A plumbline is a bob that is at the end of a long string. It is used as a method to test whether a wall is plumb vertical or not. In Amos the prophet is saying the justice of God for all people has been put up against the actions of the people of Israel and their mistreatment of the poor was terrible. Because they were more concerned about getting all of rules of worship right and not concerned about their treatment of the poor the country of Israel and their places of worship would be destroyed.
The writer of the book of Ephesians tells us that God has put out a new plumbline by which the church should measure itself based on the Cross of Jesus. It was and continues to be the action of the Cross to break down the walls that sin have placed between people and God; and each other.
And when measured this way the church is wanting. This vison of unity, wholeness and peace for the whole human family is being challenged by the lack of peace between people and each other 2,000 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It even got worse during the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Today there are over 160 denominations in America competing. It has been said wherever there are two Lutherans there are at least three opinions.
We are divided by politics, religion, race, and the violence that runs between people and nations. Just think how many people are being killed on our streets and homes by firearms. Just look at what is happening in Syria, Yemen, or Afghanistan. Nations are not at peace with each other. The assassination of the president of Haiti is but one example of how people in the same country are not at peace with each other.
Can we imagine unity, wholeness and peace between Democrats and Republicans; Christians and Muslims; Jewish settlers and Palestinians; between the tribal warlords who wreak havoc throughout the entire world?
I think considering the current state of affairs; with so many different groups and people at odds with each other to the point of often hating each other enough to kill—it is difficult if not impossible for us to even envision the kind of peace St. Paul insists is brought about by the Cross of Jesus Christ.
It’s not as if the world Paul lived in was any less divided. He was facing prejudice even in the churches of his day. 1st Corinthians was written to a divided Christian Community that was divided over who was the best Christian. Most if not all the churches of his day were living with the tension between Jewish, Greek, and Roman members. From the Jewish perspective all people not Jews were considered heathen, cord wood for Hell. From the Roman and Greek perspective all other people were considered barbarians.
Nevertheless, Paul could still envision all those divided people coming together in Christ in a world of unity, wholeness, and peace. He believed Jesus’ death absorbed all enmity between God and people and all enmity, hatred, and suspicion between various peoples and tribes. He framed this from a Jewish perspective—in his mind it was the rules and regulations of the Law that separated the Jewish people and the Gentiles of his day building a dividing wall between both groups. Jesus’ death and resurrection proclaimed an end to such divisions. The only law now was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength; and loving your neighbor as much as you are loved by God. Don’t forgot you are to love yourself as much as God does by forgiving yourself of sins you know you committed and have admitted and have begged God for the forgiveness of our divine parent. Paul is insisting because Jesus on the Cross has reconciled us with God, then the Cross can and should empower us to be reconciled with each other.
A central part of the Cross is Jesus absorbed all evil of all time in the love and forgiveness of God. The only way to overcome hatred is to absorb it with forgiving love.
A new neighbor moved next door and immediately it became a home for partying, free flowing alcohol, and drugs. When a family next door complained the mother of the household responded with anger. Over time things got worse and worse. One night one of her sons was killed. When the neighbor heard of this tragedy they called and told the mother of their great sadness and love for her grieving with her in her hour of great loss. A few days later the mother called back crying; asking for forgiveness for the anger and hate she had shown. She was deeply moved that her neighbor grieved with her in her loss and expressed it.
There is so much division in the world especially between churches. I wonder what would happen if we were to reach out to nearby churches to discover how we might minister together to the needs of this community. When churches and synagogues in Greensboro did that years ago, they birthed Greensboro Urban Ministry that especially serves the needs of the poor and homeless.
Starting there we can be instruments of peace and reconciliation starting in our own community, rather than acting as competitors for members.
Jesus of Nazareth believed it was possible through the Cross to reconcile the entire world to each other. The early apostles, including Paul lived and died believing it. Whenever the church has taken the lead on such efforts the Kingdom of God is being extended to a broken world, right now. Amen.