Today is all about communication.

Let’s begin with Mephibosheth and finish yesterday’s story.  When last we left Mephibosheth, Ziba had reported to King David that Mephibosheth was siding with Absalom, David’s son who stole the throne.  David, in response, took Mephibosheth’s property and gave it all to Ziba.  However, when David returns to power, who is waiting for him but Mephibosheth, in obvious mourning since David left.  Ziba had lied about him to get his land, and David sets things right.

Next is David himself.  At the death of his son Absalom, David goes in to mourning.  Now when a king goes in to mourning of this magnitude, people tend to die around him, so the whole army gets very nervous.  Though they won the war and defeated the usurper of David’s throne, David was making them feel like they had failed or even sinned against him.  Thankfully, Joab confronts David in his grief, a life-risking proposition, and convinces David to encourage his troops rather than shame them.

Sheba, seeing that Absalom’s coup was successful for a while, tries his hand at the “overthrow the king” game.  But Joab, David’s military commander, corners him in Abel Beth Maakah and attacks the city.  But they are saved when a Wise Woman agrees to hand Sheba over (or at least his head).

Finally, we find the famous “persistent widow” in Jesus’ parable.  To get a ruling in her favor, she doesn’t study and convince the judge of her righteousness (he doesn’t fear God) and she doesn’t call up a Facebook campaign and start a protest movement in her favor (he doesn’t care what people think).  Instead, she simply keeps on bugging him.  In negative terms, she nags and badgers him, wearing him down.  In positive terms, she persists.  And this, Jesus says, should be a familiar pattern in our prayer life – persistence.

Ziba’s manipulation.  David’s discouragement.  The Wise Woman’s compromise.  The widow’s persistence.  Communication is a powerful tool, both for good and evil.  We have to watch out that we are using our communication for God’s good, not for personal gain.  Gossip, slander, lies, discouragement, manipulation: all of these go on every day and are sins of communication.  But praise, encouragement, truth-telling:  these are all Godly uses of our tongues.  Which will you choose to do today?

Mephibosheth (meh-FIB-oh-sheth) is King Saul’s grandson and Jonathan’s son, yet David not only spared his life, but blessed him.  Typically, when a new king takes a throne, they destroy the old king’s entire family line to avoid anyone trying to overthrow this new king in the old king’s name.  David set about destroying the line of Saul, but soon he decided to seek out any remaining survivors to show them mercy.  Who he found was Mephibosheth.

When Saul and Jonathan were killed, Mephibosheth was only 5 years old, and his nurse snatched him up and ran to save his life.  As she ran with him, he fell and hurt both of his feet causing him to be crippled for the rest of his life.  When David asks the Saul family servant named Ziba, he tells David about Mephibosheth.  Mephibosheth is brought to the king, the family lands are restored along with servants to work the land, and given a place at the king’s table.  This is an incredible gift.

God grants us a similar gift.  Though belonging to God’s enemy, we are brought into God’s presence and given a new life as His adopted children.  We are given a place at His table.  This is the good news.  Not because we are worthy (spiritually, we are as lame as Mephibosheth) but out of God’s abundant mercy, we are now His children.

But today’s reading has another lesson for us.  That is not the end of the story of Mephibosheth.  When Absalom overthrows David in a coup, who do we read about but Mephibosheth again.  He has apparently not learned the lesson of God’s mercy from David.  It is reported by Ziba that instead of following David in response to David’s mercy, he is in Jerusalem hoping that Absalom will restore the kingdom to Saul’s family line.

How often do we receive God’s mercy, only to turn back to our old ways as soon as the offer seems better?  And how often is the offer actually better?  We need to learn both lessons from Mephibosheth:  accept God’s mercy when it comes, and then having received it don’t turn back… ever.

“Rather, (God) devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from Him.” (1 Sam. 14:14)

David is having his second “You are that man!” moment in two days.  The first is Nathan the Prophet, accusing David of stealing Bathsheba from the righteous and relatively poor Uriah.  Now it’s the wise woman from Tekoa with Joab’s words in her mouth accusing David to leaving his son Absalom banished.  Sometimes it takes a few different reminders to teach us the lessons God wants us to learn.

Who have you banished?  We all have people we have banished from our lives.  The friend who stabbed us in the back.  The family member who we simply don’t see anymore.  The co-worker who lives a different lifestyle than we do.  The stranger who is simply “too sinful” for our acceptance.  Who have you banished in your life?

Though we don’t like to admit or talk about it, God does banish some people from His presence.  That is what sin does.  As with Adam and Eve when they had to leave Eden, our sin causes us to be banished from the good God wants for us.  But, as the wise woman from Tekoa reminds us, He doesn’t leave us banished.  God devises a way so that we who are banished are able to return.  That way is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus’ atoning death in our place, taking our punishment, our banishment, upon Himself, we are given a path out of sin’s banishment and back into the Good Life God has in store for us.  All we have to do is receive it.

But there’s a catch.  To receive this free “get out of banishment” card, we have to first give that card to those we have ourselves banished.  Only then, when we are done banishing others, can we truly accept God’s great gift of a return to Grace.

24 years ago I preached my first official sermon to a church congregation.  I was in Mankato, MN on my internship and the pastor gave me the morning to preach.  I preached this text, Luke 16, the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Obviously this isn’t the Lazarus we all know from John 11, yet we know this character very well.  Tradition has named this rich man Dives, and I think maybe we know his very well, too.

The sermon was called, “The Tale of Two Tables” since I was at that time a Dickens fan.  The text refers to two tables, the banquet table of Dives from which Lazarus wishes he could eat, and the banquet table of the Lamb from which Dives cries for just a drop of water.  The point of the sermon is that you have to choose one table or the other – you cannot eat at both.

It is interesting that the guilt of Dives is at best implied but at worst is absent from this story.  Dives isn’t a scoundrel or a slaver or a misuser of wealth.  He is simply a comfortably wealthy man.  Lazarus isn’t a saint, doesn’t save any children from burning buildings, and isn’t notably righteous.  He is simply poor, so poor that even the dogs lick his sores (biblically, it doesn’t get any poorer than that).  The story seems to be that everyone gets a set amount of comfort, and if you have it in this life, you don’t in the next and vice versa.  A bit disquieting as stories go.

Yet our Western minds, which have to find some guilt if there is punishment, latch on to Dives’ statement that Abraham, the voice of God in this story, should “warn” his brothers, implying his damnation is out of ignorance, not deviance.  Yet Abraham states that if they won’t believe the prophets, which they didn’t, then even if someone came back from the dead they still wouldn’t believe him, a beautiful reference to Jesus Himself.

Which table do you want to eat at?  What might that mean for how you live today?

There is so much in this passage, we may spend a few days on it.  From the story of Mephibosheth (one of my personal favorites in all of the scriptures) to the war with the Ammonites begun with bad assumptions to David and Bathsheba to the Prodigal Son… quite a day’s reading.

Let’s look at the Ammonite War today.  We all assume that others will act in the same way we do.  Nobody is afraid of being gossiped about as much as a gossip.  Nobody is as quick to see lies as a liar.  So when we are called to be different, separate, unique, holy in our interactions, we cannot assume that anyone will believe us or trust a pure motive.  The Ammonites assume David is acting as they would and sending spies to “case the joint” before a full scale attack.  David was planning no such thing and was instead showing mercy and grace, something people of this world cannot understand.  So they mistreated his envoy and brought the wrath of Israel down upon themselves.

Why do we mistrust others?  Why do we assume their motives must be impure?  Someone pays us a compliment and we look for the favor that must be coming.  Innocuous comments are scoured in our memories to find the hidden barb of ridicule.  Someone states an opinion and suddenly we have an entire world built around all that they didn’t say but we assumed they meant.  Why?  Is it because that is how we would act in their situation?  Is it because we’ve been hurt before by missing the hidden reality behind some behavior and it has made us untrusting?

This is how racism, sexism, homophobia, church divisions and even wars begin.  We hear or see something and rather than getting to know a person and asking for clarity, we put them in a box with others and then label that box, “Them.”

Can we stop assuming?  Pardon the language, but as the old saying goes, “To ass-u-me just makes an ass out of u and me.”  When someone says something, can we just take them at their word?  Can we take compliments to simply be momentary blessings?  Can someone’s statement be just that statement?  Can we spend time with a person so they remain a person rather than a member of “them”?  We will all be better for it if we can.

There is so much in this passage, we may spend a few days on it.  From the story of Mephibosheth (one of my personal favorites in all of the scriptures) to the war with the Ammonites begun with bad assumptions to David and Bathsheba to the Prodigal Son… quite a day’s reading.

Let’s look at the Ammonite War today.  We all assume that others will act in the same way we do.  Nobody is afraid of being gossiped about as much as a gossip.  Nobody is as quick to see lies as a liar.  So when we are called to be different, separate, unique, holy in our interactions, we cannot assume that anyone will believe us or trust a pure motive.  The Ammonites assume David is acting as they would and sending spies to “case the joint” before a full scale attack.  David was planning no such thing and was instead showing mercy and grace, something people of this world cannot understand.  So they mistreated his envoy and brought the wrath of Israel down upon themselves.

Why do we mistrust others?  Why do we assume their motives must be impure?  Someone pays us a compliment and we look for the favor that must be coming.  Innocuous comments are scoured in our memories to find the hidden barb of ridicule.  Someone states an opinion and suddenly we have an entire world built around all that they didn’t say but we assumed they meant.  Why?  Is it because that is how we would act in their situation?  Is it because we’ve been hurt before by missing the hidden reality behind some behavior and it has made us untrusting?

This is how racism, sexism, homophobia, church divisions and even wars begin.  We hear or see something and rather than getting to know a person and asking for clarity, we put them in a box with others and then label that box, “Them.”

Can we stop assuming?  Pardon the language, but as the old saying goes, “To ass-u-me just makes an ass out of u and me.”  When someone says something, can we just take them at their word?  Can we take compliments to simply be momentary blessings?  Can someone’s statement be just that statement?  Can we spend time with a person so they remain a person rather than a member of “them”?  We will all be better for it if we can.

David solidifies his reign with the return of the ark of the covenant.  It has been in Abinadab’s possession since it was returned by their enemies.  This is the key to David’s reign because it was believed that God communicated from between the cherubim on the ark’s cover.  This was God Himself coming to reside with David, with Israel, and to bless them.  But this journey brings a few confusing stories with it.

The first is the story of Uzzah.  As the ark travels on a cart pulled by oxen, they stumble and Uzzah reaches out “to take hold of the ark of God.”  Most assume it was to steady the ark so it didn’t fall, but the text never mentions this.  Like the disciples in the boat in which Jesus slept while the storm raged, Uzzah decides to take God’s safety into his own hands and pays a dear price for his lack of faith.  But there is plenty more wrong with this picture.  God had strictly said that only priests could carry the ark, and nobody was to touch it.  Instead, it sat on a cart pulled by oxen like a piece of luggage.  Looks like David and company need to re-read their Pentateuch!

After this, and remembering the ark’s capture and subsequent destruction of Philistine city after city that tried to hold it wrongfully, David decides not to take the ark to Jerusalem after all.  He leaves it in the care of Obed-Edom, until Obed-Edom’s household is miraculously blessed by God.  Only then does David return for the ark properly.  This time, the ark is carried, and every six steps he sacrifices a bull and calf.  While still not correct, it does show respect for God.

Yet Michal, David’s politically-binding wife and daughter of King Saul, is not impressed.  She scolds David for his embarrassing display of worship, and is subsequently cursed with barrenness because of her own lack of respect for God, her husband, and her King.

Our culture has little to do with respect, seeking familiarity instead, but as we see today, respect for God is a deeply important thing.

David solidifies his reign with the return of the ark of the covenant.  It has been in Abinadab’s possession since it was returned by their enemies.  This is the key to David’s reign because it was believed that God communicated from between the cherubim on the ark’s cover.  This was God Himself coming to reside with David, with Israel, and to bless them.  But this journey brings a few confusing stories with it.

The first is the story of Uzzah.  As the ark travels on a cart pulled by oxen, they stumble and Uzzah reaches out “to take hold of the ark of God.”  Most assume it was to steady the ark so it didn’t fall, but the text never mentions this.  Like the disciples in the boat in which Jesus slept while the storm raged, Uzzah decides to take God’s safety into his own hands and pays a dear price for his lack of faith.  But there is plenty more wrong with this picture.  God had strictly said that only priests could carry the ark, and nobody was to touch it.  Instead, it sat on a cart pulled by oxen like a piece of luggage.  Looks like David and company need to re-read their Pentateuch!

After this, and remembering the ark’s capture and subsequent destruction of Philistine city after city that tried to hold it wrongfully, David decides not to take the ark to Jerusalem after all.  He leaves it in the care of Obed-Edom, until Obed-Edom’s household is miraculously blessed by God.  Only then does David return for the ark properly.  This time, the ark is carried, and every six steps he sacrifices a bull and calf.  While still not correct, it does show respect for God.

Yet Michal, David’s politically-binding wife and daughter of King Saul, is not impressed.  She scolds David for his embarrassing display of worship, and is subsequently cursed with barrenness because of her own lack of respect for God, her husband, and her King.

Our culture has little to do with respect, seeking familiarity instead, but as we see today, respect for God is a deeply important thing.

Change is never easy.  “All change is experienced as loss,” someone once said and I agree.  “All loss bring grief,” another said and again I agree.  As we face change, we face the stages of our grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and ultimately acceptance.  Because of our and other’s behaviors in these stages, we fear change so much that we will do almost anything to avoid it.  Change is messy.

The change from the reign of Saul to the reign of David was messy, too.  Though Saul and Jonathan were dead and David was out of hiding, the generals kept the war going.  Saul’s son kept the war going, and David kept the war going.  With David’s unwillingness to take the crown, first Abner, then Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth, then their killers all died gruesome deaths.  And finally, when the pain of the status quo was more than the pain of change, the nation of Israel changed.

How often is this our story as well?  In our lives, our families, our churches, our nation, our world… how do we avoid change, even to the detriment of the whole?  What terrible acts do we find ourselves at least contemplating if not performing in order to avoid change?  If we are honest with ourselves about our motives, we seldom like what we see.  Yet change is necessary.  There is no growth without change, and there is no change without pain.  The Good News is you won’t face it alone; you’ll face it with the God who experienced it all personally.

So, what changes are you facing in your life right now?  What changes are you avoiding?  Are you willing to change so that you might grow?  Are you willing to face the pain that growth requires?

Join us on Saturday, Apr. 21 from 8am – noon for our Spring church workday.  There are plenty of jobs for all ages and skill levels.  Come and build relationships as you build the church.