Like Filling a Cup from a Waterfall
2 Samuel 9:1-12

Introduction

David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They called him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”
“Your servant,” he replied.

The king asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”

“Where is he?” the king asked.

Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”
So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“Your servant,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)

Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.

Mephibosheth had a young son named Mica, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.
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Two things absolutely basic to the Christian life are, unfortunately, counter to most things North American, which makes this intersection a confused place, clogged with accidents, snarled traffic, and short tempers. To begin with, the Christian life is not about us; it is about God. Christian spirituality is not a life-project for becoming a better person, it is not about developing a so-called ‘deeper life.’ We are in on it, to be sure. But we are not the subject. Nor are we the action. We get included by means of a few prepositions: God with us (Matthew 1:23), Christ in me (Galatians 2:20), God for us (Romans 8:31). With…in…for…: powerful, connecting, relation-forming words, but none of them making us either subject or predicate. We are the tag-end of a prepositional phrase.

The great weakness of North American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting in on the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. And the more there is of us, the less there is of God. -Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 335

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Our story for today actually begins in chapter 4 of 2 Samuel. We read in verse 4 of that chapter that Jonathan son of Saul who had been king of Israel had also had a son who was lame in both feet. “He was five years old when the new about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became crippled. His name was Mephibosheth.”

So this young man of five who had once know the pleasure and presence of dwelling in the kings’ court, with his father, Jonathan, heir to the throne, was now alone in the world. He was on his own. His father dead. His mother evidently dead. His grandfather dead. He was no longer the prince of Israel, but now just a crippled in the feet commoner.

But it was worse in that he was crippled. There was no, back then, any Society of/for the Handicapped, no Wheelchairs for America or anything of the sort. Never again would he enjoy working feet. Never again would his life be the same. He would be, forever, dependent upon everyone around him. He would be reduced from royalty to stock. He would be a societal outcast, barred from the presence of the king and reduced to an insignificant place in the temple worship.

By the standards of those days, he would be lucky to escape with his life.

But then one day something changed. In the midst of all the changes: David the New King, the Great military leader, God’s great promise to David in chapter 7, the ark returning to Jerusalem, David taking Jerusalem-in the midst of all this-David asks, “Is there anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

When it is found out that there was someone left, David again asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s Kindness?”  And in the end it was this young man named Mephibosheth. He comes before the King to be questioned.
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I’d like to make a couple of points just now. First, I find it most interesting that David sought out Mephibosheth and not the other way around. It was David who took it upon himself to seek out this crippled man and shower him with God’s Kindness. The crippled and destitute Mephibosheth had done nothing to earn this from the king, he had done nothing to deserve such unbelievable treatment at the hands of the one who was sitting on the throne that he himself would have inherited one day.

And yet that is what happened. Typically, in those ancient of days, when someone new ascended to the throne, all the members of the previous regime were put to death-Solomon follows this course when he becomes king. I don’t think David here is merely making political alliances to secure his throne. This is a different sort of kindness that he is bestowing upon Mephibosheth-it is an unmerited grace. All he had to do was open his hands and receive what was being offered to him; all he had to do was turn his back and limp away from Lo Debar and enjoy the king’s presence.

Second, I would like to note that the author of 2 Samuel goes quite out of their way to insure against any misunderstanding on our part. We are told that Mephibosheth was living in a land called Lo Debar-a place of ‘no pasture.’ He was living with a person named Makir, son of Ammiel, in a house that was not his. We are told that Mephibosheth thinks of himself as a dog-a dead dog. We are told twice that he was crippled in both feet. And we are told that the servant Ziba was better off than was Mephibosheth. We get the picture then that this young man was in quite difficult straits when David seeks him out.

Finally, I would point out to you what David did for him. He brought him from the land of no pasture and gave him quarters in Jerusalem. We are told a third time in verse 7 that David showed him kindness, “I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.” We are told that David restored all of the ancestral land of Saul, his servants in order to works the land a provide Mephibosheth with an income. We are told four times that Mephibosheth ate at the king’s table, ‘like one of the king’s sons.’ David simply overwhelmed Mephibosheth for no other reason than the kindness he desired to share with him, God’s kindness.
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I don’t want to stress this too much. Seeing the tree with the lights in it was an experience vastly different in quality as well as in import from patting the puppy. On that cedar tree shone, however briefly, the steady, inward flames of eternity; across the mountain by the gas station raced the familiar flames of the falling sun. But on both occasions I though, with rising exultation, this is it; praise the Lord; praise the land. Experiencing the present purely is being emptied and hollow; you catch grace as a man fills his cup under a waterfall.-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 81-82

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It does make one wonder, though, why the story of Mephibosheth’s waterfall experience ends the way it does. “And Mephibosheth lived in Jersusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table, and he was crippled in both feet.”  I wonder if that is what Mephibosheth remembered too each day as he limped to David’s table or as he was carried in to the king’s dining room by others. No matter how often he ate at the table of David, he was continually reminded that it was the kindness of David that invited him to be there in the first place.

It was a constant reminder that he had done nothing to merit the position the king had placed him in that day. I wonder if Mephibosheth ever thought to himself: I’d rather have two perfect legs than to be here right now. Or, I wonder if he had the courage to say, David is a gracious man.  He wasn’t invited in because he was alive, or because David had sympathy for a cripple, or because he deserved it. He was invited in because of David’s kindness.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is make perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7ff)

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You see, friends, you should quite understand by now that this story is not about the dead-dog named Mephibosheth. A careful reading shows that this story in 2 Samuel is about David, king of Israel. It is about showing the actions that David took-note how his kindness imitates God’s kindness-at the beginning of his reign as king. It was David who asked. It was David who sought. It was David’s table. It was David’s kindness. It was David who restored the land and servants. It was David who was king. It was David who adopted Mephibosheth as a son much like Saul had done to David early on in David’s life.

It is God who takes the initiative in our lives. It is God who invites us to His table. It is God who invites into His Royal presence. It is God who seeks us out. It is God who shows us kindness-But when the kindness and love of God our savior appeared, he saved us not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy-in the midst of our trouble. It is God who invites to dine at his table. It is God who is King and by his own prerogative makes us adopted children by his grace. It is God who has promised us a place in His Kingdom.

We too often focus on this idea that Christian life is about me. The Bible declares unequivocally that the Christian life is about God. It is about His power. His salvation. We live, and move and have our being in Him. It is not about becoming sound. It is about opening our hands under the waterfall and allowing his grace to be poured out in such abundance that we can scarcely stand under its weight. In other words, grace will always say far more about the gracious one than it does about the one receiving the grace.
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Philip Yancey, in his book Rumors of Another World, brings out an intelligent point. He writes

…I found myself reflecting…on the sharp contrast between how Jesus treated moral failures and how the church often does. Jesus elevated sinners…He appointed a Samaritan woman as his first missionary. He defended the woman who anointed him with expensive perfume…He restored Peter to leadership…

I reflected also on the greatest gift we have from the unseen world, the gift of grace. Grace means that no mistake we make in life disqualifies us from God’s love. It means that no person is beyond redemption, no human stain beyond cleansing. We live in a world that judges people by their behavior and requires criminals, debtors, and moral failures to live with the consequences…even the church finds it difficult to forgive those who fall short.

Grace is irrational, unfair, unjust and only makes sense if I believe in another world governed by a merciful God who always offers another chance…When the world sees grace in action, it falls silent. (222-223)

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So many things have been shown me on these banks, so much light has illumined me by reflection here where the water comes down, that I can hardly believe that this grace never flags, that the pouring from ever-renewable sources is endless, impartial, and free. -Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 69

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Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison in South Africa. When he was finally released he was elected president of South Africa. He appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But he also did something else: If a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Many grumbled. But, “Mandela insisted that the country need healing more than it needed justice.” Philip Yancey continues the story:

At one hearing, a policeman name van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an 18 year old boy and burned the body, turning it on the first like a piece of BBQ meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body and ignited it.

The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had first lost her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr. van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she want van de Broek to go to the place where they burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial. His head down, the policemen nodded agreement.

Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.” (Philip Yancey, Rumors from Another World, 223-224)
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Grace takes the focus away from the ugly, the heinous, the vicious. It turns our attention towards the lovely, the beautiful, the majestic. That is what God does for us, and what we must do for one another. “We can’t live a life more like Jesus by embracing a way of life less like Jesus.” (Peterson, 336) We must be people like David, like the unnamed old woman of two murdered loved ones-if grace is received like a waterfall filling our hands, then we certainly have more than enough to share. So let the grace you have received spill over, intentionally, to the lives of others.

This is but one way you can demonstrate that you do love.
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David was reckless for inviting Mephibosheth into his palace to eat around his table, but it was the only hope Mephibosheth had. Tim Keller wrote a little book called The Prodigal God, in it he notes that the word ‘prodigal’ means not ‘wayward’ (as we have been taught to believe) but actually ‘recklessly spendthrift.’ He writes, ‘It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term is therefore as appropriate for describing the Father in [the story Luke 15] as his younger son. The Father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to ‘reckon’ or count his sin against him or demand repayment…God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience…” (xiv-xv).

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  1. Jill

    Jerry,
    How in the world can you preach this without one word about the covenant between David and Jonathan? It wasn’t about David’s kindness…..it was about David’s holding true to his part of the covenant. it is a continuation of the abrahamic covenant and a picture of the new covenant of Jesus Christ. If we are to treat others with the same kindness of David we must know the covenant that Jesus has made with us …. then from knowing that love and sacrifice and promise… we can go and do likewise…..we are to be like Jesus not David…..but you give more words and focus on David…..And we have God’s grace poured forth as a waterfalll because of the act of Jesus that makes Grace Just and logical and rational in God’s kingdom… I hope this was for the benefit of possible young christians there this am. you know you run the risk of going touchy feely anytime you use yancey! Grace is not a feeling , it is power to do God’s will…which is what the african woman did. And God is not reckless, he is purposeful and has more than enough to meet our needs…in God’s economy he can create more…..He is the God of multiplication….with never a lack. If we don’t grow to know God and his kingdom and his economy we will never grow in His Grace.we will always be saying that’s too hard, that’s for more spiritual people, I tried . I just have to try harder tomorrow….instead of the in, with ,and for (not us for God but God for us)of peterson’ s writing. then we walk in grace instead of hiding in the shadows of guilt, not wanting to get involved with those different than us or someone in need.
    hope the rest of service went well. sorry i couldn’t make it… though I was praying….. jill

    • I’m surprised that this is your take on the sermon. I’ve preached this sermon at least twice before at the church. David is a type of Christ in this story. David’s kindness is in this story what he says: ‘that I might show God’s kindness…’ David’s kindness is God’s kindness. Covenant is implicit in the nature of the word ‘kindness’ (‘chesed’; ‘covenant kindness’.) ‘Reckless’ is Keller’s word and it is also echoed by Young in the Shack as ‘wasteful.’ I’m not talking about the sort of recklessness that is careless or without thought. I’m talking about the sort of recklessness that cares not for the loss incurred by the one dispensing the grace. That’s Keller’s point. I actually preached this sermon for the benefit of those in the congregation this morning who need to be reminded over and over again that they are not saved on account of anything they did or because of any merit they may have accrued and instead by the sheer, reckless, wasteful, prodigal grace of God who, in this story, is named David. And we are Mephibosheth. Furthermore, those of us who have limped into the dinner have limped in (actually, been adopted by the King!) for no other reason than the king’s kindness (‘when the kindness and grace of our God and Savior appeared…’) now have the same obligation to demonstrate covenant kindness to others who similarly limp around in lo Debar.

      I hope that clarifies the objective. Thanks for reading. Podcast will be up tomorrow or Tuesday.
      jerry

  2. Jill

    yes you are right about all of the analogies.And it spoke of God’s grace with beautiful examples…
    but the bottom line is David was fullfilling a blood covenant he took with Jonathan. The same type blood covenant Jesus sealed on the cross. YES you and I know the hebrew word for covenant/kindness and the fact that God enters into covenant at all is because of His kindness…. it is all His Grace….But with out knowing the covenant was behind it we think it was some wonderful act on David’s part not his solemn oath. It is just that I don’t think they will get the point that they haven’t done anything to merit it. they will see themselves more as Davids who “do their best ” to show kindness….or hide their guilt….. I guess what i’m really talking about is right thinking (theology) leading to correct action. which is the God of Covenant who promises to provide the grace(power) to do his will and love as I am loved…with out placing God and his role first , one gets it out of whack…I guess for me it not about the bible story at all except as it relates to Christ. I am very sensitive to anything/ teaching that tells me to go be kind . Because I know I can never be as kind as Jesus…it puts me in bondage….but tell me I am an imperfect sinner who needs the grace of God to breathe and the knowledge of His promise and inheritance of the saints to provide grace to meet my need … Then my eyes are back on God as my source and I am free of guilt from my failure. That’s the strong hold with alot of the women….they sit at bible studies and laugh and bemoan their failures at trying to more patient, joyful ,meek, kind.(all the fruits we studied or at least talked about)…then they pray “helpme do better.”.. instead they should be believing the word of God….Jesus says we have all things that we need for lives of godliness through the Holy Spirit…..so we should find the answer to what we need in the word and ask God to provide it and walk on believing He will, He does. That was my revelation the other day….so the just live by faith,,, yeah yeah yeah,Ithought ,then the Lord whispered…the saved live by faith, the loving live by faith the wise live by faith, the healed live by faith, and anything I continued to add.It is a walk of faith ….Not a walk of trying. Jesus didn’t say “try”, He said do it! one is in our power and the other in the power of the Holy Spirit.
    As always it was a well wriitten sermon… as I said , I am sensitive to that point.I hope you are right and they they get it .you probably tied it together in your prayer…
    talk to you soon.
    abiding…jill

    • Jill, If David did what he did out of obligation to Jonathan–even covenant obligation–then it was not grace. David did what he did out of the sheer kindness of the heart of a king. His obligation, and right, was to put Mephibosheth to death as an enemy and threat to his own royal line. David chose the exact opposite course of action: He was kind.

      I appreciate your read, but I think we disagree as to what David’s motivation here was. It was grace: pure, unmerited, undeserved grace that David showed to Mephibosheth. I disagree he had any obligation whatsoever to act towards the young man the way he did.

      thanks again,
      jerry

  3. Jill

    David was kind because he loved jonathan.because of their love they swore a blood covenant of loyalty ,not just to one another but before God and to their descendants, forever.1Sam 20:42.
    It even states it in the reading above …that David said …donot be afraid for I will show you kindness for the sake of your Father, Jonathan. Why because of their relationship and covenant….so when I limp up to the King’s throne God does not look on jill and say welcome …I have pity on you because of your limp and your good attitude, have a seat at my table….He says have a seat at The banquet table because of the covenant cut by my son…I can’t be in God’s presence with out the righteous covering of Jesus.
    I am too tired tonight I will have to find my book and let you read it….it is a beautiful take of the biblical text.
    Any way why does obligation or duty or fulfilling an oath take away from the grace. you even wrote that we have an obligation to show the same grace that was shown to us. And if grace is power to do the righteous thing outside of ourselves and fulfilling our oath is the right thing to do …then why is that not grace? Is that not the same as in marriage…you show your spouse favor because of your covenant..even when you don’t feel like it . or are kind because they showed kindness to you in a difficult time…you move out of your own selfish state and do the right thing….why is that not grace…. why does oath or promise negate grace…
    just some thoughts and off to bed to do it all over again tommorrow….with grace… because I promised to.
    abide in Him….jill

    • Jill, I understand what you are saying and where you are coming from. I’m just not exactly certain you understand where I am coming from. The points about Mephibosheth’s weakness is to point out that he had absolutely no standing with David. Of course that’s not why David had pity on Meph. I doubt that this was David showing pity at all (and I say as much in the sermon!) This was an act of David’s kindness. David was under no obligation to uphold his ‘covenant’ with Jonathan in this way. My point here is that David sought out Meph and not the other way around. David showed Meph ‘God’s kindness.’ I look at David here as a picture of Jesus, the King, who seeks out the lost and destitute and enemies and restores them to sonship. It’s a picture of adoption. David became father to one who was his enemy. It’s a picture of what God does for us. It’s a picture of grace.

      I don’t see this, in any way, as an obligation that David had towards Jonathan. It is a picture of a person who of no account of his own or ability of his own receives from the king something he thoroughly did not expect or hope to receive: Grace. Listen to the podcast and maybe it will make better sense.

      jerry

  4. Jill

    Jerry,
    you don’t have to convince me …it makes sense to me .I have no quarrel with the kindness Grace thing that is the important point for you . It’s true that each of us read into scripture what we need or what what we want to see. And sometimes it’s what God wants us to see.
    I just find the whole account so much richer when the covenant is part of it….I think it speaks volumes to me about God’s faithfulness….which causes me to fall down and worship way before David’s kindness “As a Type of Christ”. It is all a beautiful picture…..just missing something without the covenant. actually it is way more about covenant than adoption.
    hope all is well
    abiding by His faithfulness…
    jill




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