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Jan 27, 2023

The birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus show us God’s preferences. After all, blessing is a way to communicate what God prefers. What Jesus blesses gives those who happen to be in those categories a firewall against, cynicism and despair. His blessing helps to locate us, confirm us, energize us and even offer us coordinates back to blessing when we stray. Blessing is experienced as a reason to hope, communicated by a reliable source based on an ultimate truth. Being blessed while you’re still catching hell is not about “pie in the sky by and by” as much as it is a resource for consolation, courage and defiance right now. So, to the poor in spirit, mourning, peacemakers, meek and persecuted for doing the right thing, chin up, God sees you God prefers you and the world knows it.

Matthew 5:1-12

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:

Believing in God and believing that God has blessed us, and that all of us are equal in the sight of God’s eyes is a defiant posture in this world. It’s not the status quo. It absolutely is not. And even if we say it is, we don’t have to look very far at economic circumstances, we don’t have to look at disparity and pay, to realize that actually, that’s not true. It’s getting more true, thank God. God’s vision for us is this great besides gnus with one another.

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: You called your devotion this week, Preference. And it’s loaded. Because the first time I’d read it, I read it like a locker room speech for the underdog.

Rob: Yeah.

Melissa: And so I’m wondering if you’d like to say more about your summary of Matthew 5, Verses 1-12.

Rob: Well, that’s why I like talking to people about Scripture. And you know, sort of there’s a quick commercial, right? It’s so important to have a conversation with folks, not an argument about what the Bible says, you know, but a conversation. So, I never thought of it as a locker room speech. We’re down by two touchdowns at the half, you know.

But the Bible text is the Beatitudes, bless those who are the meek, bless those that are the poor in spirit, bless those who mourn, bless those who are persecuted. I have been looking at that text for a very long time. Like lots of people. The thing about reading the Bible is that you change, that the word stays the same. But you change. Life sensitizes you to lots of different things. And you see into the cracks and crevices of Scripture. I think when Jesus is standing up and talking about who is blessed, he’s doing a number of things.

One of the things he’s doing, I think, is he’s telling us what side God is on. And that is not to say that God is not on the side of all of us. I think God is on the side of all of us. But the God of the Bible is not a milk toast God, it’s not anything is okay God. You know, this is why we have the prophets. This is why Jesus himself, God himself came in the form of Jesus, to let us know on which side God is on. And God is clearly standing on the side of poor, those who are being oppressed, those who are least left behind, those who are being abused, those who have little to nothing. Those as, you know, as Howard Thurman used to say, “The people who have their backs against the wall.” God is for them. God is for all of us, but God seems to have a particular heart and interest in that group of folks. And he came as one of them, right? He came as a colonized soul, the son of a day laborer, to tell us about God’s love. So, that’s where I’m going.

Melissa: All right. Well, one of my favorite lines from your devotion is, “being blessed while you’re still catching hell, is not about pie in the sky by and by as much it is as a resource for constellation, courage, and defiance right now.”

Rob: Yeah.

Melissa: So, I’m wondering if you can say more about being a resource for constellation, courage, and especially, defiance?

Rob: Yeah. So, you know, I was born and raised in an African American family, in an African American part of town, with that culture, idiom, cadence, beauty, food, culture, music. That helped me immensely more than I can know. But one of the things that helped me to realize was that just because you are a part of a group that is catching hell, in the way that my parents and many people of their generation caught hell in terms of legalized segregation and discrimination, you know, the refusal to deliver the American dream to lots of different kinds of Americans who labored, went to war on behalf of this country, etc. That kind of catching hell. I grew up knowing about that. I grew up watching my mother and father try to work, you know, under those oppressive systems. And obviously it’s not gone away. So, that is the catching hell. So, growing up thinking about, where is God in all this catching hell? So, God didn’t create those systems, right? In fact, God is working through us to help dismantle those kinds of systems.

So, what is blessing actually mean? Well, blessing, and then you take that sort of thinking, theological thinking over to the Bible, and you realize that God is blessing all kinds of people who are catching hell, who are in really difficult circumstances that are being abused, the humanity is being stolen. And so, what does blessing mean? It doesn’t mean, just hold on a little while longer, everything is going to be all right. It doesn’t mean Kumbaya. It doesn’t mean any of those things. It means that God is trying to say to us, I see you. You matter to me, your dignity matters to me, and this is my strategy. My strategy is for you to take up agency because of the permission I’ve given you and blessing, I’ve let you know that I’m on your side. I’ll let you know that the thing is tilted toward you, in the long run. In the long run, that’s a critical point, in the long run. So, be consoled. Because the creator of all the world sees you. Also take courage and know that I’m with you. But the defiance piece, I think, is where if I know that God is for me, and I know that the system is rigged against certain people, then somehow my back gets a little straighter. And I start to work out some kind of defiance.

Now, we have just celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King. And I was just talking to CT Vivian, a great civil rights leader, the Reverend CT Vivian’s daughter yesterday. They thought that they were being defiant. Now they use non-violence, you know, a key point here. But they were nevertheless defiant. They tried to hold together a boldness and a forthrightness that had everything to do with understanding the dignity through God’s eyes. And so, you know, abusers, racists, white supremacists, and others, they were the abirritates, right? That was the grotesque manifestation of some kind of sickness, right? So, they knew that to be blessed, to want harmony amongst all, to see dignity in all, was a deifying act.

Look, believing in God and believing that God has blessed us, and that all of us are equal in the sight of God’s eyes is a defiant posture in this world. It’s not the status quo. It absolutely is not. And even if we say it is, we don’t have to look very far at economic circumstances, we don’t have to look far down the road in terms of gender, bias. We don’t have to look at disparity and pay to realize that actually it’s snot true. It’s getting more true, thank God. But we are not there. So, we have to generate. What gets generated in us is a defiance that comes from knowing, God’s vision for us is this great besideness with one another. Until that has been achieved, then the defiance continues.

Melissa: Yeah, like a great leveling?

Rob: Yes.

Melissa: For sure. All right, friends, we’re going to 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: Welcome back to For People, Bishop. I didn’t get myself into trouble really, and yet, it was one of my great learnings. Because sometimes when I choose to use words, they are not necessarily as mature as other people who have had the time to think and process and really dwell on a certain thing, right?

Rob: Okay.

Melissa: And yet, I’m just going to say sometimes I’m risky and I say things. I’m wondering what your thoughts are between the words, preference, chosen, and favorite?

Rob: You know, we had Rabbi Berg on the other day and he talked a little bit about this notion of chosen-ness, right? And if we’re talking about chosen-ness, you know, we’re talking about something a little bit different than preference, right? Preference is about the situation circumstances that God sees, part of the human family in, and has decided to come down on that side of folks. This chosen-ness is a whole doctrine of a group of people that is sort of above others. That’s one way to think of it. And another way to think of it and Walter Brueggemann also helps us with this notion of chosen-ness. This in the hands of some people has met the exclusion of others, right? The diminishment of others, right? And that is not what we’re saying here. In fact, in this text, what I’m trying to say is to hear God’s preferences, is actually an invitation to corrective action. If I see that God is on the side of the peacemaker, maybe it ought to occur to me that I had to get on the side of being a peacemaker. If God is on the side of those who are being persecuted for trying to be forthright about in justices in the world, maybe I ought to take, you know, two steps to the left here. Not using political language, two steps to the left, right, or front, or center towards the very thing that we’re saying that God prefers. That’s a little bit different than chosen-ness. God didn’t choose people to be poor. God didn’t choose people to be, you know, mourning, etc., etc. That’s a whole different podcast, I would say. That’s something different. But I mean, I appreciate it. And I can see how people would want to want to lump that in.

That’s not what I am saying at all because when we are talking about chosen-ness, we are talking about a whole big piece of study, theology, etc. I’m talking specifically about people who are in this world right now who find themselves on the delivery end or the receiving end rather of some of the worst that life can dish out. And I’m saying to you that the Bible tells us that God is there. God is with those folks, God is for those folks. We see this in the Magnificat, we remember Mary’s great, wonderful speech and rap. We see this in so many other pieces of literature, where God sees us. And look, this is what we need to encourage us. Is my suffering in vain? Does anybody see me? Does anybody care?

Moses actually brings us to God’s attention in front of the burning bush. And it’s God who says, I see my people. I see my people in bitter bondage, etc. We could add to that text, and I God, I’m looking for partners who want to do something about it.

Melissa: Yeah, man. Come on.

Rob: Right? So, I think that we can see that God blesses this particular group of folks, but we also might ask ourselves, okay, that is fine, but can I join God in being a blessing to this group of people.

Melissa: Love it. Well, I know this might be weird. Yeah, one of the things I love to do in this season of Epiphany, is frequently read through the outline of faith, are in fancy terms, the Catechism the back of the Book of Common Prayer, right? Because there are a list of questions, some straightforward and others that lead me to more questions, which I love.

One of the things that has my blood going right now is, what is the mission of the church? The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God, and each other in Christ. And so, I wonder how God’s blessing and our blessing go together with restoring unity among God in our neighbor? What do you think?

Rob: Well, I mean, I think one of the things we’re talking about when we’re saying that is, one, we are saying who God is. We’re saying right there in that statement, what God’s preference is. So, implicit in that statement, right, to restore all people to unity with God and with each other is saying that God is on the side of harmony and unity. In some ways, what we’re saying is God prefers when you and I are not warring, when we’re not tearing each other apart, right? God prefers when you and I figure out how to share, when you and I figure out how to not let this sort of the bad news of scarcity, which by and large is a lie, take us over and make us do bad things to each other. But rather that God’s abundance is our message. And we’re figuring out creative ways on how to share. So, God is already showing us his preference in that very concise statement.

And let me just say to people to that, you know, I’m inviting all of us to take a look at the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, you can find it online. In the very back of it, it talks about the catechism. It’s just a real wonderful outline of the faith and what we say that we believe. This is one of the things I’m inviting people to really brush up on because I think we have gotten way down into feeling land, and maybe need to stop just a moment and get back into a little bit into teaching land, bring a little solidness to that. So, the feelings are legitimate, of course. But sometimes feelings are not facts. And so, we want to ground our life with God and our life with neighbor in the best teaching that the Church has and to prove ourselves ready and mature.

I think this is the other thing that I’m really hacking at, I’m inviting people to really think about what Christian maturity means. And Christian maturity means really some real clarity about who the God of the Bible is. And that’s why I’m writing things like this, about God’s preference. Because sometimes we paint on God’s canvas. And sometimes we paint more of ourselves on God’s canvas than is appropriate. Our position in that painting, to continue to beat up a metaphor, is to see God’s canvas that exists in its beauty. And then, to join God, and offer ourselves, to making that canvas full. I’m inviting people to take a look at that at that catechism.

But I think God demonstrates God’s preference, you know, one of the things that God does, and maybe this would be the last point. God has a preference for partnership. I mean, think of it for a second to God, who created all the worlds, all the worlds, and all that there is. The God who ignited the great bang, that created everything that is, and that all science can do is begin to discover it. And to comment in this, this wonderful God who put sassy in the teenager, right? This wonderful God has decided to restrain God’s self, in the mobilizing, utilizing of God’s power. God could do everything all by God’s self, and you and I would be reduced to automatons, mindless, thoughtless, doer, drone. God decided not to do that God decided to run an experiment and run a risk, and to invite us and to be patient with us as we figure out that there is no body wise, more wise than God. And God has decided in God’s genius, and we don’t have to like it, that God is willing to take the hits. And God has somehow accounted for the pain and the suffering in this model. So God doesn’t swoop in and take the wheel out of our hands. God has decided to invite us to be partners with God and that is God’s preference. And that is the way that God wants to make the world. And so, that is the God of the Bible. Yet again, that is God’s preference. Now, we don’t have to like it. But I think what we should see in that is a great compliment being paid to us. That God would use us, cracked clay, ego maniacal, you know, cracked clay, tempted always to be small and petty. But God says, I want to use that. That’s why St. Paul says we have this treasure in earthen vessels. So, that’s God’s chief preference to somehow work with us, through us, on behalf of us to make the world, as presiding bishop says, to look less like hell and more like heaven in the beloved community.

Melissa: Well, praise God for that.

Bishop, thank you so much. 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.


El nacimiento, la vida, la enseñanza, la muerte y la resurrección de Jesús nos muestran las preferencias de Dios. Después de todo, la bendición es una manera de comunicar lo que Dios prefiere. Lo que Jesús bendice da a los que están en esas categorías una herramienta contra el cinismo y la desesperación. Su bendición ayuda a localizarnos, confirmarnos, energizarnos e incluso ofrecernos coordenadas de regreso a la bendición cuando nos perdemos. La bendición se experimenta como una razón para la esperanza, comunicada por una fuente confiable basada en una verdad última. Ser bendecidos mientras todavía están atrapando el infierno no se trata de cantos superficiales que prometen «pastel en el cielo» tanto como es un recurso para el consuelo, el valor y el desafío en este momento. Entonces, a los pobres de espíritu, de luto, pacificadores, mansos y perseguidos por hacer lo correcto, con la barbilla hacia arriba, Dios los ve, Dios los prefiere, y el mundo lo sabe.

Mateo 5:1-12