Sermon for October 4: The Gift of Friendship

Robert Keefer - The Gift of Friendship

Sermon Series: Relationships in God's Family

The Gift of Friendship

World Communion; October 4, 2015

I Samuel 18:1-5

There are some amazing friendships in the Bible. For today's message, I will tell you about two of them, then remind you of what Jesus had to say on the subject. I've said to you before that in the Bible there is a lot more about friendship than about marriage: proverbs, wise sayings, pieces of advice. And two really great stories.

One of those stories is the entire book of Ruth, some of which I told you in a recent sermon.[1] Ruth was a young woman from Moab, who accompanied her mother-in-law Naomi back to Naomi's home in Bethlehem. Naomi had lost everything, or so she thought, so much so that when she got home and her neighbors greeted her as Naomi (a name which means "Pleasant") she said they should not call her that anymore, but "Mara" (which means "Bitter"). She said that the Lord had treated her bitterly.

But Naomi hadn't lost everything. Yes, she had lost her husband and both her sons, but she had Ruth. Naomi did not yet appreciate that fact. Ruth went out to work in order to support both of them. When Naomi saw an opportunity for Ruth to marry well, Ruth obeyed her and it turned out as Naomi hoped. Ruth was married to a wealthy landowner named Boaz, who admired Ruth for, among other things, her loyalty to her friend Naomi (Ruth 2:11-12). Naomi may not have thought that Ruth's friendship meant anything, but it was important to Ruth and it was important to Boaz. Boaz and Ruth were married, and their first child was a son named Obed. When Obed was born, the midwives cleaned him up and then put him in the arms of Naomi. The women also knew the value of Ruth's friendship; they said that Ruth was better for Naomi than seven sons would have been (Ruth 4:15).

The anchor for Ruth's life was her love for her friend, her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi didn't value that as Ruth did, until a wriggling baby in her arms showed her the value of that friendship. But Ruth's husband Boaz and Naomi's neighbors saw the gift of Ruth's friendship, and these neighbors praised God for that gift.

The other great friendship to tell you about involves Ruth's great-grandson, a young shepherd named David. Yes, that David. David went into service with King Saul; he played his harp and sang for Saul when Saul went into one of his rages. He also went out and slew a Philistine strong-man named Goliath… oh, you know that story? Anyway, after he returned from slaying Goliath and telling the King about it, he happened across the King's son Jonathan. Jonathan fell for him big-time. The story of David and Jonathan is the original bro-mance. I read you the part where it started, and how Jonathan stripped himself of his clothes and weapons and gave them to David, and how they made a pact with each other.

The great thing about their friendship is how much it meant to them and how much it did for the people of God. Jonathan was the heir to the throne, but he pretty quickly realized that David was God's choice to be the next King. That made Saul angry, so angry that the King conspired to kill David. But Jonathan loved David and, I imagine, realized he would made a good king, so he supported his friend. Saul blew up and told Jonathan he was an embarrassment to his family. Here, let me tell you that story (I Samuel 20).

Jonathan did not believe that his father was really trying to kill David, so David devised a test. David decided not to show up for the new moon feast, when he should have been seated at the King's table. He knew he would be an easy mark for the King's assassins. If Saul was angry that he did not show, then Jonathan would know that his father was bound to kill his friend.

It was a two-day festival. The first day, when David's place was empty, Saul let it go. He figured David had a good excuse. But when he was absent the second day, Saul asked Jonathan about it. The Prince said, "Oh, David asked me leave to go home to his family, since they were having their own celebration." Saul exploded. "You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Don't I know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to be your own, even though you know that it means that you will never be King? Now I am determined that he shall die." Jonathan ran from the room to go to the field where they had agreed they were to meet. Jonathan shot some arrows and sent his servant to collect them and return to the city; when Jonathan was alone, David came out of hiding and they kissed each other and wept. Jonathan told him all, and David spent the next several years hiding from King Saul.

Here's how this story ends: both Saul and Jonathan died in the war against the Philistines, and David composed a gorgeous lament for them (II Samuel 1:19-27). He mourned for both of them: for the King whom he had served and the Prince whom he had loved. And he remembered the promises that he and Jonathan had made to each other: when David became King, he did not follow the usual practice and kill off all the members of the family of Saul. He took Jonathan's son Mephibosheth into his palace, and Mephibosheth was an honored guest of the King for the rest of his days.

We may draw all sorts of conclusions about the importance of friendship in the family of God, but I wish to emphasize this one thing: that when Jesus was near his Crucifixion, and was talking with his disciples, he said to them that he would no longer think of them as servants, but as friends (John 15:12-17). Servants do only what they are told; they don't have to know why they are supposed to move the firewood from this place to that place, but simply have to do as they are told. But Jesus isn't interested in our simply obeying him. He wants us to cooperate willingly with what he is doing. He gave his life for his friends, as Ruth gave up her homeland and Jonathan gave up his throne for their friends. And he asks us to honor our relationship with him, as Naomi learned to honor Ruth's friendship and as David remembered his promise to Jonathan. And you heard what Jesus said about the best way to honor our relationship with him: for us to treat one another well, to "love one another."

These are the things to think about as you commune today with the Lord and with each other. You commune with your friend Jesus, and you commune with other friends and potential friends. What a world this would be if on World Communion and all other days we would remember the best way to show that we are friends of Jesus: by being friends to each other.

Robert A. Keefer

Presbyterian Church of the Master

Benson Presbyterian Church

Omaha, Nebraska

[1] "Wagon Train Church," June 14, 2015
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