Love in War
LOVE IN WAR
Perhaps today you are feeling like David at the beginning of this passage. Large and in charge. Blessed in that things are going well in your life. Every door has opened. Maybe you don’t have everything you want but you have enough to be satisfied and content. You ask yourselves in a positive way, “what did I ever do to deserve this?”
Or perhaps you are feeling like Mephibosheth in the beginning of this passage today. Perhaps you are hiding from life in fear, waiting for the other shoe to drop, or the hammer to fall. Life has convinced you that the world is unkind and God is not good. So you hide from the world hoping that the world won’t cripple you anymore than you already have been. Perhaps you are asking yourself today in a negative way, “what did I ever do to deserve this?”
But David comes to Mephibosheth to remind him the LORD is Mephibosheth’s Shepherd. Because the LORD was David’s shepherd. And the LORD is your shepherd today. And today our Good Shepherd comes to remind us that there is good news. And the good news is this.
All we have is because of God’s loving kindness. So let us seek out our Mephibosheth to show God’s loving kindness to.
Mephibosheth’s life had been dogged by war and conflict from an early age. Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, King David’s dear friend, and the grandson of Saul, the first King of Israel. Saul did not have a heart that desired to seek God’s Will, instead he disobeyed God. So God decided that he would send the prophet Samuel to anoint a shepherd boy named David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), a man who loved to worship God and do his will. Though the prophet Samuel anointed David as King he did not lead an insurrection against Saul. Instead, he entered into Saul’s service, becoming his armor bearer. He played soothing music for Saul as an evil spirit tormented him. David defeated the mighty philistine warrior Goliath for Saul. After this feet he became life long friends with Saul’s son Jonathan. But the people of Israel loved David over Saul. And Saul sought to kill David. Jonathan warned David and David fled into the wilderness. David had two chances to kill Saul but he refused because Saul was still the LORD’s anointed.
We find at the end of the book of 1 Samuel Saul and David’s beloved friend Jonathan are struck down in battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 31). David mourned the death of his beloved friend and of the man who had tried to kill him on multiple occasions. News of Jonathan’s and Saul’s death spread back to their family. Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth was only five years old when news came of the death of his father and grandfather. And Mephibosheth’s nurse knew what the news meant. David would take over the government. And as is standard in military coupes throughout the ages she assumed that David would eliminate anyone who threatened his rule, even if that meant killing a five year old. No would blame him. Saul had tried to kill David for no real reason. So David was within his rights as the King to purge Saul’s house. So Mephibosheth’s nurse took the five year old in her arms and fled. But in her haste she dropped Mephibosheth and he became lame in his feet (2 Samuel 4:4).
Here we find David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel Chapter 9. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum as far as luck is concerned. David has won victory after victory. He had established a government over all the tribes of Israel administering justice and equity to all his people ( 1 Samuel 8:15). Mephibosheth and his Son Mica are hiding out in Ziba hoping that David will forget about him and not slaughter him and his entire family as Saul had tried to do to David.
But David, at the height of his power, does not seek vengeance, but he seeks to show God’s loving kindness, for his beloved friend Jonathan’s sake. The word that David uses here for his desire to show kindness to someone in the house of his enemy is Hesed. The word is translated variously in the Old Testament as Steadfast Love, loving kindness, mercy. Carolyn Custis James in her book, The Gospel of Ruth, defines Hesed in this way, “Someone cares and has freely made it their business to look out for you.” (James, 117). God is Love and at the center of love is Hesed, at the center of God’s heart is loving kindness, to love those who are crippled, to love those who are our enemies, to love those who have no one to love them. David’s heart for God and his love for his friend Jonathan was more important to David than ensuring his victory.
So he calls Mephibosheth. Surely, Mephibosheth came expecting his entire house to be murdered and the house of Saul to be put to shame, to be blotted out from the face of the earth. But David returns to Mephibosheth his grandfather’s land. He makes Ziba Mephibosheth’s servant and has Ziba and his sons till the land for Mephibosheth and his son. And David promises that Mephibosheth and his son Mica will eat at the King’s table the all the days of their lives. Why does David show such Kindness even when he knows it could be his undoing? It is because of the good news today. David knew that his very existence depended upon God’s loving kindness.
As we learned in the sermon Love Is Kind David’s great grand parents were Boaz and Ruth. Ruth’s mother in law was Naomi. Ruth loved Naomi. But a famine struck in the land of Moab and both Ruth and Naomi lost their husbands. In that culture a woman without a husband was as good as dead. The Hebrew for widow means empty, and that is how they were treated, as being worthless, empty, little more than trash to be discarded. Ruth and Naomi fled back to Naomi’s home country of Israel. Ruth knew she would be treated like a foreigner, like a piece of dirt, like a piece of trash because she was not from Israel, she was a refugee, but she did not care. Her love for Naomi was too great to let her die alone. And Ruth set out into the fields of a foreigner land to glean for her mother in law. She risked assault by strange men to feed the one she loved. She didn’t want to change the world. She just wanted to stop her mother in law from starving to death. And the LORD’s Hesed worked upon the heart of Boaz. A rich Israelite who left the scraps of his field for the poor as required by Law. But Ruth showed Boaz that he was following the letter of the Law but not the Spirit of the Law. The Law said let them glean but the Spirit of the law said feed and provide for the naked and the oppressed. As the prophet Micah says it is to do justice, love Hesed, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). And Boaz was convicted. And he threw a feast for Ruth and Naomi. Boaz put his reputation on the line to save Ruth’s household. Boaz married Ruth a foreigner bearing the shame that would bring. Boaz and Ruth had a son. His name was Obed. Obed had a son his name was Jesse. Jesse had eight sons, the youngest was David, and David became King over all of Israel. And David was a man after God’s own heart. He had to do hard things. But he loved loving kindness. Why? Because he existed, he rose to power because of loving kindness, because of Hesed.
As I prepared for this sermon I thought that this beautiful episode of David occurred after his biggest failing, his adultery with Bathsheba, and his murder of Bathsheba husband Uriah. But as I opened my Bible to read this story I had not read in a while I found to my surprise that directly after this story is when David commits murder and adultery. I was shocked and confused by this. How could David show such mercy and then turn around and be so awful?
God shows us by sending the prophet Nathan to David. He tells King David the story of a man who had plenty of sheep but stole the little lamb of a poor man. This man had cared for this lamb and raised it as a daughter. David’s anger was kindled against this hypothetical man and he declared this man should die.
And Nathan declared, “You are the man!” Then he says thus says the LORD, “ I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the Word of the LORD to do what is evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12:6).
David had forgotten that God’s Loving Kindness towards him was meant for him to do justice for his nation. And the meaning of justice is to show kindness to those we don’t know.
I was reminded of Love and Justice working in the midst of conflict this week by an unfortunate anniversary. Wednesday, April 4th, was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He was assassinated a day after he spoke to striking black sanitation workers in Memphis Tennessee.
On 1 February 1968, two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Twelve days later, frustrated by the city’s response to the latest event in a long pattern of neglect and abuse of its black employees, 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike. Martin Luther King went to support those striking workers who’s cry for justice was , “I am a man.” They just wanted to be treated like human beings not like trash.
Indeed, Mephibosheth’s name in the Hebrew means, “out of the mouth of shame, or destroyer of shame.” Which I thinks illustrates his life. The world saw him as a cripple. The world tried to shame and destroy Mephibosheth but the LORD prepared a table before him in the presence of his enemies. Memphis treated these garbage workers lives as trash, as disposable. And from the mouth of shame they cried to destroy shame. They just wanted to be seen as human beings. . Our hearts cry out to be free of shame. To destroy shame. To be seen as human. And in our quest to be free of shame we unfortunately shame others. To affirm our humanity we deny the value and humanity of others. And this is not the way of love. But the Apostle Paul says he will show us a more excellent way. Martin Luther King showed us a more excellent way.
On April 3, 1968 Martin Luther King gave his last speech in Memphis, what has come to be known as the “I have seen the mountain top speech.” In that speech King prophetically predicted that his time had grown short. And indeed, he was assassinated the next day. Here is what King said about his life in his last speech,
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Neither King David nor Martin Luther King were perfect men. But they saw that to love kindness required that we do justice and walk humbly with our God. The world saw how God’s Hesed worked through their lives to produce a more just world. And yet they were imperfect men. The Bible tells us that there came a perfect man, the incarnation of Hesed, to deliver us from the mouth of shame, to be the fullness of what our leaders cannot be.
In the Gospel of Mark we are told that Jesus, who was born to the line of David in Bethlehem, passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to be crucified and to rise again so we would know that love never ends. In Jesus’ day the Romans had set up an outpost there. The rich and the elite had set up their vacation homes there. And the blind beggars gathered on the road to Jericho to beg for scraps as Ruth gleaned for leftovers in the fields of Boaz.
As he was leaving Jericho a great crowd gathered. And Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road side. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David have mercy on me.” Jesus Son of David, show Hesed to us, as you showed Hesed to Mephibosheth. Come as the destroyer of shame. Take us out of the mouth of shame we pray.
And many rebuked Bartimeaeus telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the louder, “Jesus Son of David show me Hesed.” And Jesus stopped and told his disciples to call him. And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, probably the most valuable thing he owned, Bartimeaus sprang up and came to Jesus, blind as a batt. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Jesus on the way.
Son of David have Hesed on us today so that our eyes may behold the glory of the coming of the Lord. Open our eyes and show us our Mephibosheth, those who are crippled, shamed, and forgotten in our lives. Open our eyes to see that we are sinners in the hands of a God who is Love. A God who requires that we do justice, love Hesed, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). A God who loves us with an undying love and will rebuild that which is broken in our lives (Jeremiah 31). Extend your wings over us God of Israel, God of every tribe and nation, for your Hesed has not forsaken the living or the dead (Ruth 2:20). Forgive our iniquities, heal our diseases (Psalm 103), renew our youth like the eagle’s, crown us with Hesed. Open our eyes so we may see as the Apostle Paul saw through a glass dimly, that now faith, hope, and love abide but the greatest of these is love. In all things love abides and we shall change all things when we abide in love. Glory to God, love abides when we are crippled in our bodies and our spirits, love abides to pull us out from the mouth of shame, love abides even in war.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.