In this sermon, Cecil Murray reminds his congregation that everybody has troubles and nobody is alone in their worries, especially if you have God. He urges his congregation to recognize what they do have and to work through their troubles, even if they seem insurmountable.
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.
“Know When You’re Well Off”
October 8, 1995
Aren’t you happy to be alive this morning? Some of you didn’t raise your hands! It sure beats its opposite. Aren’t you enjoying life? Some of you can’t raise your hand. You don’t enjoy life because of, you enjoy life in spite of. Turn to your neighbor on your left, and tell them, “I’ve got problems!” Neighbor, turn right back to them, and tell them, “Welcome to the club!”
There’s a voice from heaven that keeps saying, “Time out, time out! Whoa, whoa, wait! Time out, time out, time out. You need to back up a little bit. And see, I didn’t promise you a rose garden. I didn’t let you all live in the Garden of Eden. You’re gonna live in a garden of evil. You’re gonna always have fightings without, and fears within.”
Can you hear that this morning? You’re gonna leave this place, and you’re gonna have some fightings without, and some fears within.
All of God’s children got troubles. But you got something else, when you’re God’s child. The same way you’re gonna have fightings without and fears within, the subject of our series for this month, you also got God without and God within. If you believe that, you’re gonna leave this place a different person. If you believe that, you’re gonna stop wringing your hands, saying, “Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe!” when you get some bad news. Or when our people get some bad news. Bad news is not going away. Bad news is here to stay. You may not be here to stay, but bad news is here to stay. So is God. “How do I know, pastor? How do I know? How do I know?” Good question. Memory. Memory. Remember that old song we used to sing: Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? Deliver Daniel? Deliver Daniel? Didn’t my Lord deliver Daniel? And I know He’ll deliver for me!
And you may not have any memory in your life, but I know, Didn’t my Lord delver Cecil? Deliver Cecil, deliver Cecil? And I got a hunch you can call your name. Didn’t my Lord deliver? I remember when you were stacked like sardines, coming from Mother Africa, to this hostile land. Didn’t my Lord deliver? I remember when we couldn’t go to school, and it was illegal for us to learn how to read and write. Didn’t my Lord deliver? I remember when… if you stood before the jury, you couldn’t even have a Black person on the jury, and the other one had nine.
Didn’t my Lord deliver? You didn’t know where your rent was coming from last month. You didn’t know how your son was gonna get out of jail. And your daughter comes up knocked up. Didn’t my Lord deliver you? You didn’t know how you were gonna pay your tuition. You didn’t know how you were gonna get out of that troubling romance you were in, the one that your hair was falling out, and your skin was breaking out. You didn’t know how you were gonna fill your tank, and you had to get to work. You don’t know what I’m talking… Didn’t God deliver you then?
A man in Turin, Italy, is found by his neighbors. He’s out, taken for dead. The doctor fills out a death certificate. The undertaker puts him in a box. The man all of the sudden raises up and looks around. “Why is the undertaker here?” “For you. You died.” The man collapses and dies of fright.
You get our subject: Know when you’re well off. Don’t hurt yourself. You got enough out there gonna hurt you anyway. Arteriosclerosis, your kidneys, your heart, your nerves. You’ve got enough going against you already. Don’t hurt yourself, ‘cause old age ain’t going away. Hardening of the arteries ain’t going away. Poor circulation ain’t going away. You better learn they are here to stay. And learn how to exercise your heart, and your soul, and your mind, and to eat right, and to live right.
And to point to the Lord! Know when you’re well off.
Exodus 14: “But in the early morning.” Verse 24: “Jehovah looks down from the cloud of fire. Upon the array of the Egyptians, and begins to harass them. The chariot wheels begin coming off, so that the chariots scrape along the dry ground. Let’s get out of here, the Egyptians yell. Jehovah is fighting for them, and against us.”
Know when you’re well off. The Egyptians, as the Israelites are coming out of slavery, and running away from the Egyptian cavalry… The Egyptians finally come to see their enemy is not Moses. They finally come to see their enemy is not the Israelites. They finally come to see their enemy is your way, the Lord our God. I want you to know this morning that if Jehovah is on your side, the world can’t do you no harm. And if Jehovah is against you, the world can’t do you no good.
We’ve said to America, “Let my people go,” and they couldn’t hear it. They couldn’t hear it. They’re finally coming to understand some of them. That the enemy is not the Black man or the woman. Your enemy is your justice system. Your enemy is your system of inequity. Your enemy is [injustice]. The Lord says, “Let my people go. Let my people go.”
Exodus 14 tells us that Israel goes out with a high hand. There’s a difference between a high hand and being high-handed. Some of us now walking around here after the verdict a little bit high-handed. It’s understandable. After 300 years, you finally get something that looks like a break. But you sure look foolish arguing about having a little break when you almost got a thousand more breaks to go. You’ve got a lot of work to do. What are you strutting about?
High-handed. High-handed. And you saw the figures, and among our teenagers are those in the age range of 19 to 30. We used to say one out of four is in prison, probation, on parole. And now they reveal the sentencing… the sentencing commission reveals, it’s not one out of four; it’s one out of two, one out of three, rather. And we are scheduled to go to one out of two in the year 2010. There ain’t no time for us being high-handed. High-handed.
No, they said Israel goes out with a high hand. That means under the hand of almighty God, is what we mean when we say, “Holy, holy, holy, holy. Somebody touched me! And it must’ve been the hand of the Lord. When I’m in trouble, Lord, give me a hand. When I go out, praise the lord, take my hand. The hand of God, lifts me up this morning. The hand of God starts me on my way. The hand of God feeds me when I can’t feed myself. The hand of God throws me alive when the world would call me dead. And if your hand is working, you ought to give God’s hand a hand. Praise the Lord!
You remember Israel finds itself in a cul-de-sac. You don’t have to tell anybody from Southern California what a cul-de-sac is. A passageway with only one way in, and one way out. A cul-de-sac… it’s a blind alley. You remember that Israel is moving along a cul-de-sac. It has the bitter lakes on one side, along with the mountains. The lakes and the mountains, and in front of them there is the Sea of Reeds. We call it the Red Sea. That’s a deep sea. But the Sea of Reeds is more properly… it’s just a narrow bottleneck of water, where if the wind blows in, that shallow water will stand up on one end. But they’re faced with the Sea of Reeds in front of them. The bitter lakes and the mountains on each side of them. And behind them, the Egyptian chariots. Chariots with two men in them. One man to drive the horses, and one man as a warrior with the spear and a bow and arrow, and as a shield. They find themselves in a cul-de-sac.
I want to tell you, children. Normally when you find yourself in a cul-de-sac, you have to do a U-turn. But when you have turned to God, when you have turned to God, you no longer have to do a U-turn. When you have turned to God, keep on walking. Keep on walking. Walking into the water. Walking up the king’s highway. There ain’t no cul-de-sac that can turn you. You don’t need to turn around, when you have turned to God. But if you have not turned to God, if you have not turned to God, you need to make a U-turn this moment. You need to make a U-turn, need to make a 180 degree turn. My Lord is all that you and I have. When a cul-de-sac in America, economically, politically, societally, emotionally, educationally and everyway… but there’s one way we’re not in a cul-de-sac. I know the Lord! I know the Lord! I know the Lord has laid his hands on me. And if the Lord has laid his hands on you, come on and say, “Yeah!”
In that cul-de-sac, Israelites are filled with fear. We [know] their hearts are filled with fear. The many Southern Californians at this moment whose hearts are filled with fear, Black and white. Whites kept asking, “Are Black folks gonna riot? Are Black folks gonna riot?” You act like we’re some kind of savages or something! What are we gonna riot about? What are we gonna riot about? Wasn’t the jury impaneled properly? Wasn’t the venue proper? Wasn’t the justice system composed of prosecution including Black, defense included Black? Then if you do things right, we’ll respect the way that things done. The question is not, “Are Black people gonna riot?” but “Are white people gonna riot?”
Stop by the office and listen to the tapes of the hate calls, the threatening calls. Stop by and let Pastor show you some of the literature. Stop by and see how if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves fighting within and fears without, or fightings without and fears within. When you own the battlefield for the Lord, you can’t let your heart tremble. It’s all right for your feet to tremble. It’s all right for your hands to tremble. It’s all right for your knees to tremble. But don’t let your heart tremble. The heart is the center of the human being. Love the Lord with all your heart. That’s your center. Jesus, you’re the center of my joy. If I die on the battlefield while I’m out here…
Don’t let everything scare you. Don’t start getting scared of growing old. Stop it now! Stop it. It’s all right if you color your hair a little bit, but don’t color your attitude. Ain’t nothing wrong with getting to be 50 years old. Ain’t nothing wrong with getting to be 60 years old. Brothers, stop fighting the reality. Stop being afraid of everything. Just cause you 70 years old, you don’t have to open your shirt, go around here, showing them hairs on your chest. Anytime your chest hairs are gray, you better be covering up your chest, not showing your chest. Act your age. Don’t be afraid. Fear not, says Moses. Fear not.
A lady gets off a plane at LAX and she complains that there’s a rattlesnake in her baggage. They call the police, and they come with sirens wailing and lights flashing. The woman has thrown the bag out of the window so it’s there on the sidewalk. And the police approach it cautiously. They take a pole and they turn it over and they pull out the items one by one. And they discover that her rattlesnake is an electric toothbrush that’s come on accidentally.
Most of our snakes are in our minds. Most of our snakes are in our crowd. Most of our snakes are on the sidewalk. And some of our snakes are in the mirror. Ninety percent of the things you are afraid of never happen. And that other 10 percent, God will take care of. When you’ve done the best you can, who do you point to? Point to Him, lift up! Lift up every hand. That’s who you point to. Now point to yourself. “I must do everything I can to help myself. I must vote. I must protest. I must write letters. I must educate. I must get health. But when I’ve done the best I can, and I find myself in a cul-de-sac…”
Reach up, reach up everybody! Reach up. Fear not!
Stand still. Be still. He means be quiet. Be quiet. Be quiet. All we do is go around, “Life sure is hard. Life sure is hard. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.” That’s what life is. The alternative to that is what we had this week. We had 11 funerals this week. Life ain’t hard no more for them. If you want a soft life, come on and be number 12. Everybody talking about Heaven, Heaven, Heaven! Heaven is my home, but I ain’t homesick.
This country ain’t gonna change, unless we change it. And nobody gonna help you, if you don’t help yourself. Be still. Be quiet. And it also has another meaning. Be worshipful. Don’t you turn your back on the Lord in the time of trouble. You can help yourself. Father, I stretch my hand to you. Stand still. See the glory of the Lord. For these Egyptians you see now, you will see no more. Keep on walking towards the Sea of Reeds. Keep your hand in God’s hand. Moses, reach up your hand to me. And when your hand gets tired, somebody will hold your elbow. And when he gets tired, somebody will hold your elbow. Don’t you ever get too tired to lift your hand to God. Don’t you ever get too tired to wake up on Sunday morning and make your way to the house of the Lord.
The Lord sends an angel, they call it a Pillar of Cloud. It’s an angel. The Lord makes the Lord’s presence known with a cloud, just the strangest cloud you ever saw. It’s darkness to the Egyptians. It’s light to the Israelites. The same cloud. That’s where we are right now in this glorious City of the Angels. God has sent an angel. God has sent a cloud. It’s darkness to some people. It’s light to other people. Some people are saying, “Why are they celebrating? They don’t understand. You’re not celebrating O.J.–you’re celebrating J-U-S-T-I-C-E. That’s what you’re celebrating.
Then in the morning, watch. That’s two o’clock in the morning to six o’clock in the morning. God has sent a wind all night long. All night long, and blows up the Sea of Reeds. The reeds see the water, stand up on one side. It’s happened two other times in recorded history. And the Israelites move over, but the wheels are mired in the mud. And when the morning comes, they sing, “Free at last. Free at last!”
I thank God I’m free at last. When the morning comes, understand what the [Lord has done]. When the morning comes, by and by. When the morning comes. If you know what morning is all about, stand on your feet. Stand on your feet. Tell your neighbor, “God has been good to me. God has been good to me. God has been good to me!”
Tell this to your neighbor. Tell your neighbor! Tell your neighbor. Tell your neighbor. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!