Given at Gordon Chapel by Jeff L (based on Amos 7.7-17 and Luke 10.25-370
Amos had a vision of God holding a plumb-line to a wall. Why not look at the reading (Amos 7.7-17).
Hand out ‘plumb-lines’ to all on arrival.
When I was in the army as a 16 yr old apprentice electrician, we worked with other trades to learn a little about their construction skills. They had a vast array of modern tools, many highly technical or mechanised. But one of the most important tools was a very simple one – a ‘plumb-line’ – just a weight on a length of wire. It helped to ensure that things were really vertical.
I loved the bricklaying and carpenters workshops where they did practical useful things. When they erected walls and panels the instructor would call for the plumb-line, climb a ladder and dangle it over the wall to check it was vertical. With that little gadget, the walls were made to stand straight and true.
But plumb-lines are nothing new – they’ve been used for thousands of years. They’re in our reading from Amos. He was a shepherd, more comfortable in the countryside than on city streets – a simple man shocked by urban lifestyles. He became a prophet because God called him, and said , “Go, prophesy to my people Israel”, and so Amos frequently starts his prophecy by saying, ‘thus says the Lord’.
Amos had a vision in which he saw the Lord standing beside a wall with a plumb-line in his hand to test a wall to see if it was straight or not – usable or not. Of course we sense with hindsight that God was concerned with something more than a wall.
That wall was so crooked that the builder would have to tear it down and start all over again. The wall becomes God’s people, so Amos can see that God is holding the plumb line against them. That nation is so far astray that it’s going to fall. Amos tried warning them to change their ways – but they wouldn’t listen – their wall looked fine in their own eyes. But such a wall, such a nation couldn’t stand much longer – and it didn’t – less than 30 years later the 10 tribes of the North were no more.
So what was God’s plumb line measuring when levelled at them – two things. First – love for and loyalty to God, and secondly, love for one another. In both those measures that nation did not pass the plumb line test. And now – it’s levelled at us! Are we any better – would we pass the test?
Outwardly, Israel was extremely religious – a people set apart by their religion. They had what God gave them, Moses and the commandments and prophet after prophet – they knew well what was required of them, but went their own way – not God’s, their hearts were fickle, they worshipped other gods – they broke the commandments.
The first commandment tells us to worship the one true God – and we have to remember that ours is a jealous God, he tells us that himself – and he wants our loyalty. Israel’s great sin was idolatry. In a way it’s ours too, for it can include the love of money, possessions, power and much more.
But nothing is to come before God in our lives – not our job, money, ambition, personal pleasure – nothing! God isn’t something to squeeze into our busy schedules when we have time – he’s to have first place – the rest is to fit around God.
So, what comes first for you? Do you follow the first commandment and love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and very being?
It means that you don’t avoid speaking to people about God, your faith and the church because it may be difficult, embarrassing or inconvenient. It means you don’t get up on Sunday and wonder “will I bother going to church today”. It means that you don’t give as little as possible to God’s work, but that you place yourself in that offering plate each week.
It does mean that you hunger to learn more about God, so that you read the bible, study, pray and gather with other Christians to learn and grow in your knowledge and experience of God. Every action is made with a view to pleasing the God.
That is the foundation on which we build a meaningful life. Our walls – our lives – will be crooked and weak, and will fall if built on any other foundation. When that plumb line of love for God is placed beside your life – what does it reveal. Do you worry that you may not have it quite right?
Why not learn from the experience of others – e.g. those in the bible. Moses had trouble with the people in his time – and when you read the book of Amos you will see how they lived in his day.
Because they did not honour and love God, it’s no surprise that they did not love one another either – and that is the theme that Amos returns to constantly.
They were not a good bunch to be part of unless you were rich and influential. They sold poor people into slavery when they couldn’t pay their debts, they filled their mansions with items stolen from the poor – and much more that was offensive to God.
The Lord tells them in effect. ‘People of Israel, you go to the holy places, sacrifice your animals, pay your tithes, do all those religious rituals – but you continue to sin’. He goes on, “I hate your religious festivals, when you bring me offerings I wont accept them. Instead of all that, let justice flow like a stream”. So you can see that God does not want hypocritical, sanctimonious talk and actions.
For religion that does not impact on us, challenge and direct our daily lives is worthless! It’s the kind of stuff that God hates. A lifetime of coming to church, making offerings, taking part in all kinds of religious activities doesn’t mean a thing, if we do not love and care for people and put that into action.
I think you would agree that there are many ‘religious’ people you would not want as neighbours. You can see them doing the ‘churchy things’ but often they may be the most insensitive and uncaring of people, critical and judgemental of others, especially those who are different or do not see things as they do.
Many of us are slaves to our time, and blind to what goes on in the world and around us. For example, we may not sell people directly into slavery now (though it is still rife, even in the UK), but perhaps we take part in it when we buy cheap goods made by those in the third world, who live on a pittance and in poor conditions. We can no longer turn a blind eye – we must take a stand, think about it and do something about it.
So does it makes you wonder – is an atheist who professes no belief in God, but who loves and cares for people, any less thought of and loved by God, than the most outwardly religious among us, but who never see, or reach down to love and lift up others.
Surely the very purpose of coming to church is to deepen our love for God and our neighbour – to energise us to go out and show that love to all we meet.
The plumb-line of love for our neighbour, like that of the Good Samaritan, is a guide line to how we should live – how do we measure up to that. If the priest and the Levite had carried a plumb-line with them, as a reminder of Amos’s prophecy and what followed, then perhaps, just perhaps, they might have cared for the man lying in the road. Instead it was left to the Samaritan to show the common humanity, the care of one another, that God requires of us.
In our reading, after telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked “who was the neighbour to the man who was robbed and injured’ and the answer was ‘the one who showed mercy’ and Jesus replied, ‘go and do the same’.
Jesus turned the lawyers question on its head. The original question was ‘who is my neighbour” and the answer Jesus gave was very simple, “everyone’.
In this parable, the wounded man, the priest, the Levite and Samaritan were all on a journey. A journey may be one’s personal progress – it may be a journey in a career or a journey in faith, or even the journey from cradle to grave.
But sometimes we interrupt our own journey for the sake of someone else, we find more meaning in the relationship than in the journey. We’re all on a journey – but what will we interrupt that journey for? Will it be when that still small voice speaks to us – saying ‘this is what the Lord requires of you – to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.
It is not too late to look at our wall, to look at our lives. We may have to do some alterations, some tearing down and building up – some DIY.
But God has provided a plumb-line for us – not of string or metal, but a person who set the supreme example of love for God and neighbour – our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus tied his plumb-line to a cross for us.
Look, no matter how I hold the cross, the line stays vertical – it may, like our lives wobble a bit – but follow the way of the cross and the plumb line that is Jesus will keep us straight.
Keep your eyes on him, let him be your model and your guide – your plumb-line and your architect. He came to show us the way.
Place yourself in line with him, walk straight and tall – and may you be a plumb-line for others to show them the way to the man who will help them rebuild their wall – our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Would you now hold up the ‘plumb-lines’ you were given on arrival and let us pray:
Lord God, the message we have heard today, spoken through your servant Amos so long ago, disturbs us, for we do not stand up well when you examine our lives. Forgive us and hold that plumb-line clearly before us, so that we may be more like Christ. Amen.
Note: Each member of the congregation at Evensong received a small plumb-line made from a small cross and a thread with a sweet attached. The crosses were made in my workshop out of an old pew.