Pastor Murray in this sermon talks about “bubble Christians,” who think that their way is the only way and do not have an open mind. “You ain’t been baptized; you just had a bubble bath,” he says. He tells his audience that when someone knocks on your door, let them in, even if they are different from you.
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.
“I Hear You Knocking, But You Can’t Come In”
August 21, 1994
Help is on the way! Help! The word “hosanna” means “help.” Everybody say, “Hosanna!”
Everybody say, “Help is on the way!”
Congregation: Help is on the way!
Turn to your neighbor on your right and tell them, “My help comes from the Lord!”
Congregation: My help comes from the Lord!
Neighbor, turn right back to them and say, “The Lord has sent me to help you.”
Congregation: The Lord has sent me to help you!
That’s the only way it happens. That’s the only way it happens.
Our third Sunday on the series, a prisoner of love. How do you know when you’re a prisoner of love? You know because somebody’s always knocking at your door. Somebody’s knocking at your door.
If it’s Jesus, you usually open up and let Him in. If there’s somebody that’s in your church, in your circle, in your crowd. But suppose it knocks like Jesus, but it isn’t Jesus. Suppose it’s somebody who doesn’t look so good or smell so good. Suppose it’s somebody who doesn’t even believe in Jesus.
A prisoner of love. It doesn’t matter whether the person has the same language that you have. It doesn’t matter that the person has or doesn’t have the same cheekbones as you have. It’s still Jesus knocking at your door. And keep in mind the latch is on the other side. Love is always an inside job. You don’t prove you love somebody by giving them a car. You’ve just given them a car, you haven’t necessarily given them love. You don’t prove you love somebody by giving them a college education. You’ve just given them a college education. You could be doing it out of duty. And I don’t want nobody loving me out of duty. I want you to love me because you love me. Love is an inside job.
Folks are always trying to put other folks on the outside. Us four and no more. I love my family, but nobody else. I love my house, but not my neighbor’s house. I love my race, but nobody else’s race. I love my color, but nobody else’s color. People are always trying to put you on the outside, and love is an inside job.
This very moment, you don’t know what your seat-mate could have heard the doctor say to him or her. “You’ve got a little tumor there. I don’t understand what it’s about, but we’re going to check you out.” Somebody’s looking to you to help them take away their fear. Somebody may have a divorce that’s pending and know that the marriage is not going to hold up. Somebody may be enlisted in school and they’re falling behind and they don’t seem to be able to catch up. Somebody’s been told by the landlord, “Get my money or get out of my face!”
Everybody here say, “I know who I am!”
Congregation: I know who I am!
I’m a child of God!
Congregation: I’m a child of God!
Then if you know who you are, you ain’t putting nobody down.
We continue in our readings in Acts. Today, Acts 22. We’re going to begin reading at verse 21: “But God said to me, ‘Paul, leave Jerusalem. For I will send you far away.'”
Uh-oh, here comes that word! “I will send you far away to the Gentiles. The crowd listened when Paul came to that word, Gentiles. Then with one voice they shouted, ‘Away with such a fellow! Kill him! He isn’t fit to live!’ They yelled and threw their coats in the air and tossed up handfuls of dust.”
As we contemplate people who put other people on the outside because they’re different. We’re going to talk on the subject, I hear you knocking but you can’t come in.
Paul is in trouble. Again. Paul stays in trouble, doesn’t he? I want to tell you, children: God can get you in more trouble in five minutes then you can extricate yourself from in five years. ‘Cause God keeps you taking a stand for what’s right. If you going to stand for what’s right, you going to get in trouble. If you don’t want to be in any trouble, just go along with the crowd. What’s everybody doing? What’s everybody thinking? What’s everybody drinking? What’s everybody wearing? What’s everybody dancing to? You won’t get in to any trouble, but the minute you give yourself to God, God’s going to get you in some trouble.
This time Paul is in Jerusalem, the capital city. And there’s a red alert in the Roman fortress. Somebody has started a riot. But the fortress sits in back of the temple, up two flights of steep stairs. The alarm goes off, and the [bugle] sounds, and the Roman soldiers come running down.
Captain Claudius says, “Line up in twos. There’s a citizen out there and they’re molesting that citizen. They are stoning that citizen. They are killing that citizen. Surround them, boys!”
And they get a circle around them. But the crowd is still trying to get to Paul. So, they lift Paul up high. They are trained soldiers. They lift him up and out of harm’s reach and then they begin to move toward those stairs at the top of the garrison.
Look at Paul’s feet in the air! And you say, “My Lord! Lord, if that’s what it means to serve You, I got to do some thinking here.”
But then 500 years before Paul was born, a writer says of Paul and his feet in the air: “He will not suffer your feet to be moved. He who keeps you will not slumber.”
God isn’t asleep! The fact that you up there in the air means God put you up there in the air. And if God puts you in the air, God’ll take care of you! He will not suffer your foot to be moved. He that keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will not slumber nor sleep!
And you ask, “Who is this keeper?” The Lord is my keeper! The Lord is my shade on my right hand. The sun will not smite me by day nor the moon by night. The Lord is my keeper. The Lord is my keeper. And if you believe it, come on and say, “Yeeaahhh!”
They get to the top stair, and either in Greek or in Roman, Latin, Paul says to Captain Claudius, “Sir, may I address the crowd?” And the captain says, “Go ahead. ‘Cause if you can do something to quiet this crowd, you may be saving my job!”
Because the Roman Empire doesn’t allow two things: failure to pay taxes and civil unrest. “If I start something here, or if this province goes up, they’re going to bring me back home. They’re going to defrock me or behead me. You go ahead, boy, and talk to that crowd.”
Paul speaks to them in Aramaic, which is a form of Hebrew. Paul is trying to build some common ground, and the soldiers and the captain are amazed. They didn’t know that he could speak the language of these people who are trying to kill him. They don’t understand what’s going on, but they notice that the crowd gets quiet when Paul starts speaking in their own language. Then Paul identifies with them: “I’m a homeboy.”
Congregation: All right! All right!
“You my homies.” You know how it is when you meet somebody from Mississippi. Alabama. Texas. That puts you on the same ground. And if you come from a certain generation, when you had to go around to the back door, you got double ground. I’m from Georgia, by God!
“I’m a homeboy. I’m one of you! I went to school and I studied at the feet of one of the greatest teachers in the world.”
They said, “Gamaliel?”
“Yes! I’m a student of Gamaliel. And not only am I one of you, I am of the party of the Pharisees. I am a Pharisee of Pharisees. And do you know, I know what you’re about. Trying to wipe out this movement that was started by this carpenter named Jesus. This one who believes that God has come in the form of the Messiah, Jesus. And if you believe in this Jesus, you will be saved. And you know the name of this movement is the Way. I want to tell you, I once persecuted the Way. It wasn’t far from here that you stoned Stephen, who was one of those followers of the Way. I stood there. I stood there and I held your coats while you stoned him. Then I was going to Damascus. I was going to bring those who follow the way back to Jerusalem so we could put them in jail.”
“These same soldiers would have been putting them in jail, but then I met Jesus. Outside of Damascus, I saw a light. And when I saw that light, I heard a voice saying, ‘Paul. Paul I’ve got something for you to do. Leave Jerusalem, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’”
And when Paul uses that word “Gentiles,” the world seems to fall in on him. Everything seems to go wrong. They start screaming at him. They yell, “Kill him!” Paul has burst their bubble.
You know how it is when you think you got it all together and somebody tells you, “You ain’t so bad. Honey why’d you put that on?” Just completely bust your bubble. Brother’s there showing off the chest hairs on his chest, and somebody say, “Why don’t you button up your shirt, showing them gray hairs?” How you think you got it going on, and somebody tell you your hem is broken and your stockings got a run in them. Paul burst their bubble.
You may have remembered the bubble boy. Three years old. Houston, Texas. The bubble boy. Just about the size of young Reverend Doctor here. Our preacher to be, our bishop to be, one of our saviors to be. And the bubble boy was born without an immune system. Has absolutely no defense against disease. So, he has to spend his life in a plastic bubble. The air is filtered. The food is sanitized. They can only handle the bubble boy by means of gloves that are built in to the side of the plastic bubble. Perhaps even to this day, I don’t know the outcome of the story, he’s still living inside of that bubble.
Well there are a whole lot of people who have a bubble religion. They go and nothing can get in and they won’t let anything get out. They’ve joined the church, but they don’t want nobody else to join the church. They change their clothes, but they don’t want the church to change its ways. They speak in tongues, but they make everybody else speak in tongues or else they say, “You ain’t got no religion at all.” They pray ten minutes and if a person prays two minutes they say, “You don’t have any religion at all.” They say theirs is the only way to do. You worship on this day or you’re wrong. You wear this to church or you’re wrong. You fix your face to look holy in church or you’re wrong. You clap your hands in church and you’re wrong. You don’t give this amount of money and you’re wrong. Bubble Christians.A lot of people are doing cocoon living. I have the hardest problem with my premaritals. Convincing them, when you come to a relationship, you don’t bring yourself. When you come to a relationship, you bring yourself that’s willing to compromise with another self. You can’t say, “That’s just the way I am.” If that’s the way you are, then you need to stay a bachelor! You need to stay a bachelorette. But if you coming together… cocoon living.
I’ve got it down to a science, and nothing can get in and nothing can get out. I know about Jesus, there ain’t nothing [else] I need to know. Bible study ought to be filled this September. Every one of us here ought to be coming to Bible study and learning about the Lord our God. Every Sabbath day you come to worship, you ought to be bringing a new person. Learning a new thing. And if somebody loves you enough to give you a helpful criticism, you ought not get defensive, but say, “Thank you, Lord, for helping me to become a better person!”
Some people are so holy, they wouldn’t even let Jesus in church. Do you know a good 30 or 40 percent of churches in America, Jesus couldn’t even take Holy Communion? His body, his blood, they wouldn’t let Jesus take Holy Communion. Some of them folks Jesus hang out with, He better not bring them in to some of our churches. Never understand why people who raise hell when they were in their 20s and 30s, get so holy when they’re in their 60s and 70s.
When you know the Lord, you can hear somebody knocking at your door. And you don’t peep through the hole to ask, “Are you in the A.M.E.? Do you believe in the Holy Trinity? Do you believe in worshiping on Sunday or on Saturday?”
When you peep through the hole all you want to know is, “You ain’t got no gun on you have you?”
Then you need some bread, I got some bread. You need some jam, I got some jam. You need somebody to love you. Here am I, send me! But most of us, though: I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in! Come back tomorrow night and try again. Bubble religion, Christians.
You ain’t been baptized, you just had a bubble bath.
You ain’t drinking of the wine of love, you just blowing bubbles. You drinking bubbly. Getting drunk off champagne. Ain’t got nothing to do with the Lord. You just blowing bubbles. When you on an usher board, when you in a choir, when you in the pulpit, when you an acolyte, when you a stewardess, and here you are working in the house of the Lord and you can’t give up your seat for somebody to take a seat, when you can’t give up your hand for somebody to say a hand. When you can’t say, “I’m glad to be alive this morning.” You just blowing bubbles.
Paul is all right, ‘til he mentions that word: Gentiles. And we don’t want to put the Jews down, ’cause Jesus was a Jew. Paul was a Jew. All except for a couple of the earliest disciples were Jews. But they just show us in scripture, you got to be careful about thinking you know everything. You don’t know the mind of God. You don’t know the mind of Paul. All you know is the heart of God. And the heart of God is love. And God says at the midnight hour, I can hear you knocking. In the intensive care unit, I can hear you knocking. When they wash you out of college, I can hear you knocking. When your life is in disarray, I can hear you knocking. When you got an addiction, I can hear you knocking. I hear you knocking, and you can come in.
Gentiles knocking at the door of established religion. Gentiles mean non-Jews. Pagans who don’t worship God by circumcision and by the law and by the Sabbath. Gentiles. Paul mentions that word. And they disliked Gentiles so much, they don’t even allow them within the doors of the temple.
There were several religions like that in America. Didn’t allow Black folks in the doors of the temple. How do you call yourself a house of God and don’t let certain people come through the door? Don’t you hear the Lord say, “Come unto me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”?
Rest, not arrest. I will give you rest. They disliked the Gentiles so much or they loved themselves so much that if you came into the temple they would kill you. So here is Paul. Paul will accept those Gentiles if they get circumcised. Will accept those Gentiles if they’ll obey the law and keep the Sabbath. But if they don’t, we’re screaming for you, “Kill him! Kill him!” Even in the [political] climate today, they start screaming when they get angry. They take off their coats and they wave them in the air. They take dust and they throw it up in the air.
It’s my way or no way. Don’t let your preacher ever become a “my way or no way” preacher. Don’t you never say, “This is Reverend Murray’s church. Don’t you let Reverend Murray trip.” If we sitting in a room, we decide together. Then we pray together. We ask God to bless it together. Then we go out together. On my 65th birthday, don’t you let me tell you, my generation was better than your generation. My generation is the reason your generation is so crazy. Ain’t none of us got the [bragging rights].
The certain buzz words that we human beings have. In America, they’re racial. Buzz words. You say Black, you say colored, you say Negro, African-American, you automatically make some people mad. You say Jew, you make some people mad. You say women’s rights, and you make some chauvinist mad. I don’t see how in the name of hell any man can pretend he’s better than a woman. Women got more sense than men. If they willing to go along, the least you can do is act like you got some sense.
A man catches up by the age of 40 with the help of the significant women in his life, his mama, his girlfriend, his sister, and his wife. How are we going around here talking about, “I’m the man of my house”? That woman is hitting the freeway at seven o’clock in the morning, just like you.
This thing of getting physical. They get physical with Paul. ‘Cause he’s the outsider. Getting physical. Brothers, we’ve talked about it, you and I. Nobody loves the 3,500 men of this church like we love each other. But brother, I don’t care what kind of relationship you in, whether it’s your shop job or your wife, you don’t put your hand on no woman. You don’t beat no woman.You got any class, you don’t even think that way. She make you mad, go on around the corner and cool out a little bit. Sisters, I done told you, when you see his ears turning red and his cheekbones rising and he said, “Let me out, get your butt from in front of that door. Talking ’bout you ain’t going to get out. Get out the way.”
Congregation: All right, Pastor!
We too quick to move on buzz words. Y’all should have come up in my generation, where we played the dozens. It was a good way to teach you how to control yourself. Somebody talk about your mama, you can’t do nothing but talk about their mama. You don’t get physical with somebody talking about the mama. Because if your mama so bad, she can’t afford to be talked about, she needs to be talked about. You know who your mama is, why you got to go to war defending your mama. And your mama, if she had your way with her way, wouldn’t have had your butt no way. You gotta learn.
They going to beat Paul ’cause Paul is talking about some way other than their way. Then Captain Claudius going to get to the truth. He hasn’t heard a word they said, hadn’t understood it, but he’s going to find out what the truth is. The way to find out what the truth is in police tactics is to beat the truth out of somebody. So, he grabs Paul and he’s going to beat Paul or use a whip with scored bones in it. Many die from the whipping. Many lose their sanity from the whipping. They strip off Paul’s clothing, lie him up against the rack, hump his back up with the whip. That’s when God steps in: He will not suffer your foot to be moved! Paul says, “Do you know who I am? I’m a Roman citizen. I haven’t had a trial, and Roman citizens are not beaten at the stake. If the Emperor hears about this, it’s your head.”
You know you can appeal to somebody, some people through their head. Other people you have to appeal through that other portion of their [anatomy]. Some people don’t respect God when God says, I give you grace. But when God says, I give you judgment, then they get together.
The Roman captain says, “Oh, my Lord! I don’t want to die. Take him. Take him on to the city of Cesaria. Take him on to Cesaria. Take him to Cesaria and let the supreme court decide, the Sanhedrin, try him.”
Now, you look down that road. There’s Paul and those soldiers and that road. There those protagonists and those antagonists who have put him on that road. That’s where you and I come in here. You got to decide about that road. You got to decide whether you going to put anybody on that road. You got to decide whether you’re going to love anybody while you got them right there. You got to decide whether you going to get on that road and run away from their problems. It’s that road that causes us to decide.
While you’re making up your mind, I want to tell you about King Charles. King Charles was determined to make everybody in his kingdom worship just like him. Thousands of people died rather than change their religion. Soon King Charles gets discouraged. Gets totally discouraged. He abdicates the throne and goes to live in a monastery in 1556. In that religious monastery he takes up a hobby, trying to get a dozen clocks to keep the same time. The same second, the same split second. He fails. Finally, wisdom comes to him. He says, “I’m foolish. I’ve been trying to get millions of people to worship and have religion in the same way, when I can’t even get two clocks to agree on the same time.”
It reminds you of that preacher who’s coming to his church. First day, can’t find it. Little boy in the neighborhood points out the church to him. “Son?” “Yes, Pastor?” “Son, I wish you would come to church. The church may help you find the way to heaven.” “I don’t think so Reverend. How can you help me find my way to heaven when you can’t even find your way to the church?”
Let’s stand on our feet! Let’s give another hand of praise for God’s messenger and God’s message!