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Friday, March 28, 2008

The Day of Jerusalem's Fall

September 16th, 2001
Reverend Jeremiah Wright
Transcription by Kofi Khemet from an audio recording posted by Roland Martin
All rights reserved 3/28/2008

Would you repeat these words after me. Remember O'Lord [Echo from audience] against the Edomites [Echo] the day of Jerusalem's fall. [Echo] Most of us are only familiar with what we read earlier in the service today, the first 6 verses of Psalm 137. They contain the powerful and immortal words of a people who are in exile. Words that have been made into anthems and sacred songs both in North America and in Jamiaca. Forty years ago when I was in college our college choir sang Psalm 137, "by the waters of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered thee O'Zion." Twenty years ago almost everybody in the Caribbean was singing the Jamaican version, "by the waters of Babylon, dere we sat down and wept."

The captives in Babylon asked the question, "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" The captives in America answered that question by creating an entirely new genre of music, the Spirituals. They sang sorrowfully, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child a long way from home". They sang thoughtfully, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, nobody knows, but Jesus." They sang defiantly, "O'freedom, O'freedom, O'freedom over me, before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave and go home to my god and be free."
To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, they took Jeremiah's question mark and straightened it out into an exclamation point. Jeremiah, who saw his people in exile asks the question "Is there no balm in Gilead?" The Africans who were in exile, in a strange land, said yes there is "O'yes there is a balm in Gilead."
The exiles in Psalm 137 ask the question, "How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" The Africans in exile in America answer their question and said, "I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free." "His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me." Psalm 137 is a psalm that has inspired anthems and spirituals, poems and sermons.
Psalm 137 is a song that has inspired the hearts of millions, as they have reflected on the beauty and splendor of the city of god, Jerusalem. If I forget you O'Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunnning. Let my right hand, the Hebrew says, become useless. Let my right hand, my strength, just wither away. Let my tongue designed to sing praises cling to the roof of my mouth; if I do not remember you O'Jerusalem; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Most of us are familiar with just that part of Psalm 137. Most of us are only familar with the first 6 verses of Psalm 137. Most of us have not read or heard the last 3 verses of this song, and most of us, I can guarantee you, have never heard a sermon that touched any of the thoughts or feelings expressed in these last 3 verses.
I told Freddie Haines this week that in all of my years of preaching. I was licensed to preach in May of 1959, I was ordained in January of 1967, and I became a pastor in March of 1972. But, in all my years of preaching I have never preached a sermon which dealt with these difficult verses, these last 3 verses in Psalm 137, these brutally honest verses. And, these verses which express what the people of faith really feel after a day of devestation and senseless death. And, that is exactly what these three verses express.
Now, in our class sessions, on our church study trips, I have lifted up these verses to help our church members understand much of what it is they feel as they have stood in the slave castles in West Africa; as they have stood among the poverty in Ethiopia; stood in the townships of South Africa; and stared at the favelas in Salvador do Bahia and Rio De Janeiro, in Brazil. African Americans have a surge of emotions as they see the color of poverty in a world of wealth and begin to understand that it is no accident that the world's poorest are one color and the world's richest are another color. And, and when they, when they tie together the pieces of 500 years of colonialism, racism and slavery with what it is they see in in 2001, a surge of emotions hits them. And, the last 3 verses of Psalm 137 help them to understand what it is they are feeling. I have treated these verses in a classroom setting and on the study tours that our congregation has taken, but I have never touched them in a sermon.

Today I was telling Freddie Haines the spirit of god has nudged me to touch them and to treat them prayerfully; as many of us try to sort out what it is we are feeling and why it is we are feeling what we feel after the trauma and the tragedy of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, symbols of who America is, the money and the military.

Some of the feelings we have, as people of faith in the 21st century are similar to the feelings of the people of faith had in the 6th century, B.C. And, when you read and, and study this Psalm, in its entirety. The parallel between those feelings becomes almost eerily crystal clear. That's why I didn't want you to stop at the famous and familiar verse six. I wanted you to read, to hear and to experience all nine verses of Psalm 137 to get the full scope of what it is this song is saying. Pray with me for just a few moments on this subject.

The day of Jerusalem's fall. The day of Jerusalem's fall. The day . . . of Jerusalem's fall. If you got your Bibles with you turn back to Second Kings the 25th chapter, Second Kings 25th chapter. In that chapter, there is a graphic 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 army, 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, of Second Kings 25, says they slaughtered, senseless killings, they slaughtered the sons of Zebekiah and 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, or 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.
Verse eight of Second 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. He burned the house of the Lord. 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. All the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls of Jerusalem.

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 enjoyed the sound of the music, and miss the meaning of the words to the music. Read Psalm one, Psalm 48 when you get home.

Great is the Lord and greatly
to be praised in the city of our god. Jerusalem! Let Mt. Zion rejoice.
Jerusalem! Let the daughters of Judah be glad. Walk around Zion. That's
Jerusalem! Go 'round about. Account it's towers, it's towers. Tell the towers
don't miss this, don't miss this. Tell the towers thereof. 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
dwell, Jerusalem. The Chaldeans smashed and shattered that sense of security and
invincibility. When first and Second Kings 25:4, look a 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 of Jerusalem who defended Jerusalem, on that wall wiped out. First there was a breach in the wall in verse four, and then verse 2, 10. Verse 10 says they broke down all the walls of Jerusalem. Then 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 their monetary system was gone! The Towers of Jerusalem were gone. It took 8 months to, pardon me eight years, to build the World Trade Center. It took Solomon 7 years to build the temple in Jerusalem, with its towers and within 8 hours it was gone. It took Solomon 14 years to build his palace, the symbol of wealth, the symbol of magnificence, the symbol of might and majesty and within 8 hours it also was gone.
The writer of Psalm 37 says look, look, look what they said in Psalm 137, tear it down, tear it down, down to its foundations O'daughter Babylon you devestator. The day of Jerusalem's fall was a day that changed these peoples 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 devestation.

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. They saw their church burned. They 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, remember 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 devestation.

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 3 distinct moves. They move, first of all from reverence, reverence, reverence. The thought 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 is where the temple of Solomon was, reverence. March about Zion and go 'round about her. Tell the towers thereof, for this God is our God, forever, reverence. The Lord is in his holy temple, reverence. Isaiah said in the year that King Azaiah died 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. I said now Isaiah six wings? Two, they covered their face with 2. They covered their feet and with the other 2 they flew and crawled out, one into the other. Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lord of hosts. The earth is full, the whole earth is full of his glories, reverence. Jerusalem means reverence.
When Solomon prayed and asked Gods blessing on that temple in Jerusalem. You know the story, fire came down from heaven, in second Chronicles 7. And, the Glory of the Lord filled the temple, the priests could not go in and the people fell down and worshipped. The thoughts of Jerusalem in Psalm 137 are thoughts of reverence. If I forget you O'Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning, reverence. Let the tongue, my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you Jerusalem, reverence. If I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy, reverence.
But, keep on reading. The people of faith move from reverence in verses 4 to 6, to revenge in verses 8 and 9. They want revenge! They want somebody to destroy those who devestated them. In fact, 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. Let me put it another way. The second move is a 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. Jerusalem, the temple of God, the House of God, is where the people made sacrificial offerings to God. Way after the temple was restored and rebuilt, way down 600 years later, when Jesus was born the temple in Jerusalem, the House of God, is where the people of God brought their tithes and their offerings. Jesus' mother and father brought him to the temple to present him to the Lord. When the time came for their purification then they brought a sacrificial offering. Jerusalem, the temple, the House of God is where the people or God pay tithes and sacrificial offerings to God.
What, what does God, God's self say in Malachi 3:10. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house, the temple. And, prove me now, here with the second move in Psalm 137, is a move from paying tithes to the thoughts of paying back. O'daughter of Babylon you devestator. Happy, blessed shall they be, who pay you back for what you did to us. That's payback. The "Big Payback."
Every public service of worship 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 the selected presidents and our war-machine as they do what they got to do - pay backs. There’s a move in Psalm 137 from thoughts of paying tithes to thoughts of paying back. Move if you will from worship to war. A move, in other words from the worship of the God of creation to a war against whom God has 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, look at verse 9, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rocks. The people of faith are the rivers of Babylon. How shall we sing the Lord’s song if I forget the (unintelligible). . . The people of faith have moved from the hatred of armed enemies, these soldiers who captured the king, who slaughtered his son, they put his eyes out, the soldiers who sacked the city, burned the towns, burned the temples, burned the towers, and moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents, the babies, the babies .“Blessed are they who dash your baby’s brains against a rock.” And that my beloveds is a dangerous place to be. Yet, that is where the people of faith are in 551 BC and that is where the people of faith are, far too many people of faith are in 2001 AD.
We have moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocence. We want revenge. We want paybacks and we don’t care who gets hurt in the process.Now I-I-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 often get 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 neighbors 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. You see him John? A White man he pointed out – an Ambassador! He pointed out that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Mohammad 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 Aroawak, the Comanche, the Arapaho, 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 babies, non military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard-working fathers. We bombed Gadhaffi’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 hard-working 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 after 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 has now been brought back into our own front yard! America’s chickens are coming home to roost! Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred and terrorism begets terrorism. A White ambassador said that y’all 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 that the people we wounded don’t have the military capability we have but they do have individuals who are willing to die and 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 over the next few weeks if God grants us that many days. Turn back to your neighbor and say, “footnote is over.”
Now, 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 LaGuardia, JFK, or Newark airport. On the day the FAA opened up the airports to bring into the cities of destination because those flights that had been diverted, because of the hijacking; a scare in New York closed all three airports and I couldn’t even get here for Mr. Bradford’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 cause the stairwells above the 9th 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 is a different world. This is a different terror. This is a different reality. “What should our response be?”
And 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 one. 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 is 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.
Folks flocked to the church in New Jersey last week. You know that fox hole religion syndrome kicked in, that emergency cord religion; you know that old red box cord to 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 mid week prayer services all over this country, which are poorly attended 51 weeks of the year, were jammed packed all over the nation the week of the hijacking the 52nd week filled full. 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 it 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 the time, in light of the unbelievable tragedy, this is a time to examine the 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. Bradford's service. He said, "you got the T.V. on?" I said no, what channel? He said, "it don't matter what channel." And, as I turned it on and watched the first tower burn, I saw the second one fly into it. As soon as the first plane hit The World Trade Center I called home and I called my mother.
Raima was taking Jamila 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 Jamila, Janet, Jerry, Stevie, Jazzy, Jay or Raima ever again? What is the quality of the relationship between you and your family? The soul station in New York kept playing Stevie Wonder songs with these three words; when is the last time you took the time to say to your family, honey I love you?
And, and then that family thought led me to my extended family, and my church family. We, we fight. We disagree. We, we fall out. We have diametrically opposed views on some critical issues. But, I, I still love you. When is the last time 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 y'all! I love you! [applause] I love you! Listen, listen! Don't, 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! [Echo] Listen, listen, listen! This, this past week was a grim reminder of the fact that you might not have the chance to say that next week. So, say it now. I love you! [Echo]
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! [applause] I thank God for you. Turn back and tell your neighbor one more time, I love you! [Echo] This is what a church family is, the beloved community, a community of love. Fights, yes! Disagreements, yes! Falling out, yes! Different viewpoints, yes! Doctrinal disputes, yes! But, love that is of God and given by God, who loved us so much that while 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 not only a time for self-examination. This! This is also a time for social transformation. Now, they ain't gone put me on PBS for the nation to see this. This will be around the Chicagoland area. This ain't gon' be in no national cable. But, this is the 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 got 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 thinking that can't nobody do nothing about it. They have shown us that they can and that they will. And, let me suggest to you that rather than figure who we gon' go to declare war on, maybe we need to declare war 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 capitol 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 5 minutes the Congress found 40 billion dollars to rebuild New York and the families of those 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 healthcare system, that leaves a nations poor with no health coverage! Maybe we need to declare war on the mishandled 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 to doing business as usual and treating the rest of the world like we've been treating them. This is a time for self-examination. This is a time for social transformation. But, then ultimately, as I looked around and saw that God had given me a 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, 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.

In otherwards, this a time to say thank you, Lord! 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 going to 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 could have been on one of those airplanes. I could have 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 going to 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 head back and adore Him this morning! Say thank you Lord [Echo]! Thank you Lord, for another chance, another chance to say thank you!
It's time for spiritual adoration.

Psalm 137 (NIV)
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill .
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.
7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. "Tear it down," they cried, "tear it down to its foundations!"
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us-
9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pastor Jeremiah Wright is indeed a very gifted Preacher, in the fact that he takes the Word of God and puts it into contest with current events. A gift like this can only come from one Person: The Holy Spirt.
No matter what you think of Rev. Wright or any of the Believers at Trinity United, anyone who truly believes in the Christian message must agree that the context in which the pastor uses Psalm 137 and the facts that he uses are 100% accurate. Unlike some of my spelling:)

God Bless
Jeremy