A sermon preached by Jennifer W. Davidson, PhD
At American Baptist Seminary of the West
October 15, 2012
Habakkuk 1:1-5; 2:1-5, 9-11; 3:17-19
1 John 4:7-21
Her name means “Grief Stricken.” Malala. She was named for an Afghan girl of the late 1800’s, a warrior and a poet who led the Afghan’s into battle against
the colonizing British. This is her namesake; a girl who died before she reached the age of 20. Grief Stricken. Malala.
She is today a fourteen year old girl, who, if she lived in my hometown, might be in ninth grade Biology, sitting next to my own son in High School. They were born only three months apart—my son and Malala – three months in time, but worlds apart.
Malala is fighting for her life today. She was transferred from a hospital in Pakistan to greater safety in the United Kingdom. Why is Malala fighting for her life? Because she dared to fight for the right of girls to receive an education in her home town of Mingora, in the Swat District of Pakistan.
When she was only eleven years old, Malala became well known around the world when she kept a blog for the BBC. One of her entries, dated January 3, 2009, described her fear and anxiety and her astounding courage and determination to pursue her education even then:
“I had a terrible dream yesterday with military helicopters and the Taleban. I have had such dreams since the launch of the military operation in Swat.
My mother made me breakfast and I went off to school. I was afraid going to school because the Taleban had issued an edict banning all girls from attending schools.
Only 11 students attended class out of 27. The number decreased because o the Taleban’s edict. My three friends have shifted to [other districts] with their families after this edict.
On my way from school to home I heard a man saying, “I will kill you.” I hastened my pace and after a while I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone.”
Eleven years old.
Just this past week, three years after Malala wrote that blog entry, she refused to give in to the increasing threats and warning letters. She did not stop her advocacy work for girl’s education, that had been getting increasing attention worldwide. So last Tuesday “masked gunmen approached her school bus
and asked for her by name. Then they shot her in the head and neck. ‘Let this be a lesson,’ a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said afterward. He added that if she survives, the Taliban would try to kill her again.”
The lament cried out powerfully in the voice of Habakkuk rings and resonates with clarity into our twenty-first century world tonight:
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen?
Or cry to you, “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?”
The words taste bitter in our mouths. Too much suffering. Too much violence.
“The law becomes slack and justice never prevails.”
Written sometime between 609 and 586 BCE, the words of Habakkuk – and God’s response to him—were composed in the midst of a brutal occupation of Judah
with corrupt puppet leaders reigning.
Habakkuk’s confrontation of God, likely took place in a liturgical setting—in the midst of worship. This is no private weeping or whispered agony. This is full-throated, public agony. This is the heart-wrenching sob the clutched stomach in the midst of worship.
This heartache, these accusations, are not hidden away from view—not at the time that they were spoken, and not now—preserved as they are in the heart of scripture. God allows our grief its full expression – her name means “Grief-Stricken” – Malala – because God knows that if we are awake then these tears of anguish will overcome all of us at one point or another in our lives.
The prophet stands at the watchpost, waiting to hear what God will say. We hold our breath. We wait, too.
God’s Word comes.
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
What is that vision?
First, God reminds us what it is not. Why do we need to be reminded? Because the powers in this world would have us forget. Because gunshots fired into the head and neck of a fourteen-year-old girl in Pakistan, because gunshots fired by a Neighborhood Watch member in Florida into the defenseless body of a boy buying skittles for his little brother at half time—try to pass themselves off as the truth. As if death has the last word. As if threat of violence—and violence itself—is enough to silence God’s people.
As if the collusion of corrupt powers and governments which keep
“61 million girls and boys shut out from even the most basic of primary schooling” is the end of the road and not the beginning of our work.
This is why we need to be reminded of what God’s vision is not.
Pride. Arrogance, Wealth, and Insatiable Death are identified as contrary to God’s vision. So much so that “the very stones will cry out from the wall” against the unjust use of power. Even stones that have been crushed into “plaster will respond from the woodwork.” When the people fall silent the walls will shout. Proclaiming that God’s vision for the world is vastly different from that of the world’s most powerful and vicious.
In the days following Malala’s shooting the stones started to cry out. The walls started shouting. Protests broke out across Pakistan. Islamic leaders spoke out against the violence. Gordon Brown, U.N. Special envoy for global education,
writes that “Demonstrations for Malala have spread [through Pakistan and beyond]— not just to Bangladesh, India, and Afghanistan, but around the world.
…For one Malala shot, there are now thousands of even younger Malalas ready to come forward. We may not yet be seeing a 2012 Asian autumn led by children to mirror the Arab spring, but the spontaneous wave of protest we are witnessing
shows that children are more assertive of their right to education than the leaders who promised to deliver it.” The stones are crying out— and they have the voice of children. The plaster in the woodwork is shouting. The Spirit of God is moving.
What is the vision? We see a glimpse of it in our psalm reading. Like the Habakkuk text, the verses of the Psalm tonight are also proclaimed in the midst of a lament.
This lament is most familiar to Christians as the lament that was on the lips of Jesus as he suffered the worst that the powers of pride, arrogance, wealth, and insatiable death could levy against anyone. Jesus cried out the words that begin this Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In the light of the resurrection, however, our eyes not only take in the agony of the cross, but also the vision of God’s redemption offered to the least of these—
to the ones whom pride, arrogance, wealth, and insatiable death always exploit.
This is God’s vision— hear the stones cry it out now: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek God shall praise the Lord.”
When the least of these are cared for—and who is more “least” than the 600 million girls who live in the developing world—girls like Malala? When the least of these are cared for and given full dignity, then God’s true character is revealed for all the world to see. In seeing every last little one thrive, our hearts will leap in recognition of God’s dominion. Our response—the response of the whole earth—
will be to worship in praise and adoration the One who cares for the least, the lost, and the little.
God’s dominion is unlike that of other kings. The uniqueness of our God, who bestows dignity and life on the forgotten and forsaken ones—is the astonishing good news that must be proclaimed to future generations. So that all may recognize God.
We recognize God not in God’s fierceness and fury, but in God’s steadfast love,
in God’s lovingkindness, in God’s hesed and shalom.
God’s steadfast love, God’s lovingkindness, God’s hesed and shalom—
they sound like abstract concepts, ideals; they have almost a dreamlike shimmer to them.
But they are nothing if not made concrete, if not made real, if not embodied in our relationships with one another.
Why is a little girl named Malala such a threat to the vicious powers of this world? Precisely because God’s kingdom breaks into this world in the lives of those the world dismisses. God’s kingdom breaks into this world in the lives of “nobodies.” In the lives of girls like Hagar and Miriam; in the lives of girls like Tamar and Ruth; in the lives of girls like Mary and Elizabeth, in the lives of girls like Malala.
God’s love is poured out on the world in the life, death, and resurrection
of a singular nobody—In contrast to the misuse and abuse of power in the world,
God’s love hung from a cross and swept away the tombstone.
This is the outpouring of God’s love for us and for God’s broken, breaking, hurting, and hurtful world—that we are ourselves empowered to love.
It is God’s love for us that transforms our hearts of stone. It is in our love for one another that we come to know God at all.
This is God’s vision made plain, so plain that even those speeding by can read it.
This is God’s vision made plain, plainly different from the vision of oppressive rule today.
Even when all evidence continues to be to the contrary: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines…” we must remain faithful to God’s vision of abundant life and love offered graciously to all. Even when the man Jesus hung cursed on the tree, we continue to rejoice in the Love that is our salvation, in the God who makes our footing steady and sure even in the midst of turmoil and danger that surrounds us.
Grief-stricken and emboldened by Love—we cry out with the stones: Your kingdom come, O God, your will be done. Amen.
 Nicholas D. Kristoff, New York Times. October 13, 2012. “Her Only Crime was Loving Schools.” (Accessed October 15, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/11/opinon/kristof_her_crime_was_loving_schools?r=0.
 See Valerie Bridgeman’s introductory essay to the book of Habakkuk in The Peoples’ Bible, published 2010 by Augsburg Fortress Press.
 See educationenvoy.org