It’s been quite a busy week at school, and it’s almost over! I had a church history midterm at the end of last week, a sermon due Tuesday, and a Missional Theology paper which I turned in today. So I’m gonna celebrate tonight by trying to play a little basketball (if the toe holds up). We also have our first flag football playoff game on Saturday, so wish us luck. I’ve also started watching the new show ‘V’ which comes on ABC, which is very amusing after seeing the Chicago Tribune point out some fairly overt similarities between the aliens and President Obama. Check out the article here if you get a chance.
The alien leader coming to take over...
Otherwise, we’re lacking for blog content, so Sarah encouraged me to post my sermon, so I hope you enjoy. I write the sermons to be preached, and not to be read, so I’m sure there are some typos and such, but hopefully it’ll give you an idea of what i’ve been up to. If you make it to the end, there’s a picture, I promise…
Today’s Scripture is from the Book of Esther. And for most of my life, I only knew the Book of Esther for a couple of things. First, I vaguely remembered the Esther flannelgraph figure from Sunday School at an early age. As I moved into middle school and high school, Esther became my piece of trivia. How many of you all remember finding out that Esther is the only book of the Bible that doesn’t mention God by name? But I don’t ever remember hearing Esther preached from the pulpit or discussed in any detail. Esther is a fascinating story, one in which we can clearly see God’s providence. Up until a few days ago, I was pretty confident that not many of you all had heard much about the book of Esther either. I told my wife that I wanted to discuss some of the lesser known and lesser preached on topics of the Bible, and she was surprised when I told her I had picked Esther. I asked her if she had heard a lot on Esther, and she informed me that it had been the theme of every women’s retreat she had ever gone on. So ladies, I apologize if I’m retilling familiar ground. Men, however, I am still fairly confident that we’re in the same boat. The passage we’re looking at this morning is Esther 4, verses 10-17. The story is set in the city of Susa, the capital city of the Persian Empire. King Xerxes has gotten rid of his queen Vashti for her disobedience and chosen Esther, a Jewish woman, to be his new queen. One of the king’s advisers, a man named Haman, issued an edict for the destruction of all the Jews in the empire, and Mordecai, the man who raised Esther, is pleading for Esther to intervene with the king. At this point, we pick up the story in verse 10 of chapter 4 with Esther’s response:
10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”
12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.
Let’s Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Esther is set in a time and a culture that could hardly be more distant from ours. She is a queen in the Persian Empire. We only see royalty in Disney movies and history books. But in Esther’s story, there is something timeless, something that goes beyond the bounds of culture. Her dilemma and initial resistance to God’s call sounds eerily familiar and yet her ultimate obedience is something to which we should aspire. The story of Esther points out two important things: first, it points out where we stand, afraid to tackle the challenges God has given us. But it does not leave us without hope. Second, Esther shows us how to overcome those fears.
Esther’s mission at first seems simple enough. She’s the queen and had found favor in the eyes of the king. Mordecai tells her: just go to king and put in a good word for the Jews and we can sort out this whole misunderstanding. But Esther responds with fear and hesitation. She tells Mordecai that she can’t go in to the king without being summoned or she will be put to death, the only exception being that the king would extend his scepter and spare her life. She also tells Mordecai that she hasn’t been called to see the king in a month, signaling that she may have fallen from his favor.
Esther’s certainly paints her predicament as a dangerous one and the situation certainly has its perils. But Esther’s hesitations begin to sound like excuses. Her people, thousands and thousands of Jews are going to be destroyed, and she doesn’t want to do anything about it. Now that may seem a little bit harsh. After all, the story tells us her life is in danger. But Persian history tells us a slightly different story. Esther is right in saying that she cannot approach the king uninvited, but she leaves out the fact that one could petition the king for an audience. There is a middle ground here that Esther leaves out. Her excuse that she hasn’t been called before the king recently also rings more hollow in light of the fact she could have safely requested an audience with the king. But I don’t deny that her situation still holds plenty of danger. One wrong move in the court of a king and she could end up like Vashti. Surely Esther remembers the fate of the king’s former wife.
I can’t help but see that Esther’s reaction here as an indictment of our human nature. When we get a hard assignment or just one that we don’t want to do, especially if it holds any danger, excuses pop immediately into our minds, especially if deep down we know that we’re supposed to do it. Like Esther, we may bend the truth a bit to try and get out of difficult situations. One of my most formative experiences was working for a mission in the Dominican Republic for a year, but when I was called, I thought of plenty of excuses to explain to myself why I shouldn’t go. Well, my Spanish isn’t really that good. There’s no way I can raise the money. I have a weak stomach. All of which are only partially true, but not the whole story. I may have a weak stomach, but Dominican food is not spicy. It’s that I hesitant to do something hard that God had called me to. It is here that I can identify with Esther, who also tries to get out of her calling. Her story draws us in, reminding us that we are all in some ways like Esther. But the story does not leave us without hope.
The story of Esther also shows us how to overcome those fears and fulfilling our divine callings. Mordecai won’t let Esther get away with blowing off her divine calling with just a couple of excuses. He comes back at her by explaining the potential consequences of her inaction. Although verse 14 traditionally says that if Esther remains quiet, her family will perish, and deliverance will come from another place, some commentators now see the phrase as a rhetorical question, and interpret it to mean that if Esther doesn’t take action, deliverance will not arise from any other place. If this is the case, Esther realizes that God has placed the call on her and no one else. Her excuses no longer sound so impressive. Esther has come to a royal position for this time. It’s not a question, it’s a fact. Esther then must trust in God’s perfect plan and that God has placed her right where God wants her.
And God has placed us right where God wants us as well. We may not be royalty, but each and every one of us is in a unique place to fulfill God’s calling and obey God’s commands. And God may not have called us like Esther to thwart a genocide, but be it at work, at school, at home, God has placed you, and God has placed me in a position to change the world. Too often, this idea is applied only to those who hold worldly power and influence. Franklin Roosevelt, former president of the United States, received hundreds of letters from clergymen during the Great Depression, many of them likening him and his position to Esther. And there is nothing wrong with doing so. But the application of this verse is much wider than queens and presidents. It’s for everyone, and it’s a way of overcoming the fear of what we are called to. Like Esther, a trust in God’s providence and the specific work God has for each and every one of us is an amazing tool in overcoming our fears and fulfilling our callings. Our calls could be as diverse and as simple as befriending an outcast at school or work, sharing the Gospel with someone you know, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or having mercy on those around you. God has given us all a unique place in the world to make a difference. And yet sometimes there is still that fear.
Esther has shown us her fears, like ours. She has also shown us a trust in divine providence and the calling that she received. But Esther lastly, in what may seem paradoxical, shows us that her specific, individual calling is not carried out in isolation, but in community. Her community also helps her overcome her fears. She has decided to obey her divine calling, and she has decided to do it in community. She calls on all the Jews in Susa to fast with her for three days and three nights before she goes to the king. The community supports her in obeying her call and we are called to support each other in fulfilling our calls. We can’t do it for each other, but it is our responsibility to come alongside one another in discerning God’s call on our lives. Mordecai played a large role by coming alongside Esther and helping to discern her call. The community stood in solidarity and fasted together for Esther and her mission. Like Mordecai did to Esther, I had someone pushing me when I was trying to wriggle out of my year of mission. I had someone questioning my fears and challenging me to fulfill my calling. Sometimes it means tough love. I’m sure Esther didn’t always like hearing what Mordecai had to say, but with Mordecai and with the Jewish community, Esther bravely and courageously fulfilled the dangerous duty to which God had called her.
Esther is like us in reluctance, yet she shows us how to move past our excuses and our selfish unwillingness, and into obedience of the amazing God whom we serve. I hope and pray that Esther can be a model for us, in understanding God’s providence and God’s calling on our lives. Trust in God and God’s providence. Trust so much that you say with Esther, “If I perish, I perish.” For most us, that won’t mean actually dying, but it will signal our reckless abandon in overcoming our fears and fulfilling God’s call in our lives. We are all in a special position, ordained by God. God is calling us all to something. God is calling you specifically to God’s work. Go, therefore, empowered by God’s power and providence to overcome your fears and embrace what God has for you and for your community. Amen.
Thanks for reading!