The Pas 8th Sunday after Pentecost – BAS Proper 15Proper 10 – Ordinary/Lectionary 15 – Pentecost + 8
10 July 2016
Psalm 82 BAS Pg 815
Divine Judge, you framed the earth with love and mercy. Keep us faithful in prayer, so that we may be filled with the knowledge of your will, and not ignore or pass by another’s need, but plumb the depths of love in showing mercy. Amen.
I’m often captivated by a phrase, in the readings assigned for the week. I’m captivated by the way it speaks to me, in the circumstances of my life. I’m regularly captivated by the way it speaks to the situations in which I find myself, in which I’m asked to proclaim God’s words of love, and inclusion, for all of humanity.
Today, I’m captivated by the image of God holding a plumb line, in the passage from Amos, and it captivates me for a couple of reasons.
First, we don’t see plumb lines used a lot, these days. Laser levels, and the like, have replaced this incredibly simple and effective indicator of what is a straight ‘up and down’ line. In fact, I believe that a plumb line is a very simple, yet elegant tool. In essence, a plumb line is a string with a weight at one end, and used as a vertical reference line, or a plumb line for construction and helps to establish symmetry or balance in a building project.
Secondly, Amos’ words of prophesy, words from God, talks about the destruction of the Israelite culture and the culture that has arisen around Judah, as well. Yet, the plumb line indicates building up, not breaking down. I guess when God seeks to correct us and our ways, some destruction of what we have been doing is essential to allow for God’s word, God’s measure to be true within our lives, our hearts.
Lastly, applying the image of the plumb line, on this Sunday as we pray along with the whole of the church, for the deliberations of General Synod, which has been in session since Thursday. We pray with them as they seek to discern God’s will for all of the Anglican Church of Canada, for all of us, no matter where we find ourselves in the church, or in the nation.
And discernment is something we, as Christians, need to do on a regular basis. So, today, we are able to look at God’s plumb line and try to recognize what God is calling us to do, and how God is calling us to live out our baptismal promises. At the same time, let’s look at God’s plumb line as the church meets on a national scale, and as we meet at the congregational level, all wanting to follow where God leads, do the work that God has placed before us to do.
“The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ ‘A plumb line,’ I replied. Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.’” (Amos 7:7-8)
What we see is God is calling us. God is calling us as God is calling the people of Israel and Judah to a new way of life. God is encouraging us to a renewal of our lives of faith, to a return to what we know is the way that God wishes us to live, and God is using Amos in his role as a prophet to proclaim this time of renewal amongst the people.
The image we see, in today’s passage from Amos, is a wall. A wall that is standing straight and tall, according to the plumb line God is holding. The inference, the suggestion, in Amos’ prophesy, is that the people are not as this wall is – straight and tall. This image of the wall, and God’s plumb line tied into the rest of God’s prophesy, is a hard message to swallow, to contemplate. It implies a complete change of life, not just for the Israelites, but for all of the children of God.
In comparison, our gospel for today is Jesus telling us, and those around him, especially the expert in the law, the parable of the Good Samaritan, all in answer to a seemingly simple question.
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ He replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’ But he wanted to justify himself, so he sked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’”(Lk 10:25-29)
We, like Israel and Judah, like the people gathered around Jesus, always seem to draw a line at the definition of who is my neighbour; which logically leads into Jesus’ parable, today. But for the days of Amos, we can see this is the same kind of scenario – caring for our neighbour in the way we wish to be cared for.
We can imagine that it’s Jesus, the Son of God, standing there with the plumb line, in the midst of the people, as this ‘expert in the law’ seeks clarification that he can help this person, but ignore the needs of that one, and so on.
In both of these readings, God is bringing about a complete change in how we see ourselves as the children of God; changing how we interact with the world around us, and how we interact with God as well.
In all of this, we seek a clear path for our lives, and we are able to find it in Jesus words, in God’s plumb line. We find it when we stop living the words in our heads, help them to live aloud in the world around us, and embrace those on all sides of us for who they are and for what they represent in their own settings.
In Amos’ day, we see the social climbing actions of Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. We see him as he seeks to protect his position, power, and influence, in the king’s court, and he seeks to devalue the words of Amos as nothing more than an attempt to destabilize the system that Amaziah has been working to uphold.
Moreover, we are able to, easily; find ourselves unwittingly in such positions as well. For example, just this week, my husband found himself in three separate retail situations in which, not only was customer service withheld, but the customer was made to feel that it was their fault that the customer service, in each of these locations, was not available.
In each of these situations, simply striving to receive customer service from the various retail representatives earned the same kind of reply as Amos received from Amaziah. “’Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. … Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.’ Amos answered Amaziah, ‘I was neither a prophet not the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and told me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” (Amos 7:12-15)
Isn’t it interesting that we’re called in this world, where we are tasked to value each other, to treat each other the way we wish to be treated, and yet we can’t seem to accomplish this one task? I’ve often wondered if those who treat others badly wish to be treated badly in return, but this never seems to be the case.
The gospel reminds us that we are called to “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lk 10:27)
However, even this calls us to step out of our comfort zones. It calls us to treat all people, no matter where we are, no matter what we’re doing, as we wish to be treated.
It invites us to see a neighbour in the face of every stranger we meet, every day. To recognize the neighbour in people we only hear about around the world in their problems and plights.
In the movie “Patch Adams,” Patch conducts an experiment in town, of just provoking a smile from people on the street. He would actually ambush people, on the street, with his somewhat silly antics in order to get them to smile, to laugh, and to carry on their day with a positive manner.
Patch Adams treated people as he wished to be treated – with kindness, with compassion, and with humour. Healing, any healing, isn’t just the physical state of the body, based upon scientific data, but also upon human interaction, upon the healing of the mind, and the spirit, as well as the body. Healing is a community action, not individual.
Jesus touches on this when he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, when he helps to answer the question ‘who is my neighbour.’ The Samaritans actions not only heals the body of the injured man, but his return, his trust in the innkeeper and their staff shows us how such concern for body, mind, and spirit is necessary for wholeness.
Every day, we continue to learn what it means to live not just our physical lives, but what it means that our lives are dedicated to God. Lives that, like Amos’ may be called out of our comfort zones, as God continues to call us to tasks unknown, paths untrodden, ways that we may not have thought of walking in our lives.
And yet, when we encounter God’s plumb line, when we find that straight wall, we can see how the dwellings of humans, dwellings not based upon a life of faith, often fail to live up to God’s standard.
Today, we see Amos giving God’s message, as a prophet is tasked to do, and in return is he is scolded. Amos’ message is a hard message to swallow, it requires us to look at the way we live our lives and to examine them against God’s measure, God’s plumb line, something humanity has a difficulty doing, at the best of times.
Even Jesus’ parable, today, the parable of the good Samaritan, the one who crosses the road, encounters the impurity of the blood of the wounded man; the one who risks everything in order to see to the wellbeing of a stranger, an enemy, a Jew. Where, Jesus tells us, the priest and the rabbi pass the wounded man by in order to keep to their schedules, in order to maintain ritual purity, in order to live their lives unimpeded by the messiness of another human being.
As Amos is called from the peaceful life of tending to sycamore-fig trees and tending the sheep to “’Go, prophesy to … Israel’” so are we called from what we can consider our everyday tasks to something more.
Today, we pray with those who gather at General Synod, seeking ways to be the church in the 21st century, we need to focus on the word of God that continues to guide us. We need to remember that Amos prophesied in the temple of the king although he was called from the most unlikely place, that it is not the will of God to destroy, but to build up.
Remember God’s plumb line, and remember that sometimes to build something up, something else must be taken down – our preconceptions, our prejudices, our narrow definition of who is our neighbour so that God’s will is done in the world all around us.
We are called to be the children of God, in the world. We are called to look out for our neighbours in need, no matter who they are, or where they are. We are called to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, not just on Sunday, but every day.