2 Samuel 1:1-27
June 28, 2015
David is weeping. Even though he is about to become King, now that King Saul has been slain in battle, David is weeping.
He is weeping for the king, for Saul, who had brought David into his own home, made him his court musician, then a leader of armies. He is weeping for Saul, who turned against David, drove him out of the court, hunted him across valleys and mountains. He is weeping for the king Saul might have been, for the tragedy of the end of this – the very first king of the Israelites.
But David is also weeping for Jonathan, the son of Saul. David is weeping for the bond they shared that death has put asunder. Years earlier, on the day David killed the giant Goliath and walked, triumphant into Saul’s court, Jonathan saw David for the first time, and everything changed. Our reading last week put it this way: “The soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”
That covenant was never broken. Jonathan stayed true to David, even while his father Saul was hunting David down. When David and Jonathan had to part for good, when David had to flee forever, the Bible tells us that they met in secret, that they “kissed each other and wept with each other, and 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.”’
And now David is weeping, because Jonathan is dead. He sings the Song of the Bow, one of the finest pieces of Hebrew poetry in the entire Bible. And it ends, “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.”
I was fourteen years old when I first read this story of David and Jonathan. My faith had become very important to me. I was young, and I was earnest. I was going to read the Bible, the whole Bible – all of it. And I had slogged through the tedium of Leviticus and Deuteronomy and been rewarded with the great hero stories in the book of Judges, and the stories of David in First and Second Samuel.
I was fourteen years old, reading this story of David and Jonathan, when one of my best friends came out to me. “I’m a lesbian,” she said. “I am in love with a girl I met at camp.”
I knew that I was supposed to think this was wrong, that she was wrong. I knew I was supposed to think she was a sinner. I knew I was supposed to think she was perverted somehow, that her immortal soul was in peril.
But I was reading the story of David and Jonathan, the story of this epic, life-long bond between two men, a love “passing the love of women.” A love that endured separation and even warfare. A love that lasted unto death. And I started to wonder … were David and Jonathan … you know, gay? And if David – God’s very favorite person in the whole Bible – was in love with another man, and God had made an everlasting covenant with this David … and if the Messiah, Jesus, had to be descended from this David … well, how could my dear friend really be so despised by God? Just because she loved women and not men.
I was fourteen years old. And this was my first experience of reading the Bible “slant,” as some term it, or “up from the underside” as feminist and liberation theologians refer to it. It’s the same method of Bible reading that African-American slaves discovered when they got a look into the book and discovered that God freed the slaves in Egypt … and so God was on the side of slaves. Not the side of the slave masters.
It’s the same method of Bible reading that many Latin Americans in Chile and El Salvador and Nicaragua discovered in the 1970s and 1980s, as they read the Bible while under great persecution from dictators and strong men. And they found in the book a promise that God would cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly … and so God was on their side – the side of the persecuted and the oppressed. Not the side of the dictators.
I was fourteen years old, and I didn’t know any better than to read the Bible like this, reading it with an interpretive lens – a hermeneutic, if you want to use the fancy word – based in love. I believed – I do still believe, with all my heart -- that God is love. That God so loves the world. Enough to enter it. Enough to die for love of it. Enough to redeem it for love.
And as I read about David and Jonathan and their love for one another – and God’s enduring love for David – it gave me hope that God might also love my friend – regardless of whomever she might happen to love.
Now this certainly was not what I was learning in my very conservative, Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church. It certainly wasn’t what I was learning in the wider evangelical Southern Christian culture where I was growing up. But reading about David and Jonathan changed how I thought about my friend. In spite of what the culture and the churches around me were trying to teach.
Listen … I don’t know if David and Jonathan were gay. Not as we understand that term today. We can’t ever really know the answer to that question. Because the Israelite/Canaanite culture of 3,000 years ago didn’t think about sexuality that way – as a basic orientation. There were lots of expressions of sexuality in those cultures, some of them viciously condemned by the Bible … especially the expressions that had to do with idolatrous worship of Asherah or Baal or other pagan gods and goddesses.
There was no cultural model, no possible idea, 3,000 years ago, that two men, or two women, might take a love like the one between David and Jonathan and extend it into a family, into parenthood, into property ownership, into healthcare decisions, into a permanent life together. Marriage in the Bible was meant for men and women, but, despite what some might say, Biblical marriage was not necessarily meant for just one man and one woman. After all, the Bible tells us David had 16 wives and many concubines. And he wasn’t the only one. Solomon, I’m looking at you …
Ancient marriage, Biblical marriage, if you want to call it that, was never about love. It was about real world issues. It was about reproduction. About ensuring a clear succession. About protecting inheritances and providing for the future. It was not about the union of two equal adults, either. In every single Biblical marriage, the men are in charge, and the women are only subordinate possessions – first of their fathers, then of their husbands.
So the idea that people have a basic sexual orientation that determines who you are attracted to and how you might live your life and establish your household – and also the idea that marriage is a union between two equally free and mature human beings for their mutual joy – as our prayer book would put it -- those concepts are just not present in the Bible. And they aren’t present in this story of David and Jonathan.
What is present in this story is love. Love between two adult men. Love that is overwhelming. Love that is permanent. Love that is covenantal. Love that endures through separation and suffering and trials and hard, hard choices. Love that doesn’t quit, up to the moment these two are parted by death, and beyond.
That’s the kind of love that was recognized and honored and upheld by the US Supreme Court on Friday when it made marriage available to all couples wanting to make that permanent, life-long covenant together. Justice Kennedy’s closing paragraph describes this kind of love. He wrote:
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.”
That kind of love is present in all kinds of people in our world today. It is present right here in this church this morning. Between men and women who love each other like that. Between women and women who love each other like that. Between men and men who love each other like that. Between trans people, and queer people and all kinds of people who love each other like that.
These are people who make covenants with each other, like David and Jonathan, because they love one another as their own soul. And now, in our time, in our nation, all of those covenants can now have the protection of the law. And they will also be able to have the blessing of our church.
That’s the kind of love we saw at the county courthouse on Friday, when a group of All Saints folks put together a pop-up wedding reception in the courthouse rotunda to help all those couples celebrate as they came to be married at last. We saw people who had been together ten, twenty, thirty years join hands on the courthouse steps and make those covenantal promises of love.
The politics and the legal stuff and the arguments and the long, long waiting were over at last. There was nothing left, after all of that waiting, but love.
Love that is overwhelming. Love that is permanent. Love that is covenantal. Love that has already endured through joys and sorrows, suffering and celebration, trials, and hard, hard choices. Love that did not quit, even in the face of a world that would not acknowledge it.
A world that would not acknowledge it -- until now.