Here is a communion sermon that focuses on inclusivity in the body of Christ and at his table. It is another in my series of sermons on themes related to disability. I preached this in 2005 as our church’s new accessible fellowship hall–our dining room–was being completed.
The King’s Table
A Sermon on 2 Samuel 9 and Luke 14:1, 12-24
Mephibosheth was afraid. He trembled when he came before King David. The behavior of his grandfather Saul, first king of Israel, had cast shame on the whole family. Moreover, David had done what kings predictably did: eliminate anybody who might try to claim the throne. Mephibosheth’s fear was perfectly understandable. But how sad that the felt he had to put himself down in so ugly a way in the king’s presence. He referred to himself as a dead dog, an epithet meaning worse than scum. Dead dog equals yuck! Unclean!
Mephibosheth had had a hard time. Now about twenty, he had been living with mobility impairment since he was five years old. The accident had occurred when news reached the household that his father Jonathan and grandfather the king had both died in battle. The family was in danger. As they hurried away, Mephibosheth’s nurse dropped him. Most likely he suffered broken bones. Both feet were crippled.
Without any modern techniques of setting and repairing bones and treating infections, people who survived fractures often ended up with lifelong deformity and lifelong disability. And unless their family had means, that also meant lifelong poverty. And it meant shame. Most folks believed that tragedies like this didn’t happen to you unless you somehow deserved it. Religious law reinforced the shame and stigma. For example, people with disabilities or even certain conditions we would consider minor were forbidden from serving as priests. Only unblemished males were considered good enough to serve God in this way. Anything less was an insult to God.
Maybe Mephibosheth was putting on an act of humility before David, hoping to protect himself. But my hunch is that he had internalized his family’s shame, and that saw himself as others did: damaged goods, second class at best. His very name meant “shame.” The word bosheth in Hebrew means “shame!” That wasn’t his original name. His original name was Meribbaal. Baal is a word meaning “lord.” But now his name was bosheth: shame! (more…)