Monday, November 16, 2015

Inspiration and Perspiration: Turning What Is into What It Must Become

Hebrews 10:19-25 
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, NC  
November 15, 2015
In June of 1963, the Baptist pastor and preacher the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed an estimated 125,000 people in Detroit, Michigan, in what was at the time the largest civil rights demonstration in our nation’s history. Toward the end of his speech in Detroit, King told the crowd that he had a dream, and he told them what was in it. Without even realizing it, King was warming up in Detroit for what would become a far more famous speech in Washington.

I say “without even realizing it” because the famous “I-have-a-dream” part of the speech in Washington was not in the manuscript that King had prepared to deliver that day. But when he got to the place in his prepared text where he spoke of “great trials and tribulations” and exhorted the crowd, “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair,” the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who was standing near King as he spoke called out him, “Tell them about your dream, Martin! Tell them about your dream!” And so he did. He departed from the manuscript in front of him to talk about the dream he had talked about in Detroit. And when he did, his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial became the most famous oration by a Baptist preacher in American history.

But I want to take you back to Detroit two months earlier. In Detroit, King spoke of “the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for.” Fifty-two years and innumerable deaths later, including King’s, there is all too much evidence in our nation and in our world that King’s dream of universal justice through reconciliation, redemption, and the creation of what he called Beloved Community is a dream deferred, not a dream fulfilled.

From Ferguson, MO, to Charleston, SC; on Staten Island, in Baltimore and Charlotte; in Sinjar Syria, and in the streets of Israel and the Occupied Territories; in the air over Sinai, and on the ground in Paris, the deaths—and the conflicting currents of causation, incrimination, and recrimination are more than enough to drive us into the valley of despair. And that’s why King’s words in Detroit are important for us to hear. At the end of his speech in Detroit, King said this: “With this faith, I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through a mountain of despair.” “With this faith, I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through a mountain of despair.” King’s dream words are inspirational. King’s tunnel-of-hope words are perspirational. And it takes both Inspiration and Perspiration to turn what is into what it must become.

And that brings me to this morning’s epistle lesson from the book of Hebrews. I want to suggest this morning that Hebrews 10:19-25 provides us with a working model for turning what is into what it must become. It is a universal model for what is often called “change agency.” The model in Hebrews 10:19-25 is not a spiritual warm fuzzy; it’s not a dose of homiletical Prozac or Xanax. It’s a working model of the Inspiration and the Perspiration that are necessary to turn what is into what it must become in any and every walk of life: business, education, politics, community, church, family, individual existence. There are five moving parts to this working model.

The first moving part is Deep Conviction. Deep Conviction is King’s something so dear, something so precious, something so eternally true, that it is worth dying for. The great twentieth-century theologian Paul Tillich spoke of Ultimate Reality—capital “U,” capital “R”—Ultimate Reality, what is Really Real, what is Truly True of God and the world and human existence in the world. Every human being’s understanding of the world and of human existence is grounded in some Deep Conviction, some understanding of Ultimate Reality, what is Really Real and Truly True. Deep Conviction about Ultimate Reality is an intellectual and psychological and spiritual common denominator among Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and Baha’is and Native Americans and atheists and everybody else: Deep Conviction about what is Really Real and Truly True.

The writer of the book of Hebrews frames living in alignment with Ultimate Reality—or “right relationship with God,” to use more familiar language—as participating in the ritual activity that is commanded in the law of Moses; and in Hebrews 10:19-21 the person and work of Jesus Christ are presented as serving the same function as the ritual actions and the ritual personnel prescribed in Exodus and Leviticus. In v 19, the blood of Jesus is analogous to the blood of animal sacrifices. In v 20, the body of Jesus is compared to the curtain of the sanctuary. In v 21, Jesus is characterized as “the great high priest over the house of God.” The writer of Hebrews 10 says that because of the structural similarity of the person and work of Jesus Christ with the ritual system commanded in the Torah, we can draw near to God in “full assurance of faith.” That’s a Deep Conviction, and Deep Conviction about Ultimate Reality is Part 1 in turning what is into what it must become.

The second moving part in the model is Energizing Exhortation. King’s “I have a dream!” was Energizing Exhortation. Roosevelt’s “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny” was Energizing Exhortation. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” was Energizing Exhortation. Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall!” was Energizing Exhortation. The Energizing Exhortation in Hebrews 10:20-23 calls its audience into a “new and living way” and to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” I’m convinced that these very verses are the biblical reservoir from which King the preacher drew his words in Detroit: a vision of a new way of living together grounded in the fullness of faith and impelled by unwavering hope. Part 2 is the Energizing Exhortation that it takes to turn what is into what it must become.

The third moving part in the model is Mutual Provocation. Mutual Provocation. It’s in Hebrews 10:24: “Let us consider how to provoke one another.” As if there weren’t enough provocation in the world and in the church already, “Let us consider how to provoke one another.” I don’t have to be from around here to know that some of us are experts at provocation. Mutual Provocation is where Inspiration and Perspiration intersect. In words and in deeds, by exhortation and by example, we must encourage, support, challenge, instigate, and agitate one other to turn what is into what it must become. The pledge walk in worship this morning is an act of personal devotion; it is also a demonstration of Mutual Provocation. Individually and collectively, the act of walking your pledges forward is a sermon without words that says without saying, “C’mon, ya’ll! Hitch yourselves to this wagon and pull with us!” That’s provoking one another by example, and Hebrews 10:24 says to do exactly that inside these walls and outside them as well: encourage, support, challenge, instigate, agitate, and demonstrate to turn what is into what it must become. Part 3: Mutual Provocation.

The fourth moving part of the model is Prevailing Disposition. Prevailing Disposition. In the academic study of personality and personal and professional effectiveness, research has demonstrated that what a person believes makes a difference in his or her behavior. Those beliefs are called dispositions: They are values and commitments that influence behavior. In Hebrews 10:24, the prevailing disposition that influences behavior is love: “Provoke one another to love,” it says. It should come as no surprise that Hebrews 10:24 posits love as the Prevailing Disposition. After all, according to Jesus, the Great Commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength” (Mark 12:30) and the second is like unto the first: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). And Jesus said, “This my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And to bring us back to the first moving part in the working model, Deep Conviction, 1 John 4:8 and 16 say that “God is love.” So according to 1 John 4, God, Ultimate Reality, what is Really Real and Truly True is Love. It’s no wonder, then, that the apostle Paul wrote, “Faith, hope, and love, these three abide. And the greatest of these is love.” Because “God is love.” This Deep Conviction—God is love—and this Prevailing Disposition—love—are fully aligned with each other.

And that’s important, because failing to align Deep Conviction and Prevailing Disposition is a root cause of the intellectual and psychological and spiritual dis-order and dis-ease that plagues so many individuals and religious communities the world over. My friend and former colleague Charles Kimball, an expert in Christian-Muslim relations who also happens to be a Baptist minister, has described the root causes of religious disorder and disease in his books When Religion Becomes Evil and When Religion Becomes Lethal. A religious system—or any other kind of system: a family, a business, a school, a church—in which Deep Conviction and Prevailing Disposition are misaligned leads to evil, not good; illness and injury, not health; hate, not love; death, not life. Kimball gives dozens of examples in his books, and the last two weeks of news coverage have added yet more.

I’ll give two. The oppressive and murderous American apartheid of race-based slavery and Jim Crow segregation was perpetrated by deeply religious people whose Deep Conviction and Prevailing Dispositions were misaligned. The horrific atrocities of the so-called Islamic State and Al Qaeda and Al-Shabaab are perpetrated by deeply religious people whose Deep Conviction and Prevailing Dispositions are misaligned.

But in the working model in Hebrews 10, Prevailing Disposition—Part 4—is rightly aligned with Deep Conviction, and so it leads to the fifth part, Effective Action, which is characterized in Hebrews 10:24 as “doing good deeds”: deeds that are good, not evil; deeds that promote health, not injury and illness; deeds of love, not hate; life-giving, not death-dealing deeds. Good deeds flow from the right alignment of Deep Conviction, Energizing Exhortation, Mutual Provocation, and Prevailing Disposition.

Arriving there takes Inspiration, and it takes Perspiration. It takes lining it up—that’s the Inspiration, and it takes living it out—that’s the Perspiration. So think of it this way. The invitation to the pledge walk that will be extended in a few minutes is an invitation to a path of alignment. Whether you carry a commitment of your finances in your hand, or whether you write another sort of commitment to God on the card and carry it forward, or whether the commitment you make is written on your heart or in your soul, I invite you to participate in the pledge walk as a pledge of yourself: a pledge to align or realign your Deep Conviction, your Energizing Exhortation, your Mutual Provocation, your Prevailing Disposition, and your Effective Action so that what you experience inside these four walls forms and transforms who you are and what you do outside these four walls. Lining it up is the Inspiration. Living it out is the Perspiration: “With this faith, I will go out and carve a tunnel of hope through a mountain of despair” to turn what is into what it must become.

Copyrighted © 2015 by Jeffrey S. Rogers. This material may be copied or disseminated for non-commercial use, provided this notice is included. It is available online at The author can be contacted at