Saturday, July 13, 2013

Neighbors and Plumb Lines

Amos 7:7–17; Luke 10:25–37

Amos has a vision in which God shows him a plumb line. Plumb lines are used in construction to make sure the building is on a true vertical. If the vertical line is off, we get a building that leans like the Tower of Pisa. God is using this image because everyone knows what it means: it’s a measuring line, and the people of Israel aren’t measuring up to God’s expectations.
It’s important to know that this event occurs in the time after King David and King Solomon. The United Kingdom David built has split into two parts, the Northern Kingdom called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom called Judah. King Jeroboam has not trusted in God, and his priests and prophets are yes-men, telling Jeroboam whatever he wants.
God chooses an unusual person to be a prophet to Israel. Amos lives in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. He is a farmer; he knows what to do with sheep and with sycamore fig trees. He has no business – in the eyes of Israel – telling the king and his priests and prophets what to do. Yet he has been sent to deliver a message: Israel will be destroyed, and the king will die by the sword.
A prophet’s message is not always a welcome one, and Amos himself is not welcomed by the priest and the King, and they reject his message. A few years later, the Assyrians invade Israel and destroy it. The people refuse to try to measure up to the plumb line.
… About 700 years later, Jesus is spending his own lifetime setting a plumb line for his people. In today’s reading, the plumb line relates to caring for the neighbor, and to redefining who the neighbor is.
This story is so familiar, we could all tell it. A man is on his way down the mountain from Jerusalem to the town of Jericho. He is mugged and beaten. Two religious leaders, who should have stopped to help him, walk right past him, and even cross to the other side of the road to avoid him. A Samaritan stops, bandages his wounds, takes him to an inn, and pays for his room and his care.
We know that the Samaritan is a foreigner, but it’s easy to forget that the Samaritan is an unwelcome foreigner. Jews and Samaritans not only don’t want to have anything to do with each other, they consider each other to be enemies.
… If anyone has the right to consider someone to be her enemies, and not her neighbors, it’s Malala Yousafzai. She is the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head last October for insisting that girls have a right to an education. We expect her to be bitter and resentful but instead, she has no contempt for them, and is not against anyone. Her parents taught her to love everyone and be peaceful.
Her role models are Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Jesus. She wears a scarf that once belonged to Benazir Bhutto, the slain former president of India. Malala continues to press her country for education for all children, including the children of the extremists, especially the Taliban. At the same time, the people who tried to kill her still want to silence her. Who is Malala’s neighbor? Everyone!
This Muslim girl has a plumb line, formed by our own Christian heroes. I know we all would have trouble with that attitude. It’s easy for us to think other people, certain types of individuals are the enemy, and therefore not our neighbors. If they are not our neighbors, we don’t have to care for them.
In the US, we have a history of having trouble remembering that all people are our neighbors. We have not measured up to God’s plumb line.
·         We considered the Native Americans to not be our neighbors when they got in the way of what European Americans wanted.
·         We considered people forcefully imported from Africa to not be our neighbors, to not be fully human, and therefore not deserving of our care.
·         Today, we consider people who came to America illegally as not good neighbors, and therefore not deserving of our care. They should go back home where they came from, and take their children who were born in the US with them.
·         Today, we are not so sure people who are homosexual are really our neighbors.
·         Today, we have a tendency to believe that all Muslims are our enemies, and definitely not our neighbors.
·         Today, we are afraid that the beggar on the corner is earning $200 a day with his activity, and spending it on drugs and alcohol. He is not, therefore, our neighbor.
·         Today, still, women are considered less than men, in employment, in God’s calling, in car-buying, in politics. Women are not equal to men as neighbors, in many circumstances.
This week, I challenge you to be aware of those you consider to be not your neighbor, and try to figure out why they are not your neighbor. Imagine they are really Jesus. Are they your neighbor now?  How can you care for them?
I am not suggesting you donate to the beggar, but that you bring food for the food pantry. I also suggest that you pray for him, and that you are kind to him. He is God’s child.
I am suggesting that you remember that people with different colored skin, people with different sexual preferences, people from other places, are all God’s children and our neighbors. They are all deserving of our care and our respect, and our Christian love. That is God’s plumb line, and Jesus command, to love one another.
As Jesus said to the legal expert, “Go and do likewise.”

Please pray with me. Gracious God, you created us to be neighbors to one another. Help us to recognize you in each person we encounter. Amen