July 14, 2013
Colossians 1:1-14 Amos 7:7-9 Luke 10:25-37
I think about school a lot. It has now been five years since I was in school, but our children are in the thick of it. In our house there are daily conversations about school. Do you have homework? How are you doing on grades? Do you need any help with that tonight? Why didn’t you study for that? Why didn’t you turn in your homework? But after all the work that our children put into school, as parents we end up asking the same question that the school and the teachers are asking. Did they learn anything? After all that we invest as parents and after all the hours that were invested by teachers and administrators, as well as by the children, in the end we want to know if anything that we’ve done has made a difference. Do the students know more than when they started and can they use what they have learned? Whether its elementary school, or middle school, or high school, college, graduate school, seminary or some military training program, every system of teaching desires to find a way to measure how much the students have learned and evaluate how well they are doing. Most often this measuring and evaluating involves a test. Even decades after you finished school, that one word still has an effect on many of you. Your breathing rate increased and your pulse and your blood pressure went up all because I said the word… test. Most of us don’t like tests. They are stressful. We worry about them before we take them, we worry while we are taking them, and afterward, we worry about how we did. Sometimes all of that worry causes us to make mistakes and forget things that we studied and forget things that we knew. We freeze up. Taking tests is an imperfect way of evaluating learning, but whether we like it or not, for the most part, there aren’t many other options so education, learning and tests seem to be permanently tied together. But that isn’t the worst part for us today. Many of us think that we’re out of the woods because our school days are far behind us but our scriptures today reveal that, perhaps, they are not as far behind us as we might think. We begin in Amos 7:7-9. Here, God’s prophet, Amos, brings word to the nation of Israel that is both a word of judgment and a word of warning…
This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. 8 And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined; with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”
God says that he is going to measure Israel with a plumb line. Do you know what that is? A plumb line is commonly used by masons and carpenters and other builders. It is one of the simplest tools in a builder’s tool box, it is always ready, it rarely wears out (these are often handed down from generation to generation), and never needs batteries. It is, simply, a weight on the end of a string. When it is hung from the top of a wall or a door frame or anything else, gravity pulls the weight toward the earth and the string draws a line that is absolutely vertical. If the wall doesn’t match that line, it isn’t straight. In these words, God is warning Israel that he is going to give the nation a test. He wants to see if they are building their nation the way that they should. Are they building the walls straight? But God isn’t talking about real, physical walls. God is going to measure the people, the nation, the leaders, the government and their morality. Is Israel going the way that God has commanded? Are they following the blueprints that he laid out for them? Just as if you or I were told that we were going to be given a pop quiz, the news that God is going to give Israel a test is not welcome news. Following the passage that we just read, we are told that someone reports Amos to the king because he is preaching things that will disturb the people and so Amos is commanded, by the king, to stop preaching bad news. Obviously, when faced with a choice of obeying God or obeying the king, Amos knows what he has to do. God, on the other hand, doesn’t take too well to the king trying to silence his prophet and so the next message that God sends to the king is not good news. The difficulty in this is that this pop-quiz thing isn’t a one-shot deal. There are other places in scripture where there are quizzes and all the signs seem to point to this being something of a regular thing. In Luke 10:25-37, an expert in the Law of Moses, something like a theologian of his day, approaches Jesus with some difficult questions and Jesus ends up giving this man a pop-quiz in return…
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” 2
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” This theologian boils all the teaching about eternal life in scripture down to two things. Love God. Love your neighbor. Jesus says that if he does these things then he will live, but the man isn’t satisfied with that. He wants to be able to say that he is already good, that he already loves his neighbor, and so he presses Jesus to define what a “neighbor” is, and it is here that Jesus hands out the quiz that the lawyer wasn’t expecting. Most rabbis taught that your neighbor was your family and friends and possibly the people who lived next door. Others were more expansive and said that your neighbors included the people you work with and the people you meet at church. The most radical rabbis said that your neighbor was anyone who was a Jew. No one really expected that “neighbors” could be anything other than Jewish… but Jesus did. The lawyer/theologian was trying to convince himself (and Jesus) of how good he was and instead Jesus tells him to “go and do likewise.” This is hard. It is especially hard for the lawyer because he is Jewish and the “hero” of the story is a Samaritan. The Jews and the Samaritans hated one another. Each claimed that the other had perverted the true religion. Each had invaded the other and vandalized or destroyed the other’s temple. The Jews and Samaritans were essentially at war with one another, and the only reason they were attempting to get along without bloodshed is because the Roman Army was there to make sure that they did. In this story the test isn’t really the “Who is my neighbor?” question, as much as it is the command to “Go and do likewise.” Jesus says, go and show mercy to people you’ve never met. Go and spend your hard earned money helping people who can’t do anything for you. Go and help people who aren’t like you, who, in fact, might even be people that you thought were your enemies. Go and show mercy to people who hate you. That is one doozy of a pop-quiz all wrapped up in one sentence. “Go and do likewise.” Go and do likewise is test for the followers of Jesus Christ because this is how he has told us to live our lives. This is how we are to live if we want to claim that we have eternal life. This is how we are to live if we say that we love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. For most of us, when we chose to become followers of Jesus Christ we never really expected that there would be a test, but there is. This passage and many like it lay out a series of pop-quizzes so we never have to wonder how we are doing or if we are learning anything. We don’t get grades on these things (thank goodness) but they are places that do a pretty good job of holding up a mirror to our lives and letting us see ourselves the way that God sees us. Seeing ourselves this way is sometimes difficult but it can also be a way for us to see how we might change to become more like the people that Jesus is calling us to be. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done and when we manage to do it, the news will travel. In Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae (Colossians 1:1-14), he compliments because they have done the things that he taught them…
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father.
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the 3
gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Paul hasn’t been to Colossae for some time but the news of what they are doing has reached him. Paul says, “We have heard of your faith,” “the gospel is bearing fruit,” Epahpras has “told us of your love in the Spirit. For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.” The people in the church at Colossae were doing the things that Paul had taught them, the things that Jesus has called all of us to do. They had faith, they demonstrated love through the Spirit of God and the gospel was bearing fruit. As a result of what they were doing and how they were living their lives, people were talking about them, news travels, and finally reaches Paul while he is in prison in Rome. None of us are fond of tests but tests are how we know how we’re doing and whether we have learned something. Jesus has called every one of us to a new life. Our journey to discover that new life is always an adventure and it isn’t always easy but once in a while there are places in the road where we can check to see how we’re doing. Pop-quizzes, self-graded tests that allow us to look in the mirror and see how we look measured against God’s plumb line. The good news is that when we start to get it right… people will talk and news will travel. Don’t be afraid to take the test. Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror. Take a look and see how you’re doing.
You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.