Rev. George Miller
2 Samuel 1:17-27
Sept 28, 2014
The Kingdom of God: what does it look like? What does it mean? Who inhabits this Kingdom where the Living Lord creates, saves, and blesses?
Unknowingly, we’ve actually been formulating an answer to these questions during the past 2 months as we’ve embarked on our sermon series titled “What Biblical Character/Story Are You?”
In this oasis of space and time, we’ve met Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael; the midwives, Moses’ mother and Miriam.
We learned about leaders: both the faithful and fearful, and those who were willing to stand in the Jordan River so everyone could cross over.
We heard about Balaam and his talking donkey. We had a visit from Eli.
We heard about Hannah’s faith and the unfaithful actions of Eli’s sons and of King Saul.
Last week we met a young David and discovered that God does not see as mere mortals do.
Today we conclude our sermon series with a scripture I’ve never preached on before. It’s the story of David and Jonathan, and I’ll be honest: I’ve not preached on this because no one seems to have a full grasp on what the true nature of their relationship was.
In 1 Samuel 18 we are told that after David slew Goliath he is brought before King Saul. There he meets Saul’s son Jonathan, and scripture says David’s soul is bound to the soul of Jonathan and that Jonathan loved David as his own soul.
Not only does Jonathan love David, he relinquishes to David his princely right to his father’s throne.
They embark on a relationship in which they make covenants with each other. Jonathan says to David “Whatever you say, I will do.”
They have secret meetings. They watch out for and protect one another. When Saul tries to kill David, Jonathan intercedes.
They fight the Philistines together and when David gets word that Jonathan has died in war…well David grieves his death in a way that is brutally honest and raw.
David calls both Saul and Jonathan beloved and lovely, and in vs. 26 he states “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved you were to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of a woman.”
These are deep, deep sentiments to be shared publicly by one man for another.
I remember reading this back in the 90’s and thinking “There’s no way these two are ‘just friends’; there’s got to be something more.”
Society tells us that men don’t express emotions like that if they’re just buddies. Where else have you ever heard of the souls of two people being bound to one another?
That’s something you’d expect in “Romeo and Juliet” or a Harlequin Romance.
But something interesting happened in the new millennium. A phrase has come into public consciousness called “bromance.”
For those who’ve never heard it before, a “bromance” is a close, intimate relationship between two guys that is everything but romantic.
It’s the acknowledgement that men can be close in a way in which they can share their feelings, share their hopes and fears, they share their lives together.
In terms of pop-culture, early examples of a bromance can be found in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
You can see bromances in TV shows like “Scrubs”, the new “Hawaii 5-0” or the bond between Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.
Then there is another reality, one that most people cannot understand unless if they’ve been there: the reality of fighting in a war together.
See, David and Jonathan weren’t just good friends who fixed cars or attended sporting events together.
They were friends during a constant state of war. They were soldiers. They were men who carried weapons and had to stay alert at all times.
Once you put their relationship into this context, it opens up things quite a bit.
Now, I was raised in a family of proud veterans, the son of a New York City cop and I grew up visiting my father’s precinct and being around people who were always putting their lives on the line.
There’s a different energy that exists when someone is a cop or a firefighter or a soldier.
When one lives knowing one can die, things are heightened. There’s a higher sense of alertness and awareness that requires an absolute need for camaraderie and trust, of knowing people have your back.
Can that be part of what David and Jonathan’s relationship is?
Two comrades in a wartime setting in which doing things like working 9-5 or attending church functions are not an option?
I say this, because back in May I attended a workshop titled “Moral Injury & Caring for Our Returning Soldiers.”
Rev. Martin Montonye was the teacher and he introduced the class to a new way of thinking. He shared with us the devastating news that 18 veterans a day are committing suicide, making up 20% of all suicides.
Soldiers are not only experiencing Post Traumatic Stress, they are experiencing what experts call “Moral Injury.”
Moral injury is what happens when you do something that contradicts your personal expectations about how a person is to act.
Moral injury is what happens when a person does something they were told is wrong by church, school, or society.
It causes agony and inner judgment, a collapse in identity and a lack of trust in one’s self.
For soldiers, the moral challenges of war, especially modern war, are great. There’s the obvious example of killing, but there is also the dehumanizing of the enemy, grief, survivor’s guilt, and betrayal of authorities.
Those who have fought in a war, or currently are fighting, all have had to deal with issues of isolation, finances, leaving behind their friends, family or their career.
They come back from war and find that those things may have changed, are gone or are now seen through a new set of eyes.
Some soldiers lose their faith, their reason to live and wonder what the meaning of life is.
All these combine to create moral injury in which there are complex feelings, fears and complaints, all creating a need to lament, to be transformed, and to be renewed.
Is that what we are witnessing here today: the story of two men during a time of war who are close and dependent on one another, who have found a relationship that has allowed them to feel less isolated, less scared, and more connected?
In David and Jonathan do we have biblical characters who give voice to our veterans and soldiers who know what war is really like and what it’s like to lose a comrade they cared about?
Once again, here we have an example of just what makes the Bible so powerful-
There is virtually no human experience you can go through in which there is not some biblical counterpart in which you can say “Yes- I can relate.”
And by relating, one can find voice, find comfort, find strength…and find God.
Regardless of the true nature of David and Jonathan’s relationship, today’s scripture provides a voice for anyone who’s ever loved and ever lost.
And in a society that still tries to dictate how men should or should not act, here we have a story that gives voice to all men who have ever lost a buddy, a comrade, a bro.
This scripture, with its references to weeping and distress, gives voice to grief.
It is a validation of grief: that when someone you loved has died it is right and appropriate to say and express and to feel that loss.
Today’s scripture tells us that that you can be a shepherd, you can be a slayer of bears, you can be a mighty warrior, you can be a powerful king…and you can still experience hurt, you can still be vulnerable, you can still be…a man.
Today, I could ask “Which Biblical Character Are You?” but we already know the answer, because we have all loved, and we have all lost.
We have all grieved and felt the distress of death.
In this oasis of space and time, as we conclude our sermon series, we’ve encountered enough stories and people that we can each articulate a bit more about ourselves, our faith and what it means to talk about the Kingdom of God.
In God’s Kingdom, all these people exist.
The Sarahs and Abrahams, called by God, yet still capable of doing imperfect things.
The Hagars and Ishmaels, cast out into the wilderness but finding care in God.
The midwives, servants and princesses, the mothers and sisters who find ways to protect life even in the face of death and injustice.
The Calebs who find ways to speak words of hope and promise even when others are afraid.
The Balaams who use their words to bless instead of curse. The donkeys who chose to protect even when being punished.
They all have a place in God’s Kingdom.
The Joshuas who assist in bringing others into the land of milk and honey.
The leaders who are willing to stand still in rushing waters and the people who are willing to leave their past behind and cross over to the other side.
The Hannahs who aren’t afraid to pray passionately, the Eli’s who help others to hear even if they themselves seem blind, and the Samuels who learn how to say “Here I am Lord? Is it I, Lord?”
They all have a place in God’s Kingdom.
The fathers, the sons, the princes, the young Davids who are left to watch the sheep and the older Davids who are grieving the death of their soul mates, they all have a place in God’s Kingdom.
They each play a role in the history of God’s people; they each are a part of the story about how God creates, saves and blesses.
In God’s Kingdom we too play a role, we too are a part of the story.
And soon we will be invited to travel to a manger to see a child. Soon, we will gather at the feet of Jesus to hear another story; we will experience storms at sea being calmed.
We will be called to eat at the table. We will stand before the cross. We will visit the empty tomb and we will come to the garden alone and here our names spoken aloud.
We too will play a role in the history of God’s people, we too are a part of the story in which God creates, saves and blesses.
God blesses, saves and creates.
For that, we can all say “Amen and amen.”