Bishop Rob Wright For People Album
For People

About the episode

What kind of offer can we make to the world as Christians? Have you ever considered the ripple effect of a simple invitation?

In this episode, Melissa and Bishop Wright have a conversation about the power behind extending a hand of faith, inspired by the transformative encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian. In it they discuss offering ourselves to God through sharing our faith with others and Bishop Wright’s own story of being a new bishop and extending the invitation of baptism to anyone and everyone! Their discussion ventures beyond the act of invitation to the core of authenticity, examining our own hesitations and encouraging a faithful, courageous approach to sharing Jesus’s message. Listen in for the full conversation.

Before listening, read For Faith.


Bishop Wright: 0:00

What kind of offer can we make to the world? Here’s the ask for me today. My offer is why don’t we get in alignment together today, right now, all of us who are listening, and why don’t we decide to pray a prayer, a simple prayer? Lord, open up my eyes to ways in which I can make an offer to people for them to get to know you. That’s through prayer, that’s through inviting people to church. That’s through inviting them to get to know you. That’s through prayer. That’s through inviting people to church. That’s through inviting them to baptism.

Melissa: 0:33

Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m your host, Melissa Rau, and this is a conversation inspired by Bishop Wright’s For Faith weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s For Faith and a link to subscribe in the episode’s description hey, hey, Bishop.

Bishop Wright: 0:56

Morning morning.

Melissa: 0:57

Today’s devotion, or this week’s devotion rather, is called Offer, based off of Acts 8, verses 26 through 40. And it’s when Philip is riding with an Ethiopian right. And so how about? I know you’re excited about this one, so why don’t you share a little bit about why you chose this passage?

Bishop Wright: 1:18

I love this story, I know this story, I have been this story right. I have been Philip in this story and I have been the Ethiopian. I have tried to be the disciple of Jesus and had to have someone else remind me of what a disciple’s job is, and that is to commend Jesus Christ and invite people to be baptized. So I have been Philip, I have been the Ethiopian who, at the reading of Scripture, have been so excited and was so grateful to meet someone who could help me understand what I have just read right. So I love the story and, as I live with the story, it continues to sort of be generative for me. I’ll tell you a funny story about this and then we can unpack it. So I guess almost 13 years ago, I was being seated in the cathedral of St Philip as the bishop and it happened to be on the feast of St Philip and it was our practice then to do baptisms. And I had a practice and still do have a practice and commend this practice that whenever you’re baptizing, don’t only baptize those people who are scheduled to be baptized, but ask the entire room, come on. Ask the entire room, come on. Is there anyone here who would like to be baptized today. Now, I have done that for years and sometimes people don’t show up and don’t stand up or come down to be baptized. But I have done it enough and I have seen enough people come to be baptized, just because I made the offer that I will forever invite people to be baptized whenever we are baptizing Right. And so here’s the story. So this is the, this is the lesson for the day. This, this relationship, this meeting, rather, of the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip the disciple. The Spirit is the person, who. The Spirit is the reason for this meeting. The Spirit says go over, right. And so Philip obeys and the Ethiopian is already reading Isaiah. And so Philip says hey, how’s that going? How you doing? Today I hear you reading Isaiah, you know what it means. And, of course, ethiopian, who was superior to Philip in education and socioeconomic status, says yeah, I’d love to have some help with the reading. Now the text says that Philip helps him parse the whole thing. Now what Philip doesn’t do after he sort of parses Isaiah for him and, you know, apparently also begins to talk about who Jesus is in relationship to Isaiah. The story, what Philip doesn’t do is he doesn’t go the next step. He doesn’t make the offer. Right. It’s the Ethiopian who says, well, I’d like to be baptized. Well, I’d like to be baptized, you know. And look, look over, there, there’s some water, right. And then Philip, you know, goes over and baptizes the Ethiopian. Now. So if it wasn’t for the Ethiopian’s request, perhaps the Ethiopian would have heard something of Jesus but would not have been invited to make it personal right To be actually baptized today, right? And so it’s the Ethiopian who has to make the request. Philip doesn’t make the offer.

Bishop Wright: 4:55

Well, flashback to when I was being seated as bishop. So I preached the sermon that day and we got to the baptizing and we baptized all these little cherubic babies, and all that was lovely. And I was thinking to myself, I’m the brand new bishop here. I mean, I’ve not been bishop one day yet and you know, am I going to continue to take up these practices that I had done for so long as a priest, you know? So it’s kind of like I’m just trying to get my head around. What is this thing I have said yes to in terms of being the new bishop, and what am I going to do about protocols and policies and all this sort of stuff? And then. So I’m sitting there talking to God in real time as we’re getting ready to go and baptize, and I remembered this story so well.

Bishop Wright: 5:46

And so, after we baptized all the little cherubic babies that we were scheduled to baptize, I said to the room about 1,500 or so people in attendance I said is there anyone here who has not been baptized? Now, there it is. And so people, you know, people are looking at me. They’re just a new bishop. What does this mean? What are we going to be doing here? Is this guy lost? We don’t normally do that. That’s not normal. That’s not normal in our tradition. We, you know, everything is scheduled, you know. And so we waited for a little while, and sometimes the waiting is an eternity. It was only, maybe not even 30 seconds.

Bishop Wright: 6:25

Two people walked down, walked the full length of the cathedral. An older gentleman. I asked him what his name was. I asked him if he desired to be baptized. I baptized him that day. But here’s the story. A teenage girl walked all the way down. Her parents were shocked and they followed along. Right, she’s walking the length of the cathedral. She walks up, tells me her name Do you desire to be baptized? I look at mom and dad like is this OK? And they’re like, yeah, go for it. I baptized a little girl and, and you know, we continued on with the rest of the service. Now here’s the kicker Because I made the offer, I get a letter.

Melissa: 7:06

I got goosebumps.

Bishop Wright: 7:08

I get a letter one week later. It’s from the little girl. She maybe is 12, 13. And it says that I’m so grateful that you invited me to be baptized. I go to a church in Brooklyn and I wanted to be baptized. I asked a minister to be baptized and they were never able to get around to it. But my new friend, the Bishop of Atlanta, invited me to be baptized, and now I’m baptized and that’s all I ever wanted.

Bishop Wright: 7:42

So the bottom line was is that there I am struggling with God, about you God, about what kind of bishop am I going to be? What kind of minister am I going to be? Am I decent, in order, or am I going to keep first things first? And first things first for us as a community of followers of Jesus Christ are to invite people into life with Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus Christ are to invite people into life with Jesus Christ, and so sometimes we can be so churchified that we forget that we are the followers of Jesus Christ and that our job one is to invite people into life with Jesus Christ. That is first, and so I’m glad that I got that resettled in that very moment.

Bishop Wright: 8:24

And because of that little girl’s letter, I will never not offer baptism as broadly and as widely as I can. And so I wrote this meditation because of my learning and because I struggle with all that, you know, in the church. Isn’t it funny that in the church sometimes it is easy to forget who is the head of the church and sometimes we think that our practices and our traditions and our better practices and the almighty God of you know keep making things run perfectly on time and everything pristine and manicured. We can make that God right. And Philip, you know, didn’t make the offer. The Ethiopian had to ask to be baptized. And it makes me wonder really, how many people in the world out there because Philip, I mean the Ethiopian, represents the world in the story the world had to ask the church to be the church in that story, right? And so how many people out there desire to be baptized? It’s somewhere in their spirit, somewhere in their soul. But we haven’t asked and we’re waiting for a decent and an orderly process. And don’t get me wrong, all that is fine, that’s normative, but I mean, you know, I get it, but we should be making the offer. We should be making the offer, and so it’s not about emotional manipulation.

Bishop Wright: 9:57

Some people say well, I don’t want to do that, it makes other people uncomfortable. Look, let me tell you something. I’ve seen an entire congregation cry when somebody who had been in and I look as a bishop, I’m visiting yeah, I don’t know a lot of what’s going on. I remember doing the same practice one time and there was someone sitting in a congregation and, unbeknownst to me, this person had been sitting in this congregation for a long time but at a certain distance, emotional, spiritual distance, but sitting there, and people sort of knew, well, that’s just Bob and Bob’s just sort of on the fringe and that sort of thing. And I invited, you know, did baptisms that day and invited somebody. You know, is there anybody here who would be baptized? Bob stood up, came and was baptized. The whole place was in tears, of course.

Melissa: 11:04

Welcome back. So, bishop, I’m channeling Philip right. I mean, I can’t help but wonder if that experience Philip being kind of like this newish kind of disciple, let go out into the world doing his thing, being excited and on fire for God, and then gets to do it right Comes across this Ethiopian who’s in the word, and so he’s practicing, he’s his evangelical. I’m going to share the opportunity, and yet still fell short. And it’s the Ethiopian who asked. But I wonder what it was like afterward, you know, like after that victory because I’m sorry, this isn’t Philip’s victory, it was victory for God that Philip was at, you know, had a hand in. So Philip wasn’t the victor, and yet I can’t imagine how Philip felt when he was clearly a tool for something great on behalf of God.

Bishop Wright: 12:07

Yeah, well, I’m sure there was a satisfaction in his soul. I mean the scripture, I mean that particular story ends abruptly. You know it says that this. You know they went their separate ways, right, the spirit moved them in separate directions. And so, you know, philip has a satisfaction of being an instrument, though a little bit reluctant, but he saw someone catch fire for the good news of Jesus Christ and he got to play a role in that.

Bishop Wright: 12:31

And, of course, if you go back and you do your history, you know we see that Ethiopia is one of the oldest Christian communities, right, and so thanks be to God for that. Yeah, so I mean, I think we’re always learning. See, this is what I would say. I was like, you know, we don’t have to bring any kind of guilt or shame to this, right, but we have, we have to do some learning, and so what I would hope that Philip learned that day was I better lean in next time. You know I’m going to learn.

Bishop Wright: 12:59

Maybe he learned something from the Ethiopian. You know, his student became his teacher and student became his teacher, and maybe he got confidence, confidence, and look, don’t we all need some confidence, right? I mean, I think, when I first started offering baptism, which is in this particular way, I got looks and glares because I was departing from the norm in the church and those sorts of things. So I think we have to develop some confidence and I don’t think we have to sort of be over and against people or arrogant or anything, but I think we can make gentle and bold stands for what we actually believe. And I think what we actually believe, I think we need to believe in the churches is that Jesus is the Lord of the church and that we exist, right, so it’s about what is the church, and so that’s got to get settled in some people’s minds. Some of us have been sitting in pews our entire life and we’re not exactly sure what the church is. The church exists for people who are not presently its members, said William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury, right, and having been one of those people who was invited by a friend to church, you know, I know that that is actually experientially, viscerally for me personally. True, and yes, my wife and my children have all grown up in the church. That’s the only water they’ve ever swam in in their entire life. But that wasn’t true for me. But that wasn’t true for me.

Bishop Wright: 14:29

And when I realized that the average major metropolitan area has millions and millions and millions of people, and where many of our congregations are shrinking and shrinking and shrinking, I feel like we’re going to have to take up some new practices. We are going to have to learn from Philip, right. And so it is an offer. You know what kind of offer can we make to the world? And so, you know, here’s the ask for me today, right, my offer is that you know why don’t we get in alignment together today, right now, all of us who are listening, and why don’t we decide to pray a prayer, a simple prayer. Lord, open up my eyes to ways in which I can make an offer to people for them to get to know you. That’s through prayer, that’s through inviting people to church, that’s through inviting them to baptism.

Bishop Wright: 15:16

And it’s not about being some sort of religious caricature and I realize that that’s a minefield. People are really afraid these days to one talk about their faith enthusiastically and boldly, because they don’t want to be characterized as some sort of you know pious, you know primitive, right, I get that, I get that. But what if we prayed to God and asked God, through the power of the Holy Spirit to show us the ways in which we can authentically make an offer to the people that we meet, you know, to know Jesus Christ and his love. You know that for me I think would be church, and sometimes we’ve just gotten so cute and I’m talking to the church now We’ve just gotten so cute, right, and you know we’re not doing job one, and job one was always just this interpersonal way to be with people. That is gracious, right. We have no trouble recommending movies, we have no trouble in recommending doctors, we have no trouble in recommending travel destinations, but yet we say Jesus is the Lord of our life and don’t recommend him.

Melissa: 16:33

That’s right Ouch. So what do we do about it?

Bishop Wright: 16:39

Well, so let’s do it today. I mean, let’s do it today. So, gracious God, we have a heart to serve you. We want to lift you up and we know that people need you. So help me to find out how to use all that I am and all that you’ve given me to invite people into a relationship with you. Help me to know how to do that authentically, genuinely. Help me to know how to do that, lord, and I am willing. I desire to please you, and we pray this in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ. We can do that. That’s where we start. We don’t have to start. We don’t have to take a class. Good Lord, we don’t have to take a class.

Bishop Wright: 17:22

What school did you go to learn how to recommend a movie? Give me a break. It’s the willingness. Don’t you see the need in the world, my God? And look, let me say this there is so much bad religion out there that if we know God to be loving and, as our presiding bishop says, loving, life-giving and liberating, if you know that is who God is, then don’t you have a responsibility, you know, in the face of all this bad religion out here that wants to guilt people and shame people. That is misogynist and homophobic. Don’t you have an obligation to confront that, gently but clearly? I think we do. I think we do, and again, not as some caricature, right? But just as you Think about how powerful that is, just as you All the warts, all the blessings, man, that’s persuasive. Even though we have all this technology at our disposal these days, the average person comes to church because someone invited them. That is still true. That’s what the statistics say, right? So there’s something about the personal exchange.

Bishop Wright: 18:39

I don’t have all the religious answers. I don’t have any. You know, I have a little bit. I’m still trying to figure this thing out, but I know how this thing has touched my life. I have a little bit I’m still trying to figure this thing out, but I know how this thing has touched my life and I can say that concisely to people. You know.

Bishop Wright: 19:00

And you know, look, I’m in the church because I met a priest who had the gift of being normal. It’s just a normal guy, just a normal guy. You know, a guy who had a history degree. I had a history degree. He was the perfect messenger for me. He was just the right kind of irreverent. He was in the church, loved the church but also, I think, had a healthy suspicion of the church. He had known God in his life. He had known God in child rearing. He had known God in divorce. He had known God in lack. He had known God in abundance.

Bishop Wright: 19:36

And when I met him and had all my questions that you know kind of questions that young people had he was not some sort of religious answer machine. He invited me into a relationship. That’s why I’m talking to you right now, you know. So I think we can do that for people and I think the world is begging for it. That’s what the Ethiopian eunuch story is, that the world wants to know, and I love the King James Version for this. What doth hinder you? So the question is what hinders us? What hinders us?

Melissa: 20:06

I kind of like have I got an offer for you?

Bishop Wright: 20:15

Yeah, right, well, I mean, there’s lots of cute ways to do it. I mean, you know, and this is why we ask God to use us and say, hey, god. I don’t want to develop a stump speech here, but I do want to be sensitive to a moment. Right, and just in living with people, moments pop up and sometimes we need to make these offers to the folks who are already sitting in the church.

Melissa: 20:36

It’s a good word, Bishop. Thank you, and thank you, listeners, for listening 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.