In this sermon, Rev. Murray addresses hard times when it can seem like God is very distant. Rev. Murray encourages his congregation to continue to trust in God while rediscovering the older, purer versions of themselves. If they do this, then God will restore their souls.
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.
“He Knows How Much We Can Bear”
October 22, 2000
So help me God! So help me God. To pray together, to stay together. Tell your neighbor, “I’m traveling on my knees.”
I’m traveling on my knees. And as I travel through life on my knees, help me to see that I will have adversaries, and I will have advocates. I will have people who depreciate me, and I will have people who appreciate me.
Help me to see that God appreciates me, even when I don’t appreciate myself, even when I don’t appreciate God, God appreciates me. Why should I feel discouraged? Jeremiah, stop this foolishness! If you’re seated here this morning, Jeremiah, you’re complaining when you wake up! You’re blessed you can wake up!
Jeremiah, you’re complaining about what you eat when they are 30 million Americans who go to bed hungry every night. Jeremiah, you’re complaining about where you live, and 70 thousand people in the county are sleeping on the street. Jeremiah, you’re complaining about catching the flu when we have five people in intensive care unit. You’re complaining about only having one parent when the divorce rate is 40 percent, and a whole lot of children don’t have any parent.
I complained that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet. I complained that I had no feet until I met a man who had no life. I complained that I had no life until I met a man who had no eternal life. Turn to your neighbor and say, “Stop this foolishness! Make some sense.”
Page 593 in your pew Bibles. And thank you for coming to one of the Bible studies, six of them during the week. Ready audience: Jeremiah 15, page 593. Won’t you stand in deference to the Word?
Then Jeremiah replied, “Lord, you know it’s for your sake that I am suffering. They’re persecuting me because I have proclaimed your Word to them. Don’t let them kill me. Rescue me from their clutches, give them what they deserve. Your words are what sustain me, they are food to my hungry soul. They bring joy to my sorrowing heart and delight me. How proud I am to bear your name, oh Lord! I have not joined the people in their merry feasts, I sit beneath the hand of God, I burst with indignation at their sins, yet You have failed me in my time of need. You have let them keep right on with all their persecutions, will they never stop hurting me? Your help is as uncertain as a seasonal mountain brook, sometimes a flood, sometimes as dry as a bone.”
The Lord replied—everybody, say, “Stop this foolishness! Talk some sense.”
“Yes, only if you return to trusting Me will I let you continue as my spokesperson. You are to influence them, not let them influence you. They will fight against you like a besieging army against a high city wall, but they will not conquer you, for I am with you to protect and deliver you, says the Lord.”
Yes, I will certainly deliver you from these wicked people and rescue you from their ruthless hands. Take your seats neighbors. Tell your neighbor, “Stop this foolishness and talk some sense!”
And remember our subject: He knows how much you can bear. Yes, He knows just how much you can bear.
And you remember Grandma and Granddaddy telling you, “God doesn’t put any more on you than you’re able to bear.” And some of you came from a home where it says, “And God doesn’t let anybody else put anything on you that you’re not able to bear.”
Jeremiah, like a whole lot of us, says, “Oh yes, well then I must be an exception, ’cause my load is heavy. Everything seems to be going wrong. Lord, I wanna tell you, I have a complaint against you this morning! Lord, I wanna tell you that they castigated You, then I stood and defended You, and for that, they castigated me. Oh Lord, are you going to forsake me now Lord? Are you going to turn me aside now Lord? I come to church, I pay my dues, I treat everybody right, I love everybody, I keep my mouth clean, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. Lord, are you gonna let this happen to me?”
Lord, are you gonna forsake me now? Jeremiah, God has never forsaken anyone! Don’t you remember the Father of the New Testament saying, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” and it seemed as if God had forsaken Him on Friday night, it seemed as if God had forsaken him on Saturday morning and Saturday night. But early Sunday morning, the tomb opened up and He found out I’m not forsaken, God never leaves anybody alone, no matter what your state, God will take care of you.
If you’ve experienced it say, “Yeah!” Some of you have. Some of you are like Jeremiah right now, you’re hurting from head to foot. You’re hurting from sunrise to sunset. Some of you have stood up for what is right, and the world is putting you down. Some of you wake up in the morning, and you fall on your knees, and you can’t say anything positive because you’ve got a little anger at the Lord. You’re in the position of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah says, “Lord, will You forsake me now? It seems as if You are throwing me away. I just want You to remember me, Lord. I just want You to return to me, Lord. Last week I was doing alright, this week I’m doing all wrong. Won’t You come and have a word with me, Lord? I raised my hand and I prayed to the Lord, and it seems as if the Lord is far away.”
Somebody knows what Jeremiah’s talking about. Somebody here has talked to God, and it seemed as if God was on Pluto or Saturn or Uranus or Mars or Neptune or Mercury. God was everywhere except in your environment. God is a long-distance lover, says Jeremiah. When I need a hug, You’re way on the other side of town. When I need a word of encouragement, You have all of a sudden gone mute.
Jeremiah, I got news for you: When you can’t find the Lord anywhere, guess who’s lost? Guess who’s lost? You’re looking for God right now. Alright, don’t mind getting a little angry at God, you can’t be any more eloquent than Jeremiah, you can’t be any more eloquent than Job, you can’t be any more eloquent than Jesus. But just keep this in mind, He may not come when you want Him, but He’s always on time.
Jeremiah says, “I don’t know about that. I don’t know about that. God is just like a brook, when you need it most is when it’s all dried up.”
When you need a drink of water, when you’re doing alright, you go in there and there’s plenty of water. But when you’re doing all wrong, you go there and it looks like the brook is all dried up.
I can’t find God anywhere when I come to the fountain, and then somebody of faith said, “Jeremiah, there is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunge beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stain.”
Jeremiah, you need to come to that fountain! Jeremiah, you need to search a little harder. Jeremiah, don’t give up on God, climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, ’til you find your dream. Jeremiah, search this morning, don’t you give up! Don’t even talk about suicide, don’t give up this morning. Come to the fountain!
Jeremiah says, “I’m not only searching, but I’ve researched, I’ve studied the Scriptures. I come to Bible study and I listen to the preacher. I go out to Fuller and I go out into Claremont, I explore every aspect of the Word. I go to prayer meeting, I talk to prayer warriors, I talk to people who’ve been there and done that. I’ve searched and I’ve researched. I’ve not only tasted the Word of God, but I’ve eaten the Word of God. I’ve digested the Word of God, I’ve let it build a protein in my body. I tell you, I’ve not only searched for God, I’ve researched for God.”
Then Jeremiah, keep on letting it feed your body. If you’ve got the Word of God in you this morning, that Word will feed you when you can’t feed yourself. That Word will hold you when you can’t hold yourself. That Word will give you strength when you can’t hold up yourself. If you’ve been there and done that, say, “Yeah!”
We read about this South Florida woman, been sick for months. Anybody here been sick this year, anybody here say, “Praise the Lord!”
Praise the Lord. She’s coming around now, she’s sitting on her front porch rocking. You all who are not from the front porch generation sure did miss something. Ain’t nothing like the front porch and a rocking chair. And your neighbors pass by and say “Hello” to you. And when a car backfires, you don’t have to dive down the rocking chair scared somebody’s shooting out there!
Sitting, she sees her son out working on his car. He’s jacked it up and it’s sitting on blocks, taken off the four tires. Lord have mercy, it only takes a minute for disaster to strike. But the car shifts, falls on her son, she screams, “Honey!” She screams for her husband. He comes running out, runs over to the car, tries to lift it up, can’t lift it up. Runs and gets in his car, drives off to get some help to help him come back.
Meanwhile, Mother’s sitting there. She hasn’t walked in months, but she gets up on her feet and on unsteady feet, she moves over to the car. And then mustering every bit of strength she has, she pulls the car about two inches, enough to allow her son to crawl out and look at God.
She sustains no injury, just some strained muscles. Somebody’s under a load right now. The car has fallen on somebody right now. I wanna tell you you’ve got a friend in Jesus! You’ve got a friend in God. In sinking sand, He lifted me. When I was lost in sin, He lifted me. When I was lost in the wilderness, He lifted me.
But God has some conditions. God says, “I want you to come back to Me. I’m a little worried about you. You’re drinking too much.” Everybody, say, “Amen!” If you’re sober, say Amen, ’cause it’s only by the grace of God you ain’t no drunkard.
I want you to stop this Saturday night stuff, Jeremiah! I want you to stop sniffing that stuff. If you know what He’s talking about, say Amen.
If you ain’t sniffing it, say Amen. You know somebody who is sniffing it and it’s killing you.
“I want you to learn the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong, and I want you to go back to doing what’s right and I want you to know that I’ll be with you. I’ll be with you.”
Some conditions, balcony. Jeremiah doesn’t wanna hear that. You know people like that? You give them an antidote for what’s wrong with them: “I don’t wanna hear that.” Scripture says in… and read Jeremiah 15 when you get home. He goes in his closet, and he pouts. Everything wrong with the world! You know closet Christians like that? Always in the closet, always fussing.
People who can’t find nothing good to say about nothing. Here it is October, and the sun is shining. You don’t have snow nowhere, and the smog isn’t enveloping you, and you can’t even say, “Oh, what a beautiful morning! Oh, what a beautiful day!”
Here you are with all that health that lets you come into God’s sanctuary, you don’t even have a wheelchair, and you can’t even say, “Praise the Lord!”
Closet Christians, you need to come out your closet, Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s on a pity party. This 2,000-year pity party, especially among young adults: pity party. Always feeling sorry for yourself, I’m going through some issues, some things on my chest right now. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. And you’ve got a job, you’ve got a house, you’ve got children–you’ve got everything! I’m going through some issues. I’m all alone, I don’t have any friends, ’cause no friends have you!
God knocks on the door of his closet. Jeremiah 15: Come out, Jeremiah! Return. Everybody, say, “Return.”
Take me back, dear Lord, to the place where I first received You. Take me back, dear Lord, before I went Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Take me back, dear Lord, when I didn’t have to wear Hilfiger, but I could figure on Jesus. Take me back, dear Lord, where I didn’t sit up in church and pose, but I could raise my hand or clap my hands and stomp my feet and say, “Praise the Lord!”
Take me back, dear Lord! Take me back, dear Lord!
Return, return. Say, “Rediscover.”
Get in touch with yourself. You’re getting to be a phony, you’re getting to be a jive-time turkey dude, you’re getting to be a word mechanic, you’re getting to be a sob sister or a sob brother. All you talk about is your new self. You need to rediscover your old self! And when you return and rediscover, then I’ll restore.
He restores my soul. Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death, shadows can’t hurt you. I will fear no evil. He restores my soul! When you come back, God will pick you up on every leaning side.
One man goes outside of his shop, nails a sign: puppies for sale, puppies for sale. Some young boys pass by and see the sign, and one of them goes in. “Mister, I got two dollars and 37 cents. How much are your little dogs?”
“Well, they range from 30 dollars to 50 dollars.”
“I got two dollars, 37 cents. Can I at least see them?”
The man smiles a little then whistled, and his head dog lady comes walking out with five puppies behind her, only one is kind of slow, ’cause he’s lame.
“Mister, what’s wrong with that one?”
“He has a bad hip socket and the vet says that he’ll be that way the rest of his life.”
“That’s the one I want! That’s the one I want!”
“Son, you didn’t hear me. That little dog will never run or hop or jump or skip or play, did you hear me?”
“Yes, I heard you, and I still want him. That’s the one I want. (stuttering) I-I-I’ll give you two dollars, 37 cents now, and I’ll give you 50 cents a week until we get him paid for.”
“Son, he’ll never play.”
“I understand that.” And then, pulling up his left leg trouser, he shows a leg that is twisted and gnarled and cripple and held in place by a steel brace.
He says, “I don’t run too good myself, mister. I don’t jump too good myself, mister. So that little dog will need somebody who will understand his situation.”
The man just says, “Son, I hope my other puppies can find an owner just like you.”
Are you weary this morning? Are you heavy-laden this morning? Are you crippled this morning? You don’t have to play whipped puppy this morning. It’s not who you are–it’s whose you are. You belong to somebody. He cares about you, He walks with you, He talks with you. He knows, yes, He knows just how much you can bear. He knows just how much you can bear. If you believe it, stand up, lift up, give Him some love, in the name of Jesus!
And if you have no church home this morning, we invite you to come down and meet us at the Cross. God has sent you to help us help others. Say, “Excuse me neighbor,” and take one of the aisles and come on down. God has sent you to us this morning. You’ve delayed long enough. If you have no church home, this is the invitation to become one of God’s caring saints.
And if you wish a prayer, an intercessory prayer for someone who’s suffering–prayer warriors, raise your hands high–they’ll pray with you and we’ll leave your name on the altar every morning this week. We are asking you now. For prayers, come down to the warriors. To join the church, come down to the Cross. As we sing, won’t you come, won’t you come as we sing, won’t you come? Thank you, Jesus! Glory be to God! Thank you, our Father. All you have to do is to step out of the aisle, all you have to do is step out on faith. Come on choir, sing for me!