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First Reading = Mark 9:2–8
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
This is the final week of our series looking at the Gospel According to David. Last week we heard that David lived life to the fullest. Next week we’re going to try something a little different. We’re going to try a “stump the pastor” Sunday! This is like an “ask me anything” for church. So email me a faith question by this Friday, and I’ll draw them out of a basket and address them right then to the best of my ability. So email me a question – firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday August 28 to be included.
But for this final week in our series about David, we’re going to look at one of David’s defining characteristics: his commitment to relationships. Jesus had this same characteristic. And we often talk about how we want our church to be defined by a commitment to relationships as well.
In our main text today, we’re back in 1 Samuel – before David was king. This text marks a transition for David. Before this, he was married to Saul’s daughter Michael. He was best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan. He had fame and respect after defeating Goliath. He was an honored part of the king’s household. But then Saul realized that David might become king instead of his own son Jonathan. So Saul decided to kill David while he still could. Listen to how David’s commitment to relationships change the course of events.
Main Reading = 1 Samuel 19:1-24
Saul spoke with his son Jonathan and with 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 tomorrow morning; stay in a secret place and hide yourself. 3I will go out and stand beside my father in the field where you are, and I will speak to my father about you; if I learn anything I will tell you.” 4Jonathan spoke well of David to his father Saul, saying to him, “The king should not sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have been of good service to you; 5for he took his life in his hand when he attacked the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced; why then will you sin against an innocent person by killing David without cause?” 6Saul heeded the voice of Jonathan; Saul swore, “As the Lord lives, he shall not be put to death.” 7So Jonathan called David and related all these things to him. Jonathan then brought David to Saul, and he was in his presence as before.
8Again there was war, and David went out to fight the Philistines. He launched a heavy attack on them, so that they fled before him. 9Then an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand, while David was playing music. 10Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear; but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall. David fled and escaped that night.
11Saul sent messengers to David’s house to keep watch over him, planning to kill him in the morning. David’s wife Michal told him, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12So Michal let David down through the window; he fled away and escaped. 13Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed; she put a net of goats’ hair on its head, and covered it with the clothes. 14When Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” 15Then Saul sent the messengers to see David for themselves. He said, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16When the messengers came in, the idol was in the bed, with the covering of goats’ hair on its head. 17Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me like this, and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go; why should I kill you?’”
18Now David fled and escaped; he came to Samuel at Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. He and Samuel went and settled at Naioth.
I don’t know about here in Colorado, but in Texas there is a time-honored tradition. Many fathers of high school-aged daughters have a ritual they perform before every one of their daughter’s first dates. The details differ, but the basic goal is to provide the high school boy with some …disincentives for certain behaviors on the date. Some dads who are hunters take the boy to their room showcasing all of their kills. Others are cleaning their weapon while talking. Others are more subtle. I don’t know if that’s a thing everywhere, but in rural Texas it was definitely a part of the culture.
Now I share this, because I think Saul in our text today got things a little backwards. I mean, he gave it a good try. He threatened David with a spear. That would’ve gotten my attention before a first date! But he didn’t threaten David with a spear until after he had already married Saul’s daughter Michal. I think the horse has left the barn already, Saul!
I mean, you might think your family has some dysfunction. But Saul is on a whole other level, right? Our text says, “Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear; but he eluded Saul, so that he struck the spear into the wall.” And our text tells us that the source of his murderous intent is fairly simple: David keeps winning battles and getting the credit for it. Saul is jealous of how the people see David, pure and simple. He also sees the writing on the wall for his own lineage. If David is alive when Saul dies, he knows that David will wind up on the throne instead of his own son Jonathan. Jealousy. Fear of losing power. That’s a dangerous combo. Those are some serious divisions.
In fact, there are quite a few divisions that are or could be present. David would be well within his rights to strike back at Saul for trying to pin him on the wall with a spear. Jonathan would be well within his rights to undermine David as a potential rival. For Michal, it would be easy to see her side with her brother and father and her clan instead of her newly minted husband. At the end of the text, Samuel could easily have sided with Saul – who was Samuel’s own pick to be king – instead of David – who was God’s pick rather than Samuel’s.
Jonathan cares more about his deep abiding friendship with David than holding onto his own power. And in his dialogue with his father, he appeals to doing what’s right instead of doing what’s expedient. He was united with David in more important ways than he was divided.
Michal is in a tight spot. But she finds a way to help her husband without abandoning her father. She sees that she is united with David and Saul in more important ways than she is divided.
David had opportunities throughout the stories we’ve read in this series to kill Saul. But he never did. He was committed to the Lord, committed to Israel’s ability to defend itself against the Philistines, committed to his friendship with Jonathan. Those things were more important to him than the divisions between himself and Saul. Now, David was no fool. He ran away rather than sticking around for some more spear-throwing sessions. But he believed in certain things above and beyond the divisions between himself and Saul.
One of the biggest questions embedded within this text and indeed embedded within David’s life is simple to ask but hard to answer: do our reasons for being united outweigh our reasons for being divided? Or do our reasons for being divided outweigh our reasons for being united? On balance, are we more united or more divided?
David had to answer that question with someone who was literally chucking spears at him. And, interestingly, he decided he was more united with Saul than he was divided. Why? What on earth could be more uniting than a spear is dividing?
The Most Important Things
Well, some of that answer isn’t on earth. I’m pulling from other parts of David’s life, but when he spared Saul’s life multiple times, David called Saul “the Lord’s anointed.” David saw their shared faith as the greatest source of unity. And he repeatedly refused to change God’s timing. He saw his faith – which he shared with Saul – as the most important thing. Everything other division paled in comparison to the unity they had in their faith.
And yes, I think we can say that David had a much more real and meaningful faith than Saul did. Saul was very self-centered. Saul tried to use God for his own purposes. But he still worshiped the Lord instead of someone else. That was enough for David to see himself as being on the “same side” in many respects as Saul.
We see in our text today that David is willing to continue fighting against the Philistines – even after getting some pointy objects thrown at him by the king. After their shared faith, David also saw their shared nationality as a great source of unity. There were some things just naturally important to all Israelites, and sometimes that meant he had to put down his hurt feelings and put down the internal divisions so he could support those bigger, shared things.
We also see in our text today that David saw his deep and meaningful relationships as more meaningful and durable than the divisions that might push them apart. He was more committed to Jonathan as a friend than he was committed to getting his own way.
So David found unity in things that he saw as more important than the divisions. He found unity in his shared faith. He found unity in his commitment to relationships. And at a more base level he found unity on some things with all Israelites – even the one who was chucking spears at him.
The question then turns around to face us: do we find more reasons to be united or more reasons to be divided? Some of that depends on where we are placing our focus.
The comedian Emo Philips tells of a time when he saw a guy laying down in the gutter, looking completely distraught. Worried that he might harm himself, Emo went up to him. Here’s how that conversation went.
“I said, “Tell me what’s wrong!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”
Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Heretic!” And I pushed him back down into the gutter.”
That may be a joke, but it also hits pretty close to home. In theory, Christians everywhere should feel far more united than divided. We share an eternal destination. We share an unfathomable and undeserved love. We have been adopted into the same family through Jesus.
But that’s just the theory. Historically, we as Christians have not been all that great at seeing what unites us. Wars have been fought over church structure. People have been executed for having different views of Communion. When I was in seminary, one of the professors warned us that you can jeopardize your role as pastor of a church if you change the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Incidentally, that’s one of the things we’ve looked at as part of our building renovation plan, so maybe my days are numbered here! The royal blue camp is going to have my head if I favor the forest green option!
Jesus himself framed this pretty directly. In John 13:34-35 Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” We are commanded by Jesus to love one another AS HE LOVED US! That’s a VERY high bar! Our love for one another is supposed to be our #1 witness to the world.
That has historically not been the case within Christianity. But may it be true of us! Maybe love for one another is not true elsewhere, but MAY IT BE TRUE OF US RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW! May they know we are Christians by the love we have for one another.
We have been a church where people don’t all think alike. We have been a church with a diversity of thought. That’s not easy to find these days, and I can tell you that it’s not easy to maintain these days. Our church leadership articulated this as one of the values of our church: to “demonstrate the love of Christ at all times, even when politics or theology might divide us.” May that be true of us.
We have a significant number of people in our church who will vote on opposite sides in this election cycle. Nevertheless, may they know we are Jesus’ followers by the love we have for one another.
We have a significant number of people in our church who focus on different parts of the Bible to come to different theological stances on the hot button issues facing the global church. Nevertheless, may they know we are Jesus’ followers by the love we have for one another.
We have a significant number of people in our church with completely different takes on how safe it is to worship in-person right now during COVID-19. Nevertheless, may they know we are Jesus’ followers by the love that we have for one another.
Christianity hasn’t been great historically at demonstrating love despite our differences. Many churches and many Christians right now aren’t demonstrating love despite our differences. Nevertheless, may they know we at First Pres Littleton are Jesus’ followers by the love that we have for one another. May that be true of us!
This is not an easy task. But David stuck with his bigger values even when he had a spear chucked at him. Are we made of that kind of stuff?
Walking away from each other is easy. Seeing our differences as greater than our shared faith in Jesus is easy. Turning on each other is easy. Only talking with those who agree with you is easy. But Jesus didn’t call us to “easy.” Demonstrating the love of Christ isn’t easy. In Matthew 7, Jesus told us, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” May we find the narrow gate together here at First Pres Littleton. May the narrow way be our way. May it be true of us.
As most of you know, the New Testament was written in Greek. You might have heard before in your life of sermons that the Greek word for fellowship is “koinonia.” It’s the word used to describe the life of the early church. And it very literally means “a relationship among fellows.” But it is only possible if you can see others as your “fellows.” There must be something or some things that form a common bond larger than the things that might divide you. The early church was the fellowship of Jesus. Jesus was the one thing that united the wealthy widow patrons, the wandering refugees, the craftsmen, the slaves, the thinkers, and the outcasts. Those people wouldn’t mix and mingle with each other in a thousand years without their faith in Jesus. But through Jesus they became “fellows” and became part of a world-changing “fellowship.” May that “koinonia,” may that “fellowship” be true of us here at First Pres Littleton.
Sisters and brothers, David was committed to his bigger values even when Saul was chucking a spear at him. Even then, he saw their shared faith in the Lord, their shared status as Israelites, and their shared relationships outweighing the divisions between them.
Jesus said that the world would know we are his followers by loving one another AS HE LOVED US!
Does our shared faith in Jesus outweigh the spears we might want to throw at one another? I believe it does. But I hope that we don’t just think that. May it be true of us right here and right now. Amen.