Posts Tagged 'plumb line'

For July 14, 2013: Proper 10, Year C

The Reading            Amos 7:7-17

With Israel’s occupiers busy elsewhere around 750 BC, the elites enjoy peace and prosperity while afflicting the poor. The unlikely prophet Amos, called from his herds and fruit trees to set things right, speaks of God’s plumb line: a heavy weight hanging from a string to show how far a wall is from being perfectly upright. Amaziah resists by misquoting Amos on purpose—but, like a wall, a nation that is not upright cannot be allowed to stand.

The Response            Psalm 82 Page 705, BCP

The Epistle            Colossians 1:1-14

We begin reading from the letter to the Colossians, which may or may not have been written by Paul. Colossae was a prosperous Roman city in what is now southwestern Turkey. The Christians there were mostly gentile, so disputes about doctrine tended not to center on Jewish practice. The writer’s delight in what the Colossians are doing well is evident.

The Gospel            Luke 10:25-37

“‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’”


Further thoughts

The “credibility gap” of the 1960s and 1970s was the perceived discrepancy between the messages issued by the Johnson government about the controversial war in Vietnam, and later about Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate burglary and coverup, and the facts being uncovered in the media. Credibility gaps figure in several of today’s readings. Amaziah is a priest of Bethel and thus an anointed servant of the God of truth, but when Amos announces that Israel just doesn’t measure, up, Amaziah responds by misrepresenting the prophecy of Amos ’s to protect his lord King Jeroboam. The lawyer who attempts to snare Jesus does not resort to lying, at least—but his area of expertise would have been religious law, and his asking “Who is my neighbor?” smacks more than slightly of a later president’s widely parodied “It depends on what ‘is’ is.”

It is easy to condemn Amaziah and the lawyer, and two millennia of hindsight as to how the story comes out don’t make it any less tempting. The fact is that none of us measures up to God’s standards of goodness, neighborliness, and love—and even if we did, as the apostle Paul forcefully argues elsewhere, it wouldn’t justify us before God, because nothing can. As the letter to the Colossians tells it today, however, God loves us when we fail and he loves us when we try. Attempting to be good will not justify us—even the Samaritan reaching out beyond his own parochial interests to tend the wounds of the Jew was not justified by this—but making the attempt, when and as we can, bears blessed fruit not only for the world but for ourselves.

As a sage once said, “Don’t give until it hurts. Give until it feels good. The cost is about the same.” That’s precisely how God’s economy works.

For July 15, 2012: Proper 10, Year B

The Reading            Amos 7:7-15

Around 750 BC, with Assyria and Egypt occupied elsewhere, Israel enjoys peace and prosperity—for the wealthy and powerful, and at the expense of the poor. God calls Amos out of Judah, the southern kingdom, to pronounce judgment. The plumb line that Amos sees in God’s hand is a string with a heavy weight at one end that shows whether or not a wall is perfectly upright. The wall that is not upright cannot be allowed to stand.

The Response            Psalm 24

The Epistle            Ephesians 1:3-14

Today we begin reading from the letter to the Ephesians. The church at Ephesus in modern Turkey, like the church at Corinth in Greece, was a mixed Jewish and Gentile community. In the opening verses of the letter to this church, a Jewish apostle—possibly Paul—writes poetically of God’s intention before the world ever existed to adopt in Jesus Christ not just the people of the covenant of Abraham but all of creation, including each one of us.

The Gospel            Mark 6:14-29

Further thoughts

Late last week the commission investigating the Penn State football program released the results of its investigation of the climate in which sexual abuse of young boys went unreported and unstopped for a period of fourteen years. The report is unsparing in assigning blame at the highest levels. Like today’s Old Testament reading and gospel lesson, it gives a terrifying picture of the urgency of doing the right thing sooner rather than later: the longer one holds off, the more horrifyingly pervasive the damage will be and the less likely it is to be remediable. These readings also point to the unanticipated costs of doing and saying the right thing: Amos is shamed and exiled and John the Baptizer loses his life.  We ourselves are likely to see ourselves in the roles of Amos or John here; as human beings, however, we are surely at just as great risk of being so caught up in our own prerogatives or even our own human-crafted “righteousness” as are Amaziah, Jeroboam, or Herod.

In between, though, and counterbalancing the horror of being human, is the vivid and poetic rhetoric of the letter to the Ephesians. In the original Greek, the passage is one very long sentence that blesses God for blessing, choosing, designing for love, adopting, redeeming, giving grace to, forgiving, gathering up, giving an inheritance to, and sealing with the Holy Spirit not just the physical descendants of Abraham but all peoples. In short, God is crazy in love with us and has no hesitation about showing it. To put it another way, it’s not just that our pictures are in God’s brag book: we ourselves are God’s brag book.

That is a very tall order to live up to. I for one can’t do it on my own. The key here is love: by me, of you, through God. If I can walk in love as Jesus shows me, and if I let your love help me back to my feet when I stumble, and if each of us loves everyone else in exactly that way, then our love through God helps you and me and him and her and them uncover the real “you” and the real “me” and the real “him” and “her” and “them” that make each of us, in God’s eyes, just exactly what God always wanted.

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