Measuring Up

Heritage Presbyterian Church

July 14, 2019
5th Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture readings – Amos 7:7-17 & Luke 10: 25-37

It was a beautiful day in the early summer of 2018.  I say it was beautiful because the wind was blowing, and it actually felt great to be outside in my backyard here in Houston.  I was pushing my grandson, Logan, in the big swing we had built for him, and with the wind blowing, I was actually enjoying myself.  Both of us were smiling and laughing and just having fun when I happened to see something big moving out of the corner of my eye.  When I looked to my right, I didn’t see anything at first.  I went back to pushing Logan in the swing, but I began to wonder if my eyes were playing tricks on me.  After another minute of pushing, I saw something move again…something really big.

This time I asked Logan to stop for a minute because I wanted to check on something.  I stood perfectly still and looked to my right for several seconds.  Finally, I saw it clearly: each the wind gusted that day, my fence swayed back and forth in the wind.  I went over to see if something had come loose, something easy to fix with a hammer and a nail or two.  But upon closer inspection, I saw that my fence had become so rotten that in several places, there was nothing but hope and spider webs holding the fence in place.

Later on, I checked out the prices to have a fence replaced.  It would have been very expensive.  I also made a few trips to Home Depot checking on the prices of supplies and materials.  Finally, I convinced myself to rebuild the fence myself.  I would want for a day off, and then I would take one section apart.  Then I would measure the wood, paint on waterproofing liquid to replace the rotten cross beams, cut the new pieces and nail everything in place.  After replacing about three sections, I was really figured it out and was able to work much faster.

After several months, the job was finished.  I am proud of how it looks, and it does not sway in the wind.

While I worked, there were several tools that were extremely important: tape measure, shovel, hammer, drill, screwdriver, and my level.  A level is a small tool that is used to determine if the wood is nailed in straight, level, and plumb.  If it is not, eventually whatever is nailed in will probably begin to fall apart.  Measuring everything a couple of times before I started was the smartest move I learned to make.

But in the end, it’s only a fence.  It’s not my eternal salvation being measured by how well or how poorly I constructed that fence.  It’s not my wife’s approval that will determine my place for all eternity…it’s how I measure up to the Lord’s plumb line.

In our two Scripture readings for today, I think it’s absolutely quirky – and yet still wonderful – that we have two completely different so-called experts trying to determine how best to use the Lord’s plumb line to see how a situation – and the people in it – measure up in the Lord’s eyes.

First, we have the non-prophet, Amos.  He is a humble shepherd, not even an accepted member of society.  Even the Apostles who were fishermen were believed more easily than shepherds in those days.  They were commonly known as liars, and their word would not be accepted in any court of law; whereas, we all know that fishermen always ALWAYS tell the truth…

In any case, Amos knew he was not really a prophet…but he was called by God to tell the people something.  This is the definition of a prophet, but Amos didn’t accept it…he was just doing as he was told.

So, when Amos sees a plumb line, and the Lord asks him a question: “What do you see?” Amos gave the simplest answer: “A plumb line.”  What it all meant was a mystery to Amos, but that was okay…the Lord explained it to him.  Yet, when Amos went and told the people the rest of what the Lord had to say, they quickly dismissed him.  He was no real prophet, he was a lowly shepherd!  How could anyone believe anything he had to say? 

Amos was measured by the plumb line of the people, including the King, and found lacking. 

Yet, that also illustrates the big problem for today: we do not use the Lord’s plumb line when we measure one another.  If we did, we would not see what we claim to see.

Luke tells us that an “expert in the Law” came to Jesus and asked some questions.  The lawyer asked questions…Jesus answered them.  Then Jesus asked questions…and the lawyer answered them.

The details show us a little something extra.

The lawyer may have been testing Jesus or just showing off.  He may have been challenging Jesus and hoping to catch him in a verbal trap; remember that often the experts in the Law tried to trap Jesus with their questions and discussions. 

But Jesus answered the question by teaching a parable to illustrate the point that there is more to God’s love than just the strict measurement of the Law. 

There was MORE…there was also love.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we must never forget the following:

  1.  Samaritans and Jews HATED each other.  Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people…so did the Samaritans.  Both saw the other as false in God’s eyes.
  2. The priest and the Levite who both passed by the injured man could not have touched him without making themselves ritualistically unclean.  If they got blood on their hands or their feet or (GOD FORBID) their garments, they would not have been able to serve in the Temple for a month.  Their bloodied clothing would have to be burned because it would have been unclean.  And they would have had to live separately from their communities until they were restored.  That is what the Law says. 

Use the plumb line of the Law, and those two men were following the will of God.

Using the plumb line of God’s love, and the only one who truly loved his neighbor was the hated Samaritan.

And there’s the point for today: if we use a strict measurement in all that we do and say and believe, then that strict measurement better use God’s love as our plumb line.

Otherwise, whatever we are measuring will give us a false measurement.

The other point that has not yet been stated is this: it is often very difficult to measure up in the eyes of humans when we know we could only measure up in the eyes of God.

Let me tell you an odd story that may help illustrate this.

Because the American Revolution was so long ago, and perhaps because we are such good friends with Great Britain today, it is may be difficult for us to grasp just how bloody, just how tough, and just how brutal that War for Independence truly was.  Slaughter, savage trickery, and deceit were the order of the day, and there was very little that might have measured up using God’s plumb line of love.

Yet, in the virtual center of a major battle near Princeton, New Jersey, there was a Quaker’s meeting house.  I have been in that building…it is more than 250 years old, very rustic, very simple, very plain.  You can almost imagine the Quakers sitting quietly together, praying and waiting for the Spirit to move one of them to speak.  Yet in the days of the American Revolution – and for many years after – the Quakers were known for two things:

  1.  Their strict opposition to war.
  2.  Their quality skills at healing and treating wounded.

Prior to the battle, the Quakers asked for a meeting between the American and the British generals who were leading the fight.  Both men came to the Quaker meeting house hoping to gain an agreement that those Quakers would treat his own wounded.  Both men were greatly startled and angered when they realized that their opponent had also been invited.  The Quakers asked both men to stay and hear what they had to say.  Because both generals knew heavy casualties were expected, both men stayed and tried to get the best arrangements for his men.  Instead, the Quakers told both generals the following:

  1. The wounded from both sides were to be treated together in the same meeting house – with no separations.
  2. No fighting of any kind could take place in or near the meeting house.
  3. Officers and common soldiers would be treated in order decided by the severity of their wounds.
  4. If either side disagreed or disregarded any of the rules, neither side would be treated.

Because both generals cared for their men, and because of the good reputation of the Quakers, the agreement was struck.

Those Quakers used the plumb line of God’s love to treat enemies and friends the same. 

So how do we measure up, my friends?

Are we so strictly following all the rules that we forget about the rule of love?

Are we so concerned about the details of life that we forget about the detail called love?

Are we so busy measuring everything that we forget to look around and see the beauty of the earth the Lord has given us?

And finally…are we measuring others using our own standard?  Or are we looking at one other with love – no matter what?

How we measure up will someday be determined by the Great Inventor of Love Himself.

May each of us stand tall and be declared “Plumb” in the sight of the Lord.