In this sermon, Cecil Murray addresses people who choose to be negative and always critical of others because of their own insecurity.
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.
“Playing Childish Games with God”
May 19, 1996
Turn to your neighbor on your right, and tell your neighbor “Get off the mourner’s bench.” That’s our theme for the month: “On the Mourner’s Bench.”
Neighbor, turn right back to ’em and tell ’em, “I own the mourner’s bench!” I’m on the battlefield. Oh, yes. Whole lotta people, a whole lotta people are on the mourner’s bench because, just like children, they’re always playing games. They play games with relationships. “I love you, and you, and you.” They even play games in their relationships with God.
I got some news for you: Don’t play with God, ’cause God isn’t going to play with you. When God promises you something, you’re gonna get it. Oh, He promised me that He would be my guide. Oh, He promised me that he’d feed me, house and clothe me. When God promises you something, you’re gonna get it.
Oh, yeah! When God chases you, God’s gonna catch ya! When God lifts you up, nobody can put you down.
Oh, yes, but when God puts you down, nobody can lift you up! Don’t play with God.
Luke 7:32: “What can I say about such people,” Jesus asks, “With what shall I compare them? I know they’re like a group of children who complain to their friends.”
You don’t like it if we play wedding, and you don’t like it if we play funeral. Our subject: Playing games with God.
Playing childish games with God. Luke tells us that, first of all, John questions Jesus. This is John the baptizer, not John the beloved disciple. This is John who has disciples, and they are out in the wilderness baptizing people, telling them, “The end of the world is coming, and you better get ready. You better be baptized, because your mark of baptism is how God is going to recognize you.” Then John sends to Jesus, because John is now in jail for preaching that. John is in jail for telling people, “You’ve got a dying soul to save and a God to glorify.” And if you preach that, you may end up in jail today. From prison, John sends his disciples to go ask Jesus, “Are you for real? Are you the one? Can you make certain that you are the Messiah we’ve been pointing to? Jesus, are you the one?”
Maybe someone came to God’s house this morning asking, “Is Jesus for real?” Maybe there is somebody here with an addiction that’s killing you, and somebody said to you, “Come and go with me to my Father’s house.” Maybe there is somebody here only making $16,000 a year and you really need $25,000 and you’ve searched, and you’ve searched, and you’re getting ready to go back to Mississippi, but in Mississippi it costs money too, and somebody said, “Come and go with me to my Father’s house,” and you’ve come here this morning asking, “Jesus, are you the one?” Somebody’s not sleeping. “Jesus, are you the one?” Somebody’s children are out of control: “Jesus, are you the one?” This morning.
I, like you, ask John, “Why are you questioning Jesus? He’s supposed to be your cousin. You all are sisters’ children. Your mothers are sisters. You are supposed to know what Jesus is about. You baptized Him, why are you questioning Jesus?” His answer was, “Jesus is not preaching a note of judgment.” John says, “I think you oughta be telling people about the judgment of God, and your preaching is a little bit soft. I wish Jesus, you would spend a little more time telling people they can go to hell.”
I sympathize with the rabbi, with Jesus. From time to time some say to the ministers, “You all don’t preach enough about hell. You need to talk about hell a little bit more. You need to tell people they’re going to hell.”
All right, I’ll do that, and I’ll start with you. You can go to hell. You can go straight to hell! That’s the truth, isn’t it? Yes, you can go to hell.
One man said, “I’m 70 years old, and I’ve been living 70 winters, 70 summers, and not yet one time have I encountered hell. I don’t care about all this preaching about hell and this talking about hell. I’ve never experienced hell.” His little four-year-old grandson said, “Granddaddy, Granddaddy have you ever been dead yet?”
Yes, there is pain. Yes, there is fire, but I got news for you. You don’t have to die to go to hell. Some people are in hell right now. Some people are feeling the fire right now. Oh, but that’s what Jesus came to say to you. You don’t have to live in hell! You don’t have to live in the fire! The Holy Spirit can wrap you in asbestos this morning. All hell was designed for the devil, and the devil’s angels, and Jesus is saying, “That’s why all heaven rejoices at one sinner who’s saved from hell.” God didn’t bring you here to go to hell. The Son of Man didn’t come to get you into hell. Jesus came to get you out of the hell.
You remember the Apostles Creed? The third day he arose from the dead. He descended into hell. Jesus went down to lift us up this morning, so that one person could sing, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Buried deeply, stained within, sinking to rise no more, but the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry. From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.”
If you’re saved this morning, praise the Lord! Praise the Lord.
John questions Jesus. Luke tells us secondly, Jesus praises John. That’s just like Jesus. Not to return a pain for a pain. Jesus praises John, but not in front of John’s disciples, ’cause Jesus don’t want it to look as if He’s engaging in cheap flattery. Some of us are “flattery agents,” and I don’t think you ought to lie to somebody when you flatter them. Everybody got something that’s good about them. Why you gonna tell some joker she look like Mata Hari, and every man in the world oughta be falling at her feet, if you don’t believe that. At least, tell her something she can identify. Tell her she’s got some healthy fingernails. Tell her, her toenails are pretty.
Jesus is not a flatterer. There’s so many good things he’s gonna say about John, but not in the presence of John’s disciples. He says, “You ask if I’m for real. Look around you and take the report back to John. Tell John the blind see. Tell John the lame walk without crutches. Tell John the lepers are cleansed. Tell John the dead are raised. Tell John the deaf hear. Tell John that someone had no job and they working now. Tell John that somebody with their son in jail learned that their son is gonna be released this morning. Tell John that the landlord said, “I’ll give you one more month.” Tell John that somebody came to church weary and worn and sad this morning, and the choir made ’em happy. Tell John that somebody’s house was in disorder and they said, “Clean this house,” and they took the broom of the Holy Spirit. Tell John this morning: Yes!
Yes. Before Jesus can praise John, Jesus has to praise Jesus. I don’t think that’s fair to do that to Jesus. I don’t think it’s fair to make Jesus tell his own story. If somebody asked you, “Is Jesus real? Is God real?” I don’t think it’s fair to say, “Go ask Jesus. Go ask God.” I think that you oughta tell your own story. You oughta say how love lifted me. You oughta say, “I was blind, but now I see. I was broke, but now I’m eating. I was friendless, but now I have a friend. I was betrayed, Jesus made it all right. I was lost, but now I’m found.” I don’t think you oughta make Jesus tell his own story.
You remember what the evangelist said, “If I don’t praise him, the rock’s gonna cry.” I don’t know about you this morning, I suspect I do. I don’t want no rocks crying out in my place. I don’t want no birds, “Tweet, tweet,” singing in my place. I don’t want no trees waving in my place. I don’t want no bullfrogs croaking in my place. I don’t want no dogs lapping in my place. I’m gonna praise Him this morning. I’m gonna praise Him this morning. I don’t know about you, I’m gonna praise Him.
Jesus praises himself, then Jesus praises John. “The prophets are the greatest among us,” Jesus said. The prophet speaks for God, and John is the greatest prophet of all. John, he says, is the greatest man who ever walked the face of this Earth. John, says Jesus, is the forerunner of the Messiah who is to come, and the people go, “Wow!” but then Jesus totally surprises them. You heard me say there’s nobody like John the Baptist. You heard me say that [John] is number one. Not number one, John the Baptist is number one. I wanna tell you this, when you look at the Kingdom of God, the least person in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist.
There’s a marking line, there’s a dividing line. Jesus is that dividing line. Everything that went before Jesus has to come into the Kingdom of God, but after Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a whole new dimension. The least person in the Kingdom is greater than anything that went before Jesus. Jesus is the dividing line. Jesus is the line. The Lamb of God. If you went to the Lamb of God, God says you are saved, and before the Lamb of God, He reaches back and He raises the dead up to life. Jesus is the way for you and me this morning. Jesus is the door, so that Spurgeon looks at the ark on the hill and the animals all go into the ark, two-by-two. Spurgeon says two eagles were overhead trying to get into the ark, and on the ground, two glowworms, with the smallest light in the world, but those glowworms make it to the ark one step at a time. Make it to the ark singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
Whether you’re an eagle this morning or a little glowworm this morning, whether you’re rich this morning or dirt poor this morning, whether you’re an adult this morning or child this morning, to get into the ark of safety, you must get come in at the door. It’s too high, you can’t get over it. Too low, you can’t get under it. Too wide, you can’t get around it. You must come in at the door. You must come in at the door. You must come in at the door.
We’ve said John questions Jesus. Then we’ve said Jesus praises John. Now, Luke has us observe that the enemies of Jesus hated both Jesus and John. Jesus said, “Children, let me tell you something. Don’t you go around here begging folks to love you. Don’t you waste your time begging folks to love you. Some folks will hate you just because of the way you part your hair. Some folks will hate you just because you’ve got some hair, and they ain’t got none. They’re not talking about hair, they ain’t even talking about you. They talking about the fact that they don’t like themselves, ’cause if you ain’t got no hair, you can go buy some hair.” Somebody ask you, being catty, “Is that your hair?” Of course it’s my hair! I bought it, didn’t I?
Be not dismayed. Be not dismayed when people criticize you, when people don’t like you. You go around here, “Please love me, please love me, please love me.” You better get yourself a rubber rump, ’cause it’s gonna be kicked. Please like me.
Fred Allen, the great comedian said, “Don’t worry about criticism. If criticism had the power to hurt you, the skunk would be extinct by now.” The real skunks are people who don’t do anything, but criticize all the time. Just go around putting everybody down. Jesus says you’re just like children, children in the marketplace playing games. One group of children will say, “Let’s play wedding, let’s sing a happy song, let’s dance a happy dance,” and the other group say, “We don’t want to do that,” so they won’t sing a song. Like some people come to worship. The choir sings, they won’t sing. The preacher prays, they won’t pray. The preacher preaches, they just sit there. They don’t have any gumption about God. They don’t want to play. “I don’t wanna be happy. I wanna be sad. I don’t wanna be joyful. I just wanna be sad. I don’t wanna be positive. I wanna be negative.”
“All right,” the children say. “You don’t wanna play wedding, let’s play funeral, and we’ll sing a sad song.”
Jesus says, “That’s the way it is with Jesus and John.” John the Baptist came here. He didn’t eat like you and I. John the Baptist never had any ham hock and rice, and neck bones, and cornbread, and apple pie, and peach cobbler. That stuff that’ll make you fight your Mama. John the Baptist never, and what did you say about him? He’s too acidic, he’s too holy, he’s too country, he’s too crazy. Then Jesus says, “I came along. I ate with you. I drank a little wine with you. I had a little biscuits with you. I ate some syrup and bread with you. I fellowshipped with you. I got down with you at the wedding party. I was there for you.” And you said, “He’s too worldly, he’s too fashionable, he’s too street.” I can’t say that about him. Don’t pay any attention.
You remember Colonel George Washington Goethals? He was charged with building the Panama Canal, and his enemies said, “You’ll never build it. You’ll never get across the isthmus of Panama.” The newspapers ran him down, the radio ran him down. His enemies ran him down. “You’ll never build the Panama Canal.” Then his friends came to him and said, “They’re criticizing you everywhere. Are you going to answer them?” “Yes,” he said. “In due time.” “How’re you gonna answer them?” “I’ll answer them by building the canal.”
Wanna tell you this morning, the blind see, the lame walk, the poor have the Gospel preached to them, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. He woke me up this morning, brought me to the house of the Lord. Praise the Lord! Build a canal! Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.