Sermon- The Plumb Line (Amos 7.8)

Sermon Series Parables 1110 x 624 (1)

Sermon Series: Parables
Message 1 of 4: The Plumb Line
Scripture: Amos 7:8
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 7/28/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Rev. Jose Nieves

  • Pastor First UMC, Kissimmee
    • Leads school/church partnerships with several local schools
    • A faithful man of God, a powerful man of prayer
  • Two weeks ago, preacher for the High School students, while I was the preacher for the middle school students at camp
    • One morning at camp, I see him, he looks awful. I thought he was sick.
    • He was brokenhearted- Up late following the developments in Puerto Rico
    • He was born there and much of his family still lives there

I suspect you’re brokenhearted over Puerto Rico as well

  • The recent confirmation of extensive corruption among the ruling elite
    • Extortion, Fraud, Favoritism, Mishandling public funds
  • The injustice, abuse, and neglect are hard to take. It rends your heart. But at the root of what makes this possible, is how the ruling elite viewed those they were elected to serve.
    • The revelation of deep-seated disrespect, mocking, contempt of the people, people still trying to recover from hurricanes

People rose up, they joined together and used their voice to speak out against the evil, the injustice, the oppression, and the devaluing of human beings. The people rose up and became prophets. They spoke. truth to power and called for change.

A prophet is empowered by God and called by God to speak truth to power. This is hard, uncomfortable work. It takes tremendous faith and courage and discipline to speak what people don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

How many of us like to read the Old Testament prophets? Not many. It’s hard to read them, the level of truth-telling and pain.

We’ll be spending time with the Old Testament prophets for the next few weeks. The prophets feel very fresh in our day and time. We need to read the prophets regularly.

  1. I need their example of truth-telling and courage. I need the reminder as a child of the One, True, Living God, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I too have a calling to be prophetic. To use my resources, and my influence, and my resources, and my voice to speak out against evil, injustice, and oppression. It’s a part of our calling as the people of God.
  2. I need to hear their message. This is what happens to the people of God when things get twisted and crooked and we lose our way. I need the reminder so I don’t do it. And so that I don’t condone it by my silence and my apathy.

Some of you are asking, but I thought we were going to be studying parables? We are: Old Testament Parables

  • Parables are stories and metaphors with deep spiritual meaning
  • Parables are used by prophets to help people listen; to call people to justice, righteousness, and action.
  • Where do you think Jesus got the idea to use parables? From the prophets!

Amos helps us to have a heart after God’s heart, not a crooked twisted heart. 

  • Amos was a very ordinary person. A shepherd and sycamore-fig farmer.
  • Called by God to be a prophet (not his family business, not a professional corrupted prophet)
  • Lived in the southern kingdom of Judah, traveled to Bethel in the northern Kingdom of Israel to speak truth to power

That power was King Jeroboam II

  • Powerful King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel
  • Successful military leader
    • won battles
    • enlarged their territory
    • generated great wealth for some, a ruling elite
  • Misused his power as king of God’s people
    • Promoted the worship of false gods. As the worship became false, twisted and corrupted, so did their hearts.
    • Promoted corrupt, predatory business practices, an injustice especially harmful to the poor

Amos 8:4-6, The Voice. Like a bowl of ripe fruit, the time was ripe. God would overlook their injustice no longer

Listen to this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor to ruin, Who asks, “When will the new moon festival be done so we can sell our grain? And when will the Sabbath end so we can sell our wheat? Then we can tamper with our scales and make the bushel measure smaller and the counterweight heavier to cheat our customers. We can buy the needy for silver and the poor and their property for the price of a pair of sandals. We can even sell the chaff we sweep up as grain.”

  • False weights and measures, selling food that was inedible, human trafficking, taking over people’s property and lives

People with voice and influence were either and active part of the corruption or fat, happy and apathetic to it. 

I read that and ask, “Lord is that me?”     

Amos begins speaking out against the injustice. Speaks truth to power so things can change.

  • How could this injustice come from people who were once denied justice and enslaved in Egypt?
  • How could this be if you are children of Abraham, chosen and privileged and covenanted to be a blessing to the nations, to care for the stranger and the poor, to proclaim the salvation of God in word and deed?
  • How could you do this to fellow human beings beloved of God, made in the very image of God?
  • How could this happen if you still worship the One True Living God who rescued you from oppression and established you in the Promised Land?

That was the problem- Their worship was full of hypocrisy, all show. We show something but it’s not the truth of our hearts and souls. It was crooked and their hearts grew crooked  

  • People faithfully attended worship- making offerings and ritual sacrifices
    • Yet became apathetic to injustice or downright embraced injustice
    • Their worship did not change their actions, affect their choices, give them eyes to see every single person as a beloved child of God worthy respect, dignity, and access to resources we all need.
    • Their worship was disconnected from how they treated people
    • Lord is that me?

Amos 5:21-24, NRSV
21 I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Righteousness = right relationship. Equal, compassionate treatment no matter the social differences

Justice = concrete actions to create righteousness. Right relationship in action. Love in action. God’s beauty, power, and grace in action flowing through us.

Our of our worship flows right relationship with others, ourselves, and the earth.

When we see something that isn’t right we act, we speak, we do something to make it right. The flow of worship in right relationship and justice.

Isaiah 28:17, NIV.
I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line.

plumb line

This is probably the most famous image from the prophet Amos. Someone reminded me you could use a plumb bob as a weapon. It’s heavy and pointed.

Its proper use for thousands of years is to make sure what’s being built stays true. If the ground is uneven, what you’re building can stay true if you use a plumb line. If we just eyeball it, it will be crooked.

No matter how you twist or swing a plumb line it will quickly return to true.

Amos 7:8, The Voice.
Eternal One: What do you see, Amos?
Amos: A plumb line.
Eternal One: Watch what I’m about to do! I am going to put a plumb line up against My people Israel to see what is straight and true, And I will not look the other way any longer.

What would it be like for God to hold a plumb line up next to our lives, up next to our hearts? Would they be shown to be true? Would they be shown living and flowing with grace, hope, justice, and mercy out of the very worship of God?

Or would they be shown to be twisted and crooked?

We do not have to shy away from allowing God to hold up a plumb line to us. With God, there is always the chance for change, for mercy, redemption, forgiveness. The chance to repent and turn. The chance for the healing of our hearts.

May we accept our calling to live true. To be a prophet of God. To walk alongside another. To give voice to one who has no voice.

What keeps you up at night saying, “God something should be done about this?” God is calling you to action.

Lord, help us to hear the call. To lead a life worthy of the call and the grace and hope we’ve found in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The closing prayer is based on this devotion by Steve Garnaas Holmes.
A plumb line held straight
by the gravity of love,
without curve or spin of human twist,
plumb line of blessing
unbowed by curse,
unbent by fear or greed,
plumb line seeking, unerring, the center,
all creatures’ belovedness and belonging,
the wellbeing of all Creation.

Measure your acts, O human,
judge your policies, O Nation,
by this and no other.
Does it bless without cursing?
Does it serve without stealing?
Does it join and not divide?

God’s plumb line
will not slide sideways
to favor some over others,
but loves all dearly;
it will not sway to sacrifice one’s thriving
for another’s desires.

The ground is uneven but the line is set.
The corrupt tilt their heads;
the wise discern
and build accordingly.

*****************
The Plumb Line © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern, incorporating verses of America the Beautiful

mlk prayer pilgrimage

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the 1957 ‘Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom’.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern
ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, first verse

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!

ONE:
Lord of All,
As we draw near another Independence Day,
we confess our dependence on you.
Thank you for extending abundance, mercy, and protection
to our nation through the years.
Every resource, freedom, and opportunity we have is a good gift from you.
Without you, we are lost.

ALL:
In humility, we seek your face.
In repentance, we turn from our ungrateful, destructive and selfish ways.
In faith, we call on your power to forgive our sin and heal our land.

ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, second verse

O beautiful for heroes prov’d in liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov’d, and mercy more than life.
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness and ev’ry gain divine.

ONE:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on those who govern our land,
Leaders of our nation, our state, and our community
and all who are running for office.

Grant them a love of justice.
Open their minds with wisdom and compassion,
so all people may be treated fairly and with dignity.

Open their ears to the cries of the desperate and powerless
so cycles of poverty, disease, and abuse may be broken.

Open their eyes to see how best to respond
and open their hearts with courage to do the right thing,
even when pressured to do otherwise.

Dawn a new day of integrity and servant leadership upon our land.
Shower down your Spirit of collaboration for the common good
that there may be lasting peace and plenty for all.

The congregation is invited to lift up their own prayers for our nation

ONE:
We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Leader and Savior forever, Amen.

Option: We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Leader and Savior forever, who taught us to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven….

ALL SINGING: America the Beautiful
United Methodist Hymnal #969, fourth verse

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

***************
For other prayers suitable for Independence Day try A Prayer for our Country or Independence Day Prayer or A prayer of examen for our national holiday, all by Steve Garnaas-Holmes.

America the Beautiful by Katherine Lee Bates and Samuel A. Ward.
Public Domain.

A Prayer for Those Who Govern © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Leave a comment for posting and publication considerations.

Sermon based on What Was I Scared Of by Dr. Seuss (Ephesians 2)

sermon series dr seuss 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: The Gospel of Dr. Seuss
Message 3 of 6: What Was I Scared Of?

Scripture: Ephesians 2:11-19
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 2/3/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

what was i scared of collageReading of What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss

What’s a great way to get over something when you’re scared?
The older I get the scarier the world gets. I’m more aware of things. When you’re little you’re sheltered and that’s a good thing.

So how do you get over things? Some folks would say, “Just do it! Put on your big girl pants!” I’m not always that strong.

In order to get over things I’m scared of I need help. I need great friends to stand beside me, speak truth to me, pray for me, help me take the next step. I need to take a step back sometimes and get some perspective.

There is something about taking a step forward and facing our fears. There’s something about the practice of doing that. It’s a practice. It’s like a little kid learning how to walk. First, they’re stumbly bumbly, then they get a little better at it, and a little better at it, and then they’re zooming around the house.

Part of the practice is remembering how alike we are. This is the beautiful message of this book. The realization that these spooky green pants are actually scaredy pants. They are just as scared as the little bear.

Each one finds the other strange. The little bear doesn’t wear clothes, has no experience with pants. The pants have no experience with bears.

They realize they’re both looking for the same thing.

So when I’m scared, especially when it feels like I’m scared of someone, someone because they’re different from me, they’re probably just as scared of me. Deep down inside we have the same longings. We have the same needs.

deesis mosaic christ hagai sophia

Deesis Mosaic of Christ, Hagia Sophia in Turkey

Christ with Hand in Benediction/Blessing
God’s Gang Sign- Three fingers representing the Trinity, two representing the dual nature of Christ (fully human, fully divine), the palm open in blessing, reaching for us.

Association of this hand symbol with the core longings we all have. When we realize we all have them it breaks down the fear and it breaks down the dividing walls between us. People are no longer strange or weird, they have the same needs we do. We begin to see them as human.

  • The Palm is Belonging. How many of you are longing to belong? Do I belong here? Yes! You are wanted. You are welcome.
  • The Thumb is Unconditional Love.  Life is so different because we have thumbs.
  • The Pointer Finger is Security. For some of us its the #1 thing we’re longing for. We tend to point at things and people and say, “You’re not safe.” Instead of saying, “Come closer. Let’s talk.”
  • The Middle Finger is Understanding. Does anybody get me?

You put all these fingers up and the other two down and you get the ancient sign of blessing. This is what we need. This is what Jesus offers. Jesus offers them all to all of us.

Ephesians 2:11-19, NRSV
11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

  • At one time you had the insiders and the outsiders- the Jews and the Gentiles, the circumcised and the uncircumcised. It was like this but now it’s different. You’re not a stranger, an alien, an outsider. You’re not far from God. Because of Jesus, everyone can be brought near.

13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

  • This was so important and so needed Jesus died for it. He bled for it.

14 For he is our peace; in his flesh, he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

  • Christ is our peace. The peace between us and God and the peace between one another.
  • So important it took body and blood, Jesus’ flesh.

15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

  • Jesus took on the humiliation, the violence, the hostility so that there would not be hostility between us.

17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.

There are times when our church family are more of a family to us than our biological family. It must be that way in God’s house.

VIDEO: Father Gregory Boyles of Homeboy Industries in California

Worship Resources
For God’s Gifts, United Methodist Hymnal #489
O Holy God, open unto me light for my darkness,
courage for my fear, hope for my despair.

O loving God, open unto me wisdom for my confusion,
forgiveness for my sins, love for my hate.

O God of peace, open unto me peace for my turmoil,
joy for my sorrow, strength for my weakness.

O generous God, open my heart to receive all your gifts.
Amen.

***********
What Was I Scared Of? Sermon © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Sermon based on Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (2 Corinthians 5)

sermon series dr seuss 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: The Gospel of Dr. Seuss
Message 2 of 6: Green Eggs and Ham

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:14-20
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 1/27/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Dr. Seuss Trivia
1. What is the first Dr. Seuss book to be published? And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. It was rejected 27 times before it was finally published by Vanguard Press in 1937

Top 5 Best Selling Dr. Seuss Books

  • #5           Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990)
  • #4           Dr. Seuss’s ABC (1963)
  • #3           The Cat in the Hat (1957)
  • #2           One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960)
  • #1           Green Eggs and Ham (1960)

Bennett Cerf, Dr. Seuss’s editor, bet him that he couldn’t write a book using 50 different words or less. (The Cat in the Hat used 225 different words) He took the challenge and came up with Green Eggs and Ham, which uses exactly 50 different words.

The 50 words, by the way, are: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

green eggs and ham

Read of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.

Sam-I-am is…

  • Determined
  • Offering something good, believes it down to his bones
  • In it for the long game
  • Inventive
  • Creative
  • Joyfully Persistent

Joyful Persistence
Have you ever been determined to offer someone something good?

  • Would you, could you buy this house?
  • Would you, could you be my spouse?
  • Would you, could you eat your greens?
  • Would you claim sobriety?
  • Would you could you come to Why?
  • Or drive for Fish, give that a try?
  • Or serve our preschool families?
  • Or come to this week’s POV?

Sam I AmWhat if Green Eggs and Ham represented the Good News? What if all followers of Jesus Christ were as joyfully persistent as Sam? (Dr. Seuss did not intend this interpretation)

  • Would you, could you come to Christ?
  • Repent, be baptized, claim new life?

Sam takes his calling seriously – He goes, goes, goes therefore to make disciples of those who like green eggs and ham. He is convinced they are good. Sam is joyfully persistent in staying in relationship, offering, inviting, entreating. He is an ambassador for green eggs and ham. We are ambassadors for Christ.

What drives Sam to try again and again – what would drive us?

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ urges us on because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.

We understand resistance. Resistance to try new things, to understand a different perspective, to meet new people, to go to new places. Why does everything have to keep changing?

We know it takes time to open ourselves to something new. It takes many invitations before we say, “yes.” So why do we give up so quickly in offering something so needed and so good, a saving relationship with Jesus?

We know it takes many invitations, so let’s just expect it and do it. Let’s be joyfully persistent so others can know salvation in Christ Jesus.

Reading of 2 Corinthians 5:17-20  So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to usSo we are ambassadors for Christ since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

  • Go therefore and claim your call
  • Share Good News with one and all
  • Listen deeply, share your story,
  • Point to Christ for all the glory.
  • Try and try and try again
  • What’s there to lose, so much to win
  • Would you, could you come to Christ?
  • Repent, be baptized, claim new life?

***********
Green Eggs and Ham Sermon © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Sermon based on Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss (1 Peter 1)

sermon series dr seuss 1110 x 624

Sermon Series: The Gospel of Dr. Seuss
Message 1 of 6: Horton Hatches the Egg

Scripture: 1 Peter 1:3-7
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 1/20/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

Why are Dr. Seuss books classics?

  • Rhythm and Rhyme
  • Inventive Illustrations
  • Universal Themes
  • Modern Parables- Stories with a deeper meaning. Those deeper meanings are often Biblical truths.

horton hatches the egg bookReading of Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss

Horton makes a courageous commitment. He remains faithful to that commitment even when doing so leads to

  • Frustration
  • Inconvenience
  • Pain
  • Sickness
  • Ridicule
  • Sacrifice
  • Threat of death
  • Sold into slavery

What breaks my heart is the return of Lazy Mayzie and her reclaiming the egg she abandoned. The story has a happy ending (Elephant Bird!) Even so, Horton would have remained true even without reward. He’s courageously committed.

“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent!”

Does anyone do this anymore? Have you ever made a Horton level commitment? What prevents you?

  • What if I commit to the wrong thing?
  • What if I miss out on something better? I’ll be trapped!
  • I’ve got plenty of time to make a commitment later
  • What if the commitment impacts the way I want to live my life like it did Horton?
  • As Lazy Mayzie says, “It’s work, how I hate it, I’d much rather play!”

Commitment is easy to come by when it is superficial, doesn’t cost us anything, temporary, or new. (How are those New Year’s resolutions going?) Commitment takes work. The work is to keep at it- day after day, year after year after year.

Eugene Peterson wrote a book entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It’s hard but it’s worth it.

Keys to Making a Horton Level Commitment. (Adapted from 5 Keys to Commitment by Ryan Dunn)

1) Define “The Why”, the deep reason for the commitment. I am committed to my sobriety because… I am committed to my marriage because… I am committed to starting this business because… I am a committed follower of Jesus Christ because…

2) Remember “The Why.” Keep it in front of you, especially when the commitment becomes hard work and sacrifice.

3) Live the commitment moment to moment. I’m going to eat healthy for the rest of my life. No! I’m going to make the best next faithful choice. Little choices add up to a big and lasting commitment.

4) Expect some failure. It will happen. Choose to fail forward: practice forgiveness, learn from the failure, keep showing up.

5) Don’t go it alone. We need the gift of each other and we need God.

Who can you think of who’s made a Horton level commitment? Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We think of the super saints. Ordinary people can make a Horton level commitment as well.

Have you made a Horton level commitment to Jesus?    

When we decide to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow Him, we become nothing more than fans.- Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan

Reading of 1 Peter 1:3-7. “The Why” of making a Horton level commitment to Jesus.

  • His great mercy
  • New birth
  • A living hope
  • Jesus already made a Horton level commitment to us in his coming, homelessness, ridicule, torture, death, and resurrection
  • an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. No situation or evil can touch it.
  • Salvation and Heaven
  • God’s protection

This is why we rejoice and keep to a courageous commitment in the midst of suffering and trials for the sake of Christ.

Have you made a Horton level commitment to Jesus? You can. Anyone can.   

  • Not a nominal Christian- in name only
  • Not a CEO (Christmas Easter only)
  • Not a commitment of convenience
  • Not a fair-weather Christian
  • Not a fan

WORSHIP RESOURCES
For Courage to do Justice by Alan Paton
O Lord,
open my eyes that I may see the needs of others;
open my ears that I may hear their cries;
open my heart so that they need not be without succor;
let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong,
nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.
Show me where love and hope and faith are needed,
and use me to bring them to those places.
And so open my eyes and my ears
that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.
Amen.

***********
Horton Hatches The Egg Sermon © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.