Saturday, July 11, 2015

Plumb lines and the reign of God

Amos 7:7-17; Mark 6:14-29

Plumb lines and the reign of God

Today, since we’re using PowerPoint for the service, I looked for ways to enhance the spoken word with some images and a video. First, a question: how many of you know what a plumb bob and plumb line are?
I could talk about Amos and his conversation with Amaziah, but there is a little video that does it very well, and it’s fun to watch.

This story could be a little morality tale for us – a reminder that we need to shape up or God is going to ship us out, or drop a building on us. Or, we can use it like a catechism – Because God loves us, we want to respond to God’s goodness by loving God and neighbor, which is the summary of all the commandments.
When we compare the text from Amos to the story in the gospel of Mark, we can easily see that Herod wasn’t anywhere near the plumb line. The story is complex.
Basically, Herod’s wife and John the Baptist were enemies. Herod, on the other hand, liked John and put him in prison to keep him safe from Herodias. However, one day, Herodias saw her chance. When their young daughter danced at a party, Herod was so pleased he offered her a huge gift – anything she wanted. Uncertain what to ask for, she ran to her mother, and Herodias told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist.
Now, Herod has a problem. He wants to save John, but he also needs to honor the oath – promise -- he made to his daughter in front of a bunch of guests. He cared more about what people thought of him than doing the right thing and protecting John.
Mark often tells a story within a story, or two or three stories in a row which make a larger point than the individual stories by themselves, so the context within the gospel is notable.
Right before this story, Jesus has healed Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter, and healed the woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. He was rejected by people in his hometown, and soon after that sent the disciples out to tell the good news that there is forgiveness and healing available to them in Jesus’ name.
While the disciples are out on their mission trip, Herod hears about Jesus and wonders about him. He is intrigued by the healings he does, and by his message. Herod even wonders if John the Baptist has come back to taunt him. And, then, in flashback, Mark tells the story of how Herod killed John. Next week, the story from Mark tells of the feeding of 5,000 people. So, this terrible story is sandwiched in-between some very good news.
This week, the materials I read often began with a question: Where is the good news in this text? And the truth is, there is no good news here. We have to look elsewhere for the good news.
And it’s tempting as a preacher to focus on Amos and not deal with Herod at all, but stuff like this Gospel story happens all the time, even today. Watch TV, or read the newspapers. Someone is also rejecting God’s prophets. Someone is always treating someone else the way Herod treated John.
Martin Luther King, and John and Bobby Kennedy and many others were killed because of their beliefs and messages. There are terrorist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda.  Two weeks ago Dylann Roof murdered nine black people. Racism and sexism and classism are still flourishing in America. 
Into the midst of this terrible news, all this injustice, all this inequality, we can look for someone to blame. We can use the pronoun “they” and blame someone else for how bad things are. “They” never listen. “They” bring drugs and crime and rape into our country. “They don’t want to work.” “They” are sinners and they need to change.
Another way to look at the injustice we find in our world is to listen to what Jesus has to say about it. He says that “My kingdom is not of this world.” The reign of God turns the status quo upside down. Jesus says that the values of Herod and Herodias and ISIS and Dylann Roof and all who breed hatred are not as powerful as those who spread love and justice.
Aren’t we as Christians called to a higher standard, to seek to measure up to God’s plumb line? I rarely watch the news because there is so much bad news. I know people will tell me when there is something I ought to know about. I often remind folks that the newspapers and TV news programs operate under the premise of “When it bleeds, it leads.” Good news is relegated to the last 2 minutes of a broadcast, or buried on the bottom of page 7 of the Chronicle.
Instead of bad news, here are a couple of stories that tell the good news.  Safe Passage is a program in Chicago which puts military veterans and other citizens on watch at key locations to ensure safe travel for children walking to and from school. The program provides increased adult presence in the lives of at-risk children, and has resulted in improved attendance and a 50% decline in disciplinary incidents.
In the wake of the shooting of nine African American people, at least eight black churches have burned across the South, including one in Tallahassee. A group of Muslims have taken a stance against such hatred and started a crowdfunding account to raise money to rebuild the churches. Why? Because sacred space is sacred space, no matter what the religion.
The Torah, the Bible, the commandments – whether we count 613 or 10 or two of them – are God’s plumb line for us. Let us seek to measure up – in loving God and loving our neighbor.
This week, see how you measure up to God’s plumb line. Remember that Jesus has made us perfect, and we respond by sharing God’s love with others. And, notice if there is an injustice that we need to speak up about. Do we need to make an area safe for children? Do we need to raise money to right a wrong? 30,000 youth will experience directly some ways to make a difference in Detroit. What will our youth come home and tell us?

Please pray with me. Lord, you forgive us, and at the same time send us out to make a difference, to share the good news that your kingdom/reign is different from what we often experience. Give us the courage to use our voices and your power to make this world a different place, in your holy name. Amen