The war is still on to be fought – the war for freedom, justice and equality for all.
And fighting it requires leaning on the word of God, according to the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ where he served 36 years.
“The war on the poor is waged on many fronts and in many ways,” he said Sunday at Howard University.
In a sermon outlining the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Wright challenged worshippers not to just give lip service to King’s message, but to take up the mantle and continue his work.
Over 1,500 people crammed into Cramton Auditorium where non-denominational worship services have taken place since 2002 because they outgrew the nearly 120-year-old Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel. Rankin Chapel serves as the center of Howard’s cultural and religious activities and that of the wider community. One of its hallmarks is attracting some of the most renowned pastors, theologians and leaders in the nation. However, when Wright comes each year around Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, worshippers know they have to get on campus early to get a seat.
As he introduced Wright, the Rev. Bernard L. Richardson, fourth dean of the chapel and a professor in the divinity school, said he and the chapel family as well as the larger community look forward to Wright’s visits.
Richardson said what has changed over the years about the appeal of the service is “a greater appreciation of the gift of Jeremiah Wright.” He complimented Wright’s teaching, preaching and social justice work that has influenced generations of ministers and ministries.
Wright has lectured at universities and seminaries, where his four books of sermons are widely used: “What Makes You So Strong?,” “Good News: Sermons of Hope For Today’s Families,” Africans Who Shaped our Faith” “When Black Men Stand Up For God.” His newest book, “A Sankofa Moment: The History of Trinity United Church of Christ,” was released in 2010.
“For me, the greater appreciation of Dr. Jeremiah Wright comes out of something that Dr. King would often say and that is that the ‘ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy,” Richardson said. “The gift of Jeremiah Wright to us, and to me personally, is to watch how he lives out his convictions despite having, at times, to be misunderstood, to stand hurt and to stand alone.”
During the service, Wright appealed to worshippers across different generations as he cited the scholarship of theologians as well as referenced contemporary music. In his sermon based on Ephesians 6:12-18, Wright said the apostle was talking to a people under oppression and his message applies today. Wright challenged the congregation to roll up their sleeves, get into the trenches and get back to work.
“This ain’t no short-term battle, no brief skirmish,” he said, mentioning the Eugene Peterson translation. “This is a protracted war. And in this war, God’s word is an indestructible weapon. It’s a defensible weapon. In the same way, he said, prayer is essential in this ongoing war. Pray hard, pray long and pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”
It’s a mission that requires a strategy consisting of clarification, cooperation, concentration and communication, he said. “We need cooperation where we put theology aside in the interest of sociology.”