To live with and for Jesus is to de-center yourself. This has always been a difficult task for us humans but perhaps now more than ever. We trust our opinions more than the research of experts and we interrupt experience with our confidence no matter how shallow. Jesus told a story about a man who put himself at the center in a worship service of God. This man trusted his sense of righteousness more than God’s commitment to mercy. His sense of “me” dwarfed his sense of God and neighbor. The good he did was only to affirm his sense of superiority rather than a response to God’s goodness. All the spiritual rituals and practices designed to form interdependence and faithfulness, he deformed into evidence that he really didn’t need God or God’s mercy. There is a great humbling that comes with putting ourselves at the center. It isn’t about God’s vengeance or bringing folks down a peg, it’s about right-ness…the rightful occupant of the center is God.
For People with Bishop Rob Wright
The podcast expands on Bishop’s For Faith devotional, drawing inspiration from the life of Jesus to answer 21st-century questions.
Read the Transcript:
You’ve got to delegate your understanding of yourself and your neighbor to God. You want to follow God, you want to worship Jesus Christ, you want to follow him nearly. Believe what he says about you on your best and worst day. Believe what he says about your neighbor on best day and worst day. If you can get there, now we’re getting somewhere. Now we are really following. Because we’re tempted to believe either our own, you know, positive press or our own negative press about ourselves.
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 Bishop Wright’s For Faith weekly devotions 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 day Bishop.
Rob: Yes, ma’am.
Melissa: This week’s devotion might be my favorite yet.
Rob: All right.
Melissa: Honestly, I’m just going to let that sit right there and hope that some people get my wit and hopefully understand a bit of the sarcasm behind it.
Rob: There you go. It’s been two years now.
Melissa: You named it, me.
Rob: Yeah, right.
Melissa: Get it, anyway. Anyway, it’s based on Luke Chapter 18 verses nine through 14, where Jesus tells a parable addressing the self-righteous and holy hoity toity people who looked down on all those “other” sinners. And I liked this devotion, not because in the name, but because of the fire underneath it. You said, we trust our opinions more than the research of experts and we interrupt experience with our confidence no matter how shallow.
So, why don’t you just like dive in? What inspires you most this devotion?
Rob: Well, you know, you know. I mean, for those of you who don’t know this story, this is like one of my favorite stories. I mean I say that about a lot of stories in the Bible. But this is just, Jesus is just throwing shade right, left, and center in this story, man. You just got to love it. And he is talking to all of us, right? Nobody gets away scotch free here.
And so, the setting is, there’s a fancy religious dude standing up in the temple and he’s praying and he’s saying, hey, man, I do all the right things. I give the right money. I got the right pedigree. I’m just so wonderful, look at me God.
And then there’s another man sitting right beside him. This man can’t even lift up his head. He’s so weighed down with his sinfulness and how he’s missed the mark. And, you know, the first guy, he trusts in his own righteousness. He has earned the right to all of God’s best. And this other man, he knows he’s earned nothing. He knows he’s missed the mark and fallen short. And he, as the story goes on to say, he is the one who is justified, right?
I just love the story. I’ve been both of these guys. If we’re honest, if you’re honest, Melissa, maybe you’ve been both of these folks. And that’s the truth of it. But it hit me is at the center of his world, you know. Isn’t it interesting, he walks into a sanctuary, where God is supposed to be the center, and he puts himself at the center, right? God is not the protagonist. He’s the protagonist. And I think we do that. And you know, what I was trying to say, when I say we trust our opinions more than research of experts is this emerging trend, not even emerging, this sort of bonafide trend that we see nowadays, where people’s opinions– I mean, if we want to be honest, we noticed in COVID, that a lot of us who do not have research degrees, or medical degrees, or public health degrees, we had a lot to say about what the country should do and the nation. I mean, we had a lot to say about the technicalities of things.
Melissa: Well, that’s because of the Google.
Rob: Yes. And that’s the other part of my sentence is that we want to interrupt science and experience with our confidence. No matter how shallow. We’ve read one article, we’ve read two articles. I mean, how many articles do we have to read so that you feel you should stand next to someone who has spent their life in research. When you lay it bare, it’s silly. It’s really silly.
And I wonder about the arrogance and the self-centeredness of the whole thing. I worry about it all. I’m not saying that everybody doesn’t have something to contribute. I’m not saying that. Obviously, I do believe that. I’ve said that again, and again and again. But I think we’ve got to bring a dose of humility to some of these conversations. And you know, I think this is one of the things that the scripture helps us to be mindful of is that again, and again, it’s humility that unlocks the best of us. And arrogance unlocks the works of us. Arrogance unlocks all of the abuses we’ve ever done as individuals and as a nation and so on. And it’s humility. And I’m not talking about people having self-worth issues. I’m talking about humility, where I understand my relationship to others, and I understand my relationship to God, right?
I recognize that I have gifts, and strengths, values, and virtues. And at the same time, I also have liabilities and the need for additional learnings. And so, this fella in the story, man, he is just the center of the universe, you know. I mean, all the planets revolve around him. He’s got it all figured out. And what’s sad about it is that, you know, he doesn’t realize that any good that he’s done, any righteousness that he’s fulfilled, he’s done in response, first to God’s goodness to him, right? And so, I think that’s the first step. We got to realize that any good that we do, is in response to the good that’s been done to us in God. If you’ve got a bright mind, you didn’t make up your mind by yourself, God gave it to you. If you’ve got a trust fund, other people’s work have created that trust fund for you. I mean, and so it is all along.
And so, I think this guy just doesn’t get that. Maybe we catch him on a bad day. I don’t know. Maybe this is not who he is some total. Maybe we caught him on his worst day. We want to give him some love and some mercy. But I am enamored with the other guy. The other guy, and I’ve been this guy, too. I’ve been the guy who just gets so weighed down with all the ways in which I missed the mark. All the ways in which I’ve not fulfilled the words that I said, were the words I want to live by, I’ve been that guy too. And I know I’m not the only one. And to feel like you can’t look up in the sanctuary is also wrongheaded. Because I think this is the gift of these holy places, is that all of us can look up. I mean, God has made it so by, you know, coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ down to our level, if you will. God has made it possible for you and I to look up and look into God’s face.
And so, we missed the mark in lots of ways. Sometimes our sin is, and it’s a funny kind of sin, we’re so arrogant that we feel like we believe our own lack of self worth more than what God says about our work.
Melissa: Oh, wow. So listening to that, I kind of feel like the difference between confidence and arrogance is humility.
Rob: Yeah, this is it. So, you have to have the humility to believe a narrative other than your own narrative, right? And so, what I want to do is what I want to do. And what I would say to any brother and sister sibling, I would say, look, on your worst day, don’t believe what you say about you. Believe what God says about you, which is you are beloved, you are redeemed.
Melissa: And it goes with the other.
Rob: So, you know, in a funny kind of way, you know, your arrogance has allowed you to trample on your own self. Right? Because you don’t want to believe the mercy of God more than you want to believe that you deserve punishment. Right? And so, this is really the– I mean, people get this and then this was worthwhile, right? You’ve got to delegate your understanding of yourself and your neighbor to God. So, who does God– You want to follow God, you want to worship Jesus Christ, you want to follow him nearly, believe that what he says on your best day and worst day. Believe what he says about your neighbor on best day and worst day. That’s step number one, if you can get there, now we’re getting somewhere. Now we’re really following. Because we’re tempted to believe either our own you know, positive press or our own negative press about ourselves,
Melissa: Okay. And Bishop though, that kind of sticks with me a little bit, rankles, not so much, because I don’t believe you. And yet I feel like there are some people who say, oh, but God says x is, quote, abomination. And therefore, we make judgments against other people based upon what we think God thinks about them. So, how do you work with that?
Rob: So, I think your question is a good question. And I think what we really need to remember is, is that you know, you have to bring some sophistication to the to the Bible. I think that there are parts of the Bible that we need to scrutinize really, really well, where we are thinking that there are some parts that are making particular points about some members of the human family. And then we’re trying to pull them forward into, you know, 2022. And that concerns me in the conversation I had with Archbishop Foley Beach. We talked a little bit about that.
So, how do you know what to leave behind and what to bring forward? So there’s that. But I think no one will argue with the fact that from the beginning to the end of the book, all 66 books, there’s a consistent theme. Not one or two words, you know, but a consistent theme that we are God’s, we are beloved of God, God has made us, God has made neighbor. And so, for any of the smaller off ramps in Scripture, the dominant highway through Scripture is that God is love and that God loves all the things that God has created, all the ones that God has created and that God intends good for those, that God has created. And so, that’s how I make my case. And I’m happy to have any specific conversations with theologians who want to talk about that.
But I think also this comes in fleshed in Jesus in particular. I mean, because people have to reach back to Old Testament language for certain words. But if we want to stay in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and I find it always interesting when people are making arguments about wanting to exclude people. They have to do the very thing they often say ought not do, which his they leave Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and they jump back to the Old Testament. But if we stay in the New Testament, I mean, the argument is really clear, that we are beloved of God, God loved us so much that God came among us as one of us, God came to people who were nobodies in a nowhere town, to make a particular point about everybody. And so, that’s exciting to me. And so, that’s what I’m saying. I’m saying that the man who looked up and only saw himself missed the mark. And the man who looked down and only saw his sins, missed the mark. The mark for us is to tap into this river that we are beloved by God and that we can look God in the face and see the best reflection of ourselves. And that’s the gift of the story. Now, because Jesus is hilarious and Jesus is funny to me, you know, Jesus goes the extra mile and just says, hey, man, you know, you got to bring yourself down a peg here. You know, only one went down to their home justified. But Jesus has always when he’s given these stories, Jesus is always teaching a seminar. Right? So, Jesus is trying to get people some theological stuff to take out, you know, and think about some more about who is God?
Melissa: Well, on that note, we’ll be right back after a short break.
Easton: Hi, friends, you’re hearing Jason McGee and mass choir at Imagine NYC. This song is Revelation 191, streaming now on YouTube. Keep up with us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Now, back to For People.
Melissa: Welcome back to For People. Bishop, you posed a question right before our break. Who is God?
Melissa: And, you know, it dawns on me that when Jesus walked the earth, that he was putting others at the center. And so how do we work that through? Like, what does it mean to put God at the center? How do we live that out?
Rob: Right. Well, I mean, well, you know, there is other centeredness, right? I mean, that’s a phrase that you pick up from Dr. King, others centeredness, others centeredness. And so, that was really the point of the little article, which is that a lot of abuse has happened when we put ourselves at the center, a lot of abuse has happened. And it’s just sort of how we struggle as human beings. When we put one particular group of people, or one culture, one language, one race, one orientation, whenever we put one and lock the doors behind us, or build the walls high, you know, we end up doing violence to each other and to God.
And so, we’ve always got to be on the lookout for that. So, you know, this notion of the center, I mean, how do we get to that? Well, Scripture seems clear, doesn’t it when Jesus picks up this notion is that you know, we want to love God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love neighbor itself. That seems like that’s at the center. He says on these two things hang all the law and all the prophets. That seems pretty damn centered to me, right? So, if that has centered, then we have to always live in the tension of how do I deal with the truth of God and the truth of neighbor as myself. And every time we try to escape from that tension, we do violence. We do mischief. We do harm to people. When we live in that tension, we make better long term decisions for our planet, for our resources, for our churches, for our marriages, etc.
Melissa: So, you wrote that decentering ourselves has always been difficult for humans, but maybe now more than ever. What do you mean by that?
Rob: Well, I mean, now everybody has a supercomputer in their back pocket. And you can Google something and find, you know, people who believe you or you get to sound like information. I mean, you know– Look I’m for technology. Don’t get me wrong. 100%, right? I mean, this podcast is brought to you by technology, right?
Melissa: That’s right.
Rob: So, I mean, that would be kind of goofy. But I think just like anything else, we can abuse it. And so, I think what we have done is we have made more information for God, right? And we’ve put information in people’s hands. And we should put more information in people’s hands. But sometimes we’ve taken that information and for some of us, it’s very scant. And we have made ourselves experts. And I think this is really, really dangerous. And I was joking earlier that we saw that on on display dramatically in COVID, right? All of us immediately had a, you know, a PhD in public health.
Melissa: That’s like saying, yeah, I can do an appendectomy, I saw it on House. I got this.
Rob: Right. I saw it on Google, right.
Melissa: Watched it on YouTube.
Rob: Yeah. So, while there is lots to learn on YouTube, and I do, too. When I’m fixing old cars, thank God for people who post those videos. There is information and then there is information. And so, I think we’re trying to attend to something a lot more far reaching, a lot deeper than than just, you know, how do you pull a distributor out of a car, you can go to Google and find that. But you may not be able to find and all the depth and dimensions, how we figure out how to live together as a nation. That may not be on a YouTube video somewhere.
And so, I think, you know, this gentleman in the story, you know, is satisfied. I think this is what you have to be worried about, what satisfies you? He was satisfied at being the center of his own universe, right? And so, I think we’ve got to make sure that we’re not satisfied being the center of our– In other words, don’t believe all your own press releases, right? Don’t believe your own hype, your own billboard, and bumper stickers. And you know, I mean, again, who is God? So, God is God, I am not.
There’s this wonderful– Michael Curry, our presiding bishop, when he was a bishop in North Carolina, he used to go around and say when he would ordain young people, people who wanted to be ordained to the diaconate or to the priesthood, he would say without fail, Rob, you are today ordained. That’s a good thing. But just remember, Jesus is Lord so you don’t have to be.
Melissa: That’s right.
Rob: I mean, it was sort of cute and pithy. But as you live along time with that, you realize, yeah. And and here’s the thing, there’s a liberation in this in this org chart from scripture. There’s a liberation, so I don’t have to be more than I am, right? And should not want to be more than I am. What is the best compliment we pay people, this person is down to earth. And we pay that compliment to people who have enjoyed incredible success and celebrity. So, there is something there, isn’t there?
I went to a celebration recently of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, we’re heading to the anniversary of his birth. And this is the first year we’ve been without him. And all the sort of dignitaries were there. And you know, there were videos from his wife, and it was just a wonderful celebration. And, you know, his wife told all these wonderful stories about him being a stuck-up little kid, who was a child of the headmaster, and how he didn’t want to do his chores. And this is a Nobel Peace laureate, right? I mean, this is a guy who arguably helped to end violent apartheid. But he never believed– He was always Desmond. And the people that he encountered after having achieved all the success, they saw that in him. That God was really God for me and he was a servant of this God. And that he was not above or beneath anybody else. I think this is what the guy in the story doesn’t quite get. He doesn’t quite get the glimpse of that, that is really life.
Melissa: So, Bishop, one last question.
Rob: You are really into the story I see.
Melissa: I have to ask, how do you see this being lived out in the institutional church? You know, I can’t help but wonder if there are a number of even clergy people who kind of maybe missed the mark on this and think they’ve got the key. They know, they read it, whatever. Do you see this in our church and if so, how?
Rob: Yeah, I mean, this is a historic temptation, especially for those of us who work in church or in faith communities, right? I mean, to handle things wholly regularly, we sort of can lose the privilege of that, the uniqueness of that. And because we are human beings with egos and are fallible just like everybody else, we can start to believe our own hype, right? We can start to believe our own sort of holiness narrative, right? And I think this is why it’s so important to stay really connected with, maybe not the risen Christ as we want to talk about it, but Jesus of Nazareth. You know, Jesus of Nazareth is God among us, you know, dirty toenails, you know, eating with his hands, you know, sitting beside tax collectors, cheats, and hookers. I mean, that’s the glimpse of holiness that God wanted us to see, because God decided that come among us in this particular way, God doesn’t go to the palace, and he doesn’t go to the temple. His birth is announced, by angels to the sheepherders, you know, people who had, you know, felonies on their record and couldn’t get other jobs.
So, I think what will keep us centered, and keep the main thing the main thing, if we keep centered on the way in which God chose to be God among us, and comes without ceremony, no pomp, not circumstance. He comes to beside people. He refused the title good, you know? He said, non are good but God. So, I think there is as particular perseverance that you have to have, I think, if you’re going to– And look, it’s not just clergy. It’s lay folks. I mean, we met lay leaders in the church who because of the unique unique position and authority, they start to believe their own hype. And, you know, I mean, we forget in First Corinthians Chapter 13, that whole beautiful chapter about love, that chapter is about arrogance, as much as it is about love. Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels and have not loved. I mean, that’s a whole thing about you have a unique spiritual gifts, congratulations. If it ain’t love, it’s garbage. I mean, that’s Paul’s message all along. And then at the end of that chapter, don’t forget, he tells us if you’re going to love you better grow up.
So, I think the thing of growing up for us has to be in decentering ourselves, recentering God, not condemning ourselves when we fall short or when we slip. But also just being in the business of recentering, recentering, recentering. I think this is why regular worship is so important because we get connected again to the story, I am not God, I am not better than anybody else, I’m not beneath anyone else, I’m one among billions, kajillions of people who are beloved by God. And ultimately, that’s all we really want to be. And if you want to be more than that, we got to have a little as all folks say you want to have a little talk with Jesus.
Melissa: Bishop, thank you. And thank you listeners for listening to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook @BishopRobWright. Please subscribe, leave a review, and we’ll be back with you next week.
Vivir con Jesús y para Jesús es descentrarse. Esta siempre ha sido una tarea difícil para nosotros los seres humanos, pero tal vez ahora más que nunca. Confiamos en nuestras opiniones más que en la investigación de expertos e interrumpimos la experiencia con nuestra confianza no importa lo superficial que pueda ser. Jesús contó una historia acerca de un hombre que se puso en el centro de un servicio de adoración de Dios. Este hombre confió más en su sentido de justicia que en el compromiso de Dios con la misericordia. Su sentido de “yo” empequeñeció su sentido de Dios y del prójimo. El bien que hizo fue sólo para reafirmar su sentido de superioridad en lugar de una respuesta a la bondad de Dios. Todos los rituales y prácticas espirituales diseñados para formar interdependencia y fidelidad, se deformaron en evidencia de que realmente no necesitaba a Dios o a la misericordia de Dios. Hay una gran humildad que viene con ponernos en el centro. No se trata de la venganza de Dios o de traer a la gente a una clavija, se trata de la rectitud… El ocupante legítimo del centro es Dios.