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Plumb Lines and Life…

July 9, 2015

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Over this past Memorial Day weekend, Denise and I went hiking with our youngest, Christopher, to the top of Amicalola Falls in northern Georgia. At some point along the journey, I took a picture of this tree on the trail. I was fascinated by how despite the obvious contortion in the trunk, the tree kept growing and reaching for the sky. Years ago, when I was in ministry in Fergus Falls, MN (prior to the Air Force), I would visit parishioners in one of the local nursing homes. Inge was one of the residents of that home and the tree reminds me of her. You see, Inge’s back was so bent over by scoliosis, that you had to bend over and almost look at her sideways to speak with her when she was walking the hallways. Despite her physical limitations though, you could have a good conversation with her… just from a slightly different perspective! She didn’t let the contortion of her “trunk” get in the way of her walking around the halls of the nursing home and visiting with staff and patients. So how does this tie in with the reading from Amos for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost? I’ll get there, believe me.

Amos, who is perhaps most well known for the quote that is on the wall of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama (in front of the headquarters of the Southern Poverty Law Center). This particular biblical quote was one of Martin Luther King, Jr’s favorites. “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24) Today’s reading could be called a blunt assessment of how justice and righteousness were not flowing like an ever-flowing stream in Israel during the time of King Jeroboam (788-747 BCE).

The Lord came to Amos in a vision and this is what Amos saw: “the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand.” (Amos 7:7) So what does this plumb line have to do with the people to whom Amos was called to prophesy to? A plumb line is used in building walls (we used one many times when I was helping our USAF RED HORSE and USMC engineers on some buildings projects in Grenada) and also used to get a straight line on a floor if you are putting down tile. Used properly, you will have a straight line that helps you to keep the work you are doing “on target”.

God had set a plumb line in the midst of the people of Israel. That plumb line revealed that the people had not been walking in the pathway that the Lord had called them to walk. The places of worship mentioned in verses 8-9 were open air sanctuaries that had once been used by the people, but were no longer to be used according to God’s decree. This was not well received by the priest of one of these High Places (Bethel) and Amaziah went to the king with a complaint against Amos. Not only did Amaziah go to the king with a complaint, it seems he “embellished” the prophecy just a bit to make it a direct threat against the king. It went from God saying “I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword” to “Jeroboam shall die by the sword”. Interesting… how the priest twisted God’s word to suit his purposes. Amos was a threat to the priests of these “high places” of worship. If they were outlawed (as God decreed) then these priests would be out of business. So why not twist the word just a bit and feed the ego of the king in order to gain what he wanted… Amos gone and his source of revenue secure!

Unlike the tree on the path to the waterfall or Inge from Minnesota, the lack of a straight line did not equate with a positive outlook. While Inge could still function despite her curved back and while the tree still reached for the sky; the people of Israel and their leaders were not attempting to follow God’s path.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “walk the straight and narrow” used? I heard it a lot growing up. To me it all too often represented the requirement to walk a rigid pathway for the sake of walking the pathway. You know, following the rules for the sake of following the rules… I don’t believe that is the lesson of the plumb line for us today.

What is the plumb line that we are called to be measured against today? Even though I may sound like a broken record, dear reader, it bears repeating because it is what we are called to be and do as Christ-followers. In a word? Love! The plumb line we are measured against is not a myriad of rules and regulations or bits of Scripture taken totally out of context. The plumb line Jesus gave us is LOVE. The Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in these two commands: Love God and Love Neighbor. Loving neighbor even includes loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

Love, dear reader, Love… As Denise says, “Love Trumps”… as others have said, “Love Wins”… When I measure up to that plumb line, I see all too often just how off the mark I am. When I am judgmental… when I am biased and bigoted… when I am self-absorbed… when I think of myself instead of my neighbor… I am not measured very well by the plumb line of love. However, thanks be to God, I don’t have the final word! Again and again, the Lord gently reminds us (sometimes it is a bit more like a thump on the back of the head, but that is just stubborn old me!) that it isn’t about condemnation or hatred… that it is about love.

I guess you could say that this plumb line by which we are measured is held in the hands of a loving Lord who extends grace and mercy instead of a sword. Perhaps if we spent more time offering grace and mercy instead of a sword, our life might be different… Lord, make us instruments of your peace… of your grace… of your mercy… of your love…

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