In this sermon, Rev. Murray talks about paying dues in life. He tells his congregation that it is healthy to be mad about things that have gone wrong, but not to lose your temper. It is important to care about things, work hard, and be tired when you go to sleep. As long as you trust in Jesus and work hard, you will be fine.
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.
“Paying for Your Show”
October 17, 2004
Everybody, say, “Taking the high ground!”
Congregation: Taking the high ground!
Taking the high ground. Tap your neighbor and tell them, “I’m living outside the circus tent.”
Congregation: I’m living outside the circus tent!
I’m living outside the circus tent. You got a choice, just like you have a choice whether to come to church this morning. It’s raining, and some of us are sugar Christians, and we can’t come. You are here, we got a choice. We don’t need Moses to tell us, you can live inside the circus tent, or you can live outside the circus tent. If you live inside the circus tent, then you just a show pony. You just like a lot a show, but if you live outside the circus tent, then you are for substance, not show.
Listen to what Moses is telling you: Whether you live inside the circus tent or outside the circus tent, there is a show going on! There is an admittance price to that show; there is no free show on earth. Especially God’s show. If you are gonna hang around with God, you are gonna cry sometimes, you’re gonna mourn sometimes, you’re gonna weep sometimes. But when it comes to the price of following God, you will find Jesus paid it all. Jesus paid it all–all to Him we owe! But there’s no such thing as free grace; grace costs something. It costs Jesus’ life. It’ll cost you and me our lives. You gotta pay some dues in life. You can’t go through life expecting good things to cost good for nothing. You gotta give everything you’ve got! That’s why when the choir sings, the choir is tired by sunset. When you live, you ought to be tired when you go to bed. Tell your neighbor, “God has everything I’ve got!”
Congregation: God has everything I’ve got!
Numbers 32, page 145 in your green Bibles, page 102 in your red Bibles. Please keep your seats; we are going to read it at home, when you get a chance. Read all of Numbers 32 when you get a chance, but we are concentrating on one verse: “But if you don’t do…” that’s verse 23. “But if you don’t do as you’ve said, you will have sinned against the Lord, and you may be sure that your sin will catch up with you.” King James version.
Tell your neighbor on your left, “Be sure your sin will find you out!”
Congregation: Be sure your sin will find you out!
Maybe you already know it, maybe you can turn back and say, “Uh-huh, I’m a witness!”
Our subject, paying for your show. Paying for your show.
First thing we want to talk about is obligation, obligation. When you tie up with the Lord, you take on an obligation. The Lord takes on an obligation. It’s a mutual contract, you negotiate this contract with the Lord, and there is an obligation. The Lord says, “I will take care of you.”
And you say to the Lord, “And I will take care of You!”
You say to the Lord, “I will follow.”
The Lord says, “I will lead.” There is an obligation, and if you break that obligation, then there’s some dues to be paid around here. Moses is mad because he feels the obligation has been broken. Moses is mad, and somebody will add “again,” because everywhere you look, Moses seems to be mad. Thanks be to God, that sometimes we need to get mad! Some things ought to make you mad. It ought to make you mad that a mother is crying in South Central because her 14-year-old son was gunned down. It ought to make you mad that we are now caught up in a generation that can shoot an innocent boy 19 times. It ought to make you mad that the Ku Klux Klan is going out of business, because they don’t have to kill us no more. We are so busy killing each other! It ought to make you mad!
Righteous indignation. That’s what Moses is mad about. Here’s the tribe of Reuben and Gad, and half the tribe on Manasseh–two and a half tribes who have agreed to walk those 40 years through the wilderness. And to cross over the Jordan, on the west side of the Jordan, and there we would build God’s kingdom. Now here we are on the east side of the river Jordan, ready to cross over to the west side, ready to fulfill the dreams. Reuben and Gad and Manasseh have been the lead tribes as we walk through the wilderness, but here on the east side of the Jordan, they all of a sudden say, “Hey Moses, this is it. We don’t want to cross over the Jordan. This is good land for our cattle. This is good land for our sheep. This is where we want to be.”
Moses gets furious. You had a contract with the people, you had a contract with God, and when you make a contract, you don’t put yourself first when you’re dealing with God. You put other people first! How are you going to stay here and take care of yourself when people are going across the Jordan, having to fight? I’m angry at you–and Moses, you got a right to be angry!
Moses, oh Moses this is a challenge to you, Moses you want to watch your temper. Tell your neighbor on your right, “Keep your temper–nobody wants it!”
Congregation: Keep your temper–nobody wants it!
Moses is saying, you have an obligation to help your brothers and your sisters. How are you going to let them go over on the other side, fighting all of these enemies, while you are over here feeding your cattle? You have an obligation to help others! Sometimes we forget that. We get a comfortable income, and we forget people who are as we used to be. Sometimes we become a homeowner and we forget people who are still living in tents. Sometimes we forget, God calls us to help others, and God says, “If you don’t help others, then you can’t follow me!”
“If anyone would come after me,” says Jesus, “then let him deny self, take up your cross and follow me.”
Follow me, don’t follow your appetite! Follow me, don’t follow the crowd! Follow me, don’t follow the showtime! I’ve got a show on my own. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself!
Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me!
You have to be careful who you follow these days. You can’t follow everybody! You can’t follow everybody. Some folks will lead you over the cliff! You can’t follow everybody. What’s everybody doing? What’s everybody thinking? What’s everybody wearing? What’s everybody smoking? What’s everybody drinking? What’s everybody doing? Because everybody seems to be going crazy, and them who ain’t going crazy are getting ready and packing up getting ready to go. You can’t follow everybody!
Moses remembers, in Numbers 13, they are getting ready to start their wilderness trek, it will take 40 years. They don’t know it, but they send our 10 spies. You remember that in Numbers 13. Those spies go out and spy out the land, the territory. They come back with the report, the men out there are nine feet tall. There ain’t no way in the world that we can beat them brothers! They got some big dudes out there, nine feet, nine feet and a half, tall. Pray day in the morning! Whenever you hear reports, that enemy is going to be too tall for you to fight. Somebody will tell you because you broke, you can’t go to college. You going to listen to them spies? I want to tell you something, whenever people come to you, those ten spies, don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear!
Unless it comes to you from God, check it out! If you see Jesus for yourself, you can believe all of that. But somebody coming up here telling you Jesus told me to tell you, then how come Jesus didn’t come tell me directly? How are you so holy? The Holy Spirit told me to tell you, then how come the Spirit didn’t tell me Himself? You ain’t no better than I am! Don’t believe half of what you see and none of what you hear!
If you want the truth for yourself, have a little talk with Jesus, tell him all about your troubles. He’ll hear your faithless cry! But be sure your sin will find you out.
Walter Wilson was always a man who was always looking for an opportunity to talk about Jesus. Good man, good man, a little bit weird, Walter was always looking for an opportunity to witness. In the 1950s he was filling up his car at a filling station and the attendant was pumping his gas, so he takes this opportunity: “How did the word ‘sin’ get in the word ‘Sinclair’?”
You know the Sinclair filling stations? “How did the word ‘sin’ get in the word ‘Sinclair’?”
The attendant says, “Sir, I don’t know. But I sure would like to know how to get the sin outta me!” And that was the opportunity to witness to the Lord. You and I seem to be born with a gene that leads us to sin. When everything is going alright, we can find a way to mess it up. When everything is plus, we can find a way to make it minus. So what the writer is trying to say here is be careful about that voice that whispers in your ear. Be sure your sin will find you out. You will pay for your show.
Obligation, secondly. Everybody, say, “Negotiation.”
Be careful, Moses! When you figure something out, be sure you’ve got all of your facts ready. Don’t form an opinion, some of us will have friends we’ve had for 20 years, and then there’s one wrong word, and 20 years are wasted. Why don’t you go to them and ask, “What did you mean by that?”
But there’s another side of the story, there’s a bright side somewhere, and if you’re only experiencing the dark side, you need to do a little more homework. Cut the person some slack, give them a little benefit of a doubt.
Moses finally gets the story from Reuben and Gad and the other tribe of Manasseh. They said, “Moses, we committed to cross the Jordan River, we’re gonna do that. We committed to fight with our brethren side-by-side, and we’re gonna do that. But what we want to do is live here permanently. So, we want to build sheep folds for our sheep, just some fences, and we want to build some fences for our villages, then we’ll be ready to cross the Jordan. Just give us a little time.”
Now you see the other side of the story? And they kept their commitment–100,000 of them in the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh. Forty thousand of them crossed the Jordan River and left the others to take, who were elderly, and who were taking care of the sheep and all that. What Moses has learned is that you have to put clarity first. Everybody, say, “Clarity.”
Clarity, communication, commitment, then conviction. We need to learn to how to talk to one another once more. In our families we need to get clarity, and we need to get clarity without the fist. Daddy don’t have to bully the boy anymore unless you crazy enough to wait until he is 16 to try to raise him. When he’s six years old, four years old, three years old, he’ll understand if you say, “You eat that food, you wash them dishes. Sleep in that bed, you make it up. Then at a certain time you get a job.”
All we need is some clarity up front. We don’t stay married anymore because we don’t have clarity. Sister says, “I thought you were…” Brother says, “I thought you were…” It ain’t what you thought, it’s what you live with! Why don’t you take time and study each other? If you are in a relationship you need some clarity. If you join a church, you need some clarity. If you join a club, you need some clarity. If you’re eating wrong, you need some clarity. Without clarity, you cannot make commitment.
Without clarity, you only get confusion. Everybody, say, “God is not the author of confusion.”
Congregation: God is not the author of confusion!
Most folks you meet are terribly confused. We are terribly confused because we don’t sit down at the table and do our homework. It’s like not making a budget at the top of the month. Well, if I got it, I’ll spend it. If I ain’t got it, I ain’t got it. That’s not intelligent, that’s not clarity. You need a budget! If you’re gonna walk with God, you need to put God in your budget. If you’re gonna have a little talk with Jesus, you have to come to Jesus and be ready to leave yourself on the outside. You’ve got to avoid confusion. We go to war because of confusion. I thought this, or I thought that, instead of doing our homework first. Confusion–God is not the author of confusion.
Da Vinci getting ready to paint the “Last Supper,” Leonardo da Vinci. He says, “Oh, I’ve got to look to find a face to pose for Jesus!”
He looks all over the town of Athens and he looks until he finds a face that has a light, that has charisma. It’s the face of Pietri Bandinelli. He paints the face of Jesus. Then over the next years he paints the face of each disciple until he is left with only one. “Oh, I’ve got to find someone who can show the tyranny of Judas!”
He looks everywhere, everywhere. Finally, he sees in a crowd a man whose very spirit makes him tremble. Da Vinci says, “Oh my God, that’s an evil person!” You know, you’ve experienced that. Like they’ve got a sign on them: “Don’t mess with me!”
“Ah ha, that’s the one!”
So, he hires him to sit as a model as he paints the face of Judas. When they had finished he says, “You know I almost let you go without getting your name, what is your name?”
“My name is Pietri Bandinelli. I’m the same one who sat and posed for you for the face of Jesus.”
You can go from high to low if you forget the fact that your sin will find you. It will take you lower and lower and lower. There isn’t a single one of us here right now who isn’t doing something that you ain’t got no business doing. And the Lord keep saying, “Stop it, stop it, stop it while you can, Pietri! Here you have the Lord Jesus Christ all over you, but you were determined to keep on doing what you’re doing!”
Came to the altar, there was a good opportunity to say, “I’m gonna stop being small, I’m gonna rise to my true stature. I’m gonna stop doing this, with the help of the Lord!”
Here’s an opportunity, you’ve got to come on and negotiate with the Lord. Be sure your sin will find you out.
Well, we’ve looked at obligation, negotiation–let’s conclude with confirmation.
Confirmation. When each leader of the tribes comes to Moses and Joshua, they need a witness. They send for the priest Eleazar. Eleazar you will witness! Some of us get a little angry when there’s a witness–that’s cause we ain’t all truth. Truth can always take a witness. We even say, “So help me God!” Truth can always take a witness.
Funny thing about truth: You can tell the truth, you can wake you up two o’clock in the morning, and you will tell the same story. Five o’clock in the morning, you’ll tell the same story. But the lie you gotta think about. If you’re telling the truth people, can feel it, and a witness doesn’t hurt you any bit at all.
This witness comes, Eleazar the priest, and he witnesses to the commitment, and then they cross the Jordan. God is trying to tell you and me that you have to have confirmation of your commitment. You are confirmed Christians, you came through the flood this morning! You are confirmed Christians, you’re gonna give God the tithe of your work. You are confirmed Christians–when you speak, it is the truth! You are confirmed Christians, you are not just gonna come to church out of habit of coming to church. When you walk out those doors, you’re gonna be a different person going out than when you came in.
Here’s the important thing, as you cross the River of Jordan, God didn’t tell you you’re going into the Garden of Eden. God didn’t tell you everything’s gonna be alright and all rosy. God didn’t tell you that you weren’t gonna catch the flu this season. God didn’t tell you that your boy wasn’t gonna hang out with gangs. All God told you was, “Even though you walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you needn’t fear no evil, for I am with you.”
God needed to tell you, “You can go from prosperity to wicked evil. You can go from prosperity to poverty, but even though you’re poor, I’m not poor, I can still be with you, I can still be there.”
These two and a half tribes that had led Israel for the 40 years and a few years, are the first to go into captivity in Assyria. They go from leadership to slavery, and the other tribes follow years after. You can go from first place to last place overnight, but as long as you trust in the Lord, whether you’re in first place or last place, the Lord will make a way somehow. As long as you trust in the Lord, you can be high or low, but the Lord will make a way somehow.
Oh, you remember, you remember how the Koreans on new year–bless them, what a beautiful culture! On the Korean New Year, they have a habit, they take a kite and they write their sins on that kite. They take a kite and they write everything that they want to stop doing on that kite. Then, they let the kite fly, and when the kite has reached a high altitude and is about to disappear from sight, they cut the string. My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to this cross. I release it, I’m a new person! I don’t have to live with it anymore, it’s gone, it’s been taken away as the kite disappears over the horizon.
It isn’t just a snap of the fingers. It would be nice if all we had to do was cut the string! But it takes a little more than that. But that kite is still up there. All you and I have to do is have a little talk with Jesus. All you and I have to do is to be willing to weep a little bit when that kite goes away and that ugliness in us goes away. All you and I have to do is say, “Dear Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do. I know I’m a sinner, but I’m sinner saved by grace! I know I’m a sinner, and when I kneel at your altar, I’m asking you to hear from me Lord. I know that I’m a sinner, weeping men do it for a night. Joy comes in the morning! Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away, in the name of Jesus.