Most of you are from the South and would have some level of disdain for things coming out of Harvard. I kind of felt that way too until I heard a short speech from Dr. James Ryan's 2016 commencement speech at the Graduate School of Education. I thought of the powerful and profound Scriptural connections the questions from this speech raised. Dr. Ryan asked five questions, plus a bonus. I hope you will give them time and reflection.
1. Wait ... what? Analyze before you advocate for or against ... think! Ask for clarification before you make big decisions. In 2 Samuel 24:24 David is offered a threshing floor for his burnt offerings as a gift from Araunah. David replies ... "I will insist on buying it, for I will not give burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing." The easy way would have been for David to take the gift, save the money and make his offerings. But David asked, "Wait ... what?" He knew offering to God was a big deal to him and a big deal to God. He wanted his offerings to be pure, costly and unmarred by an attitude that cheapened the offering.
2. I wonder? Why ... if ... how? Why are things like they are? If we did this, what would be the result? How could we change things for the better? In 2 Kings 7:8-10 four lepers are outside the city under siege. They decide that they can starve where they are or go into the enemy camp and take their chances. When they arrive at the enemy camp they find the enemy has been routed and run away by the Lord and that they have free reign to eat, drink and thrive. But they ask, "I wonder?" They say, "If we fill our pockets and stomachs but fail to tell the people in the city, we have failed our nation and our Lord. I love their words ... "This is a day of good news ... let's go back and tell the people at the palace."
3. Couldn't we at least? We might not be able to do that earth-changing thing but we can make a difference in a small way. The widow (Matthew 12:41-44) who dropped in two small coins into the offering plate gave sacrificially out of her poverty. Jesus said the woman was recognized and blessed because she gave all she had. When we offer sacrificially, even our small offering brings a smile to God! Couldn't we at least participate? Couldn't we all agree that Jesus is Lord and work together to make our community better? Couldn't we all agree that our kids need to arrive at school well-fed so they can take on their day of learning? Great questions!
4. How can I help? Jesus said this a lot. "What do you want me to do?" Jesus asked the blind man in Mark 10:51. We make a habit of deciding what people need and doing "our" mission work rather than center our mission work on "How can I help?" In one relief effort our government carried rice to Haiti to "help." Our help destroyed the rice-producing economy. Oh, but if we had asked, "How can I help?" and then purchased our rice from the local economy, helping both the people needing food and the people needing to sell their rice.
5. What truly matters (you could add ... "to me.")? Pilate asked this question in a different form when Jesus was before him ... "What is truth?" (John 18:38). That is a great question if it is asked seeking the answer. It could be asked in several different ways. "What is true?" ... "What is real?" Pilate didn't seem to want an answer because "the truth, the life and the way" stood in front of him. Pilate just wanted his problems to go away ... and he asked the crowd for their opinion. That's why I like the question, "What truly matters to me?" We answer that question with our giving. We answer that question with our time. We answer that question with our thoughts.
And the bonus question ... (from a Raymond Carver poem, Late Fragment) "Did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?" On this challenging Monday this is a good question. The question sounds benign until you reflect on the "even so?" The life part sounds fine but the "even so" can be a mountain we can only climb with God. How did you deal with adversity and did you learn from the struggles to overcome it? Push back the regrets. Let go of the episodes of guilt. Repent of your failings. "Wait ... what?" ... "I wonder?" ... "Couldn't we at least?" ... "How can I help?" ... "What truly matters?" ... "Did you get what you wanted out of life, even so?"