Sermon – January 5, 2014
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin
2nd Sunday after Christmas
When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him. Matt. 2:3
Please be seated.
“How dare the Taliban take away my right to an education,” the 11-year old girl said in a speech in 2008 to the members of the Peshawar Press Club.
The British Broadcasting Company, BBC, was covering the SWAT valley in Pakistan, which was being ruled by the Taliban and they wanted a firsthand account of what life was truly like. The BBC thought a blog by a teenage girl would be best. The Taliban had banned television, music, girls’ education, and women from going shopping. The BBC approached Ziauddin Yousafzai, who operated a chain of public schools in the region and who was an education activist. He suggested his own daughter, 11-year old Malala, but she was younger than the BBC wanted. However, there was no one else who would take such an effort on…it was extremely dangerous. Finally, the only choice the BBC had was 11-year old Malala.
While the Taliban rulers continued to close and destroy schools, Malala continued to attend school and to write the blog detailing the changes in her life, especially the threatened loss of her education. Malala’s school went from 700 students to 70. To protect her, she wrote under an assumed name, Gul Makai, meaning cornflower, a name from a Pashtun Folk Tale. However, the Taliban discovered her identity.
On October 9, 2012, at the age of 15, Malala was shot by a member of the Taliban. It was a miracle she survived. Instead of stopping her, the gunshot served to strengthen her. Last July, on her 16th birthday, she became the youngest person to ever speak at the United Nations.
Listen to what this fearless young leader said:
“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me. I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.”
At 16 Malala continues her activism, including challenging world leaders to “be peaceful and love everyone.” Malala reminds us once again to be careful about our assumptions regarding children and the young.
In today’s Gospel, we hear about a ruler and king who was afraid of a baby. The Persian priests come to King Herod Archeleus looking for the baby who was born to be King of the Jews. The King is frightened of this little baby and calls the chief priests and scribes to learn more about this event. They tell him the baby was to be born in Bethlehem. Even after receiving this information, we are told King Herod wants more information and in secret meets with the Persian priests again. He asks the Persian priests to let him know where this baby is, so that he himself can visit. But we know that Herod wants to hurt this baby, so the baby is no longer a threat to Herod. King Herod’s fear of this baby seems irrational on the surface, but we know better.
At Christmas we joy in the little baby…that God came to earth just like we all do, helpless, dependent. But King Herod was right to be afraid of this baby, and all earthly rulers should fear this baby, because the believers in and followers of Jesus are challenging to all earthly rulers.
There are a number of reasons, including:
1. We the body of Christ speak truth to power, no matter the cost. That’s what Malala did and continues to do. It is what countless others have done. Justice must prevail. Death is not the end…does not silence the quest for God’s justice, only strengthens it. If the threat and fear of death cannot silence people, what is an unjust ruler to do?
2. We the body of Christ have a different way of viewing the world. Vaclav Havel, former President of Czechoslovakia said in a speech to the U. S. Congress, “The salvation of the world lies in the human heart.” Matter and facts are but one factor in our lives and in how we live our lives. We do things that seem perfectly illogical, except for the voice of God speaking to us individually and collectively. I’m sure each of you can name times you were guided by faith to do things others thought odd. I know leaving my job and going to seminary was something even my faithful father didn’t understand at first.
3. We the body of Christ are called to be leaders. Yes, today at our annual meeting, we will elect certain people within our parish to be on Vestry. The truth is, as Christians we are all called to be leaders in the sense that we use our talents to create and further the Kingdom of God.
We all have talents and skills that are necessary for God’s work to be done in this parish of St. John’s and in this City of Corbin and in this Commonwealth of Kentucky, and in this United States and in this world. Each and every one of us.
This may change over time. Our gifts emerge or are needed in different ways at different times; nonetheless, our skills are needed and offering them in community is an act of leadership and an act of faith. The challenge is to hear God’s calling to us and be willing to act upon that call.
King Herod was frightened by the news of the baby born in Bethlehem. Our leaders today are challenged by that baby born in Bethlehem. We are challenged by that baby who becomes the man Jesus. Our lives are changed by that baby who grows into the man Jesus. We become people who speak truth to power, view the world from God’s lens, and are leaders with talents and skills in need of a different kind of ruler.
And in our faith, we know the truth of Paul’s prayer, uttered for us so many years ago, ringing down through the ages to our very ears and heart:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe. Ephesians 1:17-19a