Look At The Plumb Line - Live for the Praise of His Glory
To make clear once and for all that Jesus is NOT John the Baptizer, Mark gives us a detailed account of how John loses his head (Mark 6:14-29). It is a story drenched with all the political and religious intrigue, scandal and backstabbing violence as any that commands our attention in today’s social, political and pop culture scenes.
John had simply done what needed to be done: he spoke Truth to Power. As always, Power does not like be reminded of what it is doing that is wrong. He reminds Herod it is not lawful for Herod to have married his own brother’s wife. And yet, we are told that this particular Herod, for reasons unexplained, somehow enjoys listening to John. He likes having him around. Herodias, his current wife, formerly his brother’s wife, however, is tired of listening to John and employs the charms of her own daughter to have John’s head delivered on a platter.
All in the name of keeping a scandal quiet, although it rarely works to kill the messenger. The word is out, and reputations are already discredited.
The Prophet Amos is a prototype for John (Amos 7:7-15). After seeing a vision of God with a plumb line in his hand, Amos is sent to deliver a series of messages to King Jeroboam II, messages that are not at all encouraging. The message is that not only is the King going to die, but all the people of Israel”s northern kingdom, Samaria, will have to pay the price of his unfaithfulness. This unfaithfulness includes over-reliance upon military might, withdrawing the ten northern tribes from the Davidic alliance, a growing disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor, and a return to idolatry, setting up temples devoted to the Golden Calf in the northern kingdom. It is Amos who declares that what YHWH the God of the Exodus cares about is doing righteous deeds for those in need, not extravagant or correct worship, let alone idolatry.
One has to love the comical depiction of the King’s own advisor/protector and priest, Amaziah, as he attempts to head off disaster by running Amos out of town. Amaziah suggests that Amos could make more money back in the southern kingdom of Judah by issuing his prophecies there. That’s always the temptation: to follow the money.
Amos says, “Nothing doing. I’m not in it for the money! I am no prophet, nor am I a prophet’s son. I am a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees. The Lord took me away from my flock and told me to bring this message to you and your boss.”
Speaking truth to power: Amos and John the Baptizer, two of an endless series of such prophets in the Bible – and forerunners of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus: sent to speak truth to power.
God shows Amos a plumb line, after which Amos and John become the plumb line. God says, just put this plumb line next to the wall I have built – the wall being a metaphor for Israel and Judah, for God’s people, and as far as we are concerned, for the Church. Does it look plumb to you, Amos? Are the walls still as I built them? Or, are they out of line?
It interests us that between these two lessons lies the letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians might be said to describe the plumb line. It talks about our sole purpose: that we might live for the praise of God’s glory and to serve others.
That’s it. The rest is all about God’s doing, not ours. And what God does is substantial.
God blesses us with every spiritual blessing. Not some, not many, but every spiritual blessing.
God chose us as His Beloved before the foundation of the world. Before “In the beginning…”
God destined us for adoption as his children according to the good pleasure of his will!
God freely bestows his glorious grace making us his beloved!
God forgives us our trespasses.
God makes known to us the mystery of his will set forth in his prophets and in Christ.
God has a plan to gather up all things to himself, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Christ we have also received an inheritance, as we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.
God does all this so that “we might live for the praise of his glory.”
With cases like Herod, Herodias, Jeroboam and Amaziah, like all the well-publicized cases of our own time, it is easy to see when things are out of plumb; things are out of line. Hang the plumb line in the midst of our world and what do we see? Are we as a nation, as a community, as a church in line with the God who does all this for us without our asking? Do we live for the praise of God’s glory? If yes, Alleluia! If not, what needs to be done? Who among us is like Amos and John the Baptizer in speaking Truth to Power? Do we grasp God’s concern for alliances among the various tribes of God’s people? Do we grasp God’s concern for the growing disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor? And if so, what do we do about that? Do we yet grasp that it is right behavior every day that praises God, not some notion of right worship? Or, worse yet, turning to idolatry, which in the end is only religion cast as money?
We say we believe that everything we say and everything we do will proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. We say we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as our selves. We say we will strive for justice and peace for all people and respect the dignity of every human being (BCP 305). We pray that we have a reverence for earth as God’s creation, and that we will use its resources in the service of others and to God’s glory and honor (BCP 388). Our catechism says according to the gifts given to us we will continue Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world (BCP 855). Not in the parish, not in the church, but in the world. Does our encounter with Christ and engagement with the world show that we are a people who live for the praise of God’s glory? Dare we look at the plumb line, repent and follow Jesus?
As Paul writes elsewhere, the world is on tiptoes in anticipation waiting for us to speak truth to power and work to make the world right-side up again. Amen.