In this week's issue of
the New Republic, Dayo
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
"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
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
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
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
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
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]