Despite the howl of a bitter wind, hundreds packed into Trinity, 400 West 95th Street, to hear Wright, 66, a fiery speaker, preach at the church one last time. Wright had served as spiritual mentor to Sen. Barack Obama. In the late 1980s, Obama joined Trinity and would later base his historic speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention on a Wright sermon called "Audacity to Hope."
At Sunday's 11 a.m. service, Wright preached on the New Testament account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in the sermon "Looks Can Be Deceiving." He spoke about the tradition of African storytelling to illustrate how past generations preserved and passed on stories to teach their children how to hold onto hope amid the pain and suffering of slavery.
Though Wright did not mention Obama by name, he spoke about how a biracial child could use that same hope to overcome racism, go to an Ivy League law school and become a politician. Obama received his law degree from Harvard University and was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review.
"How many children of biracial parents can make it in a world controlled by racist ideology?" Wright said.
"Children born to parents who are of two different races do not have a snowball's chance in hell of making it in America, especially if the momma was white and the daddy was black. A child born to that union is an unfortunate statistic in a racially polarized society," he said.
"But, if you use your mind, instead of a lost statistic in a hate-filled universe, you just may end up a law student at Harvard University. In fact, if you use your mind, you might end up as the editor of the Harvard Law Review. If you use your mind, instead of [being] a statistic destined for the poor house, you just may end up a statesman destined for the ... Yes, we can!" Wright said, using the popular Obama slogan to bringt the crowd to its feet in cheers.
Later, Wright said the story of Lazarus held special significance for him on his final day of preaching.
"Let me tell you, on the last Sunday of preaching as your senior pastor, what this story says to me, what looks like the end of my pastorate is not the end of my pilgrimage. I'm still here! I'm still here! I made it through! So have you," Wright yelled.
"The Lord has a new chapter for me, and the Lord has a new chapter for you. The Lord has some new challenges for me, and the Lord has some new challenges for you. Listen, the Lord has given me a new testimony, and the Lord has given you a new pastor," Wright said.
"He's a baaaaad brother!" Wright said drawing hoots and laughs from the congregation.
Wright's successor is Rev. Otis Moss III, son of civil rights legend Rev. Otis Moss Jr., who pastored with Rev. Martin Luther King Sr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
In a statement, Moss praised Wright for focusing on social justice instead of preaching prosperity gospel.
"While other ministers and ministries have allowed the winds of the current culture and market to reshape the gospel into formulaic catchphrases and false hopes of financial success, Dr. Wright, you have etched out a unique homiletic of recovery and redemption," Moss said.
In leading Trinity, Wright focused on building an Afrocentric church that celebrates its African roots in every aspect of worship, from interpretation of Scripture to music and ritual.
As pastor, Wright also organized frequent trips to Africa for members to learn more about their heritage. The church motto proudly proclaimed: "Unashamedly Black, unapologetically Christian."
With Trinity in the limelight recently because of Obama's presidential run, some critics have attacked the motto as separatist. Wright and Moss have dismissed such charges, saying the struggles of slavery and civil rights are intertwined with the mission of the black church.
As Wright walked out of the sanctuary, many members such as Deborah Minor Harvey became emotional. "I'm very touched. It was a good 36 years, and he was a great leader because he made everything personal," she said. "But I don't feel like I've lost him. He'll still be around."
In consoling members who worried about Trinity's future without him, Wright assured the congregation that God would not abandon them.
"Listen, 40 years ago, Martin Luther King was murdered, and it looked like the story of our struggle was stopped," Wright said. "But I stand here 40 years later with the testimony that the Lord has been with us every step of the way. The Lord has provided for us each and every day. And the Lord has taken care of us even when we were too silly and too stupid to take care of ourselves. God will take care of you!"
IN THE WEB EDITION
Pastor's farewell focuses on Obama
Watch video of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's last Sunday as pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ at chicagotribune.com/wrightsermon