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“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing… Be at peace among yourselves… See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I Thessalonians 5:11, 13b, 15-18
I had a wonderful time visiting all five of our districts for my Bishop’s Day Apart with Clergy, followed by a very special time at the Bishop’s Convocation with Laity. I cherish opportunities that I have to teach my brothers and sisters, as teaching is both a gift and a passion. This year, First Thessalonians chapter 5 has been much in my thoughts and in my heart, and it was this passage of scripture that framed my teaching.
It speaks to us who are fortunate to be leaders in the Church of God’s will for us as the people of God. In Paul’s vision for the Church, there is simply no place for “us and them” thinking. We are in this together. There is no possibility of split or division for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ – we are family, and you can’t choose your family. It is yours whether you like it or not. Siblings may bicker; siblings may fight; siblings may see things completely differently; but at the end of the day, family is still family.
This is where we are as a covenant community in Wisconsin. First, as the clergy covenant community, we are all part of a congregation defined by our ordination, commissioning, or license. I joked in my teaching that we are stuck with each other – you are stuck with me as your bishop, and I am stuck with all of you – like it or not. But I choose to like it. You are my community. You are my people. I am your bishop – bishop to all of you. Even when we have problems, and there are disagreements and conflict, I look forward to being with you so that we can all work together toward a solution. I laugh with you; I mourn with you; but in every way, I wish the very best for you.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:1-4)
Most Americans are not too good at “doing without.” We like our things, and our privileges, and our opportunities – so much so that we often take them for granted. Words like “discipline” and “sacrifice” and “deprivation” and “surrender” are viewed negatively. We like being comfortable and pampered and secure. The Lenten season for Christians often inspires people to give something up – we give up ice cream or chocolate or dessert for Lent. But while we deprive ourselves of an indulgence, we truly don’t make much of a sacrifice. We still take very good care of ourselves!
We stop short of depriving ourselves to the point where it hurts. We give up a little bit. We make a small sacrifice. Not too much changes in our lives during Lent. But I want to issue a challenge. I want us to give up something hard, something difficult. What I invite everyone to give up for Lent is ego.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a healthy ego, but our egos can cause problems when they become over-inflated. An over-inflated ego demands its own way. It makes us feel superior to other people. It makes us think we deserve anything and everything we want. It makes us “holier-than-thou,” and causes us to be judgmental. When our ego makes us the center of our universe, we displace God. It is impossible to be both Christ-centered and self-centered at the same time.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12)
You are cordially invited to join me on a breathtaking adventure. It will be to a place that we have never been before. I cannot guarantee safety or comfort. In fact, I am absolutely sure that some will not enjoy this adventure at all. It demands risk. It demands courage. It demands humility and surrender. I am inviting you to join me in the present moment – right here, right now, in the world that IS, rather than in the world as we think it is or should be.
What is the difference between the world that IS, and all the worlds that we make up in our minds and hearts? Well, this world is neither good nor bad, and people are not good or evil. What is, simply IS – just as God created it. We strip away our filters and lenses, and look at the world through new eyes, eyes unclouded by prejudice or predispositions, eyes open to new possibilities and to the very mind of Christ.
The false world, the world of our own creation, is a world of fear and anxiety and phony certainty pretending to be faith. The false view of our world looks for what is wrong, what is dirty, what is foul, what is corrupt. This false view is not from God. It is what we see in the mirror, dimly. It is a denial of all things Godly. It is our giving more power to the darkness than we give to the light. It happens when people think that the devil is more powerful than God.
We are living in a time when people are not very kind to others. There is despair and anger and hopelessness. This comes when we look through old, tired eyes. But we, people of faith in Jesus Christ, do not – cannot – look through old, tired eyes any longer. We walk by faith, not by sight. We know that there is a truth greater than what we perceive through our old eyes.
Where others see oppression, let us see the possibility of freedom. Where others see destruction, let us see the truth of renewal and resurrection. Where others see corruption and greed, let us see the fertile soil for redemption and justice. There is nothing wrong in the world that cannot be fixed, for nothing is greater than the power of God’s transforming Holy Spirit.
"If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…" (Philippians 2:1-5a)
All of life is about drawing circles – who is inside and who is outside? We draw circles around our children and spouses and brothers and sisters, and we enjoy the safety and security of family circles. We expand circles to include friends and neighbors. We move from circle to circle, from home to school to friends to church. As we grow and mature, we continually include new people into our circles of family, friends, work and play. We often include those in our circles who are most like we are; and we exclude those who are different. Our Judeo-Christian scriptures witness a history of circle-drawing – who are the Chosen and who are the Lost; who are the Jews and who are the Gentiles; who are the believers and who are the non-believers?
In our Church today, we still spend much of our time drawing circles and from those circles we put up walls and we erect barriers. Even though our Lord and Savior came to tear down the dividing walls of hostility, and to offer salvation to all people, we in the Church struggle to include.
In our country today, we talk about building a wall to keep out “undocumented aliens”. We are drawing lines and building walls to say that some belong and others do not. Is this heavenly thinking? Do we believe that we are following a Savior and worshiping a God of barriers and fences? Will building a wall keep us safe, make us secure, or is it merely a symbol that we are ruled by fear more than faith? I do not agree with our President’s Executive Order to restrict and deny access to our country. I feel it is motivated more by fear than faith, and by anxiety rather than hope. I pray that our President can lead us to recover the dream of the United States as a place of opportunity and security for everyone. I hope and pray we can cast a beautiful vision of a Promised Land – truly with liberty and justice for all.
In November, our Board of Ordained Ministry released a statement about the criteria by which they will judge candidate’s fitness for ministry. Our Wisconsin Association of Confessing United Methodists responded, and in their response, they called for me to issue a statement and to take action to replace Board of Ordained Ministry members who are not in “compliance” with our Book of Discipline. After much prayerful discernment, I feel it is much too soon to take such action and that it may be perceived as “taking sides.” Instead I am looking to scripture for guidance. Matthew’s gospel gives us good instruction to first seek reconciliation, before seeking judgment and condemnation. In both chapters five and eighteen of Matthew’s text, Jesus gives instruction that we should first talk TO one another, rather than ABOUT one another.
To be faithful in this way, on January 18, I have invited leadership from the Executive Committees of our Board of Ordained Ministry and the Wisconsin Association of Confessing United Methodists to meet with me. I want to offer a time of deep listening. As a next step, I will offer an opportunity to meet with a professional mediator (at a time and date to be set prior to Annual Conference). The outcome of these gatherings is not necessarily a mutual agreement, but a forum in which not only may I hear from both sides, but that they may hear from each other, and deepen their understanding of the tensions in our community in Christ. I am hoping to open a “grace margin,” where we may relate to one another beyond our diverse issues and positions. My entire focus this year is answering this question: “How am I loving God more?” As people of faith, love of God is our constant goal and challenge, and we show this love in how we treat one another.
At the heart of the gospel is a passion and concern for the weak, the powerless, the poor. In a very real sense, the weak are the heart of gospel, the center of the world.
“The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim release for captives, and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn….”
Our mission is to spread the gospel of freedom to those who most need comfort and hope. This liberation mission is clear to me as the mission of the Church. Were we to answer this call, and live to lift the burden and oppression of the weak, the year of Lord’s favor would start from there.
As we remember the Scripture’s clear focus on liberation of the poor and oppressed from injustice, we are reminded of the vision and gift of jubilee – equity and justice for all. The essence and nature of Torah and prophetic announcement is caregiving, and comfort for the weak and brokenhearted, even to their freedom. If we don’t contribute to this kind of release and freedom, we act against God’s beautiful will and redeeming plan.
Some theologians have reflected that God prefers the weak and poor to the scriptural traditions. This thought is reflected consistently through the teachings of the prophets, of Jesus, and of Paul. I believe it is true that the biblical imperative is to protect and defend the weak and poor in all the places, and at all times. I believe the center of the Church is intended to be the weak and poor. Those most oppressed and defenseless need to be central to our mission; and we need to focus our prayers and attention to this crucial teaching of the Christian scriptures.
“In the beginning was darkness, mystery, and you.
By your Word, you shattered the darkness with light.
You set in the sky radiant beams of sunlight and punctured the night sky with sparkling jewels.
You forever changed our darkness.
Though there are shadows and worries,
You have placed your Word in us to be a lamp for our feet.
You have given your Spirit like a bright guiding star.
You fill us with your Love as glorious as the sun.
You place your Truth like a crescent moon.
Every darkness is overcome with Light.
And every Light contains shafts of your Eternal Light.”
(Eucharist Prayer by Larry Peacock)
May you and your family have a bright and blessed New Year.
Grace and Peace,
Im and Hee-Soo Jung
“And the angel said unto them,
‘Fear not. Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people, Unto you is born this day a Savior which is Christ the Lord.'”
May the Blessings of this glorious Advent Season and Christmas surround you and your family.
Thank you for your love and prayers.
Grace and Peace,
Im and Hee-Soo Jung
My dear brothers and sisters, from the bottom of my heart I wish for you a wonder-filled Christmas and a joyous New Year. As I look at our world today, I think we are missing a few important things. First, where is the goodwill? There are so many challenges big and small that we all have to deal with every day. Why would anyone want to make things harder for their sister or brother? Goodwill is to will the good for one and all. What does this cost us? What do we lose by such action? My prayer at this Christmastime is that we might be filled to overflowing with goodwill for all our sisters and brothers.
Second, where is the hope? Is our hope in government, or economics, or military power? Is our hope in education, innovation or science? Is our hope in technology, medicine or social media? No, our hope is in the Lord, Jesus Christ, born once more into a broken and hopeless world. We, who spend so much time living in the darkness of anxiety, suspicion, and distrust, can walk in the light of forgiveness, compassion, and justice. We are a people of hope, and can be a beacon of hope to the world.
Third, where is the mercy? Mercy is more than being kind or letting someone get away with something they shouldn’t. Mercy is a conscious decision not to abuse power, not to ignore privilege, and not to take for granted that everyone enjoys the same blessings we receive. Mercy is about equity, fairness, generosity and justice. Mercy means we do not consider others as less important, or deserving as ourselves, but that we will use what we have been given to bless others.
Fourth, where is the love? How am I loving God more? How do I show this love? How do I witness love to others? What am I teaching by the way I love, or in the ways I don’t love? Many people define “Christian” by how they see people of the Christian faith treat each other. The outward and visible sign of our love for God is how we love our neighbor, and how we love ourselves.
Christmas is the coming of the Christ! This is the good news, indeed. You and me, we are made new by the birth of our Savior. Through the gift of Christ, we come to celebrate the gift of each other. I truly celebrate all you beautiful people in this Wisconsin Conference. By your faith, by your love, by your openness to receive and share God’s grace, we become the body of Christ together. Thanks be to God for this precious gift. And thanks also for the coming gift of the new year. Let it be a time for unity, vision, and a renewed commitment to faithfully do God’s will. Thanks be to God!
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)
Our United States has emerged from one of the most contentious and divisive elections in our history; and the animosity and negativity that characterized so much of the party rhetoric still exists. The destructive energy has been felt in many areas of life, including the Church. In significant ways, the competitive spirit dividing citizens into winners and losers, superior to inferior, righteous to scurrilous, holy to hellish, infected all levels of our society. This should not be.
If this election season revealed anything of value, it shows us, in no uncertain terms, that we must find a better way to deal with our differences, and take a stand for our most deeply held values and opinions. Hateful language, defamatory claims, insults, and verbal abuse are so unnecessary; and it doesn’t lead to anything positive. Differences of opinion and widely diverse sets of values are no excuse for lowering ourselves to personal attacks and acts of aggression. As Christians, we have a golden opportunity to offer a better way.
In many ways, nothing significant has changed with the shift in the balance of our political power. The Christian faith is not a reactive faith. It is generative and creative. As Paul writes in the fourth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians, servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God engage in a co-creative act with God to build up, to improve, to dignify and to exalt. Regardless of the nature and direction of cultural leadership, the Church of Jesus Christ is called to produce the same fruit. In the face of hate and hopelessness, God produces, through us, love. Where we encounter despair, we share God’s gift of joy. When we meet those with whom we seriously disagree, we extend patience. Where others resort to violence, we embody and embrace peace. We are to be kind, generous, gentle, and to exhibit self-control. We are to care for the poor, the marginalized, and those most at risk in our communities and world. Our faithfulness is not an abstraction; it is to define who we are and how we live. We are united in our baptism; and we are one in Christ. We may differ in our politics; we may disagree on key issues; there may even be some in our churches who are not avid Packers’ fans; but in God’s grace and through the Holy Spirit, we are made one with Christ, one with each other, and one in service to all the world.
In my office, I often receive comments such as these: “our pastor is not a good preacher,” “our pastor does not listen well,” “our pastor is tearing down our church,” or “our pastor is making too many changes.” When I receive these comments – and others like them – I feel a pain deep in my heart, because I know that our pastors are trying their very best to be good, faithful, spiritual leaders. The question that comes to my mind is, “why can’t people focus on the good their pastors do instead of looking only at one thing a pastor does that they do not like?”
Our pastors work very hard – elders, deacons, licensed local pastors, pastors in the preparatory process – all give their best to serve. They are tasked with many challenging responsibilities. They do not have regular hours. They are often burdened with many emotional and psychologically draining demands. They have weekly responsibilities, but also have many varied and unpredictable duties that no one can predict. They shepherd dozens – sometimes hundreds – of lives, and are responsible for the spiritual development and well-being of Christians becoming disciples. They have commitments to their communities and to the Conference. Most parishioners see only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to truly knowing the work and ministry their pastors do. And when there is disagreement? Instead of actively seeking a way to work together and support the pastor, they complain and blame the pastor.
Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying that the pastor is always right, and I am well aware that sometimes pastors create many problems for themselves. But what I do want to say is that our pastors are only human and they can be no more effective or successful than the support they receive from the members and participants in our congregations. Conflict within a congregation becomes just one more challenge a pastoral leader must tackle, and the time given to conflict is time taken away from mission and ministry. Pastoral leadership is both a rare and a limited resource. Working together to make our pastors effective is critically important. Each and every pastor has specific gifts for ministry, and no one pastor is good at everything. I am asking, in this upcoming Advent season, to think of your pastor as a gift to your church. Set aside their deficiencies; ignore their faults; and focus on their gifts and graces. What is your pastoral leader good at? How is your church blessed by this pastor? How might the congregation step up to strengthen or support an area that is not your pastor’s strength? How can you show appreciation for what your pastoral leader does well (and not just focus on something the pastor does poorly or wrong)?
My brothers and sisters, clergy and laity – the beautiful people of Wisconsin – I invite you to discern with me now: what is the will of God for the Wisconsin Annual Conference? What does God dream for us? Where are we heading as the body of Christ and the faithful people of God?
Allow me to share with you some of my own thoughts and discernment since our wonderful time together at the School for Ministry.
When I reflect on God’s dream for Wisconsin, I see us living together in harmony with each other, and with the land – which bears fruit abundantly. It is an excellent stewardship of relationships and resources. Many differences are present, but what we hold in common is an unwavering commitment to serve one another and God. There is great longing to find God’s love and grace in each other, creating a healing space for us, so that we might share our abundance and give life to others. It is a place defined by respect, dignity, civility, and mercy. It is a place of justice, compassion, and peace.
Don’t we all want that? Aren’t we all willing to work together to make such a dream real? M. Scott Peck wrote a book called The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace. In it he described four stages of community making: pseudocommunity, chaos, emptiness, and true community. Briefly, in pseudocommunity, people are pleasant to each other, but avoid conflict at any cost. Individual differences are minimized, unacknowledged or ignored. Intimacy and honesty are buried under platitudes and generalizations. In chaos, differences surface that cannot be ignored. There is a lot of finger-pointing and choosing sides. Leadership futilely cry out “can’t we all just get along,” but no one is willing to budge an inch, and the same fights are fought over and over. The result of this is emptiness – or biblically, wilderness. In the emptiness of wilderness we purge ourselves of our preconceptions, our prejudices, our ideologies, and our need to control. We let go of ego and agenda, and finally come to the place where we can say with Jesus, “Not my will be done, O Lord, but thine. People get in touch with their own personal brokenness, fears, failures, and selfishness.
Once people empty themselves and open to meet and treat others as equals, true community emerges. Individuals find their place in a synergistic whole; together, as body of Christ, we are greater than the sum of our parts. Through the real sacrifice demanded by emptying, we engage in kenosis as Paul writes of Jesus in the second chapter of Philippians. We find unity in Christ. As baptized and beloved children of God, our differences lose the power to divide us, and we become who God intends us to be. No part of the body any longer says to any other part “you don’t belong.” The vision of 1 Corinthians 12 explodes forth birthing a new reality.
Beginning September 1, I am Bishop of the Wisconsin Episcopal Area for four more years. I am so thankful to God for this opportunity to continue to serve you as Bishop. I love the beautiful people of Wisconsin and am joyful to return. We have done so much together, and we have so much yet to do! I pray every day for a spirit of abundance and vitality in all of our churches.
Over the past four years, Wisconsin has faced some hard realities. Some churches struggled; a few failed; and there was healing work to do all across our Conference. I thank God that the faithful leadership of this Conference trusted me so that we could make some very important decisions and changes. Moving to five districts, with five district superintendents was a large leap of faith, but we made it, and it has done so much good. We have joined together to “Imagine Wisconsin Anew” in our local churches and throughout the Conference. We have revitalized and relaunched our circuit ministries with clearer purpose and direction. We raised over $1 million for Imagine No Malaria. We have launched new, exciting, and healthy ministries in every region of the state. We are doing more to reach out and serve our communities than ever before. It is an exciting time to be in ministry in the Wisconsin Conference.
But we are not satisfied to rest on our past achievements. We ask in humble faith, “where else is God leading us?” What steps must we take to move forward in faithful service and unity? What can we do to become a catalyst for igniting gospel values for transformation and sparking a new understanding of God’s abundance for ministry and service? What might we do differently to be even more faithful as God uses us for healing, grace and new life?
As we live together into the new four years, I invite everyone to make a commitment to unity, healing, and grace. We will not survive if we continue to define ourselves by our differences. It is in that which unites us and gives us our Christian identity that we find strength and a vision for the future. We must engage more actively in the healing and restoration of our cities, towns, and villages. Milwaukee is a clear illustration of the need for hope. The Church must step up to offer a bigger vision of mercy and justice, a brighter future for those losing hope, and a broader compassion that moves people from complacency to action. There is no room for passive discipleship – we must live our faith in our communities for the transformation of the world.
I will be working with principled Christian leaders throughout our Conference – as well as ecumenically and inter-faith – to create within Wisconsin a “grace-margin” – space where we can set aside our agendas and our opinions to discern together God’s will and God’s way. Our faith is the foundation and support for our ministry. Our strategy for transformation will be a faith strategy – how Wisconsin United Methodists will live their faith for the good and service of others.
I ask for your prayers and loving support as I serve Wisconsin four more years. I humbly rejoice with my Wisconsin church family. God is doing wonderful things among us, and I am honored to be your servant leader in such a time as this. Blessings!
Grace and Peace,
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
On Monday, August 15, Bishop Jung met with more than 30 clergy and community members in Milwaukee.
My Dear Friends and Colleagues,
It is with a great deal of sadness that I have watched the events unfolding in the Milwaukee area. I invite our Conference to continue to remember the people of Milwaukee in your prayers. Pray not only for peace. But pray for the systems that are in place that need changing.
Pray for restorative and racial justice for Milwaukee and all Wisconsin communities. Pray that our churches can find ways to partner with leaders from government and from the community to help bring about good jobs that pay a just living. Pray that our churches can find ways to reach out to frustrated young people who don’t know where to turn.
Help us to offer the love and community that comes through a healthy church. Pray for our police officers, many of whom are United Methodists, so that they can be safe and help to protect our communities in ways that offer justice for all.
This is a challenging time. May we be witnesses of God’s hope and life. I want to thank those who are serving in the Milwaukee area affected by this unrest and struggle within our inner cities. Please know that you are in my prayers.
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD