Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sermon: “A Perfect Fit”, 1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37-40, 18:1-5/Ephesians 6:10-17 (June 20, 2021)


Have you ever gotten a gift that you just…didn’t like? For me, it’s coffee mugs. I have coffee mugs coming out of my ears, and while I DO love coffee, I don’t need a different mug for every day of the year. I struggle to find a place to put them all, and it’s not like they have an infinite number of uses (I only have so many pens that need holding). Every time I open a gift containing another mug, I inwardly groan. I know I’m not alone; I’m sure there are plenty of father-figures around the country this very minute opening hastily wrapped presents and wondering just what the heck they’re gonna do with whatever’s inside.

Usually when we receive a present we’re not overly thrilled about, we just grit our teeth and try to express gratitude for the giver’s thoughtfulness. When Saul offers David a gift, though, David doesn’t react this way. Saul knows that the young shepherd is about to go up against an enormous career soldier dressed in nothing but what he’s already wearing, so he offers David his own armor. Quite a gesture—a king giving his personal belongings to a shepherd! David tries on the armor, but it simply isn’t practical...and battle is no time to put manners before practicality. He complains, “This isn’t gonna work; I can’t even walk in this.” So, he returns the armor to Saul and confronts Goliath exactly as he is.

We all know what happens next: the giant Philistine ridicules the Israelites for sending a boy as their champion; David announces his intention to defeat Goliath in the name of the Lord Almighty, and then proceeds to do exactly that with nothing but a slingshot and a stone. Saul then takes David into his own house as a servant. Most of us have known this story since grade school. What I find interesting is the less familiar interaction that follows these events at the beginning of chapter 18.

This is where Jonathan, Saul’s son and the heir apparent to the throne, first meets David. Immediately, the original Hebrew tells us that “Jonathan’s soul was knit to David’s”, and the two young men become inextricably bound to one another—they aren’t just good friends; they’re literal soulmates. No matter how you interpret the nature of their relationship, scripture makes it clear that their connection goes further than sharing common interests or enjoying one another’s company: their bond is soul-deep.

Between verses 1 and 5 of chapter 18, scripture reads less like an description of specific events and more like a montage of David’s early life in Saul’s household, so we don’t know EXACTLY what it was that bound Jonathan to David, and we don’t know EXACTLY what happened as their relationship developed. We don’t even have a good sense of how much time is covered over these five verses. We do, however, know one thing: we know that at some point, Jonathan offers David his own armor, and that this time, David (presumably) accepts the gift offered to him.

It’s entirely possible that months or even years passed between Saul’s gift and Jonathan’s gift, and that in between, David had gained some practice wearing armor. But it’s equally as likely—if not more so—that Jonathan gave his armor to David as one of his very first acts of friendship (the verb form used to describe Jonathan “taking off his robe” implies that it happened immediately after the two made their covenant). While I have to wonder what Saul thought about all this (I definitely would have been offended, like, “What, the KING’S armor wasn’t good enough for you???”) I’m honestly even more curious about David’s thinking. Why would David reject the King’s armor on the grounds that he wasn’t used to it, only to turn around and accept Jonathan’s? There must be something about Jonathan’s gift that’s qualitatively different from Saul’s.

Assuming that the two royals would have had armor of comparable quality, the biggest difference between the gifts seems to lie in David’s relationship with the giver himself. David knew both men fairly well—David had actually known Saul *longer* than he’d known Jonathan, because he’d been employed as Saul’s personal musician since chapter 16—but there’s a profound difference between the relationship you have with your employer (especially if your employer is the king) and the one you have with your soulmate.

Saul saw David as a tool, a means to an end: he didn’t offer David his armor out of an altruistic desire to keep David safe; it was in his own best interest to ensure that David didn’t make him look bad in front of his own soldiers and the Philistines. Their relationship being what it was, it makes sense that David wouldn’t have felt the need to accept the gift for the sake of the giver: it wasn’t given out of love, but out of the king’s perception of what was practical. While the king’s armor may have seemed like a good gift to Saul, it certainly wasn’t right for David. Saul really didn’t know him that well after all: the gift wasn’t a good fit for David’s small shepherd’s body OR for the situation in which he found himself.

On the other hand, Jonathan’s armor was offered under completely different circumstances. This time, there was no immanent battle in which the armor could impede David’s movement. More importantly, though, David trusted Jonathan and his intentions. The gift was given to seal the covenant that the two had just made and was motivated by nothing more and nothing less than pure love. It was a gesture intended to honor Jonathan’s soulmate, rather than to benefit himself, and so even though he still wasn’t used to armor, David chose to accept the gift for the giver’s sake.

His choice to accept Jonathan’s gift had farther reaching consequences than just cementing their bond. David may not have been comfortable in armor, but as Israel’s next king, he’d have to GET comfortable sooner or later. Jonathan’s armor served as an “in” to the world that he was destined to be a part of. In the very next verse, scripture tells us that David “went out and was successful in every mission Saul sent him to do,” and that the troops loved him. Soldiers undoubtedly would have scoffed at the idea of being led by a shepherd boy who eschewed armor…but because of Jonathan’s gift, David began to find his place in a life that had previously been unfamiliar and unthinkable to him. All of this was possible because David accepted a gift for the sake of the one who loved him (and who also happened to know what David would need in his new life). Unlike Saul’s armor, Jonathan’s was the perfect fit for David in every way.

We stand to gain so much when we accept gifts offered by those who know and love us best—even if they might not be what we think we want. A friend of mine told me the story of one such gift she received when she was 8 years old. She’d been struggling with arithmetic in school, so for her birthday, her parents got her a book called “Arithmetic Can Be Fun”. When she unwrapped the gift in front of all her friends, she was mortified. It wasn’t anything that she ever would have chosen for herself, and it certainly wasn’t something she wanted to receive in full view of her peers!

But once she got over her embarrassment, she decided to read the book anyway. She loved her parents, and she figured she might as well see why they thought it’d make a good gift for her. As it turned out, the book had some helpful suggestions, and she began not only to understand arithmetic, but to enjoy it. Because her parents knew her so well, they knew what she needed most in order to succeed, and because she loved and trusted them, she was able to accept their gift even though she didn’t appreciate the full reasoning behind it.

God sometimes gives God’s children unexpected gifts that we don’t appreciate right away. Like Jonathan, God has given us a gift of armor to seal a covenant. But like David, this might not be a gift that we wanted or expected. If God’s gonna give us armor, we want armor that’ll protect us from harm and from the difficulties that come with faith. We want armor that’ll guarantee us victory over our human adversaries. This is the armor that we think will fit us best.

But God knows and loves us better than anyone else in the entire universe, and gives us not what we want, but what we need. The armor that God gives us isn’t the armor of insularity or of domination. We aren’t given the belt of clever words, but the belt of truth. Not the breastplate of authority, but the breastplate of justice. Not the shoes of secret knowledge, but the shoes of the gospel. Not the shield of self-sufficiency, but the shield of faith. Not the helmet of protection, but the helmet of salvation. Not the sword of the ego, but the sword of the Spirit. These things might not protect us on the missions that we envision ourselves undertaking in the name of glory, but they will absolutely aid us on the missions to which God calls us in the name of grace. They won’t allow us to bulldoze those with whom we disagree, but they’ll allow us to stand tall against the lies that threaten God’s Kingdom.

This is an important distinction that we wouldn’t be able to make on our own. Although these might not be the gifts we want, our love and trust for God should compel us to accept them in gratitude. Not to hide them away and forget about them, but to pull them out again and again until we’re finally able to see why God chose them for us. As long as we give them a chance, we’ll eventually come to realize how much we need them. God knows far better than we do what we’ll be facing; God knows far better than us what we’ll need to live out the sacred calling on our lives.

So use these gifts—not just the truth, justice, good news, faith, salvation, and Spirit that comes with God’s armor, but the love, patience, vision, outspokenness, or whatever else God has given to you in particular—use them, even when you don’t understand them. Even when they frustrate you. Even when they seem useless. Even when you wish you’d never been given them in the first place. Because God’s spirit is already knit to yours, and God knows better than you do what you need. Trust me: THIS armor that you’ve been given is a perfect fit for you. Amen.

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