In this sermon, Cecil Murray warns his congregation that people will resent optimism and success. He says that as you move forward in life and break old habits, those who used to practice those habits with you will get jealous and resent you. But when this happens, you always will have God to help you continue to move forward.
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’m Going to Tell God on You”
March 2, 1997
Turn to your neighbor on your right, left, all around you and tell them, troubles don’t last always. Troubles don’t last always. Troubles don’t last always. Glory be to God, glory be to God! Troubles don’t last always, that’s our series. Sometimes your troubles are automatically your triumph. Sometimes your traumas are your triumph. Don’t curse your troubles; just realize troubles don’t last always. Your troubles can make you strong. One of our members, Carol DeMars, teaches out in the Valley. My children had never seen the stars, when they were in the city they had never seen the stars.
When they were out in the Valley, they had never seen the stars. Then the earthquake came. The earthquake came. They all had to run outdoors, they looked up, and for the first time they saw the stars. Some of them thought that the stars had been caused by the earthquake, but they understood what the Psalmist meant when he says, “I look at the sun and the moon and the stars, the works of Thy fingers, then I look at myself, I say, who am I that God should love me? And yet I know beyond doubt, God loves me, more than the stars, more than the sun, more than the moon.” If you think God is somebody, put your hands together and say yes!
King Sennacherib writes a nasty letter to King Hezekiah. Sennacherib of Assyria, the most powerful nation in the world, writes this letter saying, “I’m gonna wipe you out!” Listen here in Second Kings, chapter 19, verse14: Hezekiah took the letter from the messengers, read it and then went over to the temple, spread it before the Lord. Don’t forget, though, our subject: I’m gonna tell God on you. I’m gonna tell God on you, picking on God’s child, that’s the first of three things we’re gonna look at. Picking on God’s child, it’s 701 BC, and Sennacherib, the leader of Assyria, has conquered all around Israel, had conquered all around them. He sends the King, besieged, a threatening letter. I have destroyed 46 of your nations, of your cities rather. I have taken 200,000 of your people captive. I have demanded from you $5 million in ransom.
Now I’ve got Jerusalem surrounded, and you are in Jerusalem. You are like a bird in a cage. Some of you here know what it is to be a bird in a cage. Sometimes you feel like a jailbird, caged because of bad health. You’re struggling for bad health, and you’re afraid to go to the doctor, you’re afraid not to go to the doctor. You feel like a jail bird, caged by bad health. The head of our foster care committee, Linda Tyson, with her mother critically ill, and her father having a relapse. He has had nine major surgeries. Some of us have never even had one.
We have the nerve to complain when we get a headache. We ought to feel sympathy for people who are fenced in, you’re just like a bird in a cage fenced in by health. Others are fenced in by circumstances, and Ivana is here this morning, her husband taken from her by circumstances, it wasn’t long ago that Melody Washington, and we talked last week, her little son D, 21 years of age, working to bring a truce among the gangs in the city, has charisma, has eloquence in his very being, is doing a great job bringing together the Bloods and the Crips, south of South Central, and then one of his own friends shoots him and kills him.
Shoots him in the back, when they ask him why did you do it? He says, “I just got tired of his mouth” You begin to understand what the old folks meant when they said, “The devil made you do it” There’s no other reason that you can explain that kind of pain and people who cause that kind of pain, which is doing the thing that God calls you and me to do.
She says, I’m in contact with the young man. He’s only 18 years of age. I want him to know I forgive him. I want him to know I’m praying for him. I want him to know that there is a God that he must answer to. Sometimes you find yourself like that bird in that cage, jailbird. Some here find yourselves a love bird, in a cage, you’ve been flying around, but instead of flying around with something like you, you’ve been flying around with a buzzard. Now you’ve been betrayed and mistreated, and you’re hurting from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.
You wouldn’t listen when God said, you better leave that person alone! I got somebody better for you, but you knew more than God knows, and now you find yourself a love bird in a little cage. Some here are like a hummingbird in a cage, people resent you, just because you got a song. If you go around griping and moaning all the time, you’ll have whole lots of friends. The minute you start singing a song, the minute you start lifting up life, the minute you become optimistic, pessimistic people begin to ask about you. Some here are like a bird in a gilded cage. As long as you were poor and people could look down on you, they would say, “Oh poor you!”
But time you got $10 above the rent money, time you got your roof fixed and got your new car, out of jealousy and resentment, some of your friends don’t even want to speak to you anymore. I want to tell you it’s bad, when you get a little money and you act crazy, but it’s even worse when you get a little money and you remember to keep your feet on the ground, and somebody is jealous of you just because you got a little money. Some here, are like the mockingbird. You mock Jesus, you want to be like Jesus, you want to talk like Jesus, you want to love like Jesus, and because you’ve gone to Jesus, your old street gang don’t like you no more.
You’ve gone sober, so your old drug gang don’t like you no more. You dried out, so your old drinking buddies don’t like you anymore. You’ve stopped gossiping, so your old gossiping buddies don’t like you anymore. You’ve come to church, so your old nightclub buddies don’t like you anymore. I feel like a bird, but they have a message for you and me, there’s a bird of another kind. They call him a sparrow. He can fly in the midst of the storm, he can fly. He can sit on a tree with the storm of life raging, and still sing his little song. That’s why you and I sing as we look at that sparrow, his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
I’m gonna tell God on you. Picking on God’s child. Second thing, God’s child, appealing to God. When Sennacherib writes this letter to King Hezekiah, he intends to frighten him. You know how it is when you were a child and there was a bully on the campus, that just picked on you, and picked on you, and picked on you? Then God sent an angel to whisper in your ear, “They gonna pick on you as long as you let them pick on you, if you stand up they won’t pick up on you anymore. If you stand up, they may knock you down, but on the way down, you get you in a good lick.”
Next time they’ll leave you alone. When I was on the way down, you hit them about midsection where they can’t walk for two days. They’ll be alright from then on out. You can’t let life bully you. You’ve got to stand up for something, because as the preacher said this morning, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. You won’t win them all the time, but the world will respect you. What do you stand for? Like momma used to say in my house, some things I don’t stand for. Daddy used to say, “In my house, some things I won’t stand for.” You gotta stand up against the bully, because the first time, the Assyrian wrote a letter to King Hezekiah, Hezekiah, as it is written, turned his face to the wall. You ever had anything that made you turn your face to the wall? Can’t sleep at night, you just lie there in the bed, looking at the wall. In Jerusalem they have the Wailing Wall. People come from all over the world to weep at the Wailing Wall. Come from every major continent, every major clime, every major nation to tell their troubles at the Wailing Wall, but God has a message for you and me at this very moment. You don’t have to go to Jerusalem to find the Wailing Wall, the Wailing Wall is in your living room. The Wailing Wall is in your bedroom, the Wailing Wall is in your prayer room. The Wailing Wall is in your workroom, the Wailing Wall is right here at the Gospel table. There is a wall prepared for you.
God says, “When you’re down and out, come on and tell God about it.” So he turns his face to the Wailing Wall. That’s the first time. When he gets this second letter, he’s learned by then, the Wailing Wall doesn’t wail back. It’s like sometimes you go and tell your problem to a girlfriend or to a boyfriend, they just sit there, “Mm-hmm.” You through? Let me tell you about my trouble. You turn to the wall and the wall doesn’t turn back. You talk to the wall, and the wall doesn’t talk back. So that wall teaches you a lesson, you have to turn in another lesson. You have to turn and go to God, he takes the letter and Hezekiah takes it and he places it on the altar table.
See what he says to me, Lord? I must tell Jesus, that’s what you and I were saying 700 years later, I must tell Jesus. You work all week long, and I mean on Saturday too, from sunrise to sunset. As Mark says, from can see to can’t see. Everything seems to be going wrong, so you come to church on Sunday and you say, I must tell Jesus! I cannot bear these trials alone! I must tell Jesus. Jesus can help me. Jesus alone. Picking on God’s child, God’s child telling it to God. Now look at this third insight, God delivering God’s child. God delivering God’s child.
You notice that our man is driven to God, you don’t go to God until you have to go to God. You have to be a real good Christian, or real good religious person when things are real right that you go to God. Your prayers when things are real right are 100 percent different than your prayers when things are real wrong. As long as your health is good, I thank you, Lord, for one more day! But when your health is down right there—oh, Lord, have mercy! Your prayers are different.
We are driven to God. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a high voltage wire has broken loose and is lying there on the sidewalk. A man comes along, he’s distracted, he doesn’t see that wire. It will destroy him. Another worker sees the peril of this man. He calls out to him, “Watch out! Wire on the sidewalk!” But there’s so much noise of construction the man doesn’t hear him. The other man, the rescuer, picks up a rock and aiming, he throws it, strikes the man in the chest. The man then looks up and, seeing the high voltage wire, he realizes his life has been saved. He turns around and finds the man who has saved his life. He hugs him, he caresses him, he weeps tears. That’s the way it is with you and me.
Sometimes we have to draw a little closer to the chastening rod. Sometimes the hand that afflicts us, we have to draw a little closer to. Isiah tells Hezekiah, “You alright. Israel is alright, you don’t have to worry, everything is gonna be alright. That king who wrote this letter, he’s gonna be called back home soon” Sure enough, he was. Babylon rebelled against Assyria, and the king had to go back home to defend his own homeland. Twenty years later he was killed by his very own son. God somehow works it out for you and me, darlings. When the darkness appears, remember those roses in the Balkan Mountains. The Balkan Mountains produce the sweetest smelling roses in the world. The most expensive perfume is made from those roses that grow up in the Balkan Mountains. They grow best in the darkness, the workers only work two hours per night, from midnight to two o’clock in the morning. The roses grow best then.
That’s the message that we can have for you and me. When the darkness appears, that’s when you go out and put your hand in God’s hand. The darkness appeared on Calvary Mountain. The darkness was there Friday and Friday night. The darkness was there Saturday and Saturday night. Early Sunday morning, the light appeared, and God cried out to Calvary, “Who’s that picking on my child? You leave my child alone this morning!” When the darkness appears this week, remember that God is on his way, you wrote God a letter, see what they’re talking about God. You wrote God a letter, he wants to get rid of you God. God will take care of you, in the name of Christ, Jesus, our Lord. Amen.