October 2, 2016: Dr. Buz Wilcoxon
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!
Esther 4: 9-17
Context: Jewish people in Exile (Babylonians then Persians)
Back Story: Persian King (Xerxes) displeased with queen and dismisses her King holds a beauty pageant to pick the next queen
Esther and Mordecai, Jewish cousins Esther was an orphan, Mordecai raised her as his own child Esther enters the beauty pageant Mordecai says don’t tell them about your family and identity Esther wins the beauty pageant and becomes queen.
Conflict: King appoints Haman as top official, all bow before him
Mordecai won’t bow before Haman (because he’s Jewish)
Haman infuriated and wants Mordecai killed
Haman plots for all the Jews in the whole kingdom put to death
He tells the king: “There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not appropriate for the king to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued for their destruction.”(3: 8-9)
Letters sent throughout the kingdom announcing the massacre
Jews mourning. Mordecai wails, tears cloths, sackcloth & ashes
Esther sends her messenger to Mordecai to ask what is wrong
Mordecai sends her a copy of the royal degree
Mordecai begs her to plead for the Jews
Hathach [Esther’s messenger] went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, ‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.’
When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’
Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
Story Continues: Esther goes uninvited to the king’s court even in threat of death
She wins his favor, and she asks to throw a banquet
King and Haman come to banquet and ask what she wants
She asks for another banquet the next day
Haman is happy thinking that these feasts are for his honor
Haman walks past Mordecai who will not bow before him
Next day, Esther throws second banquet and wins King’s favor
King says he will grant whatever she wishes
Esther says she wishes for her life and the life of her people
Reveals she is Jewish and will be killed according to the decree
The tells the king there is a plot against her people.
King asked who is the enemy that presumed to do this?
Esther says, “This wicked Haman,” King sees the plot
Servant comes in to announce that the gallows Haman ordered to hang Mordecai on have been built
King says “Hang him on that.”
The Jewish people are saved by Esther’s bravery and wisdom!
To this day, the Jewish people celebrate this festival each year
“These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city.” (9:28)