Friday, August 3, 2012

Connected




1 Samuel 17:57-18:16
July 8, 2012
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

1 Samuel 17:57 - 18:16   57On David’s return from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 58Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?” And David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”  Chapter 18 When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 2Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. 3Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 4Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt. 5David went out and was successful wherever Saul sent him; as a result, Saul set him over the army. And all the people, even the servants of Saul, approved. 6As they were coming home, when David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7And the women sang to one another as they made merry, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 8Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands; what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9So Saul eyed David from that day on. 10The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; 11and Saul threw the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David eluded him twice. 12Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul. 13So Saul removed him from his presence, and made him a commander of a thousand; and David marched out and came in, leading the army. 14David had success in all his undertakings; for the Lord was with him. 15When Saul saw that he had great success, he stood in awe of him. 16But all Israel and Judah loved David; for it was he who marched out and came in leading them.


The scripture you heard is only the beginning of this tale of friendship. Probably the most moving account of this friendship is in chapters 19 and 20 of first Samuel. Just to give you a sense of Jonathan’s love and devotion to David, let me tell you another story:

The adulation and love for David was overwhelming. Everywhere, people spoke of their love for him. King Saul had loved him too, had loved him so much that he refused to let David return home to his father, Jesse. But that admiration of David by everyone, including Saul’s own family, was too much for Saul. His jealousy turned to murderous rage. He began to plot to kill David.

His first plan was to sneak up on David while he slept. But Michal, David’s wife and Saul’s daughter, caught wind of the scheme. “You’ve got to get out of here, David,” she said. “My father is going to kill you.” She lowered David out of the window and he fled. Then Michal went to David’s bed, and underneath the covers she placed a wooden image – an idol, and she added some goats hair to bolster the image, and pulled the covers up over it all, so it looked as if a man were sleeping there.

Saul’s messengers came for David, and Michal met them at the door.
“He’s sick in bed. He’s asleep,” she said.
The messengers, would-be assassins, reported this to Saul, and he sent them back.
“Go get him and bring him to me, so I can kill him,” Saul ordered.

Saul was outraged when he discovered his daughter’s deceit. First his son had pledged his loyalty to David, and now his daughter had demonstrated her allegiance. Not only was Saul losing their love, but their transfer of loyalty meant that they would lose their kingdom, too.

David ran, in fear for his life, to Samuel the prophet where he lived at Ramah. He stayed there for a time, but he knew that Saul was after him. Later, David went to his friend Jonathan and asked, “How have I wronged your father that he wants me dead?” Jonathan couldn’t believe it. He wanted proof that David’s accusation was true. So they hatched a plan:

David would skip out on the feast of the new moon, and hide in the field instead. If Saul noted David’s absence, Jonathan would cover with an alibi, saying that David had gone to visit his family in Bethlehem. If Saul were to lose his temper, Jonathan would know that Saul was up to no good where David was concerned. Jonathan promised to let David know the outcome, and he extracted a promise from David: “If I remain alive, be loyal to me. But if I die, don't ever stop being loyal to my household.”

And Jonathan again made a pledge to David because he cared about David as much as he cared about himself. Then he told David to go and hide, but with a plan. He said: “On the third day I will shoot an arrow to the side of the mound as if I am aiming at a target. Then I'll send my servant boy, saying, ‘Go retrieve the arrow.' If I yell to the boy, ‘Hey! The arrow is on this side of you. Get it!' then you can come out because it will be safe for you. There won't be any trouble—I make a pledge on the LORD's life. But if I yell to the young man, ‘Hey! The arrow is past you,' then run for it, because the LORD has sent you away. Either way, the LORD is witness between us forever regarding the promise we made to each other."

The feast days came, and on the second day of the feasting, King Saul asked where David was. Jonathan gave the cover story. At that, Saul got angry at Jonathan.
"You son of a stubborn, rebellious woman!" he said. "Do you think I don't know how you've allied yourself with Jesse's son? Shame on you and on the mother who birthed you! As long as Jesse's son lives on this earth, neither you nor your dynasty will be secure. Now have him brought to me because he's a dead man!"

Jonathan answered Saul, "Why? What has he done?" But Jonathan realized then that his father intended to kill David. So Jonathan proceeded with the plan, and went out to field. He shot an arrow, then called to his servant: “The arrow has gone past you!” And David knew that his life was in danger. As soon as the boy was gone, David came out from where he was hiding and fell down, face on the ground, bowing low three times. Then the friends kissed each other, and cried with each other, but David cried hardest. Jonathan reminded David of the solemn pledge they had made, and then, sorrowfully, they parted.

It’s a beautiful  and dramatic story, isn’t it?

When I selected this text and title for this episode in our “life of David” series, I wanted to highlight David’s friendship with Jonathan, the son of King Saul, this first recorded bromance in religious history. I had in mind the idea that David was connected – in relationship with Jonathan, with his people, with his wife.

But when I began to dig deeper into the story, I found something I had not seen before: everybody loved David, but there is no mention of how David felt toward them. David was well- connected, but from the scripture, we discover that his connection was political, more than emotional. That kind of charisma is rare, which is probably fortunate. Few people in the world seem to have a personality like David, that draws all others to them like metal filings to a magnet. It would be hard to be that man, the one of whom they say, every man wants to be him, and every woman wants to be with him. It would be difficult to keep one’s humility, if one ever had it.

The text tells of Jonathan’s immediate attachment to David, in compelling terms: “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” But not until much later in the history do we hear of any reciprocity on David’s part. Saul loved David, at least at first. Saul’s servants loved David. The Israelites loved David. But nowhere do we hear that David loved and cared for Israel and her king. Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. In fact, Michal’s profession of love for David is the only explicit mention in the Old Testament of a woman’s love for a man – and it is mentioned twice!

When Michal told her father the king that she loved David, Saul’s messengers brought the proposal to David: would he like to marry her, for she loved him. David said … it would be good to be the king’s son-in-law. No mention of feeling for Michal, only for the chance to be connected, by marriage, to the king.

That’s the challenge with choosing texts and titles ahead of time. It wasn’t the connotation of “connected” that I had in mind. But the songs were chosen, the prayers were written and the bulletin was already printed. And as I explored this text I discovered some significant truths in this tale of Jonathan’s devotion to David. When you hear these stories of Jonathan, what are some words that come to mind?

Love … Devotion … Blessing … Kindness …Compassion … Faithfulness … Protection
Loyalty … Trust  … Humility  … Unselfishness … Courage

All of these are words we think of in connection with Christianity, in terms of our relationships with God, with Jesus, and with one another. All of these are characteristics of Christians, and of Christian friendships. We love our families, and we enjoy most of them and tolerate some, but we cherish our friends and our friendships.

Someone has said that friendship is a school for Christian love, and certainly we are connected to our friends in ways that teach us much. Our friends can be examples to us, examples of how to love God, how to follow Jesus, how to seek the God’s goodness and speak of it to others. Friends help each other learn kindness, patience, compassion, and joy. As Christians we are called to demonstrate God’s love in Christ, and in the classroom of friendship, we can learn what this means and how to go about it.

Friendships challenge us to study what it means to love someone by choice, to stay connected even when we don’t have to, to stay in relationship because we want to, not because we are going to have to see them again at the next family reunion. St. Augustine reminds us that friendships are not something we create – they are a gift from God, channels of grace through which we come to know God’s love  more fully, more deeply, more richly.

As I studied these texts, I was delighted to find an article by our friend Trisha Tull about the friendship of David and Jonathan. Normally I don’t quote works by name, but since many of you know Trisha, I want to share some insights from her work:

First, these stories “reveal Jonathan's heart more directly than any of us will ever know the hearts of our intimate friends. …By withholding David's inner thoughts and forcing readers to judge David's sincerity on the basis of his words and actions over the course of decades, the story more closely recreates the ambiguities of the real world…In that sense, readers' experience of trying to understand David approximates our sorting out of loyalties in our own lives.” In other words, rare is the friendship in which a friend’s heart is so clearly revealed, and so freely given, and so purely loving. Jonathan’s loyalty is extraordinary, his devotion exemplary, and his affection unconditional. He is the sort of friend that everyone would like to have, and that every one of us could strive to be.

Second, how much a friendship grows depends a great deal upon the stuff of which each friend is made. “Jonathan means what he says and says what he means; he never surprises us with a lie.” Jonathan's spontaneous love initiates friendship, and over the course of several episodes he continues to nurture it. David's capacity to be a friend, like his capacity to nurture successfully all his central relationships, is not nearly as great as his capacity to inspire the love and loyalty of others. While friendships are indeed a gift from God, our stewardship of friendship requires that we continually learn to emulate the spontaneous love and charity that Christ teaches.

Finally, the story points up the crucial importance of friendships. We all need people who matter to us, and to whom we matter, without conditions and without any substitutes. Trisha notes that “Friendship often begins with the unmotivated kindness of one person toward another, a generous, uncalculated action offered simply from the joy of companionship. David had a longer life, more children, more notoriety, and more of just about everything ambition could name, including the better friend. But by all indications, Jonathan lived the better life. What emerges from this story is that friendships, like marriages, are made not in heaven alone, nor on earth alone. In one sense, this story reflects a sad tale of unfulfilled desires: Jonathan's for David's commitment, Michal's for David's love, Saul's for the love of his constituency, God's for a "man after his own heart" … the Israelite people's for a just king. In another sense, … any bond of loyalty, however imperfect, is itself a little miracle, a limited but significant reflection of divine compassion.”

Like the unearned and undeserved affections of God, it is there for the taking, offered wholeheartedly, and freely given, a gift of pure grace. It is what keeps us connected.

Amen.

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