“I think death died when Jesus died,” says Pastor Murray, making the argument that those who are disenfranchised will rise again. He tells his congregation that with a will to live, you will live again through Jesus.
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.
“There’s Always a Third Day” (Part One)
April 19, 1992
So, have you heard the news? Have you heard the news about Jesus? That’s the brother they put in the tomb Friday. Man, seems that they can’t find that cat nowhere. Have you heard the news? Some folks are saying that his disciples stole the body, and they’re passing around the word that he has risen, resurrected, but the truth is they stole the body. Some folks will believe anything. They even got an Elvis Presley resurrection club. He ain’t coming back no more.
Some folks said Jesus wasn’t really dead, he was just in a coma, and then he was resurrected and he’s come back to life. But I don’t believe that, because when he healed me, I remember him saying, “They’re going to kill me.” The status quo doesn’t like all this healing and empowering of poor folks. See, if y’all ever get yourself together, y’all going to be a mighty force. You tell the men in that church, ain’t nothing else like that in America. Ain’t nowhere where 3,000 men under Jesus’ banner are talking about being on the battlefield for their Lord. That’s going to get y’all in trouble.
But I remember when He told me, “They going to crucify me,” Luke 24:7. “I’m going to be killed. But I’ll rise again. Ain’t no power on Earth can keep me down.”
I figured if a man going to the cross can say, “I’ll rise again,” I’m down here on Skid Row. Reverend Jackson preached to us this morning, and some of us came out to worship to see if y’all were for real, and y’all look like y’all are for real. If Jesus can rise again, then I’ll rise again. Ain’t no power on Earth can keep me down. I’ll rise again. Death can’t keep this body in the ground.
When I tell you guys out there, there’s always a third day. That’s our subject. There’s always a third day. The whole town is talking about Jesus. I know last Sunday we stood and said that same thing, “The whole town is talking about Jesus.” Last Sunday was because he had raised a dead man, Lazarus, back up to life. And when he came in on that Sunday, you and I called Passover Sunday … or Palm Sunday, and the Jews that following Friday had their Passover season, the whole town was talking about somebody who could bring a dead man back to life.
Now the whole town’s talking about him again. They’re saying the raiser is now the raised. The one who raised up Lazarus, now God raised him up. And that’s the way it goes. If you give, God will give to you. In the process of healing, you are healed. In the process of sharing, you are lain up for safe treasures with God. In the power of empowering, you are empowered, when the raiser is raised.
How’d you find out about this? Oh, I heard it through the grapevine. Remember that song? I heard it through the grapevine. The grapevine usually has bad news. It’s about, it’s about, it’s about to make me lose my mind. Oh, yes it is. They even made a commercial about it. I heard it through the grape, oh, I heard it through the grapevine. Grapevine always got sour grapes. Could have been gossip. Them women who were at the tomb this morning, they come back running through the streets telling folks that a dead man has come back to life again. And this Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter’s son, a nobody who earns the hostility of the Roman Empire, they crucified my Lord, and he never said a mumbling word. They laid him in the tomb, and he couldn’t say a mumbling word.
But early this morning, he broke the jaws of death, and the women are telling everybody. I heard it through the grapevine. Could be gossip? Yes, it could be gossip. Could be gossip. Folks like to gossip. Anybody telling you they don’t like gossip, they gossiping themselves, because most gossip ain’t nothing but lies. One earthmoving company makes large earthmoving equipment. Name one of its models, model G, model G. They ask them what that G stand for. That G stand for gossip. We call it model G gossip, because it moves a whole lot of dirt, and it don’t take it long to do it.
They say Jesus is raised. It could be gossip. It could be gossip to say that, brother, you can be raised this morning. Could be gossip that says, sister, you can be raised this morning. You can be better than you are. You can be swinging on a star. It could be gossip. Could be gossip that you the oldest folk on earth, 117 million years ago that they said, “Let there be life,” and there was you. Ninety million years ago in Europe so that you were out from the trees, 27 million years before Europe came down from the trees. Now Europe wants to put you down, and God wants to lift you up. It could be gossip. Could be gossip.
Gossip usually is bad news. But if somebody like Jesus is coming back from the dead, it ain’t bad news. It’s good news. It’s good news. And the Greeks have a word for it that translates to Gospel. You are jelly on good news, Gospel. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see, was dead but now I’m alive. Good news. Good news. Or course, what’s good news for some people, is automatically bad news for others. Like some of you sisters will sit here as the people fall out, and you will see the women, ain’t nobody judges women like women judge women. And Lord, help that woman who ain’t nothing wrong with her. Women going to find something wrong. They have to eat her up, look at them toes and they can’t even see her toes. I bet you them fingernails ain’t hers. Bad news.
Good news about A is bad news for B, and bad news for B is good news for A. It’s good news for you and me that Jesus suffered, bled and died, and that out of that suffering, bleeding and dying, you and I don’t have to die. I can be born again. I can live again. And then God reaches down with the coup d’etat, and God raises up Jesus from the dead. I’ll rise again. Oh, that was good news to everybody but Pilate and his crowd. Pilate is lopping off heads right and left. I’ve seen Pilate mad before, and you know he’s a kind of wishy-washy person, and people like that can’t make up their mind. But when they do make up their mind, they clamp the teeth like a weak man who’s got to be extra strong to prove he ain’t weak.
Now, Pilate knows he’s in trouble. Pilate call the captain of the guard before him, and Pilate said, “I thought I told you all to make certain that they didn’t steal that body. Starts a mess here talking about that crucified Jew is raised from the dead. I’ll have trouble on my hands, and they’ll stop rabblerousing and rebelling against Rome. Then Rome will come in here and remove me. I thought I told y’all not to let that body be stolen.”
“Governor, that body wasn’t stolen. I made doubly sure that I carried out your orders. What did you do, governor? Governor, these big cartwheel stones that we seal tombs with, they usually weigh about 400 pounds. Governor, I got one that weighs 2,000 pounds. Governor, it took five of my men to roll that stone in front of that borrowed tomb, that tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, that tomb where that crucified carpenter, that tomb where that troublemaker, that healer, that life-giver, that feeder–I put him in that tomb. And we rolled the stone in front of it.”
“What happened to it, captain?”
“Please, governor, don’t ask me. Don’t make me tell you what the report said. Please, governor.”
“Well, I got to be able to tell the emperor something. Give me that report. The stone was rolled aside by two extra-terrestrial beings. Garbage. Garbage. Dressed in white robes. Angels, the crowd is calling them. Angels, I can’t report that kind of foolishness. Angels rolling a stone away. Tell those guards to be quiet. Don’t say anything about the stone.”
“Yes, sir, governor. I already told them I anticipated your order. But we got a little problem, governor. The soldiers won’t tell anybody, but there were some women there, and you know how women talk. Excuse me, governor, I don’t mean to be a sexist or a chauvinist, but the women do talk, and they’ve been getting ready to tell it. What women? What women? Well, that was Mary of Magdala. That whore? Yes, sir, the same Mary. The one, sir, that you used to see every Friday.”
“Shut your … by the way, captain, whatever happened to her?”
“Jesus happened to her. You don’t know her anymore. Her skin is clear. Her eyes have the purity of a newborn child of God. You won’t know her anymore, and everywhere Jesus goes, she follows behind him. She kind of walks behind him, saying, ‘This is the man that changed my life.’ And she tells the sisters on the street that this is the man. Who else was there? Another Mary, the mother of James and …
“Oh, I know her. She’s married to one of the chief priests, isn’t she?”
“Yes, yes, yes, sir. She’s married.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you what. You got to get them women quiet. You tell Mary Magdalene that if she don’t shut her mouth, I’m going to send her up the river, because I got enough on her to put her away forever. No, I know I can’t witness, because I’ve been there, but I can get somebody to witness. And you tell that other Mary, whose husband is in the high party, that I’m going to see that he don’t get his position next year if she don’t hush her mouth.”
“Governor, that’s brilliant. Just for one problem, though, governor. We got a little problem. It’s too late. They done already told everybody. Governor, they came out of that graveyard like their clothes were on fire. The sun was peaking up over the horizon, and they started running, these five or six women, and they first went to a house of a person they knew, a woman who had had cancer. She had had an issue of blood, and you know they are considered unclean, and nobody can touch them. And this woman sensed then this Jesus, this same rabble-rouser we put in that tomb and sealed that tomb, this woman just crawled through the crowd, and she sneaked up behind it, and she reached out and she touched his robe, and she ain’t been the same yet. He said, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well.’”
“They told her, and she’s the head of her neighborhood club. And they meeting at her house right now. You heard the news, they’re saying everybody’s rocking tonight. And then they went on, and they met a man. You know him–he used to sit outside of the gate called Beautiful. You know him. You know the 12 gates to Jerusalem?”
“Wait a minute! That beggar? That one I used to throw two pence to, and he’d almost kiss my foot? And he was a professional beggar, belonged to the professional beggar’s guild? Yeah, I know him. Well, what happened to him?”
“This Jesus healed him. He healed him. Lord, he healed him through his disciple Peter, and now he’s going around telling the news, because they told him. And then as the women were coming further into town, oh, Lord, I hate to tell it, Lord, but you know the man who used to lie by the Pool of Solomon, 38 years he had been lying there waiting for somebody to put him in the water? They believe that these are holy waters, and an angel of God comes down from time to time and stirs up the water. And the first one in the water is healed, and he said, ‘I don’t have nobody to put me in the water.’ And Jesus said, ‘You don’t need water. All you need is God. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up.’
“And that crippled man rose up. You know how we met him, governor? The women were coming down the streets, and you know how they met him? He was out during his jogging, two hours a day, he just exercises. He says, ‘I’m so glad to have my health back.’ Did you see that sister a little while ago, governor? She said, ‘I once was lost, but now I’m found. I couldn’t walk, but now I can shout. Glory. Glory be to God. Glory be to God.’
“And we could’ve gotten away with everything, governor, except they really got us. We can put all them old folks in jail, but they really got us when they talked to that little boy who had the school boy’s lunch. Five little barley loaves and two little sardine-like fish. And he was supposed to be in school that day, but he followed the crowd when they were going out to see Jesus. And Jesus stood there talking like Elliot had them Thursday night at Maundy Thursday, being the personification of Jesus Christ. And that little boy stood in the back of the crowd mesmerized. He couldn’t see, so he ran to a hill, and he climbed up on the hill just to see Jesus. And then the people were hungry, and one of the disciples pulled on him and said, ‘Can I borrow your lunch?’
“As hungry as he was, he gave it to the disciple. The disciple took it to Jesus, and He blessed it. And from that school boy’s lunch, Jesus fed over 5,000 folks, and there was a whole lot of food left over. Well, they told that little boy, and now he’s gone back and he’s told the youth choir at First AME Church. He’s told the children’s choir at First AME Church. He’s told the man child program and the woman child program and the locked-in program, and now, Lord, they are saying, ‘Jesus is alive. Jesus is alive.’
“So, you see, governor, governor, we got a problem.”
“Captain, tell me, what did you see?”
“I saw the stone roll away, and there was nobody inside, and I saw some burial clothes.”
“What had happened to the guards, captain?”
“Sir, they faded.”
“What do you think, captain?”
“Sir, I think that when we put Jesus in that tomb, that was not the death of Jesus. I think that was the death of death. I think death died when we put Jesus in the tomb. I think death died, and I think those slaves we’ve got from Africa are not going to follow us much longer, sir. I think since death has died, they going to rise up again. I think those household servants that we are working free and giving them a towel to wrap around their waist and forcing them to wash our visitors’ feet, I think they’re going to take off that servant’s towel and dash it to the ground and not come and begin the walk together.”
Children, don’t you get weary. Jesus is risen. That’s what I think. Well, what do you feel? What do I feel? I feel like I heard him say, “They going to kill me.” But if you don’t know something worth dying for, then you ain’t got nothing worth living for. I heard him say, “I’m not sure what’s going to happen to me, because no one has ever been in my shoes before.”
But I’m going to trust in the Lord. I’m going to trust in the Lord. They going to crucify me, but I’m going to rise up again. On the third day. They going to crucify you this week, on the job, in the home, in the marketplace, in the school, in rehearsal, they’re going to kill you on Friday. But there’s always a third day. I see that day dawning now. Those women have just reached the disciples. So, Peter is waking up. Paul is cranking up. Thomas is wising up. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are riding up. The poor are looking up. The blind are lifting up.
“I want to tell you, governor, I’m giving up. I, herewith, tender my resignation from the army of Rome. I am now a soldier in the army of God. I believe!”
I believe Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Jesus is risen. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Amen. Amen.
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