Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
Preached by Deacon John Warner
Greek mythology tells us the story of Cassandra, the most beautiful daughter of King Priam, the ruler of Troy during the Trojan War. The god Apollo was so infatuated with her that he gave her the gift of prophesy in an effort to seduce her. When Cassandra did not respond to Apollo’s sexual advances, he tweaked the gift by compelling Cassandra to prophesy; however, none of her prophesies would be believed.
Many a parent, especially a parent of an adolescent, can identify with Cassandra’s plight. We advice, “Don’t stay out too late. You have school tomorrow” or “Don’t charge more on your credit cards than you can pay off in a month.” But like Cassandra, it seems that parental guidance falls on deaf ears. As my daughter, Samantha, has grown into adulthood, I am amazed at how much more intelligent we appear to our daughter than in her earlier years.
In this Sunday’s Collect, we entreat God to give the people the wisdom “to know and understand what things they ought to do.” Considering the political climate in the nation and the church today with opposing parties fully believing that each has the right answer for the collective, there is no better time than now for this prayer. We should be saying this prayer each day for guidance.
In Amos, an Old Testament alternative reading for today, God tells Amos that he is establishing a plumb line before his people. A plumb line is a tool used in construction to provide the carpenter a standard against which to measure whether a recently erected wall is straight up and down—if it is upright—if it is true.
What is the plumb line in our life? What is the standard to guide us in what we should do?
As Christians, our standard is the Bible, a collection of books considered to be sacred. The Bible is also known as the Christian canon—a word which is from the Greek meaning “rule” or “measuring stick.” The foundation for Christianity is the Bible. The inspired Word of God is considered a spiritual plumb line.
The Bible, however, has been a source of controversy throughout history. There have been battles, sometimes bloody ones, over whether the Bible should be understood literally, word for word, or should it be read metaphorically. Should the entire Bible be accepted as relevant for us today or should we “pick and choose” scripture?
David transported the Ark of the Covenant, the vessel which contained, the two tablets that Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai inscribed with the Ten Commandments. These ten laws provide guidance for us in our relationship with God and with each other. Should we follow these without question? Are their extenuating circumstances? Is it okay to murder to defend your family even is God’s law is not to murder? Is it acceptable to steal if this act is necessary to feed a hungry child? Can I dishonor a parent if he or she is physically abusive? The Ten Commandments reside in many a courthouse and recently have been seen on a number of yards in our town; however, these religious and secular laws do raise some ethical concerns in certain situations.
When one compounds the difficulty in complying with the Ten Commandments by tacking on the remaining 613 Old Testament laws, the problem of compliance increases exponentially. The difficulty of following the hundreds of laws in the Bible as literally as possible was demonstrated, frequently humorously, by A.J. Jacobs, in his recent book—The Year of Living Biblically. For one year, Jacobs tried to live as faithfully to the rules of the Bible as possible. He found some of the rules life-enhancing such as keeping the Sabbath holy, giving frequent thanks to our God and not gossiping. Others, although sound, were found to be more difficult to follow such as to not covet, refrain from lying or showing restraint in becoming angry. Finally, the author didn’t know what to make of some of the rules of the Bible including one that forbid him from wearing a garment made of wool and linen or drilling a hole in the ear of a slave if he refuses freedom. I, too would find these difficult to follow.
I realize that Mr. Jacob’s stated purpose of living the Bible literally is presented in a tongue-in-cheek manner; however, there is a deeper truth in his experiences. Whenever our faith focuses exclusively on the development of a rulebook for defining moral and immoral behavior, we run the risk of becoming mired in actions to ensure their compliance, discovering rule breakers and punishing the offenders; therefore, losing sight our the true message of the Gospel and what it means to be a Christian.
The 1st century Jews found themselves oppressed not only by the Roman conquerors but also by the complex system of religious laws. John the Baptist, thought by many, including King Herod, to be the long awaited Messiah, a returned Elijah or another prophet, told the crowds that one that was greater than he would soon take the Judean stage.
Jesus proclaimed that a new kingdom of God was at hand—not a kingdom in heaven but a transformative kingdom of heaven now on earth; a kingdom where the law would not be an external measuring stick but one that is written on our hearts. He asks us to be disciples with him on the Way, a life to model founded on principles of love, justice and charity toward others whether than a life of self-centeredness. He relieved us of the burden of the law, not by abolishing it, but to refocus our attention on what is truly important for Christians by summarizing the law, to love your God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.
In the few minutes we have had together, I have thrown out a number of questions regarding authority and the rule or standard for my life. I have learned that what we should do or what we should not do is not always easy to discern. It is a decision that often requires prayer and reason. However, when I encounter a situation and I am unsure how to proceed, I look for the path that is lit by love, mercy and justice. Decisions made without the filter of those attributes may reflect my sinfulness rather than Jesus’ Way. I don’t know about you, but for me, Jesus is my plumb line, the tool that I use to compare my behavior.