“When you are outside of you comfort zone, God sees you. God not only sees you outside the comfort zone, God saves you,” Rev. Murray tells his congregation. When nothing is working for you, God sees you. God knows what is going on in your life and will be there for you when you need Him most.
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.
“God Shows Up, God Shows Out”
October 31, 2004
Everyone, point up and say, “Taking the high ground!”
Living outside of the circle. Your decision, you can be a show pony, you can be a showoff. You can live inside the circus tent. But if you live outside of the circus tent, you can expect a little frost in your lives.
One young lad determined to build a peach farm, to grow a peach orchard, and he worked at it day and night. Soon it was a flourishing peach orchard. But then comes the frost. And the frost kills the fruit of his labor. He stays away from church one Sunday. The second, third Sunday, pastor goes to his house, “I have missed you.”
“Pastor, how do you expect me to worship a God who kills all of my peaches?”
“Oh, my son, the Lord loves you more than the Lord loves your peaches. The Lord understands that peaches cannot live with frost. But the Lord understands that men cannot live without frost. The Lord loves men and women better than the Lord loves frost.”
There’s gonna be some frost outside of the circus tent.
If you are for real, you’re gonna get hurt. If you tell the truth, someone’s gonna despise you. If you have integrity, the wolves are gonna come after you. If you work hard, somebody’s who’s lazy is gonna resent you. You’re gonna have to cry sometimes. You’re gonna moan sometimes. You’re gonna weep sometimes.
Listen: Isaiah 38, page 559 in your green Bibles. Page 408 in your red Bibles. Isaiah, keep your seats, we can begin reading at verse one. It was just before all this that Hezekiah became deathly ill. And Isaiah the prophet, Amoz his son, went to visit him, gave him this message from the Lord. “Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.”
When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed. “Oh Lord, don’t you remember how true I’ve been to you and how I’ve always tried to obey you in everything you’ve said?” Then he broke down with great sobs. So, the Lord sent another message to Isaiah. This is our key verse: “Go and tell Hezekiah that the Lord, God of your forefather David, hears you praying, sees your tears and will let you live 15 more years. He will deliver you and the city from the king of Assyria. I will defend you,” says the Lord, “And here is my guarantee. I will send the son backwards 10 degrees as measured on a sundial. So, the sun retraces 10 degrees that it had gone down.”
The Lord hears you praying. The Lord sees your tears, suggesting our subject: When God shows up, God shows out. Two quick things. One, God sees you outside of the comfort zone. When you are outside of the tent, God sees you. When you are outside of your comfort zone, God sees you. When everything is working against you, God sees you outside of the comfort zone. Comfort ye, my people, says the Lord. Isaiah 40: Thy rod and thy staff…what? They comfort me! Psalms 23: Be of good comfort. Mark 10: When the comforter is come. John 16: By and by, when the comforter comes, all of our sins are gonna be washed away. All of our tears are gonna be washed away. God sees you outside of the circus tent.
One of our choral groups sings a song, “God Hears Your Silent Tears.” And you say, “How in the world can God hear tears? How can anybody hear tears?” God hears your silent tears. Isn’t that just a poetic way of saying, God is aware of when you are hurting? God is aware of when you lose your peaches. God is aware of when you lose your patience. God is aware of when you lose your housing. God is aware of when you lose your health. God sees your silent tears. God is aware of when your relationship breaks up. God is aware of when your marriage breaks down. God is aware of when your children disrespect you. God is aware and God knows everything. God sees your silent tears.
“You don’t believe it?” asked Hezekiah. Eighth century, BC, king. The prophet Isaiah comes to him, sent by God: “Hezekiah, king, get your house in order.” You know what that means. Get your business straight. Clean out your desk. Go on and make your funeral arrangements. Get your house in order. Hezekiah has got his house in disorder. Perhaps somebody here is living in disorder. Perhaps you can’t stand others ’cause you can’t stand yourself. Perhaps you worry all the time because your house is in disorder. Perhaps somebody here knows, you need to stop that [jive] job in front of your children, because your children are getting their heads all messed up. Disorder. Perhaps somebody here knows, “I need to visit my children just because their mother and I are separated. I can’t afford to let the children get hurt.” Get your house in order.
Hezekiah is living in disorder. God has made him a great king. God has made his nation a great nation. But look at Hezekiah. All of a sudden, he gets arrogant. He didn’t do it God’s way: “I did it my way.” Look at him. All of a sudden, he’s got him a new ride, and he’s riding so high that nobody can reach up and touch him. Look at him! He’s got some money in the bank and there was a time he was living from paycheck to paycheck. Look at Hezekiah! God has made him everything that he needs to be, and now he’s gotten arrogant. Maybe somebody needs to hear it. Tell your neighbor on your right, “Get your house in order!”
Congregation: Get your house in order!
Get your house in order. You either have visited homes that were disorderly, or people have come to your house when your house was disorderly. Or you tell them, “Come on in, if you can get in. Take a seat, if you can find one.” Then you start making excuses. “Oh, these children just keep this house so messed up. I’m gonna clean up this house when I get to feeling a little better.”
When your house is in disorder, oh my Lord! Death, many of us here perhaps, or you know of somebody, who’s been spared death. Because soon one morning, death came creeping in my room and death had to turn around and go back up. All that funk! Some of us are funk merchants. Yes, living in disorder. God says, “The chair goes here, the sofa goes here. When you use the restroom, you clean it up. When you get out of the bed, you make it up. Why don’t you get your house in order? You supposed to come to church. You don’t get no medal for coming to church. You don’t get no medal for [kindness]. You supposed to love your neighbor! You don’t get no medal for loving your neighbor. You supposed to work. You don’t get no medal for driving the freeway. You ought to be glad God gave you a job1 You ought to be glad God gave you a house. Why don’t you get your house in order this morning?”
Some of us are 50, 60, 70 years old and still living in funk. If you ain’t got no sense at 50, when you gonna get some sense? When you gonna understand that you got to have some order in your life? When you come into God’s courtroom, first thing you hear God say is, “Order in the court!” Just like when you go to the hospital. You do what the doctor says, not what you wanna do. When Doctor Jesus talks to you, you gotta get your house in order. On Monday you do this, on Tuesday you do that, on Wednesday you do that. But every day of your life, you have a little talk with Jesus. You tell Him all about your troubles. You get with Jesus, and he’ll hear you when you cry.
Hezekiah turns his face to the wall. Oh, my stars! He doesn’t turn to the east where the sun is rising, he doesn’t turn to the east where the temple is located. He turns his face to the wall. This is the greatest moment of sadness in his life. Somebody here is facing the wall right now. Pain is a wall. Rejection is a wall. Discouragement is a wall. Despair is a wall. Hunger is a wall. Loneliness is a wall. Abandonment is a wall. Somebody here has turned your face to the wall. “Lord, I don’t have anywhere else to go. Lord, I’m facing the wall.”
You remember that very pious old man, who every morning in Jerusalem, he gets up and he goes to the praying wall and he prays. And one pilgrim would ask him, “How does it feel going every morning to the praying wall?” He says, “Sometimes it feels like I’m talking to a wall.”
That’s the way it is sometimes when you talk with God. It feels like you’re talking to a wall. But look at Hezekiah growing there as Hezekiah faces that wall. Hezekiah is beginning to gather a little humility. Hezekiah is beginning to see: “If it wasn’t for the Lord on my side, tell me where would I be?”
Hezekiah is beginning to see: “This house was given to me by God. This crown was given to me by God. This power was given to me by God.” Hezekiah is beginning to grow up. I wanna tell you something for Hezekiah, children of God. You can’t be strong unless you’re going through something. If you ain’t going through something, then you ain’t gonna learn nothing. If you haven’t experienced some downs, you don’t know what it is to be up.
Hey, I’ve been ‘buked. I’ve been scorned. I’ve been talked about, sure as you’re born. A family was in a furniture factory and the salesman said, “Now, you see that wood there? Isn’t that the finest grain you ever saw? You know what makes grain like that?” He said, “No.” “These logs came from trees that grew up in a part where storms are always raging. And the storms force the fibers of the tree to come closer and closer, so that when the wind blows, the vine clings closer to the tree.” When the storm of life is raging, you came closer to God, closer to the tree of life. God sees you outside the comfort zone.
Secondly, tell your neighbor on your left, “God saves you outside the comfort zone!”
Congregation: God saves you outside the comfort zone!
God not only sees you outside the comfort zone, God saves you outside the comfort zone. When God shows up, God shows out. Isaiah doesn’t say, “When God shows up, God shows off.”
You know, some of us ain’t nothing but show-offs. And it gets us in a whole lot of trouble. Somebody’s ego was at stake when those five young lads were killed over the weekend. Somebody’s pride is at stake when you wear a certain color in a certain area. Somebody’s ego is exalted, showing off when you have to say, “Now, just a moment…” Fighting over some woman who don’t even want you. Somebody’s ego is at stake. “I’m the man of the house, I’m the woman of the house.” When you start rubber necking, somebody’s ego is getting involved. You showing off. Ain’t nothing so great about you. If there was something so great about you, you wouldn’t die. But anybody here who ain’t gonna die, raise your hand and drop dead right now. Everybody’s vulnerable.
God is showing out, not showing off. God says, “I don’t have to show off. I know who I am.”
Brothers, all the brothers say, “I know who I am!”
Congregation: I know who I am.
Yeah, you don’t need to get all violent to show who you are. You don’t need to go around selling wolf tickets to show who you are. You don’t have to walk around here with $300 shoes and ain’t sending no child support to show who you are. God is showing out, not showing off.
When I parted the Red Sea, I was showing out. When I rescued [Abednego], a bad negro from the fiery furnace, God says I was showing out. When I pulled Daniel out of the lion’s den and out of the lying den, I was showing out, not showing off. When I put Jesus out of the tomb on the third day, I was showing out, not showing off. When I put Ezekiel in a valley of dry bones, dead folks, dead wishes, dead hopes, dead dreams, and I said, ‘Preach to them,’ and he sent for the holy spirit and he began to get up, I was showing out.
I wasn’t showing off when I set you free in 1965. I set you free. I was showing out. And now some of y’all are showing off in one generation. You don’t even vote no more. “Don’t make no difference whether I vote or not.” You don’t walk the streets anymore. You think you have a ride because you live north of Wilshire boulevard. I’ve got news for you, the next earthquake gets Wilshire Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, Central Avenue.
I brought you out of the tomb, I raised you from the dead. I gave you an education. And some of you have turned it into a miseducation. But now you’ve cried to me: Oh, my goodness! I not only see you, I’ll save you. Hezekiah, I’m gonna give you 15 more years. And Hezekiah, there’s Assyria out there with this army getting ready to take over Jerusalem. Hezekiah, my angel is gonna visit them and 185,000 of them are gonna be killed in one night. You saw it in Isaiah 37, how the angel stood and protected God’s people, how the angel is standing at this very moment and protecting us.
Hezekiah, I just want you to remember I am the Lord, thy God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shall have no other gods before me. I am the Lord, thy God, who brought you out of slavery in Georgia, who lifted you up. I am the Lord, thy God, who put bread on your table, opened your mind. I am the Lord, thy God, so when you turn your face to the wall, I don’t want you to give up. I want you to give out. I want you to know I will be with you always.
If you believe it, stand to your feet!
A lady, despondent. The pastor visits her filled with despair, heart heavy, leading with a bowed down head.
“I can’t worship God anymore. I’m hurting too much. How could God let this happen to me? How could God do me this way?”
Looking down, he sees some embroidering she’s been doing. He says, “My goodness, what a mess! How could anybody waste time on something like this?”
Reaching down, the lady turns the embroidering over and says, “You were looking at it on the wrong side.”
He says, “That’s what you’re doing with your troubles. You’re looking at them on the wrong side. You need to see things as God sees them. You need to see that your sickness is for your strengthening. You need to see that your weakness is for your empowering. You need to see that your crucifixion is for your resurrection. You need to see that your down times are for your up times.
If you’ve ever been down and God has lifted you up…everybody, say, “Love lifted me!”
Dear God, dear God, thank you! Thank you that you hear our cries, you see our tears, and if there’s someone who has no church home, come down one of the aisles, “Excuse me neighbor,” meet us here at the Cross. Just come on down and help us help others. And if there’s someone seeking prayers for a loved one, the prayer warriors who will meet you here. If there’s someone seeking petition or prayers for yourself, the prayer warriors will meet you here. So, to join us or to come and join God in prayer, won’t you come?