For People with bishop Rob Wright

Letting Go… of Condemnation

Bishop Rob Wright For People Album
For People
Letting Go... of Condemnation

About the episode

God is using God’s power to make sure that those of us who fall short, those of us in need of rescue, have a future available to us. God somehow uses all of our missteps to then help us craft a witness, a narrative whereby we can say to other siblings!

John 3:16-17 show all of us that God loves the world without the stain of condemnation. In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright have a conversation about our own power in everyday life, how we sometimes use it against people, and that ultimately God’s mercy in our lives gives us the ability to practice mercy in our daily encounters. Listen in for the full conversation.

This episode is based on part 4 of Bishop Wright’s 5-part Lenten series “Letting Go”. Learn more about this year’s series, watch the weekly videos, and download the reflection guides here.


Bishop Wright: 0:00
God is using God’s power to make sure that those of us who fall short, those of us in need of rescue, have a future available to us. And now here’s the genius of God Not only just a future, I mean, we just don’t get back to neutral with God, but that God somehow uses all of our missteps to then help us craft a witness, a narrative whereby we can say to other brothers and sisters I know something about what it means to need rescue.

Melissa: 0:40
Welcome to For People. I’m Melissa Rau, your host, and during this lent, bishop and I are having conversations based off his weekly Lenten devotions. The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta has prepared a five-week curriculum for small groups or individual devotions and you can download the reflection guides and watch the weekly videos by visiting www. episcopalatlanta. org. Hey, bishop.

Bishop Wright: 1:06
Hey Melissa.

Melissa: 1:13
It is week four of Lent and we’re letting go of condemnation.

Bishop Wright: 1:18
Yeah, yeah.

Melissa: 1:20
I love how you started. If God had to tattoo, yeah. I just wanted to plug that for my fellow Inked brethren. So Letting Go is based off, letting Go of condemnation is really based off of John, chapter three, verses 16 and 17, which probably, maybe at least one of them, is, I guess, the best known scriptural passage of the New Testament right.

Bishop Wright: 1:46
Sure For God so loved the world right.

Melissa: 1:50
God so loved the world. Yeah. So, how did you get there from that Letting go of condemnation?

Bishop Wright: 1:58
Oh well, yeah. So I mean I’m grateful for that question because I guess people are wondering it might just sit in somewhere just sort of hypothesizing about things, or I’m sitting in Starbucks, you know, sort of high on caffeine, making stuff up. What I try to do when I’m developing these meditations is I really try to think about the actual scriptures, the actual words and, just like everybody who’s listening, I’ve had a life with scripture. I’ve had a journey with scripture. Some stuff has gone down smooth and some other stuff I’ve struggled to embrace, struggled to understand. I mean. So we’re always in a getting to know God through scripture sort of place in our lives. I’m still trying to get to know God, still trying to get to understand what this whole thing about following Jesus is. I’m always recognizing, trying to recognize, be present to the fact that the way I may think, my defaults, may be different from the defaults of God, of how God thinks. So what is the gap between the way I think normally not making me a bad person or anything, but just what might be the different ways that I think, versus the way that God thinks? And so I’m looking at this for God’s love of the world that he gave his only begotten son right, so that none would perish, all would have eternal life. And then it goes on to say that that’s sort of God’s end here, that God doesn’t want anybody to perish or be condemned Right. And then we remember, over in another piece of scripture says therefore, now there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And then so I’m thinking about that no condemnation. I’m thinking about how we’ve made God out to be this sort of mean God, mean man with a long beard sitting on a cloud, sort of zapping us for all of our worst days and deeds and decisions. And I’m thinking how’s that stack up versus what Jesus brought to us, jesus’s revelation to us about who God is, about the mind of God? And then I’m thinking about you know, just like everybody else, I read the newspaper, you know, I listen to the news, I’m on social media just like everybody else, and I realized that there is this default alive in the society and the culture, even in the church, where we’re quick to condemn others. And so that’s a long way to answer your question, which is you know, how do you get where you are? And I guess I sort of I’m looking at the mind of God and looking at how we live and wondering about the gap.

Melissa: 4:29
Yeah, I really love your parallel here where you talk about how you served in the US Navy search and rescue team as a diver and you noted that your job wasn’t to condemn people or judge which people are worth saving or whatnot, but that your job was just to rescue. Yeah, period, yeah.

Bishop Wright: 4:49
Yeah, yeah, you know that’s. You know we all have these treasure troves of experiences. You know I served as a US Navy search and rescue diver and it was a it was a proud, very proud part of my life. I mean I’m so grateful for all that I learned there. And you know, you look back with some years on you and so hopefully, some maturity, and you realize that we never criticized people for needing a rescue. Right, you know, there was some some you know newbie pilots and you know maybe some people made some curious decisions with that government you know billions of dollars of government equipment but you know we never sat in the helicopter while we were strapping on the wetsuit and all the rescue gear and we were deploying resources to go out and save them. We never sat down and, just, you know, had a condemnation party. Right, I mean, we got dressed for rescue, we were trained for rescue and we were deployed to rescue and we left the condemnation and the criticism to others. Our job was to rescue those in need of rescue and it seems that that’s what Jesus is saying, when you know when I mean what God is saying in this text. So God loves world that Jesus has really sent to us to rescue and this rescue is his first work among us is to love us enough to show us the ways in which we might be going wrong, but not to shame us, guilt us or obligate us, but to but to have an outstretched hand. You know, we would let the rescue hook down in the helicopter and we’d have a diver deployed in the water and I guess people could have refused to rescue if they wanted to. But you’re in the middle of the Indian Ocean, you probably don’t want to, you probably don’t want to reject, right, the rescue or the rescue diver. And so I see this, I see this text as John 3, 16, 17, as God’s big outstretched arm, you know, with this tattoo and that’s just me trying to be imagined, imagined it to saying God loves world. And I think sometimes in the church what we get wrong is we think that that Bible versus God loves church, and then we spend a lot of time, you know, thinking about the church over and against the world. But God in John 3.16 says for God to love the world, church is supposed to be a mechanism through which God convenes, god’s rescue, deploys God’s rescue. And I think when we get it wrong as this sort of elitist, religious, spiritual society. That’s somehow a cut above the people who need rescuing. I think we do the pioneer of our faith a real disservice. No, we’re supposed to be in the water with people right and not sort of looking down from the helicopter saying look at these knuckleheads. I mean, but too often, you know, it seems like that could easily happen in these gatherings that we call church.

Melissa: 7:50
Yeah, so the flip side of condemnation, then, of course, is a word you lifted up prominently in your devotion it’s the M word mercy.

Bishop Wright: 7:59
Mercy Right I love.

Melissa: 8:02
What you say here, though. You say, letting go of condemnation is about the appreciation of how God uses power, and mercy is a sublime expression of power. Yeah, yeah, that was kind of a big, bold statement right there. We fall short, we fall short of that mercy word yeah.

Bishop Wright: 8:23
Well, because it feels great to exert power over people. Look at me, but look at you, right, I mean look at me. I mean look at me in all my wonderfulness, right, I mean I’m so wonderful. Or you know, sometimes Paul would say, look, I’m the biggest sinner in the room. I mean, he’s using power, he’s flexing on everybody, right, right, right. But God it seems, uses power to extend mercy. If that were not so, there would be no John 3.16. Because God loves world, god deploys God’s self. God decides to put a limit on how God will be. Push God’s self into a human suit called Jesus of Nazareth. Come through the womb of a woman? Right, For the whole world’s sake. That’s power. Right, that’s using ability for a decided end. And so what we know about us and maybe I’m the only sinner on the podcast, but what we know about ourselves, is that, right, we choose other expressions of power. I mean, when we were little, fourth graders, you know we’re the cool kids and they are not right. And then that behavior just gets older. Right, when we, you know we’re this in college and they’re not right. We’re this, fraternity, sorority, and they’re not. We’re this and they’re not. And as it goes along in the world, we’re this and they’re not. That’s a way of living out power. Exclusivity, exception, right, I’m saying, you know we’re the chosen ones and they’re not the chosen ones. That’s all about power. But God uses power differently. So the sublime expression of power is mercy. I choose, I choose to use my power to create a space where you can know forgiveness and where I can see you as more than even circumstances or bad decisions. I, a man, a friend of mine, yesterday I was in worship, leading worship yesterday at a church, and you know here’s a humbling thing about preaching. You know you get to preaching and you know, you, you, you, maybe you did some some good that day, maybe, hopefully, you did no damage right In preaching. And and I had said all that I could say, that day in, a very seasoned minister who was in the congregation came up to me and said he distilled everything that I was trying to say in 20 minutes. He just said he distilled it in one sentence. He said this every saint has a past, but in Christ Jesus every sinner has a future. And I said well, there it is. It took me 20 minutes to say that, but he said it concisely. And I think God is using God’s power to make sure that those of us who fall short, those of us in need of rescue, have a future available to us. And now here’s the genius of God not only just a future, I mean, we just don’t get back to neutral with God but that God somehow uses all of our missteps and our misguidedness and our mistakes to then help us craft a witness, a story, a narrative whereby we can say to other brothers and sisters I know something about what it means to need rescue, and this is the genius of God. And again, this is God using God’s power. So God exerts God’s self by redeeming everything. God uses everything. I like to say God recycles. There is nothing that we have been through or will ever go through that God can’t recycle, not only for the benefit of the individual, but for the benefit of others.

Melissa: 12:16
Wow, that’s a lot right there, and so I guess I’m motivated. I understand, bishop. You probably are. You’re probably a little bit more Bishop. You’re probably not the source of wisdom for why we do certain things right, I’m sure I’m not, and yet to me it’s like condemnation is so prolific right now from everywhere, and sometimes I wonder if it’s even more present in the church than even beyond.

Bishop Wright: 12:51
It may be. It may be. I mean, I don’t think that the church has a lion’s share of condemnation. I think you see this in the political realm, you see it wherever human beings are. Atheists condemn as well. I mean it is a part of what it means to be human. I think what we have to point out in the churches is that we’re supposed to know better, we’re supposed to not be a club of I’m better than them, or when you’ve been a member of this congregation as long as I have, or however it expresses itself, what’s supposed to be the center of our gathering is is that mercy has been extended to me as well as you, and that’s really our bonding, our binding is that a great and good God has extended us mercy and therefore we extend mercy. And so I wanna notice also one of the bits about condemnation, and that is if you are given to condemnation, perhaps we’ve learned it, perhaps that would you. That’s what you learned in your family of origin. Perhaps that’s the way you learned how to build fellowship with people. By being negative about other people. We do it. We do it still. One of the practices that we can take up in doing that is that we can compliment people. I noticed it in the political realm along party lines. We’re not allowed to compliment people in the other party for some of their ideas, part of their ideas, a quarter of their ideas, an eighth of their ideas. We’re not allowed to say that anything good exists outside of my own party. Perhaps sometimes that is true for denominations in the church, perhaps that is true for faith, and it seems to me that one of the practices we might take up is to be able to affirm people who are different from us or perhaps who even disagree with us. Rather than condemnation is sort of a wholesale dismissal, and here’s the thing about it it’s a corrosive on the soul. And then what we’re really doing is putting ourselves in the judgment seat and judging people, and we’re judging people, interestingly enough, more harshly than even God would.

Melissa: 15:07
Hmm, lazy what?

Bishop Wright: 15:11
well, yeah, and we love that, don’t we right? I mean it it’s. It’s easier for me to dismiss you out of hand it. Let’s say if you and I are, we differ politically, or something, rather than saying you know, if you’re on one party, now I’m on the other party. Melissa’s got some good ideas, I mean I. I like what she’s saying about the economy or whatever. We might have to talk some more about the social dynamics in the country, etc. But you know one or two or three things. Or I like the way that Melissa’s a mom, she shows up for her kids, or I like the way she shows up for her spouse and keeps her commitments to her faith. I mean, but but what we do is, you know, we can’t find anything the good to say about God’s people, and so I think what helps us in condemnation Well, I think, to allow ourselves to be penetrated by the way in which God chooses to be God Right, and in the way God chooses to be God is is to look at the world Without, I mean, think about it. God loves world. God looked at the messiness. God saw our past, god saw our present and God sees our future, and God sees the mess and how we do violence to each other, not only with our mouths, but with our systems, with our hands, with our weapons. God sees all that and says God loves world. God somehow loves the chaos, right? So God, uh, skillfully intervenes in the chaos, not with a tweet, not with an instagram, but God sends God’s self Into the mess. And so isn’t that interesting is to get close to the very thing we want to condemn and criticize. That brian stevensson says it’s all about proximity.

Melissa: 16:49
Exactly well, and that’s why I said it’s kind of easy to be condemners because you can. You can discredit, then dismiss and just move on.

Bishop Wright: 16:55
I, of course we can. You know, I am, I’m very aware At least I live in the state of georgia, of course, and I’m very aware how people have really nasty things to say about Hispanics. And then I notice, uh, you know, about people coming to the country etc. And I understand, uh, I understand people’s concern about immigration, legal immigration, etc. And then I also noticed that, because of the hard work of these Hispanic people, uh, that construction is happening in the state of georgia. The poultry, poultry, poultry industry, uh is is really predicated on Hispanic labor and so on, and any number of industries. And so I, you know how dare, how dare we sit and criticize people out of hand, um, and see and don’t see the work ethic and don’t see the commitment to family, and don’t see people sending money Uh back to other countries so that other people can live at some civilized uh sort of uh station of life. I mean, it’s about being nuanced and involved, and being nuanced is always about maturity, all right, so maybe god loves world because god is mature enough to realize our adolescent tendencies and stick with us until they, until we grow up. Yeah, let’s talk more about adolescent tendencies shall we?

Melissa: 18:16
Because you know, I was thinking, I was listening to you talk and. I was like yeah, again, everybody believes what they hear, what they see on tv. And then and then not at all, and then not at all so, bishop, honestly, like I think that one of the things that I’m trying to like come around to and understand is that, um, I think that I’m not trying to vilify the media.

Bishop Wright: 18:40

Melissa: 18:41
And yet, damn, damn, damn, damn. Are we not just like school kids on a freaking recess, like in a recess yard, deciding which stories we’re telling and what we’re not telling? Yes, and we’re not telling enough of the norm or the majority. We’re really just highlighting some of the things that are so on the margins and so out there, and then we’re treating entire groups of people like that. One exception.

Bishop Wright: 19:06

Melissa: 19:08
Because of the gossip, because of the way that we’re reporting, like adolescent teenagers would.

Bishop Wright: 19:14
Well, look, the reason why I mean, we can sit here and condemn the media if we want to, but a nuanced, a deeper and a nuanced look would tell us that they post what we want and we prove what we want by ratings. And so apparently what we want are one dimensional, one approach to narratives which demeanor, diminish other people, and apparently we love that. And when you go on social media, apparently that’s what we really want to see. So what comes first, the chicken or the egg, right? So maybe we investigate our appetite for salaciousness, for gossip, for jokes at the expense of other people. Look, I’m not talking about being humorless Certainly not, but I love a good joke. But we’ve got to ask ourselves are jokes really sort of pointed at condemning other people? Are they at the expense of other people? And far be it for me to try to police any of that. But I do know that part of our journey, if we’re going to grow up, is, as I’ve said before in the podcast, is to let go of superiority in all its forms, right. To let go of separateness in all its forms these are this is our journey. And to let go of smallness in all of its forms, this is, you know we want to draw near to Jesus. That’s what he’s doing. So as we finish up Lent this last, you know two weeks of Lent here and then we move into the Holy Week you know people have given up chocolate and ice cream and you know scotch and sherry or whatever they’ve given up, and that’s cool. Maybe we give up condemnation, maybe we give up condemning people or maybe we take on finding the ability to see the good in people. You know, when I was growing up, a lot of the disciplinary approach was to catch you doing good, don’t let me catch you doing bad. Rather I should say Don’t let me catch you doing bad. Maybe some people can resonate with that statement. What I learned is I got a little older that the way to really build affirmation and confidence in people, kids, your colleagues, your teams that you might have authority over is to catch them doing good, catch them doing good and give it voice. I saw how you did it. That was really wonderful. That’s not talking about placating anybody or infantilizing anybody, but when you flip that, you create an energy that is overwhelmingly positive and you begin to diminish this whole negative spirit in the culture. So God doesn’t send a message. God sends a son, he says, hey, I’ve got skin, literally, I’ve got skin in this.

Melissa: 21:53
He says to all of us Bishop, thank you so much, and, listeners, we’re grateful to you for tuning in to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review and we’ll be back with you next week.