Saturday, August 18, 2018

Welcoming Jesus

Matthew 10:40-42
August 19, 2018 
William G. Carter

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent meWhoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Some years ago, my wife and I landed on the mystical island of Iona. Located off the western coast of Scotland, the small island has an abbey that traces its roots back to the sixth century. The abbey has been rebuilt over the last eighty years, and it now serves as a center for spiritual retreats.

We arrived on an August afternoon in time for the evening worship service. Taking our seats in the ancient stone sanctuary, we discovered we were in the midst of a Christian youth conference. There were people in their teens and early twenties who gathered there from across Europe, and they had planned the vespers.

“We welcome you in the name of Jesus the Christ,” said the youthful leader, announcing the theme of the worship service was hospitality. “But rather than make this a theoretical concept,” she said, “we would like you to stand up, find somebody that you do not know, and go sit with that person through the rest of the service.” To my astonishment, everybody did.

On a sparsely populated winter Sunday in my own congregation, I can’t people to move three rows forward, much less sit with people they do not know. I’ve invited, begged, cajoled, even bargained to shorten the sermon, but with no result. Folks settle back, fasten the seatbelts in their favorite pews, and fold their arms, as if to say, “You’re never going to get us to move.”

But here was the miracle on a mystical Scottish island: people got up, introduced themselves to strangers they had never met, and then moved somewhere else to sit together for the rest of a worship service. Can you possibly imagine something like that? It was a miracle, a miracle of Christian hospitality.

I wonder why this has to be a miracle, and not a regular practice. Perhaps if we go to a church on a regular basis, we begin to stake out a place we can call our own. Maybe we like the freedom of sitting near an aisle, or the comfort of dwelling within the pack. If we perceive ourselves to be outsiders or even observers, we might sit near the back. If we aren’t concerned with what anybody thinks of us, maybe we march down front where we sing as loud as we want.

Just last Thursday, I met with the leaders of a congregation where the pastor has announced his retirement. As we were getting acquainted, one of the elderly women reminded everybody that she had a favorite pew. “Not only that,” she said, “it’s my pew, because it was my mother’s pew. Even though she’s been long gone, it feels like she is still here somehow as long as I can sit in my own family pew.” Curiously enough, or perhaps not so curiously, her congregation has only about a dozen people sitting in any of the pews these days. There is no credible threat that anybody will ever steal her seat, but there is the real possibility that, unchecked, her congregation could implode and disappear.

This is a sermon about hospitality. Hospitality is the opposite of guarding your own turf. Hospitality is making room for others. As the spiritual teacher Henri Nouwen said so well, hospitality is “the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.”[1] To be hospitable is to create that space, to make room for strangers. It is an intentional act of welcome, not merely a concept we think about but an act that we do.

Pause for a minute and remember the last time when somebody was hospitable to you. What happened? How did it feel?

A good friend noted many years ago, “Churches can learn a lot about hospitality if they pay attention to good restaurants.” A thriving restaurant is always expecting new people. Strangers are warmly greeted, even directed toward a good seat. Fresh drink and warm bread are offered before the newcomers even ask. Questions are answered, no matter how apparently small or trivial. There was nothing that intentionally excludes, no insider jargon, no assigned seats, no dress code nor inappropriate demand. It’s as if they are expecting you to come, and glad when you do. That’s how a restaurant does it. And if the food is tasty and nutritious, there is a good chance the visitors will return.   

This is more than friendliness. Most congregations regard themselves as friendly. They say, “We are a friendly church.” To translate: some of us have been here forever, and we greet the others who have been here forever, and some of us have even gotten to be friends. That’s a very different thing than creating space for somebody you do not know.

Hospitality originates in an open heart. That is why it is difficult – if we do not know the stranger, we might grow fearful of the stranger. But to have an open heart, to welcome someone with an open heart, is to take a significant risk: that stranger might change me! The stranger may have different view on matters that seemed settled, and that pushes me to enlarge my understanding. They could have significant needs, and that challenges me to care more deeply. They may come from a set of different life experiences, which presses me beyond my assumptions and privileges.

As Henri Nouwen writes, “If we expect any salvation, redemption, healing and new life, the first thing we need is an open receptive place where something can happen to us.”[2] Not merely to the stranger, but to us, for all of us, in some sense, are strangers too. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus, who is also a stranger, comes to us. He comes with a challenging voice, a fierce clarity, and a grace that sounds unbelievable. His love comes with a surgical precision that can heal the hurts that we have quickly dismissed and covered over.

So, I take Father Nouwen to say if there will be salvation, redemption, healing and new life, they will come by welcoming Christ the Stranger, the unexpected one, who brings us the power of God. And one of the specific ways we welcome Christ and God is by welcoming the stranger that he sends to us.

This is a challenge. Some of us remember the voices of our parents: don’t talk to strangers, don’t make eye contact with people you don’t know, don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable in any way, for “stranger” rhymes with “danger.” To make room for a stranger can feel like a threat, and many prefer to build walls, wire up security systems, and put more police on their block. They would rather live in fear than freedom. They prefer isolation to authentic human community.

Yet sometimes, like Jesus, the Stranger comes anyway. My mother, for instance, often warned us not to talk to outsiders. But my mother also liked having a full house. Four children weren’t enough, so we found ourselves opening our home to exchange students. Over the years, there were seventeen different exchange students, living with us from two weeks to a full year. When I would go home during college breaks, there would be somebody different sleeping in my bedroom. I was exiled to a cot in the basement to make room for the mayor’s daughter from Ecuador, the shy scientist from Tokyo, the perky blonde from Stockholm, or the industrialist’s son from Berlin. When they were in our home, they were treated like sons and daughters. It was an important lesson for me to ponder on my basement cot, and in time I came to embrace it.

As I grew up and began to study the New Testament, I came to understand the profound truth at the heart of all Christian faith: that all of us are guests at God’s table. None of us own the church; it is God’s church. None of us can stake a claim on any of these pews; they are God’s pews. Since all us are guests, we are called to make room for all the other guests, to welcome them as they are, not as we prefer them to be. In the incredible hospitality of God, we are not only welcomed ourselves – we are cracked open, released from our self-defined isolation, and brought into the presence of others who could benefit from the same truth and grace that God has offered to us.

As I said, this lies at the very heart of the Gospel. The apostle Paul said as much to a congregation of people in Rome that he had never met: “Welcome one another, just as Christ as welcomed you, for the glory of God.” It’s not merely good advice for a friendly bunch of Christians. This is the clear reminder that God’s glory is revealed among a group of people who make room for one another. We are more than names on a stick-on nametag. Each of us is a living story, a breathing soul, hungry for the kind of love that takes us seriously.

It can happen, and among those who are spiritually alert, it does happen. At a recent gathering of folks who are interested in joining our congregation, one of the people had the courage to confess she didn’t know very many people in our church or our town. It took a lot of courage to say that out loud, in a room of strangers. Next thing we knew, the newcomer sitting next to her invited her to her home that afternoon, and I’m sure there were some fresh-baked cookies when she arrived!

This is how God is glorified: people make room for one another. It’s called hospitality. We may think we are offering it to somebody else, but we are the ones who will be changed. The truth is all of us are guests at God’s table. Hospitality is one guest making room for another guest.

I remember the miracle of that evening on the mystical island of Iona. There we were, my wife and I, strangers in a room of strangers. We were each invited to sit with other strangers around us. She struck up a short conversation with an engineering student from Manchester, I met a young architect from Belgium, and all of us worshiped together. We sang to a God who gathers us in, prayed to a Savior who loves us all, and gave our offerings to the Spirit who nudges us beyond our tendencies to stick to ourselves.   

There is Gospel in such a moment. Jesus says to all his strangers, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Lest we think that life and faith and church are primarily about what we do, what we believe, and whom we reach out to welcome, Jesus turns it inside out. Life, faith, and church are also about who reaches us, who welcomes us, whose lives are affected because of us.

This, too, is the work of Christ extended beyond us, ever enlarging the circle, whether it’s offering a cold cup of water to those who thirst, learning the name and life story of the person in the next pew, or finding a home for an immigrant family from another country. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” he says. He means it.

In fact, near the end of his time among us, Jesus told a true story about the future. He said the day will come when all truth will be revealed, and all people will be sorted. The single question at the heart of God’s judgment is whether we have opened our hearts to the people around us. Or as Jesus will say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (25:35). Everybody will be astonished, he says, and every single person will ask, “Lord, when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you?”

Remember what he says? “Truly I tell you, just as you welcome one of the least of these, members of my family, you did it to me.

This is important stuff. It is so important that, very early in Christian history, a group of monks agreed that whenever a guest came to their monastery, they would open the door and say, “Welcome, Christ!” They did not want to miss the opportunity. As St. Benedict wrote in his rule of faith, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” (Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 53)

One time, I checked into a monastery for a few days of prayer and study. As I signed the guest register, the guest master actually said it out loud, “Welcome, Christ!” I looked from signing my name and said, “Better safe than sorry?”

He smiled and replied, “Better to be open-hearted than shriveled up.”

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] Henri J. M Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (New York: Image Books, 1975) p. 71.
[2] Ibid, p. 76

Sunday, July 29, 2018


2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
July 29, 2018
William G. Carter

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals . . .  David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet ... As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

Regardless of his wife’s reaction, and in spite of any other bumps in the road, this was the biggest day in King David’s life.

He has had a lot of big days before. The day that the prophet Samuel knocked on his father’s door – that was a big day. Samuel was looking for a new king. God had gotten disgusted with old King Saul, and told the prophet, “Go to Jesse’s house, because one of his sons is my next choice.” So Jesse opened the door to the strange old prophet, who went down the line and sized up each of his seven sons. Samuel said, “Are these all you have?” Jesse said, “Well, there’s one more, little David. He’s out in the field, tending the sheep.” Sure enough, God said, “He’s the one.” So Samuel made him kneel, and anointed him right there in the family living room. He wasn’t quite the king yet, but it was a big day.

His victory over Goliath – that was a big day. Little David was sent by his father to deliver his brothers’ lunch boxes on the battle field and discovered everybody in the army was moping around. Just then, that big Philistine stepped out to insult the Israelites for the 40th day in a row. He was enormous, built like a tank and just a heavily armored, and he had to be ten feet tall. David shrugged. He went down to the river bank, picked up five smooth stones, and put one of them in sling. He ran toward the giant, whirled the contraption around his head, and planted the first stone in a bullseye. Goliath dropped to the ground. That was a big day.

David has had a lot of big days. The day crazy King Saul threw a spear at him and he ducked just in time – that got the adrenaline going. Sneaking out of his house just ahead of Saul’s assassins – that kept the adrenaline going too. Staying three steps ahead of jealous King Saul, leading his own band of marauders against the Philistines, avoiding angry King Saul’s slaughter of the Jedi Masters in the temple, outliving the heretic King Saul and his last son’s attempt on the throne – I guess you could say every day for a David was a big day.

But the story we just heard tells about his really big day, and that was the day they brought the Ark of the Covenant into the City of David. David is the king now, so he can name a city after himself; we know it as Jerusalem, but he called it the City of David. And for some reason, after neglecting it for twenty years, David brings the Ark out of storage and directs a parade to bring it into his capital city.

Now, the critics make some snarky comments about this. One of them says this was a political move. He hasn’t needed that box with the Ten Commandments inside it for the last twenty years. Why would he need it now? Given the spoils of war, the slaughter of enemies, and the taking of multiple wives and concubines, it’s not like he has kept all the Commandments. So some of the scholars, Walter Brueggemann among them, say that David is trying to prove that he’s bona fide, that he’s finally the legitimate king, that he has God with him. And we can understand the criticism. Every king wants God on his side, if only to justify the royal decisions. More to the point, every king wants God in his pocket, to justify the royal authority and buttress the royal power.

We could almost believe that’s the plot afoot … except that there’s a bump in the road. Quite literally, there’s a bump. The ox cart stumbles, the Ark of the Covenant begins to fall, and a holy lightning bolt zaps a hapless attendant named Uzzah. It’s a terrifying reminder that God is not in that box, that God has given them a chapter in the old book of Exodus about how to respect that box, and God will not be trifled with. The parade stops and stalls for three whole months. Nobody wants to touch that box. In fact, they probably had to find an old copy of Exodus to learn the proper way to handle the box that contains the Words of God.

In any case, David was very upset. The text says he was “angry with God.” Then, after a pause, the text says he was “afraid of God.” We can dare to venture he was angry that God was not the least bit interested in being manipulated for political purposes. And when anger passed, there came a proper reverence – what the Bible calls “the fear of the Lord,” not a phobia kind of fear, not a cowering kind of fear, but a joyful kind of fear – call it a great, big “WOW.” And with that, the parade starts up again.

What a remarkable, noisy procession it was! Thirty thousand people were singing and shouting the same song at the same time. And the musicians cut loose, too. If you’re going to have a celebration, you need some musicians. They did: there were trumpets, lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. Any good parade is going to have a lot of cymbals.

With all this joyful noise, David started to dance. David had to dance. He bounced, he boogied, he clapped his hands, stomped his feet, and gyrated his hips. When he worked up a little perspiration, he pulled off his tunic, tossed it in the air, and kept dancing. The more he danced, the warmer he became, so he pulled something else off, and kept dancing. Pretty soon, he was dancing in the same suit he wore when he was born, and he didn’t care.

His wife cared. Maybe she didn’t care much about him, but she cared about his reputation. He was the King of Israel, and here he was, moving and grooving to the castanets, naked and dancing the Funky Chicken without hesitation or restriction. She groused about it, “That’s no way for a king to behave.” But he ignored her, because there is something more important than anything else, and that’s the experience of being totally alive.

That’s what we have here – a snapshot of a man who is thoroughly joyful and completely alive. Like I said, it was the best day of his life.

Have you ever had a day like that? A day where you totally lose yourself in something so enormous?

Summer is the season for big concerts. That’s a possible analogy, I believe. Large crowds of people gather in massive amphitheaters to listen to music that they remember from twenty or more years ago. Like my friend Jeff who was here last Wednesday night to play his trumpet. He drove home in the rain to Syracuse, and two nights later he went to hear the band Chicago. It made him smile, him and twenty thousand of his closest friends. The energy was palpable. He enjoyed it, deeply enjoyed. And then, he said, as a musician, he would rather be playing in a band than listening to one. That’s where he pours himself out. It’s where he loses himself.

I think of people who lose all track of time when they are doing something larger than their own soul. Like the lady I know who fixes meals for a group of homeless men. She slices up onions, cooks up stew, pulls homemade pies out of the oven, all for a group of folks who could never repay her. “How much time do you spend down there?” you might ask. She looks at you, the screen completely blank, and she says, “I don’t know. I forget to look at the clock because I enjoy it so much. It’s what I was meant to do.” That’s what a good day looks like to her.

Of course, there are others who just can’t dance, are unwilling to ever lose themselves in anything, much less ever get lost. And often they squelch the joy in others. Years ago, when I was single and speaking at a Bible conference in Virginia, I asked my daughters if they wanted to go out for ice cream. They squealed and ran to the minivan. When they got there, they said, “Can we ask Emily and her mom to go to?” Emily was a girl the same age as one of them, and Emily’s mom was a young widow, a very pretty young widow. Of course, they had already invited them.

So I said, “Sure, let’s go, I’m buying,” and off we went, all of us. It was completely innocent. We went for ice cream, brought the cones back to the conference center, got out of the car. Then one of my girls said, “Come on, Emily, let’s go to the playground.” They start to run off, and Emily’s mom yells, “Emily, you walk like a lady. You behave now, you hear?” It took all the air out of the little girl’s tires.

Later that evening, one of my girls said, “What’s wrong with Emily’s mom?” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, in a seven-year-old’s wisdom, “She didn’t want her kid to have any fun.”

I’ve often wondered when we stopped letting kids be kids. For that matter, when did we tell adults to stop being kids? If the Bible story today has any juice, it’s about the experience of pure joy, the availability of delight, and the possibility of ecstasy.

Do you remember the last phrase from today’s opening first hymn? “Lost in wonder, love, and praise.” The selection was intentional, because it points to a primary aim of the Christian life. To be caught up in the moments when everything clicks, to be intoxicated by the deep truth that we are alive because God is alive. It is OK to lose ourselves in wonder, OK to love so deeply that we give ourselves away, OK to be caught up in the thunderous work of praise. It’s more than OK, because the things are real, as God is real.

“Lost in wonder, love, and praise.” I happen to believe this is what heaven is like – not merely “then” but “now” - and I also happen to believe that Jesus, the Son of David, comes to bring heaven to earth – to unite them in such a way that the joy of heaven begins here and now, right here, and continues forever.

And I also happen to believe a few things about hell. Hell is a place where uptight people fight about which dinner fork to use, or bicker over the proper dress code at a banquet where the main course is a cold steak, and they argue vehemently with one another over the precise time when the meal will be served and everybody keeps watching the clock.

You know what? I’d rather be lost in wonder, love, and praise. This is why: life is full of challenges. Every day is not a good day. But when the good days come, they are always a gift, and they have the power to carry us through all the days and nights that aren’t so good.  

As the David story moves on from here, it’s going to have some bumps. He will resume fighting against the Philistines, and start fighting the Ammonites and the Arameans. One day in the palace, he will spy another man’s wife and decide to steal her, and then try to pretend that God isn’t watching. He will lose a child in birth, and later he will lose another child who rebelled and tried to kill him. His palace will be full of all kinds of bad behavior, and it will wear him out.

Yet beyond it all, is the memory of this day, a good day. Beyond it all is the hope that tomorrow could also be a good day. Beyond it is the truth that God rules over all of us, that tragedy may be real but it never has the last word on us, that pain and difficulty come to all of us but God invites us through and beyond all the pain and difficulty, that death comes to each of us but life continues, and it continues abundantly.

There’s something so much more than the brokenness that we know so well. It’s the joy, joy as if from the other side, beckoning us forward and setting us free. So dance, David, dance. Even if your wife complains and the winds blow against you. Even if the guy driving the ox cart makes a terrible mistake, keep dancing. Push the rhythm of that tambourine. Stomp your feet. Raise your hands.

Lose yourself in something so much greater than yourself. Lose yourself in joy. Lose yourself in love. Lose yourself in praise. Lose yourself in God; for then, you will not be lost but found.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Welcoming Mephibosheth

2 Samuel 4:4, 9:1-13
July 22, 2018
William G. Carter

Saul’s son Jonathan had a son who was crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled; and, in her haste to flee, it happened that he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth...

David asked, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and he was summoned to David. The king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “At your service!” The king said, “Is there anyone remaining of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?” Ziba said to the king, “There remains a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” The king said to him, “Where is he?” Ziba said to the king, “He is in the house of Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.” Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. David said, “Mephibosheth!” He answered, “I am your servant.” David said to him, “Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always.” He did obeisance and said, “What is your servant, that you should look upon a dead dog such as I?”

Then the king summoned Saul’s servant Ziba, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. You and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him, and shall bring in the produce, so that your master’s grandson may have food to eat; but your master’s grandson Mephibosheth shall always eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants. Then Ziba said to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so your servant will do.” Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. And all who lived in Ziba’s house became Mephibosheth’s servants.

It is an astonishing story. For all of his swashbuckling exploits and his macho persona, David was capable of kindness.

Here’s the story. A lot has happened since the last time we were together. King Saul and his son Jonathan were in a battle with the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. The battle did not go well. Jonathan and two of his brothers are killed in battle. King Saul also dies in a questionable and dishonorable manner.

On that terrible day, the news comes that Saul and Jonathan have died. It seems Jonathan had a five-year-old son named Mephibosheth. He was just a boy, tended by a servant. She scooped him up, ready to run away and carry him to safety. Somehow she stumbled, the little boy fell. He broke his legs or his feet; the orthopedic surgeon was unable to give us a proper diagnosis. All we know is the little boy never walked again.

The nurse servant got him out of there. She hid him in a little town, out in the middle of nowhere. And there he stayed while the nation went through more turmoil. Apparently Saul had a fourth son who should have been out in the battlefield with his father and his brothers. When Saul and the others were killed, it was the general of the army, General Abner, who declared this fourth son, Ish-bosheth, should be the new king.

I guess neither of them had been reading the Bible. If they had, they would have known that David had already been secretly anointed as the next king. A couple of renegade soldiers knew it, because they cut off the head of Ish-bosheth, thinking that David would approve of their help. He did not, and that’s all we have to say about that. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of political maneuvering and military nonsense that went on for a while.

And the whole time, Mephibosheth is hunkering down in a little village that nobody would be able to find. You see, this is the way it worked: when the new king comes to power, he gets rid of anybody related to the old king. There’s no continuation of authority. The new broom sweeps clean, although in that day, it was usually a hatchet or a sword that did the sweeping. They were brutal times.

Maybe not so different from our own. I will never forget when a few of us were having lunch in a small cafĂ© in Port-au-Prince, on our first mission trip to Haiti. A well-dressed man walked in and sat two tables away from our group. Our guide froze. She looked terrified. After we left, she explained that man had been a leader of the secret police for Papa Doc, the notorious dictator who once ran the country. She said, “We should have gotten rid of him while we had the chance.”  

This was the way a transfer of power happened in ancient times: eliminate anybody from the old palace. And then David, the brand new king, asks, “Is there still anybody left from the house of Saul?” They find one of the old palace servants, a man named Ziba. As the story will later reveal, Ziba is an unsavory fellow. For now, he bows before the new king, and then he rats on Mephibosheth. Ziba tells David how to locate the young man in the town that nobody could find. More servants are dispatched, and Mephibosheth is brought to the palace.

So imagine what he’s feeling. The Philistines had it in for his father, his grandfather, and his uncles – and they are still out there somewhere, making trouble. His other uncle thought he should be the king, but he was eliminated rather quickly. This new king David is not from his family. At best, David had married his aunt, but by all accounts, that marriage is not going well. David has a growing reputation. His power is growing exponentially and he summons Mephibosheth to the palace.

They bring Mephibosheth, who is unable to stand on his own, unable to walk, unable to run away. And maybe the young man knows that the new king David has already issued a decree: “Nobody blind or lame shall be admitted into the king’s house (2 Samuel 5:8).” That decree is staring him in the face: “Nobody blind or lame shall be admitted into the king’s house.”

So David calls out his name, “Mephibosheth!” Yes, sire. There’s a long pause, and then David says, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you are going to eat at my table. I regard you as one of my family.”

It is an unexpected move, the last thing Mephibosheth could ever imagine. He knew where he came from. He knew what was usually done to members of the last ruling party.

And he had this disability. As one of the scholars says, “The term ‘crippled in both feet’ implies four characteristics: (1) economic vulnerability, (2) physical vulnerability, (3) permanent immobility, and (4) religious alienation.”[1] That is, not only did the greater society think of him as marginal, but that God had somehow declared him expendable.

Mephibosheth calls himself “a dead dog.” He says, “Who am I, that the king should look upon a dead dog such as I?” (9:8).

David knows who he is: this is the son of Jonathan, his dearest friend. And this is the son of Saul, the first king that God gave to the people. As David and Jonathan made a covenant to always love one another (1 Sam 18:3), the covenant continues in the next generation. It’s like the covenant that David’s great-great-grandma Ruth made with Naomi: “Your people shall be my people; where you go, I will go (Ruth 1:15).”

David knows who he is: this is the son of Jonathan, worthy of his continuing kindness. And David knows something more: Mephibosheth is also a child of God, worthy of an even greater kindness.

In the nuances of the story, David asks at first, “Is there anybody left in the house of Saul, that I might show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (9:3) But then he goes on to ask, again, “Is there anybody left in the house of Saul, that I might show the kindness of God?” (9:3). That’s what he says, the kindness of God… the word here is chesed, usually translated “loving-kindness.” This is continuing kindness, unearned covenantal kindness. It’s the closest thing in the Jewish scriptures to the New Testament word “grace.”

So this is an enormous moment, if only because it is the only time in Jewish Bible where it speaks of “the kindness of God.” And that kindness is not only shown to the grandson of an enemy who is also the son of a friend. It is kindness shown to a man whose disability has made him vulnerable in his world and therefore expendable.

I think we know the lesson here, without overdrawing it. But it is worthy of emphasis again, with a remarkable story like this one. Who are we going to welcome? Those who are fit, healthy, unblemished, and physically capable? Or do we welcome the rest of us, who may have some part of us that is unfit, unhealthy, a bit blemished, with physical challenges?

It would be enough to simply recount a few stories. Back in the early nineties, when we were planning to renovate this building, we met with architects who were capable and imaginative. Our building task force was every bit as capable, maybe even more so. At one point, as we looked over some blueprints, one of the architects said, “Now, you know, the church is exempt from having to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act. That could save you some money.”

The task force looked at him, sized him up as well intentioned. Then one of them said, “We know we are not bound by a law to make this building more accessible to people with disabilities, but why wouldn’t we?’ The opinion was unanimous. There had to be cuts in the curbs, doors and aisles wide enough for wheelchairs, and other small but critical decisions to make rooms like this available and accessible to all. How else would we show the kindness of God?

A few years after that, I had a friend who was the activities director at a nursing home. She asked if she could bring over some residents for a Sunday morning worship service, and we said, “Sure!” We pulled out a pew so a few wheelchairs could get in, and she showed up with eight people. No problem; we are resourceful Presbyterians. Another pew was taken out, then another, and everybody rolled in. We had enough forethought to make extra large-print bulletins and asked the organist to play a little louder than usual.

In a hospitable gesture, the Deacons offered to prepare a nice dinner for our guests. Dieticians were consulted, tables were set, spaces prepared for the wheelchairs, hosts and hostesses were deployed. After the benediction, we suddenly discovered the real challenge: how would we get eight people in wheelchairs to the room downstairs? There was no elevator.

Some of the prevailing voices of that era said, “There’s nobody here who needs an elevator; we’re not going to spend the money on an elevator.” Well, of course there was nobody here who needed an elevator, because the people who needed an elevator weren’t going to bother with a building that they couldn’t get around in. They stayed home.

Suddenly, despite all best intentions, eight people were here in wheelchairs that morning, and we had tables set for them downstairs. And it was the second week of December. It was snowing and there was ice on the sidewalk. As we wheeled our guests out to the sidewalk, in the snow and ice, and backed them down the hill to the lower level, there was a moment when three of our guests almost became Catholics.

We can laugh at ourselves now, but there is nothing funny about welcoming Mephibosheth. The recurring question of every church, of every decent human being, is “How might we welcome those that the world shuts out?”

Now, granted, kindness was not the most obvious character trait of David, Israel’s favorite king. Goliath was not the beneficiary of David’s large and generous heart. Neither were the two hundred Philistines that he carved up to win the hand of his first wife in marriage. Neither, for that matter, was his first wife highly respected; David had a hard time staying home.

Yet here’s this thin slice of experience, when Mephibosheth is welcomed and fed as one of his own, as one of God’s own. Just like our own uneven experiences of welcoming those whom the world pushes out or pushes away outcasts, there are the occasional moments when we get it right. And the vision is set before us: how would it be to truly welcome everybody --- in the name of God?

A thousand years after David, there came a holy man, a healer who touched the untouchables and healed whatever he could. And this holy man, Jesus of Nazareth, had such an enormous heart that the people of his time called him the “Son of David.”

One day, he said, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind…and you will be blessed (Luke 14:13-14).” I like to think he learned that lesson from great-great-grandpa David. But I think he probably learned it from his Father in heaven. For such is the kingdom of God, a dominion where everybody experiences God’s kindness – and there are no barriers, boundaries, or stumbling blocks, physical or otherwise.

In the meantime, we have saints from time to time who remind us what the kindness of God looks like, how it feels. I think of the Rev. Fred Rogers, Mister Rogers. In the new documentary about his life and work, there is a clip of Fred chatting with Jeff Erlanger, a child in a wheelchair.[2] There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater. These were not tears of sympathy or pity. Nobody dared to say, “there, but for the grace of God…” Oh no.

Because we know what David could see at his table. Grace is when you befriend a young man with profound disabilities and treat him as a child of God – because he is. All of us are.

All of us.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] Elias Yemane, Mephibosheth: Transformation by a Covenant Love (Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing ) 27.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

I Could Have But Did Not

1 Samuel 24:1-12
July 15, 2018
William G. Carter

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the wilderness of En-gedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to look for David and his men in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. Afterwards David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David scolded his men severely and did not permit them to attack Saul. Then Saul got up and left the cave, and went on his way. Afterwards David also rose up and went out of the cave and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.

David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of those who say, ‘David seeks to do you harm’? This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave; and some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, see the corner of your cloak in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the corner of your cloak, and did not kill you, you may know for certain that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life. May the Lord judge between me and you! May the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you.”

One of the easiest things to do is to divide the world into “friends” and “enemies.” To think this way is to declare there are people who are on your team, and others who are not.

It happens among nations, perhaps beginning with a border dispute, an unfair tariff, or a difference of politics or religion. Lines are drawn, boundaries are fortified, and those in power decree who is friend and who is enemy. You can’t be both, you are one or the other.

It happens in communities. Differences of perspective may harden into differences of opinion. Informal lines are drawn, tempers flare, parents tell their children not to play with the children of “those people.” Fierce divisions form, sometimes developing from the smallest matter. You are either on this side or that side.

It can happen in families. Perhaps the long standing feud begins with an unfair bequest, a curious engagement, or a social slight unintended or otherwise. Separate tables form at the family reunion, or someone noticeably chooses not to attend at all.

Which will it be: friend or enemy?

In a long section of the David story, David is on the run because Saul has declared him an enemy. For the better part of the last five chapters, the young hero has had to stay on the move. Oh, it was a great day when David took down Goliath and scattered the Philistine army. It was something King Saul and his soldiers couldn’t do. And that is when the trouble started.

David comes into town, the people cheer, the women dance to the sound of tambourines, and Saul is angry. They never did that for him, and he’s jealous. Imagine what a jealous and somewhat incompetent king can do!

From that day on, Saul has his eye on David. He accidentally throws his spear on David, just missing him. It was, as we used to say as kids, “accidentally on purpose.” Then Saul gives David an army job to get him out of town, figuring the Philistines will finish him off in battle. Yet David’s success continues. He returns to the city and the people cheer even louder.

Then the king hears that one of his daughters has a crush on David and that really sets him off. He tries to hand off another daughter, the ugly one, but David says, “No, I have my eye on the one who has her eye on me.” So the king thinks about it. He decides to go along with the marriage, provided David will get for him a hundred Philistine foreskins, preferably with the Philistines no longer attached. It’s a ridiculous request, and little bit dangerous, but David meets that challenge too, so the king is obliged to give him the girl.

And from that day on, goes the story, King Saul was David’s enemy (1 Samuel 18:22). The animosity started with jealousy, deepened in fear, and bubbled up in rage. Saul threw his spear at him a second time, hired some assassins to slay him in his daughter’s bed. David escaped, paused long enough to give Saul’s son Jonathan a big hug and a blessing, and then ran full speed into the desert down by the Dead Sea.

That’s where the story for today begins. Off the western shore of the Dead Sea, which you know is one of the lowest elevations on earth – 1412 feet below sea level. Nothing much lives there; that’s why it is called the Dead Sea. Surprisingly there is an oasis there called En-gedi. It has a fresh water spring, a waterfall, some palm trees, and some animals that might be tasty for the exiled traveler and his small band of supporters. Everything you might need in a desert oasis!

That oasis also has some deep caves in the hills surrounding the waterfall. King Saul gets word that David and his supporters are hiding down there, so he sets out with an army of 3000 men. David and his guys take shelter in one of the caves. They keep quiet as the king’s army scours the hillside.

And then, as we heard, something incredible happens. The king himself feels the call of nature. He climbs into one of the caves to relieve himself – and it’s the same exact cave where David and the others are hiding. Saul doesn’t see them, his eyes temporarily blinded by the bright desert sun. David’s men whisper, “Here’s your chance. The Lord has given him into your hand.”

So David creeps up behind the king. He has his dagger in his hand. The king doesn’t know he is there; apparently he was preoccupied. And David takes that dagger, raises it, and cuts off part of the royal robe. Then he creeps back into the shadows and waits for Saul to finish his business and leave.

I try to imagine the whispers in the cave: What did you do that for? What did you get a piece of the robe when you could have had his throat? Why would you let this war continue when you could have finished right here and now?

But David, it seems, had a twinge of conscience. Yes, indeed, the Lord had indeed given Saul into his hand. And it was also the Lord who had selected Saul to be the first king of the nation when the people had prayed for a king. He was, in Bible speak, “the Lord’s anointed.” David, as you know, was already the Lord’s next anointed, but the regime change wasn’t going to happen this way. As Walter Brueggemann comments, David wasn’t going to stick a dagger in the heart of someone “squatting in vulnerability.”[1]

So David waits until Saul departs. He waits a little longer until Saul is across the mountainous valley. Then he crawls out of the cave, yells to the king, and waves the piece of cloth that he has cut from the royal robe. Saul stares in shock, spins around to see a missing chunk cut out of his robe. Then he hears David say, clear as a bell, “I could have, but I did not.”

“I could have, but I did not.” What a rare and remarkable thing to say! We all know a lot of people who wouldn’t have thought twice about such an opportunity. Life has trained them to act now, think later, feel their feelings long after the job is done.

Certainly David himself is capable of such clear and decisive action. That day he confronted Goliath the giant, he didn’t pause on the battle field and declare he had second thoughts. With a nine-foot-tall Philistine bearing down on him with full armor, he didn’t stop and reflect on his feelings. No, he swung the sling around the head and let it fly.

And that moment in the palace, when he was strumming his harp for the king, playing such soulful, healing music for all who could hear it, David saw King Saul stand with his spear and thrust it in his direction. So he ducked. He didn’t plead with the king and ask, “Did I play a wrong note?” No, he got out of the way.  Sometimes you have to act.

What’s remarkable about this moment is that it reminds us sometimes you don’t have to act. And you don’t always have to react. Sometimes it is best to use some restraint.

These days, that word “restraint” sounds like a garbled word in a foreign language. First thought that comes to mind, tweet it for the world to see. That embarrassing picture is immediately put on Facebook. The music that is too time-consuming to pay for is downloaded without permission from those who made it. And if somebody has a gripe, grudge, or an unsubstantiated complaint? Give an anonymous call to Talkback 16 and let your neighbors know.

I was chatting with a group somewhere and one of their cell phones went off. She took the call and started a new conversation while the rest of us were trying to continue our conversation. No hesitation. And the guy next to me had no filter, either. He interrupted by beginning a third conversation about how rude it is for somebody to take a call when something else was going on. No restraint in him, to be sure.

When the air cooled a bit, one of the group said she had instituted a new rule for her household: no cell phones at the dinner table, and that includes going to the restaurant, too. A couple people stared at her and one said, “What if somebody tries to reach you?” She said, “I sit at a table to eat and talk to the people who are with me. Anything else can wait until we’re done.” Now, that’s the practice of restraint.

In an instantaneous society, do we really need everything right now? Do we need to respond and react to everything? Of course not. We know that. But the technology makes it so tempting, doesn’t it? While I was working on this sermon at my computer, I had a second window open in Amazon and added three things to the shopping cart. Then I remembered: this is a sermon about restraint, the spiritual practice of holding back and holding off.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, the American historian, tells us something we didn’t know about Abraham Lincoln. When he felt the urge to tell someone off, he would compose what he called a “hot letter.” He would pile all of his anger into a note, and then set it aside until his emotions cooled down. Then he would write at the top of the page, “Never sent, never signed.” That meant General George Meade would never hear from his commander in chief that Lincoln blamed him for letting Robert E. Lee escape after Gettysburg.[2] Imagine that: a president who could practice some restraint. Who knew?

It would have been all too easy for David to give in to his impulse and sink that dagger into the man who wanted him dead. His companions were egging him on – “Do it!” And they added their own spin on the spiritual dimension – “David, God has put King Saul into the palm of your hand. Go ahead and take him out.” But he did not do it. That’s restraint.

Many years later, along comes Jesus, the Son of David. He’s in a garden late at night. Suddenly Judas Iscariot steps out of the shadows and gives him a kiss. A band of thugs grab hold of Jesus, and one of Jesus’ own friends takes out a dagger and starts waving it around. He cuts off a man’s ear. Jesus shouts, “Put that weapon away! Everybody who uses a weapon will perish by a weapon.” That’s the truth, according to Jesus.

And then, listen to what he says: “Don’t you think I could appeal to my Father and he would send twelve armies of angels? But that’s not the way God’s script unfolds (Matthew 26:47-53).” Instead of ramping up the violence, Jesus uses restraint – because that is always the way of God. God does not win over people by blasting them away.

When God comes down from heaven, he is found, not as an armed soldier but as a peasant child in a feeding trough. And when that child grows up, he looks into the eyes of a woman caught in an act of unfaithfulness, then looks into the eyes of the mob that dragged her – and not her partner – before him. He says, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” The scene freezes and everybody walks away. That is how restraint can save somebody’s life, how it can save a number of lives.

The New Testament word for this is “forbearance.” It means to give somebody some breathing room, to hold back and give somebody some space. When Paul writes to his church in Rome, he says it is God’s restraint, God’s forbearance, that saves your life and mine. Paul says, “Do you despise the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience?” (Romans 2:4). This holy kindness is what gives us the freedom to return to God. God has no interest in punishing us, because God wants to welcome us.

This is how we are called to regard one another. That other person over there, the one you can’t stand, that person is unfinished, just like you. Can you grant them room to grow and to grow up? Are they allowed to flourish, just like you?

In a grand and unexpected move, David steps out of the shadows into the bright light. He calls out to King Saul, waves the corner of the royal cloak, and says, “Why do you listen to those who say I want to do you harm? I could have but I did not. I have not sinned against you even though you are hunting me to take my life.”

Do you know what King Saul says, when he finds his voice? I didn’t read the next paragraph, but I will give you the pithy summary. King Saul looks at David and declares, “You are the kind of king that our nation needs.”

And in that moment, the enemy no longer looks like an enemy.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press) 166-169.
[2] Maria Konnikova, “The Art of the Unsent Angry Letter,” New York Times, 23 March 2014.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

More Than a Bromance

Series: Beloved Rascal
1 Samuel 17:55-18:5, 20:1-42
July 8, 2018
William G. Carter

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. 

There you have it, in black and white: the Bible affirms that two men can love one another and make a covenant to each other. Are there any questions?

For some people, this is a startling text. It’s like finding a pebble in the oatmeal. David has just accomplished the ultimate macho deed. With the simplicity of a sling, he has taken down Goliath, the fearsome Philistine giant. His valiant deed has chased away the Philistine army, at least for a while. It’s an impressive moment on the battlefield. King Saul askes his general, “Who is that kid and where did he come from?” Neither one of them know.

When David arrives to introduce himself to the royal court, the head of the Philistine still in his hand, Jonathan, the firstborn son of the king, take an instant liking to him. Actually it’s more than a “liking.” The storyteller says, “The soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” When David moves into the palace at the king’s demand, Jonathan made a covenant with David, and the storyteller says a second time, “because he loved him as his own soul.” This is the word of the Lord.

It is no surprise to all of us who remember the family tree of David. He had a great-grandmother named Ruth. Ruth made a covenant with a woman named Naomi. They took a pledge to one another and said, “Where you go, I will go, and your people shall be my people.” Know how I know that? The lady preacher read that passage at my wedding fifteen years ago, as two divorced people pledged their lives to one another. I took her people as my people, and she did the same.

Now the objection may be sounded: if David had a great-grandmother who made a covenant with another woman, there must have been a man in the picture too, if only because David’s grandfather had to be born, in order for David to have a father. That’s true. Ruth married a man named Boaz. She did that after she made a covenant with Naomi.

If all this sounds confusing, I should point out that sometime after David and Jonathan made their covenant together, David married Jonathan’s little sister. Her name was Michal, and she was the first of his many wives. If that sounds weird, you should hear about the dowry her father demanded. All I know is this is biblical morality, and I don’t argue much with the Bible.

Is it possible for two men to love one another? Good question. It’s a question that makes some people twitch. As various societies and cultures have expanded and declined, there have been many ways that households have been formed and people have chosen to live together. In the past few weeks, I’ve come across three different people who were raised by their grandparents; the mother and father were nowhere in the mix. I also think of some unmarried people I know – Beverly in Manhattan, David in New Jersey – who felt God’s calling to adopt orphans as their own daughters. These have been costly commitments on their part, and a lot more courageous than something I would ever do. There are many different ways to construct a family, to build a household, and the Bible certainly reveals that too.

Again, the objection may be sounded: What about Paul and what he said to the anything-goes practices of the Roman Empire? A closer look reveals that most of those texts are addressing abuse and idolatry, hardly the same as covenant making.

Or other objectors harken back to the ancient purity codes of Leviticus, where the temple priests declared what was clean or unclean. Eating lobster, for instance, was considered unclean – a law that God Almighty later undermined in the tenth chapter of Acts. Touching a leper was also unclean, and Jesus himself stepped over that law to heal some lepers that he regarded as fellow human beings.

But let’s stay with David and Jonathan for a bit, because we must never talk about matters of the heart in the abstract, as if there are timeless principles or scientific propositions that govern what is “right” or “wrong” in human relationships. David and Jonathan are not theoretical principles; they are real people in flesh and blood who love one another. They have names. They have lives. And the Bible says they have souls.

Three times in the first verse of chapter 18, the Bible speaks of their souls touching one another. In our parlance, we might say they were soul mates, soul partners, or soul friends. In the old King James Bible, it’s translated, “their souls were knit together.” Now, that’s the essence of love.

Have you ever had somebody you’ve felt that way about? After he was sent to a boarding school as a teenager, the author Frederick Buechner describes his first friend that he made:

Like me, he was either no good at sports and consequently disliked them, or possibly the other way around. Like me – though through divorce rather than death – he had lost a father. Like me, he was a kind of oddball – plump and not very tall then with braces on his teeth and glasses that kept slipping down the short bridge of his nose and a rather sarcastic, sophisticated way of speaking that tended to put people off – and for that reason, as well as for the reason that he was a good deal brighter than most of us, including me, boys tended to make his life miserable. But it was Jimmy who became my first great friend, and it was through coming to know him that perhaps I was not, as I had always suspected, alone in the universe and the only one of my kind. He was another who saw the world enough as I saw it to make me believe that maybe it was the way the world actually was.[1]

It’s a brilliant description of how I’ve come to love many of the people that I’ve loved. There is a commonality, a shared space, a stunning realization that we are not alone, and that we don’t have to be alone. We are partners who share values and make commitments, seatmates on Spaceship Earth. What happens to one of us will alter what happens to the other one of us. In the days after Goliath the giant is defeated, Jonathan and David agree to get through life together.

This is the beginning of an extensive friendship, the longest recorded relationship like this in the whole Bible. It is a life-giving bond, and turns out to be a lifesaving one as well. Within just a few paragraphs of the text, King Saul, Jonathan’s father, becomes intensely jealous of David’s success. More than a few times, he takes a spear, throws it at the shepherd boy, tries to perforate him and pin him to the wall. Jonathan becomes David’s confidant and his advocate, which only drives Saul further toward insanity.

Some might suggest that is the true nature of the relationship. David is in need and Jonathan takes pity on him. Or, as is the case of many human relationships, it begins and develops out of mutual neediness, as two needy souls circle around one another. But the biblical text is repeatedly clear: “Their souls were knit together” (18:1), Or again, “Jonathan loved David as he loved his own life” (20:17). 

And after the terrible day when Jonathan and his father are killed in battle, David sings this lament, “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.” (2 Samuel 1:26). Yes, it’s there in the text; who are we to argue with the Bible?

I reflect on the deep friendships that I have known in my life, and I invite you to reflect on the friendships you have known. There are people that I’ve loved so much that I would walk through fire for them. How about you? And maybe the beginning of the relationship was relatively unimpressive: the teacher assigned you to sit by one another in English class, or you noticed the pretty eyes of someone in the dormitory lounge, or you met in the gym after work.

I think of my great friend Jim, who voted to approve my candidacy as a minister in 1981, has had second thoughts about it, and has been my roommate at countless preacher conferences since. Or my dear friend Virginia, lost to us all through breast cancer; she could complete my sentences and then try to improve them. Or my friend Al, the saxophonist, first a terrifying teacher, then a colleague, now an occasional employee and a true-blue soulmate. Or my wife; mutual friends tried to fix us up when we were recovering from divorces, and quickly discovered we didn’t need their help.

C. S. Lewis wrote a wonderful book on love. He suggests that God’s hidden hand is behind all of these relationships which first appeared to begin so randomly:

We think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting -- any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.[2] 

So David and Jonathan became good friends, soul mates, companions who truly love one another. In a real mystery, God brought them together. What a blessing that neither one of them had to negotiate the next few chapters alone!

Let this be a reminder to us all that love is the gift of God, the giving of God’s very essence to God’s own children. From time to time, we are nudged out of our isolation and our independence, and brought more deeply alive by those who reveal their beauty … and ours. I sincerely hope you have people that you love, without hesitation or restriction, and I deeply hope you know there are people who love you. Love is the greatest gift of God.

We give thanks for this gift, however love finds us, whatever shape it takes. Love is the gift that is so far behind our all-too-common tendency to conflict, division, and short-sighted judgment. So today, let’s simply affirm and celebrate the divine truth, that God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them (1 John 4:16).

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey (New York: HarperOne, 1991) p. 70.
[2] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: HarperOne) p. 114.