Amos' Plumbline

Amos 7.7-15

Eph 1.3-14

Mark 6.14-29

Before I begin my sermon today I want to explain to you, just in case some of you don’t know, there may be one or two, what this is. *(hold up a plumb line)

It is an instrument , used by builders and decorators, to determine the perpendicular. This weight, at the end of the string, is called a plummet, which pulls the string down in a very straight line. It is held against a wall to make sure it is being built straight and true.

I want you to imagine this morning that I am not a curate in the Willington Team, and my name is not ……………………..

Imagine instead that I am a prophet*…

(put on a sandwich board which reads, PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD, one one side and the words SEEK GOD AND LIVE , on the other)

…a prophet in a land which has been free from outside attack or domination for fifty to sixty years. (rather like this one)

Imagine also that I live a solitary life because of my particular trade, and that I spend much time communing with the Lord God, to such an extent that I know his voice and His will. And since I am an obedient servant of his I feel compelled to speak out his word to you, without regard for my reputation or the fact that you might reject what I have to say.

I grip your attention by condemning other nations, but then I turn upon you! -you who once shared a very special relationship with God, and you realise all of a sudden the message, which I am delivering is not a message of encouragement from the Lord, but one of DOOM and WOE for you too, for you, more so, than them!

The message contains words of rebuke, you hear me telling you that God has measured you all as a nation, and found you wanting. You, as a nation, have flouted his law, in fact you completely disregard it. And so I list your faults too.

You are false and wicked,

Lazy and self-indulgent,

Your businesses are corrupt, bribery abounds,

There is no justice in the land…

You have lined your pockets by exploiting the poor,

and you stubbornly refuse to release them from the debts they owe to you.

Your worship is empty and God has grown to despise it, he even loathes your hymns of praise.

Strong words indeed!

And then I pronounce my verdict.

(hold up the plumb line)

‘Look I am setting a plumb line, among you my people,

I will spare you no longer, I have given you enough chances,

You have had enough mini- warnings,

Your high places shall be made desolate, your sanctuaries shall be laid waste, and I will rise against you with the sword of destruction.

You respond by asking me to leave and go and prophecy elsewhere, but in reply I say to you, ‘The Lord has told me to tell you, and now I have told you.’

As a prophet of God, I know full well that God has the desire to forgive IF this nation were to repent, but as I am CERTAIN there will be no repentance from nation, destruction is inevitable!

How are you feeling after that message? Do you feel strangely warmed and comforted and ready for a cup of tea?

No! neither did the people to whom the prophet Amos was addressing in the 8th Century B.C. for this was his word to them.

THEIR JUDGEMENT DAY WAS ABOUT TO COME.

I don’t know about you, but his words frighten the living daylights out of me. His words of reproof could so easily be meant for our own day and age, and there are no signs whatsoever of a nation or world in the mood for repentance.

Not all that many years afterwards, his words of doom came true! The Assyrian hoards conquered them and swept them into exile, and for a long time they lost their identity as a nation.

(Take off the sandwich board)

I once papered someone’s kitchen wall for them. She was a mum who was expecting a baby, and couldn’t climb ladders, so I had offered to do it.

I even used a makeshift plumb line using a spoon and string, but somehow it wasn’t as effective as the genuine article my father used to own, but I did my best. However because the spoon lodged itself against the wall I didn’t get a true first reading, consequently by the time this heavily patterned paper reached the door it was quite obviously out of ‘sinc’. It all had to be undone, she couldn’t have lived with it!

Many people since have built their lives on that one first wrong plumb-line reading, and everything else they've done that follows has ended up 'out of sinc'.

Take a look at our gospel today, concerning King Herod.

The first mistake he makes is in taking to himself his brother’s wife, on goes that first piece of wallpaper on with a crooked plumb line.. and so he builds upon mistake after mistake …

The prophet John the Baptist first denounces him, repeatedly and very publicly,

He is forced to silence him so he puts him in prison…mistake number two.

Then he angers his wife Herodias by not punishing John further, but he listens to him occasionally and seems to fear and respect him.

Then his eyes stray to her daughter, when he is drowning his sorrows at a party, and he persuades her to dance for him, by promising anything she wants.

She consults her mother…who demands John’s head on a plate.

And the King is forced to carry out his vow, or lose face in front of his guests.

By the time the wallpaper, so to speak , 'gets to the door', it is obviously crooked, and he can't live with it. He is deeply grieved, and his mind is gripped with fear.

Listen to him, in the darkness of his mind, in our gospel reading today…when he hears about Jesus,

'John whom I beheaded, has been raised!' he screams. In other words, ‘He’s come back to haunt me!

Sounds like that scene from MacBeth, where Banquo the ghost enters and points his finger directly at him, the killer.

He has his JUDGEMENT DAY.

Where does this leave us? What positive message can we take away with us today from today’s readings?

We could first of all ask ourselves are we moral heroes like John and Amos, who are upright and true, and unafraid of what others think in their drive to do what God wants of them, and firm and courageous in proclaiming his word, or are we moral cowards like the Israelites of the 8th Century and like King Herod, who were more interested in what other people thought, and how they would react,than to DO WHAT WAS RIGHT?

How do we avoid the finger of judgement; the answer lies in our second NT lesson from Ephesians 1.3-14

We might choose to gaze more on the cross, which is the perfect plumb line, which pointed us to God our Heavenly Father and to the one true sacrifice made for us by Jesus,.

Any other plumb line will never match up, and lead us to determine the true perpendicular…the right way to live.

Jesus was His one true son.

He knew his Father, he talked with Him, he thought like Him, he prayed to Him, he was one with Him, he gave his life for him to be a perfect example for us.

To all who believe in Jesus he gives the right to become God’s children; children born of God, who no longer belong to Sin, so that we as his Father’s adopted children might be like Him too, and act like him.

SO WHEN TRYING OUR BEST IN PUZZLING OVER THE PROBLEMS OF OUR NATION, AND OUR WORLD, WE SHOULD BE IMITATING OUR OWN FATHER'S NATURE IN TRYING TO SOLVE THEM. it's as simple as that.

There is a great need in our community, our country and indeed our world today to pass the words of Amos and John on to others, in a far more imaginative and creative way than we do at present...

So that, like this old fashioned sandwich board says, others may PREPARE TO MEET THEIR GOD AND REPENT, NOT ONLY THAT BUT TO SEEK GOD AND LIVE.