June 20, 2021
After the challenges and limitations of the past 16 months, it’s anticipated that Americans will be traveling and adventuring this summer maybe like never before. Yesterday, I came across this article entitled “the best small towns in the U.S. you’ve never heard of.” And here’s are some of the towns I found near the top of the list: Galena, Illinois; Franklin, Tennessee; Healdsburg, California; Shelburne, Vermont; Damascus, Virginia; Gallup, New Mexico; Hood River, Oregon.
Nowhere did I see mention of Dillon, Montana … though I’m sure some of us might prefer it that way … or maybe it’s simply that the secret about Dillon is already out.
Of course, the whole thing is a highly subjective and flawed premise. After all, what it means for something to be the best differs according to the person and their criteria and even more, assessing how well known or popular any particular town is difficult to measure too.
Nevertheless, it’s kind of a fun premise, “the best ______ you’ve never heard of.” Now here’s one more I’ll put out there, one which brings to our story today:
What might be on the list for the best bible story most people have likely never heard of? Or maybe we could say, the most beautiful bible story they’ve never heard of.
Friends, I’d like to submit our bible story today as maybe just maybe the best, most beautiful bible story you’ve likely never heard of. And I say this partly because I’ll admit to you that I had forgotten all about it. It’s the story of David and Mephibosheth and how a long lost and forgotten descendant of Saul and Jonathan received far more than he could have ever hoped for. Maybe just maybe, it’s best bible story you’ve never heard before.
This morning, we continue in our sermon series on the Life of King David, after today, just two more weeks in the series to go. And today as we find ourselves here in 2 Samuel 9, we find David at the height of his powers, at the pinnacle of his reign as King of Israel, David continues to have significant military victories and it’s a time of peace and stability for David and his people.
And so it’s to some surprise, that David, being on the top of the world, asks this question that we see in verse 1:
“Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
Now, to understand why David would even begin to ask and feel compelled to show kindness to the house of Saul (his enemy from years before), we have to take ourselves back to David’s final moments and conversations that he had with both Saul and Jonathan years before, both of which are recorded in 1 Samuel, stories that we read in weeks past.
In those accounts, both Saul and Jonathan in their final moments with David, begin to see that the writing is on the wall – David will likely be king of Israel someday, taking King Saul’s place. And both Saul and Jonathan (keep in mind, Jonathan was Saul’s son) ask that David make them this promise, saying -
21 Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my descendants after me, and that you will not wipe out my name from my father’s house.”
Saul and Jonathan both feared that if and when David assumed the throne that he would have their extended family killed off and Saul and Jonathan both are trying to protect against that. And David, maybe to some surprise, agrees to their request and promises that he will not cut off their descendants.
And so here we are years later, many of Saul and Jonathan’s family have passed away and David reflects back on his promise from long ago.
“Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
Now, the word here translated as kindness comes from a rich Hebrew word hesed. It’s kind of fun to say. Repeat after me, hesed. Now the “h” in hesed is important, you’ve got to say it like the letter h is trying to jump out of your throat, so let’s try that again, hesed …
It’s a rich Hebrew word that can sometimes mean “kindness,” but can also mean “faithfulness,” “mercy,” “goodness,” “loyalty,” “grace” and more. Maybe the best understanding of hesed is “loyal love,” “steadfast love.” It’s love and commitment rolled into one. For example, when the Psalmist says, “the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever,” he’s saying “the hesed of the Lord endures forever.”
Now, my point here in telling you about hesed is because to use kindness here to translate hesed is simply too weak and diluted for the context here.
This is not simply your standard kind of kindness, where kindness is synonymous with politeness or niceness or courtesy or even thoughtfulness. For example, growing up my family and I would rent movies from Blockbuster from time to time and we’d watch the movie, and on the VHS was this reminder sticker that said, “Be kind, please rewind.” Now, that is an appropriate use of the word kindness, where it’s synonymous with common courtesy. (Kids, if you’re wondering what a VHS is … it doesn’t matter … )
The point is this: What David is about to offer here is kindness, sure, but it’s more than that too. David doesn’t simply want to show kindness. He wants to show his loyal, steadfast love. Where love and commitment, a commitment based on the promise that he made, is rolled into one. And he’s about to go way above and beyond his original promise of not wiping them off the face of the earth.
Anyway, our story continues: a servant by the name of Ziba comes to David, and lets him know that, yes, there is one son remaining from the house of David, a son of Jonathan, whose name is Mephibosheth. And so David calls for Mephibosheth to be brought to him.
Now, as he’s making his way to the king’s court, Mephibosheth has no idea what’s about to happen or why he’s being summoned, in fact, he’s probably assuming the worst, that he’s in big trouble or worse that David will have him enslaved or imprisoned. And so it must have been like that feeling of being in elementary school sent to the principal’s office … that feeling of, “the only reason I would be sent there is because I did something wrong.” And yes, I’ve been to the principal’s office before, just one time, in 4th grade, it wasn’t that big of a deal, I pushed someone at recess, frankly you all are making this a way bigger deal than it actually was …
Anyway, to Mephibosheth’s great surprise, here’s what David says: “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.”
Within these promises and commitments is earth shattering, ground breaking, life changing stuff that David is saying here.
“I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul.” This will provide Mephibosheth incredible financial security. After all, you and I know that home ownership and land acquisition was foundational for financial stability and building and accumulating wealth – it’s true in 2021, it was true back then as well. By restoring to Mephibosheth the land and the produce and wealth comes with it, Mephibosheth will have incredible financial security, which is huge, because, you may have noticed we’re given this detail that Mephibosheth is crippled in both his feet, he has a serious disability, one in which would prohibit him from providing for himself.
Mephibosheth will have his family’s land restored to him, and that alone is incredible, and yet, it’s even better than that.
David says, “you yourself shall eat at my table always.” That is, from now on, Mephibosheth will be considered as part of the family. In fact, the very last verse of our story says, Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. When Mephibosheth walked up to David, he entered the king’s court by referring to himself as a servant, and yet he’s about to become a son. So, so beautiful. Imagine this scene months later - the dinner bell rings, and his new siblings call out from the next room saying, hey Fibby (that’s what I’d like to think his friends called him for short) … dinner’s ready. You coming? That’s beautiful, is it not?
Altogether, David shows steadfast, loyal love, hesed love to a forgotten man with a hard to pronounce name. It’s maybe, just maybe the best, most beautiful bible story you’d never heard of before.
Now, at this point, I want to share some stories and reflections of this kind of kindness and love, ways and instances I’ve seen hesed love within our own congregation and church family in recent past. Some of these examples will be on the lighter end, some a bit heavier, some more fitting of the word kindness, others more fitting of the loyal love sentiment, and hopefully together as a whole they’ll paint of picture of what all of this can look like both on a day to day level and also throughout a lifetime.
Over this past week, two of our members passed away, Bill Swanson, one of our former pastors, this past Sunday afternoon, and Shirley Pitts, more recently, late last Thursday night.
A couple weeks ago, I was at Barrett Hospital visiting Bill Swanson, I was visiting him to pray with him and hopefully be a blessing to him. But of course, instead Bill was a blessing to me. Still very lucid and present in the moment, Bill was reflecting on his pastorate here in Dillon and he shared his hope that I too would have a long and fruitful ministry here. Bill and Ann have been an encouragement and blessing to me and my family in our first few years here and here Bill was, his health deteriorating, in his final days, in great discomfort, and still encouraging, still blessing, still loving. I’ll never forget that moment in the hospital with him.
Friday afternoon, I had an opportunity to visit George McAlpin, George and Shirley had been together as a couple for many years, I had a chance to pray with George and his son and Shirley’s daughter after Shirley had passed away. And afterwards George was reflecting on his time with Shirley, together the two of them had been on many adventures throughout the years, though in years past with Shirley’s health declining and being homebound, George has taken on a greater and greater role in Shirley’s care and their trips and adventures were rather limited these past few years. George shared with me that Shirley at one point said to George, “George, I’m so sorry, you didn’t sign up for this.” And George, and I’m paraphrasing here, said something to the effect of “What do you mean? “This is what I signed up for. You’re what I signed up for.” That my friends is loyal, steadfast, hesed love.
Those are a couple examples on the heavier end, here are a couple lighter ones.
Tim and Nancy Crothers, they’ve been attending our church for a couple years now. The two of them go and work out at the YMCA regularly, and working at the front desk there often times is April Bordelon, who has ties to our church. A couple weeks ago at the Y, Tim and Nancy saw April and said, “Hey, any chance we’ll see you at Worship at the Park?” this weekend. And April said, well, I don’t think so, I don’t have a lawn chair.” Couple days later, Tim and Nancy come back to the Y, lawn chair in hand, they approach April and say, “here you go, this is for you.” April came to Worship in the Park and afterwards was ready to give the chair back to the Crothers, only to find it wasn’t to borrow, but a gift. How great is that? That’s hesed kindness.
A couple weeks ago, we had a Membership Class and I asked the group this question, “What words would you use to describe our church? Like if someone on the street were to approach you and ask what this church is like, what words would come to mind?” And the group shared words like warm and welcoming and friendly. And I totally agree. That is, without question, one of the great strengths of this church, your warm and welcoming and hospitable nature. Not once have I heard there ever being any sense of turfiness, like excuse me, you’re sitting in my pew. Not once have I heard or personally experienced a grumpy word or disappointed look when a little kid is squeamish or baby is crying. Shoot, a couple weeks ago, my own child left at the altar during one of the children’s messages and we were all able to laugh it off. I love that about you all. Now, that’s not to say we’re perfect in this area or that everyone’s first impression has been just like what I’m describing here, but through and through and through, it’s an area I want to commend you all in. I saw yet another example of this at the park a couple weeks ago as Chris Longley helped get one of our older members to the park and then patiently helped this person find the just the right place on the lawn, balancing both the need to find shade as well as be able to hear.
So there you have it. Altogether there a few short stories and examples, of steadfast, loyal, hesed love and kindness.
And I’ll finish with this:
From the beginning of this sermon series, we’ve tried to highlight that one of the primary reasons in studying King David, is that ultimately, he point us to Jesus himself, the true Son of David, our true and better King of Kings.
And the parallels between this story and the Jesus story, or maybe we could say this story and the meta narrative of the gospel story are almost eerie and uncanny and almost too many to mention, but yet here are a few:
Notice how the story gets its start. It doesn’t start with Mephibosheth in search of someone who can show kindness to him. Rather it starts by David wanting to show kindness to someone. It’s a reminder that in Christ, God makes the first move. In fact, hesed is a word that is used throughout the Old Testament to describe God, and God’s love for us.
We’re also told that Mephibosheth is crippled in both his feet. Why is that detail in there? It’s as if Ziba, the servant, is trying to subtly tell David, “David, he’s not worthy. He’s not worth your time and kindness.” It’s a reminder that all of us come before God with something that makes us worthy of his love and kindness.
Mephibosheth comes into David’s presence as an unworthy servant and yet remains in his presence as a loved and chosen son, as a child of God. It’s a reminder that the Christian life is not simply just about forgiveness of our sins, and how the penalty of sin has been paid, it is that, but it’s more than that, it’s also about being adopted into the family of God. The good news of the gospel is that through Jesus, God invites us into a new family, and makes us, as Christians, as a church, family. That through the blood and sacrifice of Jesus, he creates a new family, a spiritual family, with God as our Heavenly Father, and our church family as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The point of this story isn’t simply about how you and I should go be like David or how you and I can show the hesed love like David. It’s that for sure. But it’s also about recognizing that we’re Mephibosheth too.
So go be David, all while remembering we’re Mephibosheth too.