Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down

15 July 2012/Proper - 10B Amos 7:7-15/ Psalm 85:8-13/ Mark 6:14-29
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Timothy’s School for Girls, Stevenson, MD
Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down
This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built
with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos,
what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am
setting a plumb line in the midst of my people… Amos

Prophets: Amos and John the Baptizer. At the corner of Park Heights and Northern Parkway in Baltimore stands a little house. A sign nearly as large as the house itself announces that one can get one’s fortune told inside. Online one can read one’s horoscope. Palm readers, Tarot Card readers, TV diviners – all have conspired to give us a rather skewed idea of what prophets were and are. So we come to believe that prophecy means to predict future outcomes, tell us our futures, help us make phenomenal investments and so on. These modern soothsayers don’t mess around with the entrails of birds, pig livers and the like as their ancient ancestors would have – that would be too messy and not at all glamorous.

Instead they wear exotic outfits, silk suits and Gucci shoes, and try to emulate the role of celebrity – in the end, styling themselves much more as entertainers of a curious and often desperate public. Or, they have their own radio and TV shows, blogs and Twitter feeds, pulling in multi-millions of dollars for simply trumpeting one ideological viewpoint or another all the while mercilessly bashing the opposition.

That is, at the end of the day they have more in common with Herod, Amaziah, Herodias and her mother than they do like the prophets Amos, John the Baptizer and all those God has appointed throughout human history to be his messengers – his Editorial and Op-Ed writers, his poets and visionaries, his truth tellers. God’s prophets, as represented in the Bible beginning perhaps with the Witch of Endor, Elijah and Elisha, Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel all the way out to John the Revelator, all appear to have two primary tasks: To speak Truth to Power, and to speak Hope to the Powerless.

And turning a neat profit (no pun intended, but apropos nonetheless) has never been the benefit of such an appointment on behalf of the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus. More likely they get run out of town (Amos), tossed to the bottom of a well (Jeremiah), exiled on an island (John the Revelator), or eventually just lose their head, like John the Baptizer. There is no single instance of a Biblical prophet being offered a multi-million dollar contract to broadcast their opinions, which are meant to be the opinions of the aforementioned God of the Exodus, Exile and Resurrection. Nor do they ever ask for money, and often refuse offers of the bare necessities like food and water. To say they are an odd lot does not begin to cover it.

As the Psalmist reminds us:
8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to him.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, *
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.  Psalm 85:8-13

Most prophets, like the Psalmist, are poets and songwriters – those members of human society who attempt to use language, imagery and metaphor to help us see where we are and where we ought to be headed. They comment on the present and remind us that our actions now have future consequences. We have before us a contrast in styles: John the Baptizer simply tells it like it is – you ought not to be married to your brother’s wife. Amos, on the other hand, is to be a plumb line in the midst of the people.

You have to love God’s innate sense of humor. He appears to Amos, standing beside a wall with a plumb line and asks, “What do you see?” With the same kind of straight forwardness that will characterize John the Baptizer in years to come, Amos replies, “A plumb line.” This shepherd and dresser of sycamore trees just does not see what God sees – a metaphor for all that is wrong with the current political situation and social unrest. God’s people are out of plumb. The wall is not plumb. The wall might be the nation, it might be the church, it might be society at large, it might be the political leaders, it might be the military leaders, it might be the religious leaders, it might be the business leaders, it might be you and it might be me – it might be, and likely is, all the above and more. The wall is not plumb, it is not straight, it is crooked, leaning to the left or right, in danger of toppling over, crumbling, falling down – ashes, ashes, we all fall down! We are all out of plumb.

So here we are in the political season of Stone Throwing - almost every day one camp or the other demands and apology – you said, she said, he said, we said. Stones are hurling back and forth. You read about it in the paper, on Facebook, in Tweets. In some countries stones are literally all people have to throw to try and end generations of oppression. Sign on the wall in a classroom at UNIS: “…the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. Freedom is never given to anybody. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance.” MLKjr

Martin Luther King Jr was the plumb line. Ghandi was the plumb line. A young man in the streets of Syria is the plumb line. Joan of Arc is the plumb line. A monk in Tibet is the plumb line. Sister Joan Chittister is the plumb line. A girl who goes to school in Afghanistan is the plumb line. Pete Seeger is the plumb line. You begin to get the picture. Everywhere we look, if we look for it, there is the plumb line. It is not hard to see once you see it. There are those who work overtime to obfuscate our vision. The prophet-poet means to help us to see again.

Poetry lends itself to music. When we sing the words of the prophets it goes to a deeper place within. We embody the words themselves. We become the words we sing. So it was last Sunday night at Furthur when the boys and girls all sang together:

Picture a bright blue ball, just spinning, spinnin free,
Dizzy with eternity.
Paint it with a skin of sky,
Brush in some clouds and sea,
Call it home for you and me.
A peaceful place or so it looks from space,
A closer look reveals the human race.
Full of hope, full of grace
Is the human face,
But afraid we may lay our home to waste.

There's a fear down here we can't forget.
Hasn't got a name just yet.
Always awake, always around,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Now watch as the ball revolves
And the nighttime falls.
Again the hunt begins,
Again the bloodwind calls.
By and by, the morning sun will rise,
But the darkness never goes
From some men's eyes.
It strolls the sidewalks and it rolls the streets,
Staking turf, dividing up meat.
Nightmare spook, piece of heat,
It's you and me.
You and me.

Click flash blade in ghetto night,
Rudies looking for a fight.
Rat cat alley, roll them bones.
Need that cash to feed that 
And the politicians throwin' stones,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Commissars and pin-stripe bosses
Roll the dice.
Any way they fall,
Guess who gets to pay the price.
Money green or proletarian gray,
Selling guns 'stead of food today.
So the kids they dance
And shake their bones,
And the politicians throwin' stones,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Heartless powers try to tell us
What to think.
If the spirit's sleeping,
Then the flesh is ink

History's page will thus be carved in stone.
And we are here, and 
we are on our own
On our own.
On our own.
On our own.

If the game is lost,
Then we're all the same.
No one left to place or take the blame.
We can leave this place and empty stone
Or that shinin' ball we used to call our home.
So the kids they dance
And shake their bones,
And the politicians throwin' stones,
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Shipping powders back and forth
Singing black goes south and white comes north.
In a whole world full of 
petty wars
Singing I got mine and you got yours.
And the current fashion sets the pace,
Lose your step, fall out of grace.
And the radical, he rant and rage,
Singing someone's got to turn the page.
And the rich man in his summer home,
Singing just leave well enough alone.
But his pants are down, his cover's blown...
And the politicians throwin' stones,
So the kids they dance
And shake their bones,
And it's all too clear we're on our own.
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Picture a bright blue ball,
Just spinnin', spinnin, free.
Dizzy with the possibilities.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.
-Words John Perry Barlow/Music Bob Weir

The Plumb Line has been set in our midst. Look and you will see it. Listen and you will hear it. Sing and you will become it. Soon you will speak Truth to Power and offer Hope to the Hopeless. Picture a bright blue ball, Just spinnin’, spinnin’, free.

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the diocesan girls’ boarding school in the Diocese of Maryland, where he teaches World Religions and English. His sermons are archived


  1. Rev. Kubicek,
    My Dad, Manny Suarez, sent me this blog post ... thank you for writing so elegantly about a very frustrating topic. As a young man, it's hard to know whether this moment in human history is particularly out of line or if humanity will always gravitate away from the God-willed "plumb" ... thank you for your work.
    Brandon Suarez