Midweek Message: “Seeds of Hope”

Midweek Message: “Seeds of Hope”

Dear Hyde Park Family,

A modern-day parable of hope, straight out of recent news headlines:

  • Last summer, a woman named Dr. Elaine Soloway harvested 111 dates from a date tree, then she sampled one. She said it had a “honey or caramel aftertaste.” Nothing really remarkable about that.
  • Those dates that she picked? They came from a pollination that occurred six years ago between two date trees, a male and a female. Nothing remarkable about that, either.
  • Those two date trees? One was named Methuselah, and the other Hannah. Why? Because they were each germinated from seeds that were lying dormant, discovered in part by an archaeologist named Yigal Yadin back in the 1960s. [1] Now it’s getting interesting.
  • Those seeds? They were discovered in the Holy Land and were dated (no pun intended) back to between 35 B.C. and 65 A.D. Hmmm.
  • So, imagine: These were 2,000-year-old date seeds, that were around at the time of Jesus, in the very land where Jesus walked, left to decompose for millennia, only to be rediscovered, germinated, and nurtured back to fruitfulness. But that’s still not the most remarkable thing.

Dr. Elaine Soloway? She works at the Areva Institute for Environmental Studies, which sits near the border of Israel and Jordan, along with students from different countries from throughout the Middle East. Picture young Jewish, Christian and Muslim students working together alongside Dr. Soloway and her colleagues to bring new life from the land, even from seeds that survived against the odds.

SEEDS OF HOPE

The Arava Institute reminds these students that there is much more to the land than the geo-political wars that are fought over the possession and control of its borders. When the land is viewed through the lens of environmental stewardship, people can come together, and the seeds of peace, beauty and hope that may have been lying dormant can be recovered, revived and rejuvenated.

Rabbi Michael M. Cohen, who teaches at the Arava Institute, put it this way: “Following the example of Muhammad, Muslims traditionally break their daily fast during Ramadan with a date. In the Jewish Torah, dates are considered one of the seven most important species of the Land of Israel. And Jesus was reportedly welcomed into Jerusalem with his supporters waving date palm branches.”

“Grown on this campus steeped in faith, the dates of Methuselah and Hannah, like all the great redemption stories, remind us that what today appears to be dead or beyond reach can in fact be revived to help create a better, more just, and redeemed tomorrow.” [2]

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

In all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, “the smallest of all seeds.” Yet, by God’s grace, and with enough attention, diligence and cooperation, that seed can bear fruit that will be a blessing for others.

These may be hard times. Hope can be hard to find, for many reasons, on many levels. But there are still seeds. Seeds of peace, justice, equality, joy and promise. They may be hidden under the surface, out of plain view. But if we keep digging, keep searching, keep believing, keep nurturing – and tear down the walls that would divide us so that we can work together – then new fruit can still be born, into a future that can be as sweet as honey and caramel.

So, don’t give up. Keep on digging. Together.

Magrey

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

 

 

Midweek Message: On the Eve of 9/11

Midweek Message: On the Eve of 9/11

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Do you remember where you were on Monday, Sept. 10, 2001?

No? Me neither.

The day was largely forgettable, and the news headlines were mostly unremarkable. Michael Jackson rang the opening bell on Wall Street. Disgraced Senator Gary Condit was being investigated for the disappearance of Chandra Levy. The New York Yankees placed outfielder Paul O’Neill on the disabled list.

Then came Tuesday. And we all remember where we were that morning.

I was an associate pastor here at Hyde Park. I remember being with the staff in our regular prayer time in the Chapel when the second plane hit, and as reports rolled in about crashes in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. Later that night, the Chapel was filled with parishioners, including many of you, straining to find the words and prayers to lift up amid an unspeakable national tragedy.

THE TWO TIMES JESUS WEPT

The following Sunday, Sept. 16, I was in that same Chapel preaching on the two times in the gospels where Jesus wept: John 11:28-37, in which Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus, and Luke 19:41-44, in which Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. It was a reminder that God weeps with us in our grief, and weeps for us over injustice. In my sermon, I said:

Friends, God weeps today because we do not live in a place remotely close to the kind of place God is working to create. This world does not exist according to the kingdom values of peace, equality, justice, compassion and love. The people of this world have busied themselves with building up their political, economic and military machines. Nations have risen against nation, becoming guilty of that very thing for which Jesus wept outside Jerusalem: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

REMEMBERING 9/11

Tomorrow will be another anniversary of 9/11. It will be set in the context of a global pandemic, and many other reminders of how difficult, unsettling and broken our world continues to be. As you find the words to offer your own prayers and remembrance of this day, here is a poem by Wendell Berry that I often read on 9/11:

“Now You Know the Worst”
by Wendell Berry

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know

there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

May God grant each of us a light, divine. May we do the hard work of loving each other, even our enemies. And may we have the courage to walk in darkness, in the light of those who have suffered for peace.

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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

Midweek Message: Signs of the End Times?

Midweek Message: Signs of the End Times?

Dear Hyde Park Family,

Okay, 2020. Let’s recap what you’ve brought us so far, shall we?

  • A global pandemic has infected over 25 million people and killed nearly 900,000 around the world.
  • We’ve had a series of jarring reminders of the ongoing presence of systemic racism in this country, and our streets and airwaves have been filled with cries for justice.
  • The Summer Olympics in Tokyo were postponed until next year, the first time the games have been delayed since World War II.
  • “Murder Hornets” arrived in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Swarms of locusts have plagued parts of East Africa, India, Pakistan and Yemen.
  • The waters of the Nahal Alexander River in Israel turned blood red; so did a river in Jasper, Indiana.
  • Two tropical storm systems entered the Gulf of Mexico at nearly the same time and both hit the Texas/Louisiana coastline.
  • Scientists have detected an asteroid heading toward the earth that has a 0.41% chance of hitting our planet the day before the general election.
  • And oh, yeah. It’s a presidential election year.

It’s almost as if the script for 2020 was being written by The National Enquirer.

It is no surprise that with this flurry of unbelievable news stories, there has been quite a rise in the number of people predicting that these are signs of the end times. A Lifeway Research survey last April of pastors of evangelical churches found that a whopping 97% of them believed that such occurrences were proof that the end was near, and evidence that the return of Jesus was imminent.

Now, I’m not one to interpret today’s current events in this way. But I can understand a person’s need to make some sense of what is happening, and I can even commend a person for wanting to anchor that meaning biblically, even if I disagree with their interpretation.

I’m simply reminded that in Matthew’s gospel, which is our latest stop in our journey through the Bible, Jesus said, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)

So, what do we make of the events of 2020? Literally, God only knows!

The question of Jesus’ return was clearly on the minds of many in the early church, and as the gospels and epistles were written and circulated, many of them had their own unique take on how to understand and anticipate the signs of the end times.

This Sunday, we will take a deeper dive into how Matthew answered that question, based on the chapter 25 and the story of the sheep and the goats. We will discover what a unique and timely response he has for any of us who are longing for Jesus to return, and what to make of such an unusual and unsettling year as this one.

And join us for communion this Sunday! For those who are local in the area, we invite you to drive to the campus after the 9:30 and 11 a.m. services, or you can gather your own bread and grape juice to be part of the communion liturgy online.

See you Sunday!

Magrey

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

 

 

Midweek Message: Come, Lord Jesus!

Midweek Message: Come, Lord Jesus!

Dear Hyde Park Family,

First, I invite you to pause for a moment and offer this prayer with me, for the people of Texas, Louisiana and all those affected by Hurricane Laura:

God of Power and Provision, our hearts are joined in prayer for the people facing the ferocity of this hurricane. Preserve their lives and fill them with courage. When the storm subsides, may all necessary provisions and restoration of electricity be swift in their arrival. Protect the first responders, power technicians and relief workers. And raise us up as your church, to respond to the needs in any way we can help. We remember the words of your Son Jesus, who spoke into the storm, “Peace, be still.” In his name, we pray. Amen.

THE ARRIVAL OF JESUS

Well, finally. After more than 23,000 Old Testament verses, 242 daily readings, and some long months through the prophets, we finally get to the New Testament this Sunday, as part of our Bible Project 2020.

I commend all of you who have been on this journey so far. We have had more than 40 small groups continuing to meet faithfully every week and reflect on the readings, even during the pandemic. Many of you have shared that those weekly Bible studies have been a vital lifeline, keeping you connected with others. We have 2,875 active listeners and 118,000 downloads of the podcast. And week after week, we have marveled at how these Scriptures have been providing us just the right words of wisdom, encouragement and challenge at just the right time.

If you haven’t kept up with the readings, or have not joined the journey yet, now would be a great time to jump on board! Visit the Bible Project 2020 web page for the daily readings and devotional entries starting with Matthew this Sunday. If you would like to join a small group, please complete this form and someone will contact you. And if you are on Facebook, join our online group and interact with nearly 400 folks on the journey.

COMMUNION OFFERED BEGINNING SEPTEMBER 6

We are also excited to announce that with the arrival of the New Testament, it is timely to resume a monthly observance of communion. Like much that we are doing as a church, we balance our desire for connection with the need to ensure everyone’s safety. So, communion will look a little different, while retaining the core of its meaning and tradition.

During the online services on September 6, clergy will lead the communion liturgy as part of the broadcast. For those of you who live outside the Tampa Bay area, or who choose not to come to campus, please have bread and grape juice ready to be blessed as you watch the service.

For those who are local and able and willing to drive, we invite you to come to the campus at the conclusion of either the 9:30 or 11 a.m. services. When you arrive, come to the large Magnolia parking lot, where you will remain in your car as staff direct you where to drive. More information and a traffic pattern map are at hydeparkumc.org/communion to prepare you for your arrival.

Pastors will come to you with consecrated elements, served through your car window in a non-contact and sanitary manner. We encourage you and your family to wear masks, as we work together to create a safe environment for all. We look forward to seeing and celebrating with you on September 6!

Come, Lord Jesus!

Magrey

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

 

Midweek Message: Not Multiple Choice

Midweek Message: Not Multiple Choice

Dear Hyde Park Family,

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8

Our journey through the Old Testament concludes with one of the best-known passages in the Bible. It is also one of most often quoted in American history. Many of our country’s founders used it during our struggle to free ourselves from the tyranny of British rule. It was brought center stage again in the mid-1800s, as we fought each other over the abolition of slavery. It was quoted repeatedly by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others during the civil rights era. Warren G. Harding opted to have George Washington’s Bible opened to this passage when he laid his hand on it to take the Presidential oath of office. Jimmy Carter is the most recent President to do the same.

But despite all of the press coverage this single verse has received throughout our history, we still need to be reminded of this: Micah 6:8 is not a multiple-choice question.

  • Do justice.
  • Love kindness.
  • Walk humbly.
  • Do all three.

It would surely be easier if it were. It would be much simpler if we could just pursue justice alone. But if we do justice without kindness and humility, then we might act virtuously on the outside, but our motivations may be rotten to the core.

It would be a lot easier if we just choose kindness. You know, just be nice. But if that’s all we were, then we would never be able to make lasting change. We would not build God’s kingdom in way that ensures that every person has a place at God’s table.

And it might even be easier if we just focused on being humble. There would be a lot less conflict in the world, a lot less tension. But as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Peace is not just the absence of tension. It’s the presence of justice.”

Micah 6:8 is not a multiple-choice passage. And every one of us has to work harder on at least one of these three to bring them all into balance with each other.

THIS SUNDAY: GARY MASON
To guide us in this passage, I’m excited for us to hear from my friend the Rev. Dr. Gary Mason, who will be offering the sermon this Sunday. Gary is one of the most inspiring and most devoted agents for peace with justice that I know. He was central in forging the Good Friday Peace Accord, which brought an end to the Thirty Years War in Northern Ireland. He uses the principles of that accord as the founder and director of Rethinking Conflict, which promotes reconciliation and peacemaking in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and the United States.

He has preached here at Hyde Park in the past, and we are delighted to welcome him back to make connections for us between Micah 6:8 and the significant issues we face in our country today.

Join us this Sunday as we bring to a close our time through the Old Testament, and look forward to Jesus just around the corner!

Grace and Peace,

Magrey

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