Pastor Murray encourages his congregation to be committed. “When there is no commitment, there is nothing at all,” he says. To get to heaven, there must be a lot of working, struggle and praying during your life. This commitment is the “cover charge,” to heaven–as he notes, “nothing is free.”
During his 27 years as the pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray transformed a small congregation into a megachurch that brought jobs, housing and corporate investment into South Los Angeles neighborhoods. After the 1992 civil unrest, FAME Renaissance, the economic development arm of the church, brought more than $400 million in investments to L.A.’s minority and low-income neighborhoods. Rev. Murray remains a vibrant force in the Los Angeles faith community through his leadership of the USC Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement.
The Murray Archive preserves Rev. Murray’s sermons and interviews in order to inspire the next generation of pastors, activists and scholars.
Following is a lightly edited transcript of the above sermon. To quote from the sermon, please provide credit to: Rev. Cecil L. Murray, Murray Archives, USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.
“Heaven Has a Cover Charge”
April 12, 1992
All of us work as storekeepers, been on your feet all morning. Nooners, we are great people. You know that nooners? Nooners say a star up there that shows up every 100 years, and our mothers and fathers when they built the pyramids built one of them so that every 100 years, that light would shine at precisely a certain spot. That was long before Newtonian physics, or Euclidean geometry. And we had refined the tool that could open up your chest and look in at the pump operating and fix the valves in that pump, centuries before they had open-heart surgery. And when they said, “Let there be Los Angeles,” 42 of the 46 founders were African-Americans and Native Americans. We are great people.
But something’s happening to us. Most of us are no longer hungry for bread. Praise the Lord. And those who are, we’re going to feed ‘til we feed out. But most of us are no longer hungry for bread. But we are dying for self-esteem. The bread of life. We don’t think anything of ourselves anymore. We have no sense of identity anymore. For instance, we have drums, and you and I took a lot of flack about all that noise in worship, didn’t we? Didn’t we? We have bass, we have bugles, we have instruments. Oh, praise the Lord for this beautiful saxophone. Some of our people have said all that emotion, then the white folks get drums in their churches. And the white folks send for our black musicians, “Come over here and show us how to do it.”
And the religious TV shows show it and they take all our music … I was starting to say steal. They take all our music. And they become multi- millionaires. And then we say, “It’s all right, because they approved it.” Our hair is all right, because Bo Derek started them in wearing it in [dreads]. Our lips are all right now, because they are operating, taking skin from one place and putting it on their lips. And they’re calling it the French look. Won’t even give us credit for our lips. And we waiting on the crowd to tell us what a crowd of angels have already told us. You all right. Long as you know who you are, can’t nobody define you. You a child of God. You ain’t ugly, because you’re made in the image of God this morning. You all right.
Walk that walk. Talk that talk. Walk tall. Talk with sense. Know who you are, because anywhere you go, there’s some dues to be paid. Anything you involved in has a price tag on it. It ain’t no heaven on Earth. Ain’t nobody going to give us nothing. Anything you and I going to get, we got to go work for it ourselves. Then, by and by after a while, as the preacher said, going up yonder, where the weakest shall cease from troubling. But while I’m down here on Earth, I got to work, fight and pray. Even heaven has a cover charge. That’s our subject. Heaven has a cover charge.
Everybody wanted to go to the Club Paradise. San Angelo, Texas. [When I was in the service], we went in there for some primary flight training. We couldn’t hardly wait to get through those six weeks of primary to go to the dais, we called it, Club Paradise. And, finally, the day comes. We put on our civilians. We pile into one car, and we head out for Paradise. We knew we were in trouble when we had to get lost to find it. We finally arrived, and we park in front of what is nothing more than a hole in the wall. Paradise. And the music is loud, the little hole in the wall is trembling.
Paradise. And they got sawdust on the floor. Paradise. And we noticed the men who a little bit tall have to bend over their dancing partners. Not only because they’re doing the style of the slow drag, all bent over the sister, and then she’s all bent back like she’s drinking. That ain’t y’all’s generation. In my generation, we dance on a dime and give you nine cents change. But the tall brothers were bent over, not because they were doing the slow drag, but because if they straighten up, their head would hit the ceiling. Paradise. We said, “Well, let’s go in and check out the haps. Change of pace. Let’s sit down and spend the night pulling on a soft drink maybe.” Soft drink. Soft drink. Soft drink.
The owner had more sense than we had, sure had as much sense. He knew there’d be folks like us who just come in the place and sit and sit and sit and don’t spend no money. So, he had a $10 cover charge. And when we went in, a lot of folks were glad to see us. That’s new money. That’s new economy. And the young girls all said, “That’s new flesh.”
But everybody wasn’t glad to see us. The hometown boys pulled aside, and they said, “Who are these strange niggers here? They messing with our stuff.” Everybody won’t like you. John tells us in chapter 12, verse 19, when Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem, and hundreds of thousands of people, like they were at the Washington Mall with Martin Luther King’s great “I Have a Dream” speech, they cheered him and they cried, “Hosanna.” Everybody loved Jesus.
But some of his enemies pulled aside and said, “Look. Don’t touch him now. We can’t do nothing against him now. Look, the whole world has gone after him.” But Jesus had lots of sense. Jesus kept his head on straight. This wasn’t heaven for Jesus, and if it was, it’s like the Club Paradise. Paradise has a cover charge. And Jesus wants you and me to be careful this morning, those crazy Black folks. You may think you have arrived, but the economy is bad, and they doing what they call downsizing. Guess who going to be the first ones to go? So, you just go ahead on right on with blinders on your eyes. You just go right on with your little all-night parties instead of being at work and getting your rest so you can be at work and upgrade on your work. Right on.
You can have Jesus’ crowd. You can have it. But to have Jesus’ crowd, you also got to have Jesus’ crisis. In every group, there’s somebody who won’t like you. Sometimes, that group is your family, have what they call sibling rivalry. I don’t like you because you’re smarter than I am, or you prettier than I am. Used to be divided on color. You high yellow, and I’m blue and I don’t like it. Ain’t that sick? That’s what racism will do for you. That’s what jealousy will do for you. Here you are jealous of a man who raised a man from the dead, great God from glory. Anybody who can raise somebody from the dead, you ought to lift up that man. Lift him up. What are you jealous about? He told you to go raise the dead, and the only thing you raise is some children. He told you to go raise the dead, and only thing you raise is hell. He told you to go raise the dead, and you won’t even go to Skid Row.
He told you to raise the dead, and you won’t even bring some old clothes out your closet to help house the homeless. He told you to raise the dead, and you got the nerve to be jealous of Jesus. You can have Jesus’ crowd, but you got to also have Jesus’ crisis. Those that didn’t like Jesus, they didn’t say, “Leave him alone.” They said, “Leave him alone now.” People who don’t like you, don’t never leave you alone. Will we remember that? Even in racism, 65 percent of white folks in America don’t like Black folks. We can’t pontificate about the other 35, they are our brothers, they are our sisters. We love them. I say to every non-Black who joins this congregation, some 27 of them, welcome home. Don’t mind if we talk about Black folks. This is the only place that Black folks can gather. We got to talk to each other. We got to love one another. So, while you are here, you are Black. You are family. You are family.
We can’t water down the fact that most white folks in America don’t like Black folks, so they just lie on the side and they wait they turn. Your little private enemy just lies on the side, and they wait their turn. Let me tell you something about the sight, darlings. Everybody has two eyes. The right eye is the public eye. The left eye is the private eye. When somebody puffing your head up and lifting you up and crying Hosanna, don’t look in the right eye. That’s the public eye. That’s the one where they show the public what they want them to see. Look in your left eye. If that left eye says, “Love,” there is love. You may be shocked at what you see in that left eye when a whole lot of folks telling you that you the world’s greatest thing. You so fine. Look at the left eye.
You got to take Jesus’ enemies, because an enemy, you can always tell your enemy. He’s covered with bush grass from lying in the bushes waiting on you. Just lying in the bushes, waiting on you. Your enemy is always covered with bush grass. Sometimes, your friend is covered with bush grass, just lying, waiting on you. We thought in the Garden of Eden we had discovered Club Paradise. Everything we could want, and Lord, here come the snake. Here come the snake. We thought after 200 years in this country, we could’ve paid our dues and folks would be lifting us up, and the government wouldn’t slip back into the pre-Truman days. Affirmative Action wouldn’t be shot down—but, oh, here comes the snake in the bush! The snake in the bush brings out Willy Horton four years ago, dangles this little black bird in front of white folks and say, “This is what they are, criminals, and they’re going to rob you.” And now he’s bringing out welfare, dangling that in front of white America. Here’s a little Black woman with two children making $500 a month, and that’s the victim they target.
Don’t even tell America, the majority of people on welfare in America, 57 percent of people on welfare in America are white folks, not Black folks. You want to see welfare, you ought to look at General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. You want to see welfare, you ought to look at the billionaires in this country. The report is out now, ain’t none of them paid five cents in taxes, and Uncle Sam is, by April 15, saying you better pay your taxes or you’re going straight to jail–and you ain’t making but $25,000 a year! You want to see welfare?
You can have the crowd, but you got to take the crisis. You can have Jesus’ crowd, but you got to have Jesus’ courage. Something’s happened to us, darlings. We’re becoming a race of grinners and skinners. A he-he-he, ain’t nothing funny. A scratch, scratch, scratch when ain’t nothing itching. No courage at all. Just stand up and equivocate. How do you let some jackass from the streets come and run through your house, talking about, “I’m a gang-banger, and I’m going to take everything you got.” If you got to die right there on the spot, “Oh, no you ain’t. I worked for this. The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. No, you ain’t. No, you ain’t.”
Staying with somebody who brutalizes you, because you scared to get out there on the economy. So, you just get bound and kicked and abused verbally. “But I got to have me somebody.” I got news for you, you ain’t got nobody. She’s sweet Fanny Brown. I love you and you, and you all crying over sweet Fanny Brown. Why don’t you tell sweet Fanny Brown to let the door hit her where the dog bit you. You got to have some courage sometimes. You can make it by yourself, because you’re not by yourself. You with Jesus. I’ll be your daddy, he says. Don’t come telling me I ain’t got no daddy. You didn’t get here by osmosis. You got a daddy. The daddy you got ain’t got you, but you got a heavenly daddy. There is a God who rules Earth in heaven.
You got to have some courage. You got to have some courage. It comes from a French word, coeur, le coeur, le coeur. Le courage. It means heart. You got to have heart in L.A., miles and miles of heart. When the odds are saying, you’ll never win, take it on the chin. You got to have heart. Yes, Jesus knows what they want. They want a king, a king of this world. And he says, “No, no, no. I’m another kind of king.” They want him to say, “Take up the sword,” and all of them get killed. And he says, “Oh, no. We going to take up the olive branch.” We going to out-think our enemy. We going to out-love our enemy. We ain’t burning down the Korean shops. We ain’t burning down the Japanese shops. We are building up our own shops. We’re helping our own people. You got to have heart.
You can have Jesus’ crowd, but you got to have Jesus’ control. Self-control is crowd control. Crowd says, “Hey, let’s go somewhere and turn on.” Now, what is turning on when after the first high, you addicted, and it’s going to cost you $50 a day? Is that turning on? What is turning on, if you going to take so much of something, it’s going to make your eyes red and your breath smell like everybody’s Old Crow smell, like the old crow died in your stomach, and you going to call that turning on? That’s turning on? If anything, that’s turning off. When you have self-control, then you have crowd control. But to have self-control, you got to have a sense of mission. I’m about something in life.
The brothers agree here, you about more than making babies. Jackass makes babies. That’s where little donkeys come from. You about more than making babies. Sisters, you about more than blackening your eyes and putting powder and makeup on your face, because you got everything on your face and nothing in your head or brain. You still ain’t worth nothing. You’re about more than that. You’re about a sense of mission.
You know what a turkey is? A turkey ain’t nothing but an eagle that lost its sense of mission. So, it went and asked a buzzard. The crowd, them same folks hollering for Jesus to lead him, and next Friday, they going to try to kill him. The buzzards. And a buzzard ain’t never going to tell you how to fly higher than he flies. Buzzard ain’t going to tell you that you no eagle, and a buzzard ain’t going to tell you that you equal to him, on the same level as him. Buzzard’s going to tell you that you a chicken, you belong down there in the barnyard. And that you are down there stepping in chicken you-know-what, and you supposed to be living up on Mt. Everest. Lord, lift us up.
One day, some eagles come flying overhead, and they cried out … you got to hear the truth, Black folks. Somebody got to tell you about Toussaint Louverture, down in Haiti. Toussaint Louverture beat the best forces of France under Napoleon the Great. Toussaint Louverture, a former slave, somebody got to tell you that you ain’t no turkey. You an eagle. You can have Jesus’ crowd when you have Jesus’ control. You can have Jesus’ crowd when you have Jesus’ commitment.
One of us testified here today, I tried tithing the first of the year, and I want to tell you it works. I made a commitment to tithe. I made a commitment to being in church every Sabbath. I made a commitment to get my proper exercise. I made a commitment to watch my diet. I made a commitment to give a portion of everything in my closet to the force that will help house the homeless and clothe the naked. I made a commitment to love my family. I made a commitment to come to choir rehearsal. I made a commitment to serve the Lord. Where there is no commitment, there is nothing at all.
A young man comes crawling out of Stanford University, and he says, I need a job. Ain’t no Stanford jobs available, sir. I don’t care. I need a job. The only thing I got open is clerk typist. I’ll take it. I can’t report until Tuesday, but I’ll take it. Tuesday, the young man shows up. He says, young man? Yes, sir? You are here? Yes? And I love you? Yes? But please tell me why you couldn’t take the job, it was Friday then, ’til Tuesday? Well, sir, I had to go borrow a typewriter and teach myself how to type, because I didn’t know how to type and I wanted this job. That’s commitment. That man was the 30th president of the United States, Herbert Hoover. God doesn’t ask about your ability. God asks about your availability. Lord, I’m available to you. Lord, I am available to you. Carpenter’s son, nobody got to borrow the donkey that he rides in on, but he’s riding in the name of the Lord.
You can have Jesus’ crowd if you have Jesus’ commitment. And if you have Jesus’ commitment, and I’m coming home now, you will have Jesus’ caretaker. Never have I seen the righteous forsaken, go begging for bread. I don’t care what the doctors tell you, there’s another caretaker. I don’t care what your employer tells you, ain’t doing nothing but blessing you, because when man closes a door, God opens a window, a window of opportunity. And I can look back and see nothing but the Lord blessing me. I don’t care what your loved one tells you, I reject you. God ain’t doing nothing but blessing you. God says clean your plate. Get all that garbage off of it. Now I lifted up, and God sends you a main squeeze that puts that old squeeze to nothing.
I don’t care what the world may say, there’s always a third day. On the third day, God lifted him up. They crucified my Lord, that same crowd yelling for him. That same crowd left misunderstood. The savior of sinners hung on the cross. He was God’s only son. But all hear him cry to his father in heaven: “Not my will, but Thine be done.” Oh, when I come to the end of my journey, weary of life and the battle is won, carrying the Cross and the price of redemption, he’ll understand. He’ll understand. He’ll understand. And say, “Well done. Well done. Well done. Well done.”
If you have no church home, come home. We are your family. Just come down one of the aisles. Do stay for the benediction, and we’ll take it from there. As we sing, won’t you come?