My Friend! My Child!

Rev. Scott Summerville

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said: Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult. You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty.

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. 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. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet
and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”
But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

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There are days when the Bible speak to us in quiet words of comfort: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul….”

But this is not one of those days! The Bible speaks to us today in stories that are drenched with passion and emotion.

A young man cries out in stinging grief at the death of his dearest friend. A father cries out in anguish to Jesus for the life of his little girl and a crowd of family and neighbors gathered around a house shrieking and wailing as the word goes around that the child has stopped breathing. A woman pleads for relief from chronic illness. So many deep passions are touched upon in these few verses.

These are intense times in which we are living, and these are intense words we hear today from the Scriptures:

“O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. 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.”

The voice of David, sick with grief as he learns that Jonathan, his soul mate, has been killed.

“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live!” The voice of a father, Jairus, a proud and powerful man, devastated and desperate, throwing himself before Jesus and begging for help.

As my secretary Barbara and I were preparing the worship bulletins this week, she was sick with worry over her son and awaiting word from the tests on his bones, and I, the preacher, was pondering the story of a sick child and a desperate parent. How wonderful that the news was so positive for Barbara and her boy.

It was in this same week that we were all seeing the video and still photos of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman shot in the heart in Tehran a week ago. In the video it is her poor father who cries out her name again and again, as life bleeds from her body, and that haunting look comes over her eyes and pierces the heart of anyone who sees it.

In the gospel Jesus took the girl by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about… and the word went out to the crowd gathered around the home, and shrieks of grief turned to shrieks of joy. It is the joy every parent and relative has felt when a child has escaped from danger. It is like life beginning at home over again.

There was and there is no such joy for Neda’s father and mother, and in fact the government issued an edict prohibiting mourning for her in the mosques of Iran.

For now the clubs and the bullets have spoken in Iran, and for a time brutality has silenced the passionate voice of freedom. But only for a time. Passion for freedom is a powerful force, ultimately more powerful than any tyranny.

As I was preparing for worship this week and looking at the scripture readings I also thought of those in our congregation who, like David, have lost dear friends. Some of those friends who are now gone were people who lived long and full lives and the sadness of parting is mellowed with thankfulness for the long sharing of life enjoyed with them. Some of these friends did not live to enjoy the full span of life, and that is hard to comprehend and to accept. The grief for those gone too soon burns and hurts inside. David’s grief today is grief for a young a friend. I know for some of you that strikes close to home.

King David was in the news this week. The governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, compared himself to King David last week. It never ceases to amaze me how much religion there is in the news these days. The governor said to reporters:

I have been doing a lot of soul searching on that front. What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily, he fell in very, very significant ways. But then picked up the pieces and built from there. I remain committed to rebuilding the trust that has been committed to me over the next eighteen months, and it is my hope that I am able to follow the example set by David in the Bible – who after his fall from grace humbly refocused on the work at hand. By doing so, I will ultimately better serve in every area of my life, and I am committed to doing so.

What do you think about that?

Governor Sanford is being called a hypocrite, because he has proclaimed himself to be a family values politician while living by very different values himself. He had to cancel an upcoming speaking engagement at a family values convention. Fair enough; he certainly left himself open to that criticism. Some people are saying that conjuring up King David is cheap political trick by the governor: he confesses to adultery and then in the next breath compares himself to the greatest of Israel’s Kings.

Even if those criticisms are valid, as I looked at the face of the governor at his press conference I saw strain and anguish and confusion in that face – and I did see something of King David. I saw a highly intelligent and gifted human being caught in a sordid mess, tangled up in his own passions, wounding himself and injuring those dear to him.

If the governor wants to play King David just for convenience, to reclaim his power and authority, then he deserves all the criticism he gets. But if he wants to play the whole part of King David, he will have to suffer the way David suffered, not just to keep his power but to keep his soul. And, believe me, David suffered plenty. If he really wants to play King David, Governor Sanford will have to deal with the people he has injured, and he will have to deal with God. If he really intends to play David, he has not chosen an easy way out. There is no figure in the whole Bible who suffered more sorrow than King David.

It’s easy to judge people; it feels good to do that, and public figures make themselves such tempting targets, but if the story of David teaches us anything, it is that leaders are human, and life is not a straight clear path, and any one of us can find ourselves on the wrong road and in deep trouble.

It is an interesting coincidence that we read about David and Jonathan on this day of the Gay Pride Parade. Many gay people who have been told that the Bible condemns them and God condemns them and religion condemns them, have taken some comfort to the story of David and Jonathan. According to the biblical account, David and Jonathan had an extraordinary friendship, and as we heard already, David cries out at the death of Jonathan, “My brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”

Quite a statement. Does this hint that between David and Jonathan there was a relationship that was more than just an intense friendship? Probably not, after all David’s greatest crime was his rape of Bathsheba and murder of her husband Josiah, and that was a result of lust for a woman, not for a man. Even so, many gay people take comfort in this notion of intense friendship – this profound love and the connection – openly and passionately expressed – between a man and a man.

One reason that I have chosen to make the trip into the city and to participate in the gay pride parade is what happens at the very end of the march. When the march starts out, you are in a wide avenue with crowds all along the sides waving and mostly cheering, though a few people are holding signs telling you that gays are going to hell. In the broad avenue it is a parade, a happy time.

At the end of the parade you are walking through a narrow street in Greenwich Village; you are so close to the spectators that and you are seeing people’s eyes, making eye contact, reading the emotions in their individual faces. And you know that some of these eyes are the eyes of young people who are homeless and rejected by their parents because they are gay. You know that all of them who are gay have heard very harsh shaming messages coming from religious people all their lives. When they see the church groups and church people marching in solidarity with them and offering signs of affirmation it means something very special. You see the effect it has and you realize that this witness is a ministry, that is reaching souls with the gospel message of Jesus’ love. You realize that you are participating in a work of healing in the name of Christ and the Church.

Jesus spent his life in the midst of human intensity: grief, sickness, shame, hunger, political oppression. Day in and day out he extended a healing hand and a healing word everywhere he went. How blessed it was to hear those words and feel that touch.

And even now we can hear his words, open our lives to him, commit our lives to his work, and feel his touch. It is even possible that others may feel his touch through us.

May it be so.

Shalom, salaam, grace and peace to you.

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