This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on June 27, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran SLC.We continue in our sermon series: Let Justice Roll Like Waters. The texts were:
Amos 7: 1-17 Mark 12: 28-34
Young Friends Time: Have a string with the magnet and a heart with a piece of metal attached on the back. Hold the string up and say what do you see? Did you know that this can help us to know if we are living how God hopes that we will? Have the heart with the metal available. We used this to measure the distance between chairs when we needed to do that during COVID-measuring distance to keep people safe is how we showed that we loved people. We didn’t know who would sit in the chair, but we knew that we loved them no matter who they were. Put the heart by each child/youth and let the magnet go to them. Our lives together are like this. Our bible stories are about this today. God was trying to get the Israelites to see that they weren’t loving each other and so held up a string like this against a sagging wall and asked Amos what he saw. Amos knew that the wall that leaning couldn’t do it’s job and needed to be changed. And God sent Jesus to show us how to love. God wants us to watch Jesus. When we watch Jesus what do we see? (Accept all answers) We see all those things, but mostly we see God’s love! We’re going to talk a little more about this together.
One of our favorite Netflix shows is Nailed It! It’s a baking show where three amateur bakers compete in two rounds of baking for ten thousand dollars. The contestants at the beginning at each round are shown professionally created cookies, cakes or cupcakes, usually fairly complex, and then have a short amount of time to reproduce it as exactly as they can. Let’s just say that hilarity ensues as most of the time they get no where close to the professional original. Then the professional baker, the host Nicole Byers and a celebrity guest will judge their creations. Nicole’s famous line before the judging is: “Here’s what you were trying to make and let’s see what you did!” More often than not, what they’ve made nowhere near resembles the original even though they had the sample right in front of them the whole time. From time to time, they are given a buzzer that they can push for the professional baker to come to their station for three minutes and answer a question or show them how to do something. Usually, this is a good choice and yet, not every baker uses that option and tries to do muddle through on their own. Shortcuts are made, corners are literally cut, timing is ignored and recipes are abandoned. Sometimes they get close to recreating the masterpiece, but just as often, the cakes are lopsided, partially decorated, cookies crumble into a mess, decorations fall off, or one layer of cake can’t bear the weight of the layer on top and it collapses into a heap, even when they do follow the instructions. Why is it so hard?
My life can seem like a macro version of that show. Here’s the thing I was trying to do and here’s what I actually did! And yes, it often is a crumbling mess and sadly with substantially less chocolate. My intentions, ideas and desires rarely translate in real life into the utopian vision I had in my head and heart. I can so clearly see what I should do, say, think, and be each morning and then by lunch time decide, well, there’s always tomorrow. Or I intentionally make the choice to ignore what I see I should do and do what’s easier, faster or benefits me instead of what’s right. I fail to measure up and I’m not even always sure what I’m trying to measure up to. The ideal of what the people around me want me to be? The ideal of what society and culture demand? How do I live my values? How do I know when I’m measuring up?
The conversation between God and Amos and then Amos and Amaziah, the court priest to the king, exemplifies these questions and longings. It’s clear that the people of Israel haven’t measured up to God’s standards and Amos intercedes for them, reminds God that they can’t. Israel is small and weak. The third time God showed Amos a vision, however, God asks Amos what the prophet sees, and Amos responds, a plumbline. A plumbline is a way, still all these millennia later, we use to measure if a wall is able to do it’s job of bearing the weight of the roof. A leaning or crumbling wall can’t fulfill it’s purpose and is downright dangerous as we sadly saw this week in Miami. Amos doesn’t intercede this time, as he gets it. The people of Israel aren’t just misguided, they are crumbling and bringing other people down with them. They have lost sight of what matters, of their purpose, of what they are trying to create in the world.
Amaziah and Amos then spar as Amaziah has lost sight of his purpose of telling the truth of God’s words to the king. He tells King Jeroboam only part of Amos’ prophesy, the Jeroboam being removed part, not the crumbling of Israel’s identity and purpose part. Just enough to get Amos in trouble and maybe scare him back to Judah where he came from. But this doesn’t work. Amos isn’t afraid, he doesn’t crumble under the pressure. Amos is not a prophet for his own profit, as Amaziah seems to be, but prophesies because God compels him. Amaziah recognizes that his world is crumbling but just wants to spackle some frosting over the lumpy pieces and comfort himself that he’s doing a good job by keeping the king and the court happy. Amos says that this will only lead to a bigger mess. Amos responds with watch and see what happens when you continue to ignore what God is trying to show you. God won’t be ignored and will get your attention.
This seems like a hopeless situation, when all the warnings, signs, truth, are ignored and people don’t see what God needs and wants them to see. How long can the crumbling wall bear the weight of the truth of the structure? How will it stand? God recognized this and became the plumbline in the flesh in Jesus. Jesus who shows us what God is measuring: love. God’s love, the ultimate plumbline. God’s love that sees our layers crumbling when left to our own devices. God’s love that bears the weight of our longings and messy attempts.
Jesus entered our crumbling, sinking, lopsided world, and shows us what it means to be steady, strong and resilient. Jesus shows us to see God’s love always with us. God’s love is not a sentimental feeling, but is an action. Love that reacts to the signs from creation of distress and destruction. Love that see lies and demands the truth be told of history, even if it’s painful and requires reparations. Love that sees oppression and lifts every voice to dignity, agency and worth. Love that sees bigotry, hate or fear and stands in solidarity. Love that sees humanity at it’s worst and is willing to be nailed to a cross, executed for loving too radically, too fully and too defiantly. Love that death can’t extinguish and never, and I mean, never ends. Love that might look fierce, loud, radical and new, but love that is as old as creation.
When we wonder if we are measuring up, God asks “What do you see? Do you see Jesus? Do you see the love of your neighbor?” We see God’s love, God’s plumbline, we see Jesus who shows us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor, those who are outside our circle, as ourselves and those in our circle. This is our plumbline. This is the measure of the people of God, this is what we are called to recreate to the best of our ability, even if we don’t do it perfectly, or know what it will look like in the end. And we love because God first loves us even when we’re a crumbled mess, even when we need to be strengthened, even when we’re afraid we might collapse in a heap, for God will always measure up and God’s love through Jesus can always bear the weight of our mess and stand strong in our midst. Thanks be to God.