The story of Esther, the story of survival and struggle of the Jewish people in exile is the story of trying to balance faith in a foreign land. Trying to navigate between two extremes, between being a sell out or a sectarian.
Esther could have denied who she really was, abandoned her faith, her family, her people, for her own survival. And all the Jews would have been put to death.
Or she could have clung so tight to her identity that she ignored the reality around her and the interworkings of the empire. She could have left the royal palace, joined her people wailing in the streets and let the royal decree work its course. And all the Jews would have been put to death.
Either way, either extreme leads to death and destruction. But in wisdom and bravery, Esther carefully weaves a path between the extremes. Her story is one that fosters a different kind of leadership. A different kind of imagination grounded in God’s providence.
Remember what Mordecai says, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’ Through his words, Esther is aware of what time it really is and what God has call her to do. Trusting in the providence, she agrees to intervene, even though it is risky, she says “If I perish, I perish.”
She is empowered to save her people because she is not longer worried about saving herself. It’s the kind of sacrificial servant leadership that we as people of faith are called to embrace and practice for our world.
Many people, from many different perspectives, have suggested that the church today is entering into a time of exile. While we aren’t being forced into a foreign land, we may find ourselves no longer at home in our own land—at least no longer occupying the clear position of power that we once did.
In this season of exile, what do as Christians do? What can we do? Do we sell out? Do we say, you know what, it really doesn’t matter? Faith is such a personal thing, it’s really just about how I feel, not about how I treat my neighbor. I can buy into all this selfish, greedy, consumeristic, fearful rhetoric of the world around me and still pretend that Jesus is Lord and God is in charge. Do we sell out? Sell out to the highest bidder?
Or do we become sectarian? Do we huddle together in our own little conclave of like minded radicals. Do we say that world is so bad, systems are so broken, that all we can do is turn our back on the world? Do we retreat into fundamentalism and condemn anything and anyone that is different than ourselves. Do we lock the doors batten down the hatches, turn the church into a cult and wait on the storm to pass?
How do we survive faith in a foreign land? Do we become sell outs or sectarians? It’s been so long since we’ve been in this position that I fear we have forgotten how our ancestors in the faith navigated these paths.
That’s why we need stories to teach us. Every generation needs to remember women like Esther who modeled faithful, wise, and brave living. Being in the world but not over the world. Being active citizens of our nation, while at the same time claiming our citizenship in God’s kingdom. Refusing to buy into either the extremes of retreat or retaliation. Being sell outs or sectarians.
Because the good news of the gospel is that we aren’t just called to survive–to lock the doors and ride out the storm. Not if we truly claim that Jesus is our Lord, that we follow one who faced head on the destructive powers of the empire, who was put to death by the political forces of his day for calling out their idolatry for welcoming in all people—if we follow this Lord, then it matters in how we face our struggles in our own day. Survival was not his goal; God’s kingdom was his goal. He lived out Esther’s own words, “If I perish, I perish.” We follow a servant lord who died by the hands of those in power but what was not bound or captive to the cold extreme of death. For on the third day he rose again from the dead. Resurrection faith, trust in God’s providence and power, sacrifice that leads to salvation—theses are the great themes of Esther’s story…and they are the great themes of the Easter story as well.
For us today, for the church, entering into a season of exile, doing the hard work of navigating faith in a foreign land…who knows…who knows, perhaps God has called us here today for just such a time as this!