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Welcome Back, Bernie!

Dear Hyde Park Family,

It is with great joy that the Staff-Parish Relations Committee welcomes back the Rev. Bernie Lieving to our staff, beginning August 1. For many in this church, Bernie is no stranger, having served here as an Associate Pastor from 1994 to 2013. He returns to serve as our Parish Associate, working primarily as part of Rev. Sally Campbell-Evans’ ministry of Congregational Care. He will occasionally participate in worship leadership.

Bernie was born and raised in West Virginia, and grew up in the United Brethren tradition, which led to the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and ultimately, the United Methodist Church in 1968. He reflects a rich part of our spiritual heritage as United Methodists, along with nearly three decades of service as a Chaplain in the United States Army.

After leaving as an Associate Pastor in 2013, Bernie served on the clergy team at Palma Ceia Methodist, and most recently as the interim Senior Pastor at Land O’Lakes United Methodist. In 2015, he married Cindy Lieving, who has been an active part of our church. For 54 years, Bernie was married to Dorothy Lieving, who started our Peanut Butter Buddies program, which eventually became Open Arms, our ministry to unhoused persons.

Bernie has been a formative influence throughout my ministry. As associates together, he mentored and supported me as I “learned the ropes” of ministry at Hyde Park. He modeled the kind of care and compassion for people that helped to hone my own skills. His long tenure among us means that he is now celebrating the college graduations of children that he baptized, who were born to parents that he married! It is a joy to have him back to share ministry together here.

Join me in welcoming the return of this beloved pastor, leader, caregiver, and friend!

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

THIS SUNDAY: WHERE IS GOD AMID SUFFERING?

We continue our worship series “Hard to Believe” with one of the most difficult questions in our faith: “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, why is there suffering and evil in the world?” We will tackle this question and claim some assurances that will comfort us in moments of hardship.

REMEMBERING REV. TANNER WHITE

It is with profound grief and sadness that we share the news of the sudden death of Rev. Tanner White, who served Hillsborough United Methodist. Tanner’s pursuit of ministry was rooted in this congregation, and nurtured by our clergy, especially Justin LaRosa, who was one of his covenant group brothers. We shared in the joy of his ordination last Saturday in Lakeland. He died two days later of sudden, natural causes.

It is tragically ironic for some sudden cause of death to cut short a life marked by such survivorhood. He persevered against one challenge after another, in life and ministry. His unyielding relentlessness against adversity and his steadfast trust in God will be part of his legacy.

He leaves behind a wife and two young children, a reeling congregation, and grief-stricken colleagues and friends. We entrust him to God’s eternal love, and pray God’s comfort for all of us.

A memorial service for Tanner will take place in the Hyde Park Sanctuary on Saturday, June 22, at 10:30am.

Who is God?

Dear Hyde Park Family,

In 1952, Encyclopedia Britannica published one of the most ambitious publishing projects in the 20th Century. It put out a series of 52-volumes called The Great Books of the Western World. Every important work from Western Civilization is in there, from Anselm and Aquinas to William Shakespeare to Sigmund Freud.

The first two of those 52 volumes are just the index, which categorizes these thousands of works along various topics. Turn to the topic of nature, for example, and you’ll see a list of entries from the Great Books that talk about them. Turn to the topic of wisdom, and you’ll see what Plato said about it, or what Mark Twain said about it.

And what do you suppose is the longest entry in the entire index? The one subject that more authors in Western Civilization said something about than another topic?

God.

Mortimer Adler, the great philosopher and editor of this majestic set of volumes, was once interviewed by Larry King. King asked him, “Why is the topic of God the one that is most addressed throughout western history?”

His response: “Because our consequences for life follow from that one issue than any other issue you can think of.”

What a simple answer to a big question. The way we understand God has more consequences for life than any other subject. It impacts how you speak. How you see others. Whom you love, and whom you despise. How you apportion your energies and how you spend your money. Every other subject is a mere footnote to the ultimate question of who God is.

This Sunday we continue our worship series “Hard to Believe” with a deeper exploration of the nature and character of God. In particular, we will think about these three classic descriptors of God: Omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (in all places), and omnipotent (all-powerful). Each of these convictions is not without complexity or complication, but each offers a distinct way to experience God personally.

Join us Sunday, with your curiosity and your questions, as we ponder who God is, and the consequences of those answers for our lives.

Grace and Peace,

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

Head and Heart

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Last Sunday we began our new worship series, “Hard to Believe,” which explores essential tenets of the Christian faith that are difficult to fully comprehend. You can watch last week’s sermon here.  My hope is that this series will give you the freedom to both embrace mystery and ask sincere questions about what we claim as Christians.

Asking questions is how we mature, both in life and in faith.

After worship, a parishioner named Sheffield Crowder shared a powerful personal story with me. Sheff is a gifted community leader who works with non-profits in the area of education and leadership development.

He is also a deeply committed Christian. He gave me permission to share his story.

Sheff grew up on a small horse farm here in Tampa, with aspirations of being a nationally renowned equestrian rider. As those dreams were ending and he was struggling to find his course in life, a friend invited him to a local gathering of the Christian ministry Young Life during his junior year in high school, and his faith journey really began.

Sheff developed both the acumen and passion for thinking hard thoughts about spiritual matters. It ignited an interest in philosophy and theology, which he eventually pursued at Wheaton College in Chicago. Part of his education included some study abroad in Amsterdam, ministering throughout the Red-Light District, where he experienced the diversity of persons and perspectives in this international, cosmopolitan city.

It is there that he began to wrestle with deep and profound questions of his faith, and how his beliefs related to other religions and people with no religious affiliation.

The result for Sheff was an existential crisis of faith.

As he continued to attend theology and philosophy lectures by leading professors and lecturers, his intellectual dilemmas deepened. His chief areas of struggle were about the trinitarian nature of God and the dual nature of Christ’s incarnation. (Which, incidentally, are the topics of the first two sermons in this current worship series.)

Eventually, Sheff reached a point where, in his words, “I got to the top of my intellectual capability, and I couldn’t figure it out.” It was a poignant moment. After pestering his friends and colleagues with questions, and after reading as much as he could to think his way through his struggles, he came to the only conclusion he believed was intellectually honest:

He needed to reject the claims of Christianity and become an agnostic.

That’s when, the very same night that he resolved to let go of his faith, a beautiful, miraculous thing happened in his life. Here’s how he tells the story:

“One night in my dorm room, after much personal study, angst, and turmoil, I decided that if I was going to be intellectually honest, I needed to become an agnostic. It was something I didn’t want to admit, but I had to. So, I did.

I was depressed about my decision as I wanted to believe. I then fell asleep.

When I woke up the next morning, my roommate told me something that changed my life. He said I had been praying aloud in my sleep. Apparently, at the very moment that my head took my spiritual journey as far as it could go, that’s when my heart took over. That’s when I began to pray, even as I was sleeping, with my head and my heart.

At that moment, when my head and my heart became fully integrated, that’s when my belief went to a different level.

And I have never had a crisis of faith since then.”

Sheff’s story is a powerful reminder to us of how each of our spiritual journeys, while so different in their own rights, are all connected by the same gracious work of the Holy Spirit. When we allow both our head and our heart to guide us on our journeys, we can ask hard questions of the faith, while still embrace mystery and ambiguity. Our intellect can be both humble and curious, and our hearts can be both prudent and passionate.

I hope you will join us this Sunday as we tackle profound questions about the full humanity and divinity of Jesus, along with every other Sunday in this five-week series. And if you would like some “bonus content” that does a deeper dive into these topics, we are debuting a new video series called “Beyond the Sermon,” featuring conversations between me and Mat Hotho, our Director of Production and Online Engagement. You can watch last week’s 15-minute conversation here.

See you Sunday!

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

Hard To Believe

Dear Hyde Park Family,

We can freely admit that there are some aspects of the Christian faith that are simply hard to believe. It’s not that we don’t believe them. It’s just hard to fully comprehend them. There is a whole category of essential concepts to the faith that cannot be completely explained with reason.

  • What is the nature of the trinity? How can one God exist in three persons?
  • How was Jesus fully human and fully divine?
  • How can we believe that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-present, especially in a world filled with such suffering and evil?
  • What does prayer mean, and what difference does it make?

These are questions that stretch the mind.

For some people who consider themselves irreligious or non-Christian, these questions are barriers that prevent them from having faith. In a world filled with such unsettledness and uncertainty, we crave the reliable and the predictable. We would much prefer answers that are clear, cut and dry. So, for some, these concepts are not only hard to believe; they make it hard to have faith.

But for others, including many of us, these are questions that actually reinforce the need for faith.

For the next five weeks, our worship series is called “Hard to Believe,” and we will tackle each of these imponderable questions that are at the core of the Christian faith.

  • May 26: The Trinity: How Can Three Equal One?
  • June 2: The Nature of Christ: How Can He Be Fully Human and Fully Divine?
  • June 9: The “Omnis” of God: All Powerful, All Knowing, All Present
  • June 16: The Impossible Chess Match: The Problem of Suffering and Evil
  • June 23: Prayer: What Difference Does It Make?

We will discover that these questions not only remind us of the limitations of our intellect and keep us humble. They help us to embrace mystery, not shy away from it. They remind us that we are not God, because if we had everything completely figured out, there would be no room for wonder, and no need for God. To believe in God is to believe in something beyond us, and beyond our capacity to grasp it. And that’s what each of these questions do.

So, join us for this series. Bring your questions, and your openness to mystery. We will discover that these essentials to Christian doctrine are not barriers to faith but are reminders of faith.

See you Sunday!

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

Spirit Shower

Dear Hyde Park Family,

The greatest Pentecost hymn you may never have heard of was written by Dr. Henry More, an 18th century British theologian and philosopher that one contemporary called “the most holy man he ever knew.” Despite his zealous study and prolific writing, one of the few poems to ever gain notoriety is called “On the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.”

It is a poem that caught the attention of a young Anglican preacher named John Wesley.

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

On all the earth Thy Spirit shower;

The earth in righteousness renew;

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

And to Thy scepter all subdue.

 

Like mighty winds, or torrents fierce,

Let it opposers all o’errun;

And every law of sin reverse,

That faith and love may make all one.

The hymn became a standard selection for Methodist Christians throughout the early part of the movement’s history.  We can imagine Christians just like us, gathering together on Pentecost Sundays, singing this hymn and praying for the earth to receive a “Spirit shower” which would renew the earth in righteousness, overpower hell, reverse the law of sin, and make all people one. 

But there’s more!

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

Father! If justly still we claim

To us and ours the promise made,

To us be graciously the same,

And crown with living fire our heard.

 

Our claim admit, and from above

Of holiness the Spirit shower.

Of wise discernment, humble love,

And zeal and unity and power. 

Wesley believed that it is not enough simply to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit to shower the earth and unleash the Kingdom of God on earth. The Pentecostal work of the Spirit requires nothing less than our full participation.  It was just as critical to Wesley that Christians stake a personal claim on the work of Pentecost, and fulfill the calling each of us receive as followers of Jesus Christ. 

For Wesley, there was a required five-fold response to Pentecost for every Christian: wise discernment, humble love, zeal, unity, and power. 

Join us this Sunday as we gather to celebrate the birth of the church and the work of the Holy Spirit once again in our midst. We will be honored to hear from our youth, who will lead us in our annual Youth Sunday, along with celebrating those who are graduating from various degrees of education.

Together, we will celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, alive and well in our lives.

See you Sunday!

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

General Conference in Review

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Thank you for the prayers and encouragement over these last two weeks as the General Conference of the United Methodist Church gathered in Charlotte, North Carolina. I felt honored to serve as one of the clergy delegates, along with Clarke Campbell-Evans (clergy), Justin LaRosa (reserve clergy), and Steve Gardner (reserve laity).

The General Conference made some significant decisions for our denomination, and the following is a brief list of its highlights. I encourage you to watch this recording from a webinar last Tuesday in which I interviewed Bishop Tom Berlin, Molly McEntire, and Rev. Alex Shanks. In addition, you can view my announcement last Sunday in our in-person worship services.

Here are the highlights:

REGIONALIZATION

Delegates approved legislation that would restructure the denomination to be more

contextual in different global regions served by the church. This plan accounts for the evolving nature of worldwide United Methodism, which began as a U.S.-centric denomination in 1968, but has since become a growing presence in Africa and the Philippines, which have their own unique cultural contexts and missional needs. Regionalization emphasizes unity in our core beliefs, along with liberty to adapt ministry and parts of The Book of Discipline to different settings.

It received 78% approval, exceeding the requisite 2/3 threshold. Because it requires changes to the UMC constitution, it now moves through a ratification process, in which 2/3rds of the total delegates of all Annual (U.S.) and Central (International) Conferences will vote. It is anticipated that most Annual Conferences will vote on it in June 2025.

 

LGBTQIA+ INCLUSION

The General Conference voted by overwhelming majorities to remove from The Book of Discipline discriminatory language and practices against LGBTQIA+ persons. Actions included:

  • Removal of the language that the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
  • Removal of the ban on the licensing, commissioning, ordination, and appointment of queer clergy.
  • Removal from the list of chargeable offenses against clergy the act of presiding over a same-sex wedding.
  • Removal of the ban of United Methodist funds to support ministries that promote LGBTQIA+ inclusion.

 

GENERAL CONFERENCE BUDGET AND CLERGY PENSION

The General Conference budget, which funds domestic and international agencies and supports our bishops, was reduced and streamlined, so as not to incur a heavier apportionment burden on local churches in the wake of disaffiliations.

Wespath, the denomination’s pension and benefits agency, received approval for a new clergy retirement plan, which is a defined contribution, rather than a defined benefits plan.

 

THE REVISED SOCIAL PRINCIPLES

Delegates approved the first overhaul of the denomination’s Social Principles

in nearly 50 years. These are not considered church law, but reflect official

United Methodist teachings on a wide range of topics. They inform our witness on major issues of the day through a biblical foundation that is shaped by tradition, reason, and experience.

 

DEACONS RECEIVE SACRAMENTAL AUTHORITY

The clergy order of deacons (which includes Rev. Justin LaRosa) received the ability to perform the sacraments of baptism and communion without the need to seek prior permission from the bishop, as long as they are done in that clergy’s ministry setting.

 

FULL COMMUNION AGREEMENT WITH THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

After a 22-year study, the General Conference adopted a plan to enter into a “full communion agreement” with The Episcopal Church. This is not a merger of the two denominations, but a recognition that both traditions are part of the same holy, catholic, apostolic church. It also affirms that we have much in common theologically and organizationally, and it allows for clergy to serve churches in the other denomination when 1) it is missionally necessary, and 2) it is approved by the bishops. This plan requires the agreement of The Episcopal Church when it convenes in 2026.

 

OTHER MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Approved a constitutional amendment addressing the denomination’s commitment to eradicating racism.
  • Approved an apology to victims and survivors of sexual misconduct by clergy and lay leaders in the church. The resolution also encourages the reporting of sexual abuse and states that the abuse of power will not be tolerated in the church.
  • Celebrated the impact of Africa University and milestone anniversaries – the 200th anniversary of Methodist mission, the 100th anniversary of the United Methodist Building in Washington, D.C., and the 80th anniversary of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

After 1,100 petitions, the work of 14 Legislative Committees, nearly 800 delegates, and 12 straight 16-hour days, this General Conference has drawn to a close. I would say that even beyond these major legislative accomplishments, the most important highlight for me was the genuinely civil, hope-filled, and thoughtful interactions that I observed and engaged in with people across our differences.

This truly felt like the start of a new day in the United Methodist Church, and I am grateful to have been elected to be a part of it. And thank you for being such an amazing congregation to return to, as we continue the work of making disciples for the transformation of the world.

Grace and Peace,

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

Be Still … and Breathe

Dear Easter People,

We are currently in our worship series “Life’s Highs and Lows,” based on the Psalms. Each week, we explore a different landscape image from a psalm and how it connects to God and the human experience. Last week’s service was about the mountains in Psalm 121, which you can view online here. This Sunday we’ll unpack the beauty of Psalm 23. By the time the series is over, we will ponder moments in our lives that are like deserts, skies, rivers, and roads.

This journey through the Psalms would not feel complete without some acknowledgment of Psalm 46. It contains the often-quoted verse 10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

It is a verse that is quite conducive to a special form of prayer called the “breath prayer,” practiced by Christian mystics for generations. In her book Paths to Prayer: Finding Your Own Way to the Presence of God, Patricia Brown shares one way to practice breath prayer based on this psalm.

It involves inhaling and exhaling for counts of five, along with holding one’s breath for a few seconds between each exhale and inhale. Momentarily holding your breath allows for a slight build-up of carbon dioxide which helps relieve anxiety and stress. Patricia Brown also notes that in those satisfying moments of taking in a full breath, Christian mystics believed that the Spirit of God is most fully recognized. Holding that full, beautiful breath for a few seconds can be an act of resonance with God’s presence.

In January 2020, Patricia Brown provided a workshop for our entire church leadership, and she led us in this guided exercise, based on Psalm 46:10, which I invite you to experience now:

THE BREATH PRAYER

Sit with you back straight and your palms on your lap, face up or down, with your feet flat on the floor.

Close your eyes.

Remember in this moment that God holds you in a loving presence, just as water filling every nook and cranny.

Now, slowly count to five, taking in a deep breath: (1…2…3…4…5) and hold that breath in for a second or two. This is the place where the mystics say God dwells.

Now begin to exhale slowly (1…2…3…4…5) and hold for a few seconds.

Continue that pattern of silent breathing, counting to five with each inhale and exhale, holding a pause in between.

Patricia Brown then read each of the following lines, slowly, with enough time in between for people to take their five counts of inhaling, exhaling, and holding.

Be still, and know that I am God… (inhale, pause, exhale, pause)

Be still, and know that I am… (inhale, pause, exhale, pause)

Be still, and know… (inhale, pause, exhale, pause)

Be still… (inhale, pause, exhale, pause)

Be… (inhale, pause, exhale, pause)

[SILENCE]

Now gently, slowly open your eyes.

How are you feeling? As the spirit releases you from this time of breath prayer, carry its calm awareness with you as you move on with your day.

I hope that you will find moments during this Easter season to practice the sacred act of breath prayer, giving thanks for the presence of God that is as close to you as your own breath.

Grace and Peace,

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

MIDWEEK MESSAGE WILL RETURN MID-MAY

As I finish my preparations for General Conference from April 23 to May 3, I will be taking a break from writing the Midweek Message until mid-May. I may share a special pastoral word if the need arises from the events of General Conference. As always, keep up with all the exciting things happening at Hyde Park United Methodist on our website.

A Prayer for General Conference

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Less than three weeks from now, 862 United Methodist delegates from around the world will gather in Charlotte, North Carolina for the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. It will be the fourteenth time that our denomination has gathered for this quadrennial meeting since the United Methodist Church was officially formed in 1968, and 232 years after the first conference of the Methodist Church met in Baltimore, Maryland.

I am honored to have been elected by our Annual Conference to serve as one of the sixteen delegates from Florida, comprised of 8 clergy and 8 laity. In addition, Rev. Clarke Campbell-Evans is a fellow clergy delegate, along with Rev. Justin LaRosa as a reserve clergy delegate, and Steve Gardner as a reserve lay delegate.

From April 23 to May 3, we will engage in worship and holy conferencing, for the purpose of interpreting the work of the United Methodist Church for the present age. Delegates will consider hundreds of petitions and make a wide array of decisions, guiding the denomination in its allocation of resources, its position on major issues, and its priorities for ministry.

Last Tuesday, Hyde Park hosted a livestreamed, informational webinar, in which I interviewed Bishop Tom Berlin, Molly McEntire (the head of our laity delegation) and Rev. Alex Shanks (the head of our clergy delegation.) I would encourage you to watch the hour-long webinar here. 

Among the many matters of discernment and consideration will be these four major issues:

  • Revision of our Social Principles: to speak into contemporary issues in ways that are globally relevant and biblically based.
  • Reduction of the Denomination’s Overall Budget: to maximize resources for local churches to do the work of making disciples.
  • Regionalization of the Denomination’s Global Structure: to allow the United Methodist Church to minister in the most effective ways in different global contexts.
  • Removal of Discriminatory Language and Policies: to reduce the harm done to LGBTQIA+ persons.

If you have any questions or comments about any of these items, please feel free to reach out to me, Justin, Clarke, or Steve.

A PRAYER FOR GENERAL CONFERENCE

I invite you to be in prayer for this important work, both as we prepare over the coming weeks, and as we gather in Charlotte. I wrote the following as a way to prompt and guide your own prayers:

Almighty and Everlasting God,

We give you thanks for the unique expression of your Church through the people called United Methodist. You have granted us spiritual ancestors whose words and witness have shaped our practice, our polity, and our doctrine. We thank you for John, Charles, and Susannah Wesley. For Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury. For Jacob Albright and Philip Otterbein. For Sarah Mallet and Phoebe Palmer. And for all those who have gone before us, upon whose shoulders we stand in awe and gratitude.

We pray for the work of the General Conference. We entrust to your care those who are serving as delegates, that you might strengthen them with physical and mental stamina to conduct their business with courage, mutual love, and spiritual centeredness. We pray for their long hours of work and their short nights of rest.

We pray for a renewed commitment to the central command of Jesus, which is to make disciples of all nations. Guide the delegates toward an unrelenting focus on that ideal, that it may guide every decision. Remind us that true transformation begins in the mind and the heart.

We pray for the way General Conference will interpret the church’s witness to the controversial topics of our day. We are aware of the polarizing potential of such issues, so may there be a revitalized and shared commitment to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you.

We pray for clarity in the way the agencies, programs, and fiscal activities of the church will be evaluated for their effectiveness. Empower the General Conference to negotiate the hard decisions wisely, and to refrain from making some decisions harder than they need to be. We pray for reform, for the right reasons, in the right areas, in the right ways.

God of us all, renew our vision of dry bones enfleshed with new life. Fill us with the promise of resurrection, and a sense of hope for the future. Grant to your church an optimism balanced with realism, strengthened by our mutual efforts to do your holy work, and sustained by the power of your Spirit. May the work of this General Conference impact the United Methodist Church on all levels, from the General Boards to the grassroots, from the ordained to the laity, from local communities to contexts all around the world.

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

Grace and Peace,

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

You Remade the World

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

One of the oldest hymns in our hymnal was written in the year 818 A.D., by a man named Theodulf, the Bishop of Orleans. He was a noted poet who wrote a refrain that would become part of our standard Palm Sunday celebrations:

All glory, laud and honor,

To Thee, Redeemer, King,

To Whom the lips of children

Made sweet hosannas ring.

The entire hymn is a vivid portrayal of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and many churches sing it as children process down the aisles with palm fronds in their hands. What is widely unknown is that Theodulf wrote a sixth verse to the hymn. The reason it is not included in our hymnal will be plain when you read it:

Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,

And we the little ass,

That to God’s holy city

Together we may pass.

When John Neale translated Theodulf’s original Latin text to English in 1851, he remarked that this sixth verse “was usually sung until the 17th Century, at the quaintness of which we can scarcely avoid a smile.”

No, we will not be singing that verse this Sunday. But I am intrigued by the implications of Theodulf’s sixth verse. We have many points of entry into the Palm Sunday story.  

  • We might identify with the crowds who shouted “Hosanna!” (“Save us!”) and recognize our own need for Jesus in our lives.
  • We might identify with the citizens of Jerusalem, whose question “Who is this man?” captures the depth of our own spiritual searching.
  • We might identify with the disciples, as we measure the level of our commitment to Jesus in the midst of uncertainty and turmoil.

But rarely do we identify with that donkey.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus sent two of the disciples on an advance mission to secure a donkey that had been pre-arranged by Jesus. And all three gospels have these three verbs in common.

  • They untied the donkey.
  • They claimed it for Jesus by telling the owner that he needed it.
  • Then they brought it to Jesus for his use.

What would it mean for you to be the donkey on Palm Sunday? It would mean that you would participate in all three actions as part of your own spiritual preparation as we enter this holiest week of the year.

First, be untied.  From what aspects of your life does God wish to free you? What are the bonds that are preventing the free flow of God’s grace in your life, and what are the sins that are masking God’s full image from being revealed in you?

Second, remember that you are claimed.  God has placed a unique calling in your life, for the task of building the kingdom here on earth. Remember that no matter what happens, you belong to God, and you have been chosen for a purpose greater than your self-interest.  

Finally, draw near to Jesus. Be intentional during this upcoming Holy Week to recalibrate yourself toward the disciplines, priorities, and way of Christ. Surrender yourself to the cross you are called to bear, as we follow the One whose cross brought us new life.

I don’t know about you, but I somewhat wish we included Theodulf’s sixth verse in our hymnal. Regardless, we can all work to live out its words, and try to be “a little ass” for Jesus.

(And Neale was right; try reading that without a smile on your face!)

Grace and Peace,

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

Be The Donkey

Dear Lenten Pilgrims,

One of the oldest hymns in our hymnal was written in the year 818 A.D., by a man named Theodulf, the Bishop of Orleans. He was a noted poet who wrote a refrain that would become part of our standard Palm Sunday celebrations:

All glory, laud and honor,

To Thee, Redeemer, King,

To Whom the lips of children

Made sweet hosannas ring.

The entire hymn is a vivid portrayal of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and many churches sing it as children process down the aisles with palm fronds in their hands. What is widely unknown is that Theodulf wrote a sixth verse to the hymn. The reason it is not included in our hymnal will be plain when you read it:

Be Thou, O Lord, the Rider,

And we the little ass,

That to God’s holy city

Together we may pass.

When John Neale translated Theodulf’s original Latin text to English in 1851, he remarked that this sixth verse “was usually sung until the 17th Century, at the quaintness of which we can scarcely avoid a smile.”      

No, we will not be singing that verse this Sunday. But I am intrigued by the implications of Theodulf’s sixth verse. We have many points of entry into the Palm Sunday story.  

  • We might identify with the crowds who shouted “Hosanna!” (“Save us!”) and recognize our own need for Jesus in our lives.
  • We might identify with the citizens of Jerusalem, whose question “Who is this man?” captures the depth of our own spiritual searching.
  • We might identify with the disciples, as we measure the level of our commitment to Jesus in the midst of uncertainty and turmoil.

But rarely do we identify with that donkey.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus sent two of the disciples on an advance mission to secure a donkey that had been pre-arranged by Jesus. And all three gospels have these three verbs in common.

  • They untied the donkey.
  • They claimed it for Jesus by telling the owner that he needed it.
  • Then they brought it to Jesus for his use.

What would it mean for you to be the donkey on Palm Sunday? It would mean that you would participate in all three actions as part of your own spiritual preparation as we enter this holiest week of the year.

First, be untied.  From what aspects of your life does God wish to free you? What are the bonds that are preventing the free flow of God’s grace in your life, and what are the sins that are masking God’s full image from being revealed in you?

Second, remember that you are claimed.  God has placed a unique calling in your life, for the task of building the kingdom here on earth. Remember that no matter what happens, you belong to God, and you have been chosen for a purpose greater than your self-interest.  

Finally, draw near to Jesus. Be intentional during this upcoming Holy Week to recalibrate yourself toward the disciplines, priorities, and way of Christ. Surrender yourself to the cross you are called to bear, as we follow the One whose cross brought us new life.

I don’t know about you, but I somewhat wish we included Theodulf’s sixth verse in our hymnal. Regardless, we can all work to live out its words, and try to be “a little ass” for Jesus.

(And Neale was right; try reading that without a smile on your face!)

Grace and Peace,

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

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