God's messengers are a quirky bunch. In this week's lectionary readings, we see Amos, who is as stunned as we are that he is to be God's messenger. "I prune trees, and play in the dirt.I am not anyone of consequence or obvious skill, no matter what scale you use to evaluate me." Yet he was called by God to be a messenger, and to tell others in power, to how to prune away what was not life-giving and how to nurture and grow that straighter, stronger tree. The tree which could sustain all living things perhaps. The most effective pruning is what allows a tree to survive, to avoid blight and disease, or collapse. Pruning takes a good eye, and a strong hand to make a clean cut. A sloppy cut can actually do even more harm instead of the good intended. Pruning seems counterintuitive- why would cutting back something thriving lead to better growth? Pruning takes being deliberate, slow thinking before acting, to discern what should grow. Amos told things that the people needed to hear, but hard to imagine we would listen if God sent a landscaper to tell us today.
Then there is Paul in our epistle. How could someone who revelled and excelled in prosecutorial incisiveness be a messenger for the Jesus message? And to top it off, some historians talk about Paul as being slight of build, and not all that great as a public speaker. How could a guy with "short man syndrome" be the point person for a message? Yet what better person to have dogged persistence is "prosecuting" the case for Jesus? He was a person who was figuratively pruned and re-oriented who could tell others of the miraculous experience of it all. What greater example than the total role reversal of Paul? And in the end, we do not revere him for his public speaking anyway, but for the marvelous weaving of ideas and arguments in his writings. And we don't know what his thorn is, but what if it was something that would make us not want to look at him or be in his company? What if he had Tourette's syndrome, for example? How likely is it that in our media saturated world today, a short guy with a whiny voice and some off-putting feature, who is better in print, would be a person we would be drawn to as God's messenger?
And we can't overlook John the Baptizer. Everything we are told leads us to believe that John may well be the subject of a mental health commitment hearing today. He seemed to lack a good sense of self-care. He lived beyond civilization, eating bugs, and gleaning, eschewing all conventions when it came to clothing. Engaging in what may have seemed like rants in the wilderness rather than speeches. Thinking outside the box in every way- telling people to come to the river, not the temple for purification. Encourgaing people to engage in an exodus back into the wilderness and away from their conventions. Challenging people to radically re-orient- and living out this radical re-orientation in every way. Yet not content to be radical in the wilderness alone, but challenging others to make clear the path and to strip away the things that were in the way of right being. Would we listen to a John today or would we try to make him the subject of reality TV, or a viral video?
As I look at each of these messengers, they are not carefully packaged, media savvy folks. Each of them in their time are not obvious PR men for a message. Yet each of them embodies their message. And there is a thread in their message- we as humans so often continue to add new practices, new requirements, and trappings to a simple message. Though we all profess to yearn for the simple life, we are incapable of being sustained in it. When the commandments were given, the people were told that they should neither add to nor take away from God's commands.
Yet we do. And time and again, we need a reminder to prune, to reorient, even to reverse. As I think about Amos, Paul and John, I wonder what it would have been like to be in their midst. I wonder how much easier it is to look back with that 20/20 hindsight and sit in judgment of others then who heard them, and their lack of response to the messenger. And then I wonder whether there is a messenger in our midst that I am ignoring because he or she doesn't meet the criteria of someone I should listen to, someone equally foolish to be chosen, whom God has selected for all of the right reasons. But while I ponder this I continue to be amazed that we are all given unique qualities that in a given time and context God can and will use. And maybe while there are the occasional figures larger than life who are messengers, it would be better to remember that each of us is necessary and integral in ways we only sometimes realize. In between the big moments of the message are all of the little echoes that can be spoken through each of our lives if we stop jamming The Messenger who created us all for just such work.