Midweek Message: Make ’em Laugh!

Midweek Message: Make ’em Laugh!

April 20, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

A minister got up before the congregation to deliver the Call to Worship, only to discover a problem with the microphone. He tapped it with his hand, blew into it loudly, knocked it a few times on the altar rail, not realizing he had failed to turn it on. While fumbling with the switch, he muttered, “There’s something wrong with this thing.”

To which the congregation responded, “And also with you.”

Until recently, American churches have overlooked a centuries-old tradition of observing the Sunday after Easter as “Holy Humor Sunday:” a day of parties, picnics, humor, practical jokes, and general merriment. The custom was rooted in the convictions of early church theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, who interpreted the resurrection as God playing the ultimate practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. Basically, they believed that God had the last laugh. So they coined the term “Risus paschalis,” or the “Easter laugh.”

Today, a growing number of churches across the denominational spectrum have “resurrected” Holy Humor Sunday with new terms like “Bright Sunday,” or “Holy Hilarity Sunday.” People gather in worship to share their funniest jokes and stories, enjoy light-hearted skits, sing hymn parodies, and show up in costume (think ushers in clown makeup and choirs in bathrobes). And often, the sermons are filled with one stream-of-consciousness joke after another.

And I’m happy to say that this Sunday, Hyde Park will be observing its own first-ever Holy Humor Sunday.

In the Sanctuary, the Chancel Choir and Joyful Praise Ensemble will combine forces to provide spirit-lifting, smile-inducing, toe-tapping music. 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 a live comedic radio theater production in the style of Prairie Home Companion. I’m telling you, Hyde Park folks, you won’t want to miss it, and you’ll want to bring a friend.

We’ll be combining the 8:30 services in the Sanctuary, and the 11 Magnolia service will have its own Holy Humor worship experience in the Magnolia building. And 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 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!

BRINGING LIGHTNESS TO LIFE

The point of Holy Humor Sunday, of course, is more than just jokes and laughter. It is an affirmation of how wonderful and surprising the resurrection really is. Like a good joke that catches us off-guard and puts an irrevocable smile on our faces, the resurrection of Jesus can bring lightness to life’s burdens and give our souls a lift with new hope and promise.

Years ago, on an episode of the television show Inside the Actors’ Studio with James Lipton, late-night comedian and accomplished humor writer Conan O’Brien was asked how much of comedy was a scientific formula, and how much was sheer spontaneity. O’Brien responded:

“There’s definitely formulas and we all fall back on formulas. When we’re looking at a sketch and we don’t know how to end it, there’s always the seven ways that you can end it that you’ve seen before, do you know what I mean? There’s a couple of moves that writers use, and when you’re in this business long enough, you know them…But every now and then something happens that completely surprises you. And that doesn’t happen all the time, but you’re always looking for that crazy, random, weird ending that no one expects, that is beyond formula. You don’t know how someone thought of it. You’re always hoping to come up with one of those. They don’t grow on trees, but when they come along, it’s great. (Inside the Actors’ Studio, January 26, 2009)

It’s true: with all the jokes that we’ve heard and shared, and all the one-liners that have tickled our ribs, the Risus paschalis breaks all the rules. The resurrection smashes the formulas of life as usual, upends our expectations, and calls us to live an entirely upside-down kind of life. It is joy in a time that tilts toward sorrow. It is hope in a world preoccupied with despair. Death may be the set-up, but new life is the punch line. It’s a “crazy, random, weird ending that no one expects.” But it’s one that everyone needs.

So, join us this Sunday for an unforgettable time of laughter and frivolity, and enjoy this Easter in the way it was originally intended: with a big, hearty Risus paschalis. And bask in the hilarity of the resurrection.

Grace, Peace and Laughter,

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

Midweek Message: Golgotha Cross

Midweek Message: Golgotha Cross

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April 13, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Golgotha’s Cross
By Raymond Kresensky, 1892-1955

What is the cross on Golgotha to me –
But the brave young Jesus murdered there?
Roman justice debased?
Israel’s Messiah lost?

The tender lips agonized?
The active mind bewildered?
The feet, that walked fair Galilee,
Pierced by nails?

I have tried to speak
The words those lips revealed.
I have tried to think as he thought.
I have taught my feet to walk
Humbly as he walked.

And God prepared me a cross.

The arms reach out to gather in
The cripples, the blind, the weak.
The arms reach out to feed them,
To give them to drink.
In these hands the nails are driven.

But the cross points upward.
The arms fold me.
The cross lifts me.
Golgotha’s cross is the road to heaven.

On behalf of the staff and lay leadership of Hyde Park United Methodist, I wish you and yours a blessed Holy Week, and a joyous celebration of Easter. For the full s

chedule of our Holy Week and Easter services, visit hydeparkumc.org/Easter. In addition, our 9:30 and 11:00 Sanctuary services will be live streamed on our website.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey CC

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

Midweek Message: Confirmation, The Portico, and Expressing our Genes

Midweek Message: Confirmation, The Portico, and Expressing our Genes

masthead

April 6, 2017

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

From start to finish, last Sunday was a special day for this church.

Considering both events together made me remember a lesson from my days as a college biology major. In genetics, there are two terms that describe the basis of all life: genotype and phenotype. The genotype of an organism is its genetic makeup, the DNA that has been inherited by its parents and ancestry, and is the incontrovertible essence of who they are. The phenotype is the unique way that genetic material is expressed, into the physical characteristics that are visible to the outside observer.

An organism has no say in its genotype, but there are lots of factors that determine its phenotype. Environment, personal behavior, temperament, and conscious choices all influence one’s external appearance, even despite what their genes might dictate.

For over two decades, this church has become clear about its DNA. We share a common theological and spiritual identity as a mainline, centerfield people who are centered in Christ and rooted in the Bible. We are also a people who are warm-hearted (open to a diversity of people) and open-minded (open to a diversity of perspectives). Making God’s love real is in our genes.

But on Sunday, we marveled at how a God of extravagant variety used two very different ministries to show the diversity of ways that our DNA can be expressed in the world.

In our youth, we saw the genetics of the faith transmitted to a new generation of Christians, who are part of a culture that is dramatically different from the one most of us were raised in. They will live out their commitment to Jesus in what is essentially a post-Christian world, in which — for perhaps the first time since the fourth century A.D. — religious conviction is no longer assumed in western culture. Yet these kids, with their array of skills, passions, dreams, and backgrounds, have each pledged to follow Jesus, and share with the world the love of God in their own unique way.

Then on Sunday night, the new worship service at The Portico reminded us of why our downtown campus is such an important part of this church’s present and future. It takes the DNA of this church and expresses it in a worship style that is participatory, spontaneous and organic, with weekly communion and quiet moments of meditation. It places Hyde Park on the front porch of spiritually seeking individuals who are looking for a community to converse, connect and help change the community.

One person in the church who attended the service put it this way: “I am so proud to be a part of this church that spreads its wings to fly with no absolute assurance of a safe landing place, just faith in what God’s love can do.”

Amen.

Genotypes are given; phenotypes are a matter of choice and context. Both the confirmation of our youth and the ongoing birth of The Portico remind us that the Spirit is alive and well and at work, expressing the heritage and ancestry of Hyde Park United Methodist in new and exciting ways.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey CC

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


PALM SUNDAY, HOLY WEEK, AND EASTER

Join us this Sunday as we join in the praise and joy that is Palm Sunday, and begin the journey through the passion and drama of Holy Week. There will be services at both the Hyde Park campus and The Portico campus on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and you will want to see the full .

Then, on Easter morning, April 16, join us for one of six worship services to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and the new life we can claim in victory. Check out the full schedule here and invite your neighbors and friends to join us for an experience of God’s transformative love.

We also encourage you to help us provide warm hospitality for the thousands of guests that will be joining us that day, by signing up here or on the board in the Courtyard this Sunday. Finally, we encourage you to park as far away from the worship venues as you are comfortable in walking, to save the closer spots for visitors looking for a place to park.

Midweek Message: The Violence of Love

Midweek Message: The Violence of Love

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March 30, 2017

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

Last Friday was the 37th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the great Catholic martyr. Romero was one of the most prominent figures for human rights in the 20th century, and spoke on behalf of the poor and the victims of El Salvador’s long, bloody civil war.

His advocacy for the marginalized and oppressed often put him at odds with both the government of El Salvador and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. After speaking out against U.S. military support for the Salvadoran government, and calling for soldiers to disobey orders that harmed human rights, Romero was shot to death while celebrating Mass at a small chapel near his cathedral. It is believed that his assassins were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the School of the Americas.

During that final, fateful Eucharistic service, Romero spoke these hauntingly prescient words: “May this body immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and blood to suffer and to pain – like Christ, not for self, but to teach justice and peace to our people.” Romero believed that being a Christian meant much more than pious platitudes and emotional ego-stroking. It beckoned us to model our lives after the example of Christ’s self-giving, self-sacrificial love. He believed that our lives needed to echo Christ’s compassion for the poor, the exploited, and the suffering among us.

Yet, his advocacy never involved violence. In a time when global news headlines are filled with more warfare than peacemaking, Romero’s words are a clarion call for the Kingdom value of non-violence. We have never preached violence,” he said, “except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.”

He concluded his homily: “One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.” And then, with a single sniper’s bullet to the heart, Romero collapsed to the ground behind the altar, the shadow of the crucified Christ looming behind him. His blood spilt onto the ground, a stirring symbol of a man who followed the example of Christ in every way possible.

THE MORAL EXAMPLE ATONEMENT THEORY

Romero’s life is a vivid portrayal of the fifth atonement theory in our worship series. The moral example theory is among the first explanations offered by the early church for how Jesus saved us, taught by such theological giants as Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, and Abelard. The theory suggests that the work of Christ effects positive moral change in our lives and in the world, as we follow the example of Jesus. This example constitutes the entirety of Jesus’ life: not just his death and resurrection, but also his incarnation, his teachings, and his actions.

As opposed to simply focusing on salvation as “where we go after we die,” the moral influence theory emphasizes the building of the kingdom of God in the present. It is not just concerned with life after death, but also our life here on earth, encouraging us to live into the full reflection of the image of God given to us at our creation. It does not trivialize the death of Jesus at the expense of his life and teachings; instead, it inspires us to an obedience that includes our own crosses to bear.

The spirit of the moral influence atonement theory is beautifully captured in Oscar Romero’s bold proclamation to Pope John Paul II: “It’s easy to preach (Christ’s) teachings theoretically. To follow faithfully the pope’s magisterium in theory is very easy. But when you try to live, try to incarnate, try to make reality in the history of the suffering people like ours those saving teachings, that is when conflicts arise.”

Grace and Peace,

Magrey CC

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


CONFIRMATION THIS SUNDAY

This Sunday will also include the confirmation of 25 of our youth, as they make a public profession of their faith in Jesus and choose to follow his example for the rest of their lives. Unlike years past, when we have held the Confirmation service on Sunday nights, it will instead take place during our 11 a.m. traditional worship service, so that our regular worshiping community can join in the celebration. We give thanks to God for these kids as they cross this major milestone moment in their faith journey.


THE PORTICO REVEAL

And finally, this Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. will be the official debut of the new worship space at The Portico called the Community Hall. After two years of praying, dreaming and planning, this new facility creates an open, inviting space for our unique Portico worshiping experience. Come see the Community Hall for yourself, invite an unchurched friend to be part of The Portico worship community, and support the new congregation through your prayers.

Midweek Message: Is God Mad at Me?

Midweek Message: Is God Mad at Me?

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March 24, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

When I was an elementary student at a local Christian school, my classmates and I were all fearful of principal Jack Santhouse. He seemed at least 6-1/2 feet tall, with broad shoulders and sullen eyes, a square jaw, and a sharp nose. But what we were most afraid of was the large wooden paddle he displayed above the desk in his office. Naughty students would come back into class wiping away tears upon returning from his office, and sitting in their seats a little more gingerly than when they left.

But Mr. Santhouse was also the leader of our mandatory Friday morning chapel assembly. All the students would gather at 8:30 in the morning, our little restless bodies stifled motionless lest we get a stern glare from him or our teachers. He would stand up, front and center on the stage, and call us to the pledging of allegiance to both the American flag and the Christian flag. And then he would lead us in singing “New Life,” the school theme song. I can still remember the words and melody of the chorus to this day:

New Life in Christ abundant and free!
What glories shine, what joys are mine,
What wondrous blessings I see!
My past with its sin, the searching and strife,
Forever gone — There’s a bright new dawn!
For in Christ I have found new life.

And when we got to the words “bright new dawn,” Mr. Santhouse would hop up onto the balls of his feet, making his towering frame seem even more imposing.

I will admit that during my whole elementary school career, I never had a cross run-in with Mr. Santhouse. I was spared his use of the big wooden paddle, and, truth be told, I learned to like him very much. And I think he liked me. But in retrospect, I have come to see that he played an even more significant role in my faith formation than I could ever have acknowledged at the time.

For better or worse, Mr. Santhouse modeled for me my first image of God.

It wasn’t until college and seminary that I began to think about images of God beyond gender and ethnicity. I then realized that as a child, when I pictured God, I saw the face of Mr. Santhouse. As the principal of that Christian school, he was the embodiment of its ideals and the chief architect of its instruction. And as the central part of my chapel worship experience, he called us to worship, led us in singing, and gave language to my faith.

But he was also ready to punish me if I stepped out of line. And little did I know that it was that fear that motivated much of my Christian upbringing.

This Sunday, our worship series on the theories of atonement explores one of the most controversial of them all: Appeasement. It suggests that the work of Jesus on the cross quelled God’s wrath upon humanity, and saved us from a punishment that we deserved because of our sin.

It might be tempting to skip this Sunday, particularly if you feel like this kind of God is not only foreign to your theology, but repulsive to you. But I would suggest that all of us, especially in times of suffering or crisis, revert to the kinds of fears that make us question God’s nature and activity in our lives.

Have you ever wondered:

“Why is God causing this suffering to happen in my life?
“Is God mad at me because of what I’ve done?”
“Is God using this crisis to teach me a lesson?”
“What have I done to deserve this from God?”

No, we may not picture God as a stern, elderly white male, with wooden paddle in hand. And the idea of a God who is ready to strike at our disobedience may seem too far-fetched for us to believe. But I encourage you to come to worship this Sunday, to hear the words that all of us need to hear from time to time:

God is not mad at you.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey CC

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

Midweek Message: To Grace, on Her Sixteenth Birthday

Midweek Message: To Grace, on Her Sixteenth Birthday

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March 16, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Part of the privilege of having a forum like the Midweek Message is that I get to share whatever is on my mind with a wonderful readership like you. Often the content is spiritual, other times social commentary, and other times just random musings.

Today it is personal. Because in two days, my older daughter turns sixteen.

Grace jungle

You can’t tell by reading this, but it took several minutes of staring at that last sentence before I gathered enough steam to keep writing. The best I can do is try to gather my thoughts in the form of a letter, which I have already shared with her, in the hopes that it might be meaningful to you and the people you love.

Dear Grace,

In just a few days, you will be passing what may feel like a major milestone in your life. At the same time, it will seem like just any other day and you may not feel qualitatively different once your birthday passes. Some cultures, after all, prefer to emphasize other birthdays, like the Quinceanera for 15-year old girls in Latin Americas, or the Debut for 18-year old girls in the Philippines. But I get it: sixteen is the year you can get your driver’s permit and learn to drive on your own. That feels like it changes everything!

I prefer to see your sixteenth birthday as one of many critical pivot points you will face throughout your life. This is the central year of your teenage years. You are now just as close to being a legal adult as you are removed from adolescence. You are just a few months from being half-way through high school with graduation and (gulp) college just around the corner.

In other words, your life is at a turning point. As much as you still need the care and concern of your parents, you are starting to exercise your own beautiful sense of independence and critical thinking. As much as you are still responsible to the structures and routines of institutionalized education, you are starting to develop the passions and interests that will dictate your career path and guide you into the future. And as much as you are part of a wide network of family and friends who love and support you, you are also gaining the courage to venture into the world and make a name for yourself all on your own.

This is a pivotal moment. And it won’t be the last one.

You will discover that life is filled with moments like these. Some of the choices that you make along the way will seem small, but will have major consequences down the road. Others might seem major at the time, but the impact will not be as big as you thought. That’s the way life often is. We do the best we can when we are called to make decisions, not knowing what the significance or outcome will be. Just like your sixteenth birthday, sometimes the pivotal moments will feel just like any other, and sometimes they’ll seem much more momentous.

This is what makes life so interesting, and what makes living into a bright unknown future like yours so exciting. But here’s the one thing I can say for sure: you have a past that will ground you well. You are part of a family that loves you. Your mom and dad and your sister are so terribly proud of you. You have grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a wider family that will be your constant support. And you are part of a Christian faith that links you to a grand tradition of wisdom, joy and hope, even when times get tough.

In fact, it is your connection to Christ and your part of God’s family that will be among your life’s most important resources. A few years ago, on a bright Sunday morning, you stood before a United Methodist church family for your Confirmation. It may have felt in some ways like any other worship service. But it was another one of those pivotal moments, for you said yes to Jesus, and that changed everything. Staying true to that commitment will be the guiding principle that shapes your life forever.

So, happy birthday, sweet sixteen-year old. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.

Love,

Dad


Grace and Peace,

Magrey CC

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

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