It is always true that when we read an ancient text – any ancient text from any ancient culture, not just the bible – we are always reading it out of context. Even if we are faithful and part of the tradition that came from that text, and those people. We are still not part of that ancient culture – we’re really not. None of us are. And so we are always reading it out of context.
So here. Have some context. Full text of sermon, below the video.
Reflection for Sunday, July 11, 2021, by the Rev. Sare Liz Anuszkiewicz
In our readings today, from the seventh chapter of Amos, the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians, and the sixth chapter of Mark, we see a clear arc of God’s relationship with human beings.
Long ago in ancient Israel in a time of corrupt kings, God raised up… a tree doctor to be a prophet. He specialized in sycamores. And when God gave his visions for Amos the tree doctor to prophesy to the king, they were super clear: There are rules and they are as clear as a well-made building: straight lines, right angles, level floors, plumb walls. And God has compared the king’s actions with his own Personal Plumb Line, and the king has not measured up, not in his words, not in his actions, and most importantly, the king can no longer fudge it to the rest of the populace, because God’s bringing the plumb line and now everyone can see.
And so we have in Amos the idea that God has a very clear vision of what kind of life God wants us to live into, and while we might fall short of it, God will always be there to help keep us up and level, if we’re willing to listen.
In the letter to the Ephesians we have the author rhapsodizing the role of Jesus in the Universe from creation to salvation, and one of the key ideas here is that there is grace and forgiveness – it’s not just all plumb lines and yelling prophets. They exist, and we need them, but we also need to remember that God also forgives us when we hurt one another and deviate from God’s will for us, and that God offers grace: the power to do what we can’t on our own. In this case, we can think of grace as the thing that lets us get up and try again even when we know we’ve done the wrong thing entirely, even when we know we’ve fallen short of the mark, even when we know we’ve failed.
And finally in the gospel of Mark we see King Herod and his profoundly guilty conscience. Herod had fallen into a pothole common to bad kings that we see other places in the bible: while drunk, he promises favors that amount to blank checks, and he offers them to disreputable and untrustworthy people. He’s not a terrible king, he’s just not a particularly good one, either. He doesn’t listen very well to God – he gets an inkling now and then, and he hadn’t wanted to kill one particular prophet who was prophesying against him, but someone cashed in their blank check and forced his hand, and when we see him later during Jesus’ ministry, he’s wracked with guilt and thinking that Jesus is John the Baptist, whom he beheaded, come back to haunt him. And from this odd and gruesome little story we are reminded that sometimes, that inkling we have that goes against what people around us are telling us we should do, or how we should be… sometimes that inkling is God, holding the plumb line and gently reminding us that we don’t need to kill every prophet that disagrees with our life choices.
And when we don’t listen to that inkling, when we fail to give it space to grow, we may be haunted by our bad decisions. But the plumb line is always there, if we look for it. And even after a bad decision, we still have the capacity, the choice to repent that bad decision, and then God’s forgiveness and grace is there to pick us up and set us level once more.