Ships into Submarines

Ships into Submarines

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Today’s Midweek Message contains a final update and word of celebration about our visioning process, a link to an important announcement video sharing some exciting news, the latest update on resuming indoor ministries on campus, and finally, a personal word from me.

SHIPS INTO SUBMARINES

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was bemoaning the state of the Christian church in our country and our world. It was hard to avoid the statistics of membership decline, the loss of the church’s significance in our culture, and the general indifference people have toward organized religion.

“It feels like a sinking ship,” my friend said.

After a bit of a pause, searching for something to say that was both authentic and hopeful, I replied with a statement that I didn’t quite understand, even as I was saying it.

“Well, maybe the church isn’t a sinking ship, as much as it is God’s way of transforming it into a submarine.”

We looked at each other, my face just as puzzled as his.

Since then, I’ve had a chance to reflect on what I said, and frankly, it seems truer now than when I first said it. What if God is calling the church to change, not just in response to a pandemic (which is temporary) but in order to reach vast oceans of new people? People who live in a culture far below the surface of where the church has been operating? People who live, breathe, and view the world in such a different way that the only way to reach them is through risk and adaptation?

These were the kinds of questions that were in our minds back in 2016, as we laid the groundwork for what would be the start of our visioning process the following year. We then adopted a vision plan in December 2018 that would frame our future around four pillars: 1) deepen the discipleship of our congregation, 2) widen the reach of God’s love to new people, 3) unite together in common purpose, and 4) adapt to changes in our culture.

In 2019, a team of gifted and committed lay people got to work as our Vision Implementation Team, working steadily and deliberately, organizing more than 80 people in 12 initiative teams to fulfill the charge of the vision plan.

And even when the pandemic hit us in early 2020, we were already discovering ways to adapt that would enable us to not only survive but thrive during such a season of uncertainty.

Now, after two years of prayer and hard work, this week our Vision Implementation Team is sharing its final reports, which chronicle all that we have achieved as a church and the exciting plans that will guide us into the future.

You can visit the Vision page of our website, where you will see the report in three forms:

  • A brief, one-page set of bullet points that highlight the results of the Implementation Team’s work;
  • A ten-page executive summary, with further details about each of the initiative teams’ activities and actions;
  • A 70-page full report, with full narratives about the work of each team.

And, you can watch a recently produced 20-minute video that announces many of the exciting changes we are working on as we prepare to return to indoor, in-person ministries.

IN-PERSON UPDATE

Our Executive Team, made up mostly of lay people serving as chairs of our major committees, continues to monitor the latest COVID statistics in our area. Like all of us, the team is happy to see the steady and clear decline in our local positivity rate, which is our chief criteria for deciding when to resume onsite ministries. The rate was 14% last month, is currently between 7-8%, and we are hopeful that it will continue to trend toward the consistent sub-5% threshold advised by the Centers for Disease Control. So, while we can’t yet predict when that will be, we are accelerating our preparations for that joyous return.

A PERSONAL WORD

Oh, friends. I know this has been a long, hard season for all of us. We are all experiencing grief and fear in some way, and adaptive change of any kind is itself a kind of loss. We find ourselves digging for resolve from reserves we never knew we had. That is true for all of us, including myself. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this has been the most challenging season of ministry I have ever faced. But I’m heartened by the thought that we are in this together, praying for each other, working through the hard stuff together, and looking forward to a future with hope. Perhaps John Wesley said it best: “The best of all is, God is with us.”

Grace and peace,

Magrey

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

 

“Letting Go for Lent”

“Letting Go for Lent”

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

Our Lenten worship series is titled “Cultivating and Letting Go,” in which we will explore each week how to cultivate a different aspect of holy character, and how to let go of characteristics that get in the way.

In the spirit of that Lenten theme, I thought it appropriate to reprise a list I wrote for you several years ago, titled, “Ten Other Things You Might Give Up for Lent.” These are loosely based on a personality-type indicator called the Enneagram, which has been inordinately helpful to me over the years.

May this list prompt you toward a holier and healthier life in Christ.

1. Give up the need to be right all the time.

Business author Patrick Lencioni said, “People don’t need to feel like they are right, as much as they need to feel like they’ve been heard.” Yes, claim your voice, assert your convictions, and engage the issues that matter to you. But once you’ve been heard, consider the possibility that you might have something to learn from those who disagree with you. That’s often how we learn our most important lessons in life. (James 1:19)

2. Give up your reluctance to ask for help.

It is true that giving up something for Lent requires discipline, will, and self-mastery. But it also requires the recognition that we cannot always be self-sufficient. You are not superhuman. You do not have inexhaustible reserves. Turn to loved ones for support, seek the wise counsel of others, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. (Psalm 69)

3. Give up your fear of failure.

Mother Theresa said, “God does not call us to be successful; God calls us to be faithful.” You may sometimes gauge your self-worth by what you have achieved and how you have succeeded. You might subconsciously depend on the affirmation of others to feel good about yourself. But your worth does not equal your work, nor are you defined by your failures. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

4. Give up comparing yourself to others.

Forget the Joneses. They are not worth keeping up with. Find contentment in what you have, and in who God has created you to be. You do not need the envious admiration of others. You need not be defined by what you do not have. And you don’t have to evaluate your life in comparison to others. It’s not worth it. (James 4:2-3)

5. Give up the need to have things all figured out.

Dance with your doubts. Embrace mystery. Accept that you do not and cannot know it all. Recognize that some of the greatest things in life are those which cannot be explained or fully understood. Things like God’s love for you, and how God is with you even when you don’t believe it. (Romans 11:33-36)

6. Give up your fears of the future.

I get it. These are frightening times for many people. There is great nervousness about the way things are in the world. And I would guess that you are dealing with fears yourself. We all have our fears, but no one has to be defined by them. God is a God of hope. (Matthew 6:33-34)

7. Give up anesthetizing yourself to pain and suffering.

The long shadow of suffering lingers in many forms: loneliness, grief, abandonment, betrayal. None of us are immune from them, and our instinct is to numb ourselves from the pain, sometimes in self-destructive ways: addictions, accumulating possessions and escapist pleasures, and cocooning ourselves from the rest of the world. These might anesthetize us in the short term, but they prevent us from allowing that pain to help us to stretch, grow, and trust in God. (Romans 5:3-5)

8. Give up the need to be in control.

This one is at the heart of the season of Lent. It is a reminder that we ultimately are not in control of what happens to us. We cannot control others, and we can hardly claim to have full control of ourselves and our future. Let the Covenant Prayer of Wesley be your guide, to remind you that you are not your own; you belong to God. (Matthew 16:24-25)

9. Give up the need to make everyone happy.

It’s not like you can, anyway. You may have a knack for understanding what others want from you, but you must also claim your own convictions and understand your limitations. Your job is not to be all things to all people and please everyone you know. God calls you to live a life of integrity, and God, after all, is the only one you need to please. (Galatians 1:10)

10. Give up all the non-essential noise in your life.

This may be the toughest one of all to give up, but it may be the key to a deeply moving Lenten season for you. Your life is inundated by competing voices and blaring noises from the culture around you. Pay attention to your breath. Take walks. Drive without the radio on. Set the cell phone down when you’re at the family table. Watch less television, and look people in the eye when you talk to them. Most of all, pray to God, “Silence all voices but your own.” Turn down the volume of your life, and connect to a God who knows you better than you know yourself. (Psalm 46:10)

Blessings to you on your Lenten journey!

Magrey

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

 

“A Valentine’s Day Prayer”

“A Valentine’s Day Prayer”

Dear Hyde Park Family,

With Valentine’s Day this Sunday, I wrote this prayer that you might join me in offering to God, seeking blessing on ourselves and those whom we love. Happy Valentine’s Day!

A VALENTINE’S DAY PRAYER

Eternal and Loving God,

In your very being we discover the essence of relational, triune love. You are the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that Flows Between Them. As one created in your image, empower me today to be a person of deeper love, encompassing heart, soul, mind, and strength, both for you and for those around me.

  • Teach me to love those dearest to me, those with whom I am most vulnerable and most guarded. Help us to rebuild trust and authenticity with each other.
  • Enable me to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, that I may share in the reconciling work of Jesus. May the impact of hurtful memories wane over time, along with ill will and resentment of others.
  • Grant me deeper friendships with those who can help me be the best version of myself. May they help me be accountable for my actions, offer me godly advice, and speak the truth to me without judgment.
  • Sharpen my awareness of those who feel unloved and unlovable. Strengthen my resolve to be an agent of hospitality to the lonely, of comfort for the frightened, and mercy for the hurting.
  • Open my heart to a greater sense of your love for me. A love that is tenacious, patient, and unconditional. Remove the barriers that I have erected in my spirit that block the free flow of your love in my life. Work through my doubt, do not be deceived by my pride, and heal me of my guilt and shame.

Loving God, in you I find my truest and best self, as one created in your triune, relational image. Thank you for your grace, and thank you for your love.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Magrey

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

ASH WEDNESDAY NEXT WEDNESDAY

Join us next Wednesday as we begin our Lenten journey, titled “Cultivating and Letting Go.” Our online Ash Wednesday service will broadcast at 6:30 a.m., noon, and 6:30 p.m., on our Facebook page or website.

We will provide the imposition of ashes in person following each of those services, 7 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 7 p.m., at both The Portico location and the Magnolia parking lot of our Hyde Park location.

 

Go Bucs!

Go Bucs!

Dear Hyde Park Family,

With minimal apology to any Chiefs fans out there, what an exciting time for us Buccaneer fans, and for Tampa Bay sports in general!

I’ve lived in this area for most of my life and never thought I would see the day when four – FOUR! – professional sports teams would be in the championship final of their respective sports, all in the same year.

The Lightning won the Stanley Cup, the Rays made it to the World Series, the Rowdies made it to the championship game, and now our Bucs are the first team to ever play a Super Bowl in its home stadium.

We can feel the electricity in the air, and I cannot help as a pastor offering some biblical reflection on what this might mean for us.

EVERY TEAMMATE MAKES A DIFFERENCE

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul equates the church to the human body, in which every person – no matter how seemingly insignificant – has a vital role to play.

Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted.

Imagine, for a moment, how unsuccessful it would be if the Tampa Bay Bucs had nothing but one kind of position player. If the whole team were receivers, where would the running game be? If everyone were a quarterback, who would provide the pass rush?

So it is with the church. You might think yourself to be more inferior than others in the congregation. Maybe you are new to the faith, feel less seasoned, less capable of offering yourself in service to God. But you are a vital part of this team, and working together, we can continue to accomplish great things for Christ.

With all due respect to our professional teams, it’s this one – the people of Hyde Park United Methodist – that is the team I am most proud to be a fan and a part of.

Go team! (And, yes, Go Bucs!)

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

(P.S. And enjoy the collage of our wonderful church staff, proudly displaying their pewter and red!)

As Jesus Taught Us to Pray

As Jesus Taught Us to Pray

Dear Hyde Park Family,

This Sunday, our journey through the Sermon on the Mount takes us to Matthew 6:9-18, and the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray.

Matthew’s version of the Lord’s prayer is longer than Luke’s version, and in my sermon we will discover why the words and phrases that Matthew adds are so significant. Matthew’s version not only takes longer to say; it requires contemplation and reflection. Luke’s version focuses on the verbs, the requests made of God. Matthew’s focuses on reorienting us toward God.

So, to prepare for this Sunday, I invite you to pray the Lord’s prayer, slowly, line by line, reflecting on each phrase. You might use the following as a guide, which I will use to conclude the sermon:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name

Remind me that I am not to pray “My Father,” but “Our Father.” For you do not just belong to me or people who are like me. Remind me that you are bigger than any barrier that divides me from others. And you alone deserve my praise, beyond political ideology or tribal identity.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

Amid the brokenness, evil, and injustice in this world, I desperately seek a glimpse of your kingdom: your kingdom of love, in which voices of prejudice are silenced; your kingdom of grace, in which racist hearts are transformed; your kingdom of peace, in which violent actions are overcome with non-violence. Remind me of how the story of your love ends, how there will be no more mourning or sadness, when people from all over the world will gather to worship you. Now help us see that reality now on earth, as you have promised it would be.

Give us this day our daily bread

I need the sustenance that both comforts and strengthens me today. Grant me the bread that consoles my sadness and quells my fears for this country and its future. Grant me the bread that firms my resolve to resist evil and injustice. Remind me that there are many around me who hunger for the same, and grant me the opportunity to feed them that which I have received from you.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us

Convict me of my own prejudice, prompt me toward confession, and lead me in the tough work of reconciliation. Teach me how to forgive, especially when retribution seems more rewarding. Help me, in the words of Richard Rohr, to overcome the bad with the practice of the better. And may that work begin within my own heart, in the way I see others.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil

Tempt me only to do good and to seek justice, when I am reluctant or fearful. Lure me away from temptations that cause more harm and do not lead to peace. And silence all voices within me but your own, that I may know the difference between the two. May my every action and thought be governed by love, and not driven by my sinful instincts.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever

God, help me to hope. Remind me to seek the glorious eternal in the brokenness of the temporal. Focus my eyes on your power and glory, that I might believe in the strength of your grace, even when adversity afflicts us. Remind me that my primary citizenship is in your kingdom, which is greater than any tribe, higher than any flag, and most deserving of my allegiance.

And let all God’s people say,

Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

Faith and Politics … Again

Faith and Politics … Again

Dear Hyde Park Family,

At noon today, Joe Biden will be inaugurated as our 46th president. To mark this occasion and to invite you into a spirit of prayerful reflection, the rest of today’s Midweek Message is a near-exact reprint of my message four years ago, essentially just swapping the name of Donald Trump for Joe Biden.

From the Midweek Message, Jan. 19, 2017:

I recognize that this particular inauguration is greeted by a country that is deeply polarized, and a Hyde Park congregation that represents the wide spectrum of political and ideological convictions. It might therefore seem foolhardy for me to attempt to address the relationship between faith and politics, at a time when discussing both seems hopelessly toxic. In the words of Linus Van Pelt to his friend Charlie Brown, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

That’s good advice, especially for a preacher like me who ought to remember that he has no formal training in political, economic, or sociological theories that would warrant more credibility in this discussion. But what I am is a trained theologian and a student of the Bible, called to speak into the moment as part of the same spiritual lineage as biblical prophets and priests.

But first, let me speak as a mere citizen of this country. Starting today, Joe Biden will be our next President. To question his legitimacy in office would be to undermine the tenets of our free democracy, and would be a sore reflection of those who questioned the legitimacy of his predecessor. Now is not the time for name-calling or wishing the new President failure. I, for one, hope he makes good on promises to expand economic prosperity for the most vulnerable, to increase access to health care for all people, and to do everything to “promote the general welfare,” as it says in our Constitution’s Preamble. Hoping for the failure of a political party at the expense of the wellbeing of the country is, in my view, unpatriotic and antithetical to responsible citizenship. With you, I am called to pray for this president, just as we have been called to pray for past presidents.

Now, as a minister and resident theologian of this congregation, the inevitable question is whether a preacher or church ought to have a voice in matters of politics and public policy. There are some who believe that the separation of church and state means that preachers should not talk about politics, that faith and politics should have nothing to do with each other. They might assert that Jesus’ teachings dwelt entirely in the realm of the spiritual and personal, rather than with the political.

However, I am reminded that to interpret the life and teachings of Jesus as completely apolitical would be a misunderstanding of the world in which he lived, and the context that shaped him and the earliest Christians. Jesus was immersed in the complicated political structures of his day. He was surrounded by the dichotomy of haves and have-nots. He ministered to people who were marginalized by society. Jesus’ every word and action were performed in a grand political matrix of Roman and Jewish relations. To claim the incarnation is to believe that Jesus experienced all the complexity of being human in the world, including the political. Yes, it is true that Jesus did not march into Jerusalem with an army to overthrow Rome, which is an argument many make in trying to domesticate Jesus from his political context. But that’s a different argument altogether.

1. Indeed, the church and political power should never mix. Those two have always been disastrous bedmates. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the support of slavery, and the subjugation of women are just a few examples of how a fusion between the church and political power only winds up corrupting both and enhancing neither.

2. Neither should religion and partisan politics mix. Nowhere do we get the sense that Jesus would have been a Democrat or a Republican. The point of the gospels is not to bow allegiance toward one political party over the other, for to squeeze such a political endorsement out of Jesus would be a gross profaning of the Scriptures. In the words of a popular bumper sticker advanced years ago by the Christian group Sojourners, “God is not a Republican or a Democrat.”

3. But with those caveats in mind, the biblical witness is consistently clear: we are not only permitted, but encouraged, to have a voice in political matters. Some of the Bible’s strongest and clearest indictments came from prophets who spoke out against people who were abusing their political power for personal privilege. Nathan confronted King David. Elijah took on Ahab and Jezebel. Jesus questioned Pilate about truth. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., the church is neither the master nor the servant of the state, but the “conscience” of the state.

What does that mean? It means being unafraid to speak biblical and kingdom truth to earthly powers, whether they be presidents, governors, mayors, or any other institution of government. It means advocating positions that are not exclusively or even primarily partisan in nature, but rooted in the Bible’s vision for God’s kingdom on earth.

  • It means taking seriously biblical mandates like Micah 6:8, to promote justice, mercy, and humility throughout our community.
  • It means building societies that reflect Jesus’ command in Luke 10:27 to love God and our neighbor.
  • It means advocating for the welfare of the hungry, the naked, the poor, and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:35-40)
  • It means viewing the Beatitudes as more than just about personal relationships, but also creating societies where the poor, the meek, the mourning, and the persecuted are blessed, where those seeking justice are satisfied, and where peacemaking is a shared virtue. (Matthew 5:3-11)
  • It means shaping a culture where we draw the circle of inclusion wider, to be a living fulfillment of Paul’s reminder that in Christ, there is no “Jew or Gentile, slave or free, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
  • In short, in the words of Michael Slaughter of Ginghamsburg UMC, it means being political without being partisan.

Ultimately, it means becoming a church community that offers an alternate vision of the brokenness of this deeply divided and anxious world. A community of hope that fosters mutual commitment to Christ, an openness to diversity, a respect for one another’s human dignity, and an embodiment of the values of God’s kingdom for all people. In short, it is a community that receives God’s love and makes it real.

Frankly, I am not as much troubled and fearful about this country’s future, as I am more energized by the necessity of the church. Now, as ever, it is good to be the church. And we are each a vital part of it.

So, let us pray for President Biden. But more importantly, let us be the church God has called us to be.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

 

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