“There’s this grave-marker in the cemetery. It says, ‘She died of want of things,’ and right next door another grave-marker that says, “He died trying to give them to her.” Pastor Murray urges us to not complain and to be grateful, or our negativity will kill us. “No matter what part of the chicken you eat, you’re still gonna be hungry tomorrow,” he says to convince his congregation to share and not be selfish.
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 Get the Neck of the Chicken”
June 28, 1992
You’re willing to give God a good report card? Early birds, you got any problems this morning? Take your elbow and punch your neighbor in the ribs and say, “Hey, Homes, you got any problems? Got any problems, Homes, Homes, Homes? Got any problems?” Your neighbor probably said to you, “How much time have you got?”
Male: Oh, yeah!
Yeah, got a lot of problems, but I got a lot of religion, too. My religion tells me it doesn’t do any good to complain. How you gonna complain about an earthquake? Earthquake and stunting you. Like Old Man River, the earth just keeps rolling along. My religion tells me bad times, bad times, bad times, good God.
I want to tell you something, Timothy. Yes, Paul, Second Timothy, chapter three, verse two. Tell you something. The time is coming when people won’t do nothing but complain, complain, complain. The time is coming when people will be ungrateful. Paul, I got news for you. That time is now. People don’t do nothing but complain. People are so ungrateful. They prompt the subject of our sermon: I Get the Neck of the Chicken.
People differ in their approaches towards chicken, and poor chicken, chicken don’t stand a chance, especially when black folks come around. You got breast people, leg people. You got thigh people, but feet people, and is anything better than hot wings? Lord have mercy.
Male: My, my, my!
Folks, it’s kind of hard on the neck of the chicken. I don’t know why. It’s kind of like in life, there’s always gonna be some options and always gonna be something that limits and delimits you. Everything won’t be a delicacy in life. Always it’s gonna be something that kind of puts the squeeze on you. A man pulls into a supermarket parking lot and makes his way into a rather tight parking space. Thirty minutes later, he comes back to his car only to find a note on his windshield. I hope one day you’ll be pregnant and somebody will park that close to you.
I feel a pain even though I ain’t never been pregnant, but I don’t quite understand what good she did. People squeeze you in from time to time in life. People fit you in, and there you are doing all that fussing, sending down all those negative feelings to that zygote in your stomach. Seems to me, you’d do better to tell little junior, “Junior, hold your breath and I’m gonna hold mine and we gonna squeeze into this car.” Got the neck of the chicken.
Some folks say that complaining makes you live longer. There’s a school of therapy that says complaining makes you live longer, so they get all of the people in a room and we just gripe and moan, gripe and moan, gripe and moan, gripe and moan, and you’re supposed to live longer.
I don’t know if complaining makes you live longer. I suspect that it just makes it look that way. You seem to live longer because your complaining kills off everybody around you.
Folks complaining can make you sick? Oh, Lord, here she come! God, I got to running. Here he come. Oh, Lord, have mercy! I gripe and moan. I gripe and moan. I gripe and moan. I got the leg of the chicken complaining especially on the part of somebody else because the ear isn’t meant to hear a lot of negativism. The ear is meant to hear, oh, happy days! Oh, happy days. When it’s raining, boy, that’s good because the roses are gonna blossom, and when the earth shakes under your feet, you say, “Lord, I thank God it was no worse than it is. The house didn’t fall down on my head. I thank you Lord that it wasn’t any worse than it is.”
Complaining will kill you. This grave marker in the cemetery that says, “She died from want of things,” and right next to another grave marker that says, “He died trying to give them to her.” Complainers will kill you. They will kill themselves, and if you’re not careful, they will take you with them. I get the neck of the chicken. If you’re around folks like that, you better leave them folks alone.
Your immune system will get so bent out of shape, your doctor will say, “What you been hanging around with? What been doing? You’ve been listening to too many complainers.” I get the neck of the chicken. Well, eat it. Eat it. It’s chicken, too.
Female: All right!
Eat the neck. You’re lucky you didn’t get the other end of a chicken.
Male: My, my, my!
It’s chicken, too. You’re lucky you got any part of the chicken.
Male: That’s right!
Mr. Bush staying there. All of us’ll be eating some necks. Be glad to get the chicken’s toenails. It’s chicken, too. We are so often like children fighting over who’s gonna sit in the front seat of the car or who’s gonna sit in the back seat of the car. The same car. The same ride. You’d be a lot different if you had to walk.
Male: All right!
These are the most beautiful young people in the world. Keep them walking. You need $100, $150 for camp. Oh, sure you can go to camp. Here’s your list. Scrub the kitchen floor, clean out the garage, wash the car.
Male: My, my, my!
Keep them walking!
Male: Yes, Lord!
Can I have a car when I’m 15? Can I have something that costs $15,000 and the insurance $1,500 a year? Can I have a car when I’m 15 or 16, and all you say is, “Yes.” You better say yes. Get to walking. I don’t care what part of the chicken you eat. You can eat the breast. You can eat the thigh. You can eat the wings. You can eat the neck. You still gonna be hungry tomorrow. You concentrating on too much little stuff. Fix your hopes on things eternal.
We got children in South Central who don’t have anything to eat whether you and I want to believe it or not. One out of six Black people in America go to bed hungry every night. Can you believe that? One out of four Black people live below the poverty line in America. Can you believe that? Just because you see somebody fat doesn’t mean they are eating well. They’re eating too much grease. They’re eating improperly, and if you have a balanced diet, you oughta have a balanced religion. If somebody else is hungry and I’m eating, I gotta help somebody today.
Concentrating on trifles. Most of our complaining is about little nothings. My feet hurt. Well, take your shoes off. I don’t like that hat. Well, take it off your head. I don’t like my job. Well, keep it and start looking for another one. I don’t like my habit. Then, go to a substance abuse program. I don’t like being single. Then, get on the trail like bulldog and start chasing them down.
I ain’t complaining about nothing. I’m too big. Stop eating so much. I’m too little. Eat more. You can’t do nothing about the sky or the earthquake, but there’s very little that God has given us to do something about that we can’t do something about it.
Female: My Lord, my Lord!
The men of this church are determined to do something about the men of our people. They are now up to 3,540 men, and each one of them is indoctrinated in the fact you are not a clown. You are not a papa who has children without being there. You are a man. You are a Black man. You are a child of God. You can do something about it. You got a loaf bread. Give somebody half of it. You eat the whole loaf, you’re still gonna be hungry tomorrow. You got $50 and somebody’s dying. They gotta get back. Give them 25 of it. You’re still gonna be broke next week. What does it matter what part of the chicken you eat? You still gonna be hungry tomorrow, and no matter what part of the chicken you’re eating, the feet or the neck, no part, no matter what part of the chicken you’re eating, you’re still better off than the chicken.
Chicken is dead. Got anything to complain about, early birds?
Your lungs working, early birds?
If two of them ain’t working, one of them working?
Your kidneys working?
Two of them ain’t working, one of them working?
Your legs working?
One of them ain’t working, is the other one working?
You got a job? If you ain’t got a job, come on by the office. We got a book that quick and IBM gave us a computer that got 1,500 jobs in it. What you complaining about? You alive?
Male: Yeah, yeah!
Some of us don’t act like it.
Male: My, my, my, my!
All of us have this little hypertension. What you complaining about? Why don’t you take your medication? Why don’t you stop eating that salt? Sit down at a table, reach all the way over killing yourself, killing yourself. Why don’t you say no to yourself? I’d rather have something good, then don’t expect me to cry when you die.
Male: My, my, my!
Why don’t you learn how well off you are? You’re better off than the chicken. As long as there’s life, that’s what?
Hope, and as long as there’s humanity, there’s a dope because we don’t do nothing but go around complaining, complaining. Sister, you got a good man. Now, he leaves his sock on the floor. Find out a way to make him pick his socks up the floor, but never yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap. My man gives me a hard time! You ain’t got no problem! You just got a joker don’t know how to pick up socks.
Male: That’s right!
You don’t think you bad? You go over to your sister here, “I wish I had a husband. He could leave his drawers on the floor.” Brother got a wife won’t let him throw all the money away. She too tight. Okay, okay. You oughta be have one of these who, “Honey, I want that. I want that. I want that.” When it comes to men, “I want that. I want that.” Then, you know what they’re talking about. You’re better off than the chicken. One man, an eternal optimist, every time somebody tell him some bad news, he said, “Well, could’ve been worse.”
Female: All right, Lord!
Man, there was an earthquake. Could’ve been worse. Car just torn up. Could’ve been worse. Sick of him telling me that. I’m gonna get him this time. Man, I had a dream last night. I dreamed you were dead. Could’ve been worse. I tell you I dreamed that you were dead and you tell me it could’ve been worse! Yeah, you said you just dreamed I was dead. It could’ve been worse!
Male: All right, all right!
Paul and Pepsi are right. We’re living in the un-generation: unthankful, unkind, uncouth, uncaring, unforgiving, unloving, unrepentant, ungracious, unthankful, the un-generation. There’s a funny thing about a person that complains all the time. They don’t go from bad to good. They go from bad to what?
To worse. John beginning to get ulcers, but those 200 kids we ferried to Disneyland. It was eight trips a day we ferried them, and the earliest ones got to be here at 6 o’ clock in the morning. Oh, praise God for the vast majority of them, punctual, on time, don’t have the mattress in their hair when they come, come having already eaten something, come smiling with a good attitude, because nobody goes to Disneyland to see a frowning spook. They come all prepared to do the thing. But, oh, the five perscent, that ten percent, the bus gone, here they come!
Male: My, my, my!
Now, get me to Disneyland, and when they do get to Disneyland, the supervisor, minister of youth, that attitude could stand a little adjusting, please! Could you do something about it? They just complain all day long. You took the job! You knew the people paid $5.50 per hour, so now what are you complaining about it? That $5.50 an hour is $5.50 more than you had before you got that $5.50 an hour. They’d pay you what you’re worth to them, they’d pay you no mind.
Faye Young of London got tired of her daughter complaining, 14 years old. 14 years old, sitting at the dinner table, “I don’t like this. I don’t like that.” I know y’all ain’t raising no fools like that. If the doctor says you can eat it, I know you are saying eat your asparagus and shut up. I know how much this fish costs. “I don’t like fish.” I know you ain’t raising no fool like that, because half of the things in the ocean are fish. They gotta learn how to eat fish. I know y’all ain’t raising them even not to eat chitterlings. Let them learn to eat it. Throw up if they have to. That’s their culture.
Got tired of them complaining, complaining. Faye goes down to the library and she begins to look up the old newspapers. How much food did we have during the Blitzkrieg when the war was on and London was being bombed every day? How much food did we have? She remembered, but she wanted the facts. Fourteen ounces for a whole week. You remember that, Texans? Mississippians? Floridians? Fourteen ounces a week and you’re glad you can work in the white folk’s kitchen because you get to bring some food home. Maybe you don’t remember that. Meat, potatoes and bread, and 14 ounces a week, and on Sunday, what did they have? Slice of bread, some butter and one boiled egg. Remember that? Now, most of us walking around with our stomach leading us around here.
Male: My, my, my!
And you got complaints and you eating? America’s the only nation in the world where every third person is on a diet. You eating?
Male: My, my, my!
You complaining? Your lungs working? You complaining? Well, if you really got a problem, I want to tell you about a problem solver. His name is Jesus. If you ain’t got no problem, He says, “I’d be grateful if you could let me have this time so I could help somebody else, because we got four people lying on their deathbed running through the wilderness. We got another 23 people who are fighting a substance abuse problem and they are running through the wilderness. We got mothers who make us go down to the county jail and plead with their sons to make the most of their time. They are running through the wilderness. We got people walking around here with two and three kids and they’ve just been pink slipped by the company. They are running through the wilderness.”
And early birds, I just want to ask you. Tell me how did you feel when you come out the wilderness? Did you love anybody when you come out the wilderness? Do you want to be better as you come out the wilderness, leaning on the Lord? In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, amen!