USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

March 13, 1994: “Building Blocks and Stumbling Stones” — Rev. Cecil Murray

March 13, 1994: “Building Blocks and Stumbling Stones” — Rev. Cecil Murray

March 13, 1994: “Building Blocks and Stumbling Stones” — Rev. Cecil Murray

In this sermon, Pastor Murray compares Jesus to a rock, saying that Jesus is the most solid foundation you can have. However, he warns the audience that you can always take something good and make something bad out of it — making Jesus a stumbling stone instead of a building block. He warns his audience to be  careful about their decisions in 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.

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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.

“Building Blocks and Stumbling Stones”

March 13, 1994

Hello, everybody! Who knows the Lord? Put your hands together.

Thank you, Lord. For one more day and for my commitment to make something of this day you have given us. Everybody, say, “Thank you, Lord, for one more day!” Turn to your neighbor on your right and tell your neighbor, “I’m a rock, too.”

Now neighbor, you turn right back to the person and tell them, “Then build something!”

Everybody, say, “Rock me!” Everybody, say, “Rock me, Jesus!” Jesus rock. Rock Jesus. It’s better than rock cocaine. It is better to get high off of Gospel rock than it is to get high off of rock cocaine. Come on now. But it’s your decision. Because you and I, over the next three Sundays, are gonna be looking at the decision that is the subject of our sermon: building stones or stumbling blocks. Or you can make it building blocks and stumbling stones. Which is it gonna be?

Paul writes to the church at Corinth, page 915, if you’re following in your pew Bibles. First Corinthians, chapter three, this is verses 10 and 11. “Lord, in all kindness, has taught me how to be an expert builder. I, who laid the foundation, now [the church] has built on it. But whoever builds on the foundation must be very careful that no one can ever lay any of the real foundation other than the one we already have, Christ Jesus.”

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other rocks, the rock of popularity, the rock of prestige, even the rock of Gibraltar, even a piece of the rock, even the Rock National Bank, even the rock of your coverage, all other spots are sinking sand.

Lord, I still make a distinction this morning, are you caught up in carnality? Or are you caught up in spirit? Carnality is an old way. And preachers are always talking about being carnal. But if you ever needed to talk about it before, you sure do need to talk about it now. Because ours is a carnal generation. We think that the only thing that matters is what you shall eat, what you shall drink, what you shall wear, what you shall write. Remember the classic instance of this young adult male who has a terrible automobile accident. Lying over on the sidewalk just moaning, moaning, “Oh, my BMW! Oh, my BMW! Oh, my BMW!” The medic gets out, sorts with him and says, “Man, you’re here worried about your BMW, and we can’t even find your left arm.”

“My left arm? My left arm? Oh, my Rolex watch! Oh, my Rolex watch!”

Carnality or spirituality. Everybody here knows what spirituality is: love, hope, light, enlightenment, encouragement, aspirations, the positive things in life. Paul says carnality is the thing opposed to spirituality. It’s kind of being caught up in the flesh. And we don’t want anyone to think that sex is bad or sex is wrong and flesh is synonymous with evil. But Paul is talking about something deeper than the flesh. God made the flesh. God made you to love one another and you enter into a meaningful relationship of marriage to cohabit with one another and to bring forth children. But Paul is telling you and me something we already know. You can take something good and you can make something bad out of it. Even something like eating, you can eat too much. You can drink too much. You can socialize too much. You can moan too much. You can jump out of one bed after another after another so that you’ve taken the flesh and you’ve made it ugly. You’ve taken the temple of God and you’ve turned it into a transit house.

Paul says, I don’t know how to explain carnality to you except one way. I’d like to be standing up here talking to grown folks who all want table foods, grown folks who like fatback and collard greens and cornbread. I’d like to be up here talking to you about how we’re going to build our city, how we’re going to rebuild our people, how we’re going to bring our families back together, how we’re going to stop our children from killing children, how we’re going to stop adults from acting like children. I’d like to stand up here talking to you about full meals.

But instead, my church at Corinth, I have to address you like you’re babies, and you’re still on bottled milk. Babies like those we baptized this morning. Everything they experience has to come through them through their mouth. Oh, they wake up and they want something in their mouth. They want Mama’s body in their mouth. A bottle of milk in their mouth, or a pacifier in their mouth. And time after time Mama’s saying, “Uh-uh baby, don’t put that in your mouth.” And some of us never outgrow childhood, walking around here with a brown bottle and every time they get a little attack that hurts, have to have something in our mouth.

Down here all the time, looking for something to get us high, acting as if we’re not supposed to suffer a little bit in life. Everybody has to walk down the road of suffering. Everybody has to hurt sometimes. Everybody has to toss and turn on your pillow some nights. Everybody has to know what it is to have somebody say, “I don’t like you. I don’t like you now. I ain’t never liked you before and I ain’t never gonna like you.” Everybody has to know what it is to be rejected. Just because you love somebody doesn’t mean that person has to love you. Just because you want to marry that person, that person doesn’t have to want to marry you. And when you say no, you’ve got to learn to hear God say yes. When you’re weak in the night, you’ve got to know that joy comes in the morning. You can’t go through life feeling good all the time. When troubles come you’ve got to say, “I feel, I feel, I feel, I feel all right!” Joy, joy, joy comes in the morning!

We’ve got this foolish now generation. I want it now. How, in the name of God, are you making $15,000 a year and you want to drive a $30,000 car? That doesn’t make any sense in the world. You’re supposed to hitchhike a ride to work. You’re supposed to get on the bus and go to work. And if you can’t hitchhike a ride, if you ain’t got a bus fair, then the [feet] will do. And if one of your feet wears out, God has given you two feet. And if both of your feet wear out, you can still crawl. But you’ve got to crawl before you can walk.

Some of us want to start off flying. Some glad morning when this life is over, but you ain’t ready to fly now. You’ve got to crawl before you can walk. You can’t have it now. All you can have now is say, “Give me Jesus, give me Jesus.” AndJesus will give you a job. Jesus will give you a car, Jesus will give you a career. But you can’t go through life living on your appetite. You can’t ingest everything that people put in front of you.

You go to a midnight party and you’re passing a bottle around, you already had two drinks. You fail to understand that you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you. You gotta know where to start and where to stop. You gotta be able to say no to yourself and yes to God. If I’m telling the truth go on and say, “Yeah!”

I love my brothers. All of you. And brothers we’ve agreed, ain’t no more pity parties around here. Ain’t no more blaming sisters around here. Ain’t no more being a we-be around here. “Mama, we be living in your apartment, we be driving your car, we be living off your payroll.” Ain’t no more we-be around here. Brothers, if you are a man, you are a man. And if you are God’s man, you are Superman. And when you have super powers, God will take care of you. All you have to do is fall down on your knees. “Father, I stretch my hands to Thee! You are the help I know.”

You don’t have to take everything through my mouth. You don’t have to live for your appetite. If I can’t afford a house, an apartment will do. If I can’t afford an apartment, a tent will do. If I can’t afford a tent, the sidewalk will do. I’m going to trust in the Lord. I’m going to trust in the Lord. I’m not going to trust in my ego. Because my ego will tell me I’m the greatest thing God ever made. But I know God doesn’t care anything about my ego. It makes the rose an object of his care. God’s the eagle through path of despair. God just has to be anything this morning. You’re about something bigger than yourself–you’re about a mission. If you’re on the battlefield, I’ll fight your battle with you. If you believe in prophets, if you believe in promises, come on and say, “Yeah!”

Sisters, equal time. Paul says it’s what goes into the mouth that corrupts. The brothers have this problem with ingestion. And Jesus adds, and yet what goes into the mouth ain’t half as bad as what comes out of the mouth. Sisters, come on now. The sisters have a mouth problem. It’s a three-step problem, hands akimbo. Head a-bopping. Lips a-flopping.

You ain’t his mama. If his mama messed him up, you can’t fix him up. And you look a little closer, maybe it isn’t he who’s all messed up. Maybe she’s who’s all messed up. She got a mama too.

Talking about things that divide us. Things that divide us. How do you enter into a 70-year relationship and don’t handle making some concessions? This is the way I am, and if you don’t like it… This is the way I always been and if you don’t like it… How do you hold any type of relationship? Or divide it? Or divide it? Look at what the things of the appetite have done to the church at Corinth, and this is the best we had, this church founded by Paul, the very best we had. And look how we human beings with our paltry little egos have divided it. I belong to the Paul party, I belong to the Apostle party. I’m a member of the Peter party and I’m a member of the Jesus party. Look at the clubs in the church if you don’t believe it can happen.

Us four ain’t no more, we don’t want to grow. We put on our high heel sneakers and our red wigs and we try to chew it up and we sit down and we have our little potluck supper that we don’t need and the people outdoors are starving but I belong to this auxiliary. I graduated from Howard, I graduated from Harvard. You sure you graduated? Yes, I is sure, can’t you see I did that?

What you gonna be? A building-block? A constructionist? Or a stumbling-block in our structures? One who tears down? And what’s the basis of the division of these parties? Who baptized who? I was baptized by Peter. I was baptized by Apollos, a very ethical man. I was baptized by Paul. Well, I think my baptism is more than yours. And the big question is, them who baptized y’all, was all the water wet? Any of y’all baptized with some dry water? You stay up north in the hills, you stay down south in the projects. You leave your window open in the hills, when you come home you won’t have no TV either. It’s all the same mess. You eat caviar, you eat Lima beans. Both of y’all gonna be hungry tomorrow.

You ride in a Rolls Royce, you ride in a Ford because you’ve got enough sense to ride a Ford and you know when you ain’t got no money to buy something you can afford, and when I said a Ford I do mean afford. Whether you’re in a Rolls Royce or a Ford, both of y’all get there at the same time. Only you need a bigger parking space to hold your ego. You’re there worrying about driving the car and the car is driving you to the poor house. Your son ain’t got no scholarship, and you’re rearing back, wearing cologne that cost $75.

There you are with six inch of heels and you’re three inches tall. There you are spending $125 to get your hair fixed, worrying about what’s under there and you ain’t got nothing in the head.

What you gonna be? A building-block or a stumbling-stone? Don’t you remember telling the baptizer, saying, “I baptize you with water. But the one who comes after me, my cousin, Jesus, is gonna baptize you with the fire of the Holy Spirit.” The water only gets you on the outside. The fire gets you on the inside. The water only gets you into the church, the fire gets the church into you. The water only gets you into the Word. The fire gets the Word into you. The water only gets you into the Word, the fire gets the Word and Lord into you. Have you been baptized this morning?

When you’re going to school this fall? Because that’s what Paul asks. Who is Paul? Who is Peter? Who is Apollos? Each of those are the wrong question. Who is Reverend Doctor Cecil Leonard Murray. I didn’t die for this church. This church was founded on Jesus. On Christ the solid rock I stand. Jesus is a rock, doesn’t matter how well you live outside, it’s how well you live inside. Doesn’t matter what party you belong to as long as you belong to God’s party. Doesn’t matter how credentialed you are, as long as you are credentialed in Jesus. The Lord is my rock, the Lord is my rock. Stand on Jesus. Stand on Jesus and all of the things will be yours as well. In the name of Jesus. My rock. My rock.