A Message for All Ages: “Plumb Line”

The metaphor of a Plumb Line in Amos 7:7 tells us that God is not a distant, uninvolved god, but is right beside us: involved in our lives at every moment.

plumblineReference Scripture: Amos 7:7-17

In this morning’s reading from Amos, we find that Amos uses the concept of a Plumb Line as a metaphor for how God interacts with his people – and all of Creation for that matter.

What is a Plumb Line?

A Plumb line is simply a string with a weight on the end.  As shown in the photo here.  It is used to determine if something is perfectly vertical, or not.  Without a Plumb Line, or something to do the same sort of job, you cannot build a structure of any size, because you will have no way of determining if your walls and pillars or columns are perfectly straight, or leaning.  If they are not perfectly vertical, the structure will be weak and likely to fall down.  The Sumerians, Egyptians and Jews all used Plumb Lines in the construction of buildings of all types, including their temples.  Without them, structures of any size would not be possible.

The thing about a plumb line is that you don’t use it just once.  Measuring a wall once it is complete doesn’t do much good because if the wall is “out of plumb,” then you’d need to tear it down and start over.  Instead, you constantly use the Plumb Line throughout your construction project, to ensure that the wall is “plumb” as you build it.

Likewise, God is constantly beside us, guiding us, measuring our progress, speaking to us, so that we are “plumb” in our own lives.  In Amos’ metaphor, God isn’t a distant, uninvolved god, but a god that is right beside us: involved in our lives at every moment.

Bonus question: So, we know that the Plumb Line is used to make sure walls are built perfectly vertically; but how did the ancients make sure that their foundations, such as the foundation for a temple or pyramid, were perfectly level?  (Because if they weren’t, you’d be in trouble even before the first brick or stone was put in place!)

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Sermon: Don’t Stop There!

The Bible is fundamentally a message of Hope. It acknowledges and warns us of pain and loss and evil and hate here in the present; but encourages us to look within ourselves to find the love and grace and hope that God planted there, and which will (eventually) bear fruit within our lives – if we give it a chance.

He Qi Good Samaritan
“The Good Samaritan” by He Qi (2001)

I thought we should begin with some backstory for this morning’s Old Testament reading.

The prophet Amos of Tekoa is the earliest of the so-called 12 minor prophets grouped together at the end of the “Old Testament”. He sets the model for prophetic ministry that is followed by all of his successors, including John the Baptist and Jesus.

Amos began his ministry around 750 BC: shortly after the first Olympics were held in Greece, and about when the legend says Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus. It was a time when the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah were both at the height of their power, wealth and influence. Things were good – the borders are secure; people are getting rich; the land is at peace.

But then there’s Amos: a really gloomy guy, not someone you’d invite to a party! He was the first to prophesy what at the time seemed unthinkable: that the Northern Kingdom would be conquered and laid waste by the Assyrians, the survivors forced into exile.

Amos-5
“They take a bribe and turn aside the poor at the Gate.” (Amos 5:12)

Tekoa, which is we where are told Amos is from, is a Hebrew word that means “trumpet.” “Amos” means “brave” or “strong;” and that is what he was, a brave trumpet: proclaiming the word of God for all to hear, particularly those in power. (Even though they were too busy with the good life to want to hear it!)

Now, the entire Book of Amos is basically two long series of prophesies, with almost no other dialog or prose. The first set of prophecies ends in chapter 7, verse 9 from today’s reading. Then we have this short vignette where the King’s High Priest, Amaziah, misrepresents Amos’s words to the King. Amaziah then demands Amos return home to Judah, which he refuses to do. Instead, Amos defends himself and then launches into his final two chapters of prophetic gloom and doom.

And yet… Amos’s prophecies do not end in despair, but with hope. At the end of his book we read…

I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them upon their land,
and they shall never again be plucked up
out of the land that I have given them,
says the Lord your God.
(Amos 9:14-15)

Like Amos, all of the prophets end on a note of hope for the future, despite all of the catastrophic events and dire pronouncements that fill their prophecies. This pattern is also seen in the Book of Revelation and in the Gospels. The Bible never leaves us in the midst of loss, failure and pain. So, don’t stop there! …As Winston Churchill is reputed to have said: “If you’re going through Hell, keep going!”

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