God can take a common, everyday object (like you and me) and use it to work miraculous things. However, we cannot be passive. Couch potatoes and pew sitters experience few miracles.

EVOO ~ January 13, 2019 ~ 2 Kings 4:1-7

We are in 2 Kings today, let me set the scene a little bit. It’s a common theme, you’ve all heard this before. There was a united kingdom, a united monarchy under the first king, whose name was Saul! Who was followed by the second king of Israel whose name was David, who was followed by the last king of Israel whose name was Solomon. So you had the first three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon. Now, after they did their thing, they weren’t all that obedient to the Lord. They made quite a few of their own share of mistakes, so the Lord punished them by dividing the kingdom into two: the northern kingdom of Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judea. Both Elijah, the prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha, who we’re going to talk about today, were prophets in the northern kingdom of Israel. Elisha began his ministry around 853 BC and it lasted for the next fifty years. Will you join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Let us pray.

Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Alright. 2 Kings 4, first seven verses.

One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.”
“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”
“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied.
And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.”
So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim!
“Bring me another jar,” she said to one of her sons.
“There aren’t any more!” he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.
When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, “Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.”
(2 Kings 4:1-7)

What a great story. But I’ve got to say, Elisha’s first response, I always read it a little differently. It made me kind of chuckle. She comes to him and says my husband who has served you now is dead, and I have this issue, and his first response is a version of, “Well, what do you want from me?” and I thought, wow. Have you ever said that? Has anybody ever come to you and you said, “Well what do you want from me? What do you want me to do?” Let me ask you a different question: Do you have children? Or have you had children? Then perhaps you have said that – maybe not with your outside voice, maybe you’ve said it with your inside voice – “What do you want from me?” Or maybe you’ve never heard your parents say it to you, because they were using their inside voice.

You know, after I got married, about two years after we were married, family became a part of our conversation, and as soon as we started talking about having children, you know what I did? Math. I said, OK, well if we have the first child when we’re twenty, maybe another one when I’m like 22, and another one when I’m 24, by the time the youngest one is 18 and on his own, I’ll only be 41, and I’ll have my life back! And it’s worked out exactly as I planned!

That’s a lie. It didn’t work out anything like I planned. When I moved down here to Connecticut in 2006, I was 43. Justin came with me. Not Renée, but Justin, and he was here for a short while, and then he left. Then Jared came in, and he was with me for a while, and then he left. And then he came back, and he stayed for a little while longer, and then he left again. And then he came back, and he stayed for a little longer, and then this past summer he finally took off down to Virginia, and I think that’s it. So, we were free, finally! I’m 55! But Jeremy moved in. Our oldest comes down from Maine. He’s going to be with us for a while because he and his cousin Anise Beth are moving down to Florida in October. They’re leaving all these gorgeous New England winters behind them. I’m not sure they’re allowed in Florida, I told him, because they’re kind of young. But I gave him some advice. I said, “Look, never drive over 35 mph, always leave your left directional on all the time, and make sure you go to dinner at 4:00! And if you do those three things, maybe you can fit in, maybe they won’t notice.” (But that’s what dads do, right? We give advice.)

But anyway, while he’s here, we’re blessed, because he’s coming to church, he’s offering his musical gift as a guitarist for the Lord, so it’s all good. I’m only about twelve or thirteen years behind schedule. I just didn’t quite understand the new math, I guess.

When circumstances arise in the lives of our children, we don’t want to say, “What do you want from me?” We help if we can! I consider it a blessing to be able to help. Not a lot of parents can. They’re not in a position to. I wasn’t in a position to at times in my life, but now we can be of some assistance. That’s what parents do – not because we have to, but because we want to. We love our children. And they don’t owe us anything for it. It’s not as if once our children turn 18, we hand them an itemized bill, right? (Wouldn’t that be neat? Happy birthday! Let’s see, we’ve got 95 packages of Pampers, $12.95 for a Star Wars Land Speeder Lego set, got that on there, 300 hot pockets…) I know parents in here are going, “Oh, that would be so cool!” But don’t forget, that would mean we would have been handed a bill when we turned 18 too, and I don’t know about you, but I’d still be paying on mine.

We don’t do it because we’re going to get something back. Children cost money, that’s the way it is, you know? And we love them enough to do what you’re going to do. I mean, look, we all know that Ryan and Ashley are pregnant, right? Woohoo! I phrase it that way, “Ryan and Ashley are pregnant,” because we all know she’s doing all the work from here forward, right? It’s like Ryan loaded the paper in the printer and walked away. For the next nine months, she’s doing all the work. Anyway, at Spurgeon Tuesday night, Ryan shared something with the guys, and he asked us not to say anything, so… He said, “You know, it’s been a year, and I’m still madly in love with my wife.” Sh, don’t tell her, she’ll get a big head. But seriously, he said that even now, even where it’s just beginning, he’s beginning to be a little bit anxious about being able to financially support his new young family. I mean, little Adam’s on the way… “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do what I can do, and I want to be able to provide for my family as a godly man should.” It’s natural to have those thoughts. If you’re a guy who’s had a child, you know those thoughts too. I said, “Look, it’s OK. God will provide, and I mean that with all sincerity. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea how we did what we did – three times! I look back on it and I don’t have a clue how we kept our heads above water. But you just do what you can do, and God takes care of the rest, right Frank? At some point, Ryan will look back and he won’t know where he found the money for his minivan either! You just do what you’ve got to do.

The point is, a Christian response – whether it’s to our children, or to our parents, or to our friends, or even to strangers – should never be, “What do you want from me?” but rather how Elisha responded. “What can I do to help you? How can I help?” Besides, the truth is there really is something nice, something special, about a child knowing that no matter how stupid they may have been, regardless of the explanations they share with you, some of which are very creative (I know, because I came up with a number of them myself), they know that they can count on you. They know that they can turn to you when the going gets tough. And if you at all possibly can help, you will. There’s just something neat about that, knowing there is someone who is absolutely sure they can count on you.

The church has a similar role. Notice that in times of crisis, people turn to the church. I remember back on September 11, 2001 when Muslim terrorists flew planes into the Twin Towers, into the Pentagon. For weeks afterwards, churches were crowded. They didn’t know where else to turn, what else to do. The same thing with a natural disaster that takes a lot of lives or a mass shooting. Any event which starkly reminds us that we are not in control, that we don’t control the forces of weather, and we can’t control the forces of evil on this planet. And that is what we’re fighting in many cases. We are fighting evil. The Bible reminds us, tells us clearly in Ephesians 6:12:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12)

We are fighting against forces we cannot even see. We have to realize we’re not in control, and that drives us crazy because we want to be in control, we like being in control. We’re not in control. So, whenever something happens that is beyond our ability to process or to understand, what do we do? We instinctively turn to the church.

Now, do I wish these folks came every week? Sure! That’s because I know what a blessing it is to have all of you as brothers and sisters in Christ. I know how amazing it is to be a part of this church family. Yeah, I wish they were here every week, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. They’re in crisis right now. This woman is in crisis right now. Her husband died, and she’s in a very perilous situation. So, she turns to the church, to Elisha, the prophet of the prophets apparently, and she asks for help. And he doesn’t say, “What do you want from me.” What does he say? He says, what can I do to help you. And then he says, “Tell me, what do you have in the house.” “Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil.” That’s all she’s got left to her name to pay her debts – one little flask of olive oil, or as Rachael Ray calls it, EVOO! (I don’t quite understand Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Is there a Virgin Olive Oil? And what makes an olive extra virgin instead of virgin? And does this mean that there are slutty olives too? I don’t know. Is it a sliding scale? I’m not exactly sure how it works. Anyway, that’s why you marry a cook and don’t become one yourself).

All she’s got is a little bit of Rachael Ray’s EVOO. Now, it’s humbling, it’s both humbling and a great responsibility when you are the one that someone turns to in their hour of need. Why do people go to the church? I know, cynics will say, “To get free stuff, because you’re an easy mark, Pastor!” Well, look, I’m not saying that is not the reality in some cases. Alright, in many cases. OK, OK, in most cases. And I struggle with cynicism too but trying to step back from it all and think about it… think of it this way. Why do people go to the church? The reason people expect help at a church is because they believe Christians are loving, compassionate, and caring. Even if they’re going to try and use that to get something out of you, to snooker you, the reason they showed up was because they thought they could snooker, tug on the heart strings, of people who are loving, compassionate, and caring. That’s not a bad reputation to have, don’t you think? We’re loving, compassionate, and caring. As long as we don’t add gullible to that, we’ll be OK. We’re loving, caring, and compassionate people.

But we also have to be wise. We want to help, not enable. I do not want to help someone just purchase their next hit or next bottle. I don’t want to keep them chained to the addiction that they find themselves in. I want to help. Elisha shows us how the church should respond in situations like this. When someone comes for help, you help first by encouraging them to trust the Lord. Elisha says to this woman, who all she has is a little bit of EVOO, and he says, “Go get a bunch of empty jars.” What could possibly have been going through her mind at that point? What do you think she was thinking of? “Go get a bunch of empty jars.” “What do I need a bunch of empty jars for?!” I’ve got one. Why do we need a bunch of empty jars? That is a test of faith. You have one little flask of olive oil. Elisha says, “Go get a bunch of empty jars.” That’s a test of faith.

Please don’t think that God does not test your faith, because He does. He tests our faith all the time. You ever heard of Abraham and Isaac? Made him wait until he was 100 years old to have his first boy, and then He says, “Kill him! Sacrifice him to me!” That’s a test. What about Gideon? That’s one of my favorite stories. Gideon is told, “You know what? There are 135,000 Midianite warriors out there ready to bear down on you. Go fight them. Take these 300 guys.” That’s a test of faith. I mean, it’s not like God and the angels and the heavenly hosts are up there saying, “Watch this, you think he’s going to do this? Oh my God, he’s doing it!” He’s not playing around! It’s a test of faith. God will test your faith. God already knows if you’re going to pass or fail. He’s God! So, He’s not doing it for His benefit. He’s doing it for yours. He’s doing it for mine. Because we learn that if we trust God just enough, we can walk on water. But that’s not going to happen until we get out of the boat.

So, there’s a test of faith going on here. “Listen lady, you got this one little flask of EVOO. Go get yourself a bunch of empty jars.” If God asks you to do something, even if it doesn’t make any sense – like forgiving someone who has hurt you or someone you love. “I don’t want to, Lord, I’ve been holding on to this bitterness. I believe it’s what’s kept me going all these years.” When we pray the Lord’s prayer, we say, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” It goes both ways. We cannot expect to be forgiven of our sins if we are unwilling to extend that same grace to those who have hurt us. So, if God is asking you to do something that doesn’t make sense – “he doesn’t deserve my forgiveness,” “she doesn’t deserve my forgiveness” – do it. God asks you to do something, even if it doesn’t make sense – “Get a bunch of empty jars” – do it. We show God in that way that we trust Him more than our own understanding. That’s the first way that Elisha helps this person – by encouraging them to have faith. It’s the same thing we should do when someone comes to us to ask for help – encourage them to have faith. I know it’s easier to simply hand them a couple of bucks and send them on their way, but since when is being a Christian easy? Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Turn the other cheek. I don’t know about you, but none of that stuff’s easy for me. There’s nothing easy about being a Christian. God asks you to do something, even if it doesn’t make any sense, no matter how hard it is, do it. Show Him you trust Him.

The second thing Elisha did was ask the woman to do something. See, this is the problem with so many of the people who ring the buzzer here at South Church and ask for help. They have no intention of doing anything, of making a positive change in their life. A wise person once said, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging. Just stop. But often, that’s not what happens when folks come here. They say to me, in more than one way, well, I’m still going to be irresponsible, I’m still going to make poor decisions, I just want you, South Church, to bail me out, because you’re loving, and compassionate, and caring!

And we are. But we’ll help as soon as they stop digging first. They have to do something.

Noah did something. Noah built a boat. He built it! He didn’t go to the boat store. He’s in the middle of the desert, and he built a boat! That takes faith. It had never rained before! They were miles from the ocean. “Build a boat! And not just a little boat, a big boat!” Peter had to get out of the boat first, he had to step over the side, and then he could walk on the water.

We need to do something. They need to do something. She needs to do something. Couch potatoes and pew sitters experience few miracles. Don’t tell God you have faith. Talk is cheap! Show Him you have faith. Get out of your boat and trust Him.

Sadly, that doesn’t always happen when people ring our buzzer. For instance, there was a gentleman, we’ll call him Jim. Jim came to South Church in crisis because he believed Christians are loving and compassionate and caring. He was obviously addicted, but he said he wanted to change his life, he wanted to live differently. He wanted to get rid of this thing that was weighing him down, this burden. He seemed genuine. The first person Jim encountered was Todd, our Site Superintendent, and I’ve got to tell you, if you think that our Site Superintendent just keeps this building immaculate, you are sadly mistaken. As Lauren can attest to, there are so many people where he is their first contact, and our “custodian” is much more than a custodian. He prays with them, he shares the gospel with them, he lets them warm up, he gets them a cup of coffee, he lets them use the bathroom, he gives them money out of his own pocket (if he thinks it’s legit). He’ll give them rides, he makes phone calls for them, he lets them use the phone. He ministers as much as he cleans this building.

So, Jim meets Todd first. Todd talks with him, shares the gospel with him, and then sends Jim down to my office, and a few days later I’m talking to Jim, and I’m sharing the gospel with him, and I’m working on him. We’re both talking to each other, Todd and I, and we’re going, “We think, maybe, we got this one on the line!” You know, you go fishing – they call it fishing and not catching because you do a lot more fishing than you do catching. And we’re thinking, “We’ve got a live one!”

So, Todd ends up giving him a few dollars out of his own pocket, I end up giving him a few dollars out of my own pocket, ask him to come to church on Sunday, he comes to church on Sunday (he sat right there), and we think “Oh man, this one’s going to be different!” We got him a bed – he was a veteran (veterans have a soft spot in my heart. He showed me a picture of him in his BDUs, his Battle Dress Uniform when he was overseas in either Afghanistan or Iraq, I can’t remember. Said he had a traumatic brain injury, I’m not so sure about that now) – we got him a bed at South Park Inn, they have beds specifically reserved for veterans. Got him an appointment with a treatment program at the VA down in New Haven. We saw someone who was trying to make a change – so we thought.

And then one day, Jim comes in. He’s obviously high, there’s no question. He’s lethargic, rolling back and forth, can’t keep his eyes open. He got kicked out of the bed at South Park Inn, because you have to be clean. Never showed up at his appointment in New Haven. And he has a story to tell.

“Pastor!” he says, “I need $325.”
I said, “Really Jim, what do you need $325 for?”
“I have to fly my daughter to her grandparents in Iowa!”
I said, “What happened?”
“Well, her mother was in a car accident and she died.”
I said, “Well, how did you get your daughter?”
He says, “I went down and picked her up.”
I said, “Well, where is she now?”
“She’s at South Park Inn.”
I said, “Now, wait a minute now, Jim. You don’t have any identification. You can’t prove who you are. Police just handed you an eight year old girl because you said you were her father? Where did this happen?”
He told me the name of the town. “But how did you get there? You don’t have a car!”
He says, “Well, Father Tom took me.” Father Tom is the pastor of the St. Patrick/St. Anthony’s Catholic Church here in Hartford.
I said, “OK, hold on.” I went in my office, called Father Tom. He knows Jim too. I said, “Hey, Jim’s telling me that you drove him down to identify the body of his daughter’s mother last night.”
He said, “No. That didn’t happen.”

Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes people show up here because they’re counting on your loving and your compassion and your care, and they have no intention of doing something. The church is here to help, we are, but we are not some sort of divine ATM machine. They have to do something. They have to show some evidence of making a change.

Now, sadly I need to share that that is the majority of my buzzers. Sadly.

Now, when I first got here – some local yokel from Maine – somebody came down and I said yes to everybody! Wow! There’s a lot of people I can help here in Hartford! It’s amazing! And then, one day this guy comes in and buzzes the buzzer and I talk to him, and I’m starting to get a little bit of an idea what might be going on in this city. So, I asked him as many questions as I possibly could to try and ascertain if this was legitimate. His daughter got pregnant, she took off, left the baby with them, it was just him and his wife, and they needed diapers and… I must have held him like 20 minutes. Brought him downstairs when Hands on Hartford was here, showed him diapers. “No, that’s not the right kind.” How about this formula? “No, that’s not the right kind.” Wanted cash. Left and right, tried really hard. Finally, I gave in and said, OK. Gave him $20 out of my pocket.

The next day I come into church, I’m telling the staff about it. Joanne starts laughing. I said, “What’s so funny?!” She said, “That baby must be about 7 years old by now! He’s been doing that for 7 years!” He had scrubs on, he had a lanyard, he looked like he worked at the hospital. Can you believe it, Bailey? Someone lied to me! I was shocked! Lie to a pastor?

Well, I’ve gotten a little more discerning over the last 13 years. Unfortunately, that’s the majority of them. But there are some success stories. There was a gentleman by the name of Dan, and he was sleeping in our dumpster. Not our trash dumpster, but our recycling dumpster where the cardboard is, because it was cold. He was an older man, he was in his forties. He also was a vet, and he came into my office, I was talking to him. He was obviously educated, very articulate, and he was kicking his habit. He was clean, but he wanted to get into a program in New Hampshire at a VA hospital. So, I did the whole runaround with him, and with a long couple of days of interrogation, I determined and discerned that he’s worth a risk. I gave him a few bucks, got him up to New Hampshire.

I didn’t hear for another 6-8 months. Then, out of the blue (I had completely forgotten about Dan), I get a postcard in the mail. It’s from Dan! He’s thanking South Congregational Church for helping him get to New Hampshire, he went through the program, he’s clean, he’s sober, he’s in a halfway house, they got him a job.

There are successes. This is why people turn to the church in times of crisis. This woman did just that. She turned to the church and she did something. Elisha said go get some empty jars. She went and got some empty jars. And then she started to fill the empty jars. Remember, all she’s got is one little flask of EVOO, and she’s pouring it into this jar, and then she’s pouring it into the next jar, and the next jar, and then all of a sudden before you know it, all the jars are full! She yells to her son, “Hey, go get some more jars!” He says, “We don’t have any more jars!” and only then did the olive oil stop.

You see, she was willing to trust the Lord. She went out and got a bunch of jars. She was willing to do something to make a change, and a miracle happened. Praise God! Not Elisha, not the church. Praise God.

I don’t know where you are. I don’t know what you are struggling with. You may be stuck in a recycling dumpster of your own. You may be struggling with drinking, you may be struggling with alcohol, you may be struggling with pornography – I don’t know. And you may feel as if you don’t have anything left. You’ve just got a little bit of EVOO left, you’re on your last limb. Or, you may feel like you have nothing at all. “I’m done. I can’t do anymore.” That’s OK. It really is. Because God is the only one who has ever made something from nothing, right? In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Once there was nothing, now, BOOM! There’s something! Only God can do that. He doesn’t need much.

With this story, Elisha is saying to Israel, that no matter how bad things look – and they looked pretty bleak at the moment – no matter how bad things are, don’t worry. God is faithful. That last drop is a remnant, and that remnant is all He needs. He doesn’t need much; He can still do a lot. Remember, “But you, oh Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a little village, a leader of Israel will come from you; one whose origins are from the distant past.” Bethlehem was a crappy little town, and from that small village comes the Messiah. Yes, God can work with very little. Elisha shows us that God can take a common, everyday object – like olive oil, like you, like me – and He can use it to do miraculous things.

So, the next time you turn to God in crisis, or the next time someone turns to you in crisis, first try to make sure all the digging has stopped. And then before you take the easy way out and just hand them some money… Let me ask you, what helps this woman more, a couple of bucks that would have gotten her through the day or the week, or a newfound faith by letting God do a miracle through her? That’s what the church is after. That’s what we want. We don’t want to just hand out money. We want what Elisha did, just as God does. We want to help people make positive changes in their lives; to be transformed. I wanted so badly for Jim to be transformed, but he wasn’t interested in doing anything to change. So, finally I had to tell him, “Sorry, dude. I can’t. I know someone who can, but you won’t listen to Him.”

So, we want people to take what little EVOO they may have, and we want them to see a miracle. We want them to do a miracle. We want them to be a miracle. And then we want them to give all the glory to God. Thank you, Elisha, for showing us how we really can help. Would you stand and pray with me?