Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Trinity Church, Mt. Airy, NC
June 24, 2018, 8:30 AM, Proper 7B
ויהי ככלתו לדבר אל שאול ונפש יהונתן נקשרה הנפש דוד ויאהבו יהונתן כנפשו
So it happened, when he finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was joined to David’s and Jonathan loved him like his own soul.
Common sense should have told Jonathan to avoid David like the plague. If David wasn’t already radioactive in King Saul’s court, he soon would be; and Jonathan would have been well advised to keep his distance. If Jonathan couldn’t quite say to himself that his father, the king, was bonkers, he should have remembered the time the king threatened to kill him—kill his own son—for the high crime of tasting a little honey during a military campaign while unaware that his father had forbidden his soldiers to eat anything until the king was avenged upon the Philistines. What kind of man would be willing to kill his own son to underscore a foolish military order? Saul would. Surely, Jonathan could see the conflict coming: Saul might welcome David’s heroism over the Philistine giant Goliath and might even make him a military commander, but Jonathan had to know that Saul had no room on his stage for two leading men. Besides, Jonathan was the heir apparent, the crown prince, the next king. What possible good would it do him to cozy up to this brazen lad?
Except that Jonathan was a rotten politician and evidently didn’t realize that his own self-interest demanded that he keep a discreet distance between himself and the new royal champion. The Bible doesn’t give us any reason why Jonathan loved David. It just tells us that he did, tells us that Jonathan oved him intensely and loved him almost too well for his own good. Jonathan’s life was short and not too sweet. Though he was the heir, he never became Israel’s king; and when Saul’s growing paranoia inflamed him against David, Jonathan’s love for David almost cost him his life again as Saul tried to skewer his son with a javelin at the very idea that Jonathan wouldn’t hate the son of Jesse as much as Saul did. Ultimately, Jonathan lost his life as did his brothers and his father in the great Philistine attack across the Plain of Jezreel on the slopes of Mt. Gilboa. His kindness toward David went unrequited as his body was hauled up on and affixed to the walls of Beth-shan as the Philistine soldiers shouted and jeered.
When I was a child, the stories of Jonathan and David were favorites of my Sunday School teachers—though they usually left out the part about Jonathan having his hide tacked up on the walls of Beth-shan. It was cool for David to have a loyal friend like Jonathan, I thought, but I had friends too; and I wondered why my teachers kept coming back to this one. The stories contain nothing about what the friends did together. Did they play games as I did with my friends? Did they go out hunting or maybe wrestle with each other? What was I supposed to learn? In seminary and later in graduate school, we read the stories of Jonathan and David because of the excellence of the classical Hebrew in which they were written; and you have to love a language that can say so much with so few words, but again, the stories of Jonathan and David didn’t quite achieve the pot-boiler level that the stories about David and the paranoid Saul reached or the blistering tale of David and Bathsheba. What were we supposed to learn?
Several years ago, a family difficulty left Patricia and me in a low place, saddened by disappointment, anxiety, and uncertainty. Just getting up in the morning and going to work seemed like an impossible task; and almost all either of us could do when we returned home was to make a quick supper and go to bed. We were coming up on the Thanksgiving season, but neither of us had any interest in the holiday and we laughed somewhat sardonically that maybe peanut butter sandwiches wouldn’t be such an awful pilgrim feast.
The Wednesday before the holiday, the parents of our godson called to announce that we were coming with them to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving. We had no say in the matter. The meal was at 2 pm, and our godson expected to see us well before then. We tried to make our excuses, but Chantal and Bryson weren’t having any of it. I didn’t want to go. In fact, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to get dressed that morning; but our godson’s wish was our command. And so we went; and I don’t suppose we were the most scintillating guests ever to darken our friends’ door, but they bent over backwards to make us welcome. Indeed, it seemed to be a team effort, including the efforts of several members of the family we had not met previously.
We returned home exhausted, stuffed, and a little sore from the exertions on the swing set our godson required of us. But we were not so sad then as we had been when we awakened that morning, and we were never quite as sad again in the days to come. God rescued us from our sadness by the loving care of our friends. We never discussed the difficulties we were facing on that Thanksgiving. Nobody gave us any advice. But we found healing and hope. What would we have done without those loving people?
In the great, long history of Israel that stretches from the book of Joshua all the way through Second Kings, there aren’t many outright miracles. The old historian we label with the almost unpronounceable moniker, the Deuteronomistic Historian, writes about Israel’s history as a human history, with flesh-and-bones people like David and Jonathan making up its cast of characters. God too plays a leading part, but unlike other parts of the Bible, God usually interferes in the human drama with very human actions, not bolts of lightening from the sky or armies of angels rescuing stranded heroes. Rather, God sends David a friend. Elisha tells a Syrian general Naaman to take a bath, a wise woman of Tekoa tells the king a parable. And all of these simple things have profound consequences.
Without Jonathan, David would not have survived to be Israel’s king; and if Jonathan had been a jealous politician, he would never have warned the future king of Saul’s intent to kill him. Jonathan’s love for David was unexpected, and as far as the Bible tells us, completely unearned by the high-strung overconfident kid from Bethlehem. Our historian wants us to know that God creates and saves most often by the most innocuous and unremarkable exchanges between human beings, exchanges, though, that for all their ordinariness change our lives and heal our souls, and make all things new.
We learned this week that the most ordinary thing like the love of parents for their children, including the love of immigrant parents for their children, can so touch the hearts of a country as to force those who cynically believed they could impose their political will by causing the weakest among us, the little children of refugees, to suffer the loss of their families. And God did not have to rain down fire and brimstone from heaven to challenge this abuse. Rather, God pricked the hearts of ordinary human parents for their children, people who could imagine what it must be like for immigrants and refugees to lose their children and the horror those children experienced. This is the everyday compassion and love our scripture believes represents the driving energy of God’s kingdom. Jonathan loved David, a wonderfully passionate friendship that many even most of us have experienced in our lives, to save David, to create a lasting kingship for God’s people, and to fulfill all of the divine promises to that people.
When we return home this morning, most of us will face the mundane tasks our lives, some quite wonderful and a few, perhaps, tending toward drudgery; but the Bible wants us to understand that all of those tasks count for something. They count beyond survival, beyond nourishment, beyond entertainment, and beyond sociability. God uses our day for a kingdom of love and compassion, uses our ordinary relationships for extraordinary results, makes all of us actors in a drama that leads from the hill country of Benjamin, through the climb to Calvary, to a love for one another and a joy in God’s creation that will have no end.
 1 Samuel 14:24-45.
 1 Samuel 20:33.
 1 Samuel 31:1-2.
 1 Samuel 31:8-11.
 2 Kings 5:10
 2 Samuel 14:2.