14 July 2013

In the lectionary this week we find the powerful metaphor in Amos of God’s plumb line – the measure of God’s people and their faithfulness to God’s purposes. Then, alongside this*, the Gospel places the parable of the Good Samaritan – clearly the plumb line measures things differently from how we normally would! So, the question is how do we measure our spirituality, our faithfulness to Christ and our living of God’s Kingdom principles and values? Once again, we are reminded that God measures not by success, or power or money, but by compassion, service and sacrifice.

May your worship be uncomfortable this week, as you invite God to measure you against God’s standards of grace and mercy.

* I recognise that the Amos reading is from the semi-continuous readings and the Gospel is the heart of the related readings, which means that the Lectionary would not usually place these readings together. However, as I argue here, there can be tremendous value in wrestling with all the readings in the Lectionary each week, even though only one of these “tracks” may be followed in Sunday worship.

READINGS:
Amos 7:7-17
: God gives Amos a vision of a plumb line, and prophesies that Israel is to be destroyed. When the high priest, Amaziah, tells Amos to go home and stop prophesying, Amos (the ‘unprophet’ – shepherd and farmer) speaks judgment on him as well.
OR Deuteronomy 30:9-14: Prosperity and blessing is promised for those who obey God’s commands, which are not far off or distant. They are as close as our own lips and hearts.

Psalm 82: A prayer for God to judge oppressive rulers, because all nations belong to God.
OR Psalm 25:1-10: A psalm in which David prays to be protected and guided into right ways of living by God, and affirming the promise of God’s goodness for those who follow God’s guidance and commands.

Colossians 1:1-14: Paul’s prayer for the Colossians to continue to grow in wisdom, strength and joy, and to enjoy the inheritance of freedom that God has made available through Christ.

Luke 10:25-37: In response to the question of how eternal life can be inherited, Jesus offers the Great Commandment, and then explains the practical outworking of this through the story of the Samaritan who helped the man beaten by robbers on the road to Jericho.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
It is a challenging exercise to hold the prophecy of Amos alongside the parable of the Good Samaritan, but this is what the Lectionary may call us to do this week (if we accept the challenge of wrestling with all of the readings). On the one hand we find God’s judgment expressed against God’s unfaithful people who, as we know from biblical history and from other parts of Amos’ prophecy, had neglected justice and mercy. The Deuteronomy reading is simply a contrast to this – blessing and prosperity is found when God’s commands (to love and to live justly and compassionately) are obeyed. The Psalms echo these words in contrasting songs as well – judgment on oppressive and unjust rulers; blessing on the one who prays for God’s guidance and the strength to follow God’s commands. On the other hand, we have the way to life explained clearly and powerfully through the association of the Great Commandment with the parable. The message is strong and clear – God asks one thing from God’s people: to be people of love, mercy and justice. And, when we embrace this call, we will, inevitably, know better relationships, and more peaceful and prosperous societies – not so much as a reward, but as a simple consequence of the work of love and justice that we have done in God’s strength. Essentially, in his prayer, Paul celebrates the way this has already happened for people who have responded to the Gospel, and prays for ongoing strength for the Colossian Church to continue to live this way and enjoy the fruit that such a life brings. If the plumb line is the sign of God’s measurement of God’s people, the Good Samaritan is the picture of what the plumb line is actually measuring.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: It is popular to speak of nations, governments, companies and prominent individuals as “great”. Usually what we mean by this word relates to dominance over others, a unique ability to wield power, the accumulation of wealth beyond the highest levels of ‘normal’ or in some other way becoming ‘bigger and better’ than others. And the way we measure this ‘greatness’ is in quarterly performance reviews, award ceremonies, and financial statements. The Scriptures, however, define ‘greatness’ very differently, and measure it against an eternal time frame. Israel’s prosperity means nothing if they fail to follow God’s command to uphold justice, mercy and love. Oppressive rulers are not ‘great’, according the Psalmists, they are to be humbled by God, while those who humble themselves and pray for God’s strength to follow the law of love are honourable. The ‘great’ religious leaders in Jesus’ parable are shown with far less than true greatness, while a hated outsider is used to demonstrate the true greatness of service. Perhaps it would be good if we began to measure our governments, companies and communities not so much by economic growth, military dominance or political influence, but by self-giving, service and contribution to the greater good. What might our world be like if we started to hold our nations and leaders to this standard of greatness, If we measured our policies and successes by God’s plumb line of love?

LOCAL APPLICATION: The power of the Gospel is revealed in Paul’s prayer – that those who embrace it find joy, strength and vibrant life in love for, and service of, others, in the fruit they bear for God’s Kingdom, and in the benefit people experience through this loving, serving community. What a pity that the Church is so often seen by those outside as hypocritical, judgmental and self-serving. What a pity that we have fallen into the trap of measuring spirituality and godliness by the same standards that society uses to measure worldly success – wealth and power. How different might our impact on the world be if we learned to assess ourselves not against the latest ‘technique’ or formula, but against God’s standard of love, compassion, justice and service? How different might our communities feel about us as Church if we were more other-centred, more willing to sacrifice not just money, but time and energy in making our communities more peaceful, equitable and whole? How attractive might communities of faith be if we actually lived what we proclaimed and sang? How would we measure up as a local church if we honestly and ruthlessly measured ourselves against God’s plumb line?

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
The Measure Of Faith
Living Aligned
Serving All
Biographers Of The Least
Small Random Acts Of Peacemaking

Hymn Suggestions:
O Love How Deep
O For A Heart To Praise My God
A Charge To Keep I Have
Jesus, United By Thy Grace
Plumb Line
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)
Servant Song (Link to YouTube video)
Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace (Link to YouTube video)
The Servant King (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy of Compassion

Video Suggestions:
Show Mercy
Psalm 25
Colossians 1

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