Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for – because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything. –Peter Marshall, U.S. Senate Chaplain, 1947.
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, AMEN”
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
This is what he showed me: 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. The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.” (Amos 7: 7-9 NIV)
PRAYER FOCUS: Being Plumb
My wife and I were in Guatemala practicing primitive construction. We were part of a small work team in a tiny village called Lemoa building a retreat center onto an orphanage there. (Imagine a combination lunchroom/auditorium/pantry/storage room for up to 100 children and adults). Our supervisor, Efrain, who spoke less English than we spoke Spanish, was remarkably nonchalant about a lot of things on the job site. We wore no hard hats, no safety goggles, no lifting belts or steel-toed boots. There weren’t even any OSHA inspectors for crying out loud!
We were building with concrete blocks, or “bloques” (say: ‘block-ace’) in the local vernacular. We mixed concrete using a bag of cement, sand from a pit, and dirty water. Sometimes we made a batch of “mezcla” in an ancient wheelbarrow. Sometimes we just made mezcla on the ground close to where we were working. Efrain was, shall we say, casual about our accuracy in measuring the mezcla’s ingredients. Likewise with the precision with which we cut the medios bloques that formed the end pieces and spacers of our rows. Man it didn’t even have to be real level! Mas o menos…ya esta bueno.
But Efrain broke with his friendly easy-going nature on just one thing, and on this he was totally serious. Efrain frequently dropped a plumb line to check that our walls were indeed going up straight. He was insistent. He was persistent. And he pulled off a couple of rows of substandard work just to make that point. Each bloque, each fila, could suffer a whole lot of mas o menos on muchas cosas, but the plumb line had to be perfecto!
That’s what the Old Testament prophet Amos is talking about in this week’s Lectionary Scripture. Amos protested when he saw visions of God’s wrath against Israel by locusts and by fire. And in each case, God relented. But then God set a plumb line and announced He will “not spare” Israel for violating it. Amos issues no protest. Why not?
Because Amos had been warning the children of Israel about false gods and fake godliness. Amos knew that God’s word was the universal plumb line, and Israel was nowhere close to it. The Israelites’ moral standards had degenerated. They were not upright. They had stopped loving Him; they had stopped loving each other.
In construction, whether primitive or hi-tech, the plumb line tests whether something is upright, indicating whether a column or a wall will stand on its own, whether it will support weight, whether it is useful for other purposes. A plumb line provides a single, inerrant standard against which anything can be measured. The question, “Is it plumb?” can only be answered with a yes or a no. When God set His plumb line, He was (and is) looking for those people who are living and loving right.
Consider this week’s Lectionary from the Gospel of Luke, when an “expert in the law” asks Jesus what must he do to inherit eternal life. Jesus turns the question around and then the man replies, “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 neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him he has answered correctly, to “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10: 27-28).
As is the case with so many “experts” this one sought only to justify himself, so he asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is a lesson unto itself. But the question is a good one and we want to press into it.
Christians can suffer a fair amount of mas o menos, in Efrain’s words, but we have to honor two things above all: 1) We love God above all things and with all we’ve got—not just love as in feel love, but as in to honor and obey love, and 2) We love our neighbors actively and unselfishly, as we love ourselves. This is God’s plumb line.
Where’s your plumb line? Where’s your church’s?
For just a moment, let’s move past how you live, or even how you behave, and get right down to what you love.
Because, you see, this past week has been busy. And it’s about to get a lot busier on the questions of what you love and what you believe.
In the United States, the Supreme Court has just repudiated traditional marriage. The U.S. Department of Defense has indicated that it will sanction (i.e., court martial) Christian service members who share their faith with others. These decisions will have political and moral repercussions throughout North America and beyond. Churches that oppose these decisions will suffer uncomfortable consequences.
In the Middle East, horrific attacks on Christians have continued—now eclipsed by other violence—but include the public beheading of a pastor in Syria and the incarceration and physical abuse of pastors in Iran. Over the past few weeks there have been multiple bombings targeting Christians in Iraq and Egypt and Libya and Lebanon, all without drawing one word of protest from the U.S. State Department, the U.S. President, or the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C.
Not. One. Word.
Who is your neighbor?
• Is it a Syrian Christian a half a world away whose priest was just beheaded, or a Coptic Christian in Cairo whose family was just burned out of their house?
• Is it a Muslim neighbor who has been quietly asking you what you think of Jesus in the Koran?
• Is it the lesbian in your office?
• Is it the unborn child in your womb?
• Is it the black teenager down the street, who the neighbors think acts suspiciously, who has never known his father?
• Is it an illegal immigrant looking for work so he can keep his children in Guatemala from starving or being sold into the sex trade?
Who is your neighbor, Christian? If not these, then who?
Because our Father-God has sent us to reach each of them, to love each of them. And yet we must love them enough not to compromise the moral truths God calls us and them to live by. Don’t imagine you can do this on your own, because if you could, what would you need God for?
If we love God above all that, it should work out just fine.
We need to figure out whether our lives touch God’s plumb line, and where they violate it. We need to figure out the same thing about our churches. God has set His plumb line to measure us, yes, but also to remind us we need His grace to love like He does. God’s building a house that will stand.
Therefore, this week we pray together that we “may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.”
It’s Monday Morning. We need to get busy. We have less time than we might think.