My Favorite Old Testament Book

My Favorite Old Testament Book

Dear Hyde Park Family,

I have fond memories of a church member named Mary Carter during my years as an associate pastor here. She was a grand and spunky Southern gem from South Carolina and a member of our Altar Guild. The candles that we light on All Saints’ Sunday were purchased under her direction, and I think about her every time I see them.

Mary and I shared a special connection in our love for the book of Ecclesiastes. We talked about how the book is often misperceived as hopelessly nihilistic, rather than a realistic, relevant, and authentic portrayal of the complexities of the human condition. We agreed that, in each other, we had found a rare, mutual admiration for the book.

One time she came to my office, gift in hand, wanting to talk more about Ecclesiastes. She gave me a beautifully bound, antiquarian copy of a collection of poems called The Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam. “This,” she said, “is one of my favorite books. And it’s just like Ecclesiastes.” She had spent months locating a copy for me. I treasure it to this day.

Kayyam was an eleventh-century Persian astrologer, philosopher, scientist, and poet at heart. The Rubaiyat is his most famous collection of poetry, and his reflections on the pursuit of happiness, and his exploration of wisdom and love to make sense of the world seem to be lifted from the pages of Ecclesiastes itself:

On the Pursuit of Happiness (and Mary’s Love for Good Wine!)

Ecclesiastes 2:1-3: “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.’ But again, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, ‘It is mad,’ and of pleasure, ‘What use is it?’ I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine – my mind still guiding me with wisdom – and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life.”

Rubaiyat XXXIX:
How long, how long, in infinite Pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute?
Better be merry with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

On the Nature of Time and Eternity (and My Favorite Passage in Ecclesiastes)

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13: “God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.”

Rubaiyat XXXVII:
Ah, fill the Cup: – what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet:
Unborn TO-MORROW and dead YESTERDAY,
Why fret about them if TO-DAY be sweet!

On the Finiteness of Life

Ecclesiastes 3:19-20: “For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.”

Rubaiyat XXIV:
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and – sans End!

THIS SUNDAY: ECCLESIASTES

What Mary and I appreciated most about Ecclesiastes is that it challenges us to engage spiritual matters beyond pious platitudes and rote religious formulas. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes serves as our immersion journalist, digging deeply into issues of life and death, hope and despair, promise and pain. What results is a narrative that creates space and freedom for you to face your own skepticism, and perhaps even your cynicism. And it might even suggest to you that the only way to find ultimate meaning and purpose in God is to stretch yourself to the limits of your own humanity.

For all of these reasons, Ecclesiastes is my favorite book in the Old Testament.

I look forward to sharing more insights with you this Sunday, as part of our year through the Bible, and I hope you will join us. Until then, I’ll raise a glass to Mary Carter, giving thanks for the way she modeled how to “eat and drink and take pleasure in all her toil.”

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

INFORMATION SESSION REGARDING WOMEN’S CENTER
This Sunday at 12:15 p.m., there will be an Information Session regarding the potential purchase of the Women’s Center of Hyde Park. It will be an opportunity to hear information about the purchase and to ask questions. Register for the Zoom link.
For those with limited internet capability, there will also be a limited number of seats available in Knox Hall Room 150 to view the online session and to offer questions. You must be well and must submit an RSVP to attend.
A Church Conference has also been scheduled for Thursday, July 9, at 6:30 p.m., to vote on the purchase. For the latest information, click here.
MIDWEEK MESSAGE TO RESUME IN AUGUST
The Midweek Message will take its customary hiatus during the month of July and will resume in August. Please stay in touch with our website and the weekly eHyde Park newsletter for the latest updates and developments regarding church programming.

 

Midweek Message: A Father’s Day Prayer

Midweek Message: A Father’s Day Prayer

Dear Hyde Park Family,

This Sunday, we join with you and your loved ones in celebrating the fathers and father figures in our lives. May it be a day of remembrance and gratitude for all of you.

In the spirit of a prayer for Mother’s Day I wrote a few years ago, I offer this prayer to guide your thoughts and feelings as we observe this day. I recognize that for some, this is a day of joy and gladness. For others, it brings a sense of grief, regret, and even anger, as a result of past pain or loss.

Whatever this day might bring you, let us lift them to God in prayer together.

A Father’s Day Prayer

God of Power, Provision and Unfailing Love,

We come to you in gratitude, as children before a loving parent whose gifts are always good and perfect. In you we are knit together as one human family, created in your image, and made to love and serve in your likeness. We celebrate how your divine love is reflected in our human expressions of parenthood and family.

We thank you for fathers. We are grateful for the role they play in guiding those entrusted in their care, providing for their needs, and shaping their character and behavior. Grant them strength for their daily tasks, wisdom in the lessons they teach, patience in their shaping of conscience and character, and love in all they do and say.

We thank you for all father figures – grandfathers and uncles, brothers and husbands, teachers and friends, and all those who sacrifice daily for those in their charge. Grant them grace in their speech and their deeds, that others may see you through them.

We remember, O God, that amid our gratitude, this day also brings a restlessness in our spirit, as we acknowledge feelings that are more difficult to name and bear.

For those who mourn the loss of their fathers, especially those for whom this is their first Father’s Day since their loved one’s death, grant your peace and a renewed sense of the resurrection. Fill their emptiness with love, and their future with hope.

For those who are reminded daily of their own biological inability to conceive, those struggling to adopt, and those who have suffered the loss of a child, draw them especially close to your heart. May their process of grief be filled with grace. Surround them with loving community, and reveal to them creative and dynamic ways to leave a legacy beyond their years.

For those whose memories of their fathers elicit pain, suffering and anger, grant your spirit of healing within their hearts. Open new pathways toward forgiveness of self and others, and a persistent work toward reconciliation and wholeness.

Ultimately, we give you thanks for fathers at all stages of life. For new fathers braving the new world of parenthood, for seasoned fathers guiding their children into adulthood, for empty nesters rediscovering who they are, for children of aging parents who must develop new ways to love and care, and for fathers in the twilight of their years, that they might face the unknown with courage and assurance.

In every season of life, we rely on you and your tender, guiding hand through every high and low. May we always come to you with a child-like spirit of wonder, humility, and obedience, that we may fully live into the potential that you have created in us.

For you are our heavenly father and mother to us all, and we give you thanks.

In the name of Jesus, who called you, “Abba, Father,”

Amen

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

UPDATED INFORMATION ON POTENTIAL PROPERTY PURCHASE
Click here for the latest, most updated information regarding the possible purchase of the Women’s Center of Hyde Park. There will be a church-wide Information Session at 12:15 p.m. Sunday, June 28, and a Church Conference on at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 9. Stay tuned for more details on those two meetings.

Midweek Message: Seven Things God Hates

Midweek Message: Seven Things God Hates

Dear Hyde Park Family,

I invite you to read to the end of today’s Midweek Message, for the latest information about our guidelines for resuming on-campus ministries, as well as an important announcement about the potential purchase of additional property for the church.

SEVEN THINGS GOD HATES

Before there was David Letterman’s “Top Ten Lists,” and before there were viral, click-bait lists on Buzzfeed.com, there were biblical passages like Proverbs 6:16-19, our daily reading last Monday as part of our year-long Bible Project 2020. And as I shared last week, these Proverbs come to us at just the right time.

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that hurry to run to evil, a lying witness who testifies falsely, and one who sows discord in a family.”

Unlike many other lists in the Bible that focus on holy and righteous spiritual traits, this one describes the shadow of sin within us all, which we would not readily acknowledge but eventually come to light.

So, the simple question today is this: Which of these areas do you need to confront and confess?

1. “Haughty Eyes”

Pride is a stealthy sin. It convinces us that we know more than we think we do, and that our opinions are better than everyone else’s. In this season of a pandemic and racial injustice, we need to practice more curiosity and humility, and much less blustery bravado, in our approach to problems. We don’t know it all.

2. “A Lying Tongue”

I doubt that anyone in this church regularly lies on purpose. We do our best to speak the truth, as we understand it. But in a world driven by interactions on social media, this phrase reminds us to be mindful of where we get our information, to make sure that what we share is factual and from a reputable source. Make fact-checking a regular practice.

3. “Hands that Shed Innocent Blood”

The death of George Floyd is further evidence of systemic injustice and racism built into our communities and our nation. For many of us, the swing of emotions has included grief, anger, worry, and helplessness. For those feeling called to channel those feelings into action, please read about our new Justice Group at the end of this message.

4. “A Heart that Devises Wicked Plans”

In the Bible, the word heart refers to the entirety of one’s being, not just one’s emotions or feelings. This phrase reminds us that we are not merely to do good works; we should do them out of a holy and pure motivation. That requires self-reflection, humility, and a penitent spirit. What’s your motivation?

5. “Feet that Hurry to Run to Evil”

By this point in the passage, we’ve been given a lesson in human anatomy. Eyes, tongue, hands, heart … and now we get to feet. It is our feet that carry us to perform acts of sin. But it’s more than that. The word admonition of hurrying underscores the need for self-control and self-discipline. We cannot escape the emotions we feel. But we can certainly control how we express them.

6. “A Lying Witness Who Testifies Falsely”

And there it is again. Of the seven things that God hates, lying is the only one to appear twice. It’s that important to tell the truth, and it’s that elusive to keep doing so. Being truthful in what we say, how we act, and the sources from which we draw our information – these all require regular, diligent attention.

7. “One Who Sows Discord in a Family”

Often in the Bible, the number seven suggests finality and completion. The fact that this one is the seventh item on the list suggests that this is the most difficult, and most important, quality to maintain.

In such a deeply polarized world, and in a time when our prejudice and institutionalized oppression would tear us further apart from each other, we are ultimately reminded that the greatest way to be part of God’s redemptive work is to participate in reconciliation.

NEW JUSTICE GROUP

To that end, we are grateful for the creation of a new group in the church that focuses on advocacy and awareness of issues of justice in our community. It is simply called our “Justice Group,” and it helps people get involved in three ways: 1) Participate in the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality, (HOPE) 2) Serve on a team to plan justice-related gatherings in the church, and 3) Engage in learning groups about racial reconciliation and other justice topics.

To learn more about this new group, along with HOPE, there will be an information session at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, June 22. The meeting will last 30-45 minutes and will introduce people to the ministry, its leaders, and how to get involved. To get the zoom link, email Ann Pointer. And for more information, contact Justin LaRosa.

Yes, these continue to be difficult and unsettling days. But the book of Proverbs reminds us that God will give us just enough wise instruction and strength of spirit to be the people we are called to be. It is still good to be the church.

See you Sunday!

Magrey

GUIDELINES FOR RESUMING ONSITE PROGRAMS AND MINISTRIES

As more establishments begin to resume operation in our community, we want to share with you the general guidelines created by our key lay leaders in determining when and how to gradually resume onsite programs and ministries. Go to our website to read more, including the names of those in our leadership team, important resources for further reading, and an email link to offer your comments and questions.

POTENTIAL PURCHASE OF THE WOMEN’S CLINIC OF HYDE PARK

The Trustees have moved through a due diligence period in evaluating the church’s potential purchase of the Women’s Center of Hyde Park. Leadership teams have created an information summary [PROVIDE LINK] that addresses key questions regarding the possible purchase. Stay tuned for updates on upcoming information sessions, and a possible Church Conference in July in which church members would vote on the sale. For comments or questions, email property@hydeparkumc.org.

Midweek Message: Wisdom for Difficult Days

Midweek Message: Wisdom for Difficult Days

Dear Hyde Park Family,

These have been very difficult days, on top of very difficult weeks. We join lamenting the tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, along with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and the countless other African Americans and persons of color who have suffered under further evidence of systemic racism and violence in the country.

My attempts to give language to the moment have come in the form of this statement I shared at the top of the worship service last Sunday, which includes a prayer you might offer today. Last Monday, my Facebook devotional offered a time of prayer and reflection.

Ultimately, it is appropriate to feel at a loss for words – not just because of the gravity of the moment, but because we also ought to be speaking less and listening more to the voices of the oppressed. I invite you to look for ways to do that in the weeks and months ahead.

PAST OR FUTURE?

A few days ago, as my daughter Grace and I were processing all that was happening, she asked me, “Dad, if you had a time machine right now, would you choose to go back in time, or forward into the future?”

It was such a simple question, and I was surprised at how hard it was to answer. Would we want to go back in time, before this pandemic started, before all of the sadness and unrest of this past week? Or would we want to skip past it all and get 2020 over with already?

I suppose one could make the argument both ways, but neither option is really better. Why go back to the past, when things weren’t all that great either, only to have to relive what we’ve been going through? And why skip to the future, which likely has its own unique struggles to face?

How would you answer that question?

Eventually, I concluded that as hard as this present might be, the best option is to stay in the moment and live fully into it. It means leaning into both the beauty and the pain, especially when the two are one and the same. It means choosing to live the wise life, with integrity, courage, humility, and wisdom.

Even in uncertain times, we can remain certain in our commitments.

WISDOM LITERATURE IN THE BIBLE

I think that’s why the Wisdom Literature in the Bible comes to us at such a perfect time.

The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon are not about the past, nor are they about the future. They come after the historical books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, and they come before the futuristic visions of the prophets. They are about how to live right now, amid the difficulties of the present moment.

As we read through Proverbs and Ecclesiastes this month as part of our ongoing Bible Project 2020, we have been given the perfect gift at just the right time: insight into how to live fully in the present moment. With all of the pain and suffering and heartache we are experiencing right now, it is good to hear these words.

  • “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” (Proverbs 1:5) These words encourage us to educate ourselves about systemic racism and injustice to persons of color.
  • “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2) Let’s remember that it is better to speak less and listen more to people who are different from ourselves.
  • “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge.” (Proverbs 14:7) Choose reputable sources for your information. Separate fact from opinion. And seek knowledge with curiosity and humility.
  • “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.” (Proverbs 16:8) Wealth is meaningless unless it is balanced with a commitment to justice, equality, and human dignity.

These texts are all part of our new worship series, “The Wise Life,” which starts this Sunday. Join us as we read through the powerful words of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, which also happens to be my favorite Old Testament book.

These are indeed difficult days. But the Wisdom Literature comes to us at just the right time. Let us rely on God’s strength and courage to live fully in the moment, together.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

#HydeParkUMC #MidweekMessage

Midweek Message: “Spirit Shower”

Midweek Message: “Spirit Shower”

Dear Hyde Park Family,

The greatest Pentecost hymn you’ve never heard of was written by Dr. Henry More, an 18th century British theologian that one contemporary called “the most holy man he ever knew.” One of his poems caught the attention of a young Anglican preacher named John Wesley, who included it in the very first hymn book that he and his brother Charles put together for the people called Methodist. Note the vivid imagery and rich descriptions of the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

You may choose to hum these lyrics to the tune of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or the “Old 100th” Doxology:

“On the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost”

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.

Yea, let Thy Spirit in every place
Its richer energy declare;
While lovely tempers, fruits of grace,
The kingdom of Thy Christ prepare.

Grant this, O holy God and true!
The ancient seers Thou didst inspire;
To us perform the promise due;
Descend, and crown us now with fire!

You can almost feel the intense heat and the bracing winds, as if we were with the first Christians 2,000 years ago. But here is where the story gets really interesting. John Wesley, always the consummate perfectionist, did a bit of tinkering to Henry More’s original poem, and inserted two verses of his own in the original 1739 songbook:

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 head.

Our claim admit, and from above
Of holiness the Spirit shower.
Of wise discernment, humble love,
And zeal and unity and power.

For John Wesley, it was not enough to simply observe the presence of the Holy Spirit among us. He also believed that Pentecost requires us to participate in the Spirit’s work. Because of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to follow Jesus with the same five-fold commitment expressed in the last two lines: wise discernment, humble love, zeal, unity, and power.

So, as we pray for another “Spirit Shower” at Pentecost this Sunday, ask yourself: How are you measuring up to those five standards?

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

#HydeParkUMC #MidweekMessage

Midweek Message: “A Special Update and Thank You”

Midweek Message: “A Special Update and Thank You”

These have been unsettling days for our country and our world, and we are likely still months, rather than weeks, from resuming on-campus ministries, which I will discuss more in a moment. But God continues to do amazing things through this church, as many of you continue to be part of its story through your prayers, your efforts, and your financial support.

  • Our livestream worship services minister to over 1,200 real-time worshippers every week, and this most recent Easter, we had nearly 3,500 joining us in celebrating the resurrection.
  • Our Missions and Outreach ministry continues to serve our homeless guests through Open Arms every week, and has contributed time and support to our partner school at Dunbar Elementary.
  • Ministries to children, youth, and adults continue to engage people of all ages online, with creativity and excellence. We have 45 small groups that meet as part of our Bible Project 2020, and our Bible Project podcast now has over 2,700 active listeners and 50,000 unique downloads of our episodes across the country.
  • Our clergy team provides daily Facebook Live devotions and midday meditations, and our congregational care team continues to check on those who are homebound and isolated.
  • Our Little Dresses sewing ministry has now made over 2,000 masks and distributed them grateful health care workers in our area.
  • Our Portico Café now sells its delicious coffee products online, with free local delivery, and has reopened for takeout and outdoor dining.
  • And as always, you have been a part of it through your financial support. Because of your faithful generosity, and our staff’s trimming of expenses not currently needed for on-campus programming, we continue to be in stable and steady financial shape, under the weekly oversight of key lay leaders in this church.

God promises to provide us with just enough of what we need. And that faithfulness will continue to lead us, even into a future in which we are not yet certain when we can return to on-campus programming.

Our key lay and staff leaders are in regular conversation with county public health officials, denominational leaders, and professional consultants in discerning a timeline for returning. Even as retail and recreational establishments begin to reopen, our foremost concern with your safety and your comfort – and considering the size of our church – means that we are likely still months, rather than weeks, from resuming on-campus ministries.

Church leaders have now established protocols for monitoring health conditions in our community, deciding when and how to return, and the best practices to put in place when we do. It is likely that returning to campus will not happen all at once, or exactly as it was before. But if there is anything that we have learned about God these last few months, it is that God is making all things new, and our future is as bright as ever.

And I think it’s even more exciting, as we claim the promise of Isaiah 43:19: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun!” Because of your prayers, your faithfulness, and your support, you continue to be part of the new thing God is doing. Thank you for all that you continue to do to be the church for such a time as this.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

#HydeParkUMC #MidweekMessage

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