“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

I Corinthians 12:12-26 (NRSV)

One of the greatest challenges to our United Methodist Church is currently under global consideration.  We will gather as a worldwide denomination in February in St. Louis to truly determine our collective future.  Our ability to fulfill our mission of disciple-making for the transformation of the world, and our witness to the world of the saving grace and loving compassion of God is at stake.

Spiritual leaders throughout our church are calling United Methodists everywhere to make a commitment to the unity of faith in Jesus Christ and the continued positive impact of our theological and missional work in the world.  To the consternation of many, our “unity” has become a topic of debate and division.  This indicates a deep misunderstanding of “unity” as used in our Christian scriptures.  The Greek word Ενότητα (enotįta) is more rich and complex than the English translation unity.  By applying simplistic modern definitions to the word unity, we can deny the scriptural intention, which has great power to help us through our current challenges.

Many opponents to the idea of unity in The United Methodist Church incorrectly say it implies full agreement, lack of disagreement, regimented acceptance of a narrow set of moral standards, or homogenized sameness for all believers and members.  Interestingly, this is almost the opposite of what Paul and Jesus taught in our New Testament.

While Paul calls those who claim Christ as Lord and Savior to be of one heart and mind, and to proclaim the faith with one accord, his intention is that Christ followers would choose to unite around those things most important, and to set aside those things over which they disagreed.  Repeatedly, Paul acknowledges that there will be disagreements.  It is not disagreement that is the problem, but how we address our disagreements that is most important.  No matter how vehemently we disagree, our baptism, our belief in the risen Christ, and our proclamation of the love and grace of God is more powerful.  We do not choose unity; we are already made one with Christ, one with each other, and one in service by God’s redeeming act through Christ.  We do not unite to honor God; we honor God by recognizing the unifying work of God in our lives through our faith.  Once again, we do not choose God; God chooses us!  What we choose is how we will live this unity together.

This is the elegant and beautiful intention in Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 12.  We ARE ONE BODY – the body of Christ.  Many parts, many functions, many differences, but still all one.  No part of the body may judge and reject any other part of the body.  And it is not our task to merely tolerate the other parts of the body, but to come to recognize their value and to honor those we struggle to accept. 

Some say that Jesus said he did not come to bring peace, but to bring a sword of division and dissolution.  This is a skewed interpretation.  The division that Jesus brought was from one paradigm to another – a fundamental and defining faith different and separate from that which was the accepted norm.  People were forced to choose to remain in the old paradigm or to bravely and boldly risk entering a new paradigm.  The reality was that this would divide families, tribes, communities, and cultures.  It was not a justification of splitting over disagreement, but an honest acknowledgment that an “either/or” decision was demanded.

In our context, we are trying to decide which Christian brothers and sisters are acceptable and which we will not accept.  This is not our decision to make; it belongs to God and God alone.  Our decision is how we can live faithfully with those who are different; how we can honor the sacrament of baptism and what God has done for all of us, not just some of us; and, how we can witness to the world that when Christ is truly in our hearts, we navigate disagreement and division in ways very different from our dominant culture.

Our unity is a gift and grace to us from God.  God makes us one.  We can always choose to separate and go our way, rejecting what God has done for us, but we do not have the right to tell someone else they do not belong.  John Wesley offered the simplest and most helpful wisdom when he wrote, schism is “...evil in itself. To separate ourselves from a body of living Christians with whom we were before united is a grievous breach of the law of love. It is the nature of love to unite us together, and the greater the love the stricter the union...It is only when our love grows cold that we can think of separating from our brethren. And this is certainly the case with any who willingly separate from their Christian brethren. The pretenses for separation may be innumerable, but want of love is always the real cause.” (On Catholic Spirit, John Wesley)

Let us pray that our General Conference delegates might discern and embrace the sacred gift of unity that is the core characteristic of our identity as the Christian church, and that we might honor God by being the body of Christ for the transformation of our world.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Have you ever wondered what the week after Jesus’ birth was like for Mary and Joseph and the new born babe? The shepherds were gone, Bethlehem had most likely cleared out of the visiting masses, and the wise men had not yet arrived. There was not yet a rumor of danger to the infant and no immediate reason to move. According to Luke’s gospel account of the birth, Mary treasured all the many wonders that occurred, keeping them safely in her heart. Was it dawning on Mary and Joseph the incredible responsibility they now assumed? Think. Would you like to be given the responsibility for the care, safety, education and direction of the one true Son of God?

Modern day Christian believers sometimes miss the fact that Jesus was a product of his society, his culture, and his upbringing. The young man Jesus became owed much to his heritage and upbringing (yes, of course, his nature had much to do with it as well). Few of Jesus’ teachings were new to Jesus. It was his method of teaching, his audience, and his radical inclusiveness that made his messages so powerful and unforgettable. But, Jesus was a very Jewish teacher who had obviously been brought up right.

Joseph passes quickly from the story, while Mary makes infrequent appearances. We have virtually no sense of the home life of the parents of the Messiah, but it is not a far stretch to believe that normal parental anxieties, worries, concerns, and considerations were all greatly amplified. What ran through Mary and Joseph’s mind when they needed to discipline Jesus? If Jesus was fully human and fully divine, then he was fully a normal boy growing up with all the challenges that brings.

It is a shame we don’t have the stories of Jesus growing up (apart from the one incident in the temple when Jesus was twelve years old). It could be a great comfort to have insight into all the things that contributed to Jesus becoming the man he did. Even the nature of God, if ignored or abused, could have been channeled in a variety of different ways. It would be nice to better understand the influence Mary and Joseph had on Jesus.

In big and small ways, we all influence and affect others. Every choice we make in our relationships has immense potential power – for good or for ill. We speak often of the impact faith in Jesus Christ makes on our lives, but even the best of us fall short of living up to the standards we set for our discipleship. We need help. We need God. We need each other.

“Am I my brother’s (sister’s) keeper?” is the rhetorical question asked in scripture (the answer is “yes,” if you are wondering) that applies to each and every one of us. But what if we extended this thought to “and who is my child?” and looked at every other person on earth as someone we have a responsibility to and for? What if we defined our God-given vocation as receiving each new person as a beloved child, born of God, and entrusted to our care. Wouldn’t this impact the ways we talk to and treat each other? If I look at those I meet as my charge, my responsibility, my offspring, and my family, I will engage with them in very different ways.

At the new year, it is quite normal to look ahead, to think about the days to come, and to long for a better tomorrow. Wanting a nicer, safer, kinder future is a noble wish, but God expects so much more from us. It is not enough to want, to wish, or even to pray. We must act, and we must act together. We must treat one another as we would treat the blessed Christ child. And to the extent we are successful, God’s will is done, and the wondrous work of transforming the world occurs. How glorious it is when we face our future together! May you experience rich blessings in the New Year!

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

"When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

Matthew 2:10-11

Epiphany is a word that has lost much meaning in the church, though we do retain it in remembrance the first Sunday after Christmas as a commemoration of the visit of the magi to the infant King. But in its broadest and purest sense, an epiphany is a magnificent manifestation of the divine. The early church referred to the revelation of Jesus to the magi – Gentile astrologers and wise scholars, not of the Jewish faith – as both an epiphany and a theophany (appearance of God to humans). Interestingly, Jesus’ appearance before the shepherds was not considered epiphany, because in this context, he was the expected Messiah. This is another missing element of epiphany – unexpected as well as magnificent.

But expected or unexpected, do we in our day and age really anticipate encounters with the divine? Haven’t we relegated epiphany to a quaint scene in our Christmas pageants (where, for some inexplicable reason we have the shepherds and the wise men arrive simultaneously, implying a confusing hybrid Matthew/Luke mash-up of holiday cheer!) where the gifts are given, and the wise men step back in ensemble adoration of baby Jesus with all the other players?

How far are we willing to travel to see Jesus? Some scholars believe that the magi travelled not just weeks, not just months, but years to find the Christ child. And here is the amazing thing: Jesus was not their Messiah, not their Savior, not their King – at least not in their belief system. He was to be the King of the Jews. Gentiles were on their own. But as Savior, he came to rescue the entire created order of God!

In this remarkable case, certain men of magic, astrology, prediction, and prognostication saw signs and portents that the world was soon to change, completely and irrevocably. King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, Savior of all humankind – something that had never happened before was happening now, in the immediate and present world. Those who saw Jesus saw God – epiphany, theophany, Emmanuel.

I know it is challenging but think if you had never heard this story before. God, on earth. The divine, in human form. Wise men from the east left whatever home, family, security, and comfort they knew to seek the Messiah of a foreign faith. It makes no sense. But, ultimately, it made all the sense in the world.

When you next attend church, prepare to have an epiphany. Prepare your heart, mind, and spirit to meet the new born king; to encounter the divine. Ready yourself to see God – God in the sanctuary, God in the prayers, God in the music, God in the scripture, God in your sisters and brothers. Prepare to be surprised; ready yourself for the unexpected; seek and you shall find! God is with us! God’s Son is born anew, for us and for all, Savior of the world. Receive this sacred gift with joy.

Then, take what you receive with you and share it with everyone you meet. Multiply your blessing by giving it away. Surprise others with the love, joy, grace, and hope of Christ. Don’t just have an epiphany but be the epiphany God calls you to be when Christ is born in your heart. O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

“...an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’”

Matthew 1:20b-23

Brothers and sisters in Christ, pause from your busyness for the moment and reflect on this – God is with us. Don’t dismiss this simple idea too quickly. Emmanuel – God is with us.  In this moment, in this age, in the place, in space, and in actuality, God. Is. With. Us.  Amazing.  Miraculous.  Overwhelming.  God is with us.

I wonder if our daily living reflects this fact?  Too often we reduce faith to a simplistic belief and acclamation with no deep substance.  We believe, Lord, help our unbelief.  What we say and how we act are sometimes very different things.  What we want to believe and what we truly believe can be different, too.

What does it look like when God is with us?  I offer a few thoughts, gifts perhaps that take some of the pressure off us as we strive to become committed disciples, living our faith in a world-transforming manner.

First, if God is with us, we can let go of our need to control everything.  We can be more fully in the moment, living in the present, allowing the past to rest, and the future to be, and become whatever it will be.  Anxiety, worry, guilt, and shame can all be released.  What we have been and done is not as important as who we are in the presence of God.  What we will be is taken care of, because God is with us – guiding and tending and teaching and supporting.  In the words of our ten-step sisters and brothers, we simply can “let go and let God.”  This is not an abdication of responsibility, but a resting in the providence and assurance that we are dwelling together with a loving God.

Second, we can let go of judgment.  It is not our responsibility to determine who God may engage with; God can take care of God’s self.  Any and all, sinner and saint, rich and poor, any race and creed, may experience Emmanuel – God with us – at God’s whim and will.  And we don’t have to worry about who is acceptable and who is not, who is blessed and who is cursed, who belongs and who doesn’t.  It simply is not our call.  God is with us ALL.  How wonderful to be freed from the awesome burden of judging others!

Third, we can serve and be served.  If God is truly with us, would we ever truly want for anything?  Those who have will share with those who lack.  Those who enjoy and celebrate will extend the celebration to include others.  Those who mourn and grieve will find comfort from God through the grace and kindness of others, because God is with us, supplying all we need to serve others and to be served by others.  When God is with us, we are lifted above our divisions to become one people of God.  We move beyond equality to equity; beyond tolerance to joyful community; beyond fear and suspicion to blessed assurance and amazing grace.  We need never worry again about survival, because when God is with us, uniting us and binding us in love, there is more than enough for all to thrive.

Beautiful people, let your God-given beauty to shine.  Make a commitment and goal to be an example of Emmanuel – God is with us.  At this Christmas time accept an amazing gift: God wants us to be gifts to one another!  And as we live as Emmanuel people, our witness to the world will be one of joy, peace, hope, justice, mercy and love.  I pray for you this Christmas time.  Pray for one another, and in all ways give thanks to God – for God is with us!

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:34

Let me share with you what I want more than anything else for Christmas: I would like faith to displace fear as the driving motivational value in our global culture, community, and church.  Today’s church and world is being torn apart by fear, worry, anxiety, and angst.  Fear, in a multitude of disguises – anger, violence, prejudice, exclusion, judgmentalism, caustic rhetoric, suspicion, security systems and weapons, insult comedy, racism, sexism, classism, on and on – makes belief in a redeeming, saving, life-affirming, and generative faith seem irrational, unreasonable, gullible, and immature.  Who in their right mind would feel good about our world in its present condition?

Well, God for one.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  In a world of turmoil, conflict, and rampant fear, we have a Messiah, a Savior, a counter-cultural reality that has the power to transform and make all things new.

But fear is a pathology in our society.  It has taken root in our very DNA, and it causes us to act and react in some of the most toxic, unhelpful, self-defeating, and destructive ways possible.  It seems easier to break things than to fix them; to split apart instead of working together for unity and peace; sacrificing the common good and a universal peace and security for personal, private, and individual short-term, inadequate solutions.  Who can we trust?  The “other” is strange, foreign, unsettling, dangerous.  With this mindset, does the Gospel even stand a chance?

Two phrases in Greek, mE phobou andmE phobeisthe, occur frequently throughout the Christian scriptures.  The first simply means, “be not afraid,” while the second, more specifically and pointedly, means “YOU be not afraid,” and it is both plural and indicative.  If a person has faith, fear ceases to be an issue.  Faith and fear cannot occupy the same space.  Doubt or skepticism are not the opposites of faith; fear is.  Where God is present, fear flies out the window.  Jesus and Paul share the simple and clear admonition, “do not be afraid.”  Don’t make it harder than it needs to be: Jesus Christ, Savior of the World, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Immanuel, Messiah, Lord of All, reigns in us – not fear.  If God is for us, who can stand against us?

What will happen to us in February after the special session of General Conference?  What happens if our borders allow too many foreigners into our country?  What if peace talks break down in Korea?  What if China gains too much power? What happens if we allow gay and lesbian leadership in the church? What happens if the other political party gains power?  What happens if the other political party stays in power? What about gun violence, disease, computer hackers and identity thieves? Well, what about them?  God is greater than any and all of our fears, anxieties, doubts, and delusions.

What I want most for Christmas is that we regain our center, and we reorient ourselves to God.  I want to see God’s people of faith to rise above our divisions to be a witness to the power and strength of God’s love and grace.  I want the world to look at the church and see a better way of being in the world and responding to the causes of so much fear and dread.  In short, I want us who have received the miracle of God’s love called Christmas, to live as Christmas people every day of the years to come.  People of faith, not fear; people of love and grace, not anxiety; people of hope and trust, not suspicion and distrust.

My prayer for all of you, beautiful people of the Wisconsin Conference, is that the peace of Christ may reign and rule in your hearts and minds, and may the Messiah be born again in your life this Christmas.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

For Christians, we celebrate the new liturgical year, which launches with Advent leading us to the joy of Christmas. This is a sacred time, but it is easy to fall into apathy and complacency. It has happened so many times before; it will happen again in each year to come. This extraordinary time has become all too ordinary.

But reflect with me on the immensity of what is to come – the birth of God on earth! The hopes and dreams of God’s people made real and manifest. For those who waited so long, this was the fulfillment of every hope.

For us today, I pray that this is more than simply a time of hope and waiting. Hope and waiting, as wonderful as they may be, are passive.  We may hope deeply for God to transform the world, and we may wait somewhat patiently for the Prince of Peace to arrive, but these are simply receiving grace from external sources.  I want to challenge and invite you to make this Advent season one of active preparation.  What will it take to make your heart, your mind, your soul and strength ready to receive the blessed Child of God as we remember and celebrate Jesus’ birth?  What steps will you take to make sure that the Christ remains central and foundational to the season of Christmas?

I encourage you to engage in three ways.

First, pray. Pray for God to reveal the fullness of the gift of the Christ child. Pray to fully comprehend God’s love, grace, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, generosity, and faithfulness.  Pray for peace for our world.  Pray that God’s love might transform our world into the very realm of heaven on earth.  Pray that all human beings may know the love of God.

Second, read. Read and reread the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. Meditate on the meaning of these messages – their similarities and differences.  Contemplate on your most appropriate response to the gift of God’s own Son.  Find a devotional guide to help shape your reflection and thinking.  Celebrating Abundance by Walter Bruggemann, Advent for Everyone by N. T. Wright, God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Preparing for Christmas by Richard Rohr are all excellent choices.  Make space every day to spend some quality time with God.

Third, act. Act for the good of others. Pay attention to those in need in our communities and world. Jesus was born in a humble place, among those in greatest want and need.  Let us look for the humble places in our own areas and seek tangible ways to make the love of God known.  From our abundance, let us feed the hungry, house the homeless, comfort the afflicted, offer healing to the sick and welcome to the stranger.  Let us make Christmas blessing the holy task of transforming belief into action.

Preparing for Christmas is very different from hoping or waiting for Christmas. Advent is an active, rather than a passive time.  Seek God’s graceful guidance and you will find it.  Our God is a God of gifts and generosity.  Receive with gladness what God offers to you this year and seek ways that you might share your blessing with others.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

There are so many trials and tribulations, challenges and conflicts, anxieties and atrocities that it is easy to be caught up in a spiral of disillusionment and despair.  What is wrong with the world seems so much more obvious sometimes than what is right with the world.  Darkness looms large and long, and it is a test of faith to remain upbeat, positive, and hopeful.

But this is who are called to be.  Our God is the source of goodness and our Savior is the light of the world – and by extension, we are the light of the world.  We walk by faith, not by sight, and we hold fast to what we know in our hearts to be true: God works all things together for good with those who love God.  Even when the burdens, challenges, and costs are great, we are a people who celebrate not the liabilities, but all the gifts, the assets, the treasures, and blessings.

Thanksgiving is a United States holiday that could very easily be a Christian holiday.  It is a celebration of providence.  It is a celebration of abundance.  It is a celebration of generosity.  It is festival, jubilee, and feast.  It is a testament and witness to the goodness and love of God.  In all ways, at all times, in all places, and for a multitude of reasons, we should offer thanks and praise to God.

Thanksgiving is the holiday that immediately precedes Advent.  Adopting an attitude of gratitude and thanks prepares our hearts and minds to receive the greatest gift God has given us.  When we celebrate the blessings, we are doubly blessed, and we open ourselves to receive the Messiah.  All too often, we stuff our bodies at Thanksgiving with marvelous food; I invite you to stuff your spirit this Thanksgiving with the marvelous bounty of God’s grace, kindness, generosity, and joy.

You are all in my prayers, beautiful people of Wisconsin.  I wish you a blessed family holiday and a holy and transformational Advent season. 

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

Our hearts break for the tragedy in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue.  At the same time, we are horrified by the attempted bombings of prominent American leaders, and the killings of two African-Americans in Kentucky.  There is no place in our world for the actions, attitudes and motivations that lead to hate-crimes and irrational acts of violence.  Can we not be better than this?

I believe that God has a vision for this world – that the world may be transformed into the very kingdom of God.  If kingdom language does not work for you, then for a realm of heaven – of grace and peace, and kindness and compassion; of mercy and justice for all grounded in forgiveness and healing.  All that hate can produce is hurt; but we are a people of grace, and we are called to heal.

Ours is a broken world.  The anger, the hurt, the frustration, and the hopelessness that many feel, manifests in violence – against self, against neighbor, and against the world in which we live.  Many people are unable to deal with the overwhelming burden of their disappointments and losses.  But, we cannot continue on our current course.  We cannot settle our differences with violence.  We cannot use weapons to bring peace.  We cannot couch hatred in the dressing of “righteous indignation” and do physical or emotional harm to brothers and sisters.  Hate is not of God.

Innocent and beloved children of God have been killed this week.  Senseless violence has taken sacred life.  People may want to debate “issues” and “rights” and “politics” but the basic reality is that brothers and sisters in the family of humankind have been violently killed.  We should mourn.  We should weep.  We should rend our garments.  Our family has been broken.

I am not simply talking of the victims.  It is crystal clear that those maliciously gunned down by weapons designed to take life need our prayer.  It is also clear that the families and friends of the victims need our prayers.  It is even fairly clear that the perpetrators of these acts of violence need our prayers.  What may not be as clear is that WE need our prayers.  Our culture is becoming one where violence is the first solution, and where animosity, hatred, violence, and destruction are viewed as acceptable options.  This must never be.

Our God is a God of reconciliation, love, mercy, and justice.  Ours is a God of grace who loves the whole of creation and who intends a redemption from hopelessness and despair to unity and acceptance.  Our God calls us from hate and hurt to grace and healing.

My brothers and sisters, let us engage deeply with the victims and families of the Tree of Life Synagogue and the young men killed in Kentucky.  Let us offer gratitude that the hateful acts of intended destruction through bombs did not succeed.  But let us also offer prayers that we may begin to work together to usher in God’s kingdom upon this earth – a kingdom of grace and peace, mercy and compassion, forgiveness and kindness, a community of generosity and love.  Hate cannot succeed.  It is only through love that we have a future.  Let us be known for our love in every way.

As United Methodist Christians we have so very much to celebrate.  We are known globally for our good works and life-giving, life-saving ministries.  I am so proud to serve as president of our General Board of Global Ministries and to see the impact UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) continues to make.  My heart swells to see the dedicated women and men serving in so many ways to bring mercy, justice, healing, and restoration to the world.  It is an important mission that we have – to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who can work together by God’s grace and guidance to transform our world into the very image of heaven on earth.

But as the Council of Bishops met earlier this month, we engaged in a humbling, troubling, and urgent conversation about racism in our country and world.  In many ways, in many places, and with many people we have made great strides in healthy race relations.  At the same time, we live in an “us-them” culture that too often focuses more on differences and divisions than on commonalities and connections.  We see a rise in hate crimes that are racially, ethnically, theologically, or culturally motivated and cannot help but question why we cannot do better.  What role may the church play in “breaking down the dividing walls” and eliminating the “hostility” that leads to destruction, violence, and prejudice?  What is our witness?

We are a people bookended by the Tower of Babel where our “language was confused” (Genesis 11) and we could no longer maintain a unity of understanding and mutuality, and a Pentecost where by the power of the Holy Spirit language difference was conquered and we became a people of a common faith, hope, and love all empowered by that same Spirit (Acts 2).

What is it in the human psyche that looks for ways to judge and suspect and fear “the other?”  Why is “different” bad?  In almost every human endeavor – from agriculture to biology, from meteorology to chemistry, from art to literature to music to culinary arts – we understand that diversity, complementarity, contrast, and harmony are positive and healthy and good.  Why does this same essential wisdom not translate to the whole, broad, diverse, and eclectic reality that is the human race?

Skin color, language, dress, worldview, culture – none of these things in and of themselves is good or bad, better or worse, superior or inferior.  Yes, they are different, but who are we to say “ours is better than theirs?”  Jesus teaches, and Paul confirms, that we are one – no longer Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female (this or that, either/or) – we have been drawn together in love and grace and kindness and holy generosity to be forgiven our failings and flaws and to be made one in Christ.

Our Bishops are engaged in continuing work through a Dismantling Racism Task Force.  In our own Annual Conference, our Connectional Table has made the elimination of institutional racism a core priority of its work.  It is critically important that we open our eyes to the reality in our culture and be honest about violent acts motivated by race, and do all we can to oppose them.  Let us pray together that we might view all people as sisters and brothers, let us celebrate what we share in common as well as what we each uniquely bring to the community, and let us stand together in opposition to any act of prejudice, bigotry, bias, and racism.  By God’s grace, Jesus’ kind compassion, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, may we witness to the goodness of ALL of God’s people.

Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer; it is almost essentially connected with it. One who always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from Him, and receives them for His sake — not choosing nor refusing, liking or disliking, anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to His perfect will.

John Wesley

Are we praying? I know we are talking a lot. I know we have concerns. I know we have questions. But are we praying?

And how are we praying? John Wesley reminds us that thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer. It doesn’t matter what our personal opinions might be. It doesn’t matter who we agree with and who we disagree with. It doesn’t matter how we feel or what we think. Brothers and sisters, we are to be a people of prayer — and by extension, we are to be a people of thanksgiving.

What thanksgiving prayers do we have to pray at this moment? For one, we should all pray for this wonderful church of ours. Many wonder about the future, but regardless of what we might decide, this is still God’s church, “working out its own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12b-13). As our Bishops and our Commission on the General Conference and the Judicial Council work faithfully and tirelessly to guide our General Conference in seeking wholeness and unity for the future of our church, let us never forget who is really in charge. In prayer, trust that truly “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).

We are a people of faith, not fear. Our love for God and our trust in Jesus the Christ form who we are. This is not a time to worry about tomorrow, but to be faithful today. Our world still stands in need of the good news of Jesus Christ. There is enough pain and suffering, violence and despair — in prayer, we ask God to continue to use us to be light in the darkness, and a source of healing, comfort, and grace. Let our prayers be filled with thanksgiving for the opportunity to serve. May we constantly pray that God may refresh, renew, reenergize, and revitalize us as disciples prepared to transform the world.

And let us pray to Launch Out! God is calling us to reach new people, more people, to continue to serve the people in our churches, and to reach out to those beyond our walls. We have the opportunity to extend love and healing, mercy and compassion to a broken world. We have the power to use our gifts and resources to not only Imagine Wisconsin Anew, but to welcome in the new creation that God most desires for our church and world.

Are we praying? We should pray more — and let our prayer be grounded in thanksgiving. Let us join together with gratitude to pray for Launch Out! “Jesus said, ‘Put out into deep water and let your nets down… Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’” (Luke 5:4,10). Here is our Launch Out! prayer:

God of Grace and Promise, help us to put our trust deep into your promises and faithfully respond to your call. Strengthen our hearts, our minds, our spirits, and our bodies to be generous. Empower us with a vision for new people, new places, and new communities. Grant our churches gifts of new life and vitality. Lead us to a ministry of peace, justice, and mercy. Give us wisdom and courage; as we boldly launch out! Amen.

"When the LORD descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the LORD summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up." (Exodus 19:20)

It is no wonder that mountains hold such power in our imaginations and that our Hebrew ancestors held them in reverence and awe. They truly can be awe-some and awe-inspiring. Many passages of scripture warn against scaling the mountains to see the Lord, because it can be very dangerous. But there is something holy and sacred in the mountain spaces. It gives a perspective available in no other way.

Im and I are on spiritual retreat in the Himalaya Mountains, hiking and climbing (at 5500 meters/ 18,040 feet for fifteen days), and being continually reminded of the amazing creative power and imagination of God. Our God is God of earth and sky, of rock and forest, of sun and moon, snow and wind. Our God is an awesome God!

Such grandeur and spectacle is exciting on one hand, but very humbling on the other. I am reminded that our church is facing many hard decisions, but that the will and work of God is much greater than what any church goes through at any time. This keeps going through my mind: God is bigger.

God is bigger than our theological differences and disagreements. God is bigger than our conflicting and contradicting interpretations of scripture. God is bigger than the divergent cultural mores and moralities. God is bigger than our human penchant to continue to slice the body of Christ into smaller and smaller factions. And God is love. GREAT love. BIG love. GREAT BIG love.

I do not believe it is possible for we unenlightened human beings to fully grasp the height and breadth and width and depth of God’s love. Each of us encounters God’s love shaped by grace, mercy, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, kindness, and justice. And this – in its awesome and humble incompleteness is all we have to give to each other. And here is a miracle! One dram of God’s mercy, one iota of God’s grace, one smidge of God’s love is greater than the greatest mountain in creation.

Brothers and sisters, we worship a magnificent God. Is there anyone on earth we wouldn’t want to share God with? Truly? God is big enough for all; God’s love is big enough for all. Join me in praying that the whole world, the entire scope of God’s creation, may be exposed to the earthshaking power of God’s mercy, grace, and love.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

"By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things."

Galatians 5:22-23

God’s Spirit is truly at work in our world, even in those places where we sometimes give up hope, despair of progress, and doubt lasting change. But the fruit of God’s Spirit is not solely dependent on our ability to keep faith. Often, we can simply sit back and marvel that miraculous things are happening, which then can inspire us to renewed belief. I am so inspired by what is continuing to happen between North and South Korea.

On the second day of a three-day summit between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, the leaders of the two Koreas made bold declarations that Pyongyang was on its way to denuclearization. It is easy to dismiss this as simple diplomacy, but many Koreans doubted that such a day and such declarations could ever happen. Even statements of intention to move toward peace, restoration, and reunification are nothing short of miraculous in the minds of a great number of people. It is of great significance that this is the third summit between Korean leadership. This lays a critical foundation for U.S. involvement and the relationship that President Trump builds and maintains with North Korea.

Beyond military de-escalation, talks included a commitment “to search for the remains of troops killed but unaccounted for during the Korean War and pull back their guard posts within the DMZ on a trial basis,” (according to one government official). Talk has occurred to transform the DMZ into a “peace zone.”

“After having lived together for 5,000 years, our Korean nation had been separated for 70 years. Today at this place I propose to completely end 70 years of animosity and take a big step forward to once again become one and unify,” said President Moon Jae-In, in a speech in front of 150,000 citizens of North Korea. I encourage us all to celebrate BIG STEPS wherever and whenever they occur. What is now happening in Korea is not just about Korea: it affects global community and diplomacy, and it involves a healthy and supportive relationship with the United States and other world powers.

It is too simple to view all of this as political, social, military, and economic without comprehending the spiritual dimensions as well. This is a healing of a nation, of families, of communities, of race and ethnicity, of a people. Korea has been divided in many physical, emotional, ethical, and metaphysical ways for seven decades. While a reconciliation of religion may not be in the offing, a reconciliation grounded in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” seems possible for the first time in years.

I want to call upon The United Methodist Church to engage in a witness of prayer for global peace, exemplified by what is happening on the Korean peninsula. For Korea, I ask that we pray for peace, but also for a creative and generative vision for a unified and vital future. By God’s grace, may families, friends, traditions, and heritages be reconciled and healed. At this point, a great deal of power is in President Trump’s hands as the United States continues to negotiate with the Koreas — to provide a way forward as these leaders meet at the UN assembly next week and beyond. I pray that this movement takes us through an Armistice Treaty to a true, lasting peace treaty in the very near future. This is a holy time, and a time to rejoice and be glad. For our God is an awesome and miraculous God who can move us beyond our most devastating differences to a new and glorious unity and promise.

Hee-Soo Jung, Bishop
Wisconsin Episcopal Area
United Methodist Church

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”  (John 14:11-14)

What will it take for the laity and clergy, congregations, and conference leadership of the Wisconsin Annual Conference to do “greater works” than Jesus? It seems preposterous on one level, but on another? It is what Jesus calls us to do — and by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, it is our new reality.

There is some concern in our conference that we might not be in a good place financially. To be completely honest, we have spent down our reserves and we are experiencing a “cash flow” shortage in the immediate future. But that is only part of the story. Our Conference Council on Finance and Administration, with the support of the cabinet and Connectional Table, has developed a plan to reestablish a solid financial base upon which we will continue to do our ministry. We will move through this time of budgetary correction quickly and well. Our Conference Boards and Agencies hold more than $12 million dollars in funds invested with our Wisconsin Conference Foundation for the ongoing, long-term ministries. This is our current reality. The Wisconsin Conference is in excellent financial condition beyond the current day-to-day challenges.

This is why we are so confident that it is time to Launch Out! in faith, in new directions, to do “greater things” than we have ever done before. Launch Out! is not a way to “pay our bills,” but a way to take a giant leap of faith forward to fulfill our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world.

Wisconsin — both the state and the Conference — is experiencing a massive paradigm shift. Our population is changing. We are moving from a predominantly “white” culture to a gloriously diverse multi-cultural reality. New opportunities for new faith contexts with new people are all around us. We need to invest — today — in the communities that will lead us into our future.

We have existing congregations that are poised for high-potential, community-changing/world-changing ministries across the conference. The revisioning, revitalization, and resourcing of existing ministries to “turn around” our decline and struggle is essential. We need to invest — today — in empowering our existing churches to do transformational ministry.

The needs to serve, support, and engage individuals, families, communities, cities, and towns are greater than ever, and as social structures are able to do less and less, it is imperative that the church do more and more. Mercy and justice ministries have never been more challenging, but there has never been a greater opportunity to make a difference. We need to invest — today — in Christian service and mission that gives hope, light, and life to the most needy and vulnerable in our world.

Launch Out! is about faith-raising, not just fund-raising. Money is not the point; ministry is. We have a beautiful opportunity to make a commitment to say, collectively, that we walk by faith, not by sight. Our future will be determined by what we have, not by what we lack. What can we do together to do “greater things”?  We are envisioning bigger and better things than we have ever been able to do before.

We are a Conference of many gifts, many assets, many resources, and many opportunities. We are a Conference of life-giving, world-transforming faith. We are a Conference that worships God, that serves a risen Savior, and that is empowered by an incredible, awesome, and miraculous Holy Spirit. Let us rejoice in the great blessings we have been given, and let us Launch Out! together in faith. Thanks be to God!

A Song of Ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and for evermore.(Psalm 121)

On Sunday afternoon, I stood with the pastor and members of our Wesley United Methodist Church in Marshfield, watching with a broken heart the fire that destroyed this historic sacred building. There are no words adequate to describe the pain and despair, the helplessness and distress, of seeing fire consume the beloved church home of generations of Marshfield members. The fire not only burned a building, but a spiritual home filled with joys, grief, memories of celebration, memories of loss, sense of community and a safe foundation, as well as hopes and dreams. No price can be calculated that covers the immense value of a church home.

But, the building is not the church — the church is always so much more than the bricks and mortar, the glass and furnishings, as blessed and beloved as they are. I was very impressed by the Wesley leaders — they stand hopeful and committed in the face of their loss. They are trusting in God, and they are determined to come through this tragic time stronger than before.

They are witnesses to the power of God alongside all the women and men who have suffered loss this month during the flooding across our state. On both individual and community levels, rains have caused flooding that damaged and destroyed homes, businesses, community centers, public services, schools, and hospitals. The losses have included human life. It has been heartbreaking to see the tears and suffering of people losing homes and treasured possessions. One interview showed a woman wracked with sobs asking, “Why would God do this?”

In times of tragedy, people sometimes wonder why God allows pain and suffering, destruction and devastation, bad things to happen to good people. But it is important to remember, God doesn’t act in such a fashion. It isn’t that “God did this,” or “God allowed this to happen,” but that we are living in God’s creation — a creation of great beauty, awesome wonder, and incredible power. Our God is a God who created and established a natural order. God fashioned the laws of physics, the wonders of the universe, and gave us the means to explore and understand through biology, geology, astronomy, and the other sciences. No one understands the forces of nature better than our creator God, and no one understands the heights of joy and the depths of despair better than our heavenly parent. When we rejoice, God rejoices with us; and when we are torn by tears and grief, God grieves and cries with us. But God so loved our world, that Jesus was given to establish once and for all time that what happens to us on earth is not the whole story. The ups and downs of day-to-day are nothing to compare with the glory God intends. God gave us a Messiah to grant us eternity, and God gives us to one another to help us day by day.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us."  (I John 4:7-12)

The United Methodist Church is a loving church. From time to time we may question this; and indeed there are occasions when United Methodists act in less-than-loving ways, but as a scripturally based Christian fellowship, we deeply believe in the words from John’s first epistle. We are a church of love.

Who do we love? We love those whom God loves. Who does God love? God loves God’s creation and all those created in the image of God. God loves God’s children. God loves the whole world. So much does God love the world that God sent Jesus to save and redeem us all. We cannot fully conceive of God’s love, but we BELIEVE.

God’s love is why we do all that we do. Our ministries are motivated by God’s love. Our plans are motivated by God’s love. And Launch Out! — our conference faith-raising campaign — is an affirmation of God’s love. How can this be?

Launch Out! will enable us to reach new people in new places with the saving grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will reach thousands of people with the love of God. We will extend God’s grace to many who have never known acceptance and forgiveness. We will revitalize, reenergize, and resurrect congregations too long complacent, bringing a new day of meaningful ministry to churches long struggling and lacking direction. We will engage in transformative servant ministry, living the fullness of Matthew 25 — feeding the hungry, giving drink to those who thirst, clothes to the naked, comfort to the sick, care to the imprisoned and welcome to the stranger — as well as housing for the homeless, education for those deprived, economic justice to those unfairly treated, and a host of other ministries of comfort and care.

We will use the material resources of our time and place to faithfully honor and glorify God. We will take the concept of love and make it concrete. We will transform the inward and spiritual feelings of kindness, compassion, and generosity into the outward and visible signs of aid, service, and action.

We will not ask the question, “Who is deserving of God’s love?” Instead, we commit to the pursuit and achievement of unconditional love — love for all, freely given by the God who loves the whole world.

As we Launch Out! into deep waters of ministry possibilities, let us remember that we Launch Out! in love. We may do many wonderful things, but unless we do them in love they are meaningless. When our United Methodist Church formed, the delegates sang “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” May we join together that this sentiment be much more than a desire for the future, but a lived reality today.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung