Reading: Amos 7:7-15 New International Version
7 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”
“A plumb line,” I replied.
Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
9 “The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:
“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
and Israel will surely go into exile,
away from their native land.’”
12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”
14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
There are various questions that strike us during this reading. We have to remember Amos was actually a poor shepherd. He had not been trained, he had not gone to Northern College or Westminster College or anything like that. He was just obedient. That is one of the key things about God; God does not necessarily use the most intelligent people, he uses those who are most obedient. It is availability, not ability, that God looks for. Amos was very much in that camp. He was obedient and he was available.
Amos gives some very unpopular messages. The Lord tells Amos that he must set a plumb line. As we all know, a plumb line is a weight on the end of a rope or piece of string, which gives you a perfectly straight line. God is comparing the plumb line with God’s moral values - the things that God believes and to which people must adhere. This plumb line gives us a measure of what God believes in, as does the Bible.
Now, if I made a plumb line, how skewed would my plumb line be in comparison to Gods? My moral values have been forged by friends, family, society, television, and social media. My plumb line resembles what I think is true, but how true is it compared to Gods? Luckily, God has given us his plumb line in the Bible, which tells us what to measure as the truth. God is very clear in the Bible that God does not like poverty, does not like people being oppressed, and is not happy when people manipulate and take advantage. When we think about how good our actions have been, we need to compare them to how good God thinks we have been. There is God's plumb line, there is a society's plumb line and there is our plumb line, but sometimes, they are not all the same measurements.
In this reading, we have Amaziah, the chief priest of Bethel, and King Jeroboam, who ruled over the northern kingdom. King Jeroboam stopped people from the northern kingdom from going to the southern kingdom where Jerusalem was, yet everyone was expected to go to Jerusalem to fulfil their sacrifices and so forth. So, what King Jeroboam did was provide two other temples for his people to worship God. Amaziah was a priest assigned to one of these temples, which was Bethel. The other one was in a place called Dan.
Amos has been asked to give Amaziah some bad news. The northern kingdom was not behaving as it should, so they would be annihilated. It is important to remember this book was written around 760 BC, because in 721 BC, Assyria invaded the northern kingdom and wiped it out. What we are reading is a prophecy from Amos, 40 years before the event.
What happens when you hear the truth? Amaziah had two options. The first is to ignore Amos and believe the message does not relate to him or means something else. Secondly, he could get rid of the messenger, and that is what Amaziah did. He did not like what he was hearing and thought Amos was bad for morale, so asked Amos to go away. But Amos said, I can go away, but the truth remains the same. Unless they change their ways, they will be destroyed.
The message we can take from this passage is, where do we set our plumb line? What is the cost of our discipleship? If we have to say something, which we know others will not like to hear, what should we do?
The Cost of Discipleship is a book written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is a lightweight book but it has heavyweight content. Bonhoeffer says that the cost of discipleship is, if you go to heaven, what scars will you be proud to show that you have sustained because of God. So, this passage examines us. It asks, what is the cost of our discipleship? Then we have to ask ourselves, what comes between us and obeying God? What obstacles do we put in the way to prevent us from obeying the word of God?
This sermon was first preached at Wanstead URC by Reverend Martin Wheadon on 18th July 2021
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon