God Tweets Amos

I was honored to speak for Upper School Chapel at the Episcopal Academy - a marvelous institution - on 20 March 2013.

Tweeting

Hold on a minute. *tweeting* I love Twitter. Do you think God tweets? I think God tweeted Amos. Or maybe Amos tweeted some of his sermons. If you blinked, you may have missed the scripture lesson:

Amos 9:7 Are you not like the Ethiopians to me,

O people of Israel? says the Holy One of Old.

Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,

and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?

A single verse from the book of Amos. A verse that is unconnected to the verses on either side of it. Amos was a powerful preacher, prophet and master of rhetoric. His sermon in the first two chapters of the book that bears his name have no peer in my opinion. His contemporaries and descendants also thought he was a great preacher. They preserved his sermons, some of them and in the case of today’s lesson, some parts of them. Or perhaps it was a complete thought: a bumper sticker, t-shirt logo or tweet (technically more like a two-part tweet). It’s over by 50 characters in English but in Hebrew… *tweeting* still over by 26.

The book of Amos is the collection of these sermons and sayings stapled together in a slightly more than random order. 

So Amos is retweeting God who is talking to Israel, perhaps just the Northern Monarchy after the split, but more likely the North and South together as they use to be and as some hoped they would be again, some day. And Amos and God say:

Who do you think you are? That chosenness thing has really gone to your heads. You are not the only people on this flat earth with four corners – it was still the Iron Age and Amos didn’t know the earth was round and God wasn’t telling. You are just like the Ethiopians to me, Cushites in their language, Nubians or East Africans in ours. This is not a racial thing, because the category of race didn’t exist in the world of the scriptures nor in ours more than five hundred years ago. Besides, everyone in the North and East African and West Asian geographical context of the Hebrew Scriptures – before Alexander the Great arrived on the scene – was some shade of beige, brown or black. No this was an insider/outsider, an us/them thing. And God is saying you are my precious people, but you are not the only ones. You are not the only people who are precious to me, whom I care for, tend, protect, lead, guide and love.

Amos 9:7 Are you not like the Ethiopians to me,

O people of Israel? says the Fire of Sinai.

Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt,

and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?

You know how I freed you from slavery, as my buddy Micah says, I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. This is God’s testimony on the witness stand when God gets sued in Micah 6. Crazy I know but Job also sued God and won, sort of. He did get a big payday. God testifies before the court of the heavens and the earth and before the jury comprised of the mountains and hills that the three prophets together, Moses Aaron and Miriam are proof of God’s loving fidelity to Israel. (I like the part about Miriam since I wrote the book on women prophets.)

But God tweets to and through Amos, you are not the only ones I have delivered out of their affliction. Your exodus is not the only exodus. You know the Philistines who your ancestors fought against for years? They may have been your enemies, but they are not mine. When the Philistines were in trouble in Caphtor I delivered them too. And the Arameans, with whom Israel had also had sustained periods of war, when they found themselves exiled in Kir by the Assyrians, I came to get them too. The rest of those stories aren’t in your bible because they are your stories, through your eyes, but they don’t tell the whole story. And as for the Assyrians, I love them too, in spite of what they have done to my other children. It is as Isaiah said: 

Isaiah 19:24 On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Commander of angel armies has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.”

Many folk may be surprised to find verses like these in the bible which after all is Israel’s account of its special relationship with God. The truth is, there are many stories in which non-Israelites are treated terribly, exterminated or enslaved, abducted into marriage and forced into pregnancies. In fact, we should not be surprised, I contend, when Iron Age folk articulate Iron Age theological understandings. 

But part of what makes the bible scripture for me is when the texts reveal an understanding of God that transcends the cultural context in and through which the scripture is revealed, like hearing the good news of the love of God for all people, including those who have historically been the most bitter and vicious enemies proclaimed through an Iron Age preacher-prophet who has never heard of ecumenism or interfaith ministry.

And I think Jesus of Nazareth, who preached the gospel of the love of God through these very prophets would agree. In the gospel assigned for today in the Daily Lectionary, John 10, Jesus says,I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. Jesus who started his ministry with ethnocentric blinders on saying things like, “I came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” meaning, “the rest of you are on your own,” was convinced and converted by a Gentile woman to heal her daughter and extend his ministry to the whole world. In John Jesus is proclaiming a love like that of God in the tweet of Amos, a love for those outside of what others think is the fold. 

I love that Jesus doesn’t explain who the other sheep are: Mormons, Muslims, atheists or aliens – and I mean extraterrestrial aliens if they exist. The world, whole world, the whole universe with all of its worlds that Amos the flat-earth tweeter could not imagine is the flock of the living loving God who walked among us as a woman-born Jewish man. That Iron Age gospel is still good news in the digital age.