Our plumb line is Jesus


Proper 10, Year B

A sermon preached July 15, 2012 for St. Paul's Bellingham by the rector

If you look carefully into the chancel here, you will see an iron rod crossing the width of the chancel connecting both walls near the point where the slope of the roof meets the walls. Then, if you walk outside to the walkway and steps leading from Walnut Street to the Great Hall entrance and look up at the outside wall of the chancel, you'll see why that rod is there.

That rod is there because the wall of the chancel is bowed outward. That rod is apparently helping keep the two side walls of the chancel in place. When architect F Stanley Piper designed this building I'm sure he designed it so the walls were plumb; that is, straight at a 90 degree angle to the foundation. I don't know what instruments the builders in the 1920's used to assure those walls were plumb, but that long ago they may have used a plumb line, which is a piece of lead on the end of a line. Held steady, this line will show what is plumb or out-of-plumb.

Our building over time has gone out of plumb. Gravity and other stress forces make it so.

The message of Amos the prophet is that the nation of Israel is out of plumb. They are out of plumb because they are no longer the people they were called to be; a people devoted to God's will and purpose, to be a blessing in the world through the establishment of justice – right relationship with God and neighbor and the stranger who comes into the community.

Amos lived in a time when Israel had expanded its territory, had a strong military force and was apparently economically strong. Israelites felt this was a sign of God's favor toward them. Amos begged to differ.

Amos was not a professional clergyman. He was just a person on fire with God, what someone has called “a burning coal which fell out of the fireplace.” No one in the establishment summoned him from the little village of Tekoa in Judea where his occupation was as a shepherd and arborist. God sent him to the northern kingdom of Israel to Bethel, which you might say was the sort of “National Cathedral” of Israelite religion; the sort of “royal chapel”. He got into it with the priest in charge of the royal chapel, a guy named Amaziah.

Amaziah was the king's man; a chaplain to the powerful, and in no way receptive to the warnings of this rough man from a small no-account village. In no uncertain terms he says “Scram! Get back to Judah where you belong and talk as much as you want to down there. But never show your face again here!”

It's interesting to note that Amaziah the priest never mentions God in his dismissive rant. “This is the king's sanctuary! This is a temple of the kingdom!”

Amaziah seems to share in the disease which Amos says afflicts the nation; the disease that convinces a people that they are entitled; which leads to complacency and self-serving. They've forgotten to be open to God.

In our readings from Mark we've heard Jesus introduce the idea that his mission will encounter resistance, and that his followers can expect resistance as well. He's described himself as on a mission to bind the strong man who holds captive God's people, and his mission will put him directly at odds with powerful people.

The prophets of Scripture are necessary to God's story; they are the unpopular people who rise up to say the unpopular thing. Amos is one. John the Baptist is one. Jesus is one.

Amos comes with a plumb line. John the Baptist comes with water and a message of return to God's ways. Jesus comes announcing a new sort of kingdom that stands against the pretensions and the follies of human kingdoms.

For us, Jesus is the plumb line. He is the embodiment of God's life; in relationship with him we find life that is true to God's original design. Like all prophets, we resist him at least as much as we are attracted to him.

As I think about what it is about Jesus that makes him our plumb line, I'm drawn to the Epistle for today, and the word that comes to mind as I think about how it affects me is “extravagance”.

God's life in Jesus is a life of extravagant giving and forgiving and blessing. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us.”

Like this building, our lives get out of plumb. We're ruled too much by the illusion that we are the center of our world, by the hurts we experience, by the things that we desire that slip from our grasp, by the perception of scarcity in the world. When this is so we lose the sense of God's extravagant love for us.

We live always in the presence of an extravagant God, who has a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Christ; things in heaven and things on earth, to put things right, to make things plumb again. We're adopted as beloved children of this God. We have every spiritual blessing that heaven affords. We are forgiven, blameless before God.

This building is likely never to be plumb again. Our lives are not likely to be completely plumb, either. But we are adopted by a God who loves us in our imperfection.

Therefore our lives can be lived to the praise of God's glory. I pray for myself, and for St. Paul's Church, that we seize upon the extravagance of God's love, which is our inheritance. As we do, we'll worry less, and venture more.

Thanks be to God.