Faith United Methodist Church
September 20, 2015
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Kristabeth E. Atwood
Scripture: Psalm 124, Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22,
Prayer of Illumination:
Lord of joy and mercy, be with us this day as we seek your voice and your guidance. Remove the obstacles that block our commitment and help us to truly be your disciples. May the words that we speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight. We ask this in Christ’s Name. Amen.
Sermon: Risking It All
Esther is not a book we visit all that often. In fact, if you follow the Revised Common Lectionary, which proscribes readings for each Sunday in a three-year cycle, you only stumble across Esther once every three years. And it’s really no wonder, because Esther is an unusual little book. For one thing, it bears the name of a woman. And, perhaps even more strangely, it never mentions God.
Even so, the excerpt we have before us does not do the story justice. What we read is just a tiny portion of a magnificent story that would rival any action novel of our day. As Kate Huey explains it, “The short story of Esther is full of all sorts of things we find in the most entertaining movies: irony, intrigue, a thickening plot, clever wits and evil villains, royal splendor and a weak ruler, and, of course, the hero who rises to the challenge and saves the day. Only this time the hero is a heroine, and not at all a likely one.” Esther is one of a kind.
In the spirit of full disclosure, though, I should admit that I am probably biased. A few months ago our Sunday evening Adult Study explored the book of Esther. And Esther and I go back even further than that. In fact we spent quite a bit of time together a few years ago while I was preparing for my ordination exam. You see, each ordination candidate is required to write and lead a Bible Study on one book of the Bible and I chose Esther. I wasn’t quite sure why I chose Esther in the beginning, but as I studied and wrote I realized ~ if Esther had faith to face the king to save her people, I could certainly face the Board of Ordained Ministry.
Esther, though, risked more than the disappointment or failure. Esther risked her very life. As the story goes, Esther was chosen as queen to the Persian king in what amounted to an empire-wide beauty contest. The beautiful Esther, however, never disclosed that she was Jewish ~ which certainly would have disqualified her from the running. The secret was kept safely with her and her uncle, Mordecai, who worked in the palace court. Yet things got more complicated when Mordecai refused to bow to Haman ~ who was the king’s right hand man. Haman, in self-righteous indignation and an act of trickery, convinced the king that ALL the Jews living in Persia should be killed.
So Esther found herself in a precarious position. As his Queen, she should be able to influence the King, but to admit her Jewish heritage would also put her life at risk. Additionally, no one ~ not even the queen ~ could approach the king without invitation. And it had been some time since the king had called for Esther. To approach the king unbidden would be risking her life. The king had already banished one queen, so Esther had no reason to believe he would treat her any differently.
With a decision to make, Esther consulted her wise Uncle Mordecai who spoke my favorite line from this book. “Who knows?” he asked, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” At this, Esther asked her uncle to gather the Jews for three days of fasting. After this time, Esther would approach the king.
And this is where we picked up the story today. Esther was not refused by the king, but welcomed. She unveiled what Haman had done and asked that her life and the lives of her people be spared. In an amazing turn around, Haman was hung on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai and Mordecai became the king’s new right hand man. The Jewish people were spared.
We might call Esther the disobedient Queen. It’s clear she wasn’t one to play by the rules. Perhaps she was an opportunist. First she denied her heritage to further her position. Then, when she could use her position to help her people, she stepped forward even though she knew it was her ‘place’ to keep silent. Yet there is a difference between blind obedience and holy disobedience. In her study of Esther, Karol Jackowski suggests, “When disobedience relieves oppression and commands the single hearted support of the oppressed community, one can safely trust that the disobedient one comes from God.”
For Esther, disobedience was a survival technique. She risked everything to do something for her community that no one else could have done. “Her beauty brought her queenship. Her courage brought her freedom.” (Claire Rudolph Murphy)
Esther might inspire us to ask ourselves who among us could we help through bold and courageous actions? Where are we being blindly obedient to systems and structures that are harmful to those around us? When are decisions ruled by fear rather than by love? Where in our lives might we be called to take a risk, perhaps even risk it all?
While God’s name is not mentioned throughout the entire book, it seems to me that Esther has something to tell us about God. Living within a pagan culture, Esther’s life was far removed from the temple and center of the Jewish faith. Yet, in requesting that the community fast for her, she drew on the rituals of her Jewish life to give her strength. As H. James Hopkins explained it, “…we are drawn to Esther’s story and to the hope that though God is not named, God can still be known.”
We may not find ourselves in situations quite as dramatic as Esther… But we may find ourselves in situations where courageous action is needed. We may even find ourselves in complex, risky situations. We may find ourselves in circumstances where the values and conventions of our day don’t match the call we hear from God. As Esther found out, sometimes it is in asking what is best for the people around us that we discern God’s calling in our lives, that it becomes clear that God is on our side.
Let us pray: Strengthen us, O God, to choose to live faithfully in all the situations we face. Make us bold and courageous advocates, willing to take risks, for those who are facing dangers. Help us be wise, persistent stewards of all that you entrust into our care. Amen.