I was searching for Jeremiah Wright’s 9/11 sermon the other day and discovered that (perhaps due to my limited search ability) I was unable to find a complete transcript of that sermon. Mostly, there were YouTube excerpts of the famous “chickens coming home to roost” portion of that sermon, which was often taken out of context for political (and racist) reasons. After an extended search, I took the liberty of transcribing the sermon in its entirety from the YouTube audio recording of the sermon posted here:
I would be glad to adjust the text (the spelling of people’s names, for instance, who are mentioned in passing within the sermon). Such editorial-comments are welcomed.
The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall
by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
Preached 9/16/2001, Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, Ill.
If you have your Bibles, turn to II Kings 25th chapter. In that chapter there is a description of the carnage and the killings that took place on the day of Jerusalem’s fall. The king of Judah, with all of his armies, fled. Verse 4: They tried to run, but the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king, captured the king, and literally committed murder. Verse 7, II Kings 25 says they “slaughtered”; senseless killing – they “slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah,” made him watch it, then they “put out his eyes” so that would be the last thing he had any visual image of. Like a commercial airliner, a passenger plane, slamming into an office building – two office buildings – killing thousands for no reason other than hatred. “Remember O Lord the Edomites, the day of Jerusalem’s fall” (Ps. 137:7). Verse 8 of II Kings 25 says “Nebuzaradan a soldier in the service of the king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and burned” – now get this image clear – burned – get it in your mind, “burned the house of the Lord.” (v. 9) He burned the king’s house. He burned all the houses of Jerusalem and every great house. He burned down…”Remember O Lord, against the Edomites, the day of Jerusalem’s fall.” (Ps. 137:7) All the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls of Jerusalem (v.10) Now you got to remember, the real and the symbolic significance of the walls of Jerusalem. Our choir sings about it. You can read about it when you get home. Most of you just enjoy the sound of the music and miss the meaning of the words to the music. Read Psalm 48 when you get home. “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. In the city of our God, Jerusalem. Let Mount Zion rejoice. Jerusalem. Let the daughters of Judah be glad. Walk around Zion (that’s Jerusalem). Go round about it. Count its towers. Tell the towers” (don’t miss this, don’t miss this) – tell the towers…the towers of Jerusalem were the visible symbols of her greatness, her power, and her invincibility. Mark ye well her bulwarks, and consider her palaces.” This is Jerusalem. Invulnerable. Jerusalem. Invincible. Jerusalem. The city where God dwelt. Jerusalem. The Chaldeans smashed! And shattered that sense of security and invincibility. When first, (II Kings 25:4), look – the “breach was made” in the invincible walls. One side of the Pentagon was wiped out and the people who were in there, like the people in Jerusalem on that wall – wiped out. First there was a breach in the wall (vs. 4), then, verse 10 says they “broke down all the walls of Jerusalem.” They burned everything they could burn and took most of the people into exile. “Remember O Lord against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall.” The symbol of power was gone. The substance of their military and monetary power was gone. The towers of Jerusalem were gone. It took eight years to build the World Trade Center. It took Solomon seven years to build the temple in Jerusalem, with its towers, and within eight hours it was gone. It took Solomon fourteen years to build his palace, the symbol of wealth, the symbol of magnificence, the symbol of might, majesty – and within eight hours it also was gone. The writer of Ps. 137 (vs.7) says “tear it down!” “Tear it down!” Down to its foundations! O daughter of Babylon, you devastator!” The day of Jerusalem’s fall was a day that changed these people’s lives forever. The day of Jerusalem’s fall was a day of pain; a day of anger; a day of rage; a day of terror; a day of outrage; a day of death; a day of destruction. And verse 8 of Psalm 137 says a day of “devastation.” The people who sang this song saw their loved ones die. The people who sang this song saw senseless carnage. The people who sang this song saw their landmarks burned; saw their church burned; saw their town burned; they saw their places of employment burned; they saw their places of enjoyment burned. Some of the people they worked beside they would never see again. Some of the people they walked beside they would never see again. Some of the people they lived beside they would never see again. And the day of Jerusalem’s fall was a day that would live forever in their memories. The day of Jerusalem’s fall was a day that changed their lives forever. The day of Jerusalem’s fall was a day for the people of faith (please don’t forget that these are people of faith); it was a day of pain. It was a day of anger. It was a day of rage. It was a day of outrage. It was a day of terror. It was a day of fear. It was a day of death. It was a day of destruction. It was a day of devastation. And when you read this song of remembrance – “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and we wept when we remembered” – when you read this song of remembrance, look what you see, look what you see, look, look. You see the people of God, the people of faith, move. Three distinct moves.
They moved first of all from reverence (those thoughts of Jerusalem, those thoughts are thoughts of reverence); the memories of Jerusalem are memories of reverence. Jerusalem is where the house of God was – reverence. Jerusalem was where the temple of Solomon was – reverence. “March around Zion and go round about her. Tell the towers: ‘ for this God is our God, forever.” Reverence. The Lord is in his holy temple. Reverence. Isaiah say “In the year that King Uzziah dies I saw also the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up and the train of his garment, the hem of his robe, filled the temple.” Reverence. “The seraphim were in attendance above the Lord. Each had six wings.” That’s in Isaiah 6. “With two they covered their face, with two they covered their feet, and with the other two they flew and called out one to the other: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Reverence. Jerusalem means reverence. When Solomon prayed and asked God’s blessings on that temple in Jerusalem (you know the story) fire came down from heaven (in II Chronicles 7) and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not go in, and the people fell down and worshipped. Reverence! The thoughts of Jerusalem in Ps. 137 are thoughts of reverence! “If I forget you O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” Reverence! “Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. If I do not remember you Jerusalem! Reverence! “If I do not put Jerusalem above my highest joy!” Reverence! But keep on reading…. The people of faith moved from reverence, in vs. 4 to 6, to revenge in vs. 8 and 9. They want revenge. They want somebody to destroy – those who devastated them. In fact, they want God to get even with those who did evil. “Remember O Lord against the Edomites. Remember O Lord the day of Jerusalem’s fall.” The first move is where the people of faith move from reverence to revenge.
The second move in this text is a move from worship to war. Jerusalem is where they worship. Now they have declared war. Let me put it another way. The second move is the move from the thoughts of paying tithes. Jerusalem is where the people of faith paid tithes. Solomon led the people of God in paying tithes at the temple in Jerusalem. The temple of God. The house of God. It’s where the people of God made sacrificial offerings to God. Way after the temple was restored, way down six hundred years later when Jesus was born, the temple in Jerusalem was where the people of God brought their tithes and offerings. Jesus’ mother and father brought him to the temple to present him to the Lord. When the time came for their purification and they brought a sacrificial offering. Jerusalem, the temple, the house of God is where the people of God paid tithes and sacrificial offerings to God. What does God’s self say in Malachi 3:10 “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse that there may be meat in my house and prove me.” Now here in the second move in Ps. 137 is the move from the thoughts of paying tithes to the thoughts of paying back. “O daughter of Babylon, you devastator, happy (blessed) shall they be who pay you back for what you did to us.” That’s “paybacks.” The big payback. Every public service I have heard about so far in the wake of the American tragedy has had in its prayers and in its preachments sympathy and compassion for those who were killed and for their families, and God’s guidance upon this elected president (and our war machine) as they do what they do, and what they “gotta do.” Paybacks. There’s a move in Ps. 137 from thoughts of paying tithes to thoughts of paying back. A move, if you will, from worship to war. A move from the worship of the God of creation, to war against those whom God created.
And I want you to notice very carefully the next move. One of the reasons this Psalm is rarely read in its entirety, because it is a move that spotlights the insanity of the cycle of violence and the cycle of hatred. Look at verse 9. Look at verse 9. “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rocks!” The people of faith: “By the rivers of Babylon. How shall we sing the Lord’s song? If I forget thee…” The people of faith have moved from the hatred of armed enemies – those soldiers who captured the king, those soldiers who slaughtered his son and put his eyes out, the soldiers who sacked the city, burned their towns, burned the temple, burned the tower – they had moved from the hatred for armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents. The babies. The babies. “Blessed are they who dash your babies brains against a rock.” And that, my beloved, is a dangerous place to be. Yet. That is where the people of faith are in 551 BC and that is where far too many people of faith are in 2001 AD. We have moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents. We want revenge. We want paybacks. And we don’t care who gets hurt in the process. Now I asked the Lord: “What should our response be in light of such an unthinkable act?”
[But before I share with you what the Lord showed me, I want to give you one of my little “faith footnotes.” Visitors, I often give “faith footnotes.” So that our members don’t lose sight of the big picture. Let me give you a little “faith footnote.” Turn to your neighbor and say “faith footnote.” I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday, did anybody else see him or hear him? He was on Fox News, this is a white man, and he was upsetting the Fox News commentators to no end. He pointed out, did you see him John, a white man, and he pointed out, an ambassador, that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Mohammed was in fact true, America’s chickens…are coming home to roost. We took this country by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arowak, the Comanche, the Arapahoe, the Navajo. Terrorism. We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers, and hardworking fathers. We bombed Qaddafi’s home and killed his child. Blessed are they who bash your children’s head against a rock. We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hardworking people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day not knowing that they would never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye. Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children from school, civilians, not soldiers, people just trying to make it day by day. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and Black South Africans and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost! “Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism.” A white ambassador said that, ya’all. Not, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open, and who’s trying to get us to wake up. And move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people that we are wounding don’t have military capability we have – but the do have individuals who are willing to die to take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that. Let me stop my “faith footnote” right there. And ask you to think about that for the next few weeks if God grants us that many days. Turn back to your neighbor and say: “footnote is over.”]
Now, come on back to my question to the Lord: “What should our response be right now in light of such an unthinkable act?” I asked the Lord that question Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I was stuck in Newark, New Jersey. No flights were leaving La Guardia, JFK, or Newark airport; on the day that the FAA opened up the airports to bring into the cities of destination those flights that had been diverted because of the hijacking, a scare in New York closed all three regional airports, and I couldn’t even get here for Mr. Radford’s father’s funeral. And I asked God: “What should our response be?”
I saw pictures of the incredible. People jumping from the 110th floor. People jumping from the roof, because stairwells and elevators above the 89th floor were gone. No more. Black people jumping to a certain death. People holding hands, jumping. People on fire, jumping. And I asked the Lord: “What should our response be?” I read what the people of faith felt in 551 BC. But this is a different time. This is a different enemy. This a different world. This is a different terror. This is a different reality. What should our response be? The Lord showed me three things. Let me share them with you quickly: and I’m going to leave you alone to think about the “faith footnote.”
Number 1: The Lord showed me that this is a time for self-examination. As I sat 900 miles away from my family and my community of faith, two months after my own father’s death, God showed me that this was a time for me to examine my relationship with God. My own relationship with God. My personal relationship with God. I submit to you that it is the same for you. Folk flocked to the church in New Jersey – you know that “foxhole religion syndrome” kicked in, that “emergency cord” religion…you know that old red box you see that says “pull in case of emergency,” it showed up full force. Folk who ain’t thought about coming to church for years were in church last week. I heard that midweek prayer services all over this country which are poorly attended 51 weeks a year were jam-packed all over the nation the week of the hijacking – the 52nd week – were filled with folk! But the Lord said: “This ain’t the time for you to be examining other folks relationship. This is a time of self-examination.” The Lord said to me: “How is our relationship doing, Jeremiah? How often do you talk to me personally? How often do you let me talk to you privately? How much time do you spend trying to get right with me? Or do you spend all your time trying to get other folk right? This is a time for me to examine my own relationship with God. Is it real? Or is it fake? Is if forever? Or is it for show? Is it something that you do for the sake of the public? Or is it something that you do for the sake of eternity? This is a time to examine my own and a time for you to examine your own relationship with God. Self-examination.
Then, this is a time in light of the unbelievable tragedy, this is a time to examine my relationship with my family. Self-examination. As soon as the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I was on the phone talking to Marcus Cosby about him flying up there to preach for me while I could fly home to do Mr. Radford’s service, he said: “You got your television on?” I said: “No, what channel?” He said: “Don’t matter what channel.” And as I turned it on and watched the first tower burn, I saw the second fly into….As soon as the first plane hit the Trade Center, I called home and I called my mother. Raymond was taking Jameela to the school bus. My mother’s phone was busy. And the thought hit me: Suppose you can never talk to her again. Suppose you never see Jameela, Janet, Cary, Stevie, Jeremy, Jay, or Rayma ever again? What is the quality of the relationship between you and your family? The soul station in New York kept playing Stevie Wonder’s song These Three Words. When is the last time you took the time to say to your family: “Honey I love you.” And then that family thought led me to my extended family and my church family. We fight. We disagree. We fall out. We have diametrically opposed views on some critical issues. But I still love you. When is the last you said that to your church family? When your daddy died? Well that was two months ago, Reverend. You need to say that every chance you get. So let me just say it to you now: “I love ya’all. I love you. I love you. Listen! Listen! Don’t clap. Don’t clap. Turn to the person sitting next to you, worshipping next to you, and say it while you have a chance. Say: “I love you.” Listen, listen, listen. This past week was a grim reminder that you might not have the chance to say that next week! So say it now! I love you! I had two deacons. Two deacons, when they realized I could not fly home (Dedrick wanted to be anonymous; but Dedrick Roberts and Deacon Reggie Crenshaw) they got in a car and drove 12 straight hours, put my bags in the trunk, put me in the back seat, turned right around and drove back 12 hours because they love me; and I want them to know: “I love you, man. I love you. I love you!” I thank God for you. Turn back and tell your neighbor one more time: “I love you.” This is what a church family is. It’s a beloved community; a community of love. Fights – yes. Disagreements – yes. Falling out – yes. Different view points – yes. Doctrinal disputes – yes. But love that is of God and given by God who loved us so much that while we were yet sinners God gave God’s son rather than give up on us. This is a time of self-examination, a time to examine our personal relationships with God, a time to examine our personal relationships with our families, and a time to examine our personal relationships with our extended family, the family of God.
Then the Lord showed me that this is not only a time for self-examination, this is also a time for social transformation. Now, they ain’t gonna put me on PBS for the nation to see this. This’ll be around the Chicago-land area (chuckle). It won’t be in no national cable. But this is a time for social transformation. And this is going to be the hardest step we have to take. But now is the time for social transformation. We have go to change the way we have been doing things. We have got to change the way we have been doing things as a society. Social transformation. We have got to change the way we have been doing things as a country. Social transformation. We have got to change the way we have been doing things as an arrogant, racist, military superpower. Social transformation. We just can’t keep messing over people and thinkin’ that ‘can’t nobody do nuttin’ about it.’ They have shown us that they can and that they will. And let me suggest to you that rather than figure out who we gonna declare war on, maybe we need to declare on racism. Maybe we need to declare war on injustice. Maybe we need to declare war on greed. Those same lawmakers you saw gathered at the capital praying are the same lawmakers who just passed a 1.3 trillion dollar gift for the rich. Maybe we need to rethink the way we do politics and declare war on greed. Maybe we need to declare war on AIDS! In five minutes the congress found 40 billion dollars to rebuild New York and the families who died in sudden death. Do you think we could find the money to make medicine available for people who are dying a slow death? Maybe! Maybe! Maybe we need to declare war on the health care system that leaves the nation’s poor with no health coverage. Maybe we need to declare war on the mis-handled educational system and provide quality education for everybody, every citizen, based on their ability to learn, not their ability to pay! This is a time for social transformation. We, we, we can’t go back do doin’ “business as usual.” And treatin’ the rest of the world like we’ve been treating them. This is a time for self-examination. And this is a time for social transformation.
But then, ultimately, as I looked around and saw that God had given me another chance, to try to be the man that God wants me to be, another chance to try to be the person that God meant for me to be. Another chance to try to be the parent that God knows I should be. Another chance to try to make a positive difference in a world full of hate. Another chance to teach somebody the difference between our God’s awesomeness and our nation’s arrogance. When I looked around and saw that, for whatever the reason, God had let me see another day, I realized that the Lord was showing me that this is not only a time for self-examination; this is not only a time for social-transformation; but this is also a time for spiritual adoration. This is a time to say: “Thank you Lord.” (music surges in) “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I may not have tomorrow, so I’m gonna take this time on this day to say “Thank you Lord.” Thank you for my life. You didn’t have to let me live. Thank you for my blessings. I coulda been on one of those airplanes. I coulda been in downtown New York, or a few blocks from the Pentagon, but for whatever the reason, you let me be here. So while I am here I’m gonna take this opportunity to adore you and to say “Thank you Lord.” Thank you for the lives of those who were lost. Thank you for the way in which they touched our lives, and the way in which they blessed other lives. Thank you Lord. Thank you for the love we have experienced, for love itself is an inexpressible gift and then thank you Lord for the gift of our lives, because when I look around I realize that my life itself is a gift that God has given me. And so I say: “Thank you! Thank you Lord!” While I have another chance. “Thank you!” To say it. Thank you Lord for my friends and my family. Thank you Lord for this opportunity. Thank you for another chance to say: “Thank you!” If you mean that from your heart throw your heads back and adore Him this morning. Say: “Thank you Lord!” “Thank you Lord, for another chance! Another chance to say thank you.” Time for spiritual adoration. The doors of the church are open this morning. (altar call begins, music surges and takes over).