Sermon transcript, 12 July 2015

Prepare to be sent out by Fr. Dana

Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 85, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:7-13


God has a plumb-line (Amos 7:7). A plumb-line is a string with a weight on it, which comes to a point. You can hang it anywhere, and where that point is shows you straight up and down, because it’s only affected by gravity. When it stops swinging, you know the point that’s directly below wherever it’s hanging.

God has a plumb-line. The culture doesn’t want to hear that: the culture doesn’t want to hear that there is a standard, something against which all actions and thoughts are judged; they don’t want to hear that there’s a right and a wrong. We, however, are called to declare the truth: the One who is the Truth, the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We are not called to proclaim it with a machine gun or a cricket bat; we are called to speak the truth in love – but nonetheless to speak the truth.

The time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God

The Old Testament reading talks about a plumb-line, and it’s quite instructive, particularly as it applies to our world today. The book of Amos was written during a time when the people of Israel had departed from following the Lord. They had been following Him, but then they actively lost their way: they chose to go their own way, to follow the gods of the peoples around them. Read Amos 7:7-8. What about all these evil people that are surrounding us? What about all these people who really don’t care what God says? Now we’re at the point of the message; this can be summarised in part of a verse from I Peter 4:17: For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God.” Yes, we’re surrounded by peoples and cultures that don’t care what God has to say; but judgment doesn’t start with them; it starts with us who say we follow Him.

If this were Moses, when God says, “Stand back: I’m going to zap these people”, Moses would always stand in between and say “Wait a minute! These are the people You saved out of Egypt. Think about what you’re doing! Stop!” Amos doesn’t do that: the time for intercession is over. Amos does not pray for them; in fact, God says, “I will not pass by them anymore” and “Their sanctuaries will be laid waste” (Amos 7:9). That’s judgment. “I have been intimate with these people, and they won’t follow. I’m not going to come around anymore; when they pick up the phone I’m not going to answer; and those places that still have My name on them and look as if they’re worshipping Me, they’re going down.” This is not good news. Amos does not intercede for them, because they have wandered in the opposite direction from the Lord, too far from the truth, and God will no longer hold back judgment, because Israel refuses to listen and even tries to silence the prophetic voices that He sends to warn them.

Here’s the application for our day: do you see a similarity? Has our culture gone too far? I’m not the judge – God is the Judge – but it looks as bad as what Amos is talking about here. That’s bad news; perhaps even worse news is that God does not hold the culture to a higher standard than He holds the Church. We may not be doing all the things that the culture is doing, but the plumb-line that God measures us against is the same plumb-line that He measures them against; and we’re not straight either. If the culture has gone too far, perhaps if parts of the Church have gone too far, God’s judgment will begin with the house of God. The good news is that God is patient; He has been patient; but His patience has a limit. He is long-suffering; He is not eternal suffering. God fights against his enemies; and if His enemies happen to be in Israel, and happen to be Israelites, He will fight them as well. If His enemies call themselves Christians, He will fight against them as well. And so we cannot declare untruth as the truth. The whole central idea of the book of Amos is that God puts His people on the same level as the surrounding nations: He won’t destroy surrounding nations for behaviour that He will tolerate in the Israelites. The same is true with us: God expects the same purity of all of us; the standard is the same. As it is with the nations that rise up against the kingdom of God, even Israel and Judah were not exempt from the judgment of God because of their idolatry and their unjust ways. Do you see any idols in the culture? Probably so: money, popularity, fame, fortune… tolerance of anything and everything…

No matter how good our nation is (whether it’s Britain, the Philippines, America…), no matter how much we’ve been blessed, no matter what our reputation is, no matter what God has given us or done for us in the past, God requires obedience now. The culture doesn’t want to hear that; parts of the Church don’t want to hear that.

Jesus sends us out

What are we going to do? If we are true believers, what’s our calling? What are we supposed to do? The Gospel gives us a hint (Mark 6:7-9). Jesus sent out the Twelve; He didn’t send them out in abundance; He sent them out “on the edge”, with just enough to get started. They didn’t have a debit card, a cheque book, a credit card, or anything for “what happens if”, but they had just enough; and that’s how He sent them out. This same God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills [Psalm 50:10] could have given them everything they would ever need in a small bag, but He didn’t: they had to trust Him. He sent them out to do good; He sent them out to bring healing and deliverance and to preach repentance (Mark 6:12-13).

He sent them out like David when he went against Goliath. David went to take food for his brothers, and he saw Goliath challenging the armies of Israel: “What’s the matter with you chickens?” and David said “I’ll fight him” and Saul says “Are you nuts?” and David says “No – I’ll fight him” and Saul says, “Great! Here’s my armour”…. When Saul was chosen as king, he was head and shoulders above everyone else in the country, and David was a teenager… So David took it all off, and took five stones. That’s how the disciples went out. They didn’t have armour or weapons, or a sword or money to buy one, or money to buy food; but He sent them out, and just like David, they succeeded. They went out armed with the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of God in them.

Read Mark 6:10: “You don’t have money for a hotel; just go, and when someone invites you to stay with them, stay with them. If there are cockroaches on the floor and they serve you weird food, eat it anyway. Just stay there until it’s time for you to leave.”

Read Mark 6:11a: They will meet with resistance. There are people – like our culture – who won’t want to hear; they don’t want to put you up, to invite you in or even to hear you talk. But Jesus doesn’t tell them to confront, condemn, or call down lighting to strike these rebellious people. On leaving, they are simply to shake off the dust from their feet: in essence, to say, “I tried; I’m done with you. I’m not taking anything with me from you. I’m commending you to God: whatever He wants to do with you, let Him do it; I’m done.” But the disciples went and proclaimed the truth. If the people didn’t hear, “Fine: I’m not going to make you hear, I’m not going to beat you with it; but I gave you an opportunity. If you don’t want to hear, that’s your choice.”

Will we go?

And so the Twelve went out, totally unprepared, totally unequipped, but on the authority of Jesus’ word (Mark 6:12). Guess what? We’re in the same position. We’ve been comfortable here for twenty years. God has done many good things here, but now He’s sending us out. If you look in the cheque book, there’s not much there. He’s not sending us out with a building food or with extra equipment, but with just about what we need, and that’s it. And He’s not telling us where we’re going yet. We’re being sent out just like the Twelve. The question is, are we going to act like the Twelve? Are we going to do what He asks us to do? Are we going to go out and heal the sick, to bring deliverance, to speak the truth in love? Even if it means, “If they know who we really are, they might not rent their building to us”? If they know what we really believe, they might be intolerant. We’re called to speak the truth in love.

And if we do that, what will happen? If we go out equipped with the power of the Holy Spirit with the mission to call believers back to the truth and preach repentance to people who don’t know the love of God yet, what will happen? What happened in the last verse of our reading? Read Mark 6:13. They were faithful to Christ’s instructions, and God was faithful to his promise and worked in and through them to bring healing, deliverance and salvation. That’s why we exist: to proclaim the Gospel, to free the prisoner, to bring sight to the blind, that the lame would walk – whether they are physically, mentally or emotionally lame… That’s what we’re called to do; the Spirit of the Lord is upon us to do these things, to be these things (Isaiah 61:1ff): we do them because they flow out of who we are.

And as we go, we need to measure ourselves against that plumb-line: Are we off a little? Are we crooked? Are we bent? Is our wall tottering? … individually and as a church. The way we do that is ask God to show us, because He’s the one with the plumb-line. God, where have we fallen short? What do we need to change? What do we need to confess? What do we need to do to be faithful? Because if we’re faithful, we know that You will be faithful; and if You’re faithful to us, we can change this current world empire, just as the disciples and those who came after them changed the Roman Empire. We can bring this empire, this culture that says that it doesn’t need God – and I’m not just talking about the British culture: the whole world culture is going that way, although some cultures are further along than others – we can bring that whole philosophical system crashing down – Wrong statement: We can’t, but God can if we’re faithful. He can turn the world right-side up again, just as He did with the disciples.

Isn’t that your heart? Aren’t there people in your life whom you would love to know the Lord: their life would be so much better if they would just receive Him? And you can’t beat them with Him – Jesus isn’t a weapon; He’s a person. And there are people in the culture who need Him, and there are some who are willing to listen, who are hungry for Him, but they don’t know how to get there. We’re called to minister to them: maybe not to go out and stand on a corner and preach, but to minister where we work, where we live, where we’re going to be meeting as a church, to be salt and light in the culture. And we will cast out many demons and anoint with oil many who are sick, and heal them; the Gospel will be preached, men women and children will be saved, and God will receive the glory.

Let us be prepared

Sounds like a great life to me. Even if we do leave with nothing in our pockets, it’s ok: the rewards of faithfulness are greater. Let us be challenged to do that. Especially in the next six weeks, let us prepare ourselves for whatever God wants to do. He will launch us out, whether we’re ready or not; but we can co-operate with Him; so let us do so.