Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Please pray with me:
Jesus, we are here.
We know you are with us.
Help us trust you
and recognize your presence.
I’m delighted to share this time with you as we seek to know Jesus more fully and to learn from him.
These are difficult times. It’s helpful to remember that the earliest followers of Jesus lived in times perhaps more difficult than ours. His “way” offended both civil and religious authorities.
Let us learn from Jesus and his earliest followers. “Followers of The Way” is how they were known. They met with each other in small gatherings. They prayed “without ceasing” for one another. No buildings called “churches” existed. The only thing they had in common was their decision to follow Jesus, to “follow the way.”
Through the Holy Spirit they had a beautiful relationship in which asking and receiving are a joyful and loving part of being together with Jesus. They were not waiting to live in heaven after death. They believed they were living then and there in the realm of heaven that Jesus was bringing to the earth. Faith was not about what one creedal-y believed. It was about loving God and loving others – even including enemies. It was about acting on that faith every day.
Did they all agree as to what “following Jesus” meant in any particular situation? Of course not.
In our difficult times “the church” as we have known it has been shaken to its core. We’d become accustomed to meet in a building we called “the church.” We’d become accustomed to being served by a paid staff. We’d become accustomed to a style of worship that had little in common with how Jesus or his early followers worshipped. We United Methodists had become especially accustomed to singing hymns with great gusto being uplifted by the voices of others.
That’s changed during the last four months under COVID 19. Whether we’re ready to admit it or not, we will never return to the past we fondly remember.
Jesus taught his earliest followers to live in their difficult times. Now Jesus teaches us how to live in our difficult times.
Look with me at Jesus’ teaching as reported by Matthew. As I contemplated this passage, three things caught my attention. First – Jesus’ Invitation to follow Second – Jesus’ promise of rest Third – Trusting Jesus.
Jesus’ Invitation to Follow
Listen to Jesus’ teachings from The Message translation:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?” Doesn’t that get your attention?
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
I’ve travelled the state of Wisconsin. I’ve visited every folks from every one of our congregations. There were some delightful visits where I heard stories of ministries filled with joy and with hope for the future. All of these had to do with how their congregation was serving vital needs in their community and beyond.
However, most often those with whom I met spoke of the burdens they experienced in keeping their congregation alive. Speaking for the congregation they would say, “We’re hanging on, but we’re losing members.” “We’ve had to cut back because of finances.” “We’re all getting older.”
Speaking for themselves they would confess that the burdens of leadership rested heavily upon them. Most spoke of being tired and worn out. Says Jesus: Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. There’s the invitation.
When I first heard such invitation in my life, I became anew and dashing into new delight and joy with Jesus. Being touched by Jesus’ invitation I have embarked the venturous journey and wondered with amazing changes ever. It’s not religion that gives life. It’s following Jesus.
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
Jesus’ Promise of Rest
The second thing that struck me was Jesus’ promise of rest. Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Rest is at the core of our faith tradition. Biblically it’s called Sabbath. In the seven-day creation story in Genesis, even God rested on the seventh day.
Sabbath invites us to take a break from whatever “work” seems so essential to us. If God rested after creating the world, how can we imagine our work is so important that we cannot rest, cannot take a “Sabbath”?
Walter Bruggemann, Old Testament scholar, indicates that Sabbath is not simply about keeping rules but rather about becoming a whole person and restoring a whole society. He also talk about a society of consumption, a society in which we live to achieve, accomplish, perform, and possess. Sabbath allows us to break this restless cycle and focus on what is truly important.
Jesus did not say “Come to me and help organize an institution.” Jesus invited us to follow him, to love God and love each other.
Those who follow become God’s beloved community whether or not we want to accept the others whom God has already accepted. We are a community of faith committed to loving God, neighbor and self.
The third thing that struck me was that responding to Jesus’ invitation requires nothing other than trusting Jesus.
I do not know what the future will be for the United Methodist Church. Will we split because some of us are not agreeing each other or not accepting the same? I don’t know.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
What shape will the institution take if our lives no longer center in buildings where gatherings are now limited in size. What shape will it take without buildings when we can no longer afford? I don’t know.
What I know is that Jesus can be trusted. We are bound together by his presence in us all. We are Jesus’ beloved community.
What I know is that any community worthy of Jesus’ name will reject no one, will call no one “unclean.”
For Jesus, no one was “unclean”. It takes little imagination to recognize that Jesus had major disagreements even with those in his core group of twelve. There was a guy named Judas. His disagreements with Jesus were so central to him that he conspired with those intent on killing Jesus. But not even Judas got voted out of the beloved community. He left of his own will – and ended with much regrets.
If Jesus still accepted Judas, how can we refuse to accept any other?
I do not know what form the beloved community of followers of Jesus will take in the future. I pray Jesus will give us insight.
In these times of transition, there’s one thing I know that will continue to bind us together: Prayer.
Nothing in these changing times prevents us from supporting each other with prayer. Prayer was at the core of the earliest communities of those who followed Jesus.
You may have a better approach. Then please use it. But here’s my suggestion: Share the names of others in your faith community with all others in that community. Ask everyone to lift up daily everyone in prayer. If they are aware of a current need, let it be named. Otherwise, say the name and ask for God’s blessings. Jesus can be trusted.
Filled with the Holy Spirit we are transformed. Our human disabilities transcended by the power of the Spirit at work in us. Healing and blessing will flow from our being, our words and our doing into the lives of those suffering around us.
We are called to be hope in times of trial, temptation, and tragedy. When we are weak, we will be made strong. YES, Jesus can be trusted.