Nothing Ventured, Nothing Lost… Or Nothing Risked, Nothing Gained?
II Kings 5:1-15
Today with the Super Bowl one week away, I want to recall for you one of the most colorful and fascinating football players ever to play in the National Football League. He was a quarterback named Kenny Stabler. He grew up in the little town of Foley, Alabama, played in college under Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama, and then went on to quarterback the Oakland Raiders when they were the “powerhouse team” of professional football. As a quarterback, Kenny Stabler became famous for his daring plays especially “the bomb”—the long pass to a wide receiver. Kenny Stabler threw “the bomb” as well, if not better, than anyone ever has.
At the height of his popularity, Kenny Stabler was being interviewed by a reporter. The reporter asked if Stabler might comment upon some words written by the noted author, Jack London. The reporter then read the passage. He said, “Jack London wrote, ‘I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather be a spark, burning out in a brilliant blaze, than be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a flashing meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleeping permanent planet. The proper function of humankind is to be alive, not just to exist. I shall not waste my days, rather I shall use my time.’” Then the reporter paused for a moment to let the words sink in. He then said to Kenny Stabler, “Now, what does that mean to you”? Stabler answered, “Throw deep!” Well, both Jack London and Kenny Stabler realized that sometimes, in life, we have to take a risk. Risk is what makes athletics exciting. Risk is what makes life yield its fullest possibilities. Risk is even what injects power into one’s personal faith. In Christian terms, we refer to it as “the leap of faith.” It means throwing your life, without reserve, upon the resources of God. The truth of the matter is however that in athletics and in life, especially in faith, many people today are afraid to try, afraid to step out, afraid to risk, afraid to “throw deep,” afraid to “take the plunge.”
That phrase “take the plunge,” reminds me of an old story in 2nd Kings—the story of the commander of the Syrian army. He possessed great power, prominence, and prestige. He was handsome, confident, wealthy, and influential. Naaman had it all However, suddenly, he encountered a problem—a big problem. The Bible puts it bluntly. The Bible says, “He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.” His fame and reputation were spread abroad, but he was being ravaged by a most dreadful disease. His name was on every tongue, but he was the victim of an unspeakable condition. Consequently, an ever-increasing gloom settled on Naaman himself, as well as upon his household, and everyday his illness worsened. It was then that a servant girl, a young Jewish girl, offered a possible solution. One day she said to Naaman’s wife, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” The young girl was speaking of the prophet Elisha. We can imagine that Naaman heard of her suggestion, and shortly thereafter organized a caravan to go to Samaria. Then came the letdown. Elisha, the prophet, didn’t roll out the red carpet for this distinguished visitor. He did not even come out of the house to meet Naaman. Rather he sent a servant to tell Naaman what to do. Now, at first glance, it appeared to be a rather discourteous act toward the great man and his entourage. Naaman, of course, wished to be treated like a great man who happened to be a leper. But Elisha seemed to be treating him like a leper who happened to be a great man. Elisha’s actions seemed insensitive, if not downright rude. However, Elisha was not being discourteous toward Naaman, no. Elisha was simply trying to focus Naaman’s faith upon God. He wanted Naaman to believe, not in the power of Elisha, but in the power of God; not in what the prophet was doing, but in what God was doing. Don’t miss that, please. As we gather here for worship on Sundays, all that really matters is the power of God that is available here in this place. The important thing is not the quality of the music, but whether that music reflects our praise to God. The important thing is not the preacher’s voice nor his manner, but his message—not how he says a thing but what he says. You are to see not the man in the pulpit, but the Man on the cross. You are to feel not the personality of the preacher, but the power of God. That’s the point Elisha was trying to make to Naaman. So he sent a servant out to Naaman with what seemed to be a ludicrous suggestion, “Naaman, go wash in the Jordan River seven times and you will be made well.”
To put it mildly, none of this set well with Naaman. He didn’t like the reception. He was an important man, and he wasn’t being treated like one. And he didn’t like the prescription. He didn’t want to “take the plunge” into the muddy, old Jordan River. So in anger and frustration, he turned away, and as a result, he almost missed his moment. It was at that point that one of his servants delivered to him a very powerful word. The servant said, “Sir, what have you got to lose? Why not try? Why not run the risk? Nothing risked, nothing gained.” Well, Naaman then swallowed his pride and tamped his anger. He seized the moment and “took the plunge.” Blindly trusting, hoping, and believing, he went down into the waters of the Jordan River, and out he came, clean, whole and well! Isn’t that a great story? It’s great because it’s a parable for us and for our time in history. You see, so often these days, we would rather cling to our measly human resources than to throw ourselves on the matchless resources of the Almighty. Today, we would rather pamper ourselves into mediocrity than plunge ourselves into immortality. Today then, I would like to call you to throw deep, to take the plunge in your life. I would like to call you to get off the sidelines, out of the stands, and into the game. I would like to call you to a great blazing, triumphant faith in Jesus Christ. Yes, I’d like to call you to make Jesus Christ the constant, consistent, consuming, controlling center of your life. Therefore I would like to remind you today of
The power of an individual at work for the Lord.
There are too many people today who seem paralyzed by their own individuality. They are victims of what Earnest T. Campbell once called “the ‘I can’t do everything so I won’t do anything’ syndrome.” Do you remember the day when Jesus preached to the 5,000? The disciples were concerned about how so many people were going to be fed. Philip, who must have had a good head for figures, quickly calculated that $200 worth of bread wouldn’t begin to feed them all. Andrew managed to find 5 loaves and 2 fish in the possession of a little boy, but Andrew wasn’t very impressed. “What good are they?” Andrew asked. It’s just another way of saying what I hear so many Christians saying today. “We can’t do everything. We can’t begin to solve the myriad problems that exist in this world, and if we can’t do everything, then why bother with trying to do anything?” Dear friends, anyone who says something like that has forgotten the difference that one nurse can make in a hospital ward, that one flight attendant can make on a delayed airplane, that one teacher can make in a school, that one player can make on a basketball team. One vote elected Thomas Jefferson to be President of the United States. One vote admitted Texas, Washington, Oregon, and California to the Union. One vote made English, not German, the official language of America. You see, one person can make all the difference in the world, especially if that one person is at work for the Lord.
I think here of John Woolman. He was a Quaker Christian who lived in the 18th century. It disturbed him that many his fellow Quakers here in America owned slaves. He want to rid Quakerism of that blight. So he set himself alone to the task. He did no picketing; he conducted no rallies; he incited no riots; he simply began visiting his fellow Quakers, who owned slaves, asking them questions like this: “What does owning slaves say about you as a Christian and as a moral person”? All alone, he kept traveling; he kept visiting; he kept asking until, at last, one hundred years before the Civil War was ever fought, not a single Quaker in America owned a slave. One man, working alone, but working for the Lord—and it made all the difference.
If it is true that God is love, and He is—if it is true that God is in the world, and He is—if it is true that He is with us, and He is—if it is true that His will will prevail, and it will, then let that move us today to say, “Lord, I am only one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. Please help me to do it!” You see so many times, one person at work for the Lord can make all the difference in the world! And then I‘d like to remind you of
The purpose for our living in Christ.
Too many Christians today seem to be afraid of the obstacles. They are intimidated by the problems. They are daunted by the challenges. They seem to want to hunker down and bury their heads in the sand. They wistfully long for the “good old days” forgetting that they only good thing about the good old days is that they are gone! Christians used to say, “Nothing risked, nothing gained.” It was an expression of great faith and a great God. Now, all too often, Christians say, “Nothing ventured, nothing lost.” They long for a garden-of-Eden type world in which to serve forgetting that Genesis teaches us that there are two angels who guard the gates of Eden with flaming swords reminding us that we can’t go back. We can only go ahead. These Christians would have us believe that it is wrong to run any risks for the Lord.
I don’t believe that for a moment. I believe that as a child of God, I will never become what God expects me to be until I am willing to trust Him enough to risk some new beginnings in His service. To put that another way, I believe that God has given us dominion over the world. That means that we work in partnership with God for the governing of His world. That’s the purpose for our living. That’s why we are here. We ask Him for bread, and He gives us seeds and says, “Start planting.” We ask Him for castles, and He puts them in the air of our dreams and tells us to start laying the foundations. We pray for the Promised Land, and He points us to the desert and says, “Start walking—it’s on the other side.” That’s the way God works with us. He made us for the great adventure of Christian living. He calls us to live the gospel in the world, cost whatever it may.
There it is. Never forget it. You and I are the children of the living God. We are part of the church of Jesus Christ marching like a mighty army through the world and through human history. Therefore, I call you today to a great faith in our great God. Throw deep. Take the plunge. Run the risk. Nothing risked, nothing gained! For “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation shall ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”