Pastor Murray encourages the members of his congregation to surround themselves with people and to not be so insular. He argues that having people around you teaches you how to give and how to have responsibility for life in community.
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.
“Don’t Let Recognition Wreck You”
July 5, 1992
Nooners, you’re never too small for God to see you. You’re never too lost for God to find you. Never too sick for God to heal you. Never too little for God to use you.
You can be too big for God to use you. Sometimes, we forget that God is bigger than we are. God is bigger than anybody hurting us, anything hurting us. I guess we’re just saying that if you feel a little lonely and a little hurt this morning, God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. He makes the rose an object of his care. He guides the eagle through the pathless air. And surely He remembers me, my heavenly Father watches over me.
And what’s my part? What do I do? Well, it isn’t what you do, because you can’t earn the love of God. It’s what you are. I trust in God. Wherever I may be, up on the land, on the rolling sea. The billows roll. He keeps my soul. My heavenly Father. Some of you here are orphans from the world. I know you. Some of you at an early stage were taken from the nest and put in a home for what they call foundlings. Many here are without father. Our family’s been so terribly disturbed. Many here are without income. Oh, you’d be surprised, if you reach into the pocketbook of your neighbor, sometimes how little your neighbor has. But reach into your neighbor’s heart, maybe you’ll be a little surprised.
He makes the rose an object of his care. Then the rose doesn’t have to worry about the rose so much. I don’t have to worry about preserving myself if my heavenly Father is preserving me. I know they say that self-preservation is the first law of nature. But Paul would tell you, self-preservation is the worst law of nature. Self-preservation is the first law of inhuman nature. If I have bread, I don’t have to look out for myself. You hungry? Here. You just gave them your last. Ain’t no such thing as last when you hang around with God. Here comes God with a whole truckload of bread! My heavenly Father. You just gave that man your last five dollars. Don’t you know he’s going to buy some drugs? I suspect he could. I don’t know. But it ain’t mine to say what he does with it. It’s mine to give it to him. Then what you going to do, because you broke now? He makes the rose an object of His care.
And surely, He remembers me. My heavenly father watches over me. In a letter to the church at Philippi, church at mid-central Los Angeles, Philippians 2, verse 3, Paul says don’t be selfish. Nooners, don’t be selfish. Don’t live your lives trying to make good impressions upon other people. So, our sermon subject will be: Don’t let recognition wreck you. Don’t let recognition wreck you.
John Donne, Scottish poet, says no man is an island. Remember that? There’s no such thing as a self-made man. Don’t ever insult God by singing, “I did it my way.” I did it God’s way! Don’t go around woofing about how you pull yourself up from your own bootstraps. You raggedy-butt rascal, you didn’t even had no bootstraps! All you had was a big flat foot, and God put some shoes on your feet. God put some bread on your table. God opened up the world of enterprise for you. God saved you a job so you wouldn’t starve. God sent you children. God gave you a home. No such thing as a self-made man.
If you make yourself, you are your own creator, and oh Lord, we can sure love the creator, can’t we? Love the creator better than anything in the world.
No man is an island. Let’s take the sexist language out of John Donne and say no one is an island. No one stands alone. Each one’s joy is joy to me. Each one’s grief is my own. We need one another. So, I will defend each one as my family, each one as my friend. And you know there’s no such thing as a family of one, is there? There’s no such thing as a nation of one, a society of one, a church of one, a club of one.
The only thing you can do by yourself is play solitaire. And people who play solitaire are so sad! Usually got nicotine on their fingers because they chain-smoke. And their jaws tell you everything. It’s that mouth that’s pulled down with negativism. Why the hell don’t you go someplace and get you three other people and play some bridge or some tunk? Anything. But playing solitaire, you can’t live your life alone.
I’m kind of picky. I’m kind of finicky, and I can’t find nobody like me. Find God! Find God. I’d just rather be alone. That’s the easy way to find you an island out here and go out here. And every time you move, your whole family’s moving. The hard way, the human way is what you do with that island and on that island.
God says I’m not alone. I’m in three persons: Father-Creator, Son in Reality, Holy Spirit ever present. And God says it is not good for the man to be alone. God creates everything, as we say. He wants it so good. God creates a garden, and God puts a man into the garden. And even though everything is so perfect, God says it’s not good for the man to be alone. God has put the man in charge of the garden, and now God makes woman. And man ain’t been in charge of nothing since then!
Then God looks upon Adam and Eve. Man and woman, it is not good for the man and woman to be alone. Oh, if you don’t have children somewhere around you, send to New York and get your nephew, get your niece, they’ll keep you from growing old, or they’ll make you grow old in another way, but in the ways that count. They’ll keep you from growing old. If you ain’t got nothing but old folks like you around you, go somewhere and get some young folks. Even if you 40 years old, hang around with some 20-year-olds, hang around. It is not good for the man and the woman to be alone.
So, He sends along some children, Cain and Able, and they get to fighting, and one of them murders the other. On the evening news, people said, what we going to do? Now one is dead, and the one who is alive is destroyed with guilt. I hurt my own family! I hurt my own brother! And everybody was looking at him saying, you nobody. You’ve killed somebody! We are not going to speak to you. You an outcast, and God said it is not good for Cain to be alone. I put my mark of love upon him. Cain, you’ve made a mistake, but you don’t have to be alone. I love you, and if I love you, others can love you. And I’m already getting ready for the Redeemer for you, because not only are you going to do bad, but your children and your children’s children and your children’s children’s children. And in the due course of time, God sends Jesus into the world.
And Jesus says no never alone. I promised never to leave you, never to leave you alone. So, when you get despondent, as we have three people during the past week, I’m going to take my life, no child, wait, wait, wait, before you even talk about it. Come on with me. Come on, I got a place for us to go. And we come out and we kneel there. You see the kneeling place? Have a little talk with Jesus. Tell him all about your troubles. He’ll hear your famous cry, and he’ll answer by and by. Don’t move ’til you feel a little fire burning. Then you’ll know a little prayer-wheel’s turning. Just have a little talk with Jesus. Makes it right.
And then we get up and we call the counselor of the church. Prayer alone has many forms. Stay with him. Pastor, we’ll walk with him. We’ll walk with her until we can walk with each other. It is not good to be alone. Jesus sends us out to each other. Remember, when he sends out the 70? Not one by one, but two by two. Two by two. You know why you need a walking partner? You know why you need, if you don’t have but one child in your family, you need to find that child a best buddy. You need to go next door and, same as Mary, can I borrow your child? I want the two of them to go to the show together. Two by two, because it teaches you how to give, teaches you responsibility. You even have to learn how to walk, because the dominant wants to walk out front and the sub-dominant behind.
A lot of brothers are like that. See a brother walking down the street with a sister, he about a half step in front of her. And she got to walk behind him. Brother, what you proving? Why the hell don’t you slow down and let that woman walk with you? You ain’t no 1.5-by-half, you’re two by two, one leading one and walking with one and caring with one. We always got to class ourselves. Now the two of us here, but let’s get it straight from the get-go who’s the baddest stud around here. Women don’t like each other at all, because they haven’t come into the 21st century yet to learn you don’t have to be so competitive. Men have pressed women down for thousands of years, so women have gotten competitive. And they’re so busy jumping on each other, they can’t jump on the men who suppressed them all. Women have to learn the same thing that Blacks have to learn. Walk together, children! Don’t you get weary.
Brother out there with three women, and all he has to do is keep them fighting each other. Then he’s really in trouble when they team up on him. Look like a toothpick the next time you see him. Two by two. We got to learn how to walk with each other, and even God says take Me with you!
I saw a bumper sticker: “God is my co-pilot.” I looked at the car. That car had every scar in the world on it. One of them cars when you park it, somebody walk up, say, “Anybody hurt?” One of them cars that always looks like it’s leaning on the everlasting arms. You’re going down the street and you’re steering left, got all the left torque in the world on it, and the car’s still sliding to the right. Going down the street like a crab. God is my co-pilot. Thought to myself, home, you better let God be the pilot! You better let God get in the left seat, because the way you going, you’re going to kill Him!
Two by two. No one is an island. Roy Cook doesn’t agree with Paul and John Donne and most of us here. Roy Cook says everybody is an island. Every man, every woman, every girl, every boy, everyone is an island. He says wait, now wait. Don’t jump on me, don’t jump on me. Everyone is an island, but there is no end to the number of bridges we can build. Ain’t that something? I’m independent or I’m independent, right. It must eat bread but not of the same loaf. I take my independence, and I use it to love you. I take my independence, and I use it to love you. I’m alright being utterly independent, as long as I’m staying on top of the mountain, but the minute I come down to the valley and I meet somebody else, then I enmesh my independence into interdependence. We are co-equal sharing together.
You know the classic instance of the man who goes around swinging his fist? It’s my right. It’s my right, literally my right. Finally hits a man in the nose, and that man cold-cocks him. Walks away telling him your rights end where my nose begins.
Co-dependent, building bridges to other islands. Church cat is a good example of people who don’t build bridges. He’s out on the parking lot. You’ll see him when we leave. Church cat is a cool cat. Church cat looks at you as if you something under a microscope. Church cat got cool, green eyes. Church cat just look at you, if to say what planet you come from? Then when church cat gets tired of studying you, church cat turn and walk away, and invite you to watch the south point of this northbound cat.
Cool cat, but then when church cat becomes hungry cat, church cat humps his back and talk like a woman. “How you doing this morning, everybody?” Rubs around your legs and wraps himself around your legs. Church cat is now hungry cat. You tempted to say scat, cat! But church cat is a hip cat. Church cat knows if I hang around long enough, somebody going to feed me.
And I thank God that we’re like that! Jesus says feed your enemy. Don’t worry about hip cats and cool cats and jive cats. You feed church cat, and then when church cat is a full cat, church cat walks away. Cool cat wants more. And stubborn animal, I’ll be back when I get hungry again. You know any people like that? The brothers get a lot of we be’s. We be’s. Yeah, momma, we be living in your apartment. We be driving your car. We be eating your food. We be spending your money. But they got a whole lot of female we be’s, too! Just use the man. Use the man. This is my money-man here, and don’t care nothing about him. Never tell the man I love you, just tell the man I need you. Church cat, cool cat, fat cat, scat cat, says Jesus!
Church cat say well how about some of them church cats in my church? What about some of them church cats in our denominations? We have 200 Protestant denominations in America, and every one of them thinks they better than the other one. Here God’s folk now fighting in the house of the Lord, 200 denominations, and some of them, each one, has separate groups. Among the Baptists, there are 20 Baptist groups, and some are obsessed with being Baptist, just like some Methodists are being obsessed with being Methodist. This person goes into the bank with a $100 bill, can I get some change please? Oh, yes, yes. What denomination? What denomination? Methodist. Obsessed with our differences. Obsessed with how great we are.
And church cat says what about coming into my own little house here? Do we have any discord? Oh, no, church cat! We don’t have any discord. If a person doesn’t have on fancy clothing, nobody looks at him twice. If a person doesn’t smell like Chanel Number Five, but smelling like Chanel Number 12, straight from Skid Row, it don’t matter. It don’t matter at all. If they don’t have any money to give when the tray passes around, nobody checks them at the tail-end of their aisle. Church cat, you got to go to another cat to find disharmony, because you will find in the church people who love God, love God. And when you love God, you got to love each other, haven’t you? When you love God, you can’t vaunt yourself too highly, can you? When you love God, you just have to love all of God’s creation. And you and I sit then in perfect harmony, and we sing of God, what am I living for if not for You? What am I living for if not for You? You’ll be the only one, my whole life through. Oh, nobody else, nobody else will do.
And you know what God says? He said, man that is bad. You’ve been listening to Ray Charles, haven’t you? I really like that little tribute. Want you to do a favor, because I know you love me. I want you to turn around and say that to Earl, because you and Earl ain’t been getting together. Lord, I don’t like Earl! I don’t like Doug or Hector. I know that, but what’s that got to do with it? Sing it to him anyway. I don’t feel like I like him. You don’t have to like somebody to love them. You don’t have to like somebody to love him. You don’t even have to feel goody-goody, mushy-mushy about somebody to love them. Love is an act of the will. I will the best for you, Earl. I will the best for you, Doug. I will the best for you, Hector.
Think Jesus is here? I feel good about all these nails in my hands. You think he’s getting some thrill out of folks passing by and laughing at him? That same guy, didn’t I feed you at the 5,000? Did I heal you of cancer? Didn’t I give you a house? And now you laughing at me. But nevertheless, what am I living for if not for you? What am I living for if not for you? You’ll be the only one my whole life through. Oh, nobody else, nobody else will do. And when you get to that point, you know you’re grown. Ain’t worrying about my money. Shoot, God got enough money to buy you out! I ain’t worried about no house. I ain’t worried about a piece of steak. The cattle on a thousand hills of God. I’m just worried about my mission. What am I about in life? Mission or me? Which one you going to choose, nooners? Mission or me? Which one, nooners? What are you living for?
Be the only one my whole life through. Oh, nobody else, nobody else will do. Come on and stand up. Come on and stand up. Lift your hand. Thank you, Jesus! You put five fingers on this hand. I don’t need but one of them for me. I can use the other four for somebody else. Lift up both of your arms, nooners. Hey Lord, you gave us two of them. I don’t need but one for myself. I can use one for somebody else. And I know I don’t have to worry about me, my stomach. You make the rose an object of your care. You guide the eagle through the pathless air. Then you’ll say I’ll take care of your child. Choose whether you’re going to have mission or me. Oh, nobody else, nobody else will do. Amen.