In this Palm Sunday sermon, Rev. Murray reminds his congregation that humility helps you remember to praise the Lord. Without humility, it is easy to forget to be grateful, but being humble and praising the Lord will raise you up.
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.
“Turnips That Don’t Turn Up”
March 27, 1994
Never be ashamed to praise His holy name!
In your hospital bed, cry Jesus!
In your prison cell, cry Jesus!
When you’ve lost your job, cry–
When you’ve lost your friends, cry–
When you’re growing old and feeble, cry–
On your dying bed, cry–
Over everything that has breath, cry Jesus! Jesus!
Crowd went out to see Him, on that Sunday you and I call Palm Sunday, almost 2,000 years ago. [You got] two crowds–you follow the wrong crowd, you’re gonna end up in trouble. Haven’t you learned that by now? Don’t you tell that to young people: You want to make certain you get in the right crowd? The right crowd is Jesus’s crowd.
You can get in a lot of trouble following Jesus–oh yes you can! But I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold. I’d rather have Jesus than riches untold. I’d rather get scars for Jesus than get scars for any other force in the world.
Lift your palm branches and cry, “Hosanna!” Every voice, say, “Hosanna!”
The crowd went out to meet Jesus, and John tells us there’s another crowd, John 12:19.
“The Pharisees said to each other, we’ve lost! Look! The whole world has gone after Him!” Then Pharisees, why don’t you go after Jesus? Because you can’t get [nothing] out of a turnip. Sometimes, you can’t even get turnip juice.
So, I want to talk to you on the subject of turnips, that don’t turn up. Don’t you ever let anyone call you a turnip that doesn’t turn up, don’t you get too sophisticated to say, “Praise the Lord!” Don’t you get too intellectual to praise the Lord! Don’t you get too Eurocentric to praise the Lord. Never let anyone call you a turnip that doesn’t turn up. The people cried “Hallelujah!” Everybody, say, “Hallelujah!”
It’s an ancient word, a Jewish word, drawn from two words: “hallah,” say “hallah.” It means praise. Praise, and the name for God, the Jewish name for God is “Yahweh.” Everybody, say, “Yahweh.” And before they called him Yahweh, they called Him “Yahh,” so it was no time at all that they put together, “hallah,” praise, and “Yahweh,” God. Praise God, hallelujah! Hallelujah! Everybody, say, hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Oh, it’s a beautiful, primal cry. It’s the primal scream that’s torn from the soul when your heart is heavy, you don’t need to cause a fuss, just cry hallelujah! When your soul is lost, don’t cry, just cry hallelujah!
The people go out, not only to see Jesus, but to honor Jesus. What a fine group of people. I don’t just want to go to church to see Jesus, I want to go to church to serve Jesus. Some people act as if the Lord is lucky to have me here this morning. Just my presence is honor unto the Lord. Lord, you are lucky that I belong to your church. I’m here, Jesus, to see you in ecclesiastical looky-loo.
One preacher, observing his attendance on Easter Sunday, how you could hardly find a seat, because the looky-loos came to church. They just want to see Jesus. They don’t want to honor Jesus. They just want to be seen, they don’t want to see Jesus. I will put on my Easter finery and my little children in their Easter finery, oh I’m so fine, not Jesus is so fine. And the preacher says to his packed house, “Well, I know that some of you come out once a year at Easter, and I shan’t see you again until next Easter, so I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas!”
What kind of hallelujah is that? That you can’t say hallelujah 52 times a year? That you can’t say hallelujah when you are surrounded by your peer group? That you can’t say hallelujah when the mail person brings you some bad news? That you can’t say hallelujah when all your friends have gone out. It’s a pleasure to say hosanna in the highest! Hallelujah, Lord! Hallelujah!
They are going into Jerusalem with Jesus. And John tells us, these are not Jerusalemites that go out to see Jesus. These are not your sophisticated people from the big city. These are people from Galilee. Jesus’s hometown. People from Galilee, Nazareth and Galilee, and the surrounding area. And it is so strange. It knocks you right down to say they are from Galilee. But Jesus Himself said, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own hometown.”
People will appreciate you abroad, but your home folks don’t think much of you. It knocked little Jesus, whose mother we knew, whose father we knew, and now He’s around here telling us He’s the Son of God. But the Galileans finally come to applaud Jesus. Some people have to look at you a long time in order to like you.
You’ve heard people say to you, “You know, when I first met you, I didn’t like you. But I like you now.” And, of course, you do the decent thing, you smile, and you hug, but if they could read your mind: “That seems so unfair. At first, you met me, and you didn’t like me. I have to prove myself to you as if you were God, and now all the sudden after ten years, you like me, after five years, you like me, after all the pain you’ve caused me, I’ve got news for you, when you first met me, you didn’t like me, but you like me now. When I first met you, I didn’t like you, and I still don’t like you!”
Some of us think everybody has to pass our inspection. Everybody has to talk like us, to walk like us, to think like us. That’s where racism comes from! You’ve got a different color that I am, and that seems to imply some value system. It isn’t that way at all! You go on and do your thing. I’ll go on and do my thing, and if we are blessed, we will both be doing God’s thing! You don’t have to prove nothing to me!
Always fascinates me, and the ministers experience it, how in the course of conversation with somebody, they may slip and cuss. “Oh, excuse me Reverend!” First thing, reprimand God, second thing, this Reverend cussed as much as you do!” You want to see some real cussing, you ought to read the New Testament–nobody can cuss you out like Jesus can cuss you out! But, you have to grow on me, because I am the yardstick. Jesus finally grows on His hometown folk. Then too, some people can’t see you when you’re little. When He got to be the healer of the sick and the raiser of the dead, and the feeder of 5,000 folk from a schoolboy’s lunch, when He got to be the caster out of demons, when Jerusalem was talking about Him, then his home folks will start talking about you! Some people can’t see you when you’re too small.
We said to [glorify] Christ in the young counterparts–stand up children! Give them a hand, darlings! Stand up. You ain’t no church of tomorrow. You are the church of today! You ain’t a community of tomorrow, you are a community of today. Walk with your head held high! Get through school. Go on to college! Help us to help others, and by all means, realize that you are more than a pretty face! You’re more than a pair of fingernails. You’re more than a 36-26-36. You are a child of the King! You’re a child of the King! Welcome! Praise the Lord!
See things in the potential. See things in potential. A human being gleans 50 percent of his or her intelligence by the age of four. See things in potential. You don’t get an angel unless you raise an angel. You don’t get a good person unless you raise a good person. Don’t wait till Jesus is 33 years old, hanging on the cross, to say “Oh, Lord, have mercy!” See Jesus when he’s walking around with one robe on His back. With one pair of shoes in His closet. No money, or no friends. Learn to see things in potential.
The people came to see Jesus. And they cried Hosanna, and they waved palm branches. You wave the palm branches for victors. Normally, it’s reserved for generals, who’ve come back victorious from war. Jesus is a victor. Because Jesus is a builder. Jesus is a carpenter. And in Galilee, Jesus has the reputation of making the best doors in the world. Jesus has the reputation for making the best yoke for oxen in the world. And when Jesus goes out to build more than doors, to build more than yokes, Jesus says, “I am the door. No one comes to the Father, except through me! Take my yoke upon you! My yoke rides easy. No matter how heavy the load, my yoke will ride easy. I no longer am interested in building doors. I’m interested in building people. I’m interested in building men. I’m interested in building women. Whosoever wants to be built up, let him come unto me!”
Hallelujah! Hosanna! Glory to the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
It’s a song of ascent. A going up song. Jerusalem sits on Mount Zion, and the people from the surrounding village make a yearly tour. They come from all over the Middle East, and they go up the hill to Mt. Zion. Let Mt. Zion rejoice and the daughters of Judea be glad! As they’re walking up, they can visualize God, Yahweh, in our mind’s eye, it’s a song of ascent this morning. A lot of us can’t sing praise be to God going up, because we are too busy going down. We’re too busy going down on each other. We’re too busy going down on ourselves. We’re too busy going down on Jesus.
But if you have a song of ascent this morning, you can’t help but say Hosanna! Come on and say it now! Hosanna!
And as they go up, others are coming down. The sophisticated people from Los Angeles are coming down. As the country people from Blithe and the country people from outside of Tucson and the country people up in Lux, Mississippi, and the country people of Selma, Alabama, who still remember how to say “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” as they are going up. The sophisticated are going down, and they begin to praise the Lord. That Sunday we call Palm Sunday, when Jesus comes riding into town. Praise the Lord! Well, the many ways to get news around. Telegraph. Telecommunications. Telephone. Man used to be prejudiced, would say tell a woman, but tell a man, because men talk just as much as women.
Many ways to spread the Word, but the chief telling, is tell a person. Tell somebody what the Lord has done for you. Tell somebody, in the words of the chant that is going up to every Black pulpit in America this morning, oh what the Lord has done for me! He woke me up this morning, started me on my way! Here’s the lily of the valley, here’s the bright morning star, here’s the fairest of 10,000. Here’s the mother to the motherless, the father to the fatherless. Hope to the hopeless. Oh, He’ll pick you up and turn you around.
Tell a person. If you’re in God’s crowd, you can’t help but tell a person. If you’re in Jesus’s crowd, you can’t help but tell somebody about Jesus. Somebody says you’re looking good, all you can say is “thank you Jesus!” I’m glad you got your job promotion, thank you Jesus! I’m glad you made the mortgage note on your house, thank you Jesus! Turn to your neighbor on your right and say, “Jesus loves you!”
Some of you didn’t do it. Cause you don’t believe it. You’ve been hurt so much you don’t think nobody loves you. Turn to your neighbor on your right and say, “Jesus loves you!” Neighbor turn back to them and say, “My problem ain’t Jesus. It’s you!”
See, because there are two crowds. Jesus’s crowd and those who can never have a good word for Jesus. Some people can’t have a good word for anybody. You stand up here and sweat grease. The choir will sweat grease singing. The preacher will preach. The choir, everybody, and they’ll walk out of here like, “Oh, there’s too much noise in that place.” Too much noise. And then they get home and have a family fight, and you can hear them fighting all over the neighborhood. Too much noise! Let them get a 3 percent rate increase and they’re, “Oooh baby, I did it my way!” You ain’t did nothing your way, thank you Jesus!
There was that other crowd, criticizing Jesus, and I know I looked and I said, “John, what can you blame a man with who raises dead folks, and heals sick folks, and feeds hungry folks, and houses homeless folks, and lifts up abandoned folks, and fathers the children who have none? What can they find fault in Him? And then you look at what he’s riding. He ain’t riding a Rolls Royce. A horse is the symbol of the victorious general who comes back, riding into Jerusalem, and they wave Hosanna branches in the highest. He comes back riding the lowly donkey. And maybe that’s why people didn’t like Him.
Some people don’t like peacemakers. They’re always looking for war. Some people don’t like pacifiers. They’re always looking for Hell-raisers. Some people don’t like agreement, they always looking for disagreement. Some people don’t like beauty, they’re always looking for ugliness. Some people don’t like the positive, they’re always looking for the negative.
That’s alright. They can’t hurt you. A man wrote a little ditty called “Mr. Finney’s Turnip.” Mr. Finney had a turnip, and it grew behind the barn. And it grew. And it grew. And the turnip did no harm. They can’t hurt you. They can make you hurt yourself. Jesus ride on, King Jesus! Ride on, conquering King! Ride on, King Jesus! Protected by God, the world can’t do you no harm. Ride on, King Jesus! God has promised to protect your spirit. Ride on King Jesus! God doesn’t need to protect your body. That’ll take care of itself. It’s made out of dust, but you keep riding on, King Jesus! Ride on, conquering King!
Cause what we need is a turning up—everybody, say, “Turning!” A man by the name of Graham says, “People are trying to turn to God, without first turning away from themselves.” Turning. Pilot turns to the crowd and he says, “I find no fault in Jesus.” Then Pilot turns to Jesus’s enemies, and he sentences Jesus to death. Turning. Everybody, say, “Turning.” We started turning the calendar. They put him in the grave on Friday. Turning. And they turned the calendar Friday night. They left him in the grave Saturday, all day Saturday. All night Saturday night. Then we turn the calendar on Sunday morning. Ahhh! It’s Sunday morning! Jesus turned up on that Sunday morning. Jesus turned up! Jesus turned up in this place this morning. He turned up in your heart. He turned up in your heart. He turned up and up. All that remains now, turn up the sound! Everything that has breath, praise the Lord! Hallelujah! Hosanna! Hosanna!