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Why Hope?

Jan 13, 2023

In celebration of and thanksgiving for the life and ministry of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I thought I would try and distill a couple of reasons he gave for us to stay steadfastly hopeful.

We should hope because:

1. God is sovereign. 

“The Almighty God himself is standing out saying through Hosea, “I love you, Israel.” He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: “Be still and know that I’m God, that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.”

2. The Holy Spirit causes growth and alignment in us.

“Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart….”

3. Exemplary Christian living changes things. 

“I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering.”

4. We are a human family.

“This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

5. Love will have the last word.

“The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate.  And history is cluttered with the wreckages of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.  As Arnold Toynbee says, ‘Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of love and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be hope that love is going to have the last word.’

Various speeches of Dr. King

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.

We kneel at the manger of some refugees, only to say to other refugees, there’s no room at the inn. So, Dr. King said, that there is hope if we can remember that we actually belong to each other. And I think there’s hope for the planet if that is also true. Because perhaps we’d also pay different kinds of attention to our resources, our living wages, health insurance, right down the line. I mean, if these are our hopes, then the public policy unfolds from those points.

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 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 day, Bishop.

Rob: Yes, ma’am.

Melissa: This week’s devotion is in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And you distilled a handful of reasons Dr. King gave us to be steadfastly hopeful.

Rob: Yeah.

Melissa: And I’m sure you could have gone with a number of themes to pay tribute to the fine living example that was, MLK Jr. So, why hope? And why now?

Rob: Well, I mean, I appreciate the question. One, I want to say, how much I love to dig into the sort of gift bag that is Dr. King’s genius, his theological imagination, his bright mind, it’s a shame that we just don’t teach him more. We sort of keep him in the ghetto of January, you know, his birth month. This is a significant intellect, has significant theological intellect. Someone who was a lifelong learner, and someone who was a flawed human being, and yet someone that God used. And extraordinarily so. So, I’m a big fan.

I mean, one of the great hallmarks of my time in Atlanta is to be able to be friends with some of the people who were his friends. And to learn, sit at their feet, and listen. So, I think Dr. King is always a study for us. If you haven’t really read him, beyond sort of the handful of sermons yet, you really ought to. You can see the son of the South and what he had to say to the soul of America. And not only the soul of America, but to the soul of planet.

More specifically, why did I say, why hope? Because I think as I talk to people, I’m always trying to hear what part of the gospel message needs to be applied right now. I mean, I guess I’ve been trying to be a pastor long enough in my life, that I’m trying to hear what portion, what emphasis, you know? And like you and others, I’m watching the news. I see the senseless murders in Idaho and the sort of gentleman who took up a machete in Times Square. I’m see all the senselessness. I’m concerned when I look at the planet population and what kind of resources we are going to need. I get concerned about the plastic in the ocean and those sorts of things. I’m also in contact with my own kids who are young adults, and they’re asking their own questions in earnest. And I think as the followers of Jesus, the friends of Jesus, have always got to be trying to answer the question, what reason is there to hope? I mean, what is the substance of the Christian hope? I mean, is it pie in the sky by and by? Is it kumbaya? What is the substance of this thing? Does it have any rigor and depth? Is it for smart people or for people who just want to lullaby? What is this thing?

I think that King says that. I mean, these are just a few points that I pulled. It could have been a dissertation here. Number one, his point is we should have hope because God is sovereign. And that why we want to venerate the billionaires and the nation states, ultimately, ultimately, they will not have the last word. Ultimately, this is point number one, the source to the Christian hope, the source of our hope as believers that we share with others is that we believe that God is sovereign. And that God in God’s time will have God’s way. And that everything that is inferior to love will crack and crumble. This is what we believe. This is what we believe in.

We ought to ask ourselves, do we believe that? So, I think that number one, King said, “Believe that God was sovereign.” And that gave him the ability to say to a nation that he loved, that afforded him opportunities, as limited, as they were, you know, in his growing up in a segregated south that ultimately America could change, the world could change, new opportunities could happen if we bent ourselves towards the sovereignty of God.

And he also believed that he had to say words like that to presidents, he had the ear of presidents, and real power brokers. And he had to remind them that there is one power greater than you. And it’s interesting to read him and see how respectful that he is. I mean, I was talking to Ambassador Young some time ago, and he was really taken aback by how disrespectful many of the clergy were to political leaders. Even though the political leaders, it seems, had gone off the rails in lots of way, and he reminded us that Dr. King always stayed respectful. But he nevertheless found a way to remind political leaders of both parties, that at the end of the day, God was sovereign, and they were not. And they would be held accountable for their actions and their omissions.

So, number one, you know, what essential to us as believers is? We believe that God is sovereign. And for Christian’s of course, that is embodied in one sublime act which is that when we did our worst to Jesus, we lynched him in front of his mother, we brutalized him, we put him underground and covered him with a rock and station guards outside, God nevertheless found a way to get up on that third day, still with the wounds, but nevertheless, he had defied our very best efforts. So, that’s sort of the polaroid for us, of God’s sovereignty.

Melissa: Well, gosh, that was a big one. I was gonna say, what’s your favorite? But clearly God is sovereign is important, right?

Rob: Yeah.

Melissa: And so which leads me to a question, how do you then hold intention? The fact that we are Christian believers in a country, that is not just a Christian country?

Rob: Yep. Yep. Yeah, well, I mean, think about it. Think about it that way. I mean, I don’t think that Jesus ever argued for or, you know, that we were supposed to be over and against. That Christian was sort to be the strip on our chest, or you know some sort of military uniform where we were supposed to keep everybody else in order. I don’t subscribe to that Christianity.

Jesus found a way to distinguish himself in Galilee. Obviously, Jesus was not a Christian. But he distinguished himself among a population that was not all Jewish, by his kindness, by his candor, by the works of power that he did, by the wonderful ways that he spoke about the inclusive, radical nature of a loving God. He distinguished himself in those ways.

And as Howard Thurman has taught us, you know, your Christianity should be distinguished by how God puts you, beside people, not over and against people. I think, if we’re honest, are over and against nature has a sort of very thin Christian veneer, it’s more ego than it is Jesus. And so, our presiding bishop is right, if it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God. And so, I think how we distinguish ourselves in a wildly diverse religious world, or no religion at all, is by staying true to what we believe is our vocation. And our vocation is to make real the love of God in all the world. And I think that still, there’s no date expiration on that. I think that still is our purpose in the world is to still make the love of God known, that we’ve experienced in Jesus Christ in the world. And the truth of the matter is that people are still animated by the thought of Jesus, you know. He’s still an enigmatic figure that people want to know. It’s the church people have problems with it. It’s our falling short, that people struggle with. Jesus they think is real cool. Us not so much.

Melissa: Right. Well, we are a human family. So, that’s the fourth point that you make, right? So, we are all interconnected regardless of whether or not we worship the same way or etc.

Rob: So, we are a human family, that’s why we should have hope. In other words, we are deeply connected. We belong to one another. And what I like about that is is that, you know, I mean, we’ve talked about this before. In sort of our immigration situation here, if we are a a human family, do we ship people off? Do we ship them on buses all around the country? Like political pawns? Or do we find some way, and this is the deep water for the dedicated smart people, do we find a way to affirm their dignity and at the same time try to fix a broken system? I believe that we actually can secure our borders and not treat people like trash. I believe we can do that. And I know that there are smart people in this country, I believe in this country, there are smart people in this country who can thread that needle. But unfortunately, we’ve gone for the political red meat on both sides. So, when Dr. King says that we are human family, that’s actually quite hopeful because it rescues us from really one-dimensional ways to solve complex problems. So, if I hold intention with any solution that I come up with, that you are my sister, and that is irreducible, then now there’s a hope. It’s hard. But now I have a hope for a better world. I have a hope that let’s try to figure this out. And, you know, I mean, we forget that Jesus, and his mother and his father were actually refugees. And so, we kneel at the manger of some refugees, only to say, you know, to other refugees, there’s no room at the inn. I mean, it’s a tragic reenactment, isn’t it? And I think we can be better than that. And so, Dr. King said that there’s hope, if we can remember that we actually belong to each other. And I think there’s hope for the planet, if that is also true. Because perhaps we’d also pay different kinds of attention to our resources, our living, living wages, health insurance, right down n the line. If these are our hopes, then the public policy unfolds from those points.

Melissa: Well, your last point is love will have the last word. And we’re going to get to that after this 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 @BishopRobWright. And now back to For People.

Melissa: Welcome back to For People. Bishop, in a very recent episode, I think it was called Intervene, it dropped on the 30th of December 2022. We were talking a little bit about love, and how you talked about Jesus being a threat. And I brought up how Malcolm X and Martin Luther King really spoke truth to power. And then you proceeded to call Martin Luther King sweet. And I’m reading some of his quotes, and I don’t know that they are sweet. And yet he did some incredible important things. You talked about Jesus being a threat to the status quo and a threat to the powers that be and it got him killed. And Martin Luther King Jr. was a real threat to some people, and it got him lynched, got him murdered. And so, I’m wondering, I’m curious about how do we live like a threat? Does that even make sense?

Rob: No. And you’re making such a good point. And let me tell you the point that you’re making that you may not even realize that you’re making, right? So, some of these amazing world changers have actually been the sweetest people that you could ever meet, right? So, here’s an example.

Desmond Tutu, it’s quite amazing that Desmond Tutu got out alive, you know, because of some of the things that he did, the mobilization of people. But he did it thinking about non-violence, affirming the dignity of his enemies, and I’m reminded of, of a sermon that he gave the year after 9/11, at the Washington National Cathedral. And what Desmond Tutu was able to say in that sermon was extraordinary. And I think if I would have said the very same words, I think they would have had security caught me away or the crowd would have tried to stop me to death. But Desmond Tutu because he loved so deeply, and people heard the love, was able to say to the Washington National Cathedral and an audience, you know, listening from beyond that place, that because of 9/11 now America knows what the rest of the world goes through regularly. This is actually a gift to be cultivated, that only some people have, which is the ability to tell the truth in love. And I think that it’s something that I personally would say that I have not achieved yet. But I think it’s something that Dr. King and some others have been able to say. And there are maybe even grandmothers who have mastered that gift who are listening here. Which is the ability to find a way to say what is true but not to condemn and not have a condemnation bone in your body. And so, when I say that Dr. King was sweet, and dangerous, he just follows suit from others and others follow suit from him. But they have this ability to look into your face and love you.

I mean, the Bible tells us that Jesus was able to look into the people’s faces and love them. And nevertheless, say to them, but friend, you’re going the wrong way. And Jesus says, I wish I could gather you under my wings. These are words of love. And so, I think sometimes we give in to condemnation, or our words are seasoned with condemnation, where some people are able to.

And so, let me just say something about that because that goes to the point number two. As Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968. On April 4, 1967, he gave his longest speech at the Riverside Church in New York City. And I was so struck, you know, in reading that again. In that sermon that he says that I have been moved to break the betrayal of my own silence and to speak from the burnings of my own heart. I think if we’re going to tell the truth and love, and if we’re actually going to mobilize other people, we can’t mobilize them over and against. We can’t send the message to them that we are elite spiritual athletes and they are not. Dr. King is saying to the nation, I’ve become very clear now that my own silence on the matter of the Vietnam War has been a betrayal. Now, I need to correct that with you. And I’m inviting you to join me in that regard. So, this is one of the ways that we can share love, and also find truth. We talk about our own collusion with things that are not a part of God’s will for us. We talked about our own journey. Again, I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. This is why I love the AA community. Everyone starts off with the same title, I am an alcoholic. Some of us have had more days of sobriety, some of us have had less days of sobriety. But we are all the same things.

And so, King hoped, and he invited us to hope because he believed that the Holy Spirit does cause growth in us. And you and I can get aligned with God’s truth in our life. And when we do that, one of the great indicators of that is, is that we don’t slam other people around. We find some elasticity in the way that we deal with other people because we ourselves have been part of the problem.

Melissa: Okay, so my follow up question to all of that wisdom is, how do you do that then in relationship with people? When you’re saying truth and love, you’re really speaking lovingly, you’re speaking directly, you’re speaking provocatively. And yet, you can’t control the way the other person across from you translates what you are saying to them because of their own woundedness. How do you do that?

Rob: Again, let’s not be hypothetical here. Since we are talking about Dr. King, point number three, why should we have hope? Why, because exemplary Christian living changes things. It is not my job to change you. It is my job to live true to the purpose that I believe I’m called to, and that is to live for Jesus Christ. That is my calling. My calling is not to make you agree with me. I mean, I think what worries me is that we’ve gotten in the forced agreement business, I think, in the church. That is not our business. I can’t make you agree with me by force of logic on the Second Amendment or the First Amendment, whatever it is. That’s not my job. That is not what Jesus did.

What Jesus did was works of power, right? He did works of love, works of kindness. He went places where other people didn’t go, he went places where other clergy people didn’t go. I mean, he distinguished himself in that way. And so, I think there is a great liberty here that we’re missing out on, which is, look, we can cross swords all day long on Facebook or Instagram about the latest headlines, or about what Elon Musk is doing or not doing, and Kim Kardashian, God bless them all. At the end of the day, who the hell cares?

Melissa: Who the hell cares.

Rob: I don’t see Jesus preoccupied, you know, with that sort of occupying forced headlines. I don’t see Jesus saying to the disciples, did you see the headline this morning? I see Jesus about the business of feeding, and teaching, and getting alongside the sick, and those with preexisting conditions. I see him trying to reach out to the church through sound teaching and acts. I mean, this is where I think we’ve got to get back to all the people that I think we could agree on, who have been formative Christian examples for us have not been people who played Whack a Mole with the headlines.

Melissa: Yeah. I guess maybe it’s they just didn’t care. Like, no, they didn’t give a damn about the people who weren’t getting on with the program, right? They just did it. They did it.

Rob: If God is sovereign, and I believe God is, and I do believe that love will have the last word. Then what I’ve got to be doing is I got to be paying attention to what is eternal and not temporal. Now, some people say that, and what they mean is that I don’t I’m not going to say anything about the world. I don’t mean that. Not at all. I believe that, you know, we can bear witness to God’s sovereignty, and we can bear witness to God’s love right now about what we do, what we say, where we go, where we don’t go, what we participate in, what we don’t participate in. I think that at the end of the day is the most persuasive thing. You know, and when I meet people who have been these kinds of people. And so, when I think about those examples, I have to ask myself, so what does that spirit look like in 2023? And I think it has everything to do with a steadfastness. And so, that’s why we want to talk about hope, because there’s no better sort of rocket fuel than, you know, a godly hope. Because, you know, we’re not the people of despair, right? I mean, you know, we’ve got the Red Sea in front of us. We’ve got the, you know, pursuing armies behind us, somehow God makes away, right?

I mean, we are those people we don’t know. It’s beyond cognition, beyond intellect. But somehow, we believe that if we hope in God, God is trustworthy, and that somehow, God will make a way. It won’t be the way I designed. And God is not taking a whole lot of suggestions, it appears from scripture. God is deciding to be who God decides to be. And so, our best bet with our life is to throw our lot in with God and to hope and God and see how that benefits the world.

So, I would just say that I think I think we’ve gotten where the pendulum has swung a little too far. And we’ve become obsessed with the headlines. But the bottom line is still the bottom line. There are hungry people in our midst. There are people who are getting a not so fair shake from the law. Women are still treated like second class citizens, there is still violence around. Juveniles who are being forsaken by parents for any kinds of reasons, are still going feral in our streets, and they need someone who can love them, and advocate for them. I mean, the big things are still the big things. And I think there’s plenty of work to do there such that I can’t be sort of spending my time obsessively commenting on Facebook or trying to argue people into some reality.

Melissa: Well, this has been a life-giving conversation. And hope remains, Praise God.

Rob: And hope is a gift.

Melissa: Yeah. Thank you, Bishop. 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.

¿Por Que Esperanza?

En celebración y acción de gracias por la vida y el ministerio del Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pensé que intentaría presentar unas varias razones que él nos dio para mantenernos firmemente esperanzados.

Debemos mantener nuestra esperanza porque:

1. Dios es soberano.

“El mismo Dios Todopoderoso nos atrae diciendo por medio de Oseas:” Te amo, Israel “. También es el Dios que se levanta ante las naciones y dijo: «Estad quietos y sabed que soy Dios, que si no me obedecéis romperé la espina dorsal de vuestro poder y os abofetearé de las órbitas de vuestras relaciones internacionales y nacionales».

2. El Espíritu Santo causa crecimiento y alineamiento en nosotros.

«En los últimos dos años, como me he movido a romper la traición de mis propios silencios y a hablar desde las quemaduras de mi propio corazón» ….

3. Una vida cristiana ejemplar cambia las cosas.

“No soy inconsciente de que algunos de ustedes han venido aquí luego de grandes pruebas y tribulaciones. Algunos de ustedes han venido luego de sufrir una reciente encarcelación. Y algunos de ustedes han venido de áreas donde su búsqueda de la libertad los dejó golpeados por las tormentas de la persecución y tambaleados por los vientos de la brutalidad policial. Ustedes han sido los veteranos del sufrimiento creativo”.

4. Somos una familia humana. 

“Creo que este es el privilegio y la carga de todos los que nos consideramos vinculados por alianzas y lealtades que son más amplias y profundas que el nacionalismo y que van más allá de los objetivos y posiciones autodefinidos de nuestra nación. Estamos llamados a hablar por los débiles, por los que no tienen voz, por las víctimas de nuestra nación y por aquellos a quienes son llamados “enemigos”, porque ningún documento creado por manos humanas puede hacer que estos humanos sean menos nuestros hermanos”.

5. El amor tendrá la última palabra.

“Los océanos de la historia se vuelven turbulentos por las crecientes mareas de odio. Y la historia está desordenada con los destrozos de las naciones y los individuos que persiguieron este camino autodestructivo del odio. Como dice Arnold Toynbee, «El amor es la fuerza primordial que se mueve para la elección salvadora del amor y el bien contra la elección condenatoria de la muerte y el mal. Por lo tanto, la primera esperanza en nuestro inventario debe ser la esperanza de que el amor va a tener la última palabra».

Varios discursos del Dr. King