Scripture: Esther 4:1-14
Given on 8/8/13 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY (The last in the Life, Abundant series)
Queen Esther had not had the easiest road to the position in which she found herself when we encounter her in the scripture for this morning. It’s never easy for women who find themselves in her position. Now, the former occupant of her throne had been expelled from the country for refusing to enter into the throne room of the king and his friends wearing nothing more than her crown. Following her expulsion, the king had begun a year-long search for a new queen gathering together the most beautiful women in the realm and placing them in his own personal harem They were given beauty treatments and made to look their very best for their time with the king. Once that time was up, the king moved on to the next women and the next and the next for a year before he set his eyes on Esther. He was immediately drawn to Esther. Her beauty. The way she carried herself but even then, even after ascending to the position of queen of the country, things did not get easier for Esther. You see, she was a Jew and if we know anything it is that to be Jewish is to often search in vain for a resting place. History has forces the Jewish nation to move around from place to place in a diasporic journey that has occurred over a 3,000 year history. In this particular setting, Esther is a Jew in a time and place in which Jews had been exiled away to Babylon. Jews were a hated people, a people who routinely drew the ire of those who were there in the land first. They were viewed as leaches on the resources of the Babylonian society. You wouldn’t want your son or daughter to marry one. You wouldn’t even want to share a meal with one. They simply were pariahs within this society. And so, even though Esther was Jewish, she had to keep this fact hidden. She had to pass as a Babylonian woman all the while, knowing in the back of her mind that she was not really part of this world, part of this society. And yet, for such a time as this, God had called her.
In the midst of her reign as queen, Esther’s troubles began to grow in earnest. Her uncle, Mordecai, a servant within the royal house, believing that his loyalty must always be towards God refused to bow before the king’s right-hand man, Haman. This infuriated Haman to the point that he began to plot a way to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom for the slight to his power displayed by Mordecai. Haman began to whisper in the king’s ear, a little at a time, of this scary community of people, the people whose ways were so different, so inferior to the Babylonian ways, with their own customs and rules and language. He began to tell the king how surely they were plotting against him, plotting to overthrow him, take over the land, and initiate a Jewish empire. Surely, surely it would just be easier to eliminate all of them. And to make things a little smoother, Haman offered the king a tribute, what we might call a bribe, 10,000 talents, to make this edict that all the Jews would be slaughtered. The king, offering his signet ring to Haman to make it official, ordered Haman to do what he felt was most appropriate for the “good” of the Jews. Esther watched all this take place, seemingly powerless against the king and his right-hand man, and yet, for such a time as this God had called her.
From there things got even worse for Esther. Mordecai, the man who had raised her since birth tore his clothes and sat in the midst of ashes at the gate to the royal palace. And when news of this decree arrived at each new province all the Jews in the region would follow Mordecai’s example and they too would tear their clothes and sit in ashes in utter dismay. It was at this point that they must have felt completely abandoned by God, by fate, like having to leave their beloved homeland was a fond distant memory when faced with this new devastating turn of events. Eventually word reached Esther of her uncle and of the rest of the Jews, this once proud nation reduced to torn clothes, piles of ash, and weeping and gnashing of teeth. And she tried to help, she tried first to send Mordecai some clothes, but his pride and his determination kept him from accepting them. Next she sent the king’s special servant to try and convince Mordecai to arise out of the ashes, out of the depression, but the servant only came back verifying what it was that Mordecai had been screaming–all the Jews were in trouble and there was little hope for them. And here you have to feel a tremendous amount of sympathy for Esther. Here you have to understand that she is really stuck, that her power can only extend so far and to speak to the king on behalf of her people, a people that she has heretofore hidden away her membership in, to speak to the king on their behalf risks her very life. And we can see that, can’t we? We can understand that, can’t we? There are countless examples throughout history of people who find themselves staring death in the face in an effort to do what is right. Age to age we call them different names–martyr, saint, prophet, messiah. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Jesus. In each age there are those who have to face the choice, live inauthentically, or die living the abundant life. In each age there are those who hear the call of God, who perceive the movement of the spirit, and who exclaim, “Here I am, send me!” And so it is when Esther comes to Mordecai with every good reason why she cannot stick up for those who are weakest in the society in which she has found herself, he cannot hear it. Mordecai’s faith, eventually given to Esther, makes manifest the movement of the spirit, the protection of God, the watchful eye of the Divine for the people of God. For he does not doubt, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from somewhere else, but if Esther does not act, she and her family will not participate in it. And perhaps Mordecai wanted to challenge Esther a bit more perhaps he knew just what to say to her to bring about the desired result, because the next words out of his mouth blew her world up. “Don’t think simply because you live in that big fancy palace that you will be saved from the impending doom that threatens your people. You are just as much a Jew as the rest of us and you will be found out. And yet, maybe you have come into this power for such a time as this.” For such a time as this has God helped you to raise up from your lot in life to be royalty. For such as time as this has your life moved in the direction it has. For such a time as this has the movement of the Divine Spirit come together with you and your place in the world. There are moments when the call of God is so clear if we will but put our hands out and touch it. There are moments when all of life comes together into a single point, a single iota of a second, and screams out exactly what we are to do. For such a time as this, Esther has been called since before the foundations of the world were laid out. For such a time as this, Esther has been called to use the authority that she has attained to stand up with and for a people oppressed in each chapter of the history of the world. For such a time as this, Esther has been called to have faith that the movement will sweep her up and all of Persia with it. For. such. a. time. as. this. We are a real kairos moment in the history of the church and we need more Esthers in this world for such a time as this.
It is not hard to see that we are in a period of history when the needs of the world, the struggles of so many people, are great enough to tax, to overwhelm the resources of any one group. We really don’t have to look any further than out our window to see that the same issues face our own small community. We are at a moment when to continue on as a species, as a people, is going to require some major shifts in the way in which we view and we treat the other and ourselves. Major shifts in which we think about the world and our place within it. Major shifts in the way in which we share the precious resources of the planet which are shrinking in abundance each day. Major shifts in the ways in which we conceive of war and peace, feast and famine, hope and love. Major shifts in the way in which we view ourselves and our abilities to enact real and lasting change for the billions of people who go to bed hungry each night, who wake up not sure from where their next meal will come. Major shifts in the way in which we casually talk about those who find themselves stuck in war torn areas of the world. Major shifts in the way in which we work together, play together, live together. And it is scary and exciting all at the same time.
I said at the beginning of this sermon series, a series that is drawing to a close today, that I was going to go ahead and spoil the ending. If you each take nothing else from this series, if nothing else remains in your mind after you leave the sanctuary today, remember this: You matter. Since from before the world was formed, since before the earliest foundations of the universe were laid down, you are loved. You emerged from love and you will return to love and throughout all your life you remain completely submerged in love, like a fish surrounded by water breathing it for its very survival. You matter because without your presence there would be a profound hole in the world and the lives of people in this room and around the world and you can never fully grasp the profound nature of that reality. To remove you from this complex equation that is creation would cause the entire reality of the world to collapse. You matter. And the second characteristic of reality is like the first. What you do matters. There is a problem within our world. A problem that causes us all to lock away our heart and souls. A problem that leads us to believe that the world is inexorably broken and can never be fixed. That problem is that virtually every aspect of our world and culture tries to convince you that you are not a mighty people, that you are not special or beloved, that you are not a child of God called to do and be extraordinary in everything you do. This is not a new phenomenon. We can look back at history and see the marginalization of lower classes of people by those in power. We can look back and see the suffering of those who don’t look like, or act like, or speak like, or believe like, or love like the way that folks think they should. And yet, it is at this point in history, in our telling the story of us that we have to constantly remind ourselves that we were not created for little acts, we weren’t created with the intelligence, imagination, and courage that accompany being children of God to not seek to better the world and our reality in sweeping ways that lead to equality among all peoples, that lead to peace amongst all the nations, that lead to clean water and food and clothing and shelter for all and sight to the blind and the gospel to the poor and freedom to the oppressed and the knowledge of God’s favor towards all peoples. What you do matters because we are called to be great. What you do matters because no person is an island and the bell tolls for thee. What do you matters because light shines in darkness and the darkness is never, ever able to overcome it. What you do matters because we have been blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear. What you do matters because you are loved and so are they. We are each children of the most high, nothing more, nothing less. And we are called leave this place and boldly proclaim that to the world.
So what comes next? Next is the fun part. Next is telling each other our dreams for the world and our smaller community. Next is telling each other what we see when we close our eyes at night. Next is saying, where do I see the greatest need in the world and how can I use my abilities to address it. Next is recommitting our lives, each of us, to being aware of God, walking with Jesus, moving with the Spirit, wherever She blows. Somewhere along the way, the religious tradition of Jesus and Mary, of Paul and Lydia, of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Hildegarde of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich Martin Luther, and Martin and Coretta Scott King got painted by the outside world as boring, staid, and tame. It’s time to take our place in the infinite line that came before us, to stand tall on the shoulders of those who came first, and boldly proclaim a permanent revolution of love, grace, peace, and hope for all people. It’s time to live the life, abundant. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, Amen.