Bishop Hee-Soo Jung encouraged The United Methodist Church to remember and "re-member" during his sermon May 1 to the 2008 General Conference.
"Re-membering is both painful and wonderful," said Jung, who serves the church's Chicago Area. For Jung, "re-membering" represents how members of the body of Christ are brought back together.
Referring to the verses in Luke when Jesus interacted with two criminals next to him on the cross, Jung called attention to one criminal's request, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
"As the criminal dying with Jesus pleads, 'Remember me,' he begs to be put back together even at the moment when he is being totally destroyed by a degrading execution," Jung said.
The bishop continued, "When Jesus remembers us, we are put back together again." When people remember those who have died, they are brought back together in the living body of Christ through the act of remembering.
"This is why whenever we share the bread and the cup we join not only with those physically present, but with the whole church of Christ, including the communion of saints. The body is re-membered," Jung said.
"No one is less faithful and less honorable as a member of Christ's body. We are all equal and beloved by God. We belong preciously to each other."
Jung encouraged The United Methodist Church to be "re-membered," as well, recognizing that the denomination stands at a crossroads with "those who would like the church to be more flexible in nonessential matters — more open — and those who would like the church to be clearer about its boundaries — more pure."
"Both holiness and hospitality are excellent values. Both are biblical values, and both are right," he said referring to an ongoing denominational debate about sexuality.
"When we concern ourselves only with holiness, we become rigid and inward-looking. We make an idol of our purity," Jung said. "When we concern ourselves only with hospitality, however, we lose our sense of who we are. Our identity is blurred and we lose the language of our own faith."
Jung invited United Methodists "to live in the tension that is created by holding both values-holiness and hospitality-together at the same time."
"Christianity is not about being 'theologically correct.' It's about following Jesus," he said.
Jung quoted John Wesley, saying, "If your heart be with my heart, give me thy hand."
Wesley's invitation was "not to worship alike or believe the same things, but together to follow Christ," he said.
Remembering painful losses
Jung guided delegates through a time of remembrance, inviting them to remember a number of losses since the 2004 General Conference: deaths of bishops and other leaders who served the church; deaths of soldiers and citizens killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kenya, Palestine and Israel; murders of students and teachers on the campuses of Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, and destruction caused by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
Jung shared a childhood story, telling about the time he and his friend Hak-Woon played along the shore of the Yellow Sea during the Korean Conflict. He remembered how his friend went to pick up something he thought was interesting in the water. Upon touching the landmine, his friend died instantly.
"Instantly, nothing identifiable of my friend existed anymore. But I remember him," said Jung. "In that remembrance, I wish for reconciliation and peace in the Korean peninsula."
Jung continued by remembering those dying from starvation.
"The earth produces enough to feed every human being, but poverty prevents so many from access to basic sustenance," he said. "Meanwhile, the garbage cans of the affluent overflow with uneaten bounty."
In a personal confession, Jung compared himself to one of the "judgmental" and "self-righteous" men on the cross next to Jesus. When the bishop first became a Christian, he said he believed that his Christianity was right and that everything related to his Buddhist, Confucian and Shamanistic past "was to be totally condemned."
Jung explained that when his father died, he refused to participate in the rituals that his family used surrounding death, one of which included scattering his father's ashes on the mountains. "My understanding of Christianity as a young convert had more to do with rejection of everything that seemed not specifically Christian than it did with adopting the ways of Christ."
Many years later, Jung said he made the pilgrimage up the mountain to his father's grave. "I repented of my arrogance and made peace with my father and my past."
The conference held a service of remembrance with candle-lighting and naming of bishops who died since 2004. Conference delegates and visitors were also invited to name people who had died.
*Rouse is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tenn.
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Phone calls can be made to the General Conference Newsroom in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 698-4405 until May 3. Afterward, call United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn., at (615) 742-5470.
"Precious Lord, Take My Hand" performed by Grace Notes of First United Methodist Church of Plano, Texas ; "How Great Thou Art" performed by Christ United Methodist Church of the Deaf Choir of Baltimore, Maryland