“The greatest freedom is freedom from yourself,” Rev. Murray says in this sermon about freedom, relationships with other people and finding passion in life. He emphasizes the importance of treating other people with respect and not trying to be cool. Instead of being cool, he says, you should be warm and passionate about what you want to do with your life.
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.
“Free for Nothing, Good for Something”
February 1, 2004
Everybody, reach up and say, “Taking the high ground! Taking the high ground.”
Now in a loud voice, our theme for the month: free at last! Free at last. Free at last. The greatest freedom. The greatest freedom you’ll ever know. The greatest freedom the world will ever know. The greatest freedom you will ever know is freedom from yourself. Touch your neighbor and tell them, I’m free. When you get free from yourself, when you get free from yourself, then you’re free for your God. You’re free for your dreams. You’re free for that which God has given to you. You’re free for your health and your income. When you get freedom from yourself, then you’re free for God.
Exodus 21. Some of the oldest literature in Hebrew religious literature. Keep your seats as we look at it. Exodus 21. It even talks about the rights of slaves. Somebody say, “Hold on!” Hold on here. What do you mean the rights of slaves? Yes, you’re right. In our world, slaves have no rights. But in God’s world, rights have no slaves. In God’s world, you can never put somebody under your thumb and call them a slave. Since I met Jesus, I am a slave to no man. Since I met Jesus, I am a slave to no thing. Since I met Jesus, I am not a slave even to myself. Since I met Jesus, I’m free. Tell somebody, “I’m free at last!”
Exodus. Exodus 21. Page 66. Our greetings to our radio audience, to our brothers and sisters in lockdown. Beginning at verse one. There are other laws you must obey, if you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve only six years and be freed in the seventh year, and need pay nothing to regain his freedom. If he sold himself as a slave before he married, then if he married afterwards, only he shall be freed. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife shall be free with him at the same time. But if his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they have sons or daughters, the wife and children shall still belong to the master, and he shall go out by himself free. But if the man shall plainly declare, I prefer my master, my wife, and my children, and I would rather not go free, then his master shall bring him before the judges and shall publicly bore his ear with an awl, and after that, he will be a slave forever.
Our key verse there in this very troubling Scripture is verse two: He need pay nothing to regain his freedom. If he has served six years, pay nothing. Our subject, Free for Nothing, Good for Something. Those are the two concerns we have.
The first one, everybody say, “Free for nothing!” Nothing. Free for nothing. You’re free now. You’re free now. You’re free now. You’re free now. But the writer says, remember when you were slaves. Remember when you were servants. So be gentle with your slaves. Be gentle with your servants, because some of y’all are acting like y’all don’t know what it was to be a servant, the way you treat other folks. Some of y’all done gotten so bourgeoisie, you talk about “those folk” down in South Central as if they weren’t your Mammy and your Daddy. Some of y’all done got so free, you’re foolish. Remember when you were slaves. You can always tell something about the character of a person. You go out with them for lunch, they are nice to you, but they are nasty to the waiter. Be careful about somebody who is nasty to the waiter. You work here? Is this all you got?
Is there any salt in that stuff you bringing out here? How much sugar is in it? You have forgotten where you come from.
But look in here now. Do you mean the Word sanctioned slavery? No. The Word of God does not sanction slavery, the Word of God tries to regulate slavery. We get caught up in some foolish things in the world, and God has to kind of regulate it before God can eliminate it. Don’t you let nobody tell you God meant you to be a slave. I don’t care what Senator Thurmond said. I don’t care what the Ku Klux Klan said. God meant you to be free. God does not sanction slavery, but the Word of God here is trying to regulate slavery.
You know how it is, sometimes you find yourself just caught up in mess? Anybody like that right now? Just caught up in some mess. You didn’t cause it, but you try to regulate it. You don’t bless the mess, you try to less the mess so it won’t stress the mess that’s already existing. That’s what you try to do. You go into a bad situation and you try and make it better than the way you found it. God doesn’t cause slavery. God doesn’t bless slavery. Whether you are slavery to another man, or slavery to drugs, or slavery to alcohol, or a slave to your ego, God doesn’t bless it. God doesn’t bless this mess. God just tries to rescue us and make the mess less. Amen.
Take for instance the growth that we have here. And this verse and this chapter. A slave woman cannot be free. Oh, my darlings, my sisters, you are to love God with all your heart, soul and mind, because God has brought women a mighty long way. God has brought women a mighty long way. There was a time in this country when you could not vote, just as slaves could not vote. There was a time … We’ve never had a female president, and we are blessed now with two female senators from this state, but God has been good. At this time, a slave woman could not go free, but then you see how God gradually educates us. Go on to Deuteronomy 15:7, and a slave woman can be free. And then you go on to Leviticus, and no Hebrew can put another Hebrew in slavery. No brother can put another brother in slavery. Maybe you and I need to hear God telling us that. No Negro needs to put another Negro in slavery. We need to stop hurting each other. We need to stop letting that self-hatred make us hate each other. It’s time that we hear the Levitical law. A brother is supposed to love a brother. A brother is not supposed to hurt a brother. You are my brother. You are my sister. I am your friend.
How did this thing get started in the first place? As we talk about free for nothing. Well, you could be born into slavery. Some here have grandfathers, grandmothers who were born into slavery. You can be sold into slavery by your parents. Your mom and dad can’t afford you, they can sell you into slavery. A third way is that you can owe a person a debt. You don’t pay that debt, then you become a slave to that person.
Today, we have pay or prison, and at this time, you pay or you go into enslavement. Now, we look at the thing, how God has blessed you and me. We owed God a debt. You and I, every human being on this planet, owed God a debt, but God did not take us into enslavement. God sends His only Son to set you and me free. God says, “I’m trying to clean up this mess you human beings have on Earth. You owe Me something,” God says. “I made you. I gave you a Garden of Eden and you messed that up. How could you listen to that snake instead of listening to your God?”
Even now, those of us who are struggling with crises in our lives, how can you listen to that snake rather than listening to your God? Your Mama tells you, son, to go on to school this morning, and that snake says, “Come on, let’s walk the streets.” How could you listen to that snake instead of listening to your God? “You messed it up. And then I reconstructed you. I recreated you with Jesus, and you messed that up, and you’re still messing that up. You owe Me something.” And you and I say, “But Lord, Jesus paid it all. We don’t owe anything. The debt has been paid.” God says, “Yes, Jesus paid it all, but you still owe me something.” Everybody point up and say, “I owe you, Lord!”
You and I got to pay God some debts. Free for nothing. This man is in a prayer meeting. Glory be to our prayer warriors! And, he’s saying, “Oh Lord, please lay Your finger,” and he calls the name of the man that he’s praying for. “Please lay Your finger on him.” And he stops praying. Well, now the prayer group says, “Why did you stop praying?” He says, “Because the voice of God spoke to me. You’re asking me to touch him with the finger of God, and you are the finger of God.” Now I’ve got to get up, and go out, and touch my brother.
Free for nothing. Everybody say, “Good for something!” Is it too harsh to say that you and I, if we are not careful, are raising a generation that’s good for nothing? Good for nothing, but consuming, eating, wearing, tennis shoes, funny-looking something in their hair, got a robe, pierced everywhere. The nose pierced, the lips pierced, the rings everywhere… What is that good for? It’s all right if you’ve got your college degree and you’re walking out here with your hip walk. That’s cool, because you’re about something. It’s all right if you’ve gone from $20,000 to $30,000 a year helping your family grow up. It’s all right for you to be cool. But if you’re just cool and cool and cool, you’re a cool fool. You ain’t good for nothing!
Like you coming to church. You don’t give no money, you don’t give no praise, you’re just sitting out there being cool. You can walk down Western Avenue and people will see you. You don’t have to be seen anymore. Everybody is seen. The trick ain’t to be cool, the trick is to be warm, to be hot about something. What are you living for? What are you good for in life? What are you put here for? Good for something. After six years, if you didn’t pay the debt, after six years, you are to be free to go out, and there is no cost involved. You are free for nothing, but you are good for something, because in life, there is no such thing as no responsibility. Those who are looking for retirement to do nothing, get ready to go to Heaven. There is no such thing as good for nothing. God made you and me to be good for something. There is no such thing as a permanent Honolulu. Go on over there and spend a couple of thousand dollars, but come on back home and be prepared for the mess you’re going to find back here. God didn’t make us to do nothing.
I went to the copier in the office Friday and put in something to be copied, then hit the button. Nothing. I put in the key code again. Boom, hit it. Still, nothing. I said, “Lord, have mercy!” Put in the code word again. Hit it. Nothing! Then I started acting street and all, then I looked down and read, I looked down and read, put paper in, fool. You’ve got to put something in.
Every relationship is at least two people. I’m giving to you, and I’m giving to you. You’ve got to put something in. You can’t just go around pimping God. You can’t go around pimping life. You’ve got to bring something to the table, unless you think you’re so great your very presence honors God. “God, you should be lucky that I love you.” Well, yeah, but there’s a price to pay for love.
Take this slave, his six years are up, and the slave is free to go. Now, if that slave has a wife and children, that slave has a decision to make. I can walk away, or I can stay in slavery with my children. You’re not free for nothing, you’re free for something. God didn’t make you good for nothing, God made you good for something. You’ve got to make a decision in life.
A lot of brothers now are walking away from their responsibilities and leaving them all alone. These Mama-raised boys are going straight to hell, because they need something to wrap them in a man’s love, and to wrap them in … And they are going out … It would be something different if they were walking out of slavery leaving their family, but they’re walking out of slavery enslaved to something else. That something else that’s destroying your health, the health of your community, the health of your people. God has set you free, and if God has given you health, you ought to say, “Praise the Lord!” Everybody here who has health, say, “Praise the Lord!” If God has given you some income, you ought to say praise the Lord. If God has given you a career, you ought to say, praise the Lord. If God has given you a good husband or a good wife, you ought to say, praise the Lord. If you’re waiting, if you’re waiting for God to give you a good husband or a good wife, you ought to say, praise the Lord!
Good for something. Most of them come back and say, “Master, I don’t want to leave my wife and my children. I am your slave.” Then they take his ear, put it up against the door post, take a nail, and drive a hole in it. That’s the mark that, I am a slave forever, and ever, and ever to my master. But praise be to God, that day is over. Now we don’t have pierced ears, except for earrings, and some of us have pierced noses and nose rings, and some of us have pierced for tongue rings. That’s all right. That’s all right. As long as the brain is not pierced. Too many of us have pierced dreams. Too many of us have pierced hopes. Too many of us have pierced expectations. Too many of us have pierced habits. Too many of us have pierced images. We don’t understand. We the oldest people on earth, we don’t understand that the DNA proves that everybody comes from us, and us ought to stop hating us. Us ought to stop hitting us. Too many of us have pierced images. Too many of us think that black is ugly. Too many of us think that nappy is ugly. Too many of us think that high cheek bones are ugly. Too many of us think that our butt is ugly. Too many of us, too many of us have pierced dreams. Pierced dreams.
We’ve forgotten the pierced hands, the pierced feet of Jesus. Dying for me. Oh, isn’t it wonderful? How can it be? And when I look at those pierced hands, my pierced dreams disappear. My pierced hopes disappear. My pierced courage disappears, when I look at the pierced hands of Jesus dying for me.
I remember that slave girl on the auction block. A mulatto slave girl. Tall, slender, exotically beautiful. And two men out in the group bidding for her. One was a course, rude, crude man. But there’s a gentleman, if you can be a gentleman and still try to own slaves. The two of them, every time the gentleman bids, the thug raises it higher and higher, and finally, the bidding ends. The gentleman wins the slave. The auctioneer pushes her over to his arms. She looks at him with raw hatred. If you don’t hate slavery, you don’t know God. She pierces him with a look of hatred. Then the look turns to one of astonishment. Then, unbelievability. He’s tearing up the papers, the slave papers, and looking to her, he says, I bought you to set you free. Trembling, weeping, she falls on her knees at his feet and says, “Master, I will love you and I will serve you always.” Well, that was two centuries ago, and the auction block, thanks be to God, is gone, but there is another one who paid the price, who bought you and me to set you and me free. Someone who loved us enough to tear up the papers.
I was sinking deep in sin.
Speaker 2: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes!
The papers said I should die.
Speaker 2: Yes. Yes!
God tore up the papers.
Speaker 2: Yes!
Speaker 2: Yes!
I will love you!
Speaker 2: Yes!
I will serve you!
Speaker 2: Yes!
Speaker 2: Yes!
Speaker 2: Yes!
Thank you! Thank you, Lord! I am free at last.