Girdwood Chapel Sermon, October 16, 2016
Esther 4: 10-14
Ephesians 4: 29-32
Romans 13: 1
A few weeks ago I had to travel to Indianapolis for my work with the VA. It was not a trip I was looking forward to. Not because of the purpose, but because the flights were going to be long and the time in Indianapolis short. I knew it was going to be a tiring trip and most of it would be spent in travel. So, I told myself I was going to read while on the planes and in the airport. I went to the library and checked out three books. My intent was to read one on the way, one there, and then one on the way home. You should be happy to know that one of them was the Poems of Robert Service...see, I am trying to become a sourdough! Anyway, I packed up my three books and started out for the airport at 3:00 AM, the morning of my flight. I took my seat and placed one of my books and my Bible in my lap. I smiled at the woman in the seat next to me and had just opened my book when the lady next to me tapped me on the arm. “I see that is your Bible there.” “Yes, ma’am,” I responded, “I would not dream of going anywhere without it.” “What type of work do you do?” she asked. Now, I had a choice here. I could say that I worked for the Veterans Affairs office, which would not be a lie (and would likely allow me to read my book), or I could tell her that I was a pastor, which could start lines of conversations in various ways...some of which could have made for a very long flight. Against my better judgment, I chose the latter option. As I said the words, her eyes filled with tears. She said, “I am trying to get to the hospital to be with my siblings as we take my Mom off of life support. Everything is failing and I am not sure I am going to make it in time.” Over the next several hours we talked about family, about growing older, and about finding God in difficult situations. Occasionally she would break into tears and we would pray together, simply for God’s will to be merciful and clear. I, however, did not get one page of my book read.
I have said before that Esther can be viewed as a Disney Princess. She is beautiful and is a reluctant heroine, thus fulfilling all of the requirements. In fact, some consider the story to be more fairytale than canon when it comes to the Hebrew Bible. Did you know in its original form, God is not even mentioned in the book of Esther? It is the only book of the Bible that this is the case. A closer examination of the story, however, reveals that God’s fingerprints are all over the narrative and that God is once again at work protecting His people.
Our youth began an exploration of this story last week and were rudely interrupted by a rambunctious bunch of canines and one havoc raising hamster. So, they are well familiar with the way in which Esther came to be in the palace. Queen Vashti chooses to not be the center of male entertainment at a party held by her husband King Ahasuerus, and as a result of her disobedience, is banished from the Kingdom. The search begins for a new Queen and only one condition is required, she must be beautiful. Esther lives with her uncle Mordecai in Susa, and they are Jewish. Because of her beauty she is taken to participate in a beauty pageant for the King. The King chooses her to be his new queen and takes her into the palace.
So, up to this point, all we know about Esther is that she is Jewish, beautiful, and loves her uncle very much. We also know that her Uncle, Mordecai, loves her very much as well, for he waits at the palace gates every day to hear messages of her well being. Like many stories, this story has a villain. His name is Haman. Haman is a power hungry executive to the King. He wants nothing but power and to be revered. Honestly, he is successful in this quest save for one little hiccup. That is Mordecai. Haman has risen to be second in command below only the King. An order has been signed into law that all people shall bow to Haman as he passes. Yet, as he passes through the palace gates every day, Mordecai is there and he does not bow. He bows only to the God of Israel and will not bow to this earthly authority. Haman’s disdain for Mordecai grows into hatred, which grows into vengeance, not just against Mordecai but all of his people.
As this is happening, Mordecai does something very significant. He uncovers a plot to assassinate the King. He is able to to get word to the King about this plot and successfully saves his life. Therefore, the King holds Mordecai in high regard while Haman is searching for a way to destroy Mordecai. All of this while Esther simply sits in the palace.
Like one might expect, this story comes to a head when the King’s feelings for Mordecai are revealed to Haman. Haman, thinking that the King is speaking about him when asking for ways to show someone how much the King honors them, suggests to the King that the person should be put on the finest horse and adorned with royal robes and paraded through the streets of the Kingdom as it is announce that the King has favor for the person. The King loves the idea and has Haman accomplish this for Mordecai. The hatred that Haman had for Mordecai is amplified as a result and the plan to wipe out the entire Jewish population is set into motion, including a special stake for Mordecai’s death. Esther continues to sit in the palace.
Soon enough, the order is given that the population of Jewish people are to be put to death for their insubordination to the law to bow to Haman. A specific date is assigned and all the Jewish people can do is wait for the time to arrive. Mordecai sends word to Esther that she must act. She, however, states that she cannot act because she will die before she even has the chance to bring it up with the King, for he has not sought her to be in his audience in over 30 days. If she were to approach him without his calling her, than she would be put to death for violating the law. She says no to Mordecai. Mordecai responds with the words of our reading today, “Don’t think for one moment that, unlike all the other Jews, you will come out of this alive simply because you are in the palace. In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.”
In response, Esther acts. Facing death she paces outside the throne room until she is called in by the King. Through a series of events she turns the tables on Haman and as the story ends, we find Haman atop the stake fashioned for Mordecai and the Jews defeating all those who dared attack them on the designated day of the law. It is said, the following day many people in the Kingdom converted to Judaism.
We Lay in Waiting
Esther’s life was spent in waiting. From the story we just explored, we know that she was raised in the Jewish tradition and then selected to be in the palace as one of the King’s wives for her beauty. We were not told of any significant backstory or were we given any surprising information about her. She was, seemingly, in her position as a matter of happenstance or coincidence. We are allowed to think this until her uncle places the important question in her ear, “What if this is what you were meant to do?” From what we know about her, this had to change everything. All of a sudden her life has a specific purpose and her actions and inactions have results and consequences. It is not okay for her to simply sit on the sidelines and be distant from the world around her. She has to respond with every fiber of her being. What if this is what she was born to do!?
Ironically, the motivating statement that Mordecai delivers to Esther, it has a bit of a let down in it. He tells her that just because she may use her free will to decline what could be her destiny, it does not mean that salvation will not occur from another source. The idea here is that God may have put Esther in the palace to achieve the salvation of the Jewish people from this persecution, but just because she says no, does not mean that his sovereignty is forfeited. They will be saved in some way, some shape, some form. It will just not include her.
Mordecai has basically told her, “Look it is coming from somewhere. Wouldn’t it be awesome if it came from you!”
A Moment about Power Play
There is also a subplot going on here. It is a moral lesson about power, that we don’t often associate with the book of Esther. It is important to realize that Haman has been given all of the power he could possibly obtain. Even if he were to wipe out all of the Jewish people, his power would not increase in any way. Just because Mordecai does not bow, does not mean that he does not listen and obey and defer to Haman’s laws on all other matters. Haman’s quest for power has moved into glory. He wants to be equal with God. He wants to be revered, praised, feared, and glorified. His issue with Mordecai is about his pride and his perception of who he is and who he should be viewed as. It is not consistent with the power that he wields.
Instead of focusing on those things which can be done to build the Kingdom up around the King he uses his power to tear down Mordecai and the Jewish people. He causes fear and uprising in the Kingdom, pitting person against person and causing unrest against the King. In an effort to build up his self, he demolishes others, and comes close to destroying a Kingdom. For one never knows, how God’s sovereignty will be displayed.
Bringing it All Together
I sat on a plane wanting nothing more to do than read a book. The lady who sat beside me sat on a plane wanting nothing more to do than to talk with someone about the ordeal she was going through and the tough moments that lay ahead for her and her family. She saw my Bible, the catalyst, of the conversation. But, God gave me a choice; you can read or you can engage. Which is it going to be? I am going to help her no matter what, but wouldn’t it be great if it was through you?
Was that my life’s moment? No, I don’t think so, because that seems to happen to me quite a bit. But, I believe it is practice in saying yes to God. It is practice in taking what we know to be true about the grace, glory, and salvation of God and applying to the world in which we live. It is learning to engage and taking off the training wheels. It is a small way of allowing the selfishness of doing only what we want to do fall to the wayside, so we can do what God wants us to do. It is stepping off the sidelines and engaging in the world around us. It is pacing in front of the throne room waiting for the scepter to be extended. For when we accomplish that one time, we will see opportunity after opportunity.
As Christians, our goal in life is to build the Kingdom around us and to extol the Good News of Christ’s salvation. The message we deliver to one another should only be to build one another up in the identity of Christ. We should never treat anyone any lesser for any reason. We should never ignore an opportunity to share the love of Christ, because all of us have been given the sovereign right by God to share God’s love with each other. So, perhaps...maybe, I was not the one showing Christ’s love on the plane that day. It was the lady who sat next to me and convinced me to set aside my book to spend time with her.