The Ties That Bind Us

(I credit the idea for this sermon to Renita Weems. I heard her speak at Riverside Church in 1997.)

In this worship series on Blessed Be the Tie That Binds I want to tell you a story about how love binds us together. The story begins with a 15 year-old, cocky-as-they-come, boy named David who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will protect him. David’s people are lined up for a battle against the Philistines and the Philistines have a great weapon, a giant warrior named Goliath. As Goliath stands and taunts them, little David offers to kill Goliath for them. The king….King Saul…agrees to let David try. But first he puts his own armor on David. King Saul doesn’t have the same surety of faith that God will protect this young man. But David shrugs off the battle armor. Instead he finds five stones and heads off to take on Goliath without any protection except his certainty of faith.

He goes into battle with a giant and sure enough it turns out just as David predicted. He kills the Philistine giant and then takes Goliath’s own sword and cuts off his head. The teenage David walks back towards King Saul’s tent carrying the head of the enemy. Saul says, “Young man, who is your father?” “Your servant Jesse is my father,” David says.

And that is all it took. As soon as David answered Saul we are told that King Saul’s son, Jonathan, found that his soul was bound to this young man. Jonathan, the oldest son of the king was about 10 years older than David and whatever happened in that exchange made Jonathan love him. Was it David’s surety of faith? Was it David’s humility in the face of such triumph? Is this a story of same gender love, which some scholars have conjectured? Perhaps. We don’t know.

What I know is that I find the words of this text absolutely beautiful.
…the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
Blessed be the tie that binds. Jonathan’s soul was bound to the soul of David. This kind of declaration of love doesn’t get spoken that much in our Bibles. It sounds more like a romance novel or a Rumi poem.
O Beloved,
Take me,
Liberate my soul.

David appears to be a passive recipient of Jonathan’s commitment and dedication. It is Jonathan’s soul that is bound to David’s. It was Jonathan who made a covenant with David. It was Jonathan who took his own robe, the royal robe of the oldest son of the king, and gave it to David, along with his armor, sword, bow and belt. Jonathan was generous with his love, his commitment and his things.

The story of Jonathan’s love doesn’t end here. It isn’t long before King Saul sees the young David as a threat. Saul’s children and all of Israel have fallen for this charismatic young man who God seems to love more than Saul. Saul tries repeatedly to turn his family against David, but Jonathan will have none of it. When Jonathan learns that his father is plotting to kill David, Jonathan goes to David and pleads with him to hide away. Jonathan then tries to reason with his father but it just infuriates Saul so much that he throws a spear at Jonathan and says, “You son of a perverse rebellious woman, don’t I know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame.” The battle continues for chapter upon chapter with Saul plotting David’s demise and with the help of Jonathan and others, David successfully escapes time and time again.

Finally, the night before another battle with the Philistines, Saul makes a clandestine visit to a woman people called the Witch of Endor. She warns him that he will not make it out alive if he goes ahead into battle. Saul goes anyway. Jonathan and two other sons of Saul are killed. Saul is badly wounded and he knows he doesn’t want to be taken away and made sport of by the Philistines. So he falls on his own sword and ends his life. When David learns of the death of Jonathan he sings these words:
Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
Greatly beloved were you to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Passing the love of women.

David, who has been the recipient of Jonathan’s love sings out for the world to hear. He declares the depth of the way he felt for Jonathan. He wants the world to know.

Saul is dead. Jonathan is dead. You would think that all this crazy battling between Saul and David would be done….now that Saul is no longer trying to kill David. No. That is when the battle between the house of Saul and David ensues. As Saul’s remaining family tries to hold on to the kingdom, they go after David. There are battles. There is intrigue. When the dust settles, Saul’s family, which is also Jonathan’s family….has lost to David ….the new king.

David unites the kingdom and brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. When these things are accomplished, he sits down and asks a question: “Is there anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” This comes from the mouth of a man who had been treated so poorly by many in the house of Saul. But it wasn’t for Saul’s sake that he asked that question. It was for Jonathan’s sake, for the sake of the man to whom his soul was bound by love.

The night that Jonathan helped David escape his father’s house, Jonathan made a covenant with David. “God will be between us forever and with our descendants.” David had not forgotten the tie that bound them. “Is there anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Jonathan had a son who was just five years old when Jonathan died and the battle between David and Saul’s family began. The little boy’s name was Mephibosheth. He was the oldest son of the oldest son of the king. His nurse had picked up the five year-old to rush him to safety but in her haste she dropped him, crippling him in both feet.

What was left of Saul’s family was Mephibosheth. He was no threat. In asking for Mephibosheth David was honoring the covenant he had made with Jonathan. So Mephibosheth was brought to the king’s palace, not of his grandfather, but of the man who his grandfather hated. David was paying a debt but I wonder how Mephibosheth felt. Be suspicious of the kindness of kings. Is this a ruse of David’s to finish off the House of Saul, once and for all? No. This is a kindness motivated by friendship and love….motivated by the tie that bound two men together. David had promised to remember the love he shared with the man who was supposed to be his enemy….a promise made during war and kept during peace time.

It is really a story about how Jonathan’s love changed David. Brash, charismatic, sure of himself and God’s love for him, David’s existence threatened the king. But Jonathan didn’t and wouldn’t share his father’s hatred of David. Jonathan is the child who challenges his parents’ conclusions. He refuses to honor his father’s demons. Why David befriends Jonathan makes perfect sense to me….Jonathan was next in line to the kingdom. Why Jonathan befriends David makes no sense. He says to David, “Remember me. Remember my descendants. We are bound to each other, always.”

David’s way of remembering Jonathan…of saying thank you for the tie that binds…of letting go of the hatred of Saul…refusing to repay hatred for hatred…but to remember kindness with kindness …love with love…welcome with welcome ….to extend a hand to someone like the hand that was extended to him. For everything that he had gained was not worth what he had lost.

“Bring Mephibosheth to me!” he says. Mephibosheth is terrified. “What do you want with a cripple like me?” he asks. “Don’t worry,” David says. “I will show you kindness like your father showed me. I will give you the land your grandfather owned. You will always eat at my table….for Jonathan’s sake.”

Love is what binds us together…soul to soul. Love is what changes us. Love refuses to honor the hatred of our ancestors. Love gives a measure of what sometime…long ago…someone gave to us. Love allows us to say “Thank you” when we didn’t get a chance to say “Good-bye.” What is your story of being bound together? Who can you welcome…not for Jonathan’s sake…but for Jesus’ sake? Blest be the tie that binds us together in a love that will not let us go. Amen.