” (Benign, because no actual monkeys were harmed in the telling of this joke.)

I decided to put McGraw and Warner’s theory to the test with a clergy colleague, who recently told me this joke:

Did you hear the one about the cannibal that ate a Jewish Rabbi, a Baptist Preacher, and a Methodist Pastor?  Later, he had an ecumenical movement.

I laughed at that one for days. It was a violation, of course, because the idea of a cannibal eating anyone is pretty horrifying, and the topic of excretion is fairly unsettling. But it was also benign because it is a fictitious story, and because the new association with ecumenicalism makes the unsavory ideas of cannibalism and bodily function safer to consider.


This Sunday, we get to put the theory of “benign violation” to full use. It is our second annual Holy Humor Sunday, when we join with a growing number of churches around the world who use the Sunday after Easter to celebrate how God got the last laugh on the devil when Jesus was raised from the dead. It is an observance that started five hundred years ago, when a Bavarian priest inserted into his post-Easter sermon a bunch of funny stories about how the devil tried to keep the doors of hell locked against a Christ who was descending into it.  His stories were both violations (discussions about Satan and Hell) and were benign (Christ was ultimately triumphant).

The priest’s congregation erupted into uproarious laughter, and the tradition of Risus Paschalis (or, “Easter Laughter”) was born.

In the Sanctuary, the Chancel Choir and Joyful Praise Ensemble will combine to provide spirit-lifting, smile-inducing, toe-tapping music. We’ll be observing it in the 11Magnolia and Portico services as well. We’ll have jokes, gags, and tons of other surprises, in a family-friendly “Sit-Together Sunday” so that all our kids can experience the joy of laughter in the church. And the sermon will be in rhyme!

In addition, we’ll be observing a “Noisy Change Offering” throughout the morning, in which, in addition to your regular tithes and offerings, you will be encouraged to plunk your coins into metal bowls to support our Children and Youth ministries.

And if you have a favorite joke, send it to me via email at mdevega@hydeparkumc.org. I will be sharing jokes from the congregation throughout the morning!

So, go ahead and laugh!

See you Sunday!


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

Midweek Message: A Poem for Holy Week

Midweek Message: A Poem for Holy Week

March 29, 2018

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,


The Crucified

by Kahlil Gibran

Oh, crucified Jesus,
who art looking sorrowfully from Mount Calvary
at the sad procession of the Ages,
and hearing the clamor of the dark nations,
and understanding the dreams of Eternity:

Thou art, on the Cross,
more glorious and dignified
than one thousand kings
upon one thousand thrones
in one thousand empires.

Thou art, in the agony of death,
more powerful than one thousand generals
in one thousand wars.

With thy sorrows,
thou art more joyous than Spring with its flowers.

With thy suffering,

thou art more bravely silent than the crying of angels
of heaven.

Before thy lashers,
thou art more resolute than the mountain of rock.

Thy wreath of thorns is more brilliant and sublime
than the crown of Bahram.
The nails piercing they hands are more beautiful
than the scepter of Jupiter.
The spatters of blood upon thy feet are more resplendent
than the necklace of Ishtar.

Forgive the weak who lament thee today,
for they do not know how to lament themselves.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that thou has conquered death
with death,
and bestowed life upon the dead.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that the strength still awaits them.

Forgive them,
for they do not know that every day is thy day.

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of Hyde Park United Methodist Church, I wish you a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter. Join us for any of our worship services listed below.

Maundy Thursday services (today) commemorate Jesus’ final hours with his disciples and includes Holy Communion.

  • 12:15 p.m. at The Portico campus
  • 7 p.m. at the Hyde Park campus

Good Friday services (tomorrow) include the Service of Tenebrae and Darkness. We remember the day of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and death.

  • 12:15 p.m. at The Portico campus
  • 7 p.m. at the Hyde Park campus

Easter Sunday Worship Services:

  • 6:30 a.m. Water Works Park: The Rev. Justin LaRosa
  • 8 a.m. Traditional in Sanctuary: The Rev. Magrey deVega
  • 9:30 a.m. Traditional in Sanctuary: The Rev. Sally Campbell-Evans
  • 9:30 a.m. Contemporary in Harnish Activities Center: The Rev. Magrey deVega
  • 11 a.m. Traditional in Sanctuary: The Rev. Magrey deVega
  • 11 a.m. Modern in Harnish Activities Center: The Rev. Justin LaRosa

Grace and peace,


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

Midweek Message: Start What You Finish

Midweek Message: Start What You Finish

March 22, 2018

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

That’s an odd twist on an old cliché, but it’s good advice for any of us who are too quick to jump to Easter without moving through the Holy Week. Our stores may be stocked with chocolate bunnies and shrink-wrapped baskets, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a Maundy Thursday greeting card or a Good Friday gift basket.

Our tendency to skip past the pain and move to the reward is evident all around us. We want to get rich quick, lose weight fast and live our best life now. We want the praise without the pain and the celebrity without the sacrifice. We want to skip ahead, foregoing the disciplines of saving, exercising, grunting, and sweating.

We want the finish, without the start. 

Maybe that’s why Palm Sunday is so important. It offers a formal invitation into a week of discipline and darkness that we would rather choose to ignore. But such avoidance turns the empty tomb into an empty victory. As my seminary theology professor frequently asked:  “If Jesus is the answer, then what was the question?” If Easter is a day of victory, then what has been defeated?

The gospel’s answer to that question is embedded in its narrative. Following Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem:

  • He cursed a fig tree for not being fruitful.
  • He emptied the temple of self-serving moneychangers.
  • He confronted religious leaders who questioned his authority.
  • He challenged notions of financial stewardship by praising a poor widow.
  • He warned his followers of imminent persecution and called them to vigilance.

And that’s before we even get to the upper room. If we have any inclination to jump ahead to Easter morning, the Bible proclaims, “Not so fast. You’re not ready. There is much you need to hear.”

It’s captured in the words of Medieval mystic Thomas à Kempis:

“There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly Kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross.”

If you want to experience a truly powerful, meaningful Easter finish, then start the journey this Sunday with humility, repentance, and a renewed sense of obedience. And join us for all of Holy Week, not just for Easter morning. Allow the services of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday to stir your conscience and call you to discipleship. (For our full listing of services next week, visit our website.)

Through scripture, sacrament and solemn ritual, let’s experience the drama, passion, and power of the week that changed the world.

See you at the starting line,


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


This Sunday, we are offering three visioning chats for you to choose from if you have not yet participated in one. They are at 9:45 a.m. on the Hyde Park campus, as well as 4:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. at The Portico campus. These hour-long sessions will solicit your thoughts and opinions on key areas of the Vision Team’s work, as we seek to discern together God’s exciting future for this church. To let us know you are coming, register here.


A few Sundays ago, I offered a sermon about dealing with worry and anxiety. Later that week, more than fifty people attended a helpful workshop called “Managing Worry Gracefully” led by Dr. Corinne Zimmer. For those of you who could not attend, and would like some practical steps on how to deal with worry and anxiety in your life, you can watch the entire workshop online on our website. We encourage you to watch it and forward it to someone you might know who would benefit from it.

Midweek Message: Short People

Midweek Message: Short People

March 15, 2018

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

I was four years old when Randy Newman’s song Short People first hit the airwaves in 1977. You may remember it for its catchy hook and prejudicial premise:

Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
Short people got no reason
To live

They got little hands and little eyes
And they walk around tellin’ great big lies
They got little noses and tiny little teeth
They wear platform shoes on their nasty little feet

As I grew up and the song gained popularity, its lyrics became a common way for kids at my school to tease each other for their height. Hardly an elementary school year went by when I didn’t hear it at least a handful of times.

One common interpretation of the song was that Randy Newman wasn’t really writing about discrimination against short people, but about prejudice based on any of a number of kinds of other “-isms” in our culture. Some people didn’t see it that way, as the song elicited protests at his concerts and even death threats from those who were offended by it.

Newman says the reaction was even stronger than he expected. He had thought his song was clearly a caricature of the prejudicial person. “But the song reached people who aren’t looking for irony,” he said to Rolling Stone. “For them, the words mean exactly what they say. I can imagine being a short kid in junior high school. I thought about it before I let the record get out … I know what I meant – the guy in that song is crazy. He was not to be believed.”


I thought about Newman’s song this week as I prepare for this Sunday’s sermon on Zacchaeus, the vertically challenged tax collector who climbed a tree in order to see Jesus. Many of us know that story well, as veterans of Sunday schools where we sung about him, and stewardship sermons where we were told to follow his example.

But Newman’s song invites me to consider a lesser noted character in the story. The crowds. The people who watched in astonishment as Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner and chose to fellowship with him.

Their disdain for Zacchaeus was brimming through their teeth, as they grumbled in disgust at the sight of a wretched character like Zacchaeus getting to have private time with Jesus. Luke says, “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.'” (Luke 19:7)

So you can imagine someone in the crowd, sneaking over to Zacchaeus’ stereo, punching a few buttons on their playlist, and calling up Randy Newman’s song for a little dinner music…

Well, I don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
Don’t want no short people
Round here

Short people got nobody
Short people got nobody
Short people got nobody
To love

Yep. I’d like to think that when Randy Newman wrote this song, he was thinking about a main character much like the crowds watching Jesus and Zacchaeus dine together.

The problem, of course, is that Jesus had a different idea of who was and who wasn’t worthy of his time. The very people that others rejected – those were the ones he liked to hang out with the most. Because he, too, would know what it would feel like to be teased, tormented, and rejected. And when Jesus overheard the grumbling from the crowd full of “Short People” protagonists, he would offer the following rebuttal:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

And that’s why, the next time I think about Randy Newman’s song, I’ll try not to remember it for its opening verse, the one I heard used to tease others in school. I’ll remember this verse, the bridge, which really packs a punch:

Short people are just the same
As you and I
(A fool such as I)
All men are brothers
Until the day they die
(It’s a wonderful world)

Grace and peace,


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


The Vision Team continues its visioning chats this Sunday, at 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. at the Hyde Park campus, and 4:15 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. at The Portico campus. This one-hour session gives you the opportunity to provide direct feedback that will help us clarify and claim God’s exciting future for this church. To reserve a spot at one of these sessions, register here.

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