24 Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord.’ 26Samuel said to Saul, ‘I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.’ 27As Samuel turned to go away, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28And Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. 29Moreover, the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.’ 30Then Saul said, ‘I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.’ 31So Samuel turned back after Saul; and Saul worshipped the Lord.

Luke 6:43-45

A Tree and Its Fruit

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

The stories in this section of 1st Samuel are not particularly nice. There are no ‘just-so’ tales here. Since Sunday, Since the very first moment Saul was anointed King of Israel, he has had problems. Here and there he has cut corners. Tall, dark, and handsome Saul has commanded one thing, saying ‘thus sayeth the Lord” and done another. Saul receives a Word from the Lord and immediately goes out and does something else.” Then, after his conflict with the Amekalites, he builds a statue to himself, as if it was he who was responsible for the victory.

Samuel confronts Saul, and the king, surprisingly, appears mortified. Saul realizes that his own ego had gotten him into trouble. The problem is that he has sought out the people’s favor.

It is good to be liked. It is good to be respected. It is good to be honored. The problem for Saul is that it is incredibly difficult to keep yourself faithful to God if you are constantly shifting course based on the latest poll.

This may be why I find politics so nauseating. Our current politics are not particularly visionary, the participants are closer to puppets than leaders. They are forced to sing the song of the highest bidder. They are compelled to keep their toes behind the line drawn by those who can vote in a large enough block to not only vote them in, but keep them in.

If this is the tactic a leader chooses, as, for instance Saul did in ignoring God’s command to totally wipe the Amakalites from the face of the earth, and instead give the spoils of war to the people, then there is only one possible response if things go bad. If you dance to the people’s tune, you must blame the people when the situation turns sour. This is exactly what Saul does.

Saul rationalizes his failure by blaming the people. For Saul, the voice of the people is not the voice of God. Vox populi non vox dei. The will of the majority is not the divine oracle.

Now, I agree that to operate a society by the will of the majority, rather than by the fiat of a few tyrants is a pretty darn good way of governing a democracy. But in this story, and with alarming frequency in the bible, the majority is seldom right. In the bible at least, usually some minority is right. This is why, if a democracy is to survive and thrive, minorities must be listened to, and protected.

When I was a kid, my friends and I used to take our sleds across the street, over the railroad tracks, up the steep hill to the base of a large oak tree. One of us would scavage a piece of plywood to lay on top of the rail closest to the hill. And we would pile some snow on the plywood. Sitting atop our flexible flyers we would careen down this slope hit the plywood and be launched several feet in the air, across the track, and land, if we were lucky, on the flat just past the ditch along the railroad grade.

My buddies and I were engaged in said activity one fine winter day, and it came my turn to be the human juggernaut. I jumped on my sled and immediately began to slide down the slope. The problem was that I am no hero and I was only doing it because I knew that if I didn’t I would get all kinds of static from my friends. “Chicken, they’d say.” Which I was. So at the last minute, as the sled was about to hit the plywood, I bailed. Unfortunately, there must have been a nail in that plywood, because as I slid across it and as my sled flew safely to the flat, my new winter coat was ripped from the hem to the collar.

My mother, using her special skills of Extra Sensory Perception apparently knew this happened. I tried to sneak in the back door, through the kitchen, to the coat closet. Maybe it was me shuffling along with my back to the pantry, I don’t know. So the ripped coat was revealed, I was duly chastised, and my only response at the time was, “they wanted me to do it.”

I suppose that peer pressure is not necessarily a bad thing; but it can only be a good thing if the peers you listen to, if the peers you respond to, happen to be the voice of God.

As we continue to be the church here in this place, it is more important than ever that we are able to tell the difference between majority rule and God’s rule. They are never necessarily the same.