Reading Ramblings Changeup – August 24, 2014

Date:  Narrative Preaching #9—David & Jonathan: August 24, 2014

Texts: 1 Samuel 20:1-11, 18-42; Psalm 133; John 15:12-17

 

Context: Creating your own lectionary means that sometimes you need to revise things as you realize they could be improved!  As such, this Sunday’s readings will be different than originally planned.  This will hopefully better reflect the chronological flow of Scripture (though the use of Esther last week is a glaring exception!), as well as touch on stories that are distantly familiar and hopefully just as relevant as the originally planned lessons.

 

1 Samuel 20:1-11, 18-42 — The story of David & Jonathan is one often covered in Sunday School but rarely touched on again.  This beautiful story of friendship and the associated costs that can come from it seems so important in a time of increased fractiousness.  As son of the king of Israel, Jonathan’s own interests ought to dictate his rejection of David.  Yet he remains true to his friend, risking his life for him and putting David’s well-being above his own professional advancement as well as jeopardizing his relationship with his own father.  Through all of this we see the guiding hand of God the Holy Spirit, who works in this relationship to preserve the chosen successor to King Saul, David.  Yet the Holy Spirit does not coerce this relationship.  Nor do Jonathan and David become friends out of respective self-interest.  Their genuine affection for one another is—in and of itself– a beautiful gift from God. 

 

Psalm 133 — We were created to live in harmony with all people and all creation, as well as with our God.  Sin has fractured this original intent, so that now at best we are able to live in harmony with a handful of friends and family members.  But wherever and whenever unity is restored, there are echoes of that original harmony that existed in the first days of creation.  Oil is used throughout Scripture in terms of it’s healing qualities, as a sign of richness and blessing, as well as in the specific use of anointing—setting apart someone for a particular role or duty, such as king or prophet.  The imagery in this psalm stress over-abundance, a lavishness that borders on extravagant.  Such is the case, our blessings overflow when we are in right relationship with one another, something that is only truly possible through right relationship with God. 

 

John 15:12-17— Proper relationship with God propels us towards proper relationship with others.  What does proper relationship with others look like, though?  How do we fulfill the command to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Some take this as a call to social justice or disaster relief, dedicating their time and resources and prayers to the alleviation of suffering in various forms around the world.  This is one fine way of seeking to live out these verses faithfully.  But if that is where our efforts to love our neighbor remain, I suspect that we are missing the mark.

I consider myself a pretty loving guy, willing to go the extra mile for someone I barely know.  I think that more often than not, I fulfill this command to love my neighbor pretty well.  Someone riding in the car with me might disagree, however.  Vehemently.  Am I loving to the other people on the road?  The slow ones?  The stupid ones who don’t signal, who break suddenly and inexplicably, who drive the speed limit in the fast lane?  I suspect that viewed in that context, I am very unloving. 

I suspect that many of us have those areas where we would be easily classified as unloving.  And perhaps my reaction is typical—I want to justify myself.  I want to explain why I’m right to get so angry or so belligerent or so frustrated with those people on the road.  But it reveals an attitude of my heart towards my neighbor, and it isn’t a very flattering revelation. 

C.S. Lewis in his famous work, The Screwtape Letters, has his senior tempter instruct his underling to keep the human in question focused on people at the periphery of his everyday experience.  Keep him thinking loving thoughts and praying for the nameless people dying of Ebola in Africa, or being slaughtered by Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq, or starving to death in famine-plagued Africa.  But keep the human blind to how rudely they treat their mother, or their next door neighbor, or their co-workers. 

The truth is that we are all blind to some people, and the closer people are to us, the more dangerous our blindness or dismissiveness of them becomes.  To claim that I love my neighbor because I send a check to a world relief organization now and then may be all well and good, but I need to more closely examine how I treat the people that I interact with regularly.  And not just the ones I already know

I don’t think that Jesus’ words here mean for us to be nice to our friends.  Hopefully we’re already being nice to our friends!  We’re being called to an attitude of love that extends beyond our current circle of friends, family, acquaintances, peers, colleagues, etc.  Our attitude of love should always be seeking to better see those around us—particularly the ones we don’t know.  How aware are we of the check-out lady at the grocery store?  How real to us is the person serving us food in the restaurant?  Are they merely means to an end?  Are they merely tools for self-gratification?  Or do we see these as human beings created by God the Father, who God the Son died to save, and who God the Holy Spirit might be seeking actively to bring into his kingdom?   Are we willing and able to try and engage these people in interaction that might lead to a relationship, a friendship, an opportunity to share the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ?

I am not  a big fan of evangelism that instructs us to become friends only to share the Gospel.  We need to be open to friendships because we are part of creation and these are fellow-creatures.  Who we are in Christ should shine through our words and actions and our willingness to be with other people because we actually want to love them. 

 

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