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July 15th, 2018

Sermon: "Be Plumb with God. Get in Line!"

A Sermon preached at Church of St. Andrew’s in Arlington, VA on July 15, 2018
8 Pentecost, Year B (RCL): Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

I speak to you in the Name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

         Amos was not the kind of prophet attached to temples or royal courts.  Rather, he was ‘a layman, a shepherd and dresser of fig trees’ from Judah (the southern kingdom) called by God to speak to Israel (the northern kingdom).  God’s word of judgment through Amos conflicted with the king’s high priest Amaziah, whom Amos encountered in Bethel.  When Amos told what he saw when God held up the plumb line of justice next to Israel – that the poor were being trampled – he became an instant threat to the power of both priest and king. 
         The plumb line was in use in Egypt as a builder’s tool, mostly by masons, as early as the first half of the third millennium B.C.  Two ledges of wood were joined, one above the other, at right angles to a plank.  The line was attached to the top of the plank and passed through a hole in the upper ledge.  If the line touched the edge of the lower ledge when stretched taut by the weight of the stone plumb, the stone or mud-brick wall was properly built “in plumb” or perpendicular to the ground.  The only refinement to this tool later, following the Iron Age, was the weights were made of metal.
         In the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Abingdon Press, Nashville;
 Vol. 4, 2009), the plumb line, a tool used to measure straightness, “served also as a metaphor for the moral assessment of Israel’s kings, of the nation’s adherence to the covenant, and of the justice and righteousness expected of the people.”  God is judging the sins of King Jeroboam and Israel, and Amos, the “not-prophet,” speaks for the Lord.
         Amos’s vision was of the Lord standing on a wall that had been built with a plumb line.  The Lord’s words were decisive: “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.”  Why?  Because Israel was out of plumb.  It was not perpendicular to the horizon, or level with, the Lord’s covenant and commandment.  The wall of Israel was not straight according to righteousness and justice.  The symbolism was pointed.  Israel was leaning so far out of the plumb of God’s will that the “wall” was dangerous.  It must be destroyed for safety.
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