Is Your Heart Right?
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
January 14, 2018
Back in Oregon, Howard Macy, a good friend and former professor at George Fox University, and I did some digging to find the background to the photos that are on the cover of our bulletin this morning. Since then, American Friends Service Committee has dedicated a page to King on their website with a couple of these photos.
What you see on the cover of our bulletin is Martin Luther King Jr. with Quaker Center president Jim Bristol an affiliate of the American Friends Service Committee. AFSC sponsored King on his trip to India to explore the impact of Mahatma Gandhi's message of nonviolent social action, which would have a monumental impact on the civil rights movement in our country. As well, It would be this work and support of the Quakers that would help pave the way for King to receive the Nobel Peace Prize 5 years later.
You could say Quakers were on the cutting edge of the Civil Rights Movement. King met with Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood at Earlham College and even spoke in their meetinghouse - when most churches in our country would not have him.
This morning, it would be wrong of me not to allow the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to be heard. His legacy in the Civil Rights Movement, nonviolence, and speaking and writing are not only a part of our history -- they are a part of who we are as a country and as a people.
Back in 1997, I traveled with a group of leaders to Atlanta, GA to begin preparations for a National Youth Gathering of forty thousand youth. At the time, I was one of the Illinois representatives for the Lutheran Church. On my visit, one afternoon, I boarded a bus by myself and headed to Atlanta’s northeast side to the King Center. I was young, married for a couple of years, and our first son, Alex was on the way. As I stepped foot on the King Center property, I knew this was not going to be any ordinary experience.
I was one of about five people in the entire place. There was a sense of reverence - almost like I had entered a sacred space. Soon, that moment was broken as I was greeted hospitably by a southern black women who informed me that I came on a “good day’ - that I would have time to “fully experience” the journey. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what she meant. What was she talking about “a journey and an experience”? I didn’t ask any questions...I simply began the journey…
Nearly two hours I journeyed through the King Center by myself. Gaps in my understanding of history were filled in. Emotions were flowing often through tears. At one moment I sat on a bench looking at the statues of men and women and children marching in solidarity and I was overwhelmed.
In the last cubical before exiting was a color video recording of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final address at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple in Memphis the night before he would be assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The video was playing on a loop but it had just started as I entered the area. I stood in complete silence...mesmerized by the words of what I realized at that moment was a modern-day prophet of our time. As he announced, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop”, I simply wept. I could not control the tears. Standing there I was joined by three other people (2 black brothers and a black sister) and we all wept together. I don’t think I have ever experienced such a moment.
After King finished his speech, in silence we all walked together over to the plaza next to Ebenezer Baptist Church. Where in the middle of a body of water King’s body (and later his wife, Coretta) were entombed. I sat in that plaza in silence until our bus came.
Since that day, Martin Luther King Jr. has had a profound impact on my life, my faith, my art, and even my doctoral dissertation. Most of us are familiar with his famous speeches and writings, but today I want to share with you parts of two sermons he gave just months before dying.
This morning, I am going to read from “Unfulfilled Dreams” and “The Drum Major Instinct” both were preached in Ebenezer Baptist Church - the church next to his last resting place and where he served alongside his father as a minister.
The pieces I am reading are recorded in the book, “The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.” edited by Clayborne Carson - which I would highly recommend if you do not know much about King and his life.
From “Unfulfilled Dreams” Kings final address at Bishop Charles J. Mason Temple in Memphis.
I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we, like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled.
Now let us notice first that life is a continual story of shattered dreams. Mahatma Gandhi labored for years and years for the independence of his people. And through a powerful nonviolent revolution he was able to win that independence. For years the Indian people had been dominated politically, exploited economically, segregated and humiliated by foreign powers, and Gandhi struggled against it. He struggled to unite his own people, and nothing was greater in his mind than to have India’s one great, united country moving toward a higher destiny. This was his dream.
But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a broken heart, because that nation that he wanted to unite ended up being divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the Hindus and the Moslems.
Life is a long, continual story of setting out to build a great temple and not being able to finish it.
Woodrow Wilson dreamed a dream of a League of Nations, but he died before the promise was delivered. The Apostle Paul talked one day about wanting to go to Spain. It was Paul’s greatest dream to go to Spain, to carry the gospel there. Paul never got to Spain. He ended up in a prison cell in Rome. This is the story of life.
So many of our forebears used to sing about freedom. And they dreamed of the day that they would be able to get out of the bosom of slavery, the long night of injustice. And they used to sing little songs: "Nobody knows de trouble I seen, nobody knows but Jesus." They thought about a better day as they dreamed their dream. And they would say, "I’m so glad the trouble don’t last always. By and by, by and by I’m going to lay down my heavy load." And they used to sing it because of a powerful dream. But so many died without having the dream fulfilled.
And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.
Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: "It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying." You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine heart.
Thank God this morning that we do have hearts to put something meaningful in. Life is a continual story of shattered dreams.
Now let me bring out another point. Whenever you set out to build a creative temple, whatever it may be, you must face the fact that there is a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil. It’s there: a tension at the heart of the universe between good and evil.
Hinduism refers to this as a struggle between illusion and reality. Platonic philosophy used to refer to it as a tension between body and soul. Zoroastrianism, a religion of old, used to refer to it as a tension between the god of light and the god of darkness. Traditional Judaism and Christianity refer to it as a tension between God and Satan. Whatever you call it, there is a struggle in the universe between good and evil.
Now not only is that struggle structured out somewhere in the external forces of the universe, it’s structured in our own lives. Psychologists have tried to grapple with it in their way, and so they say various things. Sigmund Freud used to say that this tension is a tension between what he called the id and the superego.
But you know, some of us feel that it’s a tension between God and man. And in every one of us this morning, there’s a war going on. It’s a civil war. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It’s going on in your life. Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them. There’s a civil war going on. There is a schizophrenia, as the psychologists or the psychiatrists would call it, going on within all of us. And there are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us. And we end up having to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet, "I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do." We end up having to agree with Plato that the human personality is like a charioteer with two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in different directions. Or sometimes we even have to end up crying out with Saint Augustine as he said in his Confessions, "Lord, make me pure, but not yet." We end up crying out with the Apostle Paul, "The good that I would I do not: And the evil that I would not, that I do." Or we end up having to say with Goethe that "there’s enough stuff in me to make both a gentleman and a rogue." There’s a tension at the heart of human nature. And whenever we set out to dream our dreams and to build our temples, we must be honest enough to recognize it.
And this brings me to the basic point of the text. In the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows that his children are weak and they are frail. In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right.
And the question I want to raise this morning with you: is your heart right? If your heart isn’t right, fix it up today; get God to fix it up. Get somebody to be able to say about you, "He may not have reached the highest height, he may not have realized all of his dreams, but he tried." Isn’t that a wonderful thing for somebody to say about you? "He tried to be a good man. He tried to be a just man. He tried to be an honest man. His heart was in the right place." And I can hear a voice saying, crying out through the eternities, "I accept you. You are a recipient of my grace because it was in your heart. And it is so well that it was within thine heart."
I don’t know this morning about you, but I can make a testimony. You don’t need to go out this morning saying that Martin Luther King is a saint. Oh, no. I want you to know this morning that I’m a sinner like all of God’s children. But I want to be a good man. And I want to hear a voice saying to me one day, "I take you in and I bless you, because you try. It is well that it was within thine heart."
And from “The Drum Major Instinct” where King encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service and love. King concluded the sermon by imagining his own funeral, downplaying his famous achievements and emphasizing his heart to do right.
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.
I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.
There is so much to consider in King’s words, but I want us this morning to ponder his query, “Is your heart right?”
Just a few years after I had my King Center experience, I had a mentor who taught me about King’s personal spirituality. King understood the need to be aware of the condition of his heart. My mentor taught me King utitilzed Psalm 139 to process that query. So this morning, instead of beginning with the scriptures. I want us to hear Psalm 139 and utilize it to lead us into our time of waiting worship. Ponder the words of Psalm 139 and King’s query, “Is your heart right?” and see what God is saying to you this morning.
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil![
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.