This is the written text, I kept hoping I would have time to bring in some of the spoken dialogue last week, and when I get the chance I will upload an audio version and attach it. Unfortunately the written text is not near as entertaining as what was spoken.
Martin Luther didn’t like the book of Esther, he wished it hadn’t been included in the Bible, which I find perplexing because even though the book of Esther never mentions God, or any specifically religious practice (even fasting when it is mentioned is a common practice across cultures of the ancient world) and yet for Luther it is the times where God seems most absent that God can indeed be most present. Now last week we heard about the remnant who returned home to Jerusalem, and even though they were a small people in a tiny province of the Persian empire, God desired to work through them and their gifts. God desired for them to build a temple and through the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the people to get on with that work and the people and leader listened and responded and through their work God was glorified. But if you remember last week only a small portion of the faithful people returned, and the rest remained behind, scattered throughout the nations. And yet even scattered among the nations, they found that God was active and working through them. This is one of the stories of how God worked through unexpected people to sway the events of the nations to ensure that God’s story and the story of God’s people would continue.
We all know life isn’t fair, we all know that sometimes we get put into situations we never asked for or we have to pick up the responsibility while others seem to be still going out and living it up, but hopefully the fate of an entire people never rests on our shoulders, especially when we are young-but that is what happens to Esther. Her story starts out simply enough, she is a young woman, an orphan and a foreigner living in a foreign land-thankfully she has her uncle to care for her like his own child, but she starts out life with three strikes against her of being someone who God can use to change the world. She has but one thing going in her favor, she’s easy on the eyes, but just because she’s hit the jackpot in the genetic lottery for looks doesn’t mean she has any chance to really change things and yet the world around her spins out of control and puts her into a position she never dreamed she would be in. You see the queen refused to come and appear before the king one day during a party while the king was drunk and all his friends were drunk too, so the king and his officials throw the ancient world’s equivalent of the Bachelor, except none of these women have a choice to participate, they are brought together, trained and then they get their one night to make the king happy, and then from this he’s going to choose a new queen. Esther excels, pleasing first those preparing and training her and then the king, and so she goes from little orphan Esther to Queen Esther.
Now her uncle happened to overhear a plot to assassinate the king, and passes it on to Esther who passes it on to the king, and once it is investigated the plot is foiled and nothing more is thought of it, but it will be important to the story later.
Now the king’s new number two man was a guy named Haman, and Haman is a bad dude who thought everyone should bow down before him, and apparently everyone did-everyone except Mordecai-why? We don’t really know, and I can’t go back and ask him, but Mordecai decides to take out his rage not just on Mordecai, not just on his family, but on the whole Jewish people and so Haman goes to the king and offers him a huge sum of money to wipe out this people who don’t abide by the same laws and are a danger to the kingdom, and the king gives him his signet ring and the plan and date are set in motion so that on one day at the end of February or the beginning of March of the coming year anyone who wants to can kill any Jewish person and take over any wealth and property that it theirs. Mordecai and the Jews throughout the empire and the city of Susa itself are thrown into turmoil by the proclamation, but Esther, apparently shielded in the palace is unaware. Mordecai mourns publicly, he rips his clothes, puts on ashes and sackcloth and sits outside the king’s gate. Esther sends a messenger with new clothes but he won’t put them on and sends her a copy of the decree and charges her to do something to save their people. The fate of the people rests on the small shoulders of this young woman who was thrust into being the queen, to go and risk her life and intercede before the king.
Esther 4: 9-16
9 So Hathach returned to Esther with Mordecai’s message.
10 Then Esther told Hathach to go back and relay this message to Mordecai:
11 “All the king’s officials and even the people in the provinces know that anyone who appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter. And the king has not called for me to come to him for thirty days.”
12 So Hathach gave Esther’s message to Mordecai.
13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed.
14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai:
16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.”
After three days of fasting, and of the people fasting she risk the possibility of death by breaking the law and going to the king when she hasn’t been summoned, but the king is happy to see her, extends his scepter and asks her, “what is it Esther, name your appeal even up to half of the empire and it’s yours” and so she invites the king and Haman to dinner. Once again at dinner the king asks her for her appeal and once again she say, “if you will hear my request come once again to dinner tomorrow, you and Haman, and you will know my request.”
Haman starts home on top of the world, he was invited to not one but two dinners with the king and queen, and yet when he passes Mordecai and Mordecai doesn’t bow down he is furious, and after some advice from his wife and friend he builds a 75 foot tall gallows. But when he goes in to try to get the king’s approval to hang Mordecai, the king had a sleepless night so he went to the records and found out that Mordecai was never repaid for uncovering the assassination plot, and so instead of getting Mordecai’s head, instead he finds himself covering Mordecai in a royal robe and escorting him through the town square on the king’s horse while he has to shout, “thus will it be done to the one who the king is pleased with” then to make matters worse he can’t go home and mope because he is shortly summoned to the banquet with the queen.
At the banquet Esther pleads to the king for her life and the life of her people, the king, oblivious to what he allowed Haman to talk him into is now furious and storms out. Haman realizes his ship is sinking fast so he throws himself at Esther and when the king walks back in he has Haman hanged on the gallows he built, gives his position and property to Mordecai, and they all lived happily ever after (well except for Haman and his family, but they didn’t live beyond this point). With the king’s assistance what was to be a day of disaster for God’s people became a day of triumph. God had worked through a young woman, an orphan, an alien who thought she had nothing to offer and God can work through us. We may not be able to save an entire people, but maybe God has been preparing us for a moment such as this.
Over the last several weeks we’ve heard stories of people who had the courage to be faithful in the midst of challenges, whether is was Daniel, Shadrach,Mesach, and Abendigo or whether it was the remnant returning home and building the temple, or Esther going to the king to save her people…God was able to work through them to be a part of God’s story coming down to be a part of our story. We may not know what to say or do, we may feel like we have nothing to give, but can we learn to trust God in the midst of the things that may terrify us? When Jesus is talking to his disciples he tells them:
Matthew 10: 16-20
16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves.
17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues.
18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.
19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time.
20 For it is not you who will be speaking– it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
As we learn to trust God and let God work through us we can have the courage to be in the places God places us. We don’t get to run away from the rest of the world, and one of the gifts of the story of Esther is that she is a young person trying to make her way completely surrounded not by a Jewish but the Persian culture. She had to figure out how she could be faithful in the midst of a world that was probably much different than the household she grew up in, and yet remain who she was in the midst of it. And even though God is not mentioned throughout the book, God is at work behind the scenes and works not just in temples or churches, but even in the harem of the king’s palace or the throne room of the king. And God is there in both the big moments, but also the smaller ones as well.