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 A Friend's Love

Sermon - 7/1/12
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

1 Samuel 18:1-5

I want to continue to look at some of the ancient stories that we find in first and second Samuel, as it concerns the beginning of the monarchy in Israel, and think about some of the relevance of that for us. Those who were here last week will remember that we covered the story of David and Goliath, and some of you may recall that I used an updated translation for that -- "Dan's embellished version", the DEV :)

As entertaining as it might be to use the DEV once again this morning, I dare not, as I fear we may have some children present and parental guidance may be needed for that version. So I'll stick with the New Revised Standard Version. And also because I discovered last week that some people doubt the accuracy of the DEV! As always, you may wish to follow along in your pew Bibles, or your own Bible you brought with you. I'm going to be skipping through a number of chapters towards the end of 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel, to look at this incredible story of the friendship between David and Jonathan, the son of King Saul.

We take up where we left off last week, after David has delivered the head of Goliath to Saul. That tender, warm-hearted, wonderful moment so thoughtfully illustrated in some children's Bibles that I mentioned last week -- the Charles Manson version for children :) So, reading in chapter 18, verses 1 through 5:

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.

However, things quickly go sour between David and Saul after this, as he becomes more popular than the King, and the King becomes suspicious of his intentions. And he begins to make plans to have David killed in battle. Now, take note, because this is a familiar tactic. Remember later on, David is going to use this same tactic against Uriah, in order to gain Uriah's wife, Bathsheba as his own. Only it doesn't work out for Saul, David is too clever. I think David was watching and learning from Saul, and so he improves on it when it comes his turn.

At any rate, it doesn't succeed, the plan backfires on Saul, David becomes even a bigger hero when he slaughters a hundred Philistines. And as proof that he has accomplished this task (because Saul promised him his daughter as his wife if he would do so) David brings back a hundred scalps. Only, the scalps are not taken from the Philistine heads, but rather a certain skin retained by Gentiles but lost to Jewish boys on the 8th day of their birth, if you know what I mean. You see why I'm not using the DEV this morning :) One illustration you won't find in children's Bibles :)

So, the plot thickens against David, as Saul is determined to kill him. So, picking up in Chapter 19:

Saul spoke to his son Jonathan and to all his servants about killing David. But Saul’s son Jonathan took great delight in David. 2Jonathan told David, ‘My father Saul is trying to kill you; therefore be on guard'.

And then Jonathan intercedes on David's behalf, and wins his father over so that David is able to come back into the royal household, and then there is another battle with the Philistines, David once again is victorious, Saul once again goes into a jealous rage, and he tries to kill David himself. David escapes, and he seeks sanctuary with the prophet Samuel. And Saul sends troops to get David at the prophet's home. Only those messengers from the King, when they come into the presence of the prophet Samuel, they fall into a prophetic frenzy and are unable to fill their task. So Saul sends other group, they fall into a frenzy. Another group -- 3 times he does this, and every time they fall into this frenzy as the Spirit of God comes upon them.

So Saul himself decides to go to get David. And guess what happens? He falls into a frenzy -- the spirit of God overcomes him. And then we read, in verse 24, of Chapter 19 (I'm summarizing a little bit here, but it's all there):

He too stripped off his clothes, and he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel. He lay naked all that day and all that night.

He too?! They're ALL lying there naked in this prophetic frenzy. There's another image you won't find in your children's Bible :) I so want to use the DEV version in telling this story :)

And then we have this saying, "therefore it is said 'Is Saul among the prophets?'" And then beginning in chapter 20:

David fled from Naioth in Ramah. He came before Jonathan and said, ‘What have I done? What is my guilt? And what is my sin against your father that he is trying to take my life?’ 2He said to him, ‘Perish the thought! You shall not die. My father does nothing either great or small without disclosing it to me; and why should my father hide this from me? Never!’ 3But David also swore, ‘Your father knows well that you like me; and he thinks, “Do not let Jonathan know this, or he will be grieved.” But truly, as the Lord lives and as you yourself live, there is but a step between me and death.’ 4Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Whatever you say, I will do for you.’

And so they hatch this plot to reveal the true intent of Saul, and then in verse 17, Jonathan made David swear again to his love for him, "for he loved him and he loved his own life". We keep hearing this refrain over and over and over again.

Subsequently, Jonathan discovers that Saul does indeed intend to kill David. Then through a clever sign of shooting arrows beyond the target, that is Jonathan's clue to tell David he has to flee. They meet one more time before David takes off, so at the end of chapter 20, we read:

David rose from beside the stone heap* and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more.* 42Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.”

Thereafter, they meet one more time, in a very brief story found in Chapter 23, where Saul is trying to kill David, Jonathan finds David first, and Jonathan then says to David: "Do not be afraid, for the hand of my father Saul shall not find you, you shall be King over Israel and I shall be second to you, my father Saul also knows this".

So it's very clear that Jonathan is that legitimate heir to the throne, but he's making it clear that he recognizes David as the heir to the throne who will be King next. Then the two of them made a covenant before the Lord (once again this covenant over & over again as part of this theme that is continued). For the next several chapters we read about various exploits of David as he alludes the King and he fights off other enemies. And then 1 Samuel ends with Jonathan killed in battle by the Philistines, and Saul -- surrounded -- commits suicide rather than be taken prisoner. Second Samuel then opens with his news reaching David, who then gives a beautiful dirge to Saul and Jonathan, with its famous chorus "How the mighty have fallen". And then David says of both Saul and Jonathan:

"Beloved and lovely, in life and in death they were not divided, they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions". And then of Jonathan alone he says: "I am distressed for you my brother Jonathan, greatly beloved were you to me, your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women".

Huh.

What we do with this story? It's easy to see why many in the gay community point to this story as a biblical model for covenant, or marriage, between same-sex couples. I'm a little skeptical that the Biblical authors ever intended such an interpretation, though I can easily see why it can be used as such, but I invite you to read that story for yourself and come to your own conclusion on that point.

This morning, I simply want to use this story of these two exceptional friends, to reflect on friendship and why it matters, and what it takes.

So, what are some of the other great stories of friendship that come to your mind, that are familiar to us? You know, those kind of stories that when you hear them mentioned, you say "Oh, yeah, that's a great story of friendship".

For example, Captain James T. Kirk, and. . . .Spock, right! If you watch that movie, you instantly will remember that scene where Spock has just saved the crew and the ship, he's taken the nuclear core and done something with it, and now he's totally radiated, and Captain Kirk comes rushing to his side (of course he can't get to him, but through the modern wonder of plexi-glass that holds out radiation :), they can have this wonderful scene side-by-side. He says "Why, Spock, why?". And Spock says "The needs of the many outweigh those of the one". And then great last words of Spock: "I have been, and always will be, your friend". And it always hits me, oh, yes :)

Of course, as Billy Crystal once famously noted, there's dead, and then there's mostly-dead :) Spock, as it turns out, is only mostly-dead , but not completely dead, so we have another movie :)

It's just a great story. The animal world has given us some great stories. A couple of months ago on the news, pictures and video, two dogs -- one of them has been hit by a car. And the other one (with the first dog lying in the street), standing guard. Did you see that pictures? Laying down beside his friend.

Or just recently on Facebook, I saw one where the little tiny baby bird all nestled up in the fur of the cat :) Cat is probably wondering "Hmm, I wonder how long you have to wait to fatten these things up" :).

Just real quick, without telling us the story, are there other stories that come to mind that we'll all recognize? Fox and the Hound, yeah. Ruth and Naomi. Bambi and Thumper, yeah! Frodo and Sam -- yes, that's another one, that's a great scene from Lord of the Rings, where Frodo can't go on, and Sam carries him. Calvin and Hobbes! One of my favorites -- imaginary friends count too, right?! Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson, year. Timmy and Lassi, Tom & Jerry.

So, what do we learn from these stories? What are the universal truths that come out of these stories?

Take friends where they are, as they are. Don't expect them to change, do you? They are who they are. You can do more through friendship. A friend is someone with whom you can be yourself. Yeah.

From the story of Jonathan and David, it's not surprising that David would want to befriend Jonathan, because he's a shepherd boy, right? Jonathan is the son of the King, he's got all of the wonderful things that come with the royal palace. You can see the attraction David had. But why, why the attraction the other way around? Why is Jonathan so bound to David's soul?

The friendship of the son of the King, with the soon-to-be King, had to be one of those legendary stories remembered over time precisely because it was so unusual and so powerful. The love of two friends that prevailed over family and social pressure, and which enabled David to become King because without the help, love, and loyalty of Jonathan, he would have been terminated by Saul.

So what stands out in this story for me is the loyalty of Jonathan to David, contrary to social convention. And in a storyline that is all about the hero, David (the big and strong and wonderful, powerful warrior he is), Jonathan is the one who is the true unsung hero of the story. The son of a King who puts his status on the line for this shepherd boy. And this is the simple lesson I gain: that true friendship is a treasure that surpasses all the social conventions of race, gender, sexual orientation, status, and economic status, and family relationships even. A true friend is one who puts all those other things aside, and can love that other person as their own soul (as the story says).

Jesus put it this way: he said "This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends".

Or as Spock says: I have been, and always will be, your friend.

 


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