In this sermon, Rev. Murray emphasizes putting God first. He says “worry is a sin,” because “worry is trying to have two number one’s in your life.” However, he notes that while God should always be first, you must work hard in your own life and “pay the bill before tipping” even though God can be trusted to work out our salvation.
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.
“Tipping, But Not Paying the Bill”
April 20, 1997
God is good. God is good. God is good. God is good. God is good. God is good.
God is good, all!
Yeah. Oh, glory! Thank you, Lord. Give you neighbor on your right a hug. Tell them God is good. Give them a big hug.
Oh, yeah! Glory. Glory be to God! Glory be to God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Lord. Done made my vow to the Lord. And the Lord has made some vows to you and me. Anybody here hungry? I’ll feed you. Anybody here homeless? I’ll house you. Anybody here unemployed? I’ll find a way to employ you. Anybody here hopeless? I’ve got some hope for you. Anybody here struggling with health? I’m a doctor.
The Lord is good all the time. From time to time, God reminds you and me of that goodness. We come to worship, to renew our covenant with the Lord, and to hear the Lord renew the Lord’s covenant with us. You can’t possibly leave this house depressed, if you came here depressed. You can’t possibly let the Spirit run up and down the aisles, and you don’t grab out and pull Him into you. You’ve got to know the Lord is in the blessing business. The Lord is in the healing business. The Lord has made some vows to us, and in keeping them, from time to time, the Lord reminds us, I’m keeping My promises with you.
I treasure every gift you give me. If I got a card, it’s in my book of memoirs. They are so precious, so I know that love takes many forms. Mary [Miner Reid] gave me a lovely tie set, and every time Mary sees me with that tie, she says, “Nice tie.”
God says, Hey, you ain’t bad. Nice life. And nice food you’re going to eat right after church. Nice ride out there on the parking lot. If you ain’t riding, nice bus token you got.”
I feel the tie she gives me, and I love the material, but I love the one that gives it to me more than I love the material. I guess the love of God means you put the spiritual things before the material things. You
look at that tie and you realize your first tie is to tie yourself to the Lord. I done made my vows to the Lord, and I will not turn back. If you ever tie yourself to the Lord, you can’t help but tithe to the Lord.
Matthew 6. Matthew 6, verse 31. So, don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them, but your Heavenly Father, Mother, already knows perfectly well that you need them, and the Lord will give them to you if you give the Lord. What place? First place in your life, and live as the Lord wants you to. Seek. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven, and everything else will take care of itself. You go out to eat, you take a few friends with you, and at the end of the meal, the waiter gives you the bill. You get up and you tip the waiter, what’s ten percent of $40? What’s 15 percent of $50? You tip the waiter, and then you walk out without paying the bill. How far will you get? You won’t even make it to the sidewalk. That suggests our subject: tipping before paying the bill. Tipping, but not paying the bill. Tipping, but not paying the bill. Give us a few minutes, because we want to talk to you about three vital things.
First things first. That’s the first thing we want to talk about. First things first. Now, when they say put God first, they don’t mean number one. Oh no, we often mistake that. He’s not the first among equals. When the President of the United States, the President of Russia, and the President of China sit down, they are kind of equals, and maybe Bill Clinton is the first among equals. But when they say, seek ye first, go and look in the original tongues, they don’t mean first, because first implies second, and implies third. And God says, “Ain’t nobody like Me. With Me, ain’t no number two. With Me, ain’t no number three.”
So, what they really mean is, seek ye above. God is in a class all to God’s self. Nobody else like God. God is in a category complete unto God’s self. God is above. Put God above everything else. And then, anything less is yours as well.
And you say, Jesus. Jesus, here in Matthew. Jesus, are you telling us kind of live up here and don’t worry about down there? Now, you know Jesus ain’t never done that, because Jesus spent all His time feeding folks. Jesus didn’t talk about feeding folks, Jesus fed folks. Jesus didn’t talk about healing folks, Jesus healed folks. Now, when they say don’t worry, are you saying, Lord, be careless? Like some people don’t want to get a job. An employment agency will find you a job if you come there. Should I be careless about a job because I’m careful about God? Oh no. If you are careful about God, you’re going to also have a job.
But what they’re saying is, don’t you worry about needless things. The thing that shocks you and me is what they call needless. They call food needless worry. They call your rent needless worry. They call your health needless worry. That’s because they say, if you put God up here, then everything down here will take care of itself. That takes a little getting used to, doesn’t it? Because we don’t need to be careless, just careful. And not care-full, but careful. Careful to put God first. At this very moment, if you say, Lord, I’m out here on your Word. Lord, you know I need my rent money by Tuesday, Lord I’m trusting in You and I’m going to tithe to your church, because I’ve got to help somebody other than myself. And that church is trying to help thousands of homeless and hungry, so if I put you first, then by Tuesday, He may not come when you want Him, but He’ll be right there on time. If He misses you Tuesday, He’ll get you Wednesday. If He misses you next week, He’ll get you to next week. You’ve got a choice. But God says, “No, put Me above, and nothing else ranks with Me. Don’t put me below, at the bottom. Give Me top priority.”
You know of the story of the hog and the chicken walking along the sidewalk and they see a sign, ham and eggs. We are happy to have contributions to the poor. Ham and eggs, come and eat if you have no money. The chicken says to the hog, “Hey, let’s go in and make a contribution.” And the hog said, “Uh-uh. For you, it’s a contribution. For me, it’s a total commitment.”
That’s what God asks. You got your hog out on the parking lot, and in the ’70s, they used to do what they called the hog lean. You remember how the steering wheel is over there, and you leaning way over here driving it? And there you are eating high on the hog. And there you are eating like a hog. And when it comes time for God, you don’t do nothing but grunt. Like some people who leave worship just grunting, complaining. Too loud. Too long. Too this.
Getting in God’s car. Going to God’s McDonald’s. Going around to the sister’s house and calling in some … I’ve never understood people who are chronic complainers. I’ve never understood people who can complain on a beautiful day, like today, as if they want the snow to come. And if the snow should come, if the earthquake should come, I remember when we didn’t have snow, I remember when we didn’t have an earthquake. Thank you, Lord, for one more day. I ain’t got nothing to fuss about.
This man leaves church just fussing. “I didn’t like the music. That usher sat me in the wrong place. I didn’t like the sermon at all, and I don’t know where they got them preachers in that pulpit from.” And his little son says, “I don’t know, Daddy. I thought that was a pretty good show for $2.”
Putting first things first. Putting last things last. Can you imagine talking about where you’re going to live last? Who you’re going to marry last? And sisters, we promise every woman here a good, fine husband, but that ain’t your top priority, that’s your bottom priority.
And the brothers here are beautiful. The brothers promise they ain’t going to jive you. Now, eating together after church don’t mean we in love. Just means we eating. Let’s get the priorities straight here. First, we’ve got to like each other, then we’ve got to love each other, then we’ve got to marry each other, then we’ve got to have children with each … In that order.
Last things last. We’re told here by Jesus in Matthew, you are eager for the things of this world, because you are ignorant about the things of a better world. Oh, Lord, how much truth is in that? We are dealing now with our hardcore people. Ma quit locking all of us, we’re putting together for our hardcore gang-bangers, and we have to be careful that we get them to transition to another world, because we come from that same world they come from, and we know what that jungle world is all like. That’s the only world they know. We have to expose them to another world. You are eager for the things of this world, because you are ignorant about the things of a better world.
When my mother died, our natural mother, my sister, Louise, was two, and I was five, and my brother, Edward, was eight. We were taken to Hemingway, South Carolina. Three years later down that dusty road, drove my father with his new bride, our new mother. I’ve come to take you home. Lord, Edward and I started shouting. Louise didn’t want to go.
I said, Louise, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m so sick of that freight train running through our living room. I don’t know what to do. You know how when you used to live on the other side of the tracks, any of y’all remember that? And the tracks seemed to run through your house? Lord, talking about my living room, I’m so sick of that living room being a living room. All us lived in it, all us slept in it, all of us had that jolly carrying pot, you knowing what a pot is, in that living room. I was so sick of that living room, I didn’t know what to do. I was so sick of that well out there. You had to go about a half a mile to get some water, and then rake the scum off the top, and then bring it on back. I was so sick of them flies that looked like B-52 bombers, I didn’t know what to do.
How many of y’all from the country? When you were children, the adults sat at the table and ate, and it was your job to stand and fan what? Fan the flies. Fan the flies. Them flies better not get in that milk or on that food. And then after the adults ate, you could eat. And here Louise don’t want to leave. When it’s time to leave, Louise runs off and hides in the woods. That’s all she knew. A whole lot of us, when God says, “Hey, look here, I’m offering you prosperity,” all we know is poverty. “I’m offering you healing,” all we know is pain. “I’m offering you a better job,” all we know is this suffering one. “I’m offering you a positive life,” all we know is the negative life. That’s all we know. Forgive us, Lord, because we are ignorant. We’re ignorant of the fact that God cares. When you know that God cares, you put first things first, and last things last.
Remember that little girl who’s lying in her bedroom and she’s trembling a little bit? It’s dark, and she’s all alone, and she looks out at the Moon. Her mother comes in the room and she asks, “Mama, is the Moon God’s light?” “Yes, darling, the Moon is God’s light.” “Mama, is God awake all the time?” “Yes, honey, God is awake all the time.”
So, she pulls the cover up and rolls over and says, “Well, if God is awake, ain’t no need of both of us being awake,” and she goes to sleep. That’s what we’re talking about. When you put God first, when you make God your chief deliverer instead of your chief worrier, it’s a simple fact that the mother would tell that child, worry is a sin. Tell your neighbor on your left, worry is a sin. It’s a sin against God. You telling God that God can’t do what God says God can do. And you know what worry is? Do you know what worry is? Worry is trying to have two number ones in your life. Brothers, you ever tried that? You get quiet, you rascals. You know you have. Sisters?
[Wilbur Gary] was the captain of our football team at Florida A&M. He was All-American center. In the chapel, it was mandatory at that time, we came and worshiped the Lord in chapel every day. They brought all the heroes of the football team up. There were six of them that had made All-American. They put a flower, a bunch of flowers in the hands of each one, and then they called their girlfriends up. Everybody on campus knew who was going with who. Wilbur Gary had two girlfriends, and they called both of them up, and they made him last. People can torture you, boy. All the others have given their lovely lady their flowers and hugged them, and gone and sat down. Now it’s Gary. Two sisters, one bunch of flowers. Gary walked the stage, and he walked the stage, and he walked the stage, and he agonized. Finally, he walked over and took the flowers, put them in the hands of one young lady, hugged her, and that was the end of it. That was cold for the other one, but that’s what God is asking you to do.
What you going to do with your flowers? Who you going to give your life to? You’ve got to make a decision some time. You can’t have two number ones. And sisters, if you’ve got any sense, if you’ve got somebody saying, “Mama, I love you, and Mama, I love you,” then you ought to say, “Uh-uh, you love her, you don’t love me no more, because I’m number one.”
Jesus calls it Heaven. Jesus says you’ve got to have Heaven or Earth, which one you going to have? You’ve got to have Heaven or Earth. Some of us want Heaven on Earth and Earth on Heaven. He says choose, which one are you going to have? That doesn’t take us out of the world, because we don’t talk much about Heaven from this pulpit, but we know that Heaven begins now. But we know there is a life after death, and what you do now conditions what’s there. Which one is more important? This world, or the next world?
U.S. News, March 31 took a poll of 1,000 people about who is most likely to go to Heaven. Oprah Winfrey would have been number one, she got 66 percent. If it hadn’t been for Mother Teresa, who got 79 percent. Oprah got 66 percent. Michael Jordan got 65 percent. Very, very likely to go to Heaven. Colin Powell got 61 percent. Just making it in with 55 percent was Bill Clinton. And missing it altogether with 40 percent was Newt Gingrich. And busting hell wide open with 28 percent was Dennis Rodman. Eighty-seven percent of the people said that they themselves were likely to go to Heaven.
Jesus says, “I got news for you. You don’t go to Heaven by a poll. You don’t go to Heaven by a popularity contest. You don’t go to Heaven by a visibility contest. You don’t go to Heaven by a poll, you go to Heaven by a put. Where you put God, where you put God. Put God first, and God will put you first. Put God first.”
First things first, last things last.
Give me a few minutes to say, first things last. If you put the right things first, before you leave that dining room table when you eat uptown or downtown, across town, you pay the bill, then you tip the waiter or the waitress. You pay the bills. First things last. Whole lot of us are tipping the Lord. Instead of tithing, we are tipping. And we’ve got the nerve to think God is going to say, “Oh, thank you very much for giving me $3. And if that means that’s ten percent, you living about $3,000 a year. I sure thank you for that.”
We are tipping instead of tithing. I went to school with a fellow everybody called Tipping In. You may remember, some of you, that was quite a record at one time. Not tipping in, tippin’ in, they called it. And we called him Tippin’ In. He walked on his toes. You know people that walk on their toes always look as if they are looking for something. Walking on their toes, and they never put their whole weight down. Some of us never put our whole weight down when it comes to walking with Christ. We walking on our toes.
We’re like that man, that country man, who had a sack of potatoes and a neighbor picked him up in the wagon and took him, and the neighbor looked back, he’s still holding the sack of potatoes. He said, “Why don’t you put your weight down, your load down?” He says, “Oh no, if you’re kind enough to give me a ride, the least I can do is carry my own weight.” God is carrying us all the way. Everything we have belongs to God, and God is just asking us to put our whole weight down and don’t start when you’re old. Start when you’re young. Give God the best that you have. Roll your burdens on the Lord. Give it to the Lord, and make certain it’s used for what it’s meant. The Lord says, “I woke you up this morning. I’ll feed you. I started you on your way, I’ll take you all the way. I love you every day, and when the day is done, I’ll give you a home eternal in the Heavens.”
Don’t be tipping. Tithe. Give unto the Lord in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.