Preaching on Luke 15, Pastor Murray urges his congregation to be grateful for what they have, know that what they want isn’t always what’s best for them, and trust God to provide what they truly need.
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.
“All God’s Children Got Shoes”
May 2, 1992
You haven’t had a chance to say it this week. The Divine is a-listening for your testament. Everybody, say in a loud voice, “Help is on the way!” Your neighbor, your seatmate on the right, is thinking about committing suicide, the second leading cause of death among young folks ages 16 to 29. Why don’t you turn to your seatmate on your right and say, “Help is on the way!”
Seatmate on your left trying to live off of $200 a week in the Southern California economy. Child is in trouble, you ain’t got no kind of attorney’s fees. Car has broken down on you, refrigerator has gone out, just throw up your hands! Why don’t you turn to the person on your left and tell them, “Help is on the way!”
Most of you here know that first hand. My class from West Palm Beach, Florida, went up to Florida A&M, we guys didn’t have a change of clothing. The second year, the ROTC came to Florida A&M, that saved us, now we could wear that military clothing. We used to meet on Saturday nights and we’d meet just to say we gotta do something to help our people.
Invariably, the chaplain of the group would remind us that we ought never forget when we get older, he would remind us that most of us were making it dressed in khaki. I’d like for him to hear us all the way in Tallahassee, Florida, sing, “We remember your instruction!” I wonder if you’d say it real loud so he can hear you: “Help is on the way!”
You got somebody who cares about you. My grandfather’s generation wrote something they call spirituals. They were dealing with a slave people. They were slave legally, but they were free spiritually. Every Christmas, master would give them a new pair of overalls. Give them a new pair of work shoes. The rest of the year they were on their own. They wrote a song that says, “I may be naked before man, but my God is gonna dress me up. I got a robe, you got a robe, all of God’s children got a robe. When I get to heaven, gonna put on my robe, I’m gonna shout, gonna shout all over God’s heaven.”
They weren’t just talking about heaven. They know that this is my Father’s world. When you don’t have shoes, you come before God’s presence barefooted. God tells you just what the loving father told that boy we call the prodigal son. He called to his angel, “Go yonder, angel. Fetch me a long, white robe. Place it on my servant’s back, now servant, you take the seat of honor.”
When you show up shoeless, barefooted, or as our people used to call it barefeeted: “Go yonder angel, fetch me a pair of shoes” They’re not JC Penny specials. They [said], “Place them on my servant’s feet.” Now servant, you sit out. That’s why this is not called the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s called the Parable of the Loving Father. I want to witness to you, you’ve got somebody who’s crazy about you. He makes the rules. An object of his care. He guides the eagle through the pathless air, and surely he remembers me, my heavenly father watches over me.
We’re gonna borrow from the Parable of the Loving Father, Luke 15:22. I hope you read Luke 15 when you get home. It talks about this child that literally despised and treated his father spitefully, took his inheritance early. One third of it goes to the younger son, wouldn’t even wait till his father died. Wouldn’t even wait until his father said, “Son I want you to have it before I die.”
Daddy, give me what belongs to me! He went off into the far country to wine and dine and have a good time, to stray from the God of his fathers, to stray from his father. And in just a little time, what goes around, comes around. What goes up, must come down. Chickens come home to roost.
When his father saw him from a distance, he leaped off the front porch, and with tears streaming down his face, he runs in the dust of the road and grasps his son in his arms, calling to his angel, to his servants, “Quick, bring the finest robe, bring a jeweled ring, bring shoes.” So I wanted to talk with you on the subject for a little while–all of God’s children got shoes. Come on and say amen!
In the ancient civilizations and cultures, slaves went barefooted. The heirs of the house, the sons of the house predominantly, for women were not counted in that unfair male-dominated societal period. The sons of the house wore shoes. You could always tell the slaves, because they went barefooted.
In this story, this young boy is a slave of his appetite. He has everything that a child of God could want. Food, clothing, shelter, a good support group, an extended family, a fine home, an education, books. He has shoes, but you know we human beings are funny. You’re always wishing and wanting for something, says the song, and when you get what you want, you don’t want what you wanted at all. One man told me this week, “Pastor, when I first met my wife, I thought I could eat her. Ten years later, I wish I had.” Before a child learns how to count to 10 or 20, every child of God ought to learn how to count your blessings.
Come on and count with me: Do you have health? A reasonable portion of health? Are you gonna be able to eat before the sun goes down? Is there anybody, anywhere in this world, who loves you? Do you have some kind of job, and if you don’t, come on to the office, we’ll find you a job through Mark Whitlock and the Renaissance Committee. Do you have anything, and if you got nothing at all, do you have Jesus? Do you have God? Do you have a Father who loves you to death? Do you have a loving Father? You ought to count your blessings. Know what you got, and don’t go through life wanting what you don’t have. Don’t go through life complaining about what you don’t have, because as long as you got a reasonable portion of health and strength, you can get anything you want. By the age of 50, you can be on the stock market, by the age of 50 you can have built a new home.
Before you get health, you gotta have spiritual health. Father, I stretch my hands to thee! No other health I know! You’d be very careful what you want, be very careful what you pray for. You’re very likely to get it, and invariably you get what you want, then what you got gets you. It works that way just about every time. It’s easier to leave reality than it is to return to reality. What’s that song that brother sang? While you’ve got it, you’ve got to love it in the morning, kiss it every night, give it lots of loving, and treat it right. Because a good thing nowadays is hard to find. It’s easier to leave home, than it is to get back home.
Some of you know what I’m talking about because you mistreated your partner real bad, and your partner was just patient with you, real good. Then one day, you came home–excuse me, one night you came home smelling like somebody else and you put your key in the door. Must be the wrong key. Naw the key is alright, what’s that blues song say? Your key don’t fit no more! A lot here would do a lot less suffering, especially my sisters, because it’s a male-dominated society—changing–but a lot of you, my sisters, you think you need a lover when what you really need is a locksmith. Some cows do better on short grass. Hard times make a monkey eat pepper. Don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.
You don’t know what you got, I’m gonna let you taste what you think you want, then you’ll come back to what you think you have, and find out you ain’t got that at all. Many a sorrowful person has stood on many a doorstep with a threshold, singing a moonlight sonata, and they get a bucket of water on their head. Look at God, oh Lord, come on in! Lord, I don’t smell so good, I’ve been hanging around with hogs. You know the Lord won’t even allow us to mess with hogs, let alone eat with hogs. Lord, I don’t smell so good. Servant come here, give him a bath, and look in my closet and get my number one robe. Bring it out here, the robe, the symbol of majesty. Bring it out here and bring the jeweled ring. Put it on his finger. Find those shoes, clip his toe-nails. Give him my best pair of shoes.
He’s not a slave, he’s not a servant–he’s my son. “But Daddy, make me a slave because I’ve been acting like a slave, I’ve been a slave to my appetite. You gave me a brain, I haven’t used it. You gave me health, I disabused it, you gave me sobriety and every time you look, I’m smoking something or I’m doping something. I’m a woman choking, reefer smoking, [so-and-so], Daddy. I don’t deserve what you got!”
Put shoes on your feet, some of you remember everyday shoes, and Sunday go-to-meeting shoes. I hope we still got Sunday go-to-meeting clothes for our children. That means we know we still ain’t arrived when you can wear good clothes all day long.
You gotta love [inaudible] because he’s bad. Even though he’s known the world of glitter, he never forgets where he’s coming from. Even his humor reveals where he’s coming from. He says, “Children, if you know God and he comes from that religious background, you oughta be able to laugh at yourself, you oughta be able to laugh at the world, and the only way you can remember where you’re coming from, is to remember biologically, epistemologically, [that] God is your father.” God doesn’t have any Sunday go-to-meeting shoes. Every day is Sunday! Sabbath has no end. You feel bad because you ain’t been taking care of your children. I forgive you, come here, put on my robe, put on my shoes.
I want you to use these shoes to walk to your children. I want you to put your arms around your son. I want you to say, “Boy, you’ve got my blood in you. I ain’t been too good, boy, but I’m gonna start fresh. Your little habit of cutting school and making bad grades, Daddy loves you and I don’t have the right to say much. But from this day on, I’m gonna put my foot so far up your behind, your breath gonna smell like shoe prints.”
“Daughter, you’re a little young to have them heels so high. I stood there and I watched you at the end of the sidewalk, and your titillating a little bit, twisting your imagination because you aint got nothing at the end of your spine but some imagination. Daughter, them shoes you got on, them shoes were made for walking. You walk to that classroom and not to that bedroom. You walk to that library, and not to that car that clown’s got. You walk to church, and not down to the corner while church is going on. These shoes were made for walking to God.”
Here, bring your wounded heart. Here, bring your anguish. Earth has no sorrow that Heaven, that Father, cannot heal. Don’t you let nobody put you down when you make a mistake. Just try not to make the same mistake twice. Try not to make the same mistake again, and again, and again. Try to know that when they put you down, because you got a big nose or a big behind, don’t you have a big ego. You ain’t got nothing to prove, I love you because you look like me. I got a big nose, I’m somebody, you’re somebody. Go yonder, angel, fetch me a pair of shoes. Place them onto my servant’s feet. My servant, you sit down, pastor gonna teach you that song. You with me?