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

Matthew 6:34

On almost every modern technological device, there is a pause button.  This allows us to step away from whatever is demanding our attention to stop for a moment, to attend to other needs.  My siblings in Christ, the current pandemic is inarguably pressing pause.  For many, this is a terrible disruption, for others a source of extreme anxiety, and for still others a life-changing, paradigm-shifting event.  It touches every aspect of our global community, every aspect of our institutional life, and every aspect of our individual day-to-day existence.

Our own General Conference is being rescheduled from 2020 until 2021.  As embroiled in disagreement and talk of division as The United Methodist Church has been, this is a period for us to pause, to rethink our positions, to defuse the debate, and to prayerfully discern – what does this extra time mean?  Perhaps this extra time may grant us a deeper wisdom and creativity on how we will live out our future together.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:1-5

When Paul wrote these words, he wrote them to the community in Rome, understanding that professing the Christian faith would bring persecution, oppression, and even violence to the believers.  While he did not have a pandemic in mind, these words offer us some direction and perspective in the face of the coronavirus.  This is a time of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, sadness, and for some, panic.  It is a time of suffering.

For Christians, it is an excellent time to provide a witness to the world.  So many things divide us in our church and world today; the threat of a global pandemic is a great opportunity to join together, to unite, and to stand strong in our faith. It is a time to encourage each other, to care fore each other, and to put the good of all ahead of the desire of the individual.  We all have the power to take basic precautions.  There are excellent resources available about hygiene, social interactions and isolations, self-care and care of others.  Beyond the worry and fear we are presented with a fundamental test of faith – to step out in faith for the healing, care, and wellness of God’s children everywhere.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’

Luke 4:1-4

Times of confusion, times of disruption, times of monumental change, can also be times of deep despair or times of enlightenment and revelation.  This is a core message of the Lenten season.  It reminds us that the events that occur are part of a larger journey and process.  Jesus is tempted in the wilderness time, and these temptations often become the whole focus of the story.  However, there is a subtle but significant context in which all of the temptations occur.  For forty days, Jesus was empty of food, but full of the Holy Spirit.  I want to reflect on this reality for our Lenten journey.

Physical hunger is a powerful thing.  When we are hungry, our entire body chemistry changes.  It can affect our moods and emotions, the way we interact with other people, our concentration, our attention, our reasoning, and our attitude.  People tend to be less than their best when they are hungry.  This can also be true when we are psychologically, spiritually, or mentally hungry.  Hungers of all kind can be distracting, obsessive, and all-consuming (no pun intended).

Many would say that our United Methodist Church is in a “hungry-time”.  People across the theological spectrum hunger for different things, but many are ravenous – some for justice, others for judgment; some for inclusion, others for restrictions; some for acceptance, others for standards of behavior; some for discipleship, others for membership.  Some are longing for radical change, while others crave a return to former, more comfortable ways.  At one end of the spectrum is a starvation for absolute transformation and at the other end a famishment for tradition and established practices.  We are a hungry people – we hold this truth in common – and deep hunger is making sound decisions difficult.

Luke is very careful and clear to tell us that at the end of the forty days, Jesus was physically famished.  Yet, at the same time, Luke makes sure we know that in every instance of temptation, Jesus made extremely intelligent, reasonable, and rational decisions.  He existed in the certainty and knowledge that we “cannot live by bread alone,” that our physical (and psychological/emotional/mental) hungers must never displace the fullness and wholeness that can be provided by God’s Holy Spirit.

There are some Christians who believe that God stopped talking to us when the canon of scripture was established.  Others hold that the teachings of John Wesley should guide and govern our beliefs today, ignoring that Wesley himself taught that God wasn’t finished leading and teaching and transforming us.  Both Jesus and Paul teach us that God is present in us through the power of the Holy Spirit to continue to teach and guide us.  It is by God’s grace, Christ’s presence, and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that we no longer tolerate slavery, child abuse, oppression of women, and other practices and perspectives endorsed by scripture.  It is by the teaching of the Holy Spirit that we understand unconditional love, unmerited grace, justification and sanctification.  What we believe and how we live our beliefs today are radically different than beliefs and practices in Biblical times, locations, cultures, and contexts. Scripture has much to teach us today, interpreted and evolved through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Lent is not just a season, not just a static period, or a phase of the Christian year.  Lent is a threshold to a journey of transformation.  It is a time where we become invulnerable to our human hungers through a transformation in the Holy Spirit to a fullness and satiation only God can give.  We are all hungry – we are simply hungry for different things.  My prayer for our Wisconsin Conference in this Lenten season is that we may journey through Lent in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, that as we emerge to celebrate Easter, it may be as a transformed people knowing in our hearts and soul that we cannot live “by bread alone.”  Thanks be to God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit!

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung

In December, two school shooting incidents in Wisconsin caused deep alarm, pain, and anxiety.  The shooting at the Molson Coors campus raises concerns and fear for all.  In the Lenten spirit of repentance and deep introspection, I call us all to seek Gods healing mercy, justice, and peace.

My beautiful sisters, brothers, siblings in Christ, I ask you to pray with me.

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, Lord, save us! We are perishing!And he said to them, Why are you afraid, you of little faith?Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'    Matthew 8:23-27

Our world, our culture, our church – so many sources of anxiety, discomfort, fear and anger.  Truly, people of faith have rarely been more tested than today.  Yet, this is what it means to be a people of faith – to stand fast in the conviction that God is in charge, and even the winds and the sea obey him!”  We may not like what we see with our eyes, but in our hearts the Spirit of the living God prevails.  We may shake our fists in outrage at the injustices, personal or shared, but the Prince of Peace abides.  We may worry about our own future, the future of our church, the future of our country, or the future of our world, but the grace of the Redeemer has the final word.

As the days pass quickly until this year’s General Conference in May, anxiety is mounting, rumors abound, information and misinformation mix together to make people even more confused instead of more confident.  What we know and what we think we know become blended into a thousand and one “truths”.  In the wake of the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation,” and its comparison with other plans and proposals, people are less sure about the future of The United Methodist Church than ever.  Media attention and popular opinion obscure the current reality; many people believe decisions have already been made, when in fact we are still a few months away from General Conference action.

We must be careful not to be caught up in hysteria and false rhetoric.  Our fate has not been decided, and I would remind us all that our future and our hope rest with God.  I am still committed to be the Bishop of all God’s people, all across our theological and denominational spectrum.  Do I agree with all?  Certainly not.  Do I condone the words and actions of all?  Again, no.  But do I affirm the baptism and confession of all and seek to see the Christ in all?  May it ever be so!

My beautiful Wisconsin siblings, Greetings from El Salvador!  I am here with the cabinet to visit our own Jorge Mayorga’s homeland and to share in a mission trip and relationship building journey.  We bring the love of Christ from Wisconsin to be blessed in return by God’s love in El Salvador.

I am amazed by the leadership and hospitality of Bishop Juan de Dios.  I am also impressed by the missionaries here. We had a wonderful time in Ahuachapán painting a school and getting to know the residents of the area.  We toured churches and ministries, visited Ataco, then journeyed to Entre Nubes for worship and a luncheon.  In addition to more painting, we participated in a food distribution project, and we are preparing for two days of Bible School.

My sacred and beloved siblings in Christ, our Council of Bishops endorsed the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation proposal that offers an end to the current deep division in our United Methodist Church.  I have mixed feelings about the proposal and what it means.

On the one hand, it not only recognizes our differences, but honors a very broad spectrum of beliefs, interpretations, visions, and desires for the church.  Not everyone will be happy, but that has been part of our dilemma – there is no way forward that everyone will agree with or support.  Our guidance to “Do No Harm,” comes to a place of doing the least harm possible in the short term, that we might do more good in the long term.  The Protocol offers a way for moderate and progressive United Methodists to be in ministry in a fully inclusive church and for traditionalists to continue in a ministry that honors certain restrictions.  This also recognizes that there is no healthy, adequate “one-size-fits-all” polity and doctrine for a wondrously diverse global church.  We have arrived at a place where graceful autonomy is required for different regions of our planet to make decisions that allow for effective ministry and witness.  The decisions most appropriate for The United Methodist Church in the United States are not appropriate for Africa, Russia, the Philippines, or other regions of our church.  We progress, we evolve, we adapt at different levels, in different ways, at different times.  In this case, unity has not been a strength. 

“Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'”

Matthew 25:45 (read Matthew 25:31-46)

What a truly amazing and wondrous time Advent leading to Christmas and beyond to Epiphany is.  Perhaps we have become too familiar with it for it to have the incredible impact it should.  God has been born on earth.  A poor carpenter and a young peasant maiden have been tasked to raise the Christ child.  Lowly fringe characters, shepherds are the first to visit.  After a time, Gentile astrologers visit, bringing gifts and bowing in worship.  This inauspicious beginning heralds the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It is absurd, ridiculous, and sets the stage for a gospel we love, but often choose to ignore:   God sent Jesus to give hope to the least among us.

We live in a heartbreakingly torn and battered world.  About ten percent of the world’s population experiences luxury; another 20 percent experience a large measure of comfort and security; but about 50% struggle with daily necessities and basic needs; and 20% are locked in a constant struggle for survival.  This should not be, and a sacred trust and responsibility rests with those of us called Christian to bring equity, economic justice, and safety to our broken world.

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
   let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
   let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
   before the Lord; for he is coming,
   for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
   and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 96:11-13 (read Psalm 96)

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come, let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.” My siblings in Christ, what are you doing this year to “prepare him room”?  I cannot reflect on the call to prepare room for Jesus without reflecting on those whom feel there is no room for them in our church.  If we will not make room for those whom Jesus loves, we do not make room for Jesus.

Being a Bishop is a humbling experience.  We are treated with great honor and respect, but we also encounter much unhappiness, challenge, and anger.  We are in a very fragile and hurtful phase in the life of our church.  This focuses on who we should have in our churches.  Do we want paroled criminals in our churches?  Do we want the poor, especially when they are unwashed, pungent, and sometimes disruptive?  Do we want those with mental, emotional, and physical challenges?  We are already struggling with our lesbian, gay, trans, bi, queer, intersex, asexual/ally siblings.  We still wrestle with powerful and repeated vestiges of racism and sexism.  There are many people whom Jesus loves that we are not comfortable with.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

Romans 13:11-12

Some might say that today we are wandering in great darkness.  Division in our culture, division in our church, division in our politics, division in many communities and homes.  Division equals darkness.  We feel we are living in dreary, depressing, darkening days.

And the ransomed of the Lordshall return,
   and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
   they shall obtain joy and gladness,
   and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Isaiah 35:10 (read Isaiah 35:1-10)

When I think of all the beautiful people in our Wisconsin United Methodist Churches, I realize that the vast majority of us enjoy a freedom and safety that the majority of people in our world may never know.  Freedom, and the many entitlements we receive, is too often taken for granted.  We truly do not know “how the other half (or two-thirds) lives.”  I have a deep wish that every United Methodist could travel to other parts of the world where the day-to-day reality is struggle, strife, subsistence, and survival.  It is eye opening.  It makes one so thankful for all the blessings we receive.

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come
   the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
   and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
   Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
   to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
   and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:1-5

It is hard to believe we have arrived at another advent, the beginning of our church year, and the time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  We come again to a new beginning, and while we may be swept up in the holiday festivities between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we should take some time for deep reflection about what this all means.  Think with me, if you will, about what it might have been like in the first century for those awaiting God’s promises.

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
   make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
   tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
   let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength,
   seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
   his miracles, and the judgements he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Israel,
   children of Jacob, his chosen ones.

1 Chronicles 16:8-13

The Thanksgiving holiday comes and goes, year after year, and beyond the bountiful feast, time with family and friends, we may come to take it for granted.  This is an excellent annual reminder to be deeply grateful for the many blessings we receive in life – for God’s providence, for richness, for fullness, for abundance.  All we have, we have received from God.  The majority of people in the United States have more than we need.  We are afforded wonderful comforts, dependable security, and frequent luxury.  We have so very much to be thankful for.  Sadly, this comfortable abundance is not experienced by so many.

He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:4

This year will be the 101st  observance of Veteran’s Day in the United States.  For some this poses an ethical dilemma – those who oppose war, but honor, value, and support the brave men and women who selflessly serve to defend their country.  It is not always easy to stand against war, while supporting soldiers.  Military veterans sometimes feel disrespected when they hear a pacifist opposition to warfare.

Yet, following centuries of bloodshed it is difficult to agree that violence is the best pathway to peace.  Our Hebrew scriptures are full of battle, conquest, pillage and violence, but our Savior is the “Prince of Peace.”  Blessed are the peacemakers.  Christ offers a heavenly and spiritual peace to the community in John.  In the face of enemy aggression, we are invited to turn the other cheek.