The plumb line
Sermon by Rev Stuart Simpson on 14 July 2019
Readings were Amos 7:7-17 and Luke 10:25-37
I’ve been caught up with the Cricket world cup over the last couple of weeks. How many of you stayed up to watch the dramatic semi-final between India and New Zealand last Wednesday night? Listening to the radio prior to the game many of the commentators speculated that although New Zealand has a chance of winning it was more likely that India would be going to the final.
Now, however, we can read news stories that say
The book will always say that New Zealand beat India by 18 runs in the first semi-final of the 2019 World Cup. But you’d need thousands and thousands of words to tell the full story of a marvellous, nuanced match. It placed unreasonable demands on the brain, gut, heart, nerves, eyes and soul – and that’s just for the neutral supporters.
The Dominion Post said this:
Cricket World Cup 2019: Tenacious Black Caps hailed for heroics against India
Previous weeks, the headlines and news articles had been quite different. On the 7th July it was stated that the odds did not favour the Black Caps.
The Black Caps have been installed as distant outsiders going into the semi-final stages of the Cricket World Cup, being placed at $9 to be raising the Cup aloft in London eight days from now. According to the bookmakers, it will most likely be a three-horse race for the title, with India – New Zealand’s opponents in their semi-final on Tuesday – being set as $2.90 favourites to win the World Cup, with England at $3 and Australia at $3.40.
What were the bookmakers using to make this assessment? How do couches assess the players on their team? The past performances of individuals and the team? Runs made? The support of the players? Injuries and health of the players? The ground condition?
Whatever they use, there must be some type of criteria to measure against. And these criteria become measuring tools used to see how well a team is going and also how well they might go, whether a particular player deserves to stay on a team, are unable to continue to play, or even end a contract.
It’s much the same in today’s Old Testament reading where we hear God’s vision to the part-time prophet Amos. Amos’s vision is of God standing beside a wall that is in plumb (straight from top to bottom). Grabbing the attention of Amos, God directs him to a plumb line, which will be used to measure the straightness of the wall, which represents God’s people. The result of the measurement is that Israel is out of plumb (they are not in line with God) and therefore they need to be demolished.
If they were a cricket team, the issue would have been they were no longer following the coaches directions, in actual fact they were working hard to counteract everything the coach had taught them – because of this their contract is to be ended (or so it seems).
To understand why God was so upset we need to understand a little about the context, who Amos was, and what God’s people had been doing/not doing.
Amos was called from his life as a shepherd in Judah to speak a word from God to the northern Kingdom of Israel; to speak truth to power in that Kingdom. The word used to describe Amos as a ‘Shepherd’ indicates that he was more likely a person of social standing who traded in sheep and goats and other agricultural products.
Amos was called to speak to the powers of his day, a regime led by Jeroboam II, who was king of the Northern Kingdom in the mid – 700s B.C.E. It was a time of power and great prosperity, where the people of Israel assumed their privilege and affluence were evidence of Gods’ blessing to them as the chosen people. They had forgotten their suffering as slaves in Egypt. They were, at that time, free from the influence and harassment of neighbouring superpowers.
But, as a consequence, they neglected to share what they had with the poor. Their religious practice was disconnected from their social ethics and lacked any type of social justice. So Amos, called by God, gives a word of judgment to those who believe they are above reproach. Because Israel relies on military power rather than on God, they worship without any concern and care for the poor, and fail to reflect their faithfulness to God in their social relationships.
Destroy the high places – where other gods are worshipped
Destroy the sanctuaries of improper worship
And wipe out the family line of the king.
Some very drastic consequences. So then, apart from the use of Cricket, is there anything in the prophecy of Amos that fits our own context? If God held up a plumb line up to us, would God find us straight?
.The good news is that I believe God does find us straight, however it’s not because of anything we have done or do, but because of Christ. When God holds the plumb line against us, His people, He sees His Son, standing straight and tall, with nail pieced hands and feet, and yet I wonder how often we might, with Jesus standing between us and God, be pulling the finger.
I know that I struggle, at times, with loving my neighbour, even though I know it is one of the two commandments that Jesus says are important. I’ll even remind you that it is important to do. But I often find it easier to walk past those who are cast down than get involved in the depth of pain that they may be experiencing.
Maybe we’ve become complacent because we know we are saved, we measure up, just like when the people of Israel assumed their privilege and affluence were evidence of Gods’ blessing to them as the chosen people. But how are we doing when it comes to caring for the poor or fighting for justice?
God has saved us and calls us his people. We are God’s people due to the mercy God showed to a remnant of the exiled Israel (Amos 9). But I do wonder sometimes how angry God may get when we fail to love our neighbour. Or what the consequences may be if our worship is anything other than the worship of God.
Like most families, I’m sure you have particular things that people need to followed by the family members – following these things doesn’t make the people part of the family – they are family no matter what. However, if each member follow the particular rules the family flourishes. Of course there is forgiveness if someone does something wrong but forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean there are no consequences.
One of the rules we have at home is that no one is able to have their devices, phones, tablets in their bedroom. If this rule is broken, a conversation ensues, which often involves the word ‘sorry’ but there are also consequences, such as limited device time or the confiscation of the device. We don’t always get it right, we do things wrong, we don’t always forgive straight away, we get angry, but we also love – it is this love that makes us want to try to work through issues.
As I’ve said we are God’s people, we are loved, we are restored to God because of Jesus. But maybe we take that for granted sometimes, and this could, if we go by Amos, mean that there could be consequences for not doing what God has called us to do.
What do you think? What do you believe God might be saying to you, to us today through the Prophet Amos?