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,

Magrey

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

JUSTICE FOR OUR NEIGHBORS (JFON)
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.

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:

A PRAYER FOR PASTORS IN THE YEAR 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,

Magrey

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.

Midweek Message: The Top Five Ways to Feel Connected to Summer

Midweek Message: The Top Five Ways to Feel Connected to Summer

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Ah, summer.

In Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, I love the way young Scout describes summer:

“Summer was on the way; Jem and I awaited it with impatience. Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape; but most of all, summer was Dill.”

I don’t know what summer is for you. Maybe it’s not cots, tree houses and dill, but trips with family, sleep-ins rather than morning scrambles, or catching up on leisure reading.

Still, is it possible that this summer might be, in Scout’s words, your “best season?” At least when it comes to staying connected to God and your church family here at Hyde Park?

Might there be ways, amid your varied summer plans, to deepen your faith, strengthen your connection to others, and make God’s love real?

I’d like to think so, which is why I invite you to consider The Top Five Ways to Feel Connected this Summer:

1. WORSHIP ONLINE

Over the past few months, our terrific team of worship tech volunteers, led by staffer Mat Hotho, has been enhancing our online, live stream viewing experience. If you are away during the summer, join us online, where you can watch the 9:30 and 11 Sanctuary services.

Our two worship series this summer will inform and inspire you to deepen your understanding of the Christian faith and do God’s work of healing and reconciliation in the world. Learn more about our “We Believe” series here, and we can look forward to “No Longer Strangers,” a series on the book of Ephesians in July.

Feel connected, wherever you are, to the community in worship. And as an added bonus, we will be welcoming back the Rev. Roger Scholtz to the Hyde Park pulpit on July 8!

2. VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL

Once again, we are ramping up for a joy-filled, energy-packed week of Vacation Bible School, an absolute highlight of our church year. We will have more than 400 children learning about God’s love, led by hundreds of volunteers.

In fact, we are still looking for about 15-20 adults to serve in some important roles throughout the week, so I invite you to check out our website to find out more. You will get all the training you need next week. All you need is a willing heart and a caring spirit!

3. POINT OF VIEW CONVERSATIONS

The response to our upcoming Point of View Conversations (POV) has been positive and strong. This three-week journey will foster conversations of empathy, understanding, and healthy dialogue in our congregation on matters of LGBTQ inclusion. You can read more about it in my prior Midweek Message.

They take place 6:30-8 p.m. June 13, 20, and 27 at The Portico, and there are still a handful of spots available for you to sign up. Feel connected as we break down barriers and strengthen our relationships.

4. CONGREGATIONAL SURVEY

The next big phase of our visioning process, which you can read about here, is a congregation-wide survey, which we will be sending out in the next few weeks. You will hear more about it soon, and we hope you will take some time over the summer to give their insights on some key questions about God’s direction for our future. Feel connected as we claim our future together.

5. DAILY SCRIPTURE READING

Finally, join us in reading, studying and praying through the Bible using our daily scripture readings. These texts have been carefully selected by our discipleship team to coincide with the themes of our worship series, and will unite us in experiencing the truths of the Bible all throughout the summer.

It is an amazing feeling to remember that the passages you read every day are the very same ones that others in this congregation are reading at the same time. Feel connected through the power of the Scripture.

On behalf of the clergy, staff, and lay leadership of this church, I wish you and yours a blessed summer. May it be your “best season ever!”

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: More Than Mumbo Jumbo

Midweek Message: More Than Mumbo Jumbo

Dear Hyde Park Family,

On many Sundays, when we gather to worship, we affirm our faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed. It takes less than a minute to recite – forty seconds, by my watch – followed quickly with a time to greet those around us, then sit down to resume the service.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that our recitation is, at the very least, rote and robotic, and at worst, an exercise in skepticism. Virgin birth? Holy catholic church? Resurrection of the body? Really?

But what if I told you those forty seconds in worship constitute one of the most potent acts of religious expression in Christian history?

And what if I told you that the story of the Creed’s development rivals that of any bestselling novel or blockbuster film?

Or that the very act of speaking the Creed could bring you a greater sense of identity and community than you could ever imagine?

Maybe then, the words would become more than mumbo jumbo.

The creeds were developed to be bold, public declarations to a pagan, Roman empire about the core convictions of a movement centered on following Jesus.

It is more than an oath, pledge or promise. It is an act of worship, drawing us closer to God and each other every time we say it.

For the next four weeks, our worship series will do more than just track through the words of the Apostles’ Creed. It will be a journey through the very core of what we believe as Christians, uniting us with saints throughout time and around the world in giving praise to God.

“We Believe in God: A Friend in High Places”
Genesis 1: 1-5, Revelation 4:11
June 3

“We Believe in Jesus Christ: Jesus, the One and Only”
Philippians 2:1-11
June 10

“We Believe in the Holy Spirit: The Invisible, Incomparable God”
Acts 1: 1-8, Joel 2:28-29
June 17

“We Believe in Life in the Church: Forgiven, Free and Never Alone”
Ephesians 4:1-4; 1 Corinthians 12:12-20
June 24

“We Believe in the Forgiveness of Saints (and the Communion of Saints!)”
Ephesians 2:12-22
July 1

By the end of our series, you will not only have a deeper appreciation for the words that we say when we recite any of our traditional or modern creeds; you will be drawn into a closer connection with other Christians, and have your heart and mind channeled toward God.

In the words of the 19th century German-American theologian Philip Schaff, the Creed “is not a word of God to men but a word of men to God, in response to his revelation.”

Ultimately, the creeds remind us that the church is composed of much more than bricks and mortar. It is made up of people, united with common belief and purpose, proclaiming God’s truth and love for the world and future generations.

So let’s join together, for forty seconds that can make all the difference, and remember what it means to be the church.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: Commence with Empathy

Midweek Message: Commence with Empathy

Dear Hyde Park Family,

We are in full swing of graduation ceremonies across the country and our community, which carries with it a new slate of commencement addresses that capture our attention.

There is typically no set formula for what makes a good commencement speech, and the themes are as varied as the speakers themselves.

But this year, as I watched and read some notable commencement addresses around the country, I started to notice a common and compelling theme that many speakers seemed to emphasize: a call to empathy.

Here are a few examples:

“I want to talk to you about the possibility – the requirement, even, of climbing out of your own minds. It is about listening, in a way that asks you to do something nearly fantastical: to abandon your own private self … to acquire the language, identity, and skin of another person. What is it like to be him or her? What is their suffering and joy like?” – Author Siddhartha Mukherjee, to the University of Southern California [1]

“By breaking free of our own tribes, even if only for a moment, and seeing things through the lens of people unlike ourselves, we can begin to close the gaps, whether they be socio-economic, racial, gender, political or otherwise.”Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, to Wharton School of Business [2]

“But as you leave here today, I do ask that you write the next great chapter of world history in a way that reflects your courage and your empathy … It will be all of you who have the courage to face the painful truths, and the empathy to embrace others because of our differences and our common identity and humanity. It will be you and your generation that has the strength to bring people together to build bridges not walls, and forge a way forward.”Darren Walker, Ford Foundation, to Hamilton College [3]

THE SPIRIT OF PENTECOST

It seems more than mere coincidence that these speeches all come in the wake of Pentecost Sunday.

We not only celebrate the commencement of the church, but the Spirit’s ongoing work in tearing down division and empowering us to speak through the language and perspective of people different from us. It’s what inspired my sermon on empathy last Sunday, available here, as well as my own commencement address to our wonderful little graduates of our Small Blessings preschool program last night:

And here is the greatest thing you have achieved:
The best gift from this place you’ve ever received

Is the knowledge that God really, truly loves you,
And you can be someone who loves others, too.

In the way that you’re kind, empathetic, and giving,
In the way that you share, and seek peace in your living.

In the way that you treat other kids with respect,
In the way that you love those that others reject.

POINT OF VIEW

That call to empathy is at the heart of a program we are offering next month called “Point of View,” or POV. It is an opportunity to help our denomination break down walls in its current divide over LGBTQ inclusion.

The bishop of this annual conference, Ken Carter, has asked every congregation to have healthy and honest conversations among its members about the various opinions we have on this topic.

The Conference designed POV for people with different opinions about LGBTQ inclusion to come together, not to convince each other to agree with us, not to have us all come to the same conclusion, and certainly not to put anything up for a vote. But to do the harder work of listening to each other’s perspectives and pains, in a conversation that fosters empathy, understanding, and healthy dialogue.

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending, by yourselves or with your small group, at all three, 90-minute sessions, on Wednesday nights from 6:30-8 p.m. at The Portico campus on June 13, 20 and 27.

Since seating will be limited (and is already filling up quickly), sign up online now to secure a spot.

You can be part of fostering new understanding, deeper connection, and non-binary thinking in this congregation, in the full spirit of being warm-hearted (open to a diversity of people) and open-minded (open to a diversity of perspectives).

And you can watch the Spirit of Pentecost do it again.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: “Spirit Shower”

Midweek Message: “Spirit Shower”

Dear Hyde Park Family,

You’ll want to be sure to read the end of today’s Midweek Message for a word of update and gratitude regarding our church’s visioning process. For now here’s a quick word about Pentecost, my favorite high holy day of the entire Christian year.

 

SPIRIT SHOWER!

The greatest Pentecost hymn you may never have heard of was written by Dr. Henry More, an 18th century British theologian and philosopher that one contemporary called “the most holy man he ever knew.”

 

Despite his zealous study and prolific writing, one of the few poems to ever gain notoriety is called “On the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost,” which caught the attention of a young Anglican preacher named John Wesley.

 

When John and Charles Wesley put together their volume colled A Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodist, they included four of More’s original fifteen verses. (You may choose to hum these lyrics to the tune of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or the “Old 100th” Doxology.) Here are the first two verses:

On all the earth Thy Spirit shower;

The earth in righteousness renew;

Thy kingdom come, and hell’s o’erpower,

And to Thy scepter all subdue.

 

Like mighty winds, or torrents fierce,

Let it opposers all o’errun;

And every law of sin reverse,

That faith and love may make all one.

 

The hymn became a standard selection for Methodist Christians throughout the early part of the movement’s history.

 

We can imagine Christians just like us, gathering together on Pentecost Sundays, singing this hymn and praying for the earth to receive a “Spirit shower” which will renew the earth in righteousness, overpower hell, reverse the law of sin and make all people one.

 

But there’s more. Wesley, the consummate perfectionist, did more than a bit of tinkering to Henry More’s original poem, adding two verse of his own:

 

Father! If justly still we claim

To us and ours the promise made,

To us be graciously the same,

And crown with living fire our heard.

 

Our claim admit, and from above

Of holiness the Spirit shower.

Of wise discernment, humble love,

And zeal and unity and power. 

 

Wesley believed that it is not enough simply to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit to shower the earth and unleash the Kingdom of God on earth. The Pentecostal work of the Spirit requires nothing less than our full participation.

 

It was just as critical to Wesley that Christians stake a personal claim on the work of Pentecost, and fulfill the calling each of us receive as followers of Jesus Christ.  For Wesley, there was a required five-fold response to Pentecost for every Christian: wise discernment, humble love, zeal, unity and power.

 

AN UPDATE FROM THE VISION TEAM

It is that desire to live into those same five qualities that brings me to this update on our visioning process.

 

First, a word of gratitude. Close to 200 people participated in our visioning chats this spring. These important conversations were a part of our sustained effort to discern how the Spirit of Pentecost intends to use Hyde Park United Methodist– it’s people, its service, and its worship – to make God’s love real and make disciples, both today and in the future.

 

We had chats open to the entire congregation as well as focused meetings with many small groups, our leadership teams, our 20s and 30s ministry, our youth, and music ensembles, just to name a few. And many of you offered insights to the team via email, pov@hydeparkumc.org.

 

You shared personal anecdotes, perspectives, meditations, observations, and revelations, in response to three challenging questions about our high calling as Christ’s church in Tampa:

 

How can Hyde Park United Methodist deepen its discipleship?

How can Hyde Park United Methodist extend its reach into the community and the world?

How can Hyde Park United Methodist adapt to cultural changes?

 

As a result, all your responses are shaping and being incorporated into the next step in our listening phase of this initiative: a congregational survey.

 

This online survey is being developed now and will be rolled out this summer in June and July. We’ll communicate the survey widely and look forward to deepening this conversation with you.

 

As we began each Vision Chat, we prayed collectively, “Help us to grasp the vision that You have for us, and may we be sensitive to Your leading and guidance.” God is calling Hyde Park UMC to an exciting future: one where we are making God’s love real in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, and to all the people we can. It’s a future we can grasp; it’s a future we can make real.

 

Thank you, and see you this Sunday as we celebrate Pentecost! (and be sure to wear red, if you have it!)

 

Magrey

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