I think this is also what Jesus is doing on Palm Sunday. He’s come out from the rural areas. He’s in full view. Here I am. I am unashamed of my faith. I’m here to espouse a face that is with all people. It’s when we can live and undefended life, we don’t have the need to view everybody as enemy. We see siblings, even in the stranger, and even in those we disagree with vehemently. That’s when we know we’re making progress with God.
Easton: This is For People with Bishop Rob Wright.
Melissa: Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m your host, Melissa Rau. And this is a conversation inspired by For Faith, a 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.
Good morning, Bishop.
Rob: Good morning.
Melissa: We are getting ready to observe the holiest of holy seasons, Holy Week.
Rob: That’s right.
Melissa: Palm Sunday is this weekend. And your devotion is set upon Matthew’s accounting of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, with a shout out to Isaiah 50. Yeah, you call it Progress. And it’s really about what Jesus could have done as opposed to what Jesus actually did. Can you say more about what you mean by the phrase, God’s alternative power parade?
Rob: Yeah, you know, Jesus could have stayed, you know, celebrity to the castaways. You know, and royalty to the rural communities. But he knows that making progress in God and for God and with God involves him in taking his alternative way to live out power to the center of worldly power. And so, you know, he goes to Jerusalem, that colonized city, where the religious community is making lots of concessions to its oppressor. He doesn’t ride a Clydesdale or Big White Stallion in, he doesn’t come in guns a blazing, you know, he doesn’t whip the mob up into a frenzy and sort of manipulate their loyalty. He comes in, you know, as His scriptures told him, you know, on a donkey, you know, which is an alternative display of power.
Let me say what I mean by that, if you know you have real power, you’re not given to lots of showiness. If you know that you’re the Lord of Lord and the King of Kings, you’re exercising your power, the reign of God, exercising your power in a particular way, which is patience. Which is always trying to give people an opportunity to turn around, to transform, to start a new. And so, Jesus walks in, you know, as power on parade, you know. Quietly, humbly, self-deferentially, but nevertheless, bold. And so, sometimes I think we get bold and arrogant, confused. There’s a boldness in showing up, absolutely dedicated to God and God’s love. That’s a real boldness that the world needs. You know, it’s no wonder that Dr. King was committed to non-violence, even in the face of radical violence. Because he realized that love ultimately was the real power. And so, while some people need to make all kinds of showings out of their own sort of megalomania and ego, there’s a quietness to Jesus coming into Jerusalem, even though the crowds are praising him and singing Hosanna. There’s a quiet self-assurance that is really anchored to knowing who God is and that God will ultimately have the final victory.
Melissa: So, for those interested in applying and integrating spiritual truth with their lives, how would you describe what bold faith could look like today?
Rob: Yeah, well, you know, first of all, you know, you cannot describe a vacation you’ve never taken right. I think before we start talking about parading and displaying, you know, what is upstream of that? It is Jesus’s actual relationship with God, right? And so, Jesus comes boldly into Jerusalem and not in any kind of superficial performance to something he’s only adjacent to. He is living with God and He is God we would argue as Christians. He knows the contours of reality. He can come into a place and stand in his own feet certain of what are those two irreducible truths, that God alone is God. And that we are to love neighbor, as we would have ourselves to be loved. When you are there, done your work, doing your work, and trying to live that out, you can go places differently. The older I get, the more I realize that it is really about the spirit in which we sort of live and move. It’s about that spirit.
When you quote Isaiah to kind of accompany Jesus into Jerusalen, which is, Isaiah says, “It’s the song of the servant. I’ve set my face like flint.” Which is, I am determined and realize. It’s an eyes wide open statement. I realize the tough season, I realize the hardship. I realized the suffering. And nevertheless, I’m betting on God. I’m with God. I’m sticking with God.
Which is that I am determined. And I realize it’s an eyes wide open statement, I realized the tough, steep season, I realized the hardship I realized the suffering and nevertheless, I’m betting on God, I’m with God, I’m sticking with God.
You know, the Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry came with us, and he told a wonderful story he’s using right now. It’s a story back to an oldie, but a goodie movie. An Officer, A Gentleman. People remember Lou Gossett, Jr. and Richard Gere in that movie. I will spare you all the details. But nevertheless, Richard Gere is faking his way through things, he’s hustling, he’s cheating, he’s stealing. He’s doing all the things that got him, you know, into Officer Candidate School, the hustle, right? The superficial. And Lou Gossett Jr. sees him a thousand miles away. He knows that he is not going to participate in his BS, right? So, as the story goes on, finally they get to that great showdown. And the showdown really results in the fact that the male, Richard Gere’s character finally says, “I got nowhere else to go.”
I think Jesus can walk into Jerusalem because he knows that there’s no other real power in the world. There are temper tantrums that we sort of give flattering names to, political temper tantrums, and bigotry, and so on. But there’s only one real power that’s going to be enduring. And Jesus is standing in it and he doesn’t need a Clydesdale or a stallion. A donkey will do him just fine. Because he knows that he is power and he knows at the end of the day as he foretold prior to his entrance into Jerusalem, you know what, they’ll do their worse. But on the third day, the Son of Man will rise again.
Melissa: And a donkey will do you.
Rob: You know, it’s okay. I’ve said this before in this podcast. You remember when Pope Francis came to visit President Obama. President Obama got out of this tank, that looks like a limousine. It has bullet proof everything and missile proof everything and God only knows what. President Obama comes out and greets Pope Francis and Mrs. Obama greets the Pope. They get into their respective cars. Only the Pope’s car is this little Fiat. Here he is the Pope, millions of followers around the globe, and he gets into this. It is hilarious. And sort of a modern image for us. It’s not a knock against President Obama. It’s not a knock against the reality of the necessity of security. But Pope Francis was bearing a witness about mortality, about deep resolve, about faith. He was signaling to us, “I believe, there is something wrong with the world that we have be armored to the teeth.”
Melissa: I love that. Friends, we’ll be right back after a short break.
Easton: Hi, listeners. Thank you for listening to For People, a space of digital evangelism. You can keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. And now, back to For People.
Melissa: And we’re back. Bishop, last week as a part of your Lenten Series, we talked about Jesus being the difference between life and death. And our conversation on top of the couple of sermons I listened to throughout this week have stuck with me. My wondering as we approach Holy Week is this, to what do we need to let die or to what do we need to die so that new life may emerge?
Rob: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s a very personal question. And I always try not to do other people’s work for them. You know, and I always want to sort of invite people to find the courage to really to sort of square up to those questions. The truth of the matter is, we’ve picked up habits along the way and the reasons those things have become habits for us is because they have given us some forward movement in life. They have developed some goods to us, some value to us.
And this thing about living with God is, is that as we live with God, you know, we have to continue to reflect on how we got to where we are. And is my mind as I like to say, is my mind and my behind, is my Sunday singing in line with my Monday living, right? And here’s the good news about Lent and Holy Week and just this wonderful relationship that you and I can have with God, can have with scripture is that there are things that we can all take off. And so, what I want to do is just invite people to think about that. Some of us are armored up to the teeth. Not in terms of weapons, but in terms of the calluses that have come from painful episodes in our lives, and we’ve walled ourselves off, which is, you know, I guess practical for a season. But at some point, we’ve become prisoners of our own sort of walling off. And so, we don’t get to enjoy life. We don’t know trust and love becomes more like courtesy and pleasantry. And so, I think we all need to do some dying. I think this is how life goes. There’s this notion of living with God is taking things off and being as bare as we can.
I think this is also what Jesus is doing on Palm Sunday. He’s come out from the rural areas. He’s in full view. Here I am. I am unashamed of my faith. I’m here to espouse a face that is with all people. And as we’ve seen from all the great mystics and teachers, that is a truth. That is a spiritual truth. It’s when we can live and undefended life, we don’t have the need to view everybody as enemy. We see siblings, even in the stranger, and even in those we disagree with vehemently. That’s when we know we’re making progress with God. And I would say for God, and I would say in God’s world.
Melissa: Well, you said sometimes faith can become cerebral, stoic, self-serving, or sedentary. But faith alive is about progress and God for God and for the world. Just to summarize what you literally just said to us.
And you used, Howard Thurman’s quote, keep alive in me the future, look the high hope. And it really got me thinking about how sometimes we’re so quick and so many people, including myself sometimes, churches are still struggling with a sense of toxic nostalgia, lamenting the days of old, and unable to get out of a critical and negative cycle of blame and shame for how things are right now. Declining in many places and they weren’t what used to be. And yet Easter is right around the corner. So, I’m wondering if you have any wisdom to share on that. Being stuck in the past? Yet needing to move forward and make progress?
Rob: Yeah, I have no wisdom about all this. I mean, I’m sitting with these ideas as you are and as many sort of are. I know that nostalgia is also a place where we hide from the facts on the ground that things are changing. Being a man of a certain age, my first sages, my first poets were R&B singers. When I think about what you’ve just said, I think about Stevie Wonder, and this wonderful song called, As. If you have every listened the song, As, you ought too. He paints such a musically thick and rich picture of the Book of Revelation without using any of those words. But he says this, “As today, I know I’m living. But tomorrow could make me the past. But that I mustn’t fear. For I know, deep in my mind, the love of me, I’ve left behind. Because I’ll be loving you always.”
What he’s saying is that even in that is an invitation to progress, right? Because to be bound, paralyzed by toxic nostalgia and who gets to decide if it’s toxic. But toxic nostalgia it is to continue to keep yourself at the center. And I think, you know, this is what Thurman is saying with that quote. “Keep alive in me.” If I were to add, if I had the audacity to add to Howard Thurman, it would be the courage to have the future look and the high hope. Which is to say, I have run my race. And you know, I have contributed and will contribute until I’m called home. But I know that it’s ultimately not about me.
I was telling somebody, we had Bishop Curry here with us. And someone was asking me about his sort of enthronement, almost nine years ago at the Washington National Cathedral. I said, one of the best things I saw that day, wasn’t really so much that we have sort of elected and enthroned our new Presiding Bishop happens to be the first African American. It was the exchange of power.
The Presiding Bishop has a staff and, you know, Bishop Catherine Jefferts Schori was the Presiding Bishop. And so, there was this moment in the service, where Bishop Catherine passed Bishop Michael what is called the primatial staff. And in that moment, he becomes you know, the Presiding Bishop, symbolically the torch has passed.
Now, what is normal for our worship, as many people know is that at the conclusion of worship, all of the participants in worship, walk out together to some rousing song, right? Only I paid attention to Bishop Catherine in that moment, she had been the Presiding Bishop for nine years she had run her race. But she exited stage right. And it was only Bishop Michael who walked out of the of the Washington National Cathedral to applause and well wishes and joy and singing, etc. But I noticed how graceful her exit was.
And I think this is what Stevie Wonder is saying. And I think this is what Howard Thurman is saying, this is that, the future is coming in for that I mustn’t fear, right? I mustn’t fear. I must play a positive part. I must sow into the future as best I can. I must participate with God, in God’s future. Thurman says another place in that same prayer, “God is on the side of the future.” Doesn’t mean that God disparages what was. He understands that the future is standing on the shoulders of what was. And God was and God is and God will be.
And so, what we’re really talking about, I guess, back to your real question, which is, is that what do we have to die to? You have to die to our selves being at the center and find ourselves beside God and beside neighbor, I think that’s the best configuration for us.
Melissa: I love that. I guess that’s kind of what the prayer is keep alive in me, that God is alive, rather than our own ambition, or own self-righteousness, or our own whatever. Because I don’t know if those things are at the center, how can God be truly alive, if we’re not permitting God to do God’s thing in and through us?
Rob: Yes, exactly.
You know, and here’s the thing, God will be alive, whether whether we get over ourselves or not.
Melissa: That’s right.
Rob: But here’s the better question, do you really want to be frustrating God’s grace? Don’t you want to be with God? Don’t you want to enjoy partnership with God? Do you want to be at odds? And of course, nobody, I don’t believe, people wake up in the morning and say, “Today’s my day to really sort of thumb my nose at God and God’s purposes.” But we do it sometimes unwittingly. And sometimes we do it consciously. Sometimes we do it for selfish gain and self in. And sometimes we are not sure if God is God anyway. So, why not? And, you know, and sometimes we’re just stoking the flames of our own ego.
But for those of us who are really thinking about these matters, why wouldn’t you do everything you could, as a sign of ultimate worship? Worth ship, worth wildness. To say, “Hey, God, it’s your world. It’s your cosmos. You created me in your image. Me and all the people even that I disagree with. What can I do to get alongside you?” And I think you know, all this bundled up, has something to do with Jesus entering into Jerusalem. He could have been a local phenomena and he could have stayed out there and healed the sick and give some sight to the blind. He knows ultimately that he has to go to Jerusalem.
Dr. King knew he had to address the nation. Desmond Tutu knew that he had to have a meeting with the with the then president of South Africa. We know that there are moments for all of us when we’ve got to do the hard thing. We’ve got to have faith, we’ve got to realize that God is with us, and God is for us, and that God will not let us be put to shame as Isaiah says. So, as a I say, a real faith, an alive faith is one part scripture. You know, a deep understanding of who God has been to people just like us, in the millennia before us, in our tradition. What have we learned about living with God? And also, one part humble experiment?
Melissa: Well, onward and upward, Bishop.
Rob: Onward and upward, amen.
Melissa: If I haven’t told you lately, I am grateful for you.
Rob: Thank you. Right back at ya.
Melissa: And listeners, we are grateful for you for listening to For People. Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review, and we’ll be back with you next week.