For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
I love the changes of the seasons. As summer heat and light wane, a bracing cool moves in, the leaves change colors and fall, the skies welcome steely clouds, and we enter the shorter days leading into winter. Winter snows fall, blanketing all in white, coating the earth, fields lie fallow, resting for a time until temperatures rise, spring rains come, trees and flowers burst forth with new green life, crops are planted, and the dreary days of winter give way to longer light and vibrant life. “For everything there is a season…”
Change is a natural and normal part of life. We age and grow, we learn and develop, we explore and discover, we expand our horizons. We move from simple thinking to complex reasoning. We form opinions and beliefs, founded on core values of family and community. We make choices every day, some small and some great. We are part of the large, wonderful cycles of life. “For everything there is a season…”
But for many, change is difficult. For others, change isn’t the challenge, but being changed is the primary concern. When we make decisions for our future and well-being, we accept change just fine, but when something outside of our control changes? Then we sometimes resist and deny. I think the recent election is a good example. A new president, a different government, a change of vision and possible direction – these things are stressful for us all. Even when change happens that we support, it is stressful. For those who oppose change, it can be even worse.
One lesson from nature is that, while change is normal, it can be violent and upsetting. Winter blizzards and spring storms can bring flooding. Freezing temperatures and ultra-high summer heat can be life-threatening. Storms, floods, fires, earthquakes, and high winds can devastate and cause horrendous damage – all natural and normal, but terrible, nonetheless. But this is simply what it means to be alive in creation. The totality of our existence is both good and bad, joy and sorrow, peace and fear, hope and despair. “For everything there is a season…”
In the good and in the bad, in the calm and in the storm, when we like what we see and especially when we don’t, God is with us. This doesn’t mean it will be easy. This doesn’t mean we will be happy all the time. This doesn’t mean we won’t have division and disagreement. What it means is that we are never alone, we are never lost, we are never losers – we are simply riding along on the cycles and waves of God’s natural order.
We will all have political leaders we support and admire, and we will all suffer through those we don’t like or agree with. We will all have pastors we adore, and we will all receive those we do not. We will all have up-times when things seem to be going our way, and we will all have down-times when it feels like we just can’t catch a break, but God is with us in all these times.
I believe this is why John Wesley so strongly instructed those early people called Methodist to engage in both acts of personal piety AND the practice of the means of grace. Each of us on our own can pray, read and reflect on scripture, serve others, and seek to be like Jesus; but John Wesley knew that all holiness is social holiness. He knew that we need Christian community and fellowship to fully become the people God needs us to be. No individual can be the body of Christ all by him or herself. We need each other. We need to pray together. We need to study scripture together. We need to worship and celebrate the sacraments together. We should fast, observe Sabbath rest, and share faith together. And we should engage in meaningful Christian conference – sharing “and how is it with your soul? Where have you experienced God’s grace in your life this week?” and other such questions – as well as serving the poor and most vulnerable shoulder-to-shoulder and hand-in-hand. When we commit to personal piety and sharing in the means of grace together, we weather the seasons and all the changes life has to offer. Together we are strong, and nothing on earth can separate us from God or each other.
I pray that we may navigate all of the challenging changes of life with grace, strength, courage, and compassion. I hope that mercy, justice, kindness, and generosity inspires all that we say and do. And most of all, I pray that we might set disagreements and divisions aside, reaching out to break down walls and boundaries, so that we might be a witness to the world of the greatness and glory of God. Our God is greater than any change we might ever face. “For everything there is a season…” Thanks be to God.
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).