Scripture II Kings 4:1-7
Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.” 2 Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She answered, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.” 3 He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few. 4 Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.” 5 So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring. 6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” But he said to her, “There are no more.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”
Message ”What Have You Got?” Rev. James Renfrew
Have you ever heard about Elisha? If you’re not sure, I’m not surprised, because there were two prophets in the Old Testament Books of the Kings, Elijah and Elisha, and it’s easy to confuse one with the other, their names sound almost the same.
One of my favorite stories about Elijah involves his show-down on the mountaintop with the 400 false prophets. Just one Elijah, and 400 false prophets. The contest was this, in a time of severe drought, who can call on God to bring rain? I’ll skip the details, but in the end the 400 prophets fail to deliver a single drop, but Elijah comes through, and it rains. Praise God!
Elisha was Elijah’s successor. Upon Elijah’s death, we are told that Elisha was given a double portion of Elijah’s prophetic power, and then he had his own series of dramatic adventures that demonstrated the power of God and God’s hope for Israel.
If you want to understand Jesus better, you would do well to read these stories about Elisha. Wherever he went, he demonstrated God’s hope and power. Either Jesus consciously followed Elisha’s example, or people who witnessed Jesus’ acts were reminded of Elisha.
Today’s story about the desperate woman and the jars of oil, is very similar to stories of Jesus. In Elisha’s story, the oil is multiplied. In Jesus’ story it is the bread and fishes that are multiplied to feed a hungry crowd of 5000. The result is the same, a miracle, and desperate people are saved. To me, the lesson is clear; we may feel insignificant, powerless and hopeless, but from very, very little, from almost nothing. God is able to multiply … bread, oil, love, hope, justice and peace.
I’m sorry that Maddie wasn’t able to be here this morning, we’ll get her in a week or two, but the stories you will hear in October are all about multiplication, unexpected abundance and miraculous joy. As they tell their stories, I am sure that you will be reminded of your own stories of multiplication, of how God inspired something in and around you from almost nothing!
Let’s take a closer look at Elisha’s story. There is a poor widow in deep trouble and she is desperate for help. Her husband has died, she is unable to cover his debts, and the creditors are coming. If the woman doesn’t have the money they will seize her sons, and sell them into slavery, to settle the debt.
You might also wonder how creditors could come to seize her sons. Weren’t there legal remedies or authorities she could appeal to for protection? No. Why, because she was a woman, and women had no legal standing, none at all. She is not even named in this story, not an omission, but evidence of her invisible status. It looked like no one was on her side.
And another point; slavery, the threat aimed at the woman’s sons. Slavery was widespread in those times three thousand years ago, and is always treated by the Bible with abhorrence, and while slavery in this country has been outlawed since 1863, many vestiges of slavery still remain. As we marvel at the multiplication of the oil, we should open our hearts to those places where people live in desperation and where the “oil” is still needed.
Back to the story. The woman is in a desperate situation. Fortunately, the word gets out, and prophet Elisha comes to her home to help.
Elisha asked. “Tell me; what have you got?” “Nothing at all, except a small jar of olive oil,” she answered. Almost nothing, hardly anything, but that’s enough for Elisha to demonstrate the love and hope of God.
So Elisha instructs her to ask her neighbors for every jar they can spare. I am picturing the desperate woman knocking on every single door in her neighborhood. And she gets a whole bunch of them, maybe something like the jars we’ve brought to church this morning? Elisha then asks her to pour from her small, nearly empty jar into the other jars, and – incredibly, amazingly, miraculously – the olive oil flows from that little jar until every jar is filled to the top. So much olive oil that she can settle her debts, save her sons from slavery, and live without fear.
Isn’t that God’s hope for all of us, that we can live without fear? That’s why I am here as a pastor, but especially as a Christian, to find ways to live without fear, and not selfishly, but wishing the same for everyone else around me and throughout the world.
Of course, the truth is that we live with a lot of fears – strife, war, disease, climate, disaster and catastrophe.
So, we love a story like this from II Kings, that multiplies what we need, that multiples possibilities for everyone. Now we are cultivating our multiplication abilities here in this church. Each Sunday we bring our calculators, our abacuses, our multiplication tables, pencils and paper, and, if all else fails, we have our fingers and toes, too. Let’s show how the gifts of God multiply in the life of our church! “Count your many blessings and see what God has done.”
You do know how to multiply, don’t you? Of course, you do! Begin with a gift you have received from God, and then describe how that gift has multiplied! Who has been helped? Who has been rescued? Who has been loved? Who has been fed? Who has been inspired? Who has been healed? Tell us your story of multiplication!
Please don’t think that multiplication only involves BIG numbers. In fact, most multiplication happens in the small, small acts of kindness, generosity and love. Small? Yes! Often unnoticed? Usually! Making a difference? Always!
Did you bring a jar with you to church this morning? Thank you and amen! Next week, please bring two jars. If you forgot to bring a jar this morning, you can catch up by bringing three next week. Any kind of jar!