Generosity and Thanksgiving: Commemoration of Benefactors of Selwyn College, Cambridge, 25 Sept 2021
by Graham Kings
Date added: 01/10/2021
This sermon may be seen on YouTube here at 44 mins 15 secs.
Many thanks to the Dean, Hugh, for the invitation to preach today. It is a delight to be here.
I was first in this chapel 42 years ago, in 1979.
John Sweet was my generous supervisor, for one year Postgraduate studies in New Testament, and I regularly give thanks to God for John and for all he gave to Selwyn.
Generosity and thanksgiving is our theme today as we commemorate our Benefactors at Selwyn College.
There is a story of a boy who was wandering by a canal in London. He slipped and fell in. He couldn’t swim and was drowning. A man was passing by. He immediately dived into the canal and grabbed him to safety. The next day, the boy was walking with his mother beside the canal at the same spot. He noticed the man who had saved him. His mother went up to the man and asked, ‘Are you the man who saved my boy from drowning yesterday?’ ‘Yes’ he said. She replied, ‘Well, where’s his cap then?’
No thanks given at all! Just, ‘Where’s his cap then?’
Our Old Testament lesson today is a beautiful story of generosity and thanksgiving: David and Mephibosheth, who was the son of Jonathan, and grandson of Saul.
This delightful story portrays the open generosity of David in keeping a promise and his political prudence in gaining the support of potentially hostile elements in the population , while his authority to reign was still precarious.
It is set within the Succession Narrative (2 Samuel 9-20; 1 Kings 1-2). This magnificent early historical writing has some of the finest Hebrew prose, and skilfully justifies Solomon’s succession to the line of David. The dialogue is subtle and the characters reappear at intervals.
David wants to keep his promise made to his close friend Jonathan (1 Sam 20.15), who was killed by the Philistines at the same time as Saul, died (1 Sam 31). Lo-debar, where Mephibosheth, who was lame in both his feet, lived, was far from Jerusalem, east of Lake Galilee.
Mephibosheth was probably afraid of how David would treat him (v 7), for he was the grandson of Saul who had tried to kill David. As a disabled man, I imagine he would have been afraid of people’s attitude to him and would not expect the best from life.
David calls him by name, Mephibosheth, and shows his great love towards him by restoring to him Saul’s land and welcoming him into his family. This generosity is truly good news. Mephibosheth still feels utterly unworthy. Ziba, who had been Saul’s servant, now serves a new master.
In this passage, we may see ourselves as Mephibosheth, being brought from far away, receiving the gracious kindness of God, based on his faithful promises, and being raised up, not through our own worthiness but on account of another, into God’s own family, to eat at the King’s table, ‘like one of the King’s children’ (v 11.).
We may also see ourselves as David, who was generous to someone who lived on the edges of society. In our own giving to Selwyn College we may provide for student bursaries so that some of the brightest students from the poorest backgrounds in Britain and the world, may come and eat in our hall here.
As we receive Holy Communion tomorrow, let’s remember Mephibosheth and David.
Bishop George Augustus Selwyn often preached about the significance of the regular reception of Holy Communion.
On 24 December 1848, he preached at St Paul’s Church, Auckland, New Zealand and told his congregation that being forgetful of Holy Communion leads to spiritual apathy.
‘The root of all this slowness of heart lies in neglect of the first Christian commandment, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
That sermon is quoted in the fine 2014 biography of Selwyn by Robert Wilson, who studied for his PhD here.
Last Sunday, 19 September, a Kenyan Professor, Joseph Galgalo, who was supervised for his PhD at Selwyn by Professor David Ford, was consecrated in Nairobi Cathedral to be a Bishop in the Church of God. He will serve as an Assistant Bishop in All Saints Cathedral Diocese, Nairobi. It is a joy to see in chapel this evening David Harrison, who was Master of Selwyn when Joseph was studying here in the late 1990s.
For the previous ten years Joseph has served as Vice Chancellor of St Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya. He is from the nomadic ethnic group, the Gabbra, in the semi-arid desert near Marsabit in Northern Kenya.
Joseph was the guest of the Master of Selwyn at high table in February 2020, after his Henry Martyn Lectures in the University. He gave a lecture in 2016 at Lambeth Palace about Jesus’s hospitality.
Since we are about to enjoy a sumptuous dinner here as part of our commemorating of our Benefactors, I leave you with Joseph’s words about Great David’s Greater Son:
Table fellowship defines Jesus’ communality. Eating is patterned into the scheme of his work revealing a striking centrality of food to Jesus’ ministry. The most undeserving of people are given a place at the table, to be heard, healed, forgiven, restored, taught and fed to become beneficiaries of divine hospitality.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.