Have you ever had to choose between doing the right thing and something that was probably easier and safer? We all have. How did you do?
In today’s scripture, the Jews were once again slaves in Babylon which is roughly modern day Iraq. The King had sent out a royal decree that, all young women should sign up immediately for the Miss Persia contest, a yearlong pageant that involved a spa, a team of hair stylists and Jenny Craig. The winner would get a crown to wear until the king decided that it was time to have a new queen. Like the other girls, Esther entered. When King Xerxes laid his eyes on Esther, he immediately canceled the swimsuit, evening gown and talent portions of the competition. It was over. The king found Esther’s beauty irresistible. Ester was to be the new queen.
The key characters in the story are King Xerxes, who brought Esther into his court, not knowing she was a Jew; Esther, orphaned as a child and adopted by Mordecai, and finally Haman, a lacky in the king’s court who had been plotting the extermination of the Jews since the day that Mordecai, a Jew, did not bow down before him when instructed to.
As queen, Esther had a number of servants who kept her aware of what was going on. They knew that Mordecai was her adoptive uncle and that she was Jewish, and yet her identity was kept a secret from the king. They must have cared about her very much.
After they heard the order that all the Jews would be killed, Esther, Mordecai, and the other Jews could have turned to one of the human default responses - Fight, flight or freeze. They could have rounded up some crude weapons and taken on the greatest army of the world. Some of them could have fled. Or, they could have denied that it would really happen.
Mordecai should have prayed that God would intervene. Instead, he put on sackcloth, covered his head with ashes and wailed.
Sometimes we wonder why we are where we find ourselves. We think that we’re doing little if any good. And then something happens and we are in a position to help someone in some real way.
She had neither caused the problem nor asked for it. Why should she get involved? The Jews could all die and no one other than her trusted servants would ever know her nationality. She would be safe
Mordecai had a plan. Esther would pray that God would give her the strength and courage to go to the king and ask him to reverse his decree. But there's certain palace educates and protocol in place. If you appeared before the king unsummoned, it was all but certain that you would be killed on the spot, regardless of who you were.
Mordecai knew this but believed that this was their only option, even though the king and queen had not seen each other or spoken in over a month, which suggests to me that she probably didn’t have much influence at that point. Mordecai insisted that there is no other way. She knew what the right thing was for her to do, and put the welfare of her people above anything else.
As a woman, she had very little power, even though she was the queen. Yet Esther used what power she had and maneuvered skillfully within the limits imposed upon her by her culture, and did a great thing. She acted as a faithful daughter of Israel when the time came for her to show what she was made of and who she was down deep.
Esther believed that only God could save them either directly or indirectly through human effort, so Esther prayed that God would work through her. In addition to her private prayers, she ordered all of the Jews to gather in one area and fast and pray for three days. The purpose of the fast is not just to avoid food, but to spend time in prayer, trying to understand what God wanted them to do. At the end of the fast, Esther is reconciled to the danger that she would face and knew that God would be with her. She is so comfortable with any outcome she says, “If I perish, I perish”. Esther had been transformed because of the danger that she saw for herself and her people.
When Esther approached the king un-summoned, he asked her what she wanted and she immediately responded, “Grant me my life and spare my people”. The king heard her plea, reversed his ruling and Haram was killed for his deceptive, narcissistic behavior against a whole nation of people because of the act one person who would not do what he wanted.
Esther was a heroine. In a world where women were seen as possessions of less value than slaves, she is remembered as a woman who did a great thing for her people. She didn’t start out wanting to be famous. When Esther revealed that Haman was her mortal enemy and that she was Jewish she brought upon herself a death decree that Haram had instigated against the Jews with the approval of the king. The reason for the decree was Haram’s desire for power over people and Mordecai’s refusal to bow down to him.
This story not only tells of one time God’s people were almost all destroyed, but of God’s covenant with the Jewish nation, and the destiny of God’s people as the first to enter into the kingdom of God.
It is a story about deliverance from death. We gather each Sunday morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ with joy and expressions of good will for one another and with gifts that will touch those suffering in our world; we remember that our sorrow has been turned to joy and our mourning to celebration. Our destinies have been reversed from death to life against all expectation. This is the heart of our Sunday celebration. We can face even the most threatening of circumstances with hope because we share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is that destiny we celebrate in worship even on those Sundays when sorrow and mourning seem all too present.
We come together in worship. The gospel is preached, and everlasting life is proclaimed. And we remember that we are called by God to share the good news of God’s love with everyone in our world.
Of course, many look out only for number one. They want to save their own skin. About 40 years ago I was driving through a residential neighborhood in Springfield, near where I lived at the time. I noticed part of a house on fire. I immediately pulled over and jumped out of my car. By the time I got to house, some neighbors had gathered. An older woman lived there alone. My first thought was to rush in and try to find her so I could get her out. The fire department had not arrived and the fire was getting worse. I asked if anyone knew for sure if she was home. They did not. I wrestled with what to do. If they were certain that she was there, I knew that the right thing was to try to get her out. Since their answer was no, I left. The next day I heard that she had been at home and that she had died. Would she have been dead before I would have gotten to her? Would it have done any good for me to try to get her out? I guess I’ll never know. But I knew what the right thing was to do and was ready to do it.
Do we remain silent to stay out of trouble or to avoid ridicule or do we do the right thing? Do we stand up for those who need us? Do we do what God wants and trust God for the outcome? What do we do when people bully others?
One of the tasks of a community of believers is to help people carry their burdens. Let each other know when you need some help, maybe just someone to care or listen, perhaps someone to run an errand or help fix something. Of course you can pray with them. Are there other ideas? What else could we do? Esther demonstrated the importance of finding a purpose in our lives, and of discovering courage and a concern for the protection of others.
Sometimes life does this to us. It puts us in a position where we can take a risk for the good of other people. Esther’s trust in God and the courage God gave her can be an example to us. She calculated the cost. She realized that her priority was saving her people even if she would be killed in the process. She prepared herself by being one with God. She established a course of action. I am dismayed with the United Methodist Church. Our mission as a denomination, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But how do we do that? What is the strategy? We’re solid on the what, but I’m not sure we have ever determined the how.
Esther had power and wealth, yet none of this could save her and the other Jews. It was only when God became involved that things began to change. Deliverance from evil and death comes from God.
God works through those who are willing to follow God’s lead. We should pray as if everything depends on God and then act as if everything depends on us as we avoid the two extremes of doing nothing and feeling like we have to do everything.
God had placed Esther and Mordecai where they were for a purpose. Because they believed, God saved them and all their people.
The question remains. Who is God working through in our lives? How is God helping us walk more humbly with God and live and operate in ways that are more merciful and just? How can we have the courage to stand up like Esther for what's right, even if it means losing our comfort, our possessions and maybe even our lives?
The next time that you face a difficult decision, take a bold step, trust in God and the courage the Holy Spirit can give you. Calculate the cost and realize what the priority is in this situation. Be at one with God and allow God to give you wisdom and protection as you do the right thing.