The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
I have been reflecting on the imagery from scripture concerning trees, especially the “cedars of Lebanon,” mentioned so often in scripture. The mighty cedars were planted by God. They represent the sound, the solid, the enduring –in essence the very will of God. Repeatedly, the historians and prophets point to the destruction of the cedars of Lebanon as the sign of disobedience, disrespect, and disregard for God’s creation and covenant.
I find the metaphor of trees in a forest compelling, especially the redwood tree. Redwoods grow to amazing heights, though they do not lay down deep roots. Instead, the root system stretches wide, and the roots intertwine and fuse together with other redwoods. One 350-foot redwood has roots stretching 100 feet from the trunk, creating an interconnected network of roots that gives strength and stability to the entire forest. This interdependence is an excellent image of what our strong United Methodist Church system should be. As each tree grows, it strengthens the system; what affects one part of the system, affects the whole. Very similar to the Paul’s image of the Body of Christ in I Corinthians 12 – where one member suffers, all suffer; where one is honored, all benefit.
Equally important is the integrity of the system, rather than the value of the parts. It is impossible to uproot one tree without devastating other parts of the system. The interconnection goes so deep and stretches so wide that to do damage to one part causes massive destruction to the whole body. When I hear people talking about “amicable separation,” and “gracious exit” from The United Methodist Church, the imagery of the redwood root system always comes to mind.
I do not believe there is a path to separation that will not cause irreparable harm, both to the members and to the system. Those individual parts who want what they want, no matter the cost cannot achieve their ends without doing deep harm to the system. If indeed our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we can do this so much more effectively with the system intact rather than in tatters.
I understand the depth of passion, commitment, emotion, and even the wide range of interpretations of scripture and theological perspective. We are not of one heart, mind, or spirit on many things. Yet we are call connected. We share a common baptism. We share a common covenant. We are, all of us, recipients of God’s grace, forgiveness, and love. We are reconciled beyond our own individual weaknesses into the body of Christ; not by our own doing, but by God’s. Our roots are intertwined. Our roots are fused. We can no more go our separate ways with no harm or damage than we can uproot a single redwood. “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,” is a beloved refrain from “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” and this is more that fanciful poetry. We are all fed, nurtured, cultivated, and cared for by God. We are the product of God’s will, God’s vision, and God’s purpose. We are the cedars of Lebanon that God planted, and it would be nothing less than sin to see our mighty forest torn apart, burned, and destroyed.
My constant prayer is a prayer for unity. My ongoing desire is that we embrace fully the General Rules; doing no harm, committing ourselves to doing all the good possible, and attending cooperatively and compassionately with the many uniting and unifying ordinances/practices of God that open us constantly to the means of grace. There are things that bend us, but I pray they might not break us. There are things that threaten us, but I pray they don’t destroy us. And there are things that cause disagreement, but I pray they do not ultimately separate us from each other and from the will of God.
Let us pray faithfully and fervently together: God, thy will be done, in us and through us. Amen.
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).