November 9, 2018
The Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright
Bishop of Atlanta
Good Morning/ Buenos Dios!
I greet you in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have been back from sabbatical for eight days and I am glad to see you. I am excited and energized to resume the work that God has given us to do together in Middle and North Georgia.
Before I get going this morning, let me pause and say thank you to my staff. I am truly grateful for this bunch of Christian professionals: Alicia, Bonnie, John Bolton, John Thompson-Quartey, Ieasha, Kei, Wynn, Catherine, Easton, Mark, Lang, Mary, Eleni, Donna, Isaias and Lindsey. You are routinely wonderful, but during my sabbatical you especially shined bright. I thank you and the Diocese of Atlanta thanks you. Also a word of thanks is due to my brother bishops, Bp. Don Wimberley and Bp. Paul Lambert. I continue to be grateful for their wisdom, commitment and good cheer. Thank you to them. I want to say a special thanks to Katherine Branch and the team from Green Gate Marketing. You are fantastic partners, and you are helping us talk about Jesus and the Episcopal Church in unique, increasingly relevant and compelling ways. Thank you.
So, let us begin again as partners joined by purpose:
“Nos desafiamos a nosotros mismos y al mundo para amar como Jesús mientras adoramos con alegría, servimos con compasión, y crecemos espiritualmente.”
“We challenge ourselves and the world to love like Jesus as we worship joyfully, serve compassionately and grow spiritually.”
Every year we take a look at some piece of our diocesan purpose statement, and then we look at ourselves and we celebrate what deserves celebrating, and we calibrate what needs calibrating. That’s what we do. That’s what healthy individuals and organizations do. This year we are paying attention to “…challenging the world to love like Jesus.”
Last year we challenged ourselves to love like Jesus because first things need to be first. Because the Spirit always asks us to look inward. But we know, an exclusively inward spirituality is an ingrown and ineffective spirituality. Our liturgy saves us from this misstep every week.
“…You have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. AMEN” BCP 365
What does it mean to challenge the world to love like Jesus? I’m glad you asked! There are at least four movements to this enterprise and incidentally, spoiler alert, examples of these steps are all present in each of the wonderful videos that will punctuate our time together. First, when we say challenge the world to love, let us begin where God Almighty begins. “For God so loved the world.” Which implies God sees the world. Sees her needs, her wounds and her promise and then responds. In other places in scripture, we read that Jesus, seeing various individuals and groups, “loved them.” So if we are going to challenge the world we’re going to have to get our gaze right. Challenge that speaks without real seeing does injury, wastes energy and resources. Maybe worst of all, it encumbers future opportunities for challenge to make a difference. Any challenging of the world that you and I do in Jesus’ name has to be based on seeing through the eyes of love. They are not the nameless faceless poor or hungry. They are siblings, and somebody’s child. They are not the nameless, faceless, vile political opposition. They are brothers and sisters with fears and concerns about the present and the future. To challenge as Jesus challenged, we must begin and lean into the journey that puts us in the world without the blinders of contempt or blinding assumptions that flourish because of lack of real proximity. Think about it, Paul was struck blind and delivered to the home of the very people he was brutalizing, in the book of Acts, before his sight was restored and his new life of love began. To do better we’ve got to see better. This notion is woven into our Baptismal Covenant. We say that we will “respect the dignity of every human being.” BCP 305 Let us remember then that the Latin root of re-spect is to ‘spectare,’ to see. Or to see again.
As part of my sabbatical, I read the Bible. To be specific, I read the Gospel of Mark in the Message translation. But I did something that made it pop for me. I read it slow. Very slow. Try that at home. What you see again and again when you read slow is Jesus’ actual model of ministry – him asking people to join him.
Join him in his purpose. Join him as he incarnates his vision of a preferred future. Join him in a direction he is going whether the disciples or the crowd joins him or not. His invitation to join his loving enterprise is his challenge. Every effective ministry I have ever known has at its core, some lay person, deacon, priest or bishop personally joining Jesus in his purpose and then out of the overflow of that, in the tractor beam of that, asking others to join them. What I am saying is that people on purpose is the best church program there ever was or will ever be. Everything else is poking and prodding people. People on purpose with Jesus is the most authentic way to challenge the world in love for love. That is discipleship. That is different from institutional decline management. One is active; the other is afraid. One understands harvest and the joy of the laborer. The other lives in sentimentality and soothes its soul with nostalgia. So we have to be going somewhere because of Jesus to cause others to go somewhere with Jesus. That is the best and most loving way to challenge the world. As an old Alabama preacher has said, “You can no more preach what you do not know than you can come back from where you ain’t been.”
God spoke, and the nothing became something. The spirit breathed, and the church was born. You and I are called to find our voice for the cause of Jesus in the world – called to breathe into existence a new reality. A new Atlanta, a new Newnan, a new Conyers, a new Milledgeville. A new Georgia. Grounded in his love, having heard his voice, we speak to the world in like fashion. Political partisanship has no place in our speaking to the world on behalf of Jesus. It is beneath us. Is following Jesus inherently political? Of course it is! Jesus challenged people to bend the status quo toward justice and equity. That is political. Those were his politics. But Jesus was above rank partisanship, and so must we be. Speaking is power, and this power you and I have been entrusted with must not be abused. Dr. King, is right, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” And so we have a sublime but difficult charge. The charge is to challenge the world to love without violating the laws of love in the process! So speak and in speaking create a reality consistent with the One we are privileged to follow.
This brings me to my last point. You may be saying to yourself, ‘well Bishop, all of this sounds like work. It sounds good, but really hard.’ Let me say to you, you are right. Absolutely it is hard. Following Jesus is a cross not an executive key. But, we are comforted in this hard work through worship. Being fueled and refueled by worship is what gives us the spiritual capacity to do the difficult work of bringing and being love in loveless places. To do this work without being gorged on the love of God first and personally experienced in worship is a recipe for burnout, despair or worse. If our liturgy, our worship, is anything useful, it is a place to be renewed and refreshed. A place to find strength to meet the demands of busy living and the means to soldier on with personal wounds. But not only that, worship is that place where wills are recalibrated and natural appetites for smallness, separateness and superiority are transformed. Ultimately, worship is a grace that offers space for and time to where, like Isaiah when Uzziah died, eyes are refocused, tongues are repurposed and vocations are extended and accepted. The world has all the religious sounding, smug, smarty pants she needs. What the world needs is to meet you because you have met God. God’s goodness. God’s provision. God’s mercy. God’s forgiveness. God’s sense of humor. Bring that into the world in full measure; that will be challenge enough. And what the church needs is to meet the God we talk about already busy in the world. That one thing, catching up to Jesus already at work in the world will endow us with all the humility we need to be effective ministers of a glorious Gospel, which is begging and pleading to be hosted by more and more of us.
As some of you know, I visit churches for a living. Among other things, that is what a bishop is, an overdressed church visitor. And, many of you know that I don’t believe that clergy are the only folks who should be leading prayers before, during and after worship. So, there we were all dressed up, just about to go into worship one Sunday. Someone asked me, ‘Bishop would you like to pray?’ And I said. NO. Immediately everyone stopped breathing. I asked the group, ‘Is there someone who would like to pray for us?’ That’s when all the adults started looking at their shoes. Finally, after a very awkward silence a little girl, she may have been ten or so, said. “ I will pray Bishop.”
And this is what she said verbatim. “God, we thank you for everything. Everything. And God, what we want is for you to have a more full life here. Have a full life here, God. That is our prayer.” I tell you I was done. Undone. The entire Bible embodied in this sweet little face, “What was hidden from the wise and the prudent was revealed to the babe and the suckling.” She was right. That is what we want. We challenge the world in love because we want God to have a full life. In our work and in our speaking. In our planning and doing. A full life for God in our lives at home and at school. So that, in us and through us, God is better able to reconcile the world to God’s self.
Este es mi septimo Consejo Anual como su Obispo
Y me complace reanudar nuestro trabajo junto ustedes.
This is my 7th Annual Council as your Bishop, and I am pleased to resume our work alongside of you.
Thanks be to God.