Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Missed Meal (6/29/14--More Light Sunday)

The Missed Meal
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

June 29, 2014
More Light Sunday

1 Samuel 18:1-4
When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that he was wearing, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.

1 Samuel 20:30-34
Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan. He said to him, ‘You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives upon the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.’ Then Jonathan answered his father Saul, ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ But Saul threw his spear at him to strike him; so Jonathan knew that it was the decision of his father to put David to death. Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food on the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, and because his father had disgraced him.

1 Samuel 20:41-42
As soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. He bowed three times, and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more. Then Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, for ever.” ’ He got up and left; and Jonathan went into the city.

1 Samuel 23:15-18
David was in the Wilderness of Ziph at Horesh when he learned that Saul had come out to seek his life. Saul’s son Jonathan set out and came to David at Horesh; there he strengthened his hand through the Lord. He said to him, ‘Do not be afraid; for the hand of my father Saul shall not find you; you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be second to you; my father Saul also knows that this is so.’ Then the two of them made a covenant before the Lord; David remained at Horesh, and Jonathan went home.                     

2 Samuel 1:25-27
How the mighty have fallen
   in the midst of the battle!

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.

This summer my sermon series is based on famous and some not so famous meals in the Bible.   I will be preaching on texts in which meals provide the setting or the occasion for the story.   

Things happen at meals.  As we know it is at the table that we get to know people.  Meals are the occasions of celebration and the occasions for conflict.   The table is the setting for human interaction.  

Every table has its rules.  Who gets to sit at the table?  With whom do you eat and with whom do you not eat?  Who is invited?  Who isn’t?  Who sits where?  Who controls the table?   

The central sacrament or the sacred event of Christianity is the meal that we celebrate ritually as communion.   It is at that table that we learn who we are as followers of Jesus.    

So I have chosen some stories that feature meals.  At times the meals are the story and at other times they provide the occasion for the story.   Still at other times, the meal is one event among others in the story.   

Today’s story features a meal as an event in a larger narrative.   It is a meal in which a chair is empty.   The table is filled with food, but not with the whole family.     The story is Saul’s table.

Saul was selected to be the first king of Israel.  According to the story, Saul lost favor with the Lord and the Lord through the prophet, Samuel, chose David to be king in place of Saul.  

We all know the story of David killing Goliath, the Philistine, the giant of Gath.  That got Saul’s attention.   Saul brought David into his house and he became a leader in Saul’s army.    The women sang to one another:

Saul has killed his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.

But it wasn’t just the women who loved David. 

For Saul’s son, Jonathan, David was love at first sight.   It is poetically rendered in the first verses of chapter 18:

When David had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.

In other words, Jonathan fell head over heels in love with David. 

A heterosexist reading of David and Jonathan is that they were “friends.”  That’s it, just good friends.  A heterosexist reading bristles and is insulted and offended that there could be anything romantic or, God forbid, sexual between David and Jonathan.   

Heterosexism is seeing the world as if heterosexuality is the norm, good, and from a theological perspective, blessed by God.   Other relationships including same-gender romantic relationships are viewed as impossible, or if not impossible, then certainly not normal, not good, or theologically speaking, not blessed by God. 

Heterosexism is a set of blinders that keeps people from seeing a fuller spectrum of reality.   Heterosexism sees the aunt who has been living with her “friend” for decades as “single” and who just happens to have a roommate.   Heterosexism is unable to recognize the sacred covenant that binds the aunt and her “friend” as lovers, as partners, and as in reality a married couple, even if our various institutions have not recognized their marriage.

Heterosexist readings of scripture have read its stories, including the story of David and Jonathan through a narrow band of light.  So it is good to shed more light, a broader band of light, on this text and on these characters.        

One way to see more light is to have assistance in reading this text from someone who knows from the inside what it is to love someone of the same gender.  A wonderful, liberating, honest book is by Christopher Hubble.  Lord Given Lovers:  The Holy Union of David and Jonathan.   He writes:

“The central truth of this book is that God proves Her love for Queers by affirming and validating the holy union of David and Jonathan.  This truth will remake and reshape our society.  A widespread knowledge of the story of David and Jonathan will save lives and accelerate the progress of our civil rights movement.”  P. 83

The author is a Gay Christian who understands this story.  He is not a trained biblical scholar.   But trained biblical scholars, while crucial to understanding texts, are limited by their own blinders.   That is why we need many eyes, especially eyes from the margins to show the church and the world what they see.    To put it theologically, that is a way that God provides revelation.   In the hymn,  “We Limit Not the Truth of God” we hear this refrain:

The Lord hath yet more light and truth
  To break forth from His Word.

That light and truth comes from voices long silenced telling us what they see.  

What they see is Jonathan’s heart pounding with love for with David.   So much so that he gives him all of his stuff.   Here is the text:

“Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”

In other words, “I promise to love this guy forever!”  And he gave him

“his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt.”

When you fall in love with someone, you give him or her your stuff.   It just happens. That is the first of several covenants that Jonathan makes with David.    

Now David, with his new gear, given by Jonathan who is in crazy love with him, goes out and conquers the Philistines.    Saul is impressed but also jealous and paranoid because the women are singing that David is ten times more potent than Saul.  Saul kills his thousands, but David his ten thousands.  

Saul decides to get David in the house where he can watch him.  He offers his daughter, Michal, to David as a wife.    The text says:

Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. 

A heterosexist reading does not say that Michal’s love for David was just friendship.   Don’t read any sexual overtones into that one.  

Anyway, David marries Michal.   That is expected.  There was no place for the love between Jonathan and David to be recognized.     David is now Saul’s son-in-law.

Saul gets more and more jealous and paranoid of David and tries to have him killed.   Saul even talks with Jonathan about that, but the text says that Jonathan “took great delight in David” in other words, was in crazy love with David and wasn’t about to let Dad hurt him.    

One day David is playing music for Saul and Saul goes nuts and tries to kill him with his spear.  David goes on the run.    At one point he finds Jonathan and asks him why this is happening.   It his hard for him to believe that Saul hates him this much.  So he decides on a test. 

He is to eat the meal to celebrate the new moon.  This is when all members of the household were to eat together.  David and Jonathan and Saul and family members would all eat together.  David decides to skip this meal.    David tells Jonathan that if Saul misses him tell him I had to eat with my own family and if Saul is cool with that, that will be a sign that all is good.  But if Saul is angry, then I will know that I won’t be safe there.    So they work out a way by which Jonathan will communicate Saul’s feelings toward David.    They make another covenant:

“Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.”   20:17

Did I mention these two are in love?

At the meal, Saul does ask why David missed it and Jonathan tells him that he had a family obligation, then Saul is angry with Jonathan.  Here is the giveaway language:

“You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!  Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?”

The storyteller through this language is telling us that Saul knows that Jonathan and David are lovers by use of us these words, “perverse, shame, nakedness.”   Same gender relationships have been around as long as there have been relationships and heterosexism has been around just as long.  How many meals have exploded with anger from the angry father.     This is the meal where what has been bubbling underneath finally surfaces.    David and Jonathan’s love is dangerous. 

Jonathan communicates to David through a method that they devised that it is not safe for him or for them.    According to the text:

“…they kissed each other, and wept with each other;  David wept the more.  Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since both of us have sworn in the name of the Lord, saying, “The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants, forever.’”  20:41-42

The remaining chapters show David on the run from Saul.  David has the opportunity to kill Saul and doesn’t.  He takes the higher road.  Finally, Saul recognizes this about David and they reconcile and Saul blesses David who will be king.    

Later Jonathan and Saul are killed in battle and David laments:

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.

What is fascinating and liberating about this tragic story is that the narrator has no condemnation of David and Jonathan’s love.  The language of their love is beautiful and poetic, heartbreaking and true to experience.   It is filled with sacred language, the language of covenants made before God.   There is no hint here that God does not bless their relationship even if Saul does not. 

David is of course one of the most important characters in the Old Testament.  Second to Moses, in some senses he is even more important than Moses.   The great hero of the Bible, King David, has a same-gender relationship that is blessed in the eyes of God.     A heterosexist reading cannot see this, of course.   

A heterosexist reading will spend a great deal of effort, scholarship, money, and power to communicate that the Bible or even God forbids same-gender relationships.    But that is simply not true.    Sometimes we need a story that reveals more light.   The love between David and Jonathan can be that story.   You’ll never convince those who are steeped in a heterosexist reading to accept that.   That isn’t the point.  The point is for LGBTQ folks to accept it.   

It is difficult to overcome messages by authority figures that are condemnatory.  We can beat up on ourselves and believe that we are sinners or are wrong or abnormal for a variety of reasons.    The tragedy and the sin of the church has been its condemnation of LGBTQ people and its misreading of its own texts to bolster up its prejudice. 

I am pleased that the Presbyterian Church (USA) is slowly, at a speed peculiar to Presbyterians, realizing that covenants are important.    The General Assembly this year approved for clergy and churches to use all the sacred mojo available to them to bless these God-given and God-blessed relationships.    That is a done deal.    For instance the wedding at which I officiated for my daughter Katy and now my other daughter, Amber, last November, would now be legal in the eyes of the PCUSA.    Clergy can do their pastoral work of participating in sacred covenants, which is really what we do, without fear of disciplinary action. 

The General Assembly also has sent a measure to the presbyteries to change our constitution to expand marriage to two people.    I am confident that this congregation will do everything in our power to assist in passing this resolution through our presbyteries.   When the church finally does the right thing, we need to support it.

The church is changing and the larger culture is changing and there is a reason why.  It is because courageous folk have claimed who they are and have said,

“This is who I am and this is who I love.”

When I go to speak at college classes or on the radio or in sermons or one on one to people, I go upheld by your courage and your witness and your full spectrum of light.   The “Sauls” of this world can be mean and ruthless.   But love is stronger.   

This congregation is important in communicating the inclusive courageous, love of God in this area.   Our congregation has taken a leading role.   In addition to hosting holy unions and to hosting our social gathering on every second Sunday evening, we now need to ask what more can we do?   

I can see the need of supporting PFLAG Tri-Cities that meets at the Presbyterian Campus house on the third Thursday.  I can see perhaps some small support groups in our church to offer spiritual support for LGBTQ people and allies.  A study of the book I mentioned earlier might be a way to go.    Finding a way to work with at risk LGBTQ youth is on the agenda.    Our More Light sub-committee is collecting ideas.    We have the resources and we have the need.    Spirit is moving among us to help us put resources and needs together.

David and Jonathan weren’t able to be together at the meal that Saul hosted.    It was a meal that didn’t allow for their love to be recognized and celebrated.    That is not Christ’s table.   Christ’s table is open to all.    Christ’s table is changing all meals.    

Christ’s Spirit is moving and making change.

How is God calling you to be that agent of change? 


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