Libby Caes' Homily from July 15, 2012

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Holy Wisdom Monastery, July 15, 2012
Amos 7.7-15; Psalm 85: 8 ff.; Eph. 1:3-14; Mark 6: 14-29

Since Easter one of my challenges has been balance.

If you were to hold a plumb line (open the straight line) next to me when I am standing with my eyes closed and feet close together, you would notice that I sway a bit.

A plumb line is a string with a weight at the bottom of it.

Similar to this straight line which my husband Dave uses to mark a straight line before cutting drywall.

But plumb lines are not used on people but buildings, walls….to see if they are truly vertical and straight.

A similar tool is a level…

If a shelf is truly horizontal the bubble is in the middle between two lines.

(place level on the communion table)

Israel is way off balance

a plumb line is one of several images God gave to Amos to highlight Israel’s moral failings, that they have abandoned God’s justice, that the rich live at the expense of the poor.

If Israel were to be represented by a wall, a plumb line would show it not to be truly vertical but crooked, or maybe swaying.

Again and again Amos calls Israel to repentance, but to no avail.

Why not put aside some time today to read the book of Amos?

It is short and to the point.  There’s no veiled language. Amos does not mince words.

What if a plumb line or level were set in our midst? What would it reveal?

Many imbalances.

Consider these facts:

  • In our land of 77 miles surrounded by reality, over half of the children in the Madison Public schools live below the poverty line.  AND
  • In 2007, a black resident in Dane County was 97 times more likely to be incarcerated for a drug crime than a white resident – the widest racial disparity for that measure in the nation. Dane County’s jail population in 2011 was 44% African American while the African American population of the county was 6.4%.  AND
  • If you are middle class and diagnosed with a life threatening illness, lose your job and can’t afford Cobra, you have been hit by a financial tsunami. You need to spend down all your assets before qualifying for Medicaid. AND
  • If Governor Walker refuses Medicaid expansion many people who could have received health insurance will not. AND
  • A Wisconsin appeals court has asked the state’s Supreme Court to rule on whether the Wisconsin domestic partnership registry is constitutional.  AND
  • As reported in the Wisconsin State Journal this past Wednesday, a number of neighborhoods in Madison are food deserts; residents without a car do not have easy access to full service grocery stores. This is in Dane County, the home of dozens of CSAs, Trader Joes, Costco, Whole Foods and Willie Street Coop.
  • The clothes I wore yesterday were made in China, Hong Kong, Costa Rica and Mexico. Under what working conditions were they made?
  • If I could stop the clock and take a homily break, many of you, from where you live and work, could name many other injustices that exist in our community.

It is not a pretty picture. And, it is not pleasing to God.

Feeling uncomfortable?

The priest in Bethel, Amaziah, was also uncomfortable. So uncomfortable with the words of Amos that he told Amos to leave, go back home to Judah and prophesy there. He tells Amos that Bethel is the king’s sanctuary, the temple of the kingdom. Amos is not welcome there.

What irony this is—Bethel…where Jacob had a dream of God descending and ascending on a ladder connecting heaven and earth. When he woke up, Jacob realized that God was indeed present and built an altar.

Now Bethel is no longer holy ground but a political entity. There is no separation of church and state. And, God is about to depart.

Amos tells the priest Amaziah that he came to Bethel because God called him. And, he does not back off. Again, Amos speaks truth to power.

What ultimately happened to Amos. Was he silenced? Was he exiled? We don’t know.

We do know what happened to John the Baptist.

John the Baptist has been in conversation with Herod, speaking truth to power. Herod had been listening, pondering But, then John gets caught in the political web:

To celebrate his birthday Herod hosts a lavish feast. The entertainment includes the dancing of a young girl. Because her dancing pleased the birthday boy, Herod impulsively and perhaps under the influence tells her that she can have whatever she wants, up to half his kingdom. This young dancer talks to her mother who happens to be someone whom John the Baptist has offended. Here is Herodias’ chance for revenge and she makes the most of it, telling her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist.

Because Herod wants to keep his word and has a strong need to look good rather than do the right thing, John the Baptist is beheaded.  His life gone, his ministry ended.

It’s a foreshadowing of the suffering and death of Jesus who also spoke truth to power.

The prophetic role is risky and unpopular.

Today, standing up for God’s justice is political suicide. The presidential campaign has become a dance to see who can succeed in discrediting the other. It is about money, finely nuanced statements and calculated risks.

It is not about the common good. Nor do the candidates address the widespread suffering that is pervasive if one has eyes to see and ears to hear.

The blunt words of Amos are a stark contrast to the media bites of the  2012 campaigns:

You sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals

You trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way.

At the same time Amos is compassionate.

He reminds his hearers that they are God’s people. They were brought out of Egypt, they of all the people on earth have been called by name by God.

We, too, in the death and resurrection of Jesus have been redeemed. We have received mercy. We, who were once no people, are now the people of God. We, too, have been called by name.

Paul in Ephesians reminds us that we have been chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless and full of love. We have been adopted.

The Psalmist remembers God’s deliverance and offers us his or her vision of shalom where justice is a priority:

Steadfast love and faithfulness shall meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other

Faithfulness will spring up from the ground and righteousness will look down from the sky.

The Lord will give what is good and our land will yield its increase.

Imagine a society where the common good is honored, the needs of all are honored and elections are not bought.

We the people of God, who are recipients of God’s compassion must speak and live God’s compassion and shalom.

This is not about a Republican or Democratic agenda. Nor is it about one side self-righteously blaming the other

It is interesting that Amos spares no one…not only does he have strong words for the Southern and Northern kingdoms, but also for their neighbors…Edom, Ammon, Moab.

It is not about who is right and who is wrong, it is not about favorites.

Instead, it is about the heart of God which we are to embody.

As we come to the table

We remember that we, too, have been delivered from sin and death by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

With the privilege and blessing of partaking the bread and wine comes our sacred responsibility for the poor and powerless in our midst.

When a plumb line or level is place in our midst, what will it reveal?

Let us pray:

To never forget that we are a people who have received mercy, we pray

Loving God, hear our prayer.

That in our lives we would reflect your compassion, we pray

Loving God, hear our prayer.

That we be grounded in our relationship with You to speak truth to power, we pray

Loving God, hear our prayer.

For what else do we pray?

Let us name those we carry in our hearts.

We lift up our prayers and those listed in the book of intentions to you, O Holy One.


Let us greet one another with the peace of Christ.

In today’s texts

Amos and John, neither who mince words, must pay the price of their prophetic ministries.

Paul waxes eloquently on the blessings God bestows on us.

And the Psalmist gives a vision of shalom, steadfast love and faithfulness meet, righteousness and peace will kiss each other.

Let us pray.

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