Dining at the Table of the King

Ephesians 2:4-10

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Dear Friends in Christ,

Life in Naples, Florida is definitely different from life in Salem, Illinois.  When I accepted the call in 1990 to serve as the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Naples, though I was somewhat aware of the extravagant wealth that existed in that former sleepy fishing village turned retirement community for some of our country’s wealthiest people, I had no idea of some of the situations that my family and I would find ourselves in.  For example, we had a lady in our church who was very generous and who loved to have us as her guests at the country club to which she belonged.  It was called The Royal Poinciana Club.  Just its name struck fear and trepidation in our hearts for we were not used to dining at such elegant places.  Prior to moving to Naples, we lived in Tuscola, IL, where we frequented places like Monty’s roadside café in Atwood, the Dixie Truck Stop in Tuscola, and Grandy’s Restaurant in Urbana.  But once we moved to Naples we found ourselves dining at places like the Port Royal Yacht Club and the Royal Poinciana Club.

And that can be quite a stressful experience, especially when you’re bringing along with you 2 young children whom you were never quite sure what they were going to do, though I will say in retrospect that they were always well-behaved in those places.  I’ll never forget the time though that we were dining at the Royal Poinciana Club and somehow our hostess found out that Marilyn and I liked to polka.  So she managed to convey that little tidbit of information to the “live” band that was playing dinner music at the time and pretty soon they announced that there was a couple in the club that was wanting to get out on the dance floor and do a polka.  As the band struck up “The Beer Barrel Polka,” our hostess told us that we were the couple that was supposed to dance to it.  Under those circumstances, what else could we do but kick up our heels in front of these very wealthy, high society folks, some of whom even joined us out there.

So dancing with the rich.  Dining with the wealthy.  Rubbing shoulders with the affluent.  Certainly out of character for Marilyn and me.  And definitely out of character for Mephibosheth.  Mephibo-who??  Mephibosheth – a young fellow in the Old Testament whom most of you have probably never heard of before, but whose story parallels our own in some pretty amazing ways.  So let’s spend some time on this Christ the King Sunday getting to know this recipient of grace as we consider the theme “Dining at the Table of the King.”

In 2 Sam. 9:1 we find David, who was king of Israel at the time, asking a very interesting question.  He says: “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”  Now before we go any further, we need to get these characters straight.  Saul was the first king of Israel.  He started out good, faithfully serving God, but he went downhill pretty fast as he began to serve himself and his own interests rather than God’s.  Saul had a son named Jonathon and he and David had become best of friends.  Saul did not like that because Saul did not like David.  And the reason he didn’t like David is because after David had defeated the mighty Philistine giant whose name was Goliath, all of a sudden, he was receiving the praise and accolades of the people rather than Saul.  Put simply, Saul was flat out jealous of David.

Well, to make a very long story short, Saul and Jonathon were eventually killed in the same battle and David assumed the throne of Israel.  But he never forgot the close friendship that he’d had with Jonathon.  And so one day he asked his advisors if there was any member of Jonathon’s household left that David could show kindness to as a way of honoring the memory of his good friend.  One of those advisors named Ziba said, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”  Please note that Mephibosheth’s name is not mentioned there; only his pain.  An earlier chapter reveals the source of that pain.  When word of Saul’s and Jonathon’s deaths reached Jerusalem, a nurse who took care of Mephibosheth swept up the 5-year-old boy into her arms and fled.  But in her haste she stumbled and dropped him in such a way that it caused him to become crippled in both feet.

So with his grandfather King Saul dead and his father Prince Jonathon deceased as well, Mephibosheth found himself a crippled orphan who was no longer allowed in the king’s palace.  So where does a boy like that go?  Well, somehow he ended up in a place called Lo-debar which means “no pastureland.”  Does that sound like a vacation spot to you?  Does it sound like a great place to visit or a place where the high and mighty live?  Not at all.  It sounds like a horrible place.  We don’t know anything about it, but just the name sounds bad, doesn’t it?  “How low can you go?”  Mephibosheth would have said: “Well, I live in Lo-debar.  I lost my grandfather.  I lost my dad.  I lost my place in the palace.  I lost my health.  And now I’m all by myself. ”

You ever been there, my friends?  Are you familiar with its streets?  Maybe you weren’t dropped by a nanny, but maybe you were dropped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a spouse, or a place of employment or a basketball team or volleyball team.  Maybe when people think of you they can’t remember your name, but they can sure remember your pain.  ‘Yeah, I know her.  She’s that divorced gal.”  Or “He’s the alcoholic, isn’t he?”  Or “They’re the couple that filed bankruptcy.”  Or “He’s the kid with the handicap.”  We’re great at labeling people, aren’t we?  And times haven’t changed for Mephibosheth was labeled too.

But then something wonderful, almost Cinderella-like happened.  There’s a knock on Mephibosheth’s door one day and when the limping orphan from the once royal family who now dwells in Lo-debar opens the door, guess what he sees?  An entourage of wagons and horses and servants from the court of King David.  And those servants pick up Mephibosheth and deposit him in one of those wagons and escort him back to Jerusalem and then usher him into the very presence of the king.  Now understand, Mephibosheth has no idea what’s going on.  And the way his life was going, you couldn’t blame him if he assumed the worst and expected the king to bring a swift end to his pain-filled existence.  In fact, listen to what happens next as it’s recorded in 2 Sam. 9: 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.  From what happens next you kind of get the impression that Mephibosheth wasn’t just bowing out of respect for the king.  I get the idea he was cowering before David for David says: “Don’t be afraid, 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.”  Then a little bit later it says: “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.”

Wow!  What a great ending to a great story!  From Lo-debar to the palace.  From obscurity to royalty.  From no future to a certain future at the king’s table.  That’s quite a move for Mephibosheth, isn’t it?  And it’s quite a reminder for us because that is a picture of what God has done for you and me.  He has extracted us from the Lo-debars of life and has given us a place at the table of the King.  Isn’t that what the Apostle Paul tells us in our text for today?  Listen once again to these words from Eph. 2:4-7: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions…And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Mephibosheth was shown such amazing grace and kindness by David because he was the son of David’s best friend Jonathon who was the son of the king.  You and I are shown such amazing grace and kindness because we are brothers and sisters and friends of Jesus who is not just the son of the king but who is the king!  And this King graciously invites us to not only dine at his table in the heavenly places someday, but to also dine at his table even now.  Maybe you’ve never thought of it that way before, but every time you come to the Lord’s Supper, you are dining at the table of your King.  In fact, one of the names that is frequently used for this sacred meal is the Lord’s Table, which could easily be rendered the King’s Table.  But you’re not just receiving bread and wine in this meal.  You are receiving the King himself for he joins himself so intimately and intricately to those 2 elements that he says to all who receive them: “This is my body…This is my blood.”  And what an honor and privilege that is!

So what do you do with a message like the one you’ve heard here today?  I would suggest 2 things.  First of all, let it define you.  The world might label you as a divorcee or a single mom or a widow or a welfare recipient or an alcoholic or a good-for-nothing – you fill in the blank – but the Creator and Ruler of this universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, says that you are so special to him that he wants to have the honor of your presence at his table at all times.  Like Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” That’s what God did for Mephibosheth and that’s what he can do for you.

So let that grace that God has shown you in Christ first of all define you.  And then let it alsorefine you.  Let it change you.  Let it mold you.  Let it shape you into the kind of person, the kind of masterpiece that God has designed you to be.  Now maybe you never thought of yourself as a masterpiece, but that is exactly what Paul says we are in the final verse of our text for today.  The New Living Translation of that verse reads like this: “For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

Over a hundred years ago, some fishermen were relaxing in the dining room of a Scottish seaside inn, trading fish stories.  One of the men gestured wildly as he tried to convey the size of the fish that got away.  As he did so, his arm struck the serving maid’s tea tray, sending tea flying across the whitewashed wall, leaving an irregular brown stain on that wall.  The innkeeper surveyed the damage and concluded that the whole wall would have to be repainted.  “Perhaps not,” a stranger replied from the back of the dining room.  “Let me work with it.”  Having nothing to lose, the innkeeper consented.  The man then pulled out a box of art materials that included pencils, brushes, jars of paint and linseed oil.  And he went to work.  In time, an image began to emerge: a stag with a great rack of antlers.  When he was finished, the artist signed the bottom of the picture, paid for his meal, and left.  His name?  Sir Edwin Landseer, famous painter of wildlife.

In his hands, a mistake had become a masterpiece.  God’s hands do the same, over and over again, to the so-called mistakes or Mephibosheths of life.  He did it with a denying disciple named Peter, a doubting disciple named Thomas, a formerly demon-possessed woman named Mary Magdalene, a cheating tax collector named Zaccheus, a 5 time-divorcee whom he met at Jacob’s well, and countless others.  And he can do it for you too, my friends.

Amen