Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Plumb line and the Good Samaritan.

Do you know what a plumb line is? For those of you who do not know, it is an ancient way of finding out if the building you are erecting is perpendicular to the ground. I am sure that there is an app for that these days.   But even in ancient days if the building you were building was not plumb—in line with gravity, it would fall down.  When we moved to TX it was right after the 1949 flood and housing was at a premium, so dad bought a house that we would
now call a “fixer-upper”.  We found out that nothing in the house was plumb and we spent the next 20 years trying to bring the house into line.  Because of our climate here in TX, the ground moves and makes it hard to keep buildings plumb.  It has always been so.  One cannot argue with gravity!  And if any of you live in older houses and have ever tried to hang wallpaper, you know what I mean.

In about 750 BCE the prophet Amos hears God telling him to go to Israel (he lived in Judah) to let the people know that God was going to leave Israel because they had not built their nation’s conscience on the plumb line of God’s law. This is what we hear in our Hebrew reading this morning.  Needless to say, Amos was not popular in Israel and they told him to go back to Judah where he came from.  According to this account, because Israel refused to listen to the prophet God permitted the Assyrians to come and capture Israel and carried off the population in slavery.  In 722 BCE Assyria dispersed 10 of the 12 Tribes of Israel and Israel was no more. 

It was a bitter lesson that Judah too would also learn some 250 years later when it
was overrun by the Babylonians and Amos’ prophecy was foremost in the minds of those who had returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian Captivity.  

Following the law became the most important aspect of Judaism when the Babylonian empire fell and the people of Judah returned to their land. And by the time of Jesus it was understood that if they followed the law God would remain with the people and keep the nation safe.

By Jesus’ day this concept of maintaining the law was rooted in fear not in the love of God.  Jesus, who was not from Judah although he was considered a member of the tribe of  Judah,  found upon entering Jerusalem, the capital of Judah that perhaps all Jews were considered equal but some Jews were more equal than others.  And Galileans were not among them.  So we hear in Jesus’ teachings many references to the real meaning of the law.  There are those who take him to task for healing on the Sabbath, or husking wheat to eat on the Sabbath.  Finally one of the scribes comes to him and asks him how to achieve eternal life.

Now, eternal life was a relatively new concept in Judaism.  The Sadducees did not believe in a life after death—and that included most of the priests of the Temple.  So we know this scribe, described as lawyer, but was a Pharisee who was trained in Mosaic Law and was a resource to the elders of synagogues who made judgments on the people.  And this scribe asked a typical religious question of a rabbi to test him as to his orthodoxy.  But instead of answering, Jesus gets the man to tell him what the Law says:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” the lawyer quotes from the Torah.  And Jesus says “do that an you will be saved.”  But then the scribe makes the mistake of asking “Who is my neighbor?”  And then we get the wonderful story of the Good Samaritan.  Even if you don’t go to Church you know the story of the Good Samaritan.  It is part of the whole of western culture—not just because it is a good story, but it so illustrates what it means to be GOOD. 

In this story Jesus confronts the exclusions that were making Judaism a mockery in his day. The Temple was supposed to be a Light to the Nations according to the Law. But only certain Jews were allowed into the Temple proper.  Jesus attacks the type of ghettoizing that had taken place in Temple that only allowed certain Jews to enter.  Jesus holds this Law of love, the central theme of Mosaic Law, up to the young scribe and
says if you do this you will be saved.  The guy is flummoxed.   Jesus is basically saying that the Law doesn’t need lawyers to find loopholes.  The Law of God is easy!  LOVE God and others; do mercy.  It is as simple as that.

The story of the Good Samaritan is an indictment of religious leadership that has shunned love in order to be RIGHT.  It is not for nothing that the 2 who pass by are a priest and a Levite—temple authorities who should have been the first to come to aid the victim of robbers.  But they too had forgotten why they observed God’s law in the first place: 
They were to observe the law as a way to give God thanks and praise for all God had given them.  The Law was a way to help people to know the presence of God among them.  But it was the unclean, unwelcome Samaritan who understood.

Last week I had a bit of a Good Samaritan experience.  I was not paying attention to that little gas pump light on my dashboard and I ran out of gas on a fairly busy street.  I am sitting there feeling like a real dunce and looking for my AAA card when a rather
scruffy guy and a bigger scruffy guy came to my window.  “Can we move you around the corner so you won’t be out here in the traffic?” he asked,   and very quickly they had pushed me out of the traffic.  He said:  “I have a gas can, I will go and get you some gas.”  I said, “I have AAA” rather lamely but by that time they had gone off in search of gas.  They were back in about 15 minutes.  While they were filling my tank the guy looked at my ‘Episcopal Church Welcomes You’ bumper sticker and said, “I see that you are a believer.  I want to tell you I have a new heart.”  And I enthused, “ And you have a really good heart.”  “No, No, that is not what I mean.  I had a heart transplant about 2 years ago.  The man who died so that I could live is always with in me.  I am so grateful that I can’t NOT stop to help others.”  I stood there knowing that I was preaching this sermon today.  The Story of the Good Samaritan is always a model for us.  He was a outcast.  Yet he witnessed to what it meant to be in love with God’s creation; he lived God’s mercy.

The plumb line of the law of God is still among us too.  It is gratitude.  I do not know
what motivated the Good Samaritan to help the battered man;  Jesus doesn't tell us.  But Jesus knew that he understood the love of God, and I would guess he knew what it meant to be stranded or left alone.  He knew that in gratitude and love for what God had done in his life, just like the guy who got me gas. 

What in your life allows you to love?  What in your life give you the kind of gratitude to go beyond social convention to love God by serving others?  What makes the law of God to love others a JOY rather than a burden?  All too often I hear people being so serious
about trying to be good.  Being good isn't what it is about!  It is about loving.  It about the abandonment to Joy that comes when you least expect it and you stand there grateful for every moment of your life, every leaf on the trees, every ray of sunshine or every drop of water that soothes our faces.  When we are intentional about living out that joy, we know that we are saved.  When we forget ourselves to help others we know the bliss of being loved more than we can ask or imagine.  And we too become a part of the fabric of love that God is weaving among us.  Gratitude is our plumb line.  AMEN. 

1 comment:

Teri said...

LOVE this. Seriously. LOVE. I need bigger letters to express how much I appreciate the connections you make here. Thanks Muthah!