A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, September 17, 2017
2 Samuel 9:3-11; Matthew 10:42 GNT
The story of David and Jonathan is one of the more interesting stories in the Hebrew Bible. The complete story spans several chapters in the books of First and Second Samuel. Jonathan was King Saul’s son, and hence, David’s brother-in-law, since David had married Saul’s daughter, Jonathan’s sister, Michal. But the relationship between David and Jonathan ran much deeper than brothers-in-law. We see in the story of David and Jonathan one of the closest friendships (what might be described today as a “bromance”) in the entire Bible.
The scriptures speak for themselves. It says when David and Jonathan got to know each other, “Jonathan’s life became bound up with David’s life . . . And Jonathan and David made a covenant together because Jonathan cared about David as much as he cared about himself” (1 Samuel 18:1, 3 CEB). When David began to win favor in the eyes of the people, and King Saul became jealous of him, things went sour between David and Saul, and Saul tried to have David killed. But Jonathan pledged his loyalty to David and helped him escape his father’s murderous attempts upon David’s life. When, with Jonathan’s help, David had to flee to escape Saul’s wrath, both David and Jonathan cried “as they kissed each other; [and] David’s grief was even greater than Jonathan’s” (1 Samuel 20:41 GNT).
Well, Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle and David’s kingship was firmly established. David mourned the death of Jonathan, and he wrote and sang a lament in his and Saul’s honor.
Then one day sometime later, King David inquired of his advisers if there was anyone left of King Saul’s family to whom he might extend some kindness. Such brings us to today’s reading, where David is informed that his dear friend Jonathan has a son still living, Mephibosheth, who happened to be crippled. Thus, we have the touching story of King David taking under his care Mephibosheth, promising to always provide for him and give him a place at the palace table for as long as he lived. So Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son who was crippled, “lived in Jerusalem, eating all his meals at the king’s table,” just like one of the king’s sons (2 Samuel 9:13GNT).
Now, we realize that David decided to take in and provide for Mephibosheth most likely because of David’s close friendship with Jonathan and in his memory. But I want to also project a bit of human kindness upon David, hoping that he at least in part did what he did by choosing to provide for what Jesus would later refer to as “one of the least of these.” The story of David and Mephibosheth is one of the few stories in the Hebrew Bible that specifically speak of extending special kindness and care to someone with a disability; to one of the “least of these” of the world.
The least of these – who are they? As we study Matthew’s gospel and the places where he mentions “little ones” or “the least of these,” we find that the terminology is quite broad. But we can safely say that in many cases Matthew the gospel writer, and Jesus whom he quotes, means by “the least of these” the poor and desperate; those who have little or no hope; which included and continues to include those with physical and mental disabilities. For such folk it is difficult, if not impossible, to work and support themselves.
In the gospels, we see on a number of occasions Jesus reaching out to, embracing, and ministering to what he referred to as “the least of these” – the crippled, blind, infirm, leprous, severely mentally ill, and others. Such were the marginalized of the day. They were looked down upon, ignored, judged, often ostracized, and without much hope in the world. But Jesus saw them as human beings, as children of God. He embraced them. He offered them hope. And if we believe in miracles, he on occasion extended healing to them.
Park of being a follower of Jesus, and part of being a Christian church, is caring for “the least of these” in whatever ways we can. As Christians individually, and as a church collectively, being compassionate and offering care to “the least of these” of our community and wider world should be a part of who we are; it should be in our DNA, if you will.
As I spoke of last week, as a blessed people we owe a debt of love to the less fortunate about us. And the church by its very nature does not exist for itself alone, but for service and mission to the world around it. The United Church has always acknowledged our “debt of love” to the less fortunate of our community and wider world, which we seek to address through our local and wider world mission support. It is so important that we support as much as we can the work of ADFAC, the Ecumenical Storehouse (which our church helped start), Habitat for Humanity, and other agencies that assist “the least of these” of our community.
A good percentage of our support of those in need goes through my Pastor’s Discretionary Fund. Much of that goes to the City of Oak Ridge and a lesser amount to Clinton Utilities Board to assist people in keeping their electricity on. A smaller percentage goes toward rent assistance, prescriptions, and groceries. But our church seeks to minister to “the least of these” in Central America and other developing nations as well. Whenever I am given special gifts to my Pastor’s Discretionary Fund, which may be used at my own discretion, I sometimes send a small check to the Morgan Scott Project, a cooperative outreach of several churches to the impoverished of Morgan and Scott Counties. And our United Church Women’s Circle has its programs that also seek to reach out to “the least of these” of our community and wider world.
But from a broader perspective, part of just being human – regardless of religious leanings – is caring for “the least of these” of our world. To be authentically human is to demonstrate compassion and care for “the least of these” among us. Such is what society does – it seeks to care for “the least of these” among us, those who cannot, by no fault of their own, care for and provide for themselves. This is what we as humans and society do.
And so, when I hear our politicians talk about drastically cutting government programs that will adversely affect “the least of these” among us so as to “save money” or divert these funds to other areas such as defense, it makes me shudder. Cuts to areas like health insurance, Medicaid, Social Security benefits, and educational programs for physically and mentally challenged children will drastically and negatively affect the health and well-being of thousands, probably millions, of American adults and children. Such is contrary to who we are and what we should be about.
Now, I realize this is a very complex issue. Yes, there is abuse. There are those who abuse the system and receive services and income and support who shouldn’t, those who could support themselves. I know, because I deal with it regularly with people who call the church asking for help on their utility bills, or rent money, or wanting gas money, or a motel room for the night. Of the dozens of calls we get each year, there is a small percentage that seek to take advantage of the system. But by the same token, there are many more who qualify as “the least of these” among us, people who have debilitating physical or mental disabilities, or extreme life circumstances, that render them incapable of caring for and supporting themselves. These are the ones we are called to minister to.
So when it comes time to consider a church budget and outreach giving, and thoughts and discussions about reform in government programs aimed at helping the physically and mentally challenged of our society, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. As a church, society, and a nation, we must insist that care and help for “the least of these” of our world who are truly deserving of a decent quality of life is maintained. As followers of Jesus, a church, a society, as humans, it’s what we do – care for “the least of these” among us. Amen.