Scripture: 1 Samuel 18: 1-7; 2 Samuel 1:26
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
October 9, 2016
I want to thank everyone who attended the worship service last week at Mentone UCC. It was an uplifting service, indeed. At a time when racial tensions are high in our country, it was so good to gather around the communion table and break bread with people of many different hues. A symbol of true community. It was inspiring to sing spirit-filled songs and I must brag that our choir did an outstanding job with the anthem, “I Can Feel the Spirit”. And we definitely felt the spirit! Thank you, Choir! Then after worship, we sat around tables and shared in a fellowship meal. Pastor Rudy told me beforehand that they would provide something “light” for us to eat following worship – well, they outdid themselves with a Sunday meal of fried chicken, macaroni ‘n cheese, green beans, baked beans, potato salad, bread rolls and desserts galore! I think we all walked away with not only full stomachs, but with spirits overflowing with love and joy. They call that a “gospel measure” which the Bible defines as a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over into your lap. It was a gospel measure Sunday!
All went well, but there were a few people who questioned me about my sermon. As you know, I am preaching a 5 week sermon series on the Life of David. The first week I preached about David and Goliath. Last week I preached about King David, the greatest king Israel has every known, who invited Mephibosheth to the King’s table. Some of you asked, “How in the world did we go from David, a prepubescent boy with hardly any peach fuzz on his face fighting the giant, Goliath to King David, the greatest king Israel has ever known?” I am glad you asked because today we are going to fill in the details, including the relationship between David and Jonathan which led to the invitation of Mephibosheth to the King’s table.
When prepubescent David fought Goliath, the king of Israel was Saul. King Saul was the first king of Israel. David was to be the second king, taking the throne upon the death of Saul. Jonathan was the son of Saul, which technically means that Jonathan should have been Israel’s next king. One would expect Jonathan to feel anything but friendly towards David. So Saul is king and he was held in high esteem, but David, interestingly, was held in higher esteem.
There were battles. After the battles, David and Saul walked back into the city and the women lined the streets and shouted, “Saul, Saul he’s our hero. Saul is so wonderful. Saul has killed thousands of people.” And Saul would puff up with great pride until he heard the next refrain which was, “David, David he’s even better because he’s killed tens of thousands.” And Saul thought, “What? They have credited David with tens of thousands, but me with only thousands?” Well Saul explodes like the Mt. Vesuvius that he is. He is jealous; he is murderous and he is out to get David.
Six different times Saul tries to kill David. And one time Saul invites David to marry his daughter Michal. Seems like a kind gesture until you hear the crude dowry that Saul required. Are you ready for this? This crazy nut wants 100 Philistine foreskins in exchange for his daughter Michal! Of course, Saul is thinking surely one of these Philistines will kill him in David’s attempt to get 100 foreskins. Saul is out of his mind.
Saul has a son named Jonathan. One would think that Jonathan would side with his father merely because of family loyalty which in that day was highly expected. Or that Jonathan would be jealous of David because it was David and not him who would inherit the throne. Yes, Jonathan had reason to despise David, but surprisingly he doesn’t.
In fact, scripture says “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing and gave it to David and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”
When Jonathan divests himself of his robe and his armor, he is saying to David: let there be nothing between us, nothing to get in the way of us knowing each other, human being to human being, soul to soul. It is a symbol of tremendous vulnerability; it is symbolic of being real, authentic and genuine with another.
A chapter later we read that Saul and his son, Jonathan die in battle. David is inconsolable. His eulogy for his dead friend says it all: “I am distressed for you Jonathan, greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
Hearing this, some of you may be wondering what kind of straight man says that to another straight man? As you can imagine there have been eyebrows raised over this passage, “David loved Jonathan so much that it passed the love of women?” Biblical scholars have surmised about the nature of their relationship – was it a romantic relationship, was it brotherly love, was it a friendship? Some of you have probably drawn your own conclusion, but for purposes of today’s sermon I do not want us to get bogged down in defending one position or another but I want us to look deeply at their covenant with one another.
David loved Jonathan so much that years later after Jonathan had died, at a time when David became known as the 24 karot king, the greatest king Israel has ever known because he unified the twelve tribes of Israel, masterminded military conquests, and brought the ark back to Jerusalem, David remembers his covenant with Jonathan. Yes, Jonathan had died years before, but David’s covenant does not. As we heard last week, David asks the question, “Is there anyone left from the house of Saul, the house of Jonathan to whom I may show the kindness of God?”
“David had many reasons to forget the vow he made with Jonathan. The two were young and idealistic. Saul was cruel and relentless. Who honors the children of a nemesis? David has a nation to rule and an army to lead. What king has time for small matters? But, to David, a covenant is no small matter” (Lucado, Facing Your Giants, pg. 122). So, David asks, “Is there anyone left from the house of Saul, the house of Jonathan to whom I may show the kindness of God?”
Ziba, the former servant of Saul, says, “Well, there’s this boy who is crippled in both feet. He lives in Lo Debar.” He is referring to Mephibosheth who lives in a place that literally means “place of no pasture”. And David says, “Bring Mephibosheth from the place of no pasture to the palace and tell him there’s a place for him at the king’s table.” David honored his covenant with Jonathan.
What is a covenant? It is a living, breathing commitment of unarmored love that we make to God and to one another. We don’t hear the word “covenant” very often and when we do it is generally in the context of marriage. For example I think of a man by the name of Robertson McClukin, the president of Columbus Bible College, who was at the peak of his career. He had moved the college from a second rate institution to a great college. He resigned to take care of his wife who had Alzheimer’s disease. She could not recognize him; she could not recognize herself in the mirror. Those around him tried to persuade him not to resign as president in order to take care of a woman who did not know him. “Take care of her today and she won’t remember you tomorrow, Robertson. She doesn’t know who you are. Provide the best care possible, but sacrifice your crucial role of leadership in the Christian community for somebody who doesn’t even know who you are?” And then this, “Robertson, you are reneging from your calling from God.” His answers were classic. He said, “You’re right. She doesn’t know who I am, but I know who she is. She’s the same woman I married. And I promised her that I would be there til death do us part.” Robertson has to changes diapers 3 -4 times a day. She is incontinent. She’s forgotten how to speak, she slobbers and he has to feed her. But he does it day in and day out because that is what love is really all about. It is about covenant.
What is a covenant? It is a living, breathing commitment of unarmored love that we make to God and one another. Covenants require intention. Covenants require time. Covenants require deliberate renewal. At Redlands United Church of Christ, we participate in the covenanting process with one another each and every year. It is an intentional way in which one says that “Yes, I want to be a part of this Body of Christ.” It means that in times of trouble we will stand with you. In times of need we will share with you. In times of joy we will celebrate with you. In essence, we take off our armor – all that guards us from one another so that we may enter into a heart to heart, soul to soul relationship with each other. A relationship in which we can be real, genuine and authentic with one another. On October 30th we will bring forward our written covenants.
I remember the first time I brought forth my written covenant to church. I was about 15 years old. Had just gone through confirmation. This church was immensely special to me in my teenage years – it truly was my second home. I felt an acceptance here that I had never experienced anywhere else. I felt as though I could take off my armor. I could be genuine, real and authentic. And when I brought my covenant forward for the first time, I was overflowing with thanksgiving. I wanted to give everything I could to the God who had called me to this place. It is here in this place where I experienced my soul tingle with excitement and my mind fill with elation. It is here in this place where I experienced an abundance of “Glory, glory hallelujah” moments. Heaven on earth moments.
During times of joy like my ordination, this congregation celebrated with me. In times of sadness like the death of my mother, this congregation comforted me. This congregation modeled for me the sacredness of covenant. On October 30th, I will bring forth my covenant once again with great joy.
Whether or not you decide to covenant this year (and I hope you do), my prayer is that all of your covenantal relationships will be blessed in “gospel measure” (a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over into your lap). May all of your covenantal relationships this year be blessed with immense love and infinite grace.