A Plumb Line

Dear friends,

In our scripture reading for this week, Amos is speaking in his time and situation a message from God challenging the crooked business practices of those around him. Amos said of himself, “I am not a prophet, nor am I a prophet’s son; but I am a shepherd, and a trimmer of sycamore trees . . .” He was indeed those things, but he certainly became a prophet by definition: he spoke a word from God in a specific situation.

Here is what he said:

This is what the Lord showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall, with a plumb line in his hand. The Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” “A plumb line,” I said. Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the middle of my people Israel. I will never again forgive them. The shrines of Isaac will be made desolate, and the holy places of Israel will be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” (Amos 7:7-9)

I remember the very first time I saw a plumb line. I was a young boy and there was an old carpenter who was friends with my grandparents. He and his wife would come and visit my grandmother. His wife would go in the house to talk to my grandmother, and he’d sit out on the front porch with me. He had an old wooden toolbox (I’ve always loved tools, even as a kid) and I was fascinated with his assortment of old tools. He had a brace and bit-type drill that was manual. He had a chalk line. And he had a plumb line, which he could reel in just like the chalk line. The plumb line was simple: just a weight on a string. I remember him taking out the plumb line to show me. He explained that the weight was called a plumb bob. He unreeled it and held the string up and let the plumb bob hang down. He said, “See how it hangs straight down? You can always use it to tell whether something is perfectly vertical or not. It tells you whether a wall or a post is right or not.”

As I grew up I came to realize that there were a lot of places in my life where I wished I had a plumb line to know whether something was “right” or not — what the standards were I needed to gauge other things by. Then at some point I realized I did have a plumb line. We all do. It’s the standard by which we make decisions, how we judge between right and wrong, how we decide where we stand, and how we decide to live.

Amos held up the image of a plumb line and said to the people of his nation and community in his day that there is a standard — a plumb line set by the Lord — and everything is judged by that standard.

When we talk about people being “upright,” we’re using a moral plumb line of sorts as the standard for what that means.

The question for each of us to consider this week is, What is my “plumb line?” When I “go out to be God’s people in the world,” what is my standard for that?

I look forward to considering this particular plumb line with you this Sunday in the Sanctuary.

Grace and Peace,

Dr. Tim Bruster
Senior Pastor


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