In this week's issue of the New Republic, Dayo Olopade writes about Barack Obama's pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Here is a transcript of the sermon she attended on January 27, 2008, at Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois: Would you repeat these words after me, from the new Revised Standard Version:
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who asked them: "Why did you not arrest him?" The police answered, "Never a man spake like this man."
I want you to pray for just a moment on the theme, "Never a man spake like this." I want you to picture in your mind's eye one of the most powerful stories found in the gospel writings of those who told the story of Jesus.
Matthew tells the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil. But this story in John 7 is more powerful than that. Mark tells the story of Jesus being in the synagogue and a man coming to worship with a withered hand--but the story in John 7 is more powerful than that. Luke tells the story of Jesus going into Jericho and as he passed a blind man who heard the crowd with Jesus passing by asked what was happening and they told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by," so he shouted "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." In other words, while on others thou art calling do not pass me by.
But the story in John 7 is even more powerful than that, more powerful than Matthew's story of Jesus taking James, John, and Peter up on a mountain with him one day and God pulling back the curtain, the thin veil that separates time from eternity and allowing the disciples to see Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah. Moses, who had been gone for 1,000 years, and Elijah had been gone for 500 years. More powerful than Mark's story about a madman, who made his home out in the cemetery running around naked and unable to be restrained, meeting Jesus one day and having his life transformed. When they found him, he was clothed and in his right mind.
More powerful than Luke's story about a woman who had been bent over for 18 years in the house of the Lord--one day she's there to lift up the name of the Lord. And let me tell you something: Between her story and the story of the man with the withered hand story, just parenthetically, I don’t know which story I like the most because they both teach the same truth. You don’t let what's wrong with you keep you away from the house of the Lord, or get in the way of your worship.
But for over 18 years she was bent over and look at her, she's in the house of the Lord to worship. I can hear 'em now: [mocking] "I don’t know why she bother to come here week after week look at her--ain't nothing changed about her situation." I can hear her now: "I ain't here because of me, I come here because of Him. I don’t come here to complain about what's going wrong in my life. I come here to worship Him."
You don’t let what's wrong with you keep you away from the house of the Lord. You don’t let what's going on in your life get in the way of your worshiping Him who is the Lord of all life.
And the brother with the withered hand was just like her. Everybody knew about his problem, just like everybody knew about her problem. See, a lot of us can ease up in here week after week, day after day. And we can keep our problems on the D.L. Make-up. Fancy weaves. Holy hats. Expensive suits. St. John's and Armani hide a lot of our stuff, and most people don’t know what's going on with us.
But brother-man [bends hand] and sister-girl [bends back]--everybody could see they stuff. Everybody knew about their problems. But look at them, there they are in the Lord's house on the Lord's day, and they came to worship. You don’t let what other people know about you, you don’t let what other people think about you, you don’t let what other people say about you keep you from coming into the presence of the one who knows all about you and who loves you just as you are. You don’t let people keep you from praise.
People didn’t make you, people didn’t die for you, people didn’t get up early on Sunday for you, people ain't got a heaven or hell to put you in, and people did not wake you up this morning! You don’t let people keep you from praising Him who has the first word and the last word in your life.
Both of these stories--Mark's story, about a man with a withered hand, and Luke's story about a woman bent over for 18 years--I love them both, because their themes are parallel, they speak and teach the same truth.
But neither one of these stories is as powerful as this almost-hidden story, tucked away in the heart of John the seventh chapter. I want you to picture in your mind this powerful story about Jesus teaching in the temple. Now, if you have your scripture with you, it will help you get an image of the picture that John so masterfully paints.
Look at John 7 for a moment; I want you to look, John 7:2. The Jewish festival of the booths was about to begin. The festival of the booths was celebrated every year as a reminder of the way God's people had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because they wouldn’t trust God, and wanted to do things their own way. Does that sound familiar? Is anybody going to get honest with God in the house of God on this Lord's day? Because the people of God would not trust God and wanted to do things their own way, they brought a punishment on themselves, because of their own behavior and their own choices.
Let me ask again, is any of this sounding familiar? We make choices and we engage in behaviors that bring consequences on our own selves, and we need to stop trying to blame God or blame the devil for stuff we did. How many times have you heard someone say, "The devil made me do it"? Flip Wilson made a million dollars telling that lie: The devil made me do it. We make choices and we engage in behaviors--tell your neighbor: Our choices have consequences. [Echo from audience]
Now some of you all don’t like talking your neighbor. You feel uncomfortable in this world which idolizes isolation, anonymity, and so-called socially constructed privacy. You don’t want to say something to your neighbor and you looked funny when I saw some of you didn't even look that way. If talking to a stranger makes you uncomfortable, throw your head back and say: My behavior has consequences. [Echo] Our choices have consequences, and our behavior has consequences.
I've told you for over three decades now: God will forgive you for sowing wild oats. But God's forgiveness don’t stop the crop. Them oats you sowed will bring a crop. You will reap what you [audience chimes in] sow.
But stop calling your crops your cross. [mocking] "Well… that child is just my cross." No, that child is your crop. A cross is a sacrificial vehicle of redemption that you voluntarily pick up; a crop is the result of something you sowed. Our choices have consequences, our behaviors have consequences. The people of God chose not to obey God and they brought on themselves a punishment of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. For 40 years, they had to live in booths, and after 40 years, when Joshua led them across the Jordan and into the land that God promised Abraham hundreds of years before they were born.
From Joshua's time until Jesus' time, every year they celebrated the festival of the booths to remind themselves and to teach their children about the punishment they brought on themselves, the penalty they paid for the choices they made, and the presence of God every day they wandered in the wilderness. The festival of the booths reminded them of the punishment—say, "Punishment" [Echo]. The penalty—say, "Penalty" [Echo]. And the presence—say, "Presence [Echo]. Thank God for God's presence.
The festival of booths was about to begin, John says, in John 7, verse 2. Now Jesus' brothers wanted him to go to the festival and announce who he was, but Jesus declined. Be careful of other folk, even folk who are close to you, who try to program God's purpose for your life--that’s another sermon, for another Sunday. Jesus declined their offer, Jesus ignored their suggestion, and Jesus told them--look at verse 8, John 7, verse 8--Jesus told them go on to the festival without me. After his brothers went--verse 10 John 7--Jesus also went up to Jerusalem himself but he went, John says, "as if it were in secret."
Verse 14 says that right around the middle of the festival, Jesus went into the temple and began to teach. Here's the picture I want you to get in your mind: Jesus talking, Jesus teaching in the temple.
Verse 25. Some of the people said: "Isn't this the man that some of the authorities are trying to kill? And here he is in the temple speaking openly? Ain't nobody saying nothing to nobody? You think the authorities know that he really is the messiah?"
And then the critical comments start to come--probably coming from the reporters there. [Laughter] The reporters are representing the Jerusalem Slum Times--critics always got opinions, and you know what they say about opinions: They're like orifices, everybody got one. The folk who ain't doing nothing offer their opinion. Verse 27: This one ain't the messiah, cause we know where he come from. Verse 28: Then Jesus cried out while he was teaching in the temple—say, "Teaching in the temple" [Echo]. Look at it! Jesus is talking, y'all and his words upset some folk, the folk with critical commentary and authoritative opinions. Verse 30 says that they tried to arrest him but no one laid a hand on him. They were probably like a lot of us and how we used to be on the playground, remember you all back in elementary school, you say, "Hold my stuff" [Acts out a fighting stance]. They wouldn’t come nowhere near the person you were selling wolf tickets on.
Jesus talking kept his haters upset, but Jesus' talking also kept his haters at bay. Later, it says: No one laid a hand on him. Now do you have a picture of Jesus standing there talking? Verse 31 says that many in the crowd believed in him. The critics were complaining, but the crowd was believing. The folk finding fault were berating, but the folk full of faith were believing. Haters were hating, and hopers were hoping. That’s what haters do, and that’s what hopers do, saying maybe this is the one, maybe God is getting ready to bust a move, maybe some real change is about to happen and not just cosmetic changes, where the name changes and the game is still the same.
Look at verse 32. Switch from those who hope in Jesus over to those who hatin' on Jesus. Verse 32: The Pharisees heard the crowd hoping and the chief priests and the Pharisees sent the temple police to arrest him. And Jesus kept on talking. Say, "Po-po" [Echo]. "Here come the po-po."
Verse 37: On the last day of the festival and Jesus still preaching, "If anyone thirst, let anyone who is thirsty come unto me and drink." Jesus is still talking. "He or she that believe in me," as the scripture says, "out of his or her belly shall flow living water." The po-po walk up on Jesus and Jesus is talking. The po-po have a specific job to do, but Jesus is talking. The po-po get paid to do what they're told to do, what those who sent them were too scared to do, and all Jesus was doing was standing there talking.
So the po-po turned around and went back to his haters and the haters asked the po-po, "Where is he?" [Acting out two parts]
"Where is he?"
"Jesus of Nazareth."
"Why didn’t you arrest him?"
"Why didn’t you bring him?"
"Were his handlers too heavily armed?"
"Were you outnumbered and outgunned by his armor bearers and his S.S. guard?” That’s the savior security guard. [Laughter]
"Well, why didn't you bring him?"
And his enemies said, "Never a man spake like this man." We ain't never heard nobody speak like this man speaks. This is the highest compliment paid to Jesus, not by his friends, not to his face, but behind his back. Not somebody seeking favor, somebody just telling the truth. "Never a man spoke like this man." Now we stop reading right there, but keep on reading, you'll see they tried to hate on them. "Oh, so you believe now too?" And they say. "Well, I don't know what I believe in, but I know this: I know I've been changed."
Now think about if you will, the first time you heard Jesus speak. It may have been in Sunday school. It may have been when you were a youngster in church. It may have been when you were wallowing in the mud and the muck and the mire and the mess you brought on yourself with the choices that you made. When did you first hear Jesus speak? It may have been in a sermon, it may have been through a scripture, it may have been in a song.
You think about the first time you heard Jesus speak, while I tell you what happened to me when I heard him speak. When I heard him speak, he spoke words of life--write that down, words of life. He speaks words of life back in John 6 right before this story starts, at the end of chapter 6, John 6 verse 66--you can look at it yourself--many, it says, of the Lord's disciples turned back; they stopped following Jesus and they no longer went about with him.
When Jesus starts talking about sacrifice and suffering, a whole lot of disciples desert him, because as pastor Moss said in the first sermon, they're looking for a payday. They're looking for a payoff. They're not trying to hear nothing about picking up no cross; they want to pick up some cash. Many, John says, walked away. Jesus turned and asked the 12 and said, "Do you also want to leave? And Simon Peter said, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Jesus speaks words of life. Say that: Jesus--speaks words of life [echo]. When I heard him speak he spoke words of love--write that down--words of love [echo]. For God so loved the world that he gave--that’s what he told Nicodemus right here in the same book--love that is greater than all of our sin, love that looks beyond our faults and sees our needs in John 8 right after this passage. His love looks beyond a woman's sins and restores her to wholeness and purpose through his pardon.
He speaks words of love. Say--he speaks words of love [echo]. When I heard him speak he spoke words of life, he spoke words of love, and then he spoke words of liberation. In the very next chapter, John 8 verse 36, what does it say? "If the son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed." Liberation--that's what being set free means. Look at Luke 4, verse 18 when you get a chance, write it down so you don't forget where to look. Luke 4, verse 18: In his inaugural sermon in his home church in Nazareth he read from Isaiah 61, the passage on the scroll that was handed him that day as the text for that Sabbath:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives--that’s liberation--and recovery of sight to the blind that’s set free from the prison of darkness. He has sent me, verse 18, Luke 4, to let the oppressed go free, and when he sat down he said this day is the scripture fulfilled in your hearing. John 8: If the son shall set you free, you shall be what? Free [echo]. Free indeed.
And before we move on, I just need to ask parenthetically that we have an entire ministry set up in this congregation to get folk free from the chains of addiction in the name of Jesus. That ministry is called Free in One. If the son--now he's the one--if the son shall set you free, if Jesus set you free--and I just want to make sure that I ain't the only one here this Sunday--is there anybody here besides me who's been set free in the Free in One ministry who can testify that the lord Jesus spoke words of liberation?
Did the lord Jesus set you free? [Applause] Is there anybody in Free in One that the Lord has set you free.
When Jesus speaks, he frees you from add-iction--ask the man in Mark 5 held hostage by his habits. When Jesus speaks, he frees you from aff-liction--ask the man who used to be paralyzed. When Jesus speaks, he frees you from re-striction--ask the brother in John 5 bound by 38 years of restriction, blaming others for not helping me, and not looking at his true help, not looking inside himself to see what God had deposited inside him. He frees you from restriction and from crippling tradition.
When Jesus speaks, the blind receive their sight. When Jesus speaks, the lame are made to leap, lepers spots are cleansed--ask those ten in Sumaria. When Jesus speaks, folk far away get fixed--ask a Roman officer, ask a Cyrophoenecian sister. When Jesus speaks, lives get changed. When Jesus speaks, minds get changed. When Jesus speaks, situations get changed. When Jesus speaks, sinners get saved. When Jesus speaks, the dead come back to life. When Jesus speaks, storms get stilled, rough waters stop blowing, and angry waves lie down. When Jesus speaks, dyin' thieves receive paradise. When Jesus speaks, confused enemies get forgiveness. When Jesus speaks, adulterers receive restoration, addicts receive transformation. When Jesus speaks--what did we sing earlier in this service? His voice is so sweet that the birds [echo] hush their singing. He speaks and the sound of his voice is so sweet--he set some of y'all free from the chains of addiction.
And he set me free, look--he set me free to use my mind [applause]. A lot of folk I've met in 36 years of pastoring get used to the custom of parking their brains in the narthex, and falling for anything they hear said by anybody in here. But Jesus said I should love the Lord with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my [mind].
Ain't nothing wrong with thinking. If the Christianity I embrace in here is silent on the racism I encounter out there, then something is wrong with that kind of Christianity. I don’t care what nobody in the 4-H club says. Y'all know what the 4-H club is? I told Jerry and Jay last Sunday: The 4-H club--that’s Hannity, Hillary, Hobbes, and Haters.
I don’t care what nobody in the 4-H club says, I'm not going to stop thinking just because I love Jesus. He set me free to use my mind. John Denny and Miles Jones taught me many years ago: Thanking and thinking are not mutually exclusive. You don’t give up one because you embrace the other. Turn to your neighbor and say thinkin' people [echo] ought to shout sometimes [echo]. And turn on the other side and say shoutin' people [echo] ought to think sometimes.
Jesus set me free to use my miiiiiiiind. Then he set me free to use my memory. A whole lot of Christians--Pastor Moss preached about this at 7:30--a lot of Christians, especially bougie-oogie Christians, got themselves a degree now and call themselves Sir Diddy Christians. A whole lot of Christians get amnesia. They forget. They don’t use their memory. They forget who they used to be. They forget who brought them from where they were to where they are.
But I thank God that when Jesus spoke he set me free to use my memory. And when I think of the goodness of Jesus, and remember all that he's done for me--I never shall forget what he's done for me. From 87 members to 6000 members, I never shall forget. From a tiny little building and two new sanctuaries. From an idea about ministry to two senior citizens homes, two day care sites, 40 acres …
When I think of the goodness of Jesus, I use my memory. He set me free to use my mind. Say mind [mind]. He set me free to use my memory. Say memory [memory]. And then he set me free to use my mouth [applause]. That’s what Pastor Moss was talking about earlier. I got to tell somebody what the Lord has done for my people. I'm gonna use my mouth. Listen to me and listen carefully, neither Hillary, Hannity, nor Hobbes ever had a grandparent in slavery or on a slave ship beneath the decks, never had a grandparent in a slave dungeon on the coast of west Africa as a prisoner. That's my people's story and if you think I'm gonna stop telling it, you got another damn thing coming! He set me freeeee to use my mouth!
But that ain't all y'all. I'm almost through--tell your neighbor, He's almost through, he's almost through.
He set me free to be me. I can't be a colored coon on the faculty at Vanderbilt with no sense of pride. And I can't be a Supreme Court judge called long dong silver who disrespects black women and himself. I got to be me. I can't be a lyin' five-star general who leads an entire nation into war on a lie. And I can't be a sec of state who goes shopping on Broadway while folks are drowning in New Orleans--I got to be me.
Let me tell who me is: I was against apartheid when this country was supporting the racist Afrikaner government in South Africa. I was talked about then, and I'm still talked about now. But I'm not going to stop being me cause of what somebody says about me. He set me free to be me, and he set me free to forgive stupidity. So I forgive you, 4-H club. I forgive you confused journalists. I forgive you nervous Negroes. I forgive you.
[music starts up]
And he set me free to forgive stupidity, and he set me free to praise God in spite of an oppressive government. Our government has been oppressing folk since we stole this country from the Comanche. But I'm going to praise Him in spite of the government. Our country has been oppressing folks since it defined African men as three-fifths of a person. But I'm gonna praise Him in spite of our government. Our country has been oppressing folk since the Dred Scott decision in the 1850s and Plessy versus Ferguson at the end of last century. But I'm gonna praise him in spite of this government.
Our country has been confused about symbols. Since we became a country, we lift up the Liberty Bell, but we're defined by the hangman's noose. We say we want the Ten Commandments back up in the statehouse, but we refuse to take down the confederate flag from in front of the state capitol.
And guess what? [Guess what?] Guess what? [Guess what?] Tell your neighbor guess what? [Guess what?] It was in front of that flag, in Columbia, South Carolina, that our member Barack gave his acceptance speech.
If you praise God, I'm going to praise Him in spite of the government! My mind says we have work to do. My memory says I never shall forget how He loosed our chains and He loosed my chains! I know I have been changed, and my mouth says I will bless the Lord at all times! Oh magnify the Lord! Oh magnify the lord! Oh magnify the lord! And let us exalt God's name together!
I never shall forget!
If you're here without a church home and you know that the lord has set you free, you want a church home, come on! Red, white, black, yellow, Asian, Hispanic, come on!
[people come toward the altar to declare their faith and join the church]
By Jeremiah Wright