Pastor Murray talks about the negative effects of waiting: waiting on people, waiting on justice for Rodney King or waiting for the full acceptance of Black civil rights. He argues that for change to happen, you must reach out and initiate it.
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.
“Sent for You Yesterday, Here You Come Today”
May 31, 1992
Thank you, Jesus. Joppa is in mourning…because Dorcas is dying. Dorcas is a good woman. Dorcas has fed the hungry and clothed the naked and housed the homeless. Dorcas doesn’t look too good. Late that night, Dorcas dies. In Acts 9, verse 38: “But when the people learn that Peter is nearby at Lydda, they sent two men to beg him to return with them to Joppa.” We’re talking about timeliness, doing the right thing at the right time. So, we’re going to borrow from the blues world to suggest our subject: Sent for you yesterday, here you come today. Some people are always a little bit out of sync. If you’re not careful, they’ll get you out of sync too. Their constant refrain is “Wait a minute, what’s the rush? Wait a minute.”
Do you know how much a minute is worth? If you only earn $5,000 a year, a minute is worth five cents. If you earn a modest $10,000 a year, a minute is worth ten cents. If you are blessed and you earn $100,000 a year, a minute is worth a dollar. The next somebody tells you, “Wait a minute,” send them a bill. The bill of rights. What do people owe you when they’ve been keeping you waiting for 200 years? Many of them will say, “We don’t owe you nothing. We don’t even owe you the time of day. We don’t owe you an explanation, let alone a reparation. We owe you nothing for keeping you on hold.”
People don’t wait too well, do they? Some of you are tied in marriage to a partner who’s compulsively late. There you were with your cheekbones burning, your ears burning!
You’re smoking, tapping your toe like Los Angeles smoking, burning, and in the time peril, you look to chief of justice and you look for some justice in the world, and what do they send you, here comes the Quayle. You didn’t expect a miracle healer. You didn’t expect an angel from paradise, but you would think that with most of the people smoldering in resentment and other people on fire to build and to rebuild it, you think they would send you something other than the Quayle. My daddy used to say, “Boy, if they put your brain in a jaybird’s head, he’d fly backwards.” That jaybird and the Quayle must’ve cut a deal. The Quayle flies 3,000 miles in reverse to tell us that our problem is Murphy Brown.
I said we’ve got to find this Murphy Brown. This Murphy Brown must have an army at the back of Murphy Brown. This Murphy Brown must have a strong political reality. This Murphy Brown must be somebody. We’ve got to approach this Murphy Brown. If our problem is Murphy Brown, we got to have a little talk with Murphy Brown. Lo and behold, I find out that Murphy Brown doesn’t even exist. Murphy Brown is a fictional character. Mama Brown has had little Baby Brown to Papa Brown who plays the town, and that’s not good for little Baby Brown. That’s not good. That’ll make little Baby Brown, that’ll turn Baby Brown’s blue eyes blue. I looked around, and then is that the bad thing, because the baby Quayle had mama Quayle and papa Quayle, all of them at home, and the baby still didn’t turn out right.
A poll shows that most Americans would prefer Murphy Brown for President to Dan Quayle. Dan Quayle flies to the West Coast to tell us that our problem is children born out of wedlock. It is a problem, but Mr. Quayle, aren’t you rearranging the deck chairs on the deck of the Titanic? The ship is sinking!
Dorcas is dying. Dorcas has just died, so they send to Peter come quickly, come now. When people need you, they don’t need you tomorrow. Do they? When people need you, they don’t need you giving them a lick and a promise. Come now! People don’t wait too well. People get incendiary. People don’t wait too long.
An innkeeper in Germany goes down into his wine cellar and he unwraps a bottle of wine and he finds attached to it a picture and a note. The picture is that of a magnificently apportioned young woman, and the note says, “If you see this, write me a letter. I’m 19-years-old and I’m looking for the husband.” The innkeeper hurries back to his desk and he writes a note of proposal. Soon he receives a response that says “Alas, you are 10 years too late. Your champagne was bottled in 1956, and that was 10 years ago.” The note concludes “Wine can age and get better, but not women.”
Some of you sisters know what we’re talking about. Been going with that brother for five, six, seven years wanting to hear a proposal and all you hear are promises, promises, promises. Last week, the student ministers laughed as we related the case of this young lady who had gone with this brother for eight years, treated him like a king.
Finally, she discovered that he was running around, so she addressed him in public at gunpoint. I should say she undressed him in public at gunpoint. “Take off that suit I bought you. Take off those shoes and those socks I bought you. Take off that shirt and that tie that I bought you.”
The grace of God is shown in that this man still had retained enough decency to buy his own underwear. It works both ways. People don’t wait too well.
Brothers, remember that blues song that says, “Take off that wig I bought you, I’m going to let your head go bald.” You want to get people incendiary, you want to get people explosive, just keep them waiting. That’s a desecration of their dignity. What makes you think you are so great that you can keep me waiting all the time?
Why you are so great that I have to be your servant, subject to your whim? That’s why we sing wait on one person, that wait upon the Lord, will renew the strength, they shall mount up on wings like an eagle. They shall run and not get weary. They shall walk and not faint. Waiting on each other just disappoints us all the time. Waiting on people to come into your own. Air Force One wasn’t even going to take off. Air Force One just thought that it was Watts on fire. Then, Air Force One learned that it wasn’t just South Central on fire, it was Mid Central on fire and Sunset Boulevard on fire and Melrose on fire and the white folks were burning and the Korean folks were burning and the Latino folks were burning and the Black folks were burning and Atlanta was getting ready to burn.
If I ain’t careful, I won’t be around the next four years to fly Air Force One. Then, Air Force One took off, off we go into the wild blue yonder, law and order into the moon. I don’t know why they call beautiful Jerry Brown Moonbeam. Air Force One doesn’t even know where the Milky Way is, doesn’t even belong to the galaxy. Air Force One comes out talking about law and order. The Quayle comes out talking about mama who have a baby out of wedlock, and Air Force One says, Didn’t I do something? I had the guard there. I have the National Guard in reserve and I was prepared to send in some more troops. We going to have law and order around here. Thank you, Air Force One. But, can we have a little law and order in those four policemen who beat Rodney King?
Can we have a little law and order in the S&L saving bonds? Can we have a little law and order there? Have a little law and order in Congress, writing checks and know you ain’t got no money in the bank.
Peter comes quickly and when Peter comes in, the first thing Peter does is put all the naysayers out. Peter puts all of the mourners out. Peter says, “Excuse me, sir, excuse me, ma’am, but you all ain’t doing nothing but adding to the confusion.” Pat Buchanan, get out. Mourning, he goes to Koreatown, as he should, mourning. I feel so badly about the persons killed and your businesses burned. On the Michael Jackson talk show, I ask him “Mr. Buchanan, aren’t you coming to South Central, too?”
“No, I’m not going to South Central. Those burners and those looters and those who set all the fires.” Mr. Buchanan, are you sure you’ve got your facts straight? We didn’t set all of those fires. We set some of those fires, but other fires were set by others, and the same way Koreans died, we died. The same way Korean businesses were burned, our businesses were burned.” Mr. Buchanan said, “You people are better off than Black people anywhere else in the world.” I hadn’t heard that one since Hector was a pup.
Mr. Buchanan, mourner, you’re going to tell me I’m lucky that I can wait on your benign generosity that you are doing something for me by helping me to do better in America than they’re doing anywhere else? Mr. Buchanan, do you realize I was here 107 years before the pilgrims walked the shore? Mr. Buchanan, do you realize I was the first to die in the American Revolution? Mr. Buchanan, do you understand that I brought the process of wheat farming to North America? Mr. Buchanan, do you understand I’ve been on Earth longer than any other person, 200 million years? Mr. Buchanan, do you understand I helped to found Los Angeles? Forty-six people founded Los Angeles, 42 of them were Native Americans, African Americans. Mr. Buchanan, do you understand I am here, I have a right to be here, I will be here, I brought it here? You are not giving me anything. I don’t know, Mr. Buchanan, if we are better off than other Blacks, but I pray to God we are better off than you.
Because we know inexorably under the skin, all people are kin. It has to be true because all people came Black people. We know inexorably, Mr. Buchanan, that each of us has a dying soul to save and a God to glorify. There’s no way we can stand before the throne of God without standing hand-in-hand. That’s what Peter did. Then, I’m coming home. Peter kneels by the bedside of Dorcas and he prays [with her], don’t you forget Lord because you can climb as high as a sycamore tree, God will climb the next highest sycamore and pull you down, don’t you forget the Lord. Don’t worry that the Lord may be a little delayed in coming. Delay does not mean non-caring. Delay just means that God is waiting on the right opportunity.
Don’t forget the admonition of our fathers and our mothers who knelt and prayed and found that there was a delay, but then they came to theologize. He may not come when you want Him, but he’s always on time. After Peter prays, Peter reaches out and he touches this dead situation. He touches this situation infused with structures of non-being. He touches this unreality masquerading as reality. He touches this yesterday promising to be tomorrow. He touches this dead and life-defying hopelessness, this ridiculous sarcasm, this negativism, this nihilism that tells us that if you are dead, you cannot rise again. He touches Dorcas the same way last week we touched George Holliday, the young man who took the video of vicious beating and showed the whole world how we human beings can be at our very worst.
He felt badly because he said, “I’m guilty. I caused all this pain. I caused 58 people to die. I caused a billion dollars in damage and another billion in future damage. I caused different people to have their hands set against each other.” You and I said, “Come on, George, we want to heal you because you didn’t cause suffering any more than the Cross caused suffering. You revealed the suffering and you challenged us to rise above it.”
When he stood before you, he was so carried away, he couldn’t speak. When he stood before the camera, he was so carried away, he couldn’t speak and his attorney calls and he says, “I was carried away. This was the greatest moment in my life because people reached out and they touched me.”
I watched the film, and as he returned to his seat, us Black folks will just reach out, and they touched him. The reason I’m here. You and I hug, we don’t just shake hands. We reach out and touch and we can just touch somebody. When we stood and said thank you, Jesus, thank you Lord, people came all the way from the back and they embraced George Holliday and they touched him. What’s the salient note for you and me as we build upon the new foundations? Touch somebody’s life as you pass along. You will never pass this way again. It’s not hard just reach out and touch somebody. You’ll be surprised how soon that same touch, that same touch, that same touch comes back to you in the name of Jesus. Amen!