Amos 7: 7-17  “I Am Setting A Plumb Line”
Sermon by Pastor Mark Siler, 7/17/19

Roughly 750 years before Jesus comes on to the scene, an unknown and simple herdsman and harvester of sycamore figs from the South hears God telling him to go tell the northern king, Jeroboam II, that he is betraying God. The prophet’s name was Amos. It was a time of great prosperity, but instead of this benefitting everyone, the increase in resources were only going to a small elite class while many were suffering in poverty. To make matters worse, the already wealthy were selling their poorer Jewish neighbors into slavery in order to make even more money.  In addition, King Jeroboam, desiring more land and power, was also successfully fighting Israel’s neighbors and extending Israel’s borders. The King and his cohorts saw their prosperity and their expanding nation as a sign that God was with them. Amos arrives out of nowhere and as a nobody to tell them otherwise. Interestingly, our text today is more about Amos’ confrontation with Amaziah, the King’s priest who defends the king and is annoyed with Amos’ judgment. In this passage, Amos proclaims that God has set a plumb line in the midst of God’s people – a marker for faithful living that the King and the Priest are ignoring.  He tells them that unless they return to using this plum line as a reference for life, they will self-destruct and go into exile. So, as we hear these prophetic words from Amos, my question is this, what is this plumb line Amos is talking about and what does it have to do with us? 

Comments from the congregation:

  • It is relevant to today – a few having too much and many not having enough.
  • A plum line is used to set the cornerstone. If that gets off everything is off.
  • When we stop caring about each other then we get away from the plum line.
  • It is interesting that God again uses someone who is considered a nobody to speak truth.

One of my mentors is a Cuban pastor named Paco Rodes.  Paco, now nearing 80, was a young minister when the Cuban Revolution succeeded in 1959.  Within a couple of years, it became illegal to be a Christian.  Any religious belief and practice was considered a mental illness by the Cuban government. Paco was among the pastors and lay people who refused to hide. Many of them were imprisoned and subjected to re-education programs.  As you would expect, large congregations quickly dwindled down to a handful of participants. For three decades, Paco publically pastored First Baptist Matanzas under these conditions.  Though he always downplays the hardships, he and his family suffered significant persecution.

For a host of reasons, in the late 80s and early 90s, the adversarial relationship between the church and the Cuban government began to thaw.  With Fidel Castro’s approval, the congress removed atheism from the constitution.  More and more, identifying as a Christian did not keep Cubans from needed education and work.  With these shifts, many Cubans started going back to church.  I will never forget hearing Paco talk about these changes and expecting him to conclude with a word of gratitude.  Instead, he issued a word of caution.  He said, “While I am glad people are back in church, we now face a greater challenge. Christianity, as it often is in the US, can now become easy. We now have to deal with complacency. We now can distance ourselves from the cost of discipleship.”

In the prophetic tradition, Amos is considered “the crier for justice.” In psalm 85, the psalmist describes salvation as the moment when justice and peace kiss.  Salvation will come for all of us when justice and peace are united, but not before then. We must understand that there is a peace that has no justice. The Roman Empire even referred to itself as Pax Romana, the peace of Rome.  There is an unholy peace, a forced calm, maintained with fear and oppression. Amos knew it. Jesus knew it. Paco knew it.  The priest Amaziah reminds us that it is easy for us religious folk to settle for that peace, the one without the justice.  We at Haywood St. have a beautiful ministry of hospitality.  Many come here who are directly harmed by the world’s injustice and find refuge, respite and relationship. Thanks be to God! And, Amos reminds us that the plumb line is more than that. Justice and peace must kiss.

Like Amos, we find ourselves in Asheville during a time of supposed prosperity. I’ll never forget last year’s big and bold headline on the front page of the Asheville Citizen Times announcing with great pride, “Property Values In Asheville Rising At A Record Pace”.  Great news, if you own property.  The article made no mention of how this makes it harder and harder for a growing percentage of our community to have a place to live. Justice and Peace must kiss.

The plum line is here for us too, smack dab in the middle of everything, to remind us that political and economic forces are always looking to co-opt our faith, to co-opt us. They will always be content with a handful of churches caring for those who are harmed and dehumanized as long as the on-going source of the hurt and the indignity is never questioned. Justice and Peace must kiss.

We live in a time and a culture where being Christian comes with little to no cost. To the contrary, it can give us more status, not less.  It can give us more access to worldly power, not less.  May we see the priest Amaziah as a warning. May we allow the words of Amos to hang, like a plum line, in our easily disoriented hearts. May we be the ones, like Amos and Jesus before us, through whom Justice and Peace join and kiss.