How can I help you? 2 Kings 4:1-7

This was the message at the Induction of our dear friend Rev June Love as minister of Southwell Church.

Being a Christian minister is just like juggling with live chickens. When I say “live chickens”, I am NOT thinking about Deacons or church members, however much clucking and flapping and squawking they may often do! I’m thinking about all the different responsibilities Ministers have to juggle with. Preaching. Teaching. Visiting. Counselling. Worship. Weddings. Funerals. Giving a lead. Steering the ship. Evangelism. Training. Enabling. Administration. Union. Association. Ecumenical activities. Prayer. Study. Husband. Family. Friends. All of these areas demand and deserve our time and energy, but each one is as slippery and hard to juggle as a live chicken. And then, just when you feel you are almost succeeding in keeping all these in the air at once, there are all the balls and skittles and flaming torches and live chickens that other people throw your way. “Say pastor, give me a hand will you. I just can’t cope with this ostrich any more. Catch!”
(If anybody wants to read more about Juggling with Chickens, see my blog piece at
http://pbthomas.com/thoughts/?page_id=28

I have some words for June as she takes up her new juggling challenge here in Southwell. But they are words for the church too, and for all of us gathered here. What does God have to say to us from this inspiring story of a widow who was in so much debt that her children were about to be sold as slaves? Here is a woman in desperate need. And into this need the prophet Elisha asks what must surely be God’s favourite question.
How can I help you? What can I do for you?
Actually, God graciously makes this offer to anyone and everyone. But we usually only hear it at those times in our lives when we turn to God for help. “What can I do for you? How can I help you?” What do WE need from God?
That’s a question for all of us as individuals. How can I help you? We may need forgiveness, healing, wholeness, the blessings of salvation. Think of blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10,
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. “Teacher,” the blind man answered, “I want to see again.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” “your faith has made you whole”
Our needs may be more practical – this widow had money problems– God cares just as much about the “practical” as he does about the “spiritual”. Or we may need peace, or guidance, or victory over temptation, or power to witness or to grow in Christ. Life is full of questions and problems and challenges. From time to time we all need wisdom – and that’s what Solomon asked for when God asked him.
1 Kings 3:5 the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” “Give me the wisdom I need to rule your people with justice and to know the difference between good and evil.” The Lord replied “ I will do what you have asked. I will give you more wisdom and understanding than anyone has ever had before or will ever have again.”
“What can I do for you?” God is asking you, June. You will certainly need wisdom. And he’s asking each one of us this afternoon, “What do you need?” “How can I help you?”
But as well as our own personal circumstances, God is asking you as Southwell Baptist church, “What can I do for you? How can I help you? What are your prayers, your hopes, your aspirations for the future as a church?”
Do you want to be a praying church? A spirit-filled church? A loving church? An evangelistic church? A church where people find God? A church with genuine worship? A church with inspiring teaching? A church which welcomes everybody? A church where Christians grow to maturity? A church with all ages together side by side? How can I help you? What kind of church do you want to be?
When people start praying for their church, they usually start by praying for their activities. Programmes matter! When you think about it, most of the time when people talk about church, they actually have in mind the church’s PROGRAMME.
Sometime in the week ahead somebody may ask you how was church this weekend? “It was great,” you might say. “We had the Induction for our new Minister. The sermon was brilliant.” (Well, even ministers can dream!!) But other weeks some people might go home from church saying, “I didn’t get much out of church this week”. What they really mean by that is they didn’t get to sing any of their favourite songs. The reading was boring. And the coffee was cold. People assess their experience of church on the basis of the programme.
People say “I like this church, but I don’t like such-and-such a church.” What they usually mean is they prefer the activities and events offered by that church. Most people don’t choose their church on the basis of its theology, whether it believes and preaches the Bible, whether it is open to the power of the Holy Spirit. Most people choose their church on the basis of the things it does.
So the programme of services and activities and events a church arranges does matter! In order to become the kind of Church God wants us to be, every church needs to get their programme sorted! And that should always be a programme which doesn’t just keep the saints happy but is designed to bring the sinners in and get them saved! “I will build my church,” Jesus promised,” Built UP to Christian maturity. TOGETHER in community. OUT in evangelism and social action. MORE in numbers. Growing WARMER through fellowship, DEEPER through discipleship, STRONGER through worship, BROADER through ministry. LARGER through evangelism. Jesus IS building his church. It is HIS church, not OUR church. “So how can I help YOU?” God is asking Southwell Baptist Church today. “What do YOU want me to do for you?”
How can I help you? Elisha asks this poor widow on God’s behalf in our story – but then did you notice she doesn’t actually have to answer? God already knew her needs – God already knows all OUR needs! So the prophet goes on,
What do you have? What have you got?
God wants to use US to work his miracles. We may feel we have very little to offer God – but HOWEVER LITTLE that is God can use it! The widow answered, “Nothing at all, except a small jar of olive oil.” So little the woman almost forgot to mention it. But it was enough. The little we have is useless of itself. But when we offer up to God the little we have, he can take and use and transform it!
We may feel as individuals that we don’t have very much which God can use. We may feel we aren’t gifted, we aren’t rich, some of us may not be as young and full of boundless energy as we used to be. And as a church we may feel we don’t have much that God can use. We are only a tiny church with so few members. We can’t run all the activities larger churches can. Our worship can’t be as loud (although that may not be a bad thing). But the truth is that however little we may think we have, God can use it to do more than we can ask or even imagine.
What do you have? As a church, what have you got? Starting from now, you have a minister! You have a June! June, you have your training, your experience, your spiritual gifts, your time and energy. You may feel totally inadequate and ill-equipped for the new juggling challenge before you. And that’s true! No minister is competent and gifted enough to keep all those chickens in the air and never drop one occasionally. But as Paul said, “When I am weak then I am strong.” But don’t let anybody forget what the role of a minister is!!
Ephesians 4:11 Christ appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. … To prepare ALL God’s people for the work of Christian service. It is NOT the task of the minister to do all the works of Christian service herself. It is her joy and privilege to enable and train and equip and encourage and envision the whole church so that ALL God’s people are active in Christian work. 16 Under Christ’s control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love. As each part does its work!
It’s not just down to you June! Every single person in the church has to play their part! Each of us must offer ourselves to God.
What have you got? What has the church got? You have probably already heard about the man who one Sunday discovered the most marvellous church. The worship was heavenly, the teaching inspiring, the fellowship warm and uplifting. Southwell Baptist Church obviously! But when the man went back the next day, the church had gone – vanished – he couldn’t find that church anywhere! How could this be? Oh, he found the building – but he didn’t find the church – because the church wasn’t there – the people weren’t there! The church is the people! What every church has got is its PEOPLE. Church is NOT just what we DO on when we meet together on a Sunday. Church is the people we ARE as Christians 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Often God wants the answers to our prayers to come through each other. The little we have may be just what our neighbour needs. The little time we lovingly give to them. The hospitality. The word of encouragement. God can take so little and make it accomplish so much. What have you got which God wants you to use to help your neighbour?
The programme we arrange has a part to play, but the people are more important than the programme! The programme is just a means to an end, not an end in itself. BEING church is much more about the relationships we form with people than the programme of services and activities we run. Every church needs to discover more and more of what it means to “be church,” to be Christ’s body here on earth. Not meetings and events but relationships and friendships. Not a business but a family.
“What have you got?” God asks. The church ARE the people. Each and every one of us has spiritual gifts, natural talents, hard work, our homes, our possessions, our time, our selves. We must offer all of these to God. Every part doing its work and building each other up by showing true Christian love for each other. The difference between Body of Christ and a human body is that the Body of Christ doesn’t have an appendix. NO part of the Body of Christ is redundant or useless. God has jobs for each and every one of us to do. We may feel we have very little to offer to God. But God delights in taking even the smallest thing and using it and multiplying it for his praise and glory as each of us do what God wants us to do.
A talking dog walked into Job Centre and asked for a job. The Employment Officer was amazed, but quickly said, “There’s a circus in town this week – go and see if they have any vacancies for a dog.”
Next day the dog was back in Job Centre again. “What happened with the circus?” the officer asked.
“Oh that was no use,” the dog replied. “They wanted a performing dog – I’m a bricklayer!”
Some people opt out of church life because they aren’t invited to do the thing they think they are good at or the job THEY want to do. But our responsibility is to play the part GOD assigns us – using the gifts HE has given to do the job HE wants us to do! Belonging to a church is like belonging to an orchestra – turning up for the rehearsals as well as playing in the concerts. It’s like belonging to a football team, playing your hardest every minute so that the team wins, rather than you getting all the glory for an occasional spectacular solo goal. It is when each separate part works as it should that the whole body grows. No opting out!
“What have you got?” God wants to use EACH and EVERY one of us in His church. Because the church are the PEOPLE! And that’s what makes church so interesting. A while back our Deacons were discussing health regulations on selling food to the public at our Christian Aid Coffee Morning. In case anybody suffers from some allergy, every cake needs to be labelled with ingredients and who made it. One of our Deacons had a brilliant idea, “Wouldn’t it be much easier if we just put a sign over the door of the church for everybody to see, “WARNING – MAY CONTAIN NUTS!” Every church ought to have a sign like that over the door! “What have you got?” The church are the people. God has given us each other – nuts and all! We need to learn to appreciate each other and love each other from the heart!
Actually as I think about it, with June as your minister, you may need a slightly different sign. You probably won’t need the word “MAY contain nuts”. But I digress.
What can I do for you? What have you got? Back to the story, where we find the poor desperate widow and her sons stepping out in faith and obedience.
3 Elisha said, “Go round and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
Imagine how silly the widow felt asking for empty jars when EVERYBODY knew she didn’t have ANYTHING to put in the jars. But she was willing to go our on a limb for God. Which is exactly what God calls us to do to. To be prepared to step out in faith for God. To be prepared to look a little bit foolish telling other people about Jesus. All it takes is a little bit of faith. We don’t need great faith – just faith in a great God. A little step of faith. A tiny bit of obedience. That’s what this widow did. She trusted, she obeyed, and here comes the miracle!
They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.”
She just kept on pouring!
God doesn’t just meet our immediate needs – he goes on to do far more than we can ask or even imagine. He is the God who works miracles!! “Sell the olive-oil and pay all your debts, and there will be enough money left over for you and your sons to live on.”
God’s blessing NEVER runs out – the only limit to God’s working is the extent to which we give Him opportunities to act – how much we are prepared to give of ourselves, our time, our faith, our talents, for him to use and transform – how open we are to receiving HIS love, grace and power and to becoming channels of his blessing to others.
Whatever your personal needs this afternoon: forgiveness, healing, wholeness, salvation peace, victory over temptation, power to witness, to grow in Christ, guidance, wisdom, whatever your needs, God’s grace is sufficient for you. Every one of us needs to experience more and more or that overflowing grace and love and power of God which just keeps on pouring out!!
And in the exciting days to come, as Southwell Baptist Church, God’s grace will be more than sufficient for you! “She just kept on pouring!” Out of his glorious riches in Christ Jesus, God will just keep on pouring his grace and his power and His Spirit into all our situations. God’s grace is sufficient for ALL our needs!
We just need to ask – and then leave space for God to work. WHAT WE NEED is that overflowing grace of God! The programme is important. The people are more important. But the most important thing in what it means to be the church is the PRESENCE of GOD. Jesus promises in Matthew 18:20 Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. That’s exactly what church is – 2 or 3 who are in the presence of Jesus – people meeting God! The whole purpose of the programme, the whole reason we gather together as the people of God, is to bring us to the point of an encounter with the PRESENCE of God. If God isn’t here, we aren’t church at all! It is the presence of the Risen Christ in the midst and the activity of God the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers that transforms a group of very ordinary people us into the church, the Body of Christ, the Living Temple where God dwells by His Holy Spirit. And when God is present, there is no limit to His love and grace and power! She just kept on pouring!
Years ago an Ambassador was looking for a new car so he sent off to all the major manufacturers, Jaguar, Bentley, Daimler asking for the specifications. Top speed, brake horsepower, mpg, time to 60 mph, sound system and so on. Rolls Royce sent back a message with just one word on it – “adequate”.
For all of our situations – the overflowing grace of God is much more than just adequate! “What can I do for you?” God is ready and willing to meet all our needs as individuals and as His church. As we freely hand over to him however little we have to offer, his “more than adequate” blessings will just keep on pouring into our lives! She kept on pouring!
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

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