I often begin a sermon by noting how familiar a
particular text is. And that always presents an interesting challenge of
how to hear a very familiar story in a new way. That's not the problem
this morning :) If we have more than 3 or 4 people that even know this
story, I'd be surprised.
It comes after David has become the King of Israel, following the death
of Saul, the first King. Those who were here before I left on vacation
I'm sure will remember my last sermon :), on the friendship between
David and Jonathan. And the covenant in which David promises his friend
Jonathan to care for any of the descendents of David -- the house of
David will forever look after the house of Jonathan. That's what we call
'foreshadowing'. Are there going to be descendants of Jonathan in this
story? Yeah, you bet. Name one. That's the challenge. So that's what
this story is about.
2 Samuel, 9, we read:
David asked, ‘Is
there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show
kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’ [Because
all of the other descendents of Saul have been killed off. Typically
happens, tragically, in the transition from one King to another,
when it's not a peaceful transition].
2Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba,
and he was summoned to David. The king said to him, ‘Are you Ziba?’
And he said, ‘At your service!’ 3The king said, ‘Is there anyone
remaining of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of
God?’ Ziba said to the king, ‘There remains a son of Jonathan; he is
crippled in his feet.’ 4The king said to him, ‘Where is he?’ Ziba
said to the king, ‘He is in the house of Machir son of Ammiel, at
Lo-debar.’ 5Then King David sent and brought him from the house of
Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 6Mephiboshethson of Jonathan son
of Saul came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. David
said, ‘Mephibosheth!’ He answered, ‘I am your servant.’ 7David said
to him, ‘Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness for the sake
of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your
grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table
always.’ 8He did obeisance and said, ‘What is your servant, that you
should look upon a dead dog such as I am?’
9 Then the king
summoned Saul’s servant Ziba, and said to him, ‘All that belonged to
Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s
grandson. 10You and your sons and your servants shall till the land
for him, and shall bring in the produce, so that your master’s
grandson may have food to eat; but your master’s grandson
Mephibosheth shall always eat at my table.’ Now Ziba had fifteen
sons and twenty servants. 11Then Ziba said to the king, ‘According
to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so your servant
will do.’ Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s
sons. 12Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all
who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants. 13Mephibosheth lived
in Jerusalem, for he always ate at the king’s table. Now he was lame
in both his feet.
So now you know one of the sons of Jonathan.
Let's hear you say it: Mephibosheth :) Repeat after me: Mephibosheth,
Mephibosheth, Mephibosheth. I know it's a challenge, sounds like you
have a lisp. I had to work on it a few times.
It's a curious story. And it's actually not in the lectionary, which
explains why you may have never heard of it before. It's not in the
lectionary, but frankly when I looked at the lectionary passage for this
Sunday, I thought this would be more interesting.
I always like to ask: why has a story like this been preserved? I mean,
think about the period of time that David was King of Israel -- several
decades. You can imagine that there had to have been a lot of stories
from his reign as King of Israel. And many of them have been preserved,
but many more have not been preserved. So why has this one been
preserved? Is there some meaning for us in this, other than it's a nice
story about the King, and shows how generous and kind he was? Tell that
the Philistines, right? Or to Uriah (speaking of foreshadowing -- we'll
look at that story next week, the husband of Bathsheba).
So, first, I'm convinced that stories like this are not retold in
scripture just simply to make us admire David, what a great, generous
King he was. That might be partially true. But rather the primary
purpose is to teach and to inspire us. So let's take a closer look at
the story and see what may we find.
There are two major themes that run through this story. The first is
captured by the Hebrew word "hesed". Get a little catch in your throat,
you get the Hebrew sound of "hesed". It's typically translated as
steadfast love, faithfulness, loyalty, kindness. I actually used it in a
wedding yesterday, another one of our young families in the first
service, and I thought here's a chance to kill 2 birds with one stone --
working on a sermon, doing a wedding, you know :) I figured they're
never going to come to church the morning after they're wedding, right?
They showed up this morning! 15 hours after they were married -- I guess
starting off their marriage right :)
It is a term most often used in connection with Israel's covenant with
God. Where "hesed" describes God's commitment to the people. "Hesed" is
not a feeling, like we think of love. Nor is it a duty, like we think of
loyalty (2 words often used to translate it). Rather, it is a
combination of attitude and action that reveals loyalty in a
relationship. It is because of God's ""hesed" (God's steadfast love
toward us) that we can be confident of God's love for us, in both word
And so David's mercy shown to Mephibosheth is fulfillment of his "hesed"
to his friend Jonathan. But this "hesed" reflects more than his loyalty
to his friend, for we read in the text, the King says: "Is there anyone
remaining of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness (there it
is -- the "hesed") of God? So in other words, it is in the actions of
the King towards Mephibosheth that he reveals the "hesed", the
faithfulness, the steadfast love, of God.
Now, it's important for us to note that Jonathan's death (earlier in the
story) does not release David from his commitment of "hesed" to the
family of Jonathan.
Faithfulness, loyalty, personal relationships has traditionally been one
of those values that Americans expect of their leaders (be they
political, or civic, or religious as the case may be). And hence the
moral outrage directed at public officials when they break their
personal vows. Now, never-mind that the public at large is no better at
keeping those vows than those who lead us. Still, we expect our leaders
to hold to a higher standard as role models for the rest of us. And so,
for instance, Vice-Presidential candidate John Edwards earned the rather
dubious distinction of setting a new low (even for politicians) for
cheating on his wife while she was going through treatment for breast
cancer. And all that good he had previously done as a prophetic voice
for the poor and disenfranchised in many ways was undone by his failure
to keep "hesed" (faithfulness) to his wife. By the way, in case you're
wondering, that is an illustration I did not use in the wedding
David, of course, was not immune to such
scandals. Again, we'll see that next Sunday. But here we learn from
David's positive example, as we will see from the negative. And showing
loyalty, then, steadfast love to family and friends is one of those
marks of character that we justly hold high as a royal standard for us
to aspire to.
Now, the second theme in this text is that of compassion -- the
compassion David shows to this disabled grandson of the former King.
Now, here's the critical question that I invite you to consider: Is this
a simple matter of individual compassion and private charity shown to
one particular and unfortunate person, or, is David's role as King
essential to our reading of the story?
In other words, is this more than an act of private charity? Is this the
beginning of government-sponsored healthcare? Well, maybe. Because David
uses the power of government, his power as King, to direct the servants
of Ziba to direct the nation (whoever is holding the land of Saul), to
give that land to Mephibosheth. He couldn't do that if he were not King.
It's because of his power as King, the power of government.
Now, am I reaching a little, to try and use this in the healthcare
debate? Well, yeah, maybe. It wouldn't have been the first time :). But
when we get to the great prophets of the 8th century -- Isaiah, Hosea,
Micah, Amos -- it's clear that they expect all those in power to act
towards the poor and disenfranchised precisely as David does toward
So, for instance, we read in the prophet Isaiah in chapter 3: "The Lord
rises to argue his case. He stands to judge the peoples. The Lord enters
into judgment with the elders and princes of his people. It is you who
have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the
poor?, says the Lord God of hosts".
So David has set the pattern of later Kings to follow by showing his
compassion to Mephibosheth, who, by rights, is a contender for the
throne. But he shows him his compassion. And so the ruling class will
forevermore be held accountable for the well-being of the weak. Now, is
that still true today? Or have we succeeded in shifting that
responsibility to individuals, so that misfortune and poverty is no
longer a sign of injustice by the powerful, but moral failure by the
weak? Blaming the poor, the victims.
Ayn Rand's epic novel "Atlas Shrugged" makes perfect sense: a society
that depends on government to provide everything for them will
ultimately collapse. That's absolutely true. But is that the society
that we in fact are creating? Now, maybe Ayn Rand believed that, and
maybe many of her followers. I absolutely do not.
Instead, instead what I fear is emerging is increasingly becoming
evident in things like the LIBOR scandal in Britain. Now, I know you're
all following the LIBOR scandal, right? LIBOR stands for "London
Inter-Bank Offered Rate". It's simply an average of the interest rates
paid by London banks to borrow money. Why should we care? Why is this
coming up in a sermon? Well, this is the gold-standard, so to speak, of
interest rates. It is the rate used internationally to determine other
rates on things like our mortgages, student loans, or any other
financial product -- in some way they are impacted by the LIBOR rate.
And how that rate is determined, then, has enormous impact on what
consumers pay, and what banks earn.
A change in just 1/100th percent in the LIBOR
rate can earn a bank millions of dollars. Well, it turns out, according
to these charges, that the banks that set the LIBOR rates have been
lying about that rate. And the regulators who knew they were lying, said
nothing. Huh. And the result, if these accusations turn out to be true,
consumers have paid trillions of dollars in excess fees to banks. The
property of the poor, the vineyards, winding up in the palaces of the
rich. It's precisely what Isaiah is talking about.
This is my fear -- what we have now is not a system where government is
doing everything for us, but where mega-banks, mega-corporations,
mega-rich are manipulating government and markets to do everything for
them. That is my fear of the type of world we are creating. And with the
projections of several billion dollars expected to be spent in the
upcoming Presidential election (as a result of the Citizen's United
decision, the most dreadful, ill-conceived, harmful decision of the
Supreme Court, and that's just my polite description for it, since the
Dred Scott case that made slaves ineligible for becoming citizens of the
United States) it is now just a matter of time before voting in this
country will become as meaningless as it is in those communist countries
we so love to dread.
But I am not a person who lives by fear. For it is in that 'hesed' of
God that I believe we have good reason to live by hope. And even if
elections may be up for sale, at least temporarily, I still have hope.
And this is my hope: that our own sense of compassion and justice will
see cases like that of David's care for Mephibosheth as not simply
matters of individual charity and goodwill, but as the responsibility of
the strong to the weak, the rich to the poor, the privileged to the
There was a great illustration, a very moving story of compassion and
charity in the news this week, of that young boy in Mexico, with a
horrible growth, a tumor, that left untreated that it grossly disfigured
him, and was now was threatening his life. Fortunately, some church
group, I think it was in Texas, saw the young man and then began moving
the wheels and raising the money, and take note -- through the
cooperation of church and state -- were able to get him out of a very
dangerous part of Mexico, to bring him into this country for life-saving
Now here's the thing: for every innocent child saved through some
heartwarming charitable act of others, there are hundreds if not
thousands who suffer and die unnoticed by the news or any of us.
So, how do we build that kind of a world where
someone like that child does not have to depend on a chance encounter
with people who have both the empathy and the means to make a
How do we build that kind of society (at least in this country) where
such a child does not have to wait until half of their childhood is
gone, and their affliction becomes life-threatening as well as horribly
disfiguring, not to mention very expensive to fix, before something is
It's called universal healthcare. So this is my fantasy: given that the
Obama healthcare plan, modeled on Massachusetts (developed by
then-Governor Romney), maybe candidate Romney will surprise us all by
revealing his plan not simply to repeal Obamacare (as he has pledged to
do), but to replace it with something even better, and truly universal
(which the Obama plan is not). I told you, it's a fantasy, but you know
:) Who knows, sometimes politicians can do amazing things, and I do
believe he is a compassionate man. So maybe, maybe.
While on the topic, I have to say "kudos" to both candidates for
suspending their campaign while the nation grieves that terrible tragedy
in Aurora Colorado, and our hearts and prayers go out to those families
in that community.
And while the debate rages over gun-control vs concealed weapons,
violence in movies, incarceration vs more funding for mental healthcare
(which I think is probably obvious in this situation), the critical
question for us is: how do we get ourselves out of this mess, with needs
ever escalating and public resources diminishing? And we fight over what
kind of country we want to be, and whose vision will bring the common
good that we all seek.
The answer, the answer, I believe, is "hesed". Being faithful and loyal
to God and each other. Showing steadfast love for one another as taught
by Jesus is perhaps the only thing that can save us. Learning to live as
God desires us to live. Building relationships that matter. Living with
compassion for those without the privileges that we have.
And maybe, maybe from the curious case of Mephibosheth, we will discover
the world that God intends to be.
May it be.