Living in the Moment

Living in the Moment

Nov. 16, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.

I have been living with that passage lately, along with the wider story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about it in the context of our visioning process, as we discern how to best follow the Spirit’s guidance, step by step, into the exciting future that God has for us.

I’ve also been thinking about it on a more personal level, praying for any of us who might feel like we are in the middle of a wilderness experience of some kind. If that describes you, then imagine yourself as an ordinary Israelite, long into a journey where all you have known is blistering sand, dry heat, and endless miles. You hold out hope for a day when you will see the Promised Land for yourself, respite and relief flowing like milk and honey into your life. But for now, all you can see is that pillar of fire and that billowy cloud, as you write down your reflections …

Day 6,804: Still wandering through the wilderness. Sand in every direction, as far as my eye can see. Still no Promised Land in sight. The days are long and filled with the tedium of routine. For what seems like the hundredth time, we finished assembling our family tent and helped assemble the tabernacle. The children are out gathering the morning manna, and my aging parents are trying their best to stay cool and hydrated. Every day is the same. I’m tired.

 

I look up at the sky at least two dozen times a day, often out of both habit and boredom. Sometimes I try to will that pillar of fire forward, and wish that cloud into motion, just to feel like I’m making progress. But most of the time, they just stay still. And so do I. I wish I could jump ahead, ahead of Moses and the elders, ahead of the fire and the cloud, ahead of just standing still in this miserable period of waiting. But that is not the way this journey has been.

 

I am left with little else to do but watch, wait, and be ready to move when it is time to move. When it is time to take the next step forward, God reveals it to us. When it is time to take the next step after that, God makes that clear, too. I try not to worry about the steps that are to come, for long ago I had to let go of my itchiness to predict the future.

 

For now, I must remain vigilant, patient, and content. God has given me and my family all we need to make it through today. Food, water, shelter, the companionship of others, and freedom from our past. But most of all, God has given us hope. Hope that there are brighter days ahead, without fear or sadness, worry or want. And with every move of the fire and the cloud, we are one step – one painstakingly slow but steady step – closer to claiming God’s promise.

 

Hyde Park family, I encourage you today to be in the moment. Rest in the presence of God, and be open to the presence of others around you. Live in the present. May your every breath be evidence of the Spirit of God within you. Wait with vigilance, so that when God makes it clear for you to take the next step, you will be rested and ready to follow that fire and that cloud.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist
Chicken Noodle Ice Tea Soup

Chicken Noodle Ice Tea Soup

Nov. 9, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Kermit the Frog: “Hey Fozzie, whatcha got there?”
Fozzie Bear: “This? Well, it’s called a Thermos.”
Kermit: “Cool. What’s a Thermos?”
Fozzie: “Well, a Thermos keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold.”
Kermit: “Interesting. So, what do you have in there now?”
Fozzie: “Right now? I have iced tea and chicken noodle soup.”

I remember first hearing that joke when I was a teenager, and to this day it still makes me chuckle. It also reminds me of God’s words to the church in the ancient city of Laodicea (lay-ODD-uh-SEE-yuh) in Revelation 3:15-16:

“I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

I’m pretty sure that if I ever took a swig of chicken noodle iced tea soup, I’d spit it out of my mouth, too.

Apparently lukewarm Christianity was as much of a problem 2,000 years ago as it is today. It is a life that may have once been “fired up” and wholly devoted to Jesus, but it has since cooled to a tepid, comfortable sense of self-sufficiency. It begs the question of each of us: “Am I on fire for God? Or am I dubious mixture of hot and cold?”

In Rocky III, champion boxer Rocky Balboa had ascended to a luxurious lifestyle of wealth, fame, and self-indulgence. Though he had one last fight before his retirement, his attempts to train were filled with more autograph signings than punching bag hits.

So, when it came time for the fight, the challenger destroyed Rocky in three rounds. Humiliated and dejected, Rocky tried to figure out what went wrong. Apollo Creed, his combatant in the prior two Rocky films, gave him this assessment:

“You used to have the eye of the tiger. You used to be hungry to win. You used to have the want-to. You used to be willing to pay the price to train. You used to fight with abandonment. You used to. But winning led to fame, and fame led to affluence, and affluence led to indulgence, and self-indulgence led to weakness, and weakness led to defeat.”

That is a perfect description of the church in Laodicea. And it may be an accurate diagnosis for our spiritual condition today.

HALFTIME SPEECH: CONVICTION, COURAGE, AND HOPE

This Sunday we turn the final corner in the Christian liturgical year with the start of a new worship series on the book of Revelation. Beneath the wild imagery and cryptic language, there is a vital message for each of us: Don’t give up. Get fired up. Stay true to your convictions, strengthen your commitment to Jesus, and hang in there. Things may look difficult now, but God is in this with you.

The book of Revelation is less like a futuristic prediction of the end of time, and more like a coach giving a fiery pep talk to a team down at half-time. You may feel down and dejected, down by several touchdowns. But imagine yourself in the end zone at the end of the game, scoring the winning touchdown, holding the trophy up high. This can be your future, and I am going to lead you there. Now, all you have to do is take the field. Go out and execute the plan. Do what you know how to do. And don’t give up.

All of us can use that kind of rousing motivation to kick our spiritual lives to the next level and help us not lose hope. That’s what the book of Revelation is all about, and that’s why this new worship series is so important. Join us for these next three weeks, and discover how not to be chicken noodle iced tea soup.

Grace and Peace,
Magrey

 

 

Lessons From The Saints

Lessons From The Saints

Nov. 2, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

There, so far as is allowed us, when we are gathered together in exultation and joy, the Lord will enable us to celebrate the birthday of the martyrs, both for the memory of those who have contended, and for the exercise and preparation of those to come.

This passage, written by an unknown author, is part of The Martyrdom of Polycarp, one of the earliest eyewitness accounts of Christianity during the age of persecution. Written in the second century, the work gives us insight into how early in the church’s infancy the lives of saints were venerated, long before canonization.

This Sunday is All Saints’ Sunday, commonly observed throughout the church for us to “gather together in exultation and joy” and give thanks for those who have gone before us. Over the next few days, I also hope you’ll take a moment to remember that your very existence on earth, as well as your unique qualities, are the sum result of countless people who have forged the course of your life. Find an opportunity to remember by name those whom you claim as ancestors, both by lineage and by influence. Say a prayer of thanks for dearly departed family members, faith founders, and spiritual companions who make you who you are today.

The words of Polycarp also encourage us to exercise and prepare for our own journey toward holiness. Since we are in the wake of our annual stewardship campaign and last weekend’s commitment Sunday, I explored what some of our spiritual ancestors said about discipleship, commitment, and stewardship. Consider how each statement might challenge you to live your life in full obedience and surrender to God:

Be not anxious about what you have, but about what you are. – Gregory the Great

For those in the married state, the best example we can cite is that of St. Joachim and St. Anne, who every year divided their income into three equal parts. One was for the poor, the second for the temple and the divine service, and the third for themselves. – Ignatius of Loyola

If everyone would take only according to his needs and would leave the surplus to the needy, no one would be rich, no one poor, no one in misery. – Basil the Great

It would be considered a theft on our part if we didn’t give to someone in greater need than we are. – St. Francis of Assisi

It is well known that I had neither riches, nor talent, nor external charm, but I have always loved, and I have loved with all the strength of my heart. – Mary Euphrasia Pelletier

Here is a rule for everyday life: Do not do anything which you cannot offer to God. – St. John Vianney

God has no need of your money, but the poor have. You give it to the poor, and God receives it. – St. Augustine

True humility consists in not presuming on our own strength, but in trusting to obtain all things from the power of God. – St. Thomas Aquinas

I invite you to re-read and reflect on each of these quotes, and be open to how the Spirit might lead you to a deeper commitment to Christ and a fuller reorientation of your relationship with your finances and material possessions. If you haven’t yet made your financial pledge to God’s mission at Hyde Park United Methodist, you can do so efficiently and confidentially by clicking on this linkThank you to the nearly 300 people who have already turned in their commitments over the past three weeks, putting us ahead of last year’s response rate. You, too, can be part of the Spirit’s momentum as we move forward together.

I hope you’ll join us this Sunday in person or online for our annual All Saints’ observance. We’ll remember those in our church family who have died over the past year, with the reciting of their name, the ringing of a bell, and the lighting of a candle. And, we’ll gather around the communion table, observing together the mysterious shroud of saints that accompany us on the journey.

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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

Top Ten Lessons Learned From Northern Ireland

Top Ten Lessons Learned From Northern Ireland

October 26, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Last week, I spent time with clergy from the Florida Annual Conference and the faculty of Candler School of Theology studying the history of “The Troubles” and its ongoing difficulties in Northern Ireland.

Much of what we learned about the conflict is applicable to our own legacy of slavery in the United States, as well as our deep divides over politics, economic disparity, and LGBTQ inclusion. The following is a ten-point summary of my key learnings and hopes for the future, as I return home to ministry with you.

1. IDENTITY — the deepest and most difficult conflicts are ones based on identity, not just on ideology, dogma, or political allegiance. The struggle between the Unionists (loyal to Britain) and the Nationalists (seeking freedom from Britain) is not just based on what they believe, but on who they are at their core, as they see the other side as a threat to their own personhood.

2. EMPATHY — The most important means toward reconciliation and non-violence is empathy, respect, and listening. It is the ability to say, “We may not agree. But I respect your point of view, and I trust you respect mine, as we learn to see through each other’s eyes.”

3. STORYTELLING — The chief way to cultivate empathy is through the sharing of personal narrative. It is based on the realization that there is not just one way to describe the present, but multiple narratives. When we allow for the mutual sharing of those stories with authenticity and vulnerability, and without defensiveness, then healing can begin.

4. MEMORY — Just like there is not one way to describe the present, there is not just one way to describe the past. There is not one history, but many ways to view and experience that history. We must summon the work of our historians to reveal truths about our history that are too easily concealed, so that we can widen our perspectives beyond those that reinforce our beliefs.

5. RHETORIC — Language matters. As Gary Mason has often reminded us, though there is no longer violence in Northern Ireland committed with a gun, there is still violence committed with the tongue. The language we use to describe issues of conflict can cause harm, even unintentionally. Subtle choices of word usage can have profound impact. We must be careful how we phrase our thoughts and positions.

6. FORGIVENESS — Often it is difficult, even impossible, to forgive in the conventional sense of “forgiving and forgetting.” The way forward is not through amnesia of the past, but in choosing to not let the pain of the past dictate one’s choices in the present or one’s hope in the future. Instead of “forgive and forget,” we might “forgive by moving forward.”

7. PEACE — True and lasting peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but a commitment over the long haul that leads to justice and equality. The Good Friday Agreement led to an end of physical violence, but even twenty years later, there is ongoing work to nurture peace through political means. But even when political processes fail, as is the case now in Northern Ireland’s current impasse, peace is possible when individuals and communities learn to relate beyond their differences.

8. LEADERSHIP — Peace happens through leadership. It happens when a network of influential advocates for peace work together across the divide to create a shared future and lead their own peers toward resolution. The church must be among the leaders who guide the community in crafting a shared vision of the future, based on God’s inclusive love and grace.

9. HOPE — God is doing a new thing in Northern Ireland, and it should inspire us to see possibilities of God’s reconciling work in our own polarized country. The church is called to be that conduit of healing in our communities, as we call people to repentance of injustice and inequality, and then bear witness to the hope that comes through Jesus Christ. Our prayer ought not to be, “God, grant me a vision for my church,” but “God, grant me a vision for your world, that your church may help bring it to reality.”

10. PARTNERSHIP — On a personal note, I am amazed by the leadership in this Florida Annual Conference, and am privileged to be among such gifted clergy and lay people. I’m grateful for the vision of Bishop Ken Carter to create this experience, and for Bill Barnes, Anne Burkholder, and Clarke Campbell-Evans who made this trip a reality.

Most of all, I am immeasurably grateful for the kinship of my traveling companions, many of whom are my closest and dearest friends in the ministry. I constantly admire and learn from them, and have great hope for how this experience will shape our shared ministry in the future.

I continue to be excited for our future together at Hyde Park, as we discern the vision God has for our community and our world. Let us work together to bring that vision into reality.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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


THIS SUNDAY: STORIES FROM OUR FUTURE

Join us as we conclude our worship series “Making God’s Love Real” with a celebration of all that God will accomplish in our future together. We invite you to turn in your financial commitment cards, which are available in the Sanctuary or online. Your pledges are critical in helping our Committee on Finance make responsible plans for ministries and programs over the upcoming year. Thank you!


THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION’S 500th ANNIVERSARY

This Sunday marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517. For a wonderful reflection on the impact of the Reformation today, I invite you to read Bishop Ken Carter’s sermon from last Sunday, which he preached as part of our trip to Northern Ireland, at Knock Methodist Church in Belfast.

Midweek Message: Claiming Our Vision

Midweek Message: Claiming Our Vision

Dear Hyde Park Family,

In case you missed it in worship last Sunday, the big announcement in my sermon was that we are starting a year-long visioning process in the church that will clarify the long-term strategic vision for this congregation. I invite you to watch the whole sermon here.

It was 25 years ago that Jim Harnish arrived to be the senior pastor that God had called to help this church discern its mission and vision. Shortly after his arrival, he and a gifted team of lay people called the 21st Century Task Force began a process of discerning this church’s mission, vision, and core values, and constructed a plan that would revitalize our programming, facilities, and witness to the world. Years later, we did that work again, in the form of the Acts 2 Task Force, which laid the groundwork for our discipleship pathway and the ministry at The Portico.

It is time to claim God’s vision for this church again.

Because when you think about it, much has changed in our world over these past 25 years. Our culture views religion with great skepticism at best, or downright disdain at worst. GenXers and Millennials together make up most of the population today, and bring with them an attitude of indifference toward the church. And the strategies that might have worked for the church in the world twenty-five years ago may be marginally effective today.

So, on October 1, at our annual church conference, this church voted to ask God to open our eyes to our future.

We approved the start of an intensive, comprehensive visioning process that will be led by a team of fourteen lay people, Rev. Kim Uchimura, and myself. It’s a team that will spend hours of time, with multiple meetings per month for a year or more, working together to help us all listen to God, to each other, and to the community around us.

Scott Meckley, Co-Chair
Cheryl Parrish, Co-Chair
Tom Aitken
Doretha Edgecomb
Eric Adams
Corry Maguire
Whitney Smith
David Burns
Nic Glover
Mary Lou Compton
Ericka Franz
Jess Johnson
Keather Snyder
Ted Kempton
Magrey deVega
Kim Uchimura

We will do a complete assessment of our programs, ministries, personnel, properties, and facilities, and then construct a long-term strategic plan for church-wide approval next year. Together, we will implement the plan and shape the future God has for us.

Your participation in this process will be critical. The team may be asking you to respond to a comprehensive congregational survey over the next few months. It is likely you will be invited to participate in a feedback group, or a listening session, at the beginning and at the end of this process.

So here’s your first assignment. If someone were to write a headline about this church 25 years from now, what do you think that headline would say? If a newspaper, or TV anchor, or online journalist were to write a headline about Hyde Park United Methodist Church, what do you imagine it might say?

Share that headline with the team by emailing it to info@hydeparkumc.org, or write in on your connection card in worship on Sunday, or simply send it via social media using the hashtag #HydeParkUMC.

Second, please be in prayer for this process, every step of the way. Pray for the members of the vision team, the full engagement by the congregation, and that we will all be attentive to the Spirit throughout the whole process. In fact, if you are interested in being part of a special team whose sole task will be to offer targeted prayers related to specific aspects of the visioning process along the way, please let me know.

These are exciting and critical days to be the church, as we call out to God to open our eyes and claim our future together.

Grace and Peace,

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


THANKS FOR HELPING US CATCH UP
With Hurricane Irma’s arrival a month ago, we needed to cancel worship on September 10. That, of course, means a Sunday without our usual collection of tithes and offerings, so we are grateful for all those who can catch up on their pledged financial commitments, or even give a little extra to help cover what would otherwise have been contributed as loose plate, non-pledged offering. Thank you, as always, for your faithful and diligent support of the mission of the church.


MIDWEEK MESSAGE RETURNS NOVEMBER 2
I will be traveling with a group of clergy to Northern Ireland from Oct. 16 to 23, to study peace and reconciliation with Rev. Gary Mason. I appreciate prayers for our safe travels, and for our families who remain while we are gone. I will be resuming the Midweek Message on Thursday, Nov. 2.


 

MidWeek Message: Lost For Words

MidWeek Message: Lost For Words

October 5, 2017

Dear Hyde Park Family,

“In utter loneliness, a writer tries to explain the inexplicable.”
– John Steinbeck

Since last Sunday night’s horrifying shooting in Las Vegas, I have felt abandoned by words.

Why did the shooter do it? we ask. We think somehow that by discovering his motivations, we will not excuse his actions, but we will at least rationalize them in our minds. If he was radicalized by ISIS … if he was suffering from mental illness … if he was politically motivated… . We think if we can answer that question, we can then assign a solution, and thereby point a finger. Tighter gun control restrictions. More funding for mental health care. Less polarization in our political rhetoric.

It’s true that our politicians need to have a robust and comprehensive debate about sensible gun legislation in our country. It’s also true that laws can only shape behavior, but they cannot transform sinfulness in the human heart. And I think it is ultimately true that in the wake of such tragedy, our nature is to shift quickly to diagnosis and jump to prescription, in the hopes that we are correct in both.

Maybe that is why I feel at such a loss for words.

After this last month, our country has been subjected to one national Rorschach ink blot after another, each one eliciting opposing opinions, exposing deep divides in our social fabric. The people suffering in Puerto Rico. The latest efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The people kneeling during our national anthem. The debate over LGBTQ inclusion in the United Methodist Church. Each week, another ink blot, and another reminder of how polarized we are.

Steinbeck was right. In that loneliness, we struggle to explain the inexplicable. Perhaps that is why this past week the only thing I felt I could do was lament.


THE TIME I BROKE THE HOUSE

I remember that when I was about ten years old, I was horsing around with my two younger brothers in our home. My parents had just spent a sizable amount of money adding an extension to our house, and my brothers and I were running around our brand-new living room, pretending to be ninjas.

We play-punched and karate-kicked, whooped and ran, turning the whole room into a Bruce Lee film soundstage. And in one moment of sheer stupidity, I ran toward one of the walls and kicked at it, resulting in a large, two-foot crack in the freshly painted dry wall.

I froze. I stared at the wall, incredulous at what I had just done. My brothers took off running to hide in their bedrooms. My dad would return from work in two hours, and my mind scrambled for a way to explain what had happened. Dad, it was an accident … Dad, I don’t know how this happened … Dad, it was my brothers’ idea … Dad, I didn’t kick it that hard …

I was alone, trying to explain the inexplicable.

It was then that I realized I couldn’t. I could neither excuse nor rationalize my behavior. I had been careless and thoughtless. I had broken the house. And all I could do in that moment, all alone, staring at that wall, was cry. For a good two hours, I choked back tears.


A CALL TO LAMENT

When Rev. Gary Mason was with us earlier in the year, he said that the church would do well to reclaim the biblical practice of lamentation. He spoke from a lifetime of working toward peace and reconciliation between people mired in religious and sectarian conflict, and he reminded us that no sure and lasting peace can be forged without first acknowledging the brokenness of our world, and naming the anguish we feel in contributing to it. The Bible is full of vivid examples of lamentation:

  • Job: “Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11)
  • The prophet Jeremiah: “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable?” (Jeremiah 15:18)
  • The Psalmist: “My soul, too, is utterly terrified; but you, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:4)
  • Bartimaeus, the blind beggar: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” (Mark 10:47)
  • Even Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

You may feel at a loss for words, just like I do. If so, then I suggest that until the words come, until the best explanations and prescriptions are clear, and until the fog that seems to have blanketed our eyes begins to lift, you spend some time in lament. Allow the anguish. Permit the pain. Feel the frustration.

No, we did not cause the hurricanes to hit or earthquakes to strike. No, we do not have full control over the dysfunctions in Washington, D.C. No, we did not pull the trigger in Las Vegas. But we can allow ourselves to bemoan all the brokenness, and we would do well to echo together the very thing I felt when I kicked that crack in the wall:

“Father, we have broken your house. And we are so sorry.”

When my dad came home, the moment he walked through the front door, I burst out in tears. I admitted my fears and my guilt, my sadness for ruining the new wall, my disappointment in myself. I walked my dad over to the crack and showed it to him, bracing for what I was certain would be a stern and immediate paddling.

Instead, as I was engulfed in sobs, he put his hand on my shoulder. He took a deep breath, and led me over to the dinner table, where my mother had prepared dinner. After we ate, we patched that drywall, then gave it a fresh coat of paint.

He never asked me what happened, or why I did it. Maybe he knew it was an accident, or figured it didn’t matter if it was. Anne Lamott said, “Nothing heals us like letting people know our scariest parts: When people listen to you cry and lament, and look at you with love, it’s like they are holding the baby of you.”

When we lament, we call out to God, revealing the scariest parts of ourselves. And God responds, like a loving parent, looking at us, and “holding the baby of us.”

 

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

 

THIS SUNDAY: A GLIMMER OF HOPE

I hope you’ll join us live or online this Sunday, as I preach an important and hopeful word about the future of this church. Amid such brokenness and bad news, my prayer is that this sermon will raise our eyes and our spirits toward the hopeful future God has for us. It is good to be the church. See you this Sunday. 

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