“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.
This circle expands and includes the laity in leadership, and the laity who are served. We are community in Christ, bound once for all time by our baptism and our confession. I believe it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to build one another up, to be at peace, and to strive always to do good to and with one another. Not because we deserve it. Not because we earn it. Not because we agree about everything, but because we are one in Christ Jesus.
I do not expect that we will ever agree on every point of theological reflection, biblical interpretation, or understanding of our doctrine and polity. I do not ask anyone to accept a way of thinking or behaving that they believe deep in their heart is wrong. What I do ask – and I believe this to be the will of God – is that we accept each other. Does this mean that we will accept flawed human beings? Yes. Does this mean that we will forgive beyond measure or reason? Yes. Does this mean that we will celebrate each brother and sister as a gift from God? Yes. Will this be easy? No, not always. But our faith is never about being easy. To be Christian is to be counter-cultural. To be Christian is to sometimes defy common sense. To be Christian is to “seek to do good to one another and to all.”
Our Creator is at work in us to weave us together in love. Jesus teaches us all that we need to know to become one. The Holy Spirit is alive in and through us to knit us together to be the body of Christ for the world. So, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” May it ever be so.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).