Readings: Amos 7:7-9; Matthew 21:42-46
How many of you recognize this dress? With all that happens in the world, I am still amazed at how one single image can capture the attention of the entire internet. In case you didn't know this past winter the world of social media was set on fire. It seemed like in nearly every conversation appeared this dress.
All over, people were hotly debating whether the dress was blue with black lace. Or white with gold lace. This experiment was a great reminder of how easy it is for our eyes to play tricks on us. Mass Media and graphic artist have known for years that our perception of things can easily be distorted. As the dress controversy demonstrated, our own biological nature allows us to see light differently. But then there is also the context in which we see things.
For example, imagine standing in an old house that has uneven floors. The slightest difference can change our perception; making even the straightest wall look crooked. Likewise, the way we see ourselves can often be skewed depending on we're we stand in the world. What we think we see, or even believe who we are, can easily be distorted when we judge ourselves by the world around us. If the world is askew, then our own judgment will naturally be off. Yet it's not so much how we measure ourselves through a distorted lens...but how God will measure us.
There once was a little boy who ran into the kitchen to tell his mother the good news that he had grown taller over night. “Guess what, mommy? Guess what?” the little boy shouted with great excitement. “I’m exactly nine feet tall!” he exclaimed. His mother, greatly surprised by this news, asked him how he got to that measurement. The boy took off his shoe and began to measure himself by it…one foot, two foot….!
Sadly so many of us measure ourselves incorrectly. We use human standards of measurement instead of going by God’s. The trouble is, as I’ve pointed out, what our eye sees is not always the truth. With the slightest of moves, a magician is able to misdirect our attention and thus manipulate our perception. So too is the way of the world. We have social norms that misdirect us...skewing our perception, which then distort our reality.
Many of us here have built or remodeled a home, or erected a pole barn, constructed a handicap ramp, or built furniture…and so forth. You know that each of these projects requires precise measuring and cutting. There is no room for the slightest error. If you want to build a solid, well-constructed wall...you can’t just eyeball it and hope that it turns out straight. Instead there is a precise way to do things. Same is true about life.
This church, like so many great buildings, began with a precise set of blueprints. After the foundation was poured, a cornerstone was set into place...setting the horizontal line for the entire structure. The cornerstone is the anchor that brings the blueprints to life. It is the cornerstone that helps ensure the integrity of the architect's precise measurements. Every builder knows that if you want a strong, straight wall...then all the bricks must align perfectly with that one cornerstone.
Now this is a plumb bob. My son bought it off of Grandpa Dan at their garage sale last month. Along with the hammer and chisel, it is one of the most ancient of tools...which might explain why Dan had one to sell. The masons used a plumb bob to make sure each row of bricks lined up straight with the cornerstone.
Eight centuries before Christ, the prophet Amos had a vision in which he saw God standing on top of wall with a plumb line in his hand. Help me out Grandpa Dan...if I am correct the word they used back then for ‘wall’ often refers to one’s heart. In essence, the Lord is standing on the heart of his people and measuring their faithfulness.
Now this vision happened during a time when Israel was experiencing great prosperity. They had begun to measure their success by the standards set by the nations around them. It seemed like the more prosperous they were, the less they remembered God was the key to their success. Amos hears God say, “I am using a plumb line to show that my people are not straight.”
Their hearts are off from where they are supposed to be. They are crooked, and no longer sound. Simply put, they don’t measure up. Amos warns his countrymen that their holy Temple and their entire dynasty will fall. But Israel has trouble hearing the prophet because from their point of view they are doing great. Their eyes are distorted by the world around them.
We too may be unaware that we are not straight, or that we might be out of alignment with what God really wants from us. It's easy to trick ourselves into believing we are doing what's right because we are good people, we go to church, we don’t hurt others, we pay our bills and keep a tidy house.
But Jesus constantly inspires us to look at ourselves, and the world, through a different frame. Jesus confronts our perception of reality...and redefines our social norms to re-align us with God's will. He speaks of loving our enemies and forgiving them for what they have done. He teaches us to be peacemakers instead of warmongers, and how to give instead of to receive. You might recall from last week, Jesus taught us how to seek justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God (cf. Micah 6:8). Jesus’ life, and his death, is the plum line that God uses to measure us.
In Matthew's gospel...the author likens him to the psalm that says “the stone that the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.” Such a declaration tells us Jesus is the standard by which the world will be set straight and made new again. If Jesus is the cornerstone, then we are the bricks. We must adhere to him to ensure the integrity of the Body of Christ...the churches foundation. When we set our life on Christ, we begin to produce the fruit of the kingdom.
As we spend time with Jesus and get to know Him better, through prayer and meditation, and the understanding of scriptures, we become more like Jesus. We begin to see how His thoughts become our thoughts. His actions become our actions. His purpose will become our purpose. His divine perception becomes our reality.
In a word, we become Christlike.
But how we measure up to God...is not based on perfecting Christlikeness, it is in our constant striving to bear good fruit.
So what is the fruit that we are measured by? The Bible describes the fruit of the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Are these the things our world promotes?
Or better yet, are they the things the world sees in us? I can stand in a room with crooked angles, and the one straight wall can look crooked too. Likewise, when we stand in the middle of a culture filled with greed, decadence, and hardness of heart, the righteousness and justice and love of Christ can look lopsided and out of place. Yet in our striving to live in Christlikeness we begin to see ourselves, and the world around us, more clearly and more honestly.
I would like to leave you all with this reminder. God’s plum line has become flesh. He lived among us and invites us to walk with him and learn a new way to view life from his vantage point. It’s not until we’ve encountered the love and grace of Jesus Christ, that we realize we have the only love worth measuring up to. Amen
Greg Laurie Daily Devotion - June 13, 2007 http://www.crosswalk.com
Howard Strickland, Amos and the Plum Line, July 2008.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”