Plumblines and Prophets

July 14th, 2013

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

Amos 7:7-17

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. 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.’

“Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. You say, `Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.’ Therefore thus says the LORD: `Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'”

In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.                                   

Ten years ago, I was preparing to move to Austin, Texas.  One year out of college and I was pursuing the next step of a life-long calling to the priesthood. Arriving on campus at the Episcopal Seminary oaf the Southwest in the brutal summer heat of Texas was a shock, even for someone from Oklahoma. 

The first building I saw as I entered campus was the chapel, set up from the sidewalk a ways and shrouded in trees.  The stone chapel has a slanted roof and windows all along one side.

At the time it was built, you could stand in the worship space and gaze out the windows at the Texas capitol.  If you turn to face the far end of the chapel, you look past the altar and through the windows to the chapel cross, a large statue located outside.  The shape of the building is unique.  It is inspired by Bedouin tents and reminds worshipers that we are just travelers here passing through. The wall directly opposite the windows is a solid stone structure, which for me was a comforting reminder of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.                                             

By placing the cross outside, and a bit off center, the architect, Arthur Fehr, conveyed the idea that the work of the Church is in the world.  At the back of the chapel, in the narthex is a statue depicting today’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Amos.  Made from metal, the statue is a large city skyline with a plumb line hanging over it, presumably hanging down from heaven.

This is a plumb line, just like the ones builders would have used in 1st century Palestine.  This tool was used by the ancient Egyptians to aid in building the pyramids and other structures. It is used as a vertical reference line and ensures a structure to be built going straight up.

In today’s reading, a plumb line represents God’s way of building, one that is straight and true.  The metaphor of a plumb line for the city is to guide the people toward that which is true.  It also hangs over the city as a sign of judgment for those who stray from the straight path.

As we begin to think about the world in which Amos lived, it makes me wonder. Are God’s prophets still speaking today? When I think of prophets, I think of Amos, Isaiah, and Micah. If I keep thinking, I may come up with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harvey Milk, Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Mother Theresa.  You may be reminded of others, people you know, who are doing remarkable things to initiate and effect social change in our world.

So, what is so special about prophets?  Are they simply chosen by God?  Do they have special super-human powers?  Prophets can see the Kingdom of God. They see the world as it is, but also as God created it to be, wholly good, restored and rebuilt, as if with a plumb line. 

The sculpture at my seminary isn’t only the city with the plumb line.  In front of the sculpture is a stand with a Bible and on the stand is the inscription, “Amos, what do you see?”  The plumb line is important, but even more so is the vision of the prophet. 

Prophets aren’t only called to action; they are called to help others see.  Working in the midst of this community at Epiphany are modern day prophets.  One example is our dear friend Charley Bush who died in February, but whose legacy continues in a very tangible way.

Charley had a heart for ministry with the homeless.  For years, he faithfully supported Operation Nightwatch, a ministry to the homeless in our community for the past 45 years.  In the final years of his life, Charley initiated, recruited, and brought to fruition the Friday Night shelter at Epiphany. Every single Friday night, for more than a year now, eight homeless men spend the night in the Christie House Library while two parishioners serve as their hosts.  Our Sunday School children have even gotten involved making “go-bags” with easy to eat food for them to take as they leave on Saturday mornings.

Charley saw the Kingdom in that he recognized this very present need in our midst, wouldn’t stop talking about it, and convinced enough people to join him in making his dream of an overnight shelter at Epiphany a reality.

We may not all be prophets in the same way as Amos or Charley Bush, but God does call each of us (through our baptism) into a prophetic movement of life in the Kingdom.

Prophets aren’t perfect.  They are fully human like you and me.  And I wouldn’t want to put Amos on too high of a pedestal, lest he fall off and disappoint.

To this point, just after the passage we heard about Amos’ waking-dream about the plumb line used to test the sturdiness and straightness of a wall, the priest Amaziah reports to King Jeroboam that Amos is stirring up trouble “in the middle of the house of Israel.” He characterizes him as both a political subversive and a religious nutcase.

The priest then goes to Amos and says, “Go, please, just go away. Go home to Judah and earn your living prophesying there.” Amos rejects both labels and responds heatedly, “I’m no prophet and not a prophet’s son, either. I’m a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees.” which means someone who harvests and cuts up figs.

Then he says, in effect, this was not my idea. “The Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”  (Amos 7:14-15)

God asks Amos, “What do you see?” and then, God says, “Go, prophesy!” Now, God asks each one of us. What do you see? Do you see institutional racism, workplace bias, ageism, poverty, or homelessness? What do you see that gets your blood boiling, your spirit agitated, and your soul hungry for change?

This plumb line is a metaphor.  It hangs here, springing forth from the Kingdom of God as a guide to show us what is true.

We see the world as it is, but do we have the courage and the faith to look at the world the way God created it to be, wholly good, restored and rebuilt, as if with a plumb line?

And when we do glimpse the Kingdom, what are we going to do about it?