By J. Russell Raker, III, president and CEO of Family Foundation of North America
(presented April 28, 2000 at the Walla Walla College Awards Chapel).
SCRIPTURE: I Corinthians 1:18-31 (RSV) 18. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 19. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21. For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 22. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom. 23. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. 24. But unto them, which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 25. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not mighty, not many noble, are called. 27. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. 28. And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are. 29. That no flesh should glory in His presence. 30. But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom , and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. 31. That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
In Corinth, as everywhere, except Jerusalem, Christians had no one great central meeting place. They met in homes, whenever they could. There were many Christians in Corinth. Not one great congregation, but many small congregations, each under its own leadership, These it seems were developing into rival competing units, rather than cooperating units, in the general cause of Christ.
Some of the Greeks, in their fondness for intellectual speculation and their pride of knowledge, were most boastful of their interpretations of Christianity. Thus, they grouped themselves around competing doctrines and competing leaders. The Church was split into factions, each trying to stamp Christ with its own little trademark, a practice which still prevails to this day.
Barbara Garrison once said, "Fear grows out of the things we think; it lives in our minds, Compassion grows out of the things we are, and lives in our hearts"
Too many people have learned to give from the wrong place. It's an intellectual activity. It's like keeping a ledger book. I give you three so you give me three. I'll give you two of my treasured season football tickets in the hope that you will be inclined to give my son a job.
That’s not giving, that’s trading. You literally give your soul away when you give like that. When you give from the heart, it’s not to receive anything back. And the more you give from the heart the fuller it will be.
The story is told that John Winthrop, the first Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, was approached by a friend who told him that his neighbor, a man named Jones, was stealing wood from Winthrop's woodpile. "Thank you for telling me." Said Winthrop. He then went to neighbor Jones and said, "Neighbor Jones, it is a very cold winter. If you should run short of wood, just help yourself to my woodpile." Then Winthrop went back to the first man and said, "I have just cured neighbor Jones from stealing."" I like to call that "THE MIRACLE OF KINDNESS."' The more traditional word is compassion.
I have always been impressed by the story of the King of Denmark in World War II. When the Nazi's invaded Denmark and announced that all Jews must wear the yellow star of David so that they could be identified, the King, who was not a Jew, put on a yellow star. Then all the Danes put on yellow stars and the Nazi’s just could not tell who was who. that is an example of collective compassion or kindness.
Listen to the text: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of god is stronger than men.” Living from the heart connects us to the wisdom and strength of God the Father. LET’S TALK ABOUT HOW THIS WORKS.
1. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT GOD DELIBERATELY CHOOSES WEAK, FOOLISH PEOPLE TO BE HIS MESSENGERS OR DISCIPLES.
This truth is clearly seen in the original twelve disciples. Haven't you ever wondered about Jesus' judgement when you look at the twelve men to whom he chose to entrust the destiny of the Christian Church?
A management consulting firm would doubtless have provided Jesus with the following evaluation of the disciples.
Dear Sir. Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests, We have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychological and vocational aptitude consultant. It is our conviction that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capacity.
Specifically, Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a skeptical attitude that would undermine staff morale. We feel it our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James and Thaddeus definitely have radical leanings and they both registered a high score on the manic depressive scale. One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. Therefore, we recommend Judas Iscariot as your comptroller and right hand man.
God chooses the foolish and the weak to shame the wise and powerful, And that is good news! It means that perhaps you and I can qualify for discipleship after all, if we learn to live from the heart.
In the peanuts comic strip, Schroeder bends over his little piano and begins to play. Lucy, leaning on the piano, looks dreamily into Schroeder's eyes and asks: "Do you know what love is?" Schroeder indicates strongly that he knows what love is by saying: "Love is fondness; a strong affection for or attachment or devotion to a person or persons." Then he keeps on playing the piano. Lucy leans closer, but he keeps playing. She cannot get his attention so she sighs and turns away, feeling rejected, and says: "On paper, he's great!"
Love that does not act is not love. It is apathy and apathy is basically indifference. The opposite of love is not hate but indifference. I urge you today to act upon the love you possess and the beliefs you profess. It will connect you to the wisdom and strength of God in Christ. God deliberately chooses people like you and me to be his beloved disciples.
2. WE MUST LEARN TO MAKE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS A PART Of OUR DAILY LIVES.
Random acts of kindness are those little things or grand things we do for no reason except that, momentarily the best of out humanity has sprung into full bloom. When you spontaneously give an old woman the bouquet of flowers you had meant to take home to your own dinner table; when you give your lunch to the guitar-playing beggar who makes music at the corner that you pass on the way to work; when you anonymously put coins in someone else's parking meter because you see the red "expired" sign ----you are doing not what life requires of you, but what the best of your spiritual self invites you to do.
Most of us try hard to fulfill our obligations in life, to be dedicated and committed students, to be responsible and loving parents, to support and comfort our friends and spouses, to do our share of the work at the office and at home. But these deeds are what we are expected to do. They come, in effect, with the territory.
But it is when we step outside the arena of our normal circumstances, when we move beyond the familiar boundaries of our lives, that our kindnesses enter the realm of the extraordinary and exquisite. Instead of being responsible good deeds, they become acts of true compassion.
To become one who practices random acts of kindness on a daily basis is to become in some sense an angel. Let me illustrate from a little paperback book titled: "Random Acts of Kindness." There are many authors and it is worth your time to read.
One of the authors says: "Several years ago, when I was living in Chicago, I read in the newspaper about a little boy who had leukemia. Every time he was feeling discouraged or particularly sick, a package would arrive for him containing some little toy or book to cheer him up, with a note saying the present was from the Magic Dragon. No one knew who it was. Eventually the boy died and his parents thought the Magic Dragon finally would come forth and reveal himself or herself. But that never happened."
Kenneth Hopkins writes: "Among the regulars on the bus I took to work a few years ago were a retarded boy and girl enroute to special classes. One day the bus driver, having read of an upcoming Olympic Track Meet for the physically and mentally handicapped, asked them if they planned to run. 'We want to,' the girl explained sadly, 'but we both live in apartments. We don't have a place to practice.’ Next morning the bus driver pulled up to their bus stop and threw open the door. But before they could board the bus, he shouted, 'Race me to the next corner!' and drove on. As the two sped along the sidewalk, the bus cruised just ahead of them, honking encouragement. At the end of the block, they scrambled aboard, flushed and delighted with their morning's workout. For two solid weeks the routine was repeated daily. Regular passengers soon became both trainers and rooting section, offering suggestions on form and timing, and giving general support. Our final cheer, the morning after the track meet, was the loudest, and it celebrated our ingenious driver, too. His proteges had captured second and third place in the 50-yard dash.”
Another person, name unknown, writes: "My wife was dying of cancer. There were lots of kindnesses in our lives. People who knew us did many ordinary and extraordinary things. But what touched many of us in our community happened early in my wife’s struggle. We decided to have a water filtration system installed in our house to take the impurities out of the water. The plumber we contacted installed the system and would not accept payment. We found out later his father had died of cancer.”
Random acts of kindness, the actions of angels on earth. As scholarship and award recipients, how do you express “thank you” as part of living from your heart?
1. By continuing to do your very best daily in your academics and service to others, justifying the confidence that many have in you!
2. Expressing your thanks in writing to those that have been responsible for the recognition that you have received today.
3. Send or give a gift that is meaningful to you to a classmate or friend who is in need of encouragement.
4. On behalf of Walla Walla College, write a note to a prospective student sharing your experience at Walla Walla and how the College has helped you to become a better person.
5. Remember, to give back to Walla Walla College when you have graduated and achieved success so that those who follow might be helped as you have been.
6. Undertake one random act of kindness, that presents itself, on a daily basis, and you will feel satisfaction and thankfulness for the many blessings that you have received through this institution.
The possibilities are endless! But now let me bring all of this very close to home. Listen carefully: all of you here today have loved someone, have done someone a kindness, have healed a wound, have taken on a challenge, have created something beautiful. Never doubt how precious, how vitally important you are. Every moment, you make a difference. So today, appreciate yourself as a random act of kindness. Random acts of kindness are the wisdom and strength of God flowing through us.
FINALLY, 3. WE MUST LEARN TO ALLOW GOD TO BE PRESENT IN OUR LIVES AS A LIVING EXAMPLE OF WHAT HE AND THIS COLLEGE MEAN TO EACH OF YOU.
If we are going to be Christ's disciples, we need all the help that we can get. We certainly need God. We need each other. We need this college to continue to instill in each of us the dedication, commitment, and patience to succeed in our daily lives. There may be those of you who think you are too insignificant to count in God's plan. I ask you to reflect on the story of Philip.
Philip grew up in Detroit. As he grew older, he became aware that he was different from other children, not because he wanted to be, that is just the way it was. He attended a Sunday School Class with nine other eight year old children. The teacher was skillful at helping the children to laugh, play and learn together. But, try as she might, the teacher could not get the children to accept Philip. At best they ignored him and at worst they ridiculed him.
One Easter, the teacher brought to class ten empty plastic egg cartons. The children were excited to receive a shiny plastic egg. The assignment was for each child to go out on the church grounds and to find some symbol of new life, put it in their egg carton and bring it back to class. The children returned, putting their eggs on the table for the teacher to open.
She opened the first egg and it was a beautiful butterfly. The children knew about the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly.
She opened the second and it was a beautiful flower.
She opened the third and in it was a rock. The children all began to laugh. "What does that have to do with new life?" One little boy said, "That's my egg. I knew the rest of you would get things like butterflies and flowers, so got a rock in order to be different. That's what new life means to me . . .being different,"
She opened the next egg and it was empty. "That's stupid," the children cried. "Somebody did not do it right." Just then the teacher felt a tug on her skirt. "That's my egg,” said Philip. "See Philip ... you never do anything right!" the children taunted. Only this time Philip drew himself up and insisted, “I did so do it right! It is empty! The tomb is empty!" Well there was a long full silence in that classroom, and for those of you who do not believe in miracles, you must know that a miracle took place in that moment. The children realized that perhaps Philip had understood the meaning of Easter more deeply than they. For the first time they accepted Philip as a member of the group. He was set free from the tomb of his own differentness. Two months later Philip died. His parents had known that he probably would not live to adulthood, and an infection that most children would have shrugged of, simply consumed him. There was a funeral service. At the funeral nine eight year old children came forward to the casket. They did not come to bring flowers to cover up the stark reality of death. No, those nine children laid on the casket ... an empty plastic egg.
Consider this young people, If God can make that kind of powerful witness through the life of a retarded eight year old child, imagine what God might do through each of us if we are willing to live from the heart. You have been recognized for your achievements. Use them to show others what is in your heart through these four goals: 1. In trust, keep God central in your life; 2. Risk loving people of all ages; 3. Believe in yourself without being egotistical; and, 4. Live up to your highest standards in all that you do.
PRAYER: Dear Lord and Master of our lives, we are here to thank you today for those who have achieved and have received special recognition. You alone have the secret of life, its living, its true significance. All of us have tried so many other things, but without the joys we think ought to be part of life. The more we have surrounded ourselves with friends, the more lonely we have become. The more we have possessed, the more insecure we feel. The harder we have struggled and worked, the more we seem to miss. You are our last resort! Without you, there is really no difference between having and being without. Permeate us now, Heavenly Father, with your spirit so that our whole being is refashioned and we see and think and hope with a different rhythm to our lives. Teach us to order the priorities of life after your order rather than those of men. Teach us to love with the divine gift rather than for our own selfish purposes. Teach us to strive for others rather than for ourselves. Give us the inner peace which comes from commitment and faith and enable us to possess the gift of serenity that comes from hope in your presence and power. Thanks be to you Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for eternal life that dwells in each of us even now. For we ask in your name, Amen.