Pastor Cecil L. Murray encourages his congregation to challenge the stereotype of the “gentle Jesus,” asserting that Jesus was not gentle and passive, but assertive for justice. He says, “When you meet Jesus, Jesus disturbs the peace,” meaning that Jesus challenges the status quo and pushes for progress. Pastor Murray notes that this phrase — “disturbing the peace” — was the phrase used to describe the transgressions that Peter and Gabriel, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela were similarly charged with.
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.
“Does Anyone Here Know My Jesus?”
April 5, 1992
The high court recognized that these men, Peter and John, had been with Jesus. Our subject: Does anybody here know my Jesus? It’s an important question because sometimes Jesus’s own crowd doesn’t know Jesus. Martin Luther King stands before some temples, white temples in the deep South, all with memberships of two and three thousand people. Tall steeples, stained glass windows, and yet the foundations of those edifices are discrimination, racism and segregation. Martin asks himself, “Where are the Lord’s prophets? What kind of people worship there? Who is their God?”
Does anybody here know my Jesus? Because if you know Jesus, you ought to show some signs. I can’t think of anything more important than where we were in Leimert Park yesterday. I can’t stand here and say I know Jesus, but I wasn’t there to save Jesus’s Black folks.
Jesus’s substance, Jesus’s children killing children, Jesus’s children being killed by children. What kind of God do they serve?
Peter and John stand before the Sanhedrin–the Sanhedrin is the Jewish high court, the supreme court of the land. They stand there as nobodies, uneducated, un-credentialed, unknown, unrecognized. The Sanhedrin is composed of the best-educated minds in the country, the wealthiest people in the country, the most powerful people in the country, and they stand there. They could have been trembling, but when you know Jesus–darlings, when you know Jesus–nothing makes you tremble. When you know Jesus, Satan can throw his fiery darts at you, but God wraps you in God’s asbestos. When you know Jesus, things may be wrong for you in this world, but still in the face of adversity you can sing Jesus is still all right.
The high court brings them up on the same charge that they brought Martin Luther King up on. The same charge that South Africa brought Nelson Mandela up on: disturbing the peace. That’s the thing that happens to you when you meet Jesus. You begin to become a rabble-rouser. You get on fire, and the status quo can’t hold you any longer. That old crowd you’ve been running with isn’t cute to you anymore. Those old habits that you’ve had are no longer important to you. All when you meet Jesus.
Jesus disturbs your peace. You had it down to a science, you weren’t due much in life except eating and drinking and procreating and having a good time for yourself. But then, when you meet Jesus, Jesus gives you an agenda. Jesus always disturbs the peace. As long as you want to go along with the status quo, Jesus says I stand at the door and knock. But then, when you open the door and let Jesus come in, you would have thought a bomb when off in the house. People start getting mad at you. Your friends say something’s happening to you and I don’t know you anymore.
You end that old bad relationship when you were hooked up with the taker and there you are being a giver, and Jesus comes into your house. Jesus says, “There ain’t no dignity in being a slave, stand up and assert your rights.” You say to that person abusing you, “I ain’t going to take this no more. I don’t need nobody mistreating me, I can do bad all by myself.” When Jesus comes into your life.
I want to tell many of you something because maybe you’re suffering a little elevated blood pressure. Maybe you’re finding your chest pounding sometimes. Maybe you find you can’t sleep at night or your appetite is no good.
Maybe you need to discover Jesus as somebody who tells you the reason you are out of sorts is because you don’t stand for anything, you let other folks control your life, you’re so interested in what other folks are thinking about you, you don’t worry about what God is thinking about you. You go through life, excuse me for living. Excuse me please, is it all right if I breathe? Is it all right if I think what you’re thinking? How do I look? If you dress yourself, you ought to know how you look. Do care what nobody thinks about you?
Jesus says, “I didn’t come in peace.” We like to picture Jesus as gentle Jesus, meek and mild. That was not gentle Jesus that went into that temple and cleansed it by making a whip for himself. That wasn’t no gentle Jesus who stood up against the scribes and Pharisees and the Sadducees and said, “I’ll stand on the rock of God. You may destroy this body but you can never destroy this soul. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. The sword of justice, the sword of righteousness.”
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
How have they disturbed the peace? How have Peter and John disturbed the peace? They had healed a man. You remember the man who sat by the gate called Beautiful, one of the twelve gates to Jerusalem? This beggar was born crippled, and his friends bring him to the gate called Beautiful, one of the twelve gates outside of the city, outside of the temple. There he begs for money. One day Peter and John come along and they tell him something that Jesus and God are willing to tell you and me this morning. “I don’t have a lot of money. Silver and gold have I none. But such as I have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, be healed.”
You would have thought the Sanhedrin would have been shouting with joy. You would have thought the religious leaders would have said, “This is a miracle from God.” But instead, they asked Peter and John, “By whose authority do you do this? Who in the world do you think you are? Healing folks, that’s our function. We’re the ones who have been to Harvard and Yale and Princeton and Claremont. We’re the ones who are in charge of religious duties. By what authority do you do this?”
People are used to authority. Average person you see is looking for somebody, tell me what to do. Tell me what to eat. Tell me what to wear. Tell me where to stand. Tell me when to raise my arms. Now we’ve even got experts telling you when you can have a baby, as if the economy won’t tell you. You can’t have a baby until you can afford a baby.
Some people just love a dictatorial preacher: Do this, do that. But then, they say, “Come on, let’s do what it is God wants us to do. Let’s do what the fruit wants us to do.” But they don’t know how the take that. We want an authoritarian life. We say at Bible study, we want to tell you what to do, we want you to think for yourself and then decide what you want to do. By what authority, in whose name do you do this?
I lived in West Palm Beach, and the rich folks lived in Palm Beach, across the water. DuPonts, the McCormicks, and the Astors and the Huntingtons and all. From time to time, when we were over there working, we worked after school, and verily a white policeman would stop and say, “Boy, who you work for?” I’d say, “R.D. Huntington, majority stockholder in Douglas Aircraft Company. Multi zillionaire, R.D. Huntington.” “All right, boy. Go on.” If I hadn’t worked for Mr. Charlie, I’d been in trouble. But the name of R.D. Huntington saved me from a brutalizing. Well, I want to tell you about another name that will save you from brutalizing. I want to tell about the name of Jesus, that in that name every knee shall bow, even R.D. Huntington, even John J. Rockefeller, even Mr. Bush.
Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. In whose name? In the name of Jesus.
They began to squirm on the Supreme Court. Began to squirm a little bit. And then, the Scripture says, they recognized these men had been with Jesus.
I want to tell you, early birds, Jesus makes a difference in your life. Yes, he does. If you just give Jesus 15 seconds in the morning when you awaken. Just fall by the side of your bed. “Thank you, Lord, for the little resurrection. Thank you, Lord, that I survived the night.”
And then, before you go to bed at night, 15 seconds on your knees. You don’t have to have fancy Princeton University words, all you have to say is come into my heart, Lord Jesus. I hear you knocking, Lord, and you can come in. When you know Jesus, in the name of Jesus, Jesus will take care of you.
They wanted to put Peter and John in jail and throw the keys away, but they were scared to do it. You know, Rome rules the world and Rome had just one rule: You must have peace in your prophets. And, if we put these two people in jail, them thousands of folks out there who are proud of the way they healed that man, who are claiming them, they going to riot and we going to have a problem.
The Lord also had Peter and John’s defense attorney standing in the back of the room. The best defense attorney in the world. The best defense attorney in town. His business card says, “If you are right, I’ll fight your battles.” That defense attorney was the same one who gave Peter the courage to stand up before the world, the Supreme Court, and speak. For he spoke in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God is your defender, so that one man can say never have I seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed go begging for bread. The Holy Spirit will lift you up when people put you down. The Holy Spirit will stand with you at the midnight hour.
The Holy Spirit stood at the back of the courtroom and said, “Now, y’all so bad, you don’t mess with them. You don’t mess with them. I’ll call as my first witness that man they healed. The eye learns much quicker than the ear. I don’t need a whole lot of pleading. All I have to do is stand that man before you. You used to give him quarters at the city gates. You used call him, Oh, poor child, I feel so sorry for you. Forty years, forty years you used to give him a nickel, but now look at him. He’s here ready to go to work. Ready to witness to the Lord. You can’t beat God giving. You can’t say what God can do.”
Our works speak for us. Even when we can’t speak for ourselves, our works speak for us. That’s why you look at the Rodney King trials going on all day, every day, costing the tax payers millions of dollars. Now, here’s some defense attorneys trying to convince the whole world that we didn’t see what we saw. I saw a bunch of people who saw Black and they saw red and they just started beating Black and beating Black because I hate you, I hate myself. I’ve been given the power to beat you, and they hit him and they hit him and then they say he fell down. The eye knows the truth.
Here is the man who was healed, and if he tells his story, he’ll say, “I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see. I don’t know who these [two men] are, but the name I remember they said to me, in the name of Jesus, and at that name I stood up. For the first time in my life, I stood up. I feel so good this morning. I feel so good this morning. We better leave them alone, we don’t want no riot.”
“Peter?” “Yes.” “John?” “Yes.” “We going to let you go this time, but no more of this propaganda. Don’t you talk about this Jesus no more.”
“Your Honor, with all due respect, sir, I have my choice between serving you and serving God. If you let me walk out of this courtroom, I’m going to preach from the time I hit the first step, ‘til the time my head is cold. If you are a witness, won’t you let God abide?”
Peter goes out to the thousands of people standing there and in other words he asks, “Does anybody here know my Jesus? Does anybody here know my Lord? I want to know if you know my Jesus. I want to know if you know my Lord. Then, if you know him, you ought to praise him. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him, oh creatures there below. Praise him above ye heavenly hosts. Praise him. Praise him. Praise him. Praise him.”
While you are on your feet, our Lord has opened the doors of the church. If you have no church home, we invite you to come. Give us your hand in membership and we’ll take it from there. As we sing, won’t you come?