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.
This is what is so important to remember in the face of natural disaster, suffering, and loss — we are God’s gift to each other. We offer compassion, we show empathy, we offer comfort, aid, and support to ease the suffering of others and to be a manifest witness to the love of God. We pray for each other. We serve each other. We seek to heal each other. We feed and clothe each other. We are part of the amazing plan of God — when bad things happen, we are there for each other.
Brothers and sisters, pray for Wesley UMC in Marshfield as they find resurrection and new hope. It will be a difficult journey, but one that God will bless richly again and again. Pray for those negatively impacted by floods, survivors and victims, that they might experience grace and a new beginning. And pray that God’s grace and mercy might be manifest in each and every one of our congregations, that all might experience the truly amazing love of God.
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).