1 Samuel 17:57-18:5
What is a friend? In the age of Facebook, that’s not as easy to answer as it was before the advent of Social Media. I have nearly a thousand Facebook friends, but truth be told I’m not quite sure who many of them are! Still, I’ve found Facebook to be a wonderful way to reconnect with old friends and make new ones.
Of course, we’ve always known that there are different levels of friendship. Some can last for a week at camp and others a lifetime. Some are extremely close and others are more distant. But this need to make friends is a reminder of what God observes in the Garden – It’s not good for humans to be alone.
I know that Facebook or Twitter isn’t for everyone, but we all find ways of connecting and reconnecting with others. That’s the reason many go to reunions. We like to keep rekindling old friendships. But, it’s not enough to keep old friendships alive, we have continually make new ones, and for introverts like me that’s not always easy! But maybe being part of a church – the body of Christ -- can help!
Our reading this morning tells the story of one of the most famous friendships of all time. It’s the story of a very unusual friendship that continually gets tested and yet it thrives. Jonathan, who is the son of the king and heir to the throne, and David, who is not only beloved by the people but already anointed the next king, develop a friendship that transcends all the challenges.
Although Jonathan seems to know what is happening around him, he doesn’t seem to care. Some might criticize him, saying he lacks ambition, but perhaps he shows us a better way, the way that Jesus would later embody. Here is a man who cares more about the welfare of his friend than about himself. His actions seem to reflect Jesus’ famous words: “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn. 15:13 CEB).
The story begins shortly after David’s famous encounter with Goliath. David had traveled to Saul’s military camp to visit his brothers at the front, and after watching as the great Philistine warrior Goliath taunted the Israelites and seeing that no one would face Goliath, he takes up the cause. Although young and inexperienced he brings down the great warrior with nothing more than a stone and a slingshot, and as a result, he returns home a hero. There are shades of this story in the first Star Wars movie, when Luke Skywalker, just off the farm, delivers the fatal blow that destroys the Death Star and saves the rebellion.
As our hero arrives at court, bringing Goliath’s head as a gift to the king, we’re told that “Jonathan’s life became bound up with David’s life.” Or, as Eugene Peterson put it in The Message:
Jonathan was deeply impressed with David—an immediate bond was forged between them. He became totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David's number-one advocate and friend. (18.1).
Jonathan and David make a covenant with each other that will transcend every other relationship. Nothing would come between them, including Jonathan’s increasingly jealous father, who seeks to kill his rival and even on one occasion, sensing that Jonathan was in cahoots with David, throws his spear at his son and heir. This is a friendship that is constantly being tested, and yet it endures to the end.
As I think about my own friendships, I have to wonder, am I this committed to the welfare of anyone else? We probably can answer yes if the other person is our spouse or our children or grandchildren. But what about someone outside this immediate circle? If we’re to love our neighbors as we ourselves, how far are we willing to go to live out this calling?
Of course, we all know stories, whether fictional or real, about sacrificial friendships. Recipients of the Medal of Honor have often demonstrated such commitment to their comrades, risking their own lives for others. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrifices his life for the good of his shipmates. The always logical Spock reminds Captain Kirk that “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few . . . ”
So, what is the true depth of our friendships? And, how do we reflect our own spirituality though these friendships? Eugene Peterson writes that
Friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what is common in human experience and turns it into something holy. [Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, 53.]
There is something holy about this covenant friendship between Jonathan and David. Like Spock, Jonathan is willing to offer his life and his future for the good of another. I’m not so sure that David was quite as committed, however, so there is a wrinkle in this story that I can’t seem to resolve.
Such a sacred form of friendship is deeply rooted in trust. As we all know, perhaps instinctively, trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose, which makes Jonathan’s immediate bond with David all the more surprising. But while this friendship is constantly being tested, it never wavers.
Paul speaks of the depth of his own commitment to the lives of the people who inhabited the Corinthian Church, despite their tendency to resist his leadership, recounting the many struggles and difficulties he had encountered in the course of his ministry – beatings, imprisonments, and the like – and he did it because “there are no limits to the affection we feel for you” (2 Cor. 6:12).
But, even as we celebrate this friendship, we need to again recognize that it seems somewhat one-sided. Jonathan seems to give up everything for David. We see this in the way that he takes off his robe and gives it to David, along with his armor, his belt, his bow, and his sword. In other words, he’s abdicating the throne. And what does Jonathan get as a result? Like I said, there are wrinkles to this story, but it appears that even though the relationship may be somewhat unequal, there is a bond here that can’t be broken. There are no limits to the affection felt for the other, not even when tested by other relationships.
If we’re willing to invest ourselves in the lives of others, as these two men invested themselves in each other, our relationships will be tested. It may be another relationship that demands our loyalty or it may be a growing difference of opinion about life in this world. Like Jonathan you may be forced to choose between your friend and your family. This often happens if you have been raised in a bigoted family and you make a friend who is from a different ethnic, religious, social or racial background. What would you do? Who do you choose? It’s not any easy question, but it’s a question that people face every day.
For example, there are many stories about Israelis’ and Palestinians getting together and trying to overcome the animosity that exists between their two peoples. These attempts at friendship put them at odds with their families, their clans, and their nations. Sometimes it even costs them their lives, but they persist because they’ve entered into sacred and covenantal relationships.
As you know, we are in the middle of a listening campaign. Our listening team is making appointments and having conversations with as many of our members and friends as possible. We’re doing this for a couple of reasons, but among the most important is simply to get us talking with each other. You may have been part of the congregation for years, but how much do you know about each other? There are some other elements to this, but the most important is creating deeper relationships.
This morning, as we move toward the Lord’s Table, think about your friendships, especially the deeper ones. Ask yourself: What is the nature of these friendships? Do I love the other as much as I love myself? Am I willing to lay down my life for that person? Do I consider any of these friendships to be sacred?
I think we can all say that even within the church, our relationships can get tested. We may not be all that big a church, but we’re pretty diverse in our theologies and our politics, our music preferences and many other things. It’s not always easy living with each other, but we’re living in covenant with each other. So, let us take heart in Jonathan’s last words to his friend:
Go in peace! The two of us have vowed friendship in God’s name, saying, “God will be the bond between me and you, and between my children and your children forever!” (1 Sam. 20:42, MSG)
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
4th Sunday after Pentecost
June 24, 2012