In this sermon, Rev. Murray speaks about problems in the community, specifically how the work ethic has diminished, and people seem to be losing motivation or giving up. However, Rev. Murray reassures his congregation that if you step toward God, He will reach out. If you are lost, then pray for God’s help.
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.
“Cry Me a River”
August 10, 2003
Oh, Praise the Lord! Oh, Praise the Lord! Now it’s like, it’s like the grass. If you’re woke up and lifted it up, if you have as much religion as the grass, let everything that is green say, “Praise the Lord!” Now say, “Take me back, dear Lord!” Take me back, dear Lord. I stood on the river of Jordan, just to see the ships, bold sailing over. I stood over the banks of Jordan, just to see those ships sail by.
It was like the Shekinah presence of God, because you could be standing on the banks of the Jordan right now, if you let go of yourself. If you forget your outer self and concentrate on your inner self. You could see the ships of God go by. But here on the shore, is our problem. Sinners, all of us. Tell your neighbor, “I’m a sinner.” You need to say it once a year. Tell your neighbor.
In the month of, in the month of May, 90 drive-by shootings. In the month of June, two separate events, a policeman shot. In the month of July, 15-year-old young brother filled with bullets just to get his bicycle. He later dies in the hospital. Our police chaplain, Brother Leonard Jackson, tells us at Kentucky Fried Chicken, he receives a call from the police. Come on, chaplain. They filled the car with bullets and the father is killed. The mother is shot. She’s on life support system. The 14-year-old boy is standing by.
What’s going on? What’s going on, that we hear a voice from those ships passing by, saying, “You are doomed.” Does anybody here think we can keep on hurting each other like this and keep on going? Is there anybody here who knows God so little that you think we can keep on hurting, killing? We don’t come to church sometimes. We don’t bring our children anymore. We don’t tithe. We don’t sing. We don’t pray. All we do is stand up and posture.
Brothers just want to be a player. Sisters angry. Do you think we can keep on like this? You are doomed. Let me start crying. Let Lamentations 2, page 629, oh it’s painful to hear that voice from that shepherd. Lamentations 2, verse 18. “Then the people wept before the Lord.” Then the people of Los Angeles wept before the Lord. Then the people of America wept before the Lord. Then the people of the church wept before the Lord.
And a companion scripture, if you turn to Psalms 46, page 462. Look at verse 4. This is our hope, because the first half, we going to get cussed out. Everybody needs a good cussing out once a month. Once a week. Once a day. Once an hour. Here’s the healing for Psalms 46, verse 4: “There is a river of joy flowing through the city of our God.” So, we’re going to talk on the subject from those two scriptures, cry me a river.
[Singing.] That was before y’all’s time. That was before sisters didn’t commit suicide if a player said goodbye to her. And then come running back later, I love you. She says, “Cry me a river.” There’s a river of tears. That’s one of two things we’re going to talk about. Let’s take the sad part. Lamentations means weeping. Jeremiah with Lamentations, chapter 2, verse 17. “It is the Lord who did it just as he warned. God has fulfilled the promises of doom he made so long ago. God has destroyed Jerusalem without mercy, caused her enemies to rejoice over her and rejoice of her power. Then the people wept before the Lord. Oh, walls of Jerusalem, let tears fall down upon you like a river. Give yourselves no rest from weeping day and night. Rise in the night and cry to your God. Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord. Lift up your hands to the Lord. Plead for your children as they faint with hunger in the streets.”
Psalms 137 says, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down.” Not by the rivers of Jordan, but by the rivers of Babylon. Babylonia, Iraq, has defeated us and taken us off into slavery. This is the second time we have been taken off into slavery. By the rivers there in that place where we sat down and wept. Our conquerors said to us, “Sing some of your gospel songs. Sing some of your spiritual songs. Sing of your minstrelsy. Sing some of your blues songs. Let us hear your instruments play. Oh, my goodness you folks can really entertain people.”
The Babylonians said, “Come on and entertain us.” We replied, “We can’t do it because we hung our harps on the weeping willow tree.” That’s where many of us are right now. Hanging our harps on the weeping willow tree. We are weeping and if we’re going to endure, we better realize God gives us those tears for a purpose.
When you come to church, you better stop posing. You can go on up on Hollywood Boulevard with your new outfit and somebody say, “Oh you look bad.” You come to church because you are bad, and you are not ready to realize that we are sitting at the rivers of Babylon, and there we hang our instruments on a weeping willow tree. Even God weeps. God weeps over the way you and I disappoint God. God brought us out of Egypt, where we were slaves. God made us the ninth richest economy in the history of the world. $562 billion we spend. We don’t do nothing but spend, spend, spend, spend, spend.
Thirty-nine percent of the haircare products, us. Nineteen percent of the cosmetics, us. Twenty-five percent of the Cadillac sales, us. Twenty-five percent of the movie admission sales, us. $1,802 a year on clothing, and yet we don’t produce none of it. The God who gave it to us, we don’t even praise that God no more. Up here, I sweat my handkerchief wet, sitting here looking. I ain’t no movie star. God says praise the Lord, and if you hear the truth, you ought to raise your hand and say praise the Lord.
It ain’t by no accident that we got 1,200,000 Black men in prison, and the sisters, look at you in the choir. Used to be 50/50 males/females. Look how we fall away. The children’s choir, 60% males, 40% females. Then in the youth choir, 60% females, 40% males. Then in unity choir, 85% females, 15% males. Then at the elder choir, well, in the next choir, 90% even. What’s going on?
By the willow tree, that’s where we are sitting right now. Some of us are going to go up to the eating place after worship and put more money in that cash register than we put in God’s tray. Psalm 36 says, “And yet Lord, and yet Lord, they ate the food from your table.” Some of you here don’t remember, oatmeal ain’t no meal in this meal. Some here don’t remember one bath a week, and that was on Saturday in a tin tub. Some here don’t remember baking soda used for underarm deodorant. Some here don’t remember Vaseline for hair products and making your ashy legs, because you don’t want to go out of here with them black ashy legs. Put some Vaseline on your legs, girl!
Now the most beautiful sisters in the world, and they know it. They know it. If you don’t believe it, just tell them turn around and walk away, and you’ll see what she’s showing you. Beautiful. Beautiful. Look at the parking lot. Beautiful. Do you remember when you had to crank your car. No, you don’t remember that. When you had to crank your car, then run around and jump in it? Do you remember when you had to shift gears? Now you just lean back and do the hog lean, and the car drives itself. Car got more sense than you got.
Jesus, Jesus wept. Jesus wept. My brother is dead. Jesus wept. Don’t you understand, there ain’t no death in God? Don’t you understand, as much as you’ve been with me, that if you and God are a partnership, you will never die. Don’t you understand, that if the husband is missing, if the wife is missing, I’ll help you rear your children? Don’t you understand that if you need to go to college, and you ain’t got a nickel, I will find you a way to go to college? Don’t you understand, it’s better to flip hamburgers than it is to stick a gun in somebody’s face and say, “I just want to get paid”?
You just eat at God’s table and drink at God’s rivers, and all you do is belch. Now we are ant-smashers. What’s an ant-smasher? A consumer. We used to, the brothers would take pride in themselves. Now they walk around looking like they’re pregnant. Seventh grade going to school because they ain’t doing nothing but eating and watching television. No exercise of the mind, the feet, the heart, the head. Everybody’s covering the sidewalk, and the ants holler, “Look out. Here they come.”
Tell God I’m sorry everybody. See, some of us didn’t even see it, so arrogant. I ain’t going to let you know I been sinning. We already know it. Heard it through the grapevine. Everybody, point up and say, “I’m sorry Lord.” A river of tears. Let’s shift gears, and go to a river of joy. That’s the second of two things.
Psalms 46, page 462, “God is our refuge and the strength, trusted help in times of trouble, so we need not fear even if the world blows up and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble. There is a river of joy flowing through the city of our God. The sacred home of the God above all Gods. God himself is living in that city. Therefore, it stands unmoved despite the turmoil everywhere. He will not delay his help. The nations rant and rave in anger, but when God speaks, the earth belts into submission and kingdoms totter in the noise.” A river of joy.
The ancient people, peoples of the world, believed that before God created, God had nothing to work with but chaos. Somebody here knows what God is going through because you ain’t got nothing but mess in your life. If you want to know the truth, we have become professional mess merchants. We can have more mess. It’s ruining our health. It’s ruining our income. It’s ruining our schools. It’s ruining everything because we have too much mess, too much chaos in our life. Please remember Thoreau, the great naturalist. When asked what’s the secret of life, he said one word. Come on and repeat after Pastor: “Simplify.” Simplify. Simplify.
Sister, you don’t need all that crap in your closet. Brothers, how many suits can you wear at a time? You got two cars in the garage and two cars on the parking lot and only three of them ain’t paid for. Simplify. God said, “Let there be…” what? Light! And then let all that water, they believed there was water, a flood everywhere. God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the heavens. Let the waters on the earth be separated from the waters in the heaven, and there was a firmament.” They are saying that God can turn your river of tears into a river joy. All you have to do is submit yourself to God.
God will take care of you. So, there’s a fountain. Like when you come to the altar. If you can only say I’m coming to God. You and God, and you don’t have to say so much. We talk too much. Just let the fountain flowing out of God’s belly flow into your heart. Somebody here’s praying for health. When you come to the altar, say “Lord, please give me my health.” Somebody here is praying for a husband or a wife. Why don’t you say, “Lord please give me out of the fountain of your love, my mate, and we walk together into the sunset?”
Somebody here’s praying for your career. You’re not doing what you like and you wake up hating what you do. Why don’t you say, “Lord help me to find my career”? Most of all, most of us here need to ask God to help us find Jesus. Most of us here need to mean when we say in the name of Jesus, believe that Jesus is a fountain of love.
For his birth in Jerusalem, Jerusalem is surrounded by enemies. Perhaps the Assyrians. The Assyrian leader says, “We’re going to starve them out.” We’re not going to let them have any water. They can’t make it without water. Don’t let any water get into the city. They run everywhere looking for over the earth pipelines, to see if there are any. If they find one, they destroy it. Now they wait three days. The Jerusalem warriors are still fighting. A week. Two weeks. Again, three weeks, the Assyrians pull away and go on back home and leave those people alone.
But if you would go inside the walls, you’d find that they had an underground stream, leading under the ground, into Jerusalem. You and I with everything we believe, are going to stand. Now everybody, stand. Everybody, stand. Everybody, stand. Be not dismayed. Play it Diane. Thank you. Thank you. Come on Saul. Thank you.
Stop covering up. Everybody knows fear, and arrogance ain’t nothing but a coverup for fear. Everybody knows boasting. Boasting ain’t nothing but a coverup for fear. You 40 years old. It’s time you got some sense. You 50 years, 60, 70 years old. It’s time you realize you ain’t God. Out here one of the most fantastic cities on the globe, wake up every morning crying, and here’s Jesus talking to you. Choir could you lead us in singing that, “Be not dismayed. But every tide.” I’m singing.
God will. Beneath his wings of love abide. God will. Now everybody, lower your head. Close your eyes. Dear God, please visit these, your children. Take them out of self-pity. Let them stream, dear Lord, forgive me and know that you were forgiven 2,000 years ago. For our visitors, thank you that they are so patient with us. And for those who have no church home, there’s a call that’s going out to you now. Meet us here at the altar. If you have no church home, come to the Cross.
If you’re praying for someone who’s breaking your heart with trouble, intercessory prayer, come down here to your right, and meet the prayer warriors. Excuse me, neighbor. I spent my last day on earth posing. I know there’s a God. Take me back, dear Lord. Take me back. All right. Full voice. Your affirmation. (Singing). Through every day or all the way. He will.
Now all of God’s male children, raise your right hand. Don’t bend the elbow. Raise it all the way. Father, thank you. That somehow, I’ve dodged bullets, steel bullets, work market bullets, self-hatred bullets, drug bullets, angry, self-anxious, angry bullets, Father take my hand. Let me go fresh from here. Take me back, dear Lord. Lower your hands but not your expectations.
All of God’s female children raise your hand high. Lord, I’ve got health. I’ve been able to educate myself. I have a job. If I had to ask you for one thing that ain’t here, Lord, give me my man. Give me my man and Lord when I say my man, please don’t send me a boy. Lord give me, please, please, please give me a man like these men here today. And above all, Lord, give me Jesus.