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Texts: Amos 7:7-17/Luke 10:25-37

Title:  “Now Speaking for the Lord…”

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.”

At Home Depot you can find all the tools and materials to build a wonderful house, you can also find all of the latest in fencing and security systems to protect that house, you can make your very best effort, and you will still come up short.  In sum, that is the message the psalmist wants to convey in the portion of Psalm 127 I just read.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  While that metaphor may pose difficulties for the literalist, we who are accustomed to biblical language and allusions might glean several different messages from that passage.  For instance, we might take the allusion “build the house” to refer to Abraham, the father and patriarch of Judaism whose “house,” has been perpetuated to the present day.  Abraham became the father to a great nation, but only because his father, God, chose to place him in that position.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  The metaphor might refer to David’s dynasty, and the Lord’s commitment to establishing that dynasty despite David’s failings, and the failings of those who would reign after him.  “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

The literal “house of the Lord,” of course, was built during the reign of Solomon, King David’s son.  The prophets of God insisted that the Jerusalem temple only existed, and would continue to exist, only so long as God’s Spirit occupied that house.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  The words can be read as a rebuff to any Jew who thought his own strength and devices would preserve Israel against the plots and intrigues of her neighbors.

The Jews stated that they were “all in” committed to building God’s house, but the house they had in mind would be custom built to suit their needs rather than God’s requirements. Israel is portrayed as being too proud and arrogant to listen to the counsel of God’s prophets, decades came and went while the nation flailed about, never prepared to put her future at God’s disposal.

God’s patience was somewhat elastic, but not sufficiently so to accommodate the strain to which Israel exposed it. At last exhausted by the people’s shenanigans, he sent in a foreman to oversee efforts to put his house back in order.  While he may have been unfamiliar with the rudiments of construction, God’s foreman, Amos, did, at least, properly identify one of the tools of the carpenter’s trade.

I don’t know if today’s carpenter or contractor still uses the plumb line, but when I was a “gofer” for a window and siding company I saw the workmen I worked with use a plumb line to insure that the angles of a window or doorframe were square.  Nothing compromises the integrity of a building as much as a frame that isn’t properly set.  Make the mistake of not framing the structure properly, and the building’s vulnerability is exposed in the most fundamental way.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Blithely following their own blueprint, the people of Israel built a structure doomed to fail, only they refused to own up to it. Though design flaws were repeatedly exposed, they embraced lies as truth, and they stubbornly followed their own plans.

God could only put up with that nonsense for so long, at last declaring, “I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel.” The plumb line, his judgment, would expose for once and for all his people’s folly.

The people of Israel suffered.  Their sins exposed for the entire world to see, the nation would endure very hard times. The nation was invaded by foreign conquerors who subjugated and humiliated their captives.               Never before in the history of Israel had her unrighteousness provoked such a devastating judgment. Everyone suffered, from the king on his throne, to the person on society’s lowest rung.

Amos was charged to put God’s house in order, and it was a tall order made all the taller because Amos believed himself to be miscast for such a responsibility, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees.”  Yet Amos was forced to acknowledge that God had spoken to him.  He accepted that reality as true.  Now, what would he do?

I have thought about what I might have done in Amos circumstances.  You have a certain standing in the community.  You have a reputation to uphold.  Do you risk it by putting your life on the line?  It was judgment, after all, that Amos was being asked to pronounce. I doubt that I would have been any more prepared then Amos to step up to the plate.

Self-interest is an all-consuming master. With little difficulty any of us can devise a good argument in favor of any decision that will save our skin. You may have noticed that Amaziah in our lesson had no problem in that department.

A respected priest, Amaziah stepped forward to contradict the prophesy of Amos point by point. His counsel was music to the king’s ears. Amaziah was a self-promoter who was willing to say or do anything to win favor from people in high places. It proved easy to make Amos the fall guy, to discredit anything he had to say. It stands to reason that Amos and his forecast of doom and destruction would be cast aside in favor of the glad handing that Amaziah was serving up.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  God had a plumb line in his hand, and that plumb line exposed failings that would no longer be concealed.

Corruption was rampant. The leaders of the land were corrupt, and that corruption had insinuated itself into the fabric of the land itself. God appointed Amos to deliver the bad news to the king: “Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.”  Whoaa… Not the kind of message the king and his crowd wanted to hear.

Judgment is not the message anyone wants to hear. Yet if sin is a reality, what recourse is left to God if judgment is not an option? The other option would be for God to stand back and surrender us to our destructive ways, and that’s not going to happen.

God’s judgment, and the reality of sin, are not subjects we moderns dwell upon. Most of us would be willing to concede that we do sin, and that God does judge us.  But most of us would probably be hard pressed to identify a particular instance in our experience where God’s judgment was rendered. What conclusion are we to draw?  Do we infer that God has stepped aside from the judging business?  Are we to believe that we please God so well in general that he is willing to overlook particular offenses?  Or, and I think this is the more likely possibility, could it be that those given the message of judgment do not gain a hearing.

Who will speak for the Lord?  Address a joint session of Congress with that question.  There are Congressmen aplenty who will speak up for cutting taxes, repealing and replacing Obamacare, or defunding some program that doesn’t contribute to the nation’s defense. There are Congressmen aplenty who seek money to fund pet programs or deliver new jobs to their state. Who will speak for the Lord? Where does the Lord show up in the recent budget the President presented? Where does the Lord show up in the health care bill working its way through congressional committees?

The Congressional Quarterly is filled with information about bills passed or under consideration, but where in those pages do we hear the voice of the Lord.  Who will speak for the Lord?

Who will speak for the Lord? Each year the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, like most national governing bodies of the various main denominations, write position papers on the issues confronting the nation and the world.  The situation in Iraq, Syria, or North Korea, world hunger, unemployment, health care, environmental concerns, and issues facing the family typically find their way into those papers.

Upon their release the national media generally take note of what has been written with a story or two, particularly if a position advocated is in any way controversial. But that is the extent of it. These days what the national bodies representing our churches have to say is consigned to the bottom of seven, if at all.

The church lacks the financial clout and over all standing to be a strong advocate for its commitments. Nor is there a respected spokesperson for the church, save the Pope, who might be called upon to respond to the issues of the day.

Lobbyists of every stripe swarm the halls of Congress, the campaign contributions they can make on behalf of the cooperative member of Congress, a powerful inducement to sway a vote. The pharmaceutical industry and the financial services industry alone spend millions to win Congressional favors. Those dollars speak louder than words in the legislation that our legislators enact.

Who will speak for the Lord?  Where are the prophets who will speak for the marginalized? Who will speak for those see their share of the American dream mortgaged in favor of the 1% who have reaped 95% of the wealth accumulated in the last several years. Who will speak for those who see their children struggling to find work or pay off student loans? Who will speak for the thousands of families living in poverty?

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”  So, what does our “house” look like?  What about the neglect, inequity, and injustice we have allowed to accumulate?  Are we, the world’s affluent, not to be held accountable? Or, perhaps, we are already being judged, held accountable, as the world bifurcates into the satisfied haves and increasingly abundant and dissatisfied have-nots judged, as terrorists strike out against those who reject their ideology, as the planet’s resource base diminishes, and as the global climate deteriorates.

God placed a plumb line along the house that Israel was building, and found that structure fatally flawed.  So what did he do?  He found someone to speak for him, a person, who were it not for God’s call, may have retained his anonymity toiling away as a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. Amos heard and obeyed, and spoke out for the Lord.

Are we not charged to speak for the Lord? We may not gain a hearing in Congress—you need money for that.  We may not be invited to testify before important committees holding hearings on global warming, immigration policy, or aid to the indigent. Our own friends may tune us out when we speak up.  Yet God is calling us out. He wants us to do what we can to put his house in order.

The world’s wealthiest nation, the world’s sole remaining super power, God holds us accountable for what we do with the resources at our disposal. As citizens of the nation, the judgment God will render on the nation, will also be rendered onto us individually.

Our political leaders cannot tell us what we need to hear, not if they hope to be elected.  There are people who are speaking out for the Lord, but they don’t have a megaphone. You need money for that.

Will we speak? There are many voices in the public square, and a lot of what we are hearing is repugnant to the gospel Jesus preached. And we know what he preached. It is our calling to apply what he preached. Bold and outspoken, be that if the situation calls for it. God, however, isn’t going to require more from us than we are capable of giving. And the fact is each of us is capable of giving. None of us is incapable of speaking for the Lord. Practice may not may perfect, but the practice of speaking for the Lord may in time be so confidence building that his words truly become our own. AMEN            PRAYER


O God, giver of every good gift, we trust in your mercy even as we accept judgment from your hand.  You are a merciful God, yet we find it difficult to entrust our sin-scarred lives to your loving care. Yet we know that you extended your tender mercies to Israel even as you judged her.  You retained deed to the house of Israel even though she thought she could build a better one on her own. Preserve us, O God, from all the vainglorious dreams we maintain about ourselves and our reputation in the world, that in humility we may serve you, making common cause with all of our brothers and sisters of every race and nation who call upon your name.

O Christ, who called twelve to ministry, accepting them for who they were, calling them brother, and forgiving them when they failed you, Fisherman’s Chapel. We gratefully acknowledge the tie that binds us together through you. The common identity we are building as Christians is a source of strength and inspiration. Enlarge, O Christ, our capacity to be welcoming people, people who seek to expand fellowship into an ever broadening circle.

Holy Spirit, though unseen we know you are ever present. We entrust to your loving care the people we love and care about, specifically friends and family whom we now silently name…..  Impart to our loved ones a special measure of your grace that in whatever circumstances they may find themselves in this hour, facing whatever challenges they face, they may experience your nearness to comfort and sustain them. For those who have special needs, friends and family who are ill, convalescing, grieving, alienated or confused we ask special guidance and strength.

A shadow continues to overspread the world as battles wage.  We pray, indeed, plead for relief, deliverance from this madness of war.  Destructive passion continues to rule. Lord, we pray that enemies might common ground to negotiate as a first step in solving the deadly riddle of war and move on.

O God, our companion in sorrow, be with those who grieve today; the grief-stricken who pour out their despair next to flag draped coffins, expectant parents who grieve the loss of a child through miscarriage, communities grieving the death of sons and daughters killed in traffic accidents.

We pray for parents on the other side of the world who grieve sons and daughters who died of starvation, as they looked on, powerless to feed them.

We pray for families who helplessly look on as their sons and daughters die of HIV/AIDS, of tuberculosis, malaria, and parasitic diseases.  In your mercy, O God, embrace the suffering today, and by your life-giving spirit grant them hope.

Lord, we offer these prayers in the faith you have inspired in us. May the faith by which our lives are grounded be a continuing source of strength as we face new challenges in the week ahead.

For this day and for each other we give thanks to you, O God, who are the source and sustainer of life. AMEN.