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The Nature of A Friend - April 30, 2017

1 Samuel 18:1-16

David and Jonathan have one of the most prominent friendships in the Bible. In fact, we don't often hear about friends in the Bible so the few we do learn about become even more important. David and Jonathan set the bar high.

For a bit of backstory, our story picks up just after David, the shepherd boy, kills Goliath, the giant Philistine. Saul is the king of Israel. His oldest son is Jonathan. After David killed Goliath, he had to go to king Saul and tell him what had happened. Jonathan had the privilege of listening in. And afterward, as today's scripture says, Jonathan was impressed and became

David's best friend and strongest advocate. They were boys at the time and continued to be friends for years to come.
From that description, we might not think much of it...David and Jonathan...boyhood friends who remain friends for life. I'm sure many of us have at least one childhood friend who withstood the test of time. But the power of their friendship isn't just that they stayed friends, but that they were friends in the first place. Let's see why.
David was a laborer. He was a shepherd. He spent his days watching the flocks and his nights sleeping among the sheep to protect them. He didn't come from money or power.
Jonathan was a prince. The eldest son of the King of Israel, which meant he stood to inherit the throne. He didn't have to work...not in the way a laborer would. And he came from both money and power.
On an ordinary day, these two would never even interact, let alone become friends. luck would have it, David was chosen to fight Goliath...and he won using his slingshot. So, as he told the tale, he was privileged to meet both the king and his son. And his son, a peer, stood in awe of what David had done and he pledged loyalty to him. Now, even that may not seem all that strange...we can see how those things would logically fall into deciding he would be David's friend, Jonathan made a covenant to stand by him in thick and in thin. To prove himself, Jonathan gave him gifts..." his own royal robe and weapons—armor, sword, bow, and belt." Not just any old robe or any old sword...but his. The prince gave the shepherd the prince's belongings...not extras from the closet, but his own. And, Jonathan broke the rules of propriety...kings and princes didn't associate with common people. But Jonathan did. Breaking the rules of society can be challenging anywhere, at any time, but especially for those who have the most to lose. David and Jonathan challenge us to be aware of how we are crossing boundaries in our friendships. Are we staying within the lines? Are we minding what society dictates? Are we holding fast to what we believe about *those* people? Or are we looking at people as people...individuals with individual qualities and characteristics that are worth learning and investing in?
David and Jonathan did something enormous in daring to be friends, but then they pushed it even further. In the passage, Marcy read we hear how David becomes incredibly successful and popular...that God was with him and people could clearly see it. And, as a consequence, King Saul became intensely jealous. He tried to kill David...twice by throwing a sword at his head. Then he sent him back out to war...hoping that would kill him. It didn't. So then Saul went at it differently...he told David he could marry his oldest daughter. David didn't think that was reasonable...he was a nobody, she was a princess, but the king insisted. So they were engaged. Only then Saul reneged and gave her (yes "gave her"....this was back in the day) to someone else. I'm not exactly sure what was in Saul's head...he was hot, then cold, then hot, then very very cold. Maybe he thought he'd do better to have David in his court since everyone loved him so much, but he sure wrestled with the threat of someone being more popular than he.
Finally, Saul allowed David to marry his other daughter Michal...sadly that didn't resolve much for them either. Saul continued to hate David and vie for his death. And through it all, Jonathan stood by as a faithful friend. Imagine it. His dad absolutely hated his best friend. And he continuously tried to get him killed, and yet Jonathan stood by David, again and again, and again. And beyond that, he stood by the man who God has said will take the throne from Saul...the one who, in essence, is taking it from Jonathan, and yet Jonathan stands firm.
Jonathan shows incredible loyalty, kindness, and care for his friend. It seems there are no stakes that are too high. Not reputation. Not expectations. Not the desires of the king. Not the loss of his own power. Not even the threat of death. Jonathan remains a friend through all of it. That's pretty powerful. Jonathan was never a fair-weather friend.
So what do we take from them? How does their story have anything to do with ours? Well, in a couple of ways. 1) We can look for ourselves in their story. Are we Jonathan? Are we the loyal friend who shows such humility that he would give and sacrifice anything? Or are we David who receives incredible opportunity and love when nothing says he should? Or are we Saul? Are we bitter and fearful of what we might lose if someone else is cherished and loved, so much so that we rage with hate and ire? Who are you in this story? And what is God saying to you? Is God giving you the courage to face the enemies head on? Or gratitude for the love and compassion of a friend? Or is God calling out to your bitter heart?
Another way we can look at their story is as a witness for us in our own lives. They break through social constructs. How many of our friends are different than us? Not just in one or two ways, but in many ways? How many of our friends have a different level of education? Live in a different part of town? Speak a different language? Enjoy a different level of privilege? Have we found ways for our lives to intersect with other people or do we stay close to home with those who are comfortably like us? Now, if our friends aren't very different from us, we might try and think about being open to new friends, with new beliefs, and different backgrounds. That doesn't mean we spend our days hunting for someone "different"...but it does mean we look up, we say hello, we say hello not just when we know someone but when we don't, not just when they look "nice" or "proper" but when they look disheveled or harried. It means we take the time to listen, even if on the first pass, we'd rather just keep on walking.
David and Jonathan also give us an example of true friendship. They push beyond rules and reputation to the individual person. They see one another as a person...regardless of what others may say. And, they give us an example of fierce loyalty...through the worst that life handles. Have we courageously been standing by our friends, despite what people say about them, or have we cowered in silence and fear?
I'd like to end with this quote from a quaker woman named Emily:
"Friendship can be risky. It is risky to step across that invisible boundary that separates us from each other; risky to befriend a stranger or embrace a neighbor. It is risky to open your own home in hospitality and welcome a stranger in your own living room. It is risky to enter into community with people who don't look like you and who come from other cultures. It is risky to socialize with those whom society calls outcasts. It is risky to get involved in politics on behalf of the vulnerable. It is risky to be generous; risky to offer a brother or sister the bread off your table or the shirt off your back.But risky friendship is God's kind of love, and it is love that knows no fear. Love is as strong as death."

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