July 14, 2019

“Measured Words”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Amos 7.7-17

Colossians 1.1-14

July 14, 2019

Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka tells a story about his friend and colleague, Justo Gonzalez. Gonzalez says that you can tell a Presbyterian from a Methodist by their words. At one point in his life he was preparing for surgery and the Methodist friend reassured him by saying “I am praying for you.” The Presbyterian would say “I am thinking about you.” “That’s the difference,” he says… “United Methodists will pray for you while Presbyterians will think about you.” Nishioka, a Presbyterian, wrote that if this rings true, the letter we read today was most definitely more Methodist than Presbyterian. [1]

Obviously, he is being a bit tongue in cheek, but the words we use and our actions that follow our words have impacts on people. When we speak as a Christian, some might take our words to represent all Christians, or all Presbyterians. When we speak as an American, sometimes people view all Americans through that lens. When we speak from our jobs, sometimes an institution is painted by our words. Sometimes, even when we are just speaking as ourselves, our words are broadened to being Christian or American or representing someone, even when we don’t mean for them to do so. We do not have control over how our words are received, but we certainly have control over how we express our words.

Thinking of someone is good. Praying is good. Yet, in the past couple of years thinking and praying hasn’t been enough for the public. I think to all the politicians and ministers and others who have written, “Our prayers and thoughts are with you” when a tragedy happens in our country. They have been jumped all over because thoughts and prayers do not change our laws and create safety for those who are unsafe. Our words, while well-intended, can seem meaningless and empty when it is just a band-aid to cover up a wound that cannot close. Henri Nouwen said that prayer “can’t be intellectual exercise.”[2] It has to be embodied. Lived. Known in our very beings.

The author of the letter to the Colossians expresses these well wishes and encourages a knowledge of God deep within one’s being. We read that Paul and Timothy are writing, but this is one of the disputed letters. Paul did not ever go to Colossae and did not personally know the Colossians. This mimics his letters well, though.[3] He begins with the sandwich method of giving criticism. He sings their praises, offers some love, and then criticizes, and at the end will offer some warm fuzzy feelings again. The author is responding to the report of false teachers and is sending love and advice – something Paul loved to offer.

Christians in this time frame were trying to figure out what it meant to be Christians. They didn’t call themselves as such, but were outside of the Jewish faith, and not fully in knowledge of what it meant to be this new religion. The author is trying to guide them in the right direction. The author suggests knowledge and wisdom and understanding. We talked after Easter about how knowledge with God is not just intellectual, but sensational, in that we can sense in many ways – touch, taste, sight, hearing. At times we cannot express our knowledge of God or the Spirit in words because words are limiting.

Being outdoors is a wonderful way that we can sense God. Our senses might even be on overload at times. A walk outside can clear our heads. Sitting and listening to the breeze can help us to take a breath of that fresh air. Experiencing nature can fill us with a calmness that we cannot always feel when our senses are overloaded. Sometimes the word we need from God is silence.

The words in Amos are not taken well. We come in the midst of some visions of judgment. The ones we do not read about are locusts and fire destroying the land. The third vision is the plumb line. Then, we end with an argument between Amos, a prophet, and Amaziah, the king.

Judgment is not a word we like to use in Presbyterianism. Trying to be open and inclusive means leaving judgment at the door. Yet, it helps to remember that here, God is judging – and God’s judgment is not our judgment. This word might be closer to justice.[4] William Willimon suggests that this judgment is actually a response to our sin and knowing that we deserve the worst, but God’s grace intervenes. This is God’s “resistance” to our misbehavior.[5] We know that we do not deserve God’s grace, but God gives it anyway. We know that we mess up, but God gives freely of love and salvation. We know that the world is broken, but God still mends.

The third vision is translated as a plumb line, but all commentaries are clear that this word in Hebrew is not very clear or easily translated. Some have suggested that it should be “tin,” referring to God sitting outside a wall of defense with metal weaponry and armor.[6] Since it is so difficult to translate, and tin doesn’t work any better or worse than “plumb line,” I’m going to stick with a plumb line.

If you’ve ever used a plumb line – I’ll admit that I have not – you know that it is used to check the vertical line of something, or to find the depth of water. It’s a measuring tool. God holding a plumb line is the metaphor of God measuring up how everyone is doing. We know from the prophet that the people are falling short of this measurement.

In the end, Amos and Amaziah are in a disagreement. Amos is speaking God’s word, and Amaziah doesn’t like the words of judgment. Amaziah tells Amos to talk somewhere else – silencing him.[7] He had that kind of power. Yet, part of being a prophet means “speaking truth to power.”[8] This is a difficult task, but is one that prophets are called to do – and even today we are called to do. We are called to speak out against white supremacy. We are called to speak out against injustices in the world. We are called to speak out against inequalities in pay and treatment of people. We are called to speak out against homophobia. We are called to speak out against sexism.

Words are powerful. They can help and they can harm. If we allow the harmful words to be the last spoken we allow them to have power. We must push back against that. I’ve brought a chalk line with me this morning – not exactly a plumb line, but same concept. I’ve also brought some chalk. I invite you to take a few moments to write what words of truth need to be spoken today. What lines of justice need to be drawn?

 

Holy God, see these words, and may they be ever present on our hearts, our minds, and our mouths. May we see your grace in the world, and follow your example. Amen.

 

 

[1] Rodger Nishioka, “Colossians 1.1-14” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 232.

[2] Ibid., 234.

[3] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 334.

[4] William H. Willimon, “Amos 7.7-17” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 222.

[5] Ibid., 222.

[6] Jennifer M. Dines, “Amos” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 587.

[7] Dines, 588.

[8] Thomas W. Mann, “Amos 7.7-14” ” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 225.