Asking for Twice as MuchDr. Russ Dean 2 Kings 2.1-12 Year C – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost - (Proper 8)
How much is too much? At the Baptist boys’ camp where I worked for nine years, the Craft Hut was just up the path from Unit #2 Bathhouse. The summer of 1983 when I ran the place I called it “Dino’s Depot,” and it was a place of learning and creative exploration, a place where the sound of boys’ laughter mixed with the “rat tat tat” of hammers, building crooked birds house and pounding the letters of misspelled names into leather belts. The inside of the little shack was covered; every free space scrawled in pen or paint, with the twisted wisdom of age-less staff members. Just above one of the doors, overlooking the painting table, etched in red tempera paint, this timeless truism imprinted itself onto my brain: “Too much of a good thing… is not enough!”
It does characterize the way we often go about life. As if there is no limit beyond which good can be found – that, especially in material pursuit, there is no such thing as a “point of no return.” So we go on… collecting… gathering… saving… hording… too much of a good thing is always… still, not enough. There is no asking for too much.
The American yard sale is a vivid testimony to such endless pursuit. Hundred-dollar bicycles, out grown but not out-worn, or on the block just because they bore last year’s color or graphic design… fifteen dollars. That must-have video game? (You remember the last copy of which you fought over with some other helpless parent in Wal-Mart just prior to last Christmas!)… “Put a green sticker on it. Let’s see if we can get three dollars for it!” They say “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and there can be no doubting this in a day when we put so much treasure into the trash.
One of my most faithful supporters, defenders, advocates… and a sometimes vocal critic worries that I don’t sing the praises of capitalism enough. I do understand this concern. With the freedom of the world at our hands to do no limit of good, capitalistic visionaries have given billions to found institutions that have changed the world for the better. Hospitals, universities, beneficent foundations aimed at lifting up the downtrodden. I understand, and am grateful for the wealth of the Rockefellers and Gates’ in this world, who will aim at least some of their massive fortunes in the direction of others. And this is not to overlook the collective wealth of the “average Joe’s” who also contribute to the creation of a world of good.
It’s just that it’s hard for me to rest too easily on such honorable evidence, meager as it is in the grand scheme of things. The professional football team that plays in my city announced several years ago their willingness to pay one man $17 million to assault any other man trying to pass his way holding an oblong, leather ball – in the same season that the public school system in our city announced it would put over 350 teachers out of work. I know why it happens this way. Call it the unfortunate, necessary evil of capitalism if you like; the opposite side of the coin of its high-minded counterpart. It’s just that it’s hard for a preacher to acknowledge that such injustice is inherent in the structure of our system, to acknowledge this, and not say something.
I don’t think Jesus would sit quietly by. Do you?
If you ever had any question of the inherent tension between our system and Jesus’ theology of “thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6.10) (or, maybe we should be bold enough to call it the down-right contradiction of values), our current national economic malaise, and the universally-agreed-upon solution, should put an end to such confusion, once and for all. How will we escape the impending doom? Democrats and Republicans agree. How will we avoid such certain catastrophe? Economists from the left and right are in lock-step on the answer.
Will we sell all that we have and give it to the poor (Luke 18)?
Will we turn our first obligation to the least of these among us (Matthew 25)?
Will we turn the other cheek (Matthew 5)?
Will we seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6)?
Will we stop storing up for ourselves treasures on earth… (Matthew 6)?
Or will we Ask for More – down at the car dealership.
Ask for More – with our realtor.
Ask for More – at the local mall.
Ask for More when we call the travel agent to plan the next vacation, when we go to the movie, when we shop for groceries, when we… well, there’s just no end.
We will get out of this, they say, by Asking for More. I’m not suggesting that Communism or Socialism is a better product, just that a system which can only be repaired by spending our way out of trouble, is inherently flawed, and is markedly at odds with the value system of Jesus.
Jesus answered none of the world’s problems by buying more of anything. He answered all of the world’s problems giving all of everything. I’m only saying that we must keep this contradiction ever in mind, if we hope even faintly to follow his call in this fallen world. Maybe you’ll think about this the next time you’re urged, asked, or tempted to Ask for More. Let me know how you solve the dilemma.
I have begun this sermon by asking you to question the conventional wisdom that is all around you, suggesting that asking for more will not solve the problems of this nation, but, ironically, I’m suggesting to you that Asking for More may, in fact, be the real solution to our real problems.
How can I change that which needs to be changed in my own life? Be the person I need to be? The one I want to be? How can I be transformed, from jealous partner to trusting companion? How can I move from anger to patience? How can I be a more attentive mother? A more nurturing father? A more mature child? A more sensitive grandparent? How can I think less of myself, and my own petty problems, and more for the needs of those around me that are so great? How can I be at peace?
First, to make any such change – and I believe each of us can make our own list of that which needs changing in our life – to make such change; we must believe that change is possible. I believe. In a sermon from this text, Bruce Epperly suggests that woven into the very fabric of our existence is this possibility. Embedded into the nature of the very universe which gives us life is the openness of creative, surprising, amazing transformation. From subatomic particle to galactic principle… transformational revolution happens. (Put that on a bumper sticker!)
The transfiguration of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, far from one-time events of miraculous, biblical proportion; are glimpses into the nature of reality. The biblical story, start to finish, speaks of the incredibly open nature of… nature. Change happens. Even dramatic change: Has happened, Can happen, Will happen! Thanks be to God! (Bruce Epperly, “I Want a Double Portion,” at www.processandfaith.org/resources/worship/sermons/ DoublePortion_Epp.shtml.)
So, first we have to believe. And then… We have to Ask for More. Maybe even Twice as Much! From his sermon on this text, Bruce Epperly continues: Perhaps, the story of Elisha tells us that we can’t afford to think small today. We must ask for something big and then work our hardest to bring it about. Even though ecological and economic—even physical health—limits oppress us; we need to imagine greatness and then live into the greatness we imagine for ourselves and the world.
It is ironic, and tragic, that the same world which teaches us to believe that the sky is the limit, in regard to material expectation, somehow teaches so many people exactly the opposite in regard to personal, and interpersonal, expectation. I will continue to believe that the Church does not need to preach much about sin – for not only is sin, as the great Karl Barth once noted, “the only empirically verifiable doctrine” (it is as obvious as the evening news), but sin is also implanted on the hearts and minds of most folks, every time they look in the mirror, or have a moment to reflect quietly about their own living. I don’t need to remind most of us that you, and I, sin. We seem to have guilt-receptors… sin-sensors… built-in. What more pulpits need to be announcing, without hesitation, is the Good News: Transformation Happens – but sometimes we have to ask for it.
How many times have you stumbled around, needing, but not willing, only to have someone notice your need and say to you, puzzled, if not put-out, “Well, all you needed to do was ask!?”
Elisha followed around the great prophet, Elijah, unashamedly dogging his every step, unafraid of being a too-eager fan, a sold-out disciple, and when Elijah asked, Elisha asked, too. “Tell me what I may do for you…” Too many of us would have said, “Oh, nothing… I’m fine… Don’t want to trouble you… Don’t worry about me… I can do it myself… Really!” The transformation of Elisha occurred because he had the child-like courage to admit his desire to be like someone else (which is the meaning of discipleship). And he had the unabashed Gaul or Grit or Gusto or Grace to ask for Twice as Much.
So the next time you are ill and the Sunday school class wants to bring supper… maybe you ought to ask for lunch to go with it! Or maybe you need to look within your heart, and ask God’s help, that you may be twice as faithful to your partner this year… or twice as honest to your company this year… or twice as hard a worker at school, in the office, at home… Or maybe you ought to ask God to make you twice as generous, even when the market is at a near-all-time low.
I want Twice as Much.
So maybe the sage of that old camp graffiti had it more correct than I knew. Too much of a good thing – like asking for honest help, or asking to be twice the disciple I ever imagined… is still not enough. This day, in the spirit of Elisha who was transformed by his courage, and in the spirit of Jesus, who was transformed into the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1.15) for those who follow him… may we have the boldness to ask. And to know that sometimes, we’ll need to Ask for Twice as Much.
May it be so!
About the writer:
Russ Dean is a native of Blackstone, VA, but calls Clinton, SC home. He is a graduate of Clinton High School, Furman University, Southern Seminary, and he earned the Doctor of Ministry degree from the Beeson Divinity School of Samford University.
Russ and his wife, Amy Jacks Dean, came to Charlotte in October 2000 to become the Pastors of the Park Road Baptist Church. Together, they share all of the duties of the pastorate, including preaching and worship leadership, administration, outreach, and discipleship.
Russ has been actively involved in ecumenical and interfaith work, having served on the Governing Board of the North Carolina Council of Churches, and serving two terms, and including two years as the president of Mecklenburg Ministries. He has also served on the board for the Counseling Center at Charlotte and for his neighborhood association.
Russ and Amy have two boys, Jackson (15 years old) and Bennett (13 years old). When he is not in the office Russ enjoys barefoot water skiing and woodworking, but, he spends most of his time watching his boys play baseball, or camping, skiing, biking, and playing together.
Scripture and Music
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 1
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
O Jesus, I Have Promised
You Satisfy the Hungry Heart
Where Charity and Love Prevail
Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart
O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Sweet, Sweet Spirit
The Servant Song
Spirit of the Living God
Achieved if the Glorious Work (Haydn from Creation)
Lord, I Want to Be a Christian (Moses Hogan)
A Vineyard Grows (K. Lee Scott)
The Servant Song (Ovid Young)
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (Dale Wood)
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Spirit of God (Don Hustad)