In this Sermon, Rev. Murray talks about being God’s prisoner–or a prisoner of love–meaning that you “disturb the peace” of the status quo and make compromises for the sake of the Lord. You cannot love without disturbing the peace and making compromises for the greater good.
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.
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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.
“It Only Takes a Few”
August 14, 1994
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let everything that hath breath say, “Praise the Lord!”
Congregation: Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Today we continue step two in our series, “A Prisoner of Love.” Turn to your neighbor on your right and say, “Neighbor I love you.”
Congregation: Neighbor I love you!
Neighbor, turn right back to them and ask, “Are you sure?”
Congregation: Are you sure?
Whenever you are God’s prisoner, whenever you are love’s prisoner, you always find yourself sentenced to the same thing as Paul and his friends. You find yourself arrested for disturbing the peace. You can’t love somebody without disturbing their peace.
Parents are trying to rear a “Yes” generation, everything they ask you, you just say, “Yes, yes, yes,” you don’t want to disturb their peace. If you don’t disturb their peace now, they’ll go to pieces later. They save Paul, and Silas, and Timothy, and Luke, here in Athens, those men who have turned the world upside down have come here also. You ain’t going to do no good for God, you ain’t going to do no good for yourself, you ain’t go do no good for love unless you make somebody unhappy.
If you want to come in number one in the contest, “I want to be loved, somebody love me, somebody tell me it’s all right for me to be here, somebody dignify me,” you ain’t going to do nothing but eat, sleep and die and go to hell. Disturbing the peace, disturbing the peace, I’ve not come to bring peace, I’ve come to bring a sword. I’ve come to love somebody, if you’re going to feed somebody, you’re going to make somebody mad who don’t want to feed nobody.
If you’re going to heal somebody, you’re going to make somebody mad who likes to see everybody sick. “But pastor, pastor, I’m just a little bit of person, ain’t nothing to me. I’m just a little shot, I’m not a big shot.” Well, neither was Paul when he turned to be a Christian, neither was Timothy, neither was Silas, neither was Barnabas, you know what a big shot is? A big shot is a little shot that keeps on shooting.
Acts 17 near the end there—Acts 17, verse 32, when they heard Paul speak of the resurrection, of a person who had been dead—this itinerant Jewish carpenter, preacher, Jesus—dead, back to life. Some laughed, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” That ended Paul’s discussion with them, listen to this, “But a few joined him and became believers.”
Our subject: “It only takes a few.” For good, it only takes a few, for evil, it only takes a few, for good or for evil, it only takes a few, it’s your call. That’s all God ever says to you and me, “It’s your call.” Sisters don’t come to pastor, brother don’t come to pastor in the council chamber, talking about you did wrong because of so forth and so forth who made you do it. You did wrong because you wanted to do wrong!
It’s your call, it’s your call. If you want to do good like Paul and the company, you go about lifting, you go about telling them, you got a dying soul to save and a God to glorify. You go about telling them, “I was sinking deep in sin, but God lifted me up.” You go about telling people, “This Jesus who was crucified is come again from the dead.” And if you believe that you will live, you go about telling people, “You can do wrong a long time but sooner or later, you’re going to hit a red brick wall, you got to live a good life,” you can do that.
Or you can do wrong. And it’s a funny thing, who opposed Paul and his band?
The church folks, the religious folks. Why do we church folks, religious folks always fight each other? Why can’t Baptist and Methodist get along? Why can’t Episcopalians and Catholics get along? Why can’t we get along in the house of the Lord? If we’re all going to the top of the mountain, ain’t but one top, a lot of ways to the top.
The Baptist go by water, the Methodist go by land, you want to see Jesus in the morning, you got to go there, hand-in-hand. The religious leaders take offense: “These men, these outsiders have come now to Europe, they were in Asia Minor talking about this crucified carpenter who’s come back to life. And we believe in the Roman gods, we believe in the Greek gods, don’t listen to them, we are here for our people.”
They’re religious people, but they have refrigerator religion. Refrigerator religion. A refrigerator generates a whole lot of power, refrigerator religion. Refrigerator holds a whole lot of goodies, refrigerator even has a light on the inside. Refrigerator is working all the time, but a refrigerator is ice-cold, frigid, cold, it needs to loosen up sometimes. It needs to warm up sometimes.
You know people who are perfectly good, but they are just as cold as ice. Some people today are 100 degrees, everybody fanning, and they run here with a fur coat on that’s so cold. It’s one thing to have thin blood, it’s another thing to have a thin religion. When somebody says to you, “I love you,” what do you say back?
Congregation: I love you!
Somebody hugs you, what do you do?
Congregation: Hug them!
Do you hug them with one arm or two arms?
Congregation: Two arms!
Somebody say, “I love you,” at least you can do is say, “Well I’m working on it.”
Some people have refrigerator religion. How do you let somebody, a stranger, sit in the pew next to you at church, and you don’t even reach over and say, “Hello, my name is … welcome to worship. Welcome to worship, welcome to worship.”
Refrigerator religion. The only way to heat it up and to loosen it up is to break it up or to break it down, and this God has to do by pulling the plug.
I tell you, when you are aloof, when you don’t feel for people, Abraham Lincoln said, “I feel sorry for the person who can’t feel the whip when it’s on another person’s back.” Can’t you feel the pain of the people in Bosnia? Can’t you? Can’t you feel the pain of the people in Rwanda? Can’t you? Those children by the side of the road, can’t you feel their pain?
Can’t you feel the pain of the people in Haiti? Can’t you? Can’t you feel the pain of the people in Cuba? Can’t you? Can’t you feel the pain of the people in the projects in South Central? Can’t you? Can’t you feel the pain? It only takes a negative few to cause everything to freeze up.
The mob is never led by the mob, the mob is always led by a few negative people. And I don’t know what choice you’ve made this morning about choosing to do good works or to bad works, I don’t know what choice you’ve made. But a long time ago, I decided to follow Jesus. A long time ago, I decided to put it on the line for Jesus. A long time ago I decided, and I didn’t have the biggest car in town, the biggest house in town, the biggest ego in town, I’ve decided to follow Jesus.
I’ll take the way with the Lord’s despised few. I’ve started with Jesus and I’m going through. You have your choice of being in the despised few, or being in that negative few. Young people you know, every time you get into trouble, it isn’t because you yourself have led yourself into trouble. You’ve led yourself into trouble following some jackass with his pants hanging halfway down his behind, with his shoes two sizes too big.
The grace of God is such, God can take the negative few, denigrating and putting down the despised few, and God can take of that negative and make it a holy negative, by making that despised few a holy few. “Pastor what do you mean?” I mean, God can use the negative to accomplish the positive.
I mean, sometimes God has to kick us out of town for us to get out of town. Paul and his friends are kicked out of Iconium, kicked out of Lystra, kicked out of Philippa, kicked out of Berea, and today they find themselves in Athens. A whole lot of us are here because God had to kick us out of Texas, God had to kick us out of Arkansas, God had to kick us out of New York, God had to kick us out of Boston.
If God hadn’t said, “I shut that door in order that another door can be opened,” we wouldn’t be here today. George Smith, missionary, goes to Africa. George Smith, one convert. And she was a woman who was poor, begging on the streets–one convert. Six months later they threw him out the country and he died, almost of a broken heart.
Kneeling there with his Bible, praying for this province in Africa, calling himself a failure. But 100 years later, there were 13,000 converts in that spot. They were there because of that woman of the streets, and because a few men who stumbled by and saw his body, and saw the Word of God, were moved by the Word of God.
I want to tell you meddlers, it only takes a few this morning, it only takes one person on fire this morning, it only takes one in your family, it only takes one in your household, it only takes one in your neighborhood. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the way with the Lord’s despised few. I’ve started with Jesus, and I’m going through.
As you struggle to do the good in your life, to love, don’t worry about sophisticated people here. Don’t you let no smart-aleck put you down. Don’t you let any Ivy League graduate put you down. Don’t you let any top of the Beverley Hills person put you down. It ain’t where you’re living, it’s what you’re living with.
It’s necessary to go to school, and nobody pushes school more than we. Three hundred-fifty kids every week getting ready for college, but the old folks knew what they were talking about. And you repeat it to the next generation, and the next generation: You can go to college, you can go to school, but if you ain’t got Jesus, you’re just an educated fool. And that’s all, that’s all, that’s all, that’s all.
The most uncommon thing in the world is common sense. Americans have very little common sense. Our children are killing children, and we doing business as usual. We paying baseball players $1.3 million a year, and we are paying teachers $30,000 a year, and the baseball players are on strike, we don’t have any common sense at all.
Athens, Athens is a smart town, Athens is just filled with philosophical debates. The Epicureans are there and the Epicureans say the highest joy in life is pleasure. A pleasure that doesn’t have any pain connected with it. The Stoics are there, the Stoics say everything is in the cards, everything is in the stars, everything that is, was meant to be, and there’s nothing you can do except get in step with the flow of time.
These Athenians love to debate, they even have a forum, up there on Mars Hill, where the philosophers stand up and everybody debates. Paul did less work in Athens than he did in any other city he went. Less work than in Philippi, less work than in Thessalonica, less work than in Rome, less work than in Ephesus, because people who are busy talking all the time, ain’t going do a doggone thing!
We reach a point of city sophistication where we are like a two-year-old, got us a new toy. When a child, before a child learns how to walk, you have to protect him from everything. And after the two-year-old learns how to walk, you have to protect everything from him. The terrible twos, got us a brand-new toy, the whole house.
They’ve got them a toy: religion. They’ve got an altar to every god, the Roman gods, and the Greek gods, and the Phoenecian gods, and just in case, they have altars to unknown gods. “We don’t want to take any chance, just in case there’s one of y’all out there that we don’t know about–here’s an altar to you!” Paul starts with people where they are, all learning starts with people where they are.
My friends, my Athenians, he says on Mars Hill, I know that you have an altar to an unknown god. Well, that God is not unknown anymore, because I’m here today to proclaim that God to you. That God made a one, all the people of the earth. That God made us in the image of that God. That God when making us knew that He’d need to remake us because we’d fall into sin.
That God sent a savior, Messiah, to make us all over again. And the course of the Messiah’s work, he was crucified, dead and buried, but God raised Him up. Believe that, and you will live. You remember the scripture when they heard Paul speak of the resurrection of the dead, the person who had been dead, some laughed. Children, Christians always keep you three pairs of shoes, three pairs of shoes.
The Ward Singers sang about traveling shoes. Put on your traveling shoes that’s so you can meet your God. Don’t you get permanent down here, don’t you get caught up in L.A. la-la land. There’s something beyond this foolishness. There’s something beyond your weekends, there’s something beyond your club, there’s something beyond your alligator shoes, there’s something beyond your designer jeans. Put on your traveling shoes.
The second pair of shoes you need are some walking shoes so you can walk in the midst of people who are positive. Get you somebody who believes in possibilities, get you somebody who believes you can still rear children right. Get you somebody who believes you can tell the truth and the truth will set you free. Get you somebody who when they say, “I love you,” don’t mean “I love what you going give to me.”
Get you somebody you going to wake up in the morning, put that word in the bank.
Traveling shoes, walking shoes, then keep you some running shoes, so you can run away from people who are negative, people who laugh at everything. People who put everything down, people who think, they always got to have an angle.
People who wake up in the morning plotting how to do something evil, put on your running shoes, run away from them. I ain’t got no time to mess with you, you want to game somebody. Some laughed, some hesitated, “We want to hear about this tomorrow. Some more convenient day.” If you’re going to make a decision, make it today. If you’re going to decide to follow God, decide today. If you’re going to love that person, decide today.
Because you look around, today will be gone and tomorrow will have you weeping. Whatever you’re going to do, make a decision today.
And there was that third crowd, just a few believed. A few believed, they happen to include one of the most brilliant minds in Athens, Denicious. Everybody respected him, God will send you some significant others, and they included a beautiful woman named Demetrius.
But she wasn’t always that way. She was the only woman in the crowd when Paul spoke that day. Women weren’t allowed to mix with men in public. You remember Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, it was a hard time and the Bible is written by men and men can be so chauvinistic. Women have been the backbone of everything we’ve done in history, but if you read the Bible, if you read the Bible, you get to see that women historically have been treated like Jews and like Blacks, and like poor people, and like down-and-out people.
They’ve been treated not as second-class citizens, but as third-class citizens. This woman was not a sophisticated woman, this woman was not acceptable in polite company, this woman was a woman of the streets. This woman earned her living on her back literally. This woman had the gospel of God and this woman believed. This woman and that rich man brought Christianity to Athens.
Athens brought it to Greece, Greece brought it to the Roman Greco world, they brought it to you and me this morning. I want to tell you, children: It only takes one or two. “I’ve decided to follow Jesus. Sign my name for the Christian jubilee, write my name on the roll. I have been changed since Jesus called my name. I want to be right, I want to be saved, I want to be free.”