Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Inspired by Malala and Kailash

Scripture for the 3rd Sunday in Advent includes Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; I Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

I hear that last Sunday it was revealed that standing beneath the Advent wreath can be risky. So far, so good today: we’ve lit the pink candle for what tradition calls Laudate Sunday, from the Latin for the scripture’s call to rejoice. “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God, who has clothed me with the garments of salvation, has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

“Rejoice always,” echoes Paul writing to the church at Thessalonika. Texts like these have long been heard on the 3rd Sunday in Advent, when in this little season of penitence the curtain is raised just for a few moments to allow a flash of skirts, a burst of joy-in-the-making, a streak of warm and fleshy pink against the earnest dark of purple. And we hear the call to look up and catch the purpose of the season, training us so to count our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom, to count our thanks and our blessings even more insistently than we count our losses and disappointments, to recognize what truly does count in life and what does not.

The pink is meant to warm us up. It’s the appetizer Jesus our host serves up to draw us to our place at his table. The pink is a hint of the joy to come, a reminder of where joy comes from. This burst of color is to open us up to the true light that St. John the Gospel writer tells us comes into the world to enlighten everyone.

Nothing does a better job revealing and celebrating those themes of enlightenment and universality than the annual awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize. We at St. John’s have learned to stop in our tracks, each Advent, to notice who the year’s recipients are.

Seventeen-year-old Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, a Muslim, and sixty-year-old Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian, share this year’s award in recognition of their struggle against the suppression of children and young people, and their passionate advocacy for universal education. Announcing the award recipients, the Nobel Committee stressed the importance that a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, have joined in a common struggle for education and against extremism. In addition to focusing on children’s rights, this joint award is made in the hope that it may bring India and Pakistan closer together.

Quoting from the Committee’s announcement, “Both recipients had much at stake as they battled for what they believed in. In Satyarthi’s case, it was to end the exploitation of children for financial gain. In the case of Yousafzai—the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, at seventeen—it was for girls’ right to an education, a quest that nearly cost her her life when Taliban fighters called her out and shot her in the head two years ago.

“While it is in the nature of extremism to create enemies and frightening images, and to divide the world into us and them, the laureates show us something else… Both (represent what) the world needs—namely… unity.”

Of the two laureates, it is Malala whose name has become a global symbol of what one human being can do to break the bondage that would oppress countless others. This is the passion shown by both recipients. For Satyarthi, it has been forced labor and child slavery that he has attacked—literally, mounting raids on factories where children were forced to work. He is credited for having rescued and helped rehabilitate 80,000 children from slavery.

In his Nobel acceptance speech, Satyarthi condemned the blind eye that gets turned to child bondage in some countries. “I refuse to accept,” he said, “that the world is so poor when just one week of military expenditures can bring all children to classrooms. I refuse to accept that all the laws and constitutions and police and judges are unable to protect our children. I refuse to accept that shackles of slavery can ever be stronger than the quest for freedom.”

In the year 2000, it was estimated that there were 246 million child laborers around the world. Today, the estimate is 78 million fewer. The world is responding.

There has been uniquely universal response to Malala’s courageous fight, both for education and for her own life after that dreadful day when Taliban fighters tried to silence this young heretic. She realizes that she may face the barrel of a gun again, any day. Her response?

"I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are doing is wrong, that education is our basic right," Yousafzai said on her Website.

"They can only shoot a body, they cannot shoot my dreams," she said. "They shot me because they wanted to tell me that, 'we want to kill you and to stop you campaigning', but they did the biggest mistake: they injured me, and they told me through that attack, that even death is supporting me, even death does not want to kill me."

Speaking on Wednesday, she said the Nobel Peace Prize “is not just for me. It is for those forgotten children who want education. It is for those frightened children who want peace. It is for those voiceless children who want change.

“I’m here to stand up for their rights, to raise their voice,” she said. “It is not time to pity them… It is time to take action, so it becomes the last time… that we see a child deprived of education.”

“So the LORD God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations,” declared the prophet Isaiah.

What is righteousness? We explored that question at last Tuesday morning’s eucharist, where we often have conversation about the scriptures. The closest we got to a workable answer is that we know what righteousness is NOT when the prefix “self-“ is added to it. So righteousness is pretty much the opposite of that, we figured. Right relationship is one way to think of it, and perhaps a set of Matryoshka dolls comes in handy to imagine a threefold love. The threefold love Jesus calls forth from us is to love God with the whole heart, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Play with that image of the dolls that are held within one another, consider how they might tell us something of the threefold love Jesus summons us to practice: these loves co-operate, they co-inhere with one another, the whole-hearted love of God starts and frees and shapes and inspires, fills and guides and repairs, a healthy love of self that reaches out to give and opens to receive the love of the other person, and that love evokes, frees, encourages, in turn.

Don’t you find it easy to see and sense the threefold love in Malala Yousafzai and in Kailash Satyarthi? The love that Jesus says counts in life shines brightly in this Muslim and this Hindu. Hearing their stories, feeling their passions, imagining what their choices and commitments have cost them and yet may, for me these two world citizens raise my sights this Advent to realize what we await, what we long for, what our world needs.

A hymn sums it up. I’ll bet you’ll find these words familiar.

"One Lord, in one great Name unite us all who own thee;
cast out our pride and shame that hinder to enthrone thee;
the world has waited long, has travailed long in pain;
to heal its ancient wrong, come, Prince of Peace, and reign." The Hymnal 1982, No. 542

How does this vision of universal peace and justice, exemplified in remarkable lives, and awaiting fulfilment, sit with our preparations for Christmas 2014?

A passionate care for the rights and needs of children shines from our Giving Tree. Our Christmas Offering will go to the parish’s Outreach to Kids Fund that helps equip us to respond year-‘round to urgent needs of children and families in the North County, and Heifer Project International will receive the other half of the Offering.

A parish family brings a trunkload of food to the Friendship Center Food Pantry, having asked that their Christmas party guests bring food for those who need it. Last weekend’s Lessons and Carols at the College collected food in the same way. The CIAO concert will collect donations to support a village school in Uganda.

Our Advent season of waiting and longing is full of generous sharing. Many more examples are known to you and not to me, done, as the carol puts it, “how silently, how silently…”

By comparison to what Malala and Kailash do in their lives, we are so carrying the light end of the load. They would say to us: Turn a seeing eye to the oppressed children, the most vulnerable children, those with fewest resources, those who some will say have no right to be here, but are here; those who some will say have no further claim on our nation’s resources, while in fact they are among our nation’s resources. Turn a seeing eye and learn what part of the load we are called to carry.

Articles posted on three sites proved helpful in preparing this sermon:

“Nobel Peace Prize 2014: Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, Indian Kailash Satyarthi Honored For Fighting For Children's Rights”, The Huffington Post, 10/10/14, by Jade Walker

“Malala, Satyarthi accept Nobel Peace Prize, press children's rights fight”, by Greg Botelho, CNN, December 10, 2014

"The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 - Press Release". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 17 Dec 2014.