Called Out and Blessed
July 11, 2021 Rev. Dr. Darlis Swan
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 Israel;
I will never again pass them by; the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words.
Amos' Answer to Amaziah by Marc Chagall, 1960
For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’ ” And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ "
Grace and peace to you from God our father and the lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I have always been fascinated by the Old Testament prophets. They always appear so courageous, bold, and fearless. Did you ever wonder why these prophets were able to endure so much? They seemed to be able to send out a message in a way that nobody else could. They were able to stand up to the powers and authorities of the day and point out injustice and corruption.
In our Old Testament lesson for today we read about Amos. The Lord took him from the flock and told him to prophesy. Amos is doing what God asked him to do, and the next thing you know, King Jeroboam II has told the priest Amaziah that Amos is a conspirator, and he should be expelled and sent back home to the land of Judah. Get out of the house of God (Bethel), he says.
This was a time of great prosperity in Israel, but according to the book of Amos, there was much injustice. Because Amos spoke out against this, he was labeled as a “dangerous man.”
Amos had a vision of a plumb line. A plumb line was used by builders to ensure that a building was precisely vertical. We speak of a wall being “off plumb.” We might say our covenant with God calls us to straighten up. Of course, there is the plumb line that saves: the cross of Jesus Christ.
Amos had a vision of a plumb line, and that told him this northern kingdom was “out of alignment.” Something was wrong. The lord spoke to Amos and told him to get things back in order. Amos spoke the truth as God had told him to do. Sometimes god’s word is hard to hear for those who are comfortable and benefiting from the established system. Amaziah was such a person. He just couldn’t hear what Amos was saying because he didn’t want to change a situation where he was in power. Not only that, he wanted to get rid of Amos.
Exposing injustices was not necessarily what Amos wanted to do! He points out that he is not a professional. He has no training, but he was “called out” by God and given every blessing he needed. I am sure he didn’t want to preach the awful truth about the collapse of Israel, but he was called to do so! He was criticized. He was sent away. But he was called by God. So he followed.
Of course, we have our famous modern-day prophets. One good example is the rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Each time I hear a recording of his “I have a dream” speech where he describes a community where there is true equality for all, it is as if the words come alive again. One of my favorite sermons is the one where Dr. King talks about how he wants to be remembered. Let it be said that “I was a drum major for justice,” he preached. What a powerful image.
Let’s look at the gospel lesson. (Mark 6:14-29) John the Baptist told the truth, and he had to face the consequences. He made it clear that Jesus is the truth, and the truth will make you free. What a paradox! John the Baptizer spoke the truth God gave to him. He refused to compromise. We, too, are called to speak the truth of the gospel – regardless of the consequences.
We don’t have to look far to see how political powers work to bring death and destruction. The global repercussions of the strife in the middle east and elsewhere are in our face…in the midst of this and our own fears, god calls us out – you and me – to be the bearers of good news – God is among us - giving us what is good – love, faithfulness, and righteousness (morally right).
Our church remembers and commemorates
those who have spoke out for the gospel in extraordinary ways. One such person was
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German theologian who, at the age of twenty-five, became a lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Berlin. In 1933, and with Hitler’s rise to power, Bonhoeffer became a leading spokesperson for the confessing church, a resistance movement against the Nazis. He was arrested in 1943. After leading a worship service on April 8, 1945, he was taken away to be hanged the next day. His last words as he left were, “This is the end, but for me the beginning of life.”
While the world seems to be in chaos – God’s word reminds us, again, that we can set our hope in Jesus Christ. When the world around us seems to be in disarray – without a plumb line, we are called to follow Jesus. We have a focus…that focus is to move forward and to praise God.
We have a path…God’s path…our psalm for today (Psalm 85) tells us.
When I think about following God’s call, I think about how he has led me in the right direction – every time – in spite of the twists and turns I might have taken. When I think about God’s path for us, I think about the moving “walkways’ that get travelers from one place to another at airports. You just step on the walkway and move along. You don’t even have to walk. You just stand and you are moved along…of course, there is always an end…at some point you hear: “The moving walkway has just ended. Please look down.”
If we are truly on the path with Jesus, we will have everything we need – every spiritual blessing. The god of the universe is in charge of all our efforts. As Jesus calls us, he calls us to be a community of light and hope in a world that seems to pull us into despair. (The world has us wanting things we don’t need and scatters our desire to follow a humble carpenter who was truly the savior of the world. Worldly treasures soon leave us dissatisfied and empty.)
When we follow Jesus as did Amos and so many others, we are on a moving walkway that never ends. A Christian life is driven by God’s call and mission. Through baptism we are sealed with the sign of God’s holy spirit. God is involved with us when we listen to God’s word and receive God’s sacrament.
Just as God called the prophets of old, God is calling us today to be messengers of God’s love. We do have good news to share.