Sermon for Sunday July 15th, the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29
The Text: Amos 7:7-9
The Topic: How do our lives, and the life of this nation, measure up to God’s standard of righteousness?
After moving to a new state, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new driver’s license. The guy behind the desk said he couldn’t help me because my license was suspended.
“There must be some mistake,” I said. “I’ve never done anything to deserve that.”
The civil servant was very civil but said I had to clear up the problem with the State of Massachusetts before he could help me. I hadn’t lived in Massachusetts for ten years, so I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. Five long-distance phone calls later, I found out that when I moved from Massachusetts, I owed part of an excise tax of $2.
That tiny little bill began to accrue penalties and interest. I had to pay that bill plus the cost of a new Massachusetts driver’s license and registration for a car that had long ago become scrap metal before I could become legal in my new home state. The price tag was nearly $300.
The whole thing was embarrassing. It wasn’t so much the money that bothered me; it was knowing that I was on the wrong side of the law for all those years without even being aware of it.
How shocking it will be for those who stand before the God of the universe one day and realize, for the first time, that he holds them accountable for all the wrongs they do.
— John Beukema,
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania 
It is the truth that people and nations are accountable to God for their actions that Amos teaches us today.
Amos, a prophet of Judah who was sent to prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel, was an eighth century prophet who called the people of Israel to practice God’s righteousness and justice in their dealings with one another. Our First Lesson this morning includes the third in a series of prophetic visions, the denunciation of Amos by the cult high priest of Bethel, and Amos’s reply.
In the two previous visions which concern destruction prophesied for Israel, Amos successfully interceded with God to avert these plagues, but in this third vision, he does not intercede, nor does God change his mind about the impending destruction of high places, sanctuaries and the house of Jeroboam. These high places and sanctuaries had been built for idolatrous worship, not for the worship of the God of Israel, and King Jeroboam II promoted this idolatry.
THE VISION OF THE LORD HOLDING A PLUMBLINE
In this vision, Amos sees the Lord standing on a wall with a plumb line in his hand. The plumb line is a line with a lead weight on the end of it, and it was used for two purposes in ancient times. Builders used it to make sure that the wall they were building was perpendicular, and not leaning to one side. Another purpose, as is the case here, was to see whether an old wall which had been built was still perpendicular, or was leaning to one side, and needed to be demolished. When Amos replies to the Lord that he sees a plumb line, the Lord interprets this spiritually to mean that He, the Lord, will measure Israel by his standard of righteousness, and no longer pass them by, or overlook their sin. Because Israel has become like a tottering, unsafe wall, He will destroy its high places and sanctuaries, all its centers of false worship, and bring the sword against Jeroboam II, Israel’s king.
The reigns of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam II of Israel, during which Amos prophesied, were long and fairly peaceful, with no major threats from Egypt or Assyria, and it was a time of growing wealth for the upper class of society, usually at the expense of the poor. But in about forty years after Amos’s prophecies, the Assyrian kings Shalmaneser V and Sargon invaded the northern kingdom of Israel and destroyed Samaria, its capital city in 722 B.C., and exiled its people. Then they repopulated the territory with Assyrian and Babylonian people. The prophecies of Amos concerning Israel’s destruction were fulfilled, but what does their fulfillment teach us today?
LESSONS FROM THE PLUMB LINE
One of the main lessons that Amos’s vision of the plumb line and the fulfillment of the Lord’s prediction of the northern kingdom of Israel’s destruction teach us, is that every nation is accountable to God for its behavior. God has a standard by which to measure a nation’s conduct, and nations themselves can stand or fall as a result of their behavior. God holds both individuals and nations to account for their behavior. It is not safe to assume that because Israel and Judah were the chosen nation of God, they alone are measured by God’s standard of justice, and all other nations are exempt. The Bible itself contains examples of prophecies directed against many other nations because of their unjust treatment of peoples whom they conquered. The United States of America, being “one nation under God,” is not exempted from treating either its own citizens or citizens of other nations justly. God holds us accountable as a nation for the way we treat people of all ages.
How then will God’s plumb line of justice and righteousness affect our thoughts, words and behavior?
First of all, we ought to pray for our nation and our President and Congress, as well as our State and local authorities, that all the laws by which we live will be just, and enforced justly, not just in the eyes of man, but in the eyes of God. In particular, we ought to pray for our President, that all his statements and actions will reflect the will of God, and make for peace and justice in our nation and among the nations of the world.
Secondly, we ought to realize that the political ideology of political parties and their leaders, as well as reports in the news media, have exerted far too much influence on the way American Christians have thought and reflected on social and political issues. By contrast, the Bible has exerted far too little influence. Let’s take an example. A city proposes building units of low income housing for the homeless in an available area within a wealthy neighborhood. So many wealthy property owners then complain to the city against this. Their complaints don’t arise from a Christian concern for the poor, but rather from the possible loss of value their properties might suffer by being near a low income housing development. In fact, many of them couldn’t care less about where the poor are supposed to live!
As Christians, we should not adopt uncritically any political ideology, even of a party to which we belong. We should be aware of what the Bible teaches about how to treat other people, and we should be careful not to mistreat them or exploit them.
Thirdly, we ought to pray for ourselves and for others, so that in our lives, in the life of our communities, and in the life of our nation, we may adhere to God’s standard of justice and righteousness in the way that we treat one another, and especially those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
I conclude with two questions:
Are you conforming your life to the standard of God’s righteousness that you find in the Lord Jesus Christ’s life? Are you praying for the President of the USA, for Congress, for the Governor of our State, and for our local leaders, that God’s justice and righteousness will prevail in both legislation and the execution of our laws?
 p. 227, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.