Arnold on a gate

This blog post is based on a sermon I preached in October 2022. The readings are Elisha and the Widow’s Oil: 2 Kings 4:1-7 and James 2:14-24. This was also our Shoebox Sunday – when we bring our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to send around the world. You can find out more about this project here.

Elisha and the Widow’s Oil

You may have heard of a man called Obadiah, a prophet in the Old Testament. Well today we meet his wife – although she isn’t named in our story – she’s just known as the wife of a man from the company of the prophets.

And we meet her today as we see her encounter Elisha, a prophet in Israel. We see how he responds to her time of desperate need.

And this is a theme that is very fitting for today, our Shoebox Sunday, as we see how we have responded to the needs of children around the world who would not otherwise receive gifts.

And more locally, we don’t need to look far to see people here and now who face the same kind of desperate situation as the widow in our reading. So, how do we respond to them in their time of desperate need.

As we look at these three situations, we will be hearing the stories of three women. A young girl called Genesis who received a shoebox last year, a woman called Laura who is facing hugely difficult choices in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, and the widow who met Elisha. These three stories will help us to understand the character of Elisha, and what we can do when we see those in need around us.

So first, let’s meet the widow at the beginning of her story.

The Widow’s Story

Hello, I am a mother. I have two wonderful sons who I love very much. I am also a widow. My husband Obadiah loved the Lord, but now he is dead. And what’s more, now his creditor is coming and wants to take my two boys as his slaves. I can’t stop him because I have nothing to pay him with. I have no choice. I have nothing left to give.

Can you imagine walking in this woman’s shoes? What would you do? Who would you turn to? It is in this situation, in this time of need, that she meets Elisha.

But she isn’t the only person that Elisha meets in this chapter in 2 Kings. If you want to continue reading chapter 4 of this book, you will see that Elisha also meets a wealthy woman who was childless, and then a whole region of people who were living in famine.

And in all of these situations, he responds with compassion, and a miracle happens. He tells the wealthy woman that she will have a child, and one year later she holds him in her arms. Then when her son tragically dies, he restores him to life. And when he meets those who are living in famine, he turns a soup made from inedible gourds into a healthy meal and shares twenty loaves with a hundred men.

But they aren’t the people we’re meeting today. When Elisha met the widow, he tells her to pour her oil into jars, multiplying it until she runs out of jars.

Each time, Elisha sees someone in need, has compassion upon them, cares for them and knows that God will provide in miraculous ways.

Compassion in the cost-of-living crisis

Now Elisha may have lived many years ago, far away from here. But in this world, there will always be people in need. The childless, the grieving, the hungry, the poor.

So now we’re going to meet Laura, a woman who lives today, and is facing the same cost of living crisis as all of us.

Laura’s Story

Hello, my name is Laura. I have two children, Joe who is 10 and Lily who is 7. I work as a Primary school teacher here in Surrey. Most of my salary goes on my rent, but over the last couple of months it has gone up by over £100 per month. My husband died several years ago so I am a single mother, just trying to care for my children.

When you add in the rising costs of food and energy, I am now always worried about money. We use hot-water bottles in the evening to avoid putting on the heating. My son was off school with Covid recently and there was a real rise in bills – we shouldn’t have to worry about getting our children warm.

If costs continue to rise, I’ll be forced to choose whether we spend money on eating or heating our home. How do you make a choice like that?

Adapted from a range of true stories, including Kate’s story from The Guardian.

Maybe you know someone like Laura. Or maybe you are someone like Laura. But there are so many people in Laura’s situation right now. Having to make difficult decisions about how they spend their money. Watching their bills soar in front of their eyes. How would Elisha have responded to their situation? How should we?

How should Christians respond to the cost-of-living crisis?

The passage we read from James 2 reminds us that our faith shouldn’t just be words. Our faith should drive us to action. So how has your faith driven you to help those who are in need today?

Many of us are fortunate not to be in the position that Laura is in. I am fortunate that I can still afford rent, I can still afford food. I have a healthy baby, and I have always been able to find a job. If we are the ones in this position, we are in the position to do something.

We can’t just say ‘keep warm and well fed’, and then not do anything to make that possible.

We believe in a God who does miracles. But by their very nature, miracles are unpredictable. They are a gift of grace from God. But we also believe in a God who transforms us. Who works through us. For our family, is our faith in God that has led us to continue our giving to the church, even when our income went down. It is our faith that has led us to start donating to the food bank as part of our regular food shop. And it is our faith that leads us each year to want to bless children around the world with a shoebox full of gifts.

Operation Christmas Child

These shoeboxes are a wonderful example of God working through all of us. These shoeboxes represent how our faith has moved us to action. We have seen a need, and we have responded.

And we can see the incredible impact of that response, as we meet a young girl called Genesis.

Genesis’ Story

Hello, my name is Genesis. I am eight years old, and I live in Cutuglagua, in Ecuador. In June last year, my cousin Leonela invited me to come with her to a special event at a church.

When we were there, I was given an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. Before that day, I had never received a gift before in my life. There were many things inside the box – dolls, my favourite toys – but the box itself made me very happy. I am going to take care of the box also.

But the shoebox wasn’t the only good part of the day. I am happy for the opportunity I had to come here. I have learned about God and received a shoebox. He is my Saviour. I have a new friend!

After the event, at my home, we talked about God. And Jesus saved my mum who was sick with Covid. I asked God for her healing and her salvation, and both of my parents were saved.

(Adapted from the news story shared by Operation Christmas Child).

That is what it looks like when God’s church sees a need, has compassion, and comes together to respond. Lives are changed, and God is glorified.

What should we do now?

And we are going to hear from the widow once more, to remind ourselves of how her story ends.

The Widow’s Story – Part 2

Luckily, my story has a happy ending. A wonderful ending. I met a man named Elisha, he wanted to help me but all I had in my house was a small jar of olive oil. I didn’t know what he was doing but he told me to go around to all my neighbours and ask for empty jars. They were as confused as me, but they gave me their jars. I took them inside with my sons, just like Elisha told me to.

Then I began pouring my oil into a jar, and then another one. And another one. And another one. It just kept flowing. Jar after jar, the oil kept pouring. Eventually, my son told me that there were no jars left – and that was when the oil eventually ran out.

Now I have all this oil to sell, and I can pay my debts. My sons are safe, and we don’t have to live in fear anymore. God was so generous to us. He blessed us with so much and saved us from despair.

If you are struggling. If you find yourself in a similar situation as Laura, or feeling the desperation of the widow, anxious about money and not sure where to turn. Please do talk to someone at your local church and find out how they can support you, or find out how you can access support here.

And if you are not in that situation, take the time to think about what you could do to give people like Laura the same kind of happy ending that the widow saw because of Elisha.

Elisha’s mission, the mission of a prophet, is to bring the message of God’s faithfulness wherever he goes. He has compassion on those in need, and shares God’s faithfulness. Through these shoeboxes God’s faithfulness will be shared with children around the world. And when we see people in need around us, what are we going to do to share God’s faithfulness with them?

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