The Plumb line of God...How do You Measure up?

Amos 7:1-17

Just before the death of actor W.C. Fields, a friend visited Fields' hospital room and was surprised to find him thumbing through a Bible. Asked what he was doing with a Bible, Fields replied, "I'm looking for loopholes."1

By contrast, a number of years ago my mother and my mother-in-law were both visiting our home. It was an afternoon and the two were quietly sitting in the living room, both reading their Bibles. Our youngest daughter who was about ten or eleven years of age at the time caught sight of this and replied, "they're studying for their finals".

While neither or them was in any particular hurry, the idea of death was no great fear to either of them. They had passed their exams and were just waiting for graduation. Or like the way Valerie loves to research any place before we go on vacation, they were just reading up on all the sights.

The prophet Amos was one of those Biblical characters who was called upon to prophesy God's judgment. We actually know a little bit about him. He is a layman, not a professional priest or teacher. He came from Judah, the southern kingdom, from the town of Tekoa just south of Jerusalem. By occupation he is a farmer, either raising or tending sheep and fig trees. But God has given him a new vocation. He has sent him to the northern kingdom of Israel to speak what God has put in his heart and mind.

Remember that the nation had split shortly after Solomon's death. The ten northern tribes had split off from their two southern kin. The northerners had established their own capital city in Samaria, and had their own rival king. The two southern tribes lived in what was called Judah and maintained Jerusalem as the capital, with its temple. The northern tribes had their center of worship at Bethel.

Israel was in the autumn of its years by the time of Amos. It was rich, felt unthreatened and had fallen into moral decay.
As you read the scriptures you see that from the very beginning, running through the core of God's word is a strong ethical theme. We are called to live ethical and moral lives, because this is a reflection of God's own character. Our moral principals have a grounding in the character and the commands of our creator. They are not just arbitrary commandments and prohibitions cobbled together by an ancient culture. They are the revelation of the character and nature of the creation and its creator.

Amos comes to Israel. He is not totally considered a foreigner, but he is considered an outsider.

Israel is wealthy. Amos is critical of the way they love their luxuries, living in houses of ivory while the rich oppress the poor.

This is what the LORD says: "For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath.
They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name.

They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.
In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines. (Amos 2:6-8, NIV)

Israel had become corrupt to the core and it was time for action.
God judged Israel and Judah by a higher standard than the other nations. This was because God created them as a nation to reflect the nature and character of God to the rest of the world, to be a beacon of God's light. But when that light of justice and of mercy and of moral purity went out, all they had were the formal observances of their faith without any of its content and God would not not stand for that.

God shows Amos what is about to happen. Syria is growing stronger as is Bablyon and in a few years, first Israel then Judah will be conquered and taken into exile.

God shows this to Amos in three different pictures:
In the first a swarm of locusts sweeps down and devours all the harvest just after they pay their first crop as taxes.
Amos is horrified.
This says a lot about who Amos is and why God has chosen him.
Remember Amos is from Judah and there is no love lost between Judah and Israel. A lesser man would have been thrilled at the prospects of Israel getting its just deserts. They were the ones who had separated in the first place.
But not Amos. He shows no inclination to wish the worst on them. He pleads for them instead.
He says:
Lord, forgive them. How can they survive?

God relents.
Then God shows Amos a fire burning up the land. Once again Amos pleads for them.
Sovereign Lord, I beg you to stop. They cannot survive this!

Once again, God relents.

Do you ever wonder what God admires in someone?
There are many characteristics, but here is one:
Amos had compassion. He was not someone who gloated over his enemy's misfortune. In fact he pleads for them to be forgiven.
Jesus says the same thing to us. Pray for your enemies.
How many of us can say that we do that?
Do you forgive and ask God to forgive people who you think really deserve what they get?

In our newspapers day by day we read of the trial of a young woman who is accused of the unbelievably brutal murder of Reena Virk.
This is her second trial. She was convicted in the first trial and in the press she is portrayed as a teenage monster.

Suppose she is guilty.....
Do any of us pray for her?
This morning we will pray for the family of Reena, the girl who was so brutally murdered.
But I will also pray for that young woman on trial. Not that she will be acquitted, because that is a matter for the justice system. But I will lead us in prayers for her as a human being, that God will forgive her if she is guilty.
This is what God looks for in us.
Apparently He did not find it in Samaria. What he found were people who had no compassion for their own poor and innocent let alone for their enemies.
But He did find it in Amos.
I will also pray that He finds it in us.

But the other side of this is that there is justice.
Our court system is imperfect. God is not.
God is compassionate and his mercy is greater than his justice. But there is justice and there is judgment.
Jesus said He did not come to bring judgment or to pronounce it. But there is judgment.

Amos plead for Israel twice and God has relented.
In the third vision, God takes a plumb line and places it against a wall to see if it is straight and true.
Amos has no reply this time.
He knows that Israel would fail the test.
If God's standard is applied to your life, do you pass or fail?, or like WC Fields are you looking for loopholes?
Do you try to justify your view of yourself and your life by your own standard or are you willing to have faith in God's standard.

The plumb line of God is God's own character. It is Jesus.
Tested against the standard of Jesus character and life we all fall short.
We have God's gift of grace that removes the threat of judgment.

If you have ever watched carpenters framing a house there come times when a wall section is raised into place. Then it is plumbed and aligned to see if it is in place. The carpenter will have his helpers secure the wall but not too tightly. Then with a crowbar or some other tool, the wall section is moved and aligned so that it is plumb and true. Then it is nailed into place.
Years later when you try to do your wallpapering, you can tell how well the wall was plumbed and how well it retained its alignment.

Our lives are like that. It is an ongoing process of measuring against God's standard and truing it up.
That in part is why we need each other. My own perception of myself can be terribly self serving or terribly distorted.
I need to listen to others and to listen to God's word.
Then I need to cooperate with God's efforts to straighten up my walls.
Are there any rooms in your life that you know haven't been checked in a while or that you know need some work?
Maintenance is an ongoing process, but the builder is reliable.

Prayer: Lord we know our lives need your scrutiny. Help us to overcome barriers to honesty with you. Do your work in us we pray. In Jesus name. Amen

Preached  July 11, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

1. anonymous, quoted in

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