Cotham 8am Trinity 6 proper 10
““Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel;” Words from today’s reading from Amos
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If anything spells out more clearly the conflict between prophesy and the status quo, it’s the two readings we have heard today from Amos and St Marks Gospel. And they both show the inevitability of a life of faith involving involvement in the political world around us.
Amos was a prophet who lived about 800 years before Christ -a shepherd from the southern Kingdom of Judah. He was called to prophesy to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and at the heart of his message lies a plea for social justice. One of his prophecies was used in one of Martin Luther Kings most famous speeches.
“But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” Amos 5;24
And this dramatic reading describing the status quo in Israel ends with this pessimistic conclusion – you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”
I reckon many of us would have liked to go into hibernation this week- government ministers biting the dust at the beginning of the week amid even more Brexit controversy, the NATO meeting, and now Trump’s visit to the UK. As I write this he has made a tactful beginning by insulting the Prime Minister and in typical style assuring the UK that were they to follow his policies we would be sailing into prosperity land. So, there is the stark contrast between aligning ourselves with Trump policies for economic gain or choosing a different path. If ever there was a moral choice a government had to make it is this one.
What interests me is the image at the beginning of the reading-the plumb line. A plumb line does not deviate, it does not provide excuses, it does not just tell you what you want to hear, it does not change. It is unerringly straight and right.
We all fall into the trap of avoiding naming something for what it is- whatever our political persuasion. One of the main argument limiting asylum seekers is economic. How will our countries survive economically if we open our doors to asylum seekers? Or the intractable situation in Israel is defended by a lot of reasonable sounding arguments
With our tendency to look at both sides of the question, we sometimes find it hard to look something straight in the eye and say “BUT THAT IS WRONG”
A couple of years ago, Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian described the shootings in a tourist resort in Tunisia as a problem of evil. He went onto describe a profoundly pessimistic view of human nature when he talked about one of Woody Allen’s films “Hannah and Her Sisters”. In that film the characters talk about the Holocaust and the problem of evil. Their conclusion is this. “Given what people are like, the question is why does this not happen more often?”. Because life doesn’t always have a happy ending- there was no get out clause for John the Baptist
Such a stance rests on a bleak view of human nature and if we have a different view of human beings and their capacity for love and empathy, then we have to try and make sense of how things are in the world.
Nevertheless- acts of cruelty and economic injustice have to be named for what they are in the stark language that Amos uses. Only then you can find a way to counter such cruelty and destruction.
Yet our faith will not allow us to remain in cynicism or despair. Even if an obvious solution cannot be found- we still believe that God’s love and transforming spirit is stronger than death and destruction- and we are agents of making his Kingdom real. That hope of all things being reconciled beyond our imagination and beyond our human capacities is what sums up the letter of Paul to the Ephesians that we heard sandwiched between the readings of violence and destruction that we also heard.
A couple of years ago Abdul Rahman Kassig worked as a volunteer in Syria and was murdered by IS. Before his death he wrote a series of emails to his parents which somehow sum up the reality of the terrible actions around him. But despite this evil, he holds onto a vision of a world where evil deeds will never have the last word.
I’ll end by reading some of them.
“I may never be a hero, but there is beauty in survival and grace in finding a way to live amongst hardship even if there is no silver lining.
“Loss and destruction in this land brings about only survival; the determination to press on and rebuild”
How will I tell you of the walls riddled with bullets and the flowers that grow over them?”