Midweek Message: A Carol for Holy Week

Midweek Message: A Carol for Holy Week

“A Carol”

Amy Carmichael

There are two Bethlehems in the land,
Two little Bethlehems there
O Wise Men, do you understand
To seek Him everywhere?
The heavenly Child lies holily,
The heavenly Child lies lowlily,
No crown on His soft hair.

 There are three crosses on the hill,
Three dreadful crosses there.
And very dark and very chill
The heavy shuddering air.
Is there a sign to show my Lord,
The sinner’s Savior, Heaven’s Adored?
‘Tis He with thorn-crowned hair.

 For in His lovely baby days
Heaven’s door was set ajar,
And angels flew through glimmering ways
And lit a silver star.
No need for halo or for crown
To show the King of Love come down
To dwell where sinners are.

 But when He died upon the Rood
(The King of Glory, He),
There was no star, there was no good,
Nor any majesty.
For diadem was only scorn,
A twisted, torturing crown of thorn ―
And it was all for me.”

 On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of Hyde Park United Methodist, I wish you a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Easter. For our full schedule of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter services, visit our web site.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: Why Palm Sunday?

Midweek Message: Why Palm Sunday?

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

As Holy Week draws near, we approach some familiar narrative territory: the waving of palm branches, the washing of feet, the breaking of bread, a friend’s betrayal and the agony of death.

We are also aware of the tragic turn that the crowds would take against Jesus. The same people who would cheer him on as he entered the Jerusalem gates on Palm Sunday would yell “Crucify him” just days later.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is recorded in all four gospels, but John is clearest in pointing out this mood shift in the crowd. The other three gospels chronicle the events of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but John skips right ahead, jumping from Palm Sunday in John 12 to Maundy Thursday in John 13. And, while the other gospels say that Jesus rode a donkey from the beginning of his entrance, John’s version tells us that he got onto the donkey only as a response to the crowds.

With people expecting their warrior king to come riding in on a mighty stallion, it is as if Jesus said in John, “You think I’ve come to meet your expectations? Well, guess again.” So, by the time the week’s public opinion polls close, the people have shifted, from praise to prosecution, from adoration to indictment.

But before we criticize those crowds too harshly, let’s ask ourselves the question: Aren’t we just as prone to sudden mood shifts in our view of Jesus? Is it possible that, even in our best efforts to worship God, we are really emphasizing ourselves – our own needs, our own desires, our own expectations?

Maybe we should call it “boomerang praise.” It is an attempt to worship God that simply circles back to our own needs. It’s a kind of devotion to God that is more descriptive of ourselves than it is directed toward God:

  • We pray to God, but our prayers contain more personal pronouns than divine ones.
  • We celebrate God, but only to the extent that we are in the mood.
  • We come to worship, so long as we find it entertaining.
  • We give God our gifts, so long as we have ability to do so (and as long as we have enough left over.)
  • We will follow this Jesus, so long as it costs us little.

No, we may not have the same palm fronds in our hands, but we have the same sentiment in our hearts.

So why do we observe Palm Sunday? To remind us that the Lenten journey is not at all about aligning Jesus with our needs and expectations. It is the exact opposite: to radically reorient our lives toward the way and will of Jesus.

I invite you to join us this Sunday for the start of the pomp, pageantry and passion of this most important week of the year. Come experience again the wonder and glory of Holy Week, and discover how you can get unstuck from yourself.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega, Senior Pastor

HOLY WEEK, EASTER, AND HOSPITALITY

For the full schedule of our Holy Week services, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, visit our Easter web page. And we can use your help in greeting and serving the thousands of guests we are expecting throughout the week. Sign up to usher, greet and park, on our Easter Hospitality form.

Midweek Message: My Epiphany at Tiffany’s

Midweek Message: My Epiphany at Tiffany’s

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Last weekend, my daughters and I enjoyed a quick three-day trip to New York City to celebrate Grace’s eighteenth birthday. We saw three amazing Broadway shows: “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I and II,” and “Be More Chill.” If you want to get me talking the next time you see me, ask me what I thought of those shows. They were simply stunning.

That Saturday morning, the girls wanted to walk down Fifth Avenue, the famous high-end shopping district near Central Park. We walked by Cartier, Bergdorf Goodman, Luis Vuitton, mostly staying outside, gawking at the windows and the high-priced items.

Then we actually walked into Tiffany’s.

I felt like a fish out of water as soon as I walked into the world-renowned jewelry store. We entered through the revolving glass door and were greeted by a fancy dressed doorman. There were concierge attendants in the elevators, and a greeter at the entrance to every floor (“Welcome to the second floor: wedding and engagement rings.”) There was a large portrait of Audrey Hepburn from her iconic role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Most everything cost at least five digits.

I told the girls, “Don’t even think about getting your souvenir here.”

As we were walking out, one piece caught my eye. It was a Tiffany Soleste Yellow Diamond pendant, a 1.29 carat, intense oval yellow diamond, surrounded by a perimeter of brilliant white diamonds. It was on a pendant of platinum and 18K gold, set on a 16-inch chain. From every angle I looked at it, it sparkled with dozens of twinkling lights, a miniaturized nebula of stars, a compact and constant display of fireworks.

I asked the woman behind the counter. “How much is that?”

“Twenty-four thousand dollars,” she said, glancing quickly at my cheap windbreaker and baseball cap. Before I had a chance to say, “Really? That’s amazing,” she turned around to help another guest. I guess she had somehow assumed that I wasn’t about to pull out my checkbook.

I walked out wondering what it would be like to have the kind of money that would make a purchase like that possible. I wondered about the wisdom of owning such a piece of jewelry, when money like that could be otherwise used in such beneficial ways. As I was turning these thoughts over in my mind, I stumbled into the revolving door on the way out, bumping my head into the glass and freaking out the woman in front of me.

I really didn’t belong there.

Later in our hotel, I began preparing for my sermon this Sunday, a story from John 12:1-8, in which Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with a very expensive perfume. John tells us that the value of that perfume was 300 denarii, the equivalent of 300 days’ wages. In today’s terms, the cost of that perfume was $25,380. Roughly the cost of that Tiffany Yellow Diamond Pendant.

At that point, I imagined Mary, taking the very same high-end piece of jewelry that I had just seen at Tiffany’s, breaking the necklace and the pendant into smaller pieces, and pouring it over Jesus’ head and feet, as the bits of that necklace fell buried into the dirt.

And then I totally understood why Judas said what he did: “Why was this perfume not sold for [$25,380] and the money given to the poor?”

I’ve been thinking about Judas’ question ever since, and this Sunday I want to share with you some of my thoughts on this text. We’ll think through why Mary’s sacrifice was so extravagant, and why Jesus’ praise for her and his rebuke of Judas actually makes sense. Above all, we’ll take another step toward “Getting Unstuck” from our old ways of thinking and behaving, to be free to live the life God wants us to live.

Join us this Sunday, with or without perfume and jewelry!

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: What to Do in the Wilderness

Midweek Message: What to Do in the Wilderness

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Lent is a time to acknowledge and embrace the wilderness experiences in our faith. It is possible that even right now, you are undergoing a period of dryness, doubt, or disbelief in your spiritual journey, a kind of wilderness of the soul.

If so, then today’s Midweek Message is for you.

In her book Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt, biblical scholar and clergy person Renita Weems chronicles such a period in her own life. With candor and courage, she shares her own story, one that is common to even the most seasoned and respected Christians.

Of particular help is her chapter “Fidelity,” in which she describes maintaining her spiritual practices, even through the most difficult moments of doubt and struggle:

“Odd, isn’t it? The routines that make the least sense when we are adrift prove to be the very things that keep us anchored and facing in the right direction. I was never tempted to leave the ministry when I felt adrift, but there were many times I dreaded the duties and rituals that make up a large part of my ministry. I prayed over the sick, held babies up to be blessed, and arranged flowers on the altar – and stood outside myself, watching myself perform these tasks, which were by then almost second nature, scowling and shaking my head at times, wondering what in the world was the sense of doing any of this.”

“Nevertheless, I never gave any thought to walking away.”

“This is my life, I reminded myself frequently; I don’t know any other way to live. It sounds like a coward’s comment. And perhaps it was and is. Change unnerves me as much as the next person. If I had my way, I would change only the things I want to change, and leave unchanged the things that suit me just fine. But labeling my failure to walk away from the church and ministry as fear is to miss the point. Attending church, preaching, officiating at the Communion table, and baptizing babies were precisely the things I had to do until belief returned.”

It’s that last line that caught my attention. We often think that behavior can only come from belief, never the other way around.

We think:

  • If I don’t believe in the power of prayer, then I am unable to pray.
  • If I have doubts about God’s existence, then I don’t have to read God’s words in scripture.
  • If I believe that others have no business meddling in my religious affairs, then I don’t need to trust others and include them in my faith journey.

But while belief can shape behavior, the inverse can also be true. There are moments when the breath of God’s inspiration fills our lungs only when we practice the inhale and exhale of regular prayer and devotion. If we alter the pattern, or stop breathing altogether, we are more prone to fainting.

Practicing the faith, even when we don’t believe it, ensures that we will be ready when God is, at whatever moment God wants to spark a new insight or call us to a new reality.

We should remember that the keeping of spiritual practices is not so much about gaining their immediate benefits, like a “runner’s high” or a “sugar rush.” It’s less about gaining something for ourselves and more about fidelity to God. It reminds us that we are not our own, even when we have trouble believing there is anyone else out there. Surely and steadily, we have a revitalized relationship with a God who has been there all along.

At the end of the chapter, Dr. Weems writes:

“The inclination to walk away, give up, stop praying, stop believing, curse the winter, and withdraw cannot be denied. But I haven’t, so far. I have chosen to dig my heels in and stick with my routine until the mystery returns. Bless the babies. Bury the dead. Pour the wine. Break the bread. Say the benediction. I have become grateful for these daily acts of fidelity, which serve to keep me anchored and disciplined.”

Growing with you in grace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: Be Still and Breathe

Midweek Message: Be Still and Breathe

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Are you an elephant or a frog?

Once upon a time there was an elephant standing in a pond happily eating some twigs. The twigs were so tasty and nutritious that he felt like he was in heaven. As he was about to take another bite, the twig slipped from his trunk and splashed into the water.

The elephant panicked and began hunting furiously for the twig. He thrashed around and stomped his feet in anger, making the water muddier and muddier. It became impossible to find that stick.

Nearby was a green frog, sitting on a log and basking in the sun. He watched the frantic elephant for several minutes, finally saying to him in a gentle voice:

“Be still.” But the elephant wasn’t listening. He was too busy splashing around.

“Be still,” whispered the frog. But the elephant kept on thrashing.

“Be still,” the frog said again. This time the elephant was so tired from searching that he stopped and said, “What did you say?”

“Be still,” repeated the frog.

“Be still? What good will that do?” yelled the elephant. “Don’t you understand? I’ve lost the tastiest stick in the whole jungle! How can you expect me to be still? I’ve got to find it!”

“Now, breathe,” said the frog. “Breath in slowly and deeply,” said the frog, “breathe in the stillness of the mountains.”

As the elephant breathed in and out, listening intently to the frog, the water of the pond became still. The mud and the dirt settled to the bottom.

“Now,” the frog said, “look down.”

When the elephant looked down, he saw the stick. He reached down and wrapped the end of his trunk around it, pulled it out, and happily began munching again.

SEEKING STILLNESS

If you’re like me (and many others), you have spent a lot of time and energy splashing and thrashing your way through life. It could be that what you need this Lenten season is a bit of friendly advice from that frog.

“Be still. Breathe.”

To encourage you in that practice, we invite you to participate in a special two-day event at The Portico from Friday, March 29 (6-9 p.m.) through Saturday, March 30 (8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.). It is called “Seeking Stillness,” and is for anyone wanting to experience silence in a busy world, whether you are a life-long practitioner or just beginning to explore meditation.

The featured event speaker is Carl McColman, a contemplative writer, speaker, and host of the podcast “Encountering Silence.” He will explore the foundation and practice of a variety of methods of contemplation and centering prayer. There will also be breakout sessions on Saturday on Taize and Lectio Divina, as well as a meaningful prayer walk along the river.

Visit seekingstillnesstampa.com for more information and to register.

And join us this Sunday as we continue our Lenten series “Getting Unstuck” as we engage the most problematic question in Christian belief: “Getting Unstuck from Suffering and Evil.”

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: Happy Pi Day! (God Loves You!)

Midweek Message: Happy Pi Day! (God Loves You!)

March 14, 2019

[Setting: This past Tuesday, in the living room of the parsonage. A conversation between my older daughter Grace and me.]

Grace: Hey, Dad. What are you working on?

Me: [mumbling] My Midweek Message. I’m kind of stuck.

Grace: What is it about?

Me: Well, this Thursday is March 14, which is “Pi Day.” You know, 3.14?

Grace: [eye roll] I know what pi day is, Dad.

Me: I’d like to make some connection between pi and the Christian faith for my Midweek, but I don’t know quite what to say.

Grace: Oh. Well, you might say that pi is an irrational concept made up of an infinite sequence of numbers that constitutes a universal constant. And then you might say that is exactly what God’s love is like. It’s hard to wrap our heads around it because it is infinite and irrational and intangible, but a constant in the universe that we can always rely on.

Me: [staring, dumbfounded] That’s brilliant. I’m going to use that.

Grace: Yeah, I know you will.

I then thought about the number of times that the Bible talks about the infinite dimensions of God’s love. Consider the following passages, and how they might be a timely reminder for you that you are loved by an eternally faithful God:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” (1 John 3:1)

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

I could go on, of course. The Bible is packed with reminders of how much God loves you. But here’s one more that you will want to read and ponder. It’s a hymn written by German hymn writer and mystic Gerhard Tersteegen, and translated into English by John Wesley while he was in Georgia in 1736:

Thou hidden Love of God, whose height,
whose depth unfathomed, no man knows,
I see from far Thy beauteous light,
and inly sigh for Thy repose;
my heart is pained, nor can it be
at rest till it finds rest in Thee. 

If your heart is restless and pained, may you find rest in the infinite and irrational love of God, a universal constant in our lives.

[LATER THAT EVENING]

Grace: Dad, now that I’ve helped you write your Midweek, how about helping me with my homework?

Me: [laughing] I’m totally ending my message with that line.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

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