A Nation's Church and a People's God
By Indhira Udofia
Indhira is just a rebel with (multiple) causes – an M.Div & MSW who cares about spiritual trauma in the church.
Scripture: Amos 7:10-17
7This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. 8And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by; 9the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”
10Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. 11For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” 12And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; 13but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” 14Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, 15and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16“Now therefore hear the word of the Lord. You say, ‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.” 17Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Your wife shall become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.’”
Prayer: For Sterling. For Ramos. For Castille. For Ventura and the names we don’t see. For Dallas. For Chicago. For Baghdad and the World. Amen
This week has been one of nightmares. Tragedy after tragedy, I kept thinking where do we go to seek safety? Where is God and what would God have us to say in this moment of violence? Like many people, I took to social media to seek answers, to find actions and ways to engage with the organizers and people of faith. As news of the first two shootings surfaced, I noticed that the bulk of the emotional labor rested among individuals that looked like you and I. I noticed that my colleagues were gripped with anger and fear, speaking out at the inherent cultural imagination that created an environment. I noticed the same fear and anger being directed towards the victims themselves, statuses claiming how they need to avoid being in circumstances. They should have not moved. They should have not been out there. They should have complied more, even if it is nearly impossible. But the majority of the people commenting were always commenting…always speaking, embodying the FB prophetic tradition of reactions and contests on wokeness. There were others out there, however. Others who sat with lament, who offered healing words and safe space. But there was a group of people that really captured my attention. Those who remained silent until Friday.
For those who may not know the timeline of events, on Friday, news stories rolled out about a mass shooting of 11 people. A sniper, targeting Dallas Police officer members, shot at 11 people, killing at least four officers. After a grief hangover from the past two days, I woke up to find apologetics regarding black lives matters and explanations that you can hold in tension both tragedies. But more surprising, I found that those who were once silent, finally found their FB fingers of justice to talk about the sanctity of life. They quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and the Kyrie. They open their sanctuary for vigils and prayer services. Some even had the audacity to attempt to justify their silence until that point. As I sat down at my computer, I thought about our lectionary passages for today and I thought about the fight between Amos and Amaziah. Amaziah was like these preachers, engaging in selective outrage when there was blatant injustice throughout the land.When Amos gives this word around 750-740 BCE towards the end of the reign of King Jeroboam the II in the Northern Kingdom, things are prosperous. The kingdom is secure and stable after turmoil, economic prosperity flourished, and there was peace among the nations. Then Amos, a stranger from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, comes to the North declaring that God is not pleased with the Kingdom of Israel and will destroy the land and exile the people. Judah was known for their more conservative attitudes regarding the tenets surrounding temple worship and religious law observances. The religious reforms made by Jeroboam I adapted the laws surrounding temple worship and certain aspects of the covenant in the Southern Kingdom in order to dull the political dangers of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The temple of Bethel was established as the official temple of the Northern Kingdom. Jeroboam I did not install the Levitical priests like his Southern neighbors but appointed allies as priests within the Kingdom. During this time of peace and prosperity, God notices that economic exploitation of the poor was rampant during this time. The poor suffered and the rich lived in luxury, banking on their status as God’s elect. They thought they were untouchable and God had truly smiled on them, yet they neglected the very covenant that sealed their election. So, God uses an outsider, someone not part of the religious establishment, to tell the Northern Kingdom about themselves and leads them to the temple.
After news of the Dallas shooting broke, I found myself so frustrated with some of my colleagues in ministry. The news of Dallas sparked up something that I have been trying to ignore all this time. The Nation’s Church doesn’t always serve the People’s God. I’m sure you are wondering how can the Church not serve God. This week has reintroduced me to that fact that being Amos in a room of Amaziahs is hard work. Can you imagine to tell the priest of the Northern Kingdom that he has neglected his duties as priest? That he was so focused on the will of the King that the will of God and the people of God were lost under his watch. You see, there is nothing more inconvenient than to hear the truth when you profit in a lie. In the age of rabid individualism and greed masqueraded by prosperity theology, it is easy to believe the lie that your privilege is a God-given, God-endorsed station, quoting the saying “Favor ain’t fair”. See, we are seduced by this theological assertion that pulls us to reinforce our nation’s warped mentality and sucks up in to worshipping the nation’s image of God instead of the one that we vocally affirm in the Bible. It is hard work doing the work of the Gospel when people with bigger churches and private jets dominate popular Christian networks and the politics of respectability and holiness are believed to be the ways to salvation.
Yes, it is hard work to critique a system that you have been conditioned to participate in and the Nation baptizes it under the guise of God’s design and will. Unfortunately, the Church has been baptized in these waters of systemic violence and destruction and many preachers are playing the role of Priest and Prophet rather than doing the work. I used to feel sorry for my colleagues in this position. If I am honest, I thought about how much easier this walk of discernment would be if I played the party line. If I wasn’t so critical or push too hard. I mean, Amaziah points to the fact that prophets need to seek bread too. What is a seminarian at Duke to do when she returns to her community with a 60000+ bill attached to her back? However, in light of hearing the cries of a People to their God who wept with them, I refused to be silent. If we are to say that we represent God, we must confessed that the Church has been touched by the Spirit of Amaziah. The Church has grown more concerned about how our ministries might fare if we critique the system too much, if we don’t rush for forgiveness or peace, or if we participate in marches and actions rather than just prayer vigils. I am familiar the economic realities for those who choose a life of ministry in the Free Church tradition and occupy the body of a Black Woman. This reality often requires me to work harder to resist the temptation not to take the easy route in order to get preaching engagements. Because our text reminds us what happens when we let this fear rule our witness, God’s justice and judgment will point to us. We must never forget that we are accountable to God, and God alone. Shutting our mouths in the face of Empire will not save us, but our obedience and callings to God will. We must remember that the Nation or Empire is not God. God is God.
So often, we quote Amos’s words as inspiration of justice but we never look at what happens when we ignore God’s cry for justice in the land. Amaziah attempted to mute God’s voice and the various things he clung to protect was stripped away from him. Our silence is not salvific. Our obedience to Christ is. Who is this Christ Jesus in our lives? How do we know the real Jesus from the Nation’s God?
According to Scripture, God came to Earth for the oppressed. The Bible said that Jesus pulls the scroll and says,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Who is this Jesus that we must follow?
This Jesus who healed on the Sabbath, hung out with sex workers and tax collectors, and rebuked his colleagues for not doing the work of God under the illusion of religion.
Who is this Jesus that we must follow? It is the Jesus who the path of a low skilled worker and refugee, accepted the punishment of a political prisoner, and died at the hands of state-sanctioned violence.
Who is this Jesus? A Jesus who rose three days later, bearing the scars of his persecution and endowing his disciple with greater works to advance the Gospel.
You see, God is calling us to not to take Jesus’s ministry of healing and teaching in vain. The victory of rising up with all power is that now we are empowered to do the work of justice in House of God, the Temple of Bethel, and to be faithful to God and not Empire and death.
So today’s challenge is to see what God are we looking to? Selective outrage and silence only feed the agenda of Empire. Jesus cared about the infirmed, the sex worker, the immigrant, and the religious rulers. God has continually been on the side of those who are oppressed and dispossessed. Is your Church on God’s side or are there Amaziahs among you?