The Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached about an outsider’s faith in a sermon Tuesday night at Peace Missionary Baptist Church in Durham. It was part of two days of speaking events for the Apex School of Theology. Wright is pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and who received national attention as pastor of the church the Obamas attended.
Using the New Testament verses of Luke 17:11-19, Wright told the story of Jesus and the lepers, and the one of 10 who turned back to say thank you for being healed. The one who turned back was also a Samaritan, an outsider. Wright also quoted W.E.B. DuBois about being on the other side of the veil and being asked, in DuBois’ book “The Souls of Black Folk” – “How does it feel to be a problem?”
Wright talked about how comments by white people have changed over the years to things like, “Some of my best friends are black” that eventually morphs into “You’re so articulate,” as if surprised an African-American person is intellectual. The crowning insult, he said, is the question “Isn’t it good to be in a post-racial America?” after the election of President Barack Obama.
The pastor brought the two biblical and DuBois references together, asking the question, “How does it feel to be an outsider?” He talked about black women and the three strikes against them of race, gender and class. He called out society’s tolerance for violence against women, in particular by celebrities.
Wright preached about people being colonized, demonized and ostracized – from Palestinians to Cherokee to the lepers from the Bible. He made just one reference to current events in Ferguson, Missouri, saying that a body was left in the street for four hours – which is what happened to Michael Brown, the unarmed young man killed by a police officer.
The verses from Luke about the outsider’s faith taught Wright some lessons they all need to learn, he said.
“First, God showed me how human misery can erase theological and sociological lines of demarcation,” Wright said, because the 10 lepers were all together. Human misery, he said, “helps us to recognize our common human need for divine mercy.”
The outsider’s faith teaches him not to let anything get in the way of asking for mercy, Wright said. Insiders are quick to ask, but take God for granted, he said.
“Never take the blessings of Jesus for granted,” he said. Never say “please” without saying “thank you,” Wright said. “The outsider is not afraid to shout ‘Thank you!’”
Back to DuBois, he said that the response to “How does it feel to be a problem?” should be: “I’m not a problem. …You’ve got a problem.” Don’t let other people with a problem make their problem your problem, he said.
The outsider’s faith also teaches Wright that “God will do more than you ask God to do. … The outsider’s faith healed him and saved him.”
Don’t forget to say thank you, he said.
Wright had preached in the tradition of starting a sermon low and building to vocal crescendo. At the end of the sermon, the hundreds of people who filled the sanctuary at Peace stood and called out “thank you” to God.
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