December 9, 2018 Sermon

“For Such a Time As This: Courage and Peace”                                                           Esther 4:1-17
Rev. Sean Weston                                                                                                                           
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
December 9, 2018

Today’s sermon will be from the perspective of Mordecai, one of the characters in this story. Mordecai was the uncle of Esther. He raised her from a young age after her parents died.

Esther is often considered the star of this story, the one who bravely intervened against the King’s plans to wipe out her people. She is an example of courage and faithfulness, and she helped ensure her peoples’ ability to live in peace. However, Esther did not act alone. And it can be hard to relate to her – how many of us are Queens in a royal palace, hiding our minority status? Many more of us, like Mordecai, may only come up to the palace gates. We may feel that we have no influence over what happens in the halls of power. We may feel like peace is a far-off dream and all we can do is wait and hope. As you listen for his story, consider your own calling to courageous action for God’s peace.

“I knew that King Ahasuerus was a buffoon. We were in a ride the moment he took office. He’s never had an original thought in his life. All he cares about is his money – and making more of it. He spends far more time partying than governing – and that’s probably for the best. He has no respect for women – calling them into the palace on whims, taking whatever he wants from them, making them dance for other men. He surrounds himself with the worst of men – bloodthirsty, arrogant, power-hungry, manipulative. Who knows what he thinks or if he thinks, but it doesn’t matter due to the horrible people around him.

I figured we could wait him out. As Jews we are never completely safe in Persia, but usually if we just put our heads own and keep quiet, we can do okay. That’s some kind of peace, right? But then the King exiled Queen Vashti after she refused to dance for him and his drunk friends. He ordered that all of the beautiful young girls in his kingdom be brought to the palace so he could select a queen. I didn’t want Esther to go anywhere near that man, but what choice did we have? When the officials knocked on the door, I had to let her go, while praying for her protection. I told her not to say a word about being Jewish. When she was selected as Queen, I was terrified. Sick to my stomach, really. I knew what happened to the last Queen. I knew how the King treated women. And Esther was so young and innocent. I could only hope I had prepared her for this. I could only hope that she was smart enough to wait it out. To keep her head down. Every single day I walked outside the palace gates to ask how she was doing. Every day.

Then, one day when I was waiting at the gate, I heard two of the king’s servants talking about killing the king. This was my chance! I didn’t care about the king, but I could help Esther. So I told her what I heard, and she told the king. Once he found out it was true, he had them executed. And now he trusted Esther more. I hope this would keep her safe.

That is, until everything changed. The king promoted this horrible man, Haman. He came from a long line of people who hated Jews. Even though we were supposed to bow before him as he passed by, I just couldn’t do it. How could I bow to such a horrible man? Even the thought made me sick to my stomach. Even when the king’s servants tried to get me to bow, I refused. I knew it would be easier if I bowed, but I just couldn’t. Plus, they didn’t know I was Esther’s uncle. Even if they hurt me, she would be safe.

Turns out, Haman was even worse than I thought. He was so angry that I wouldn’t bow that he wanted to destroy all of the Jews, not just me. Talk about a fragile ego. He went into the king and told him about us, that we have different laws and customs and that we shouldn’t be tolerated. He offered ten thousand talents of silver if the king would order their destruction. That was all the king needed to hear – I doubt he cared one way or another. But he sure did like money. So he gave Haman permission, and all of a sudden there were letters sent all around Persia. These letters set one day that every last one of us should be destroyed. It was the worst day of my life. There was panic all around me. Nobody knew what happened. And all I could think of was Esther. Maybe she hadn’t just been waiting around for nothing. Maybe she was being prepared for something. Maybe she could do something about this.

So I went to the king’s gates. Like the other Jews, I was in mourning, wearing sackcloth and ashes. We were fasting and weeping and praying that peace might prevail. She had heard I was at the gates and sent her servants out to me. I sent them with a message about what would happen, including the decree the king sent out. It’s time, he said, for you to see the king and try to change his mind.

But then a message came back from Esther, saying it was too dangerous for her to see the king. Everyone knows, she says, that if you go to the king without being summoned he can put you to death. She hadn’t even seen the king for a month. There’s nothing I can do, she said.

So I turned up the heat. I reminded her that she was Jewish too: “Don’t think you’ll escape. If you keep silent, God will save us some other way, but you won’t make it. Maybe this is why you became Queen. Maybe we’ve been waiting for just this moment.”

The message got through this time, and she ordered a fast for three days, promising to see the king after that. When she saw the king, she was able to convince him to change his mind. After all, I had saved his life before. And she was so beautiful and smart. She was able to get what she wanted from a buffoon like that man. She saved her people.

It took me a long time afterwards to understand what God had been doing that whole time. After all, I could never make sense of what was happening around me. Why was such a bad man in charge? Why did Esther have to be taken away? Why did it seem that all we could do was wait around for things to get better, sometime in the future? Why wasn’t God doing anything?

I learned some things that day.

I learned that God’s work is often behind the scenes, hard to see or understand. I believe God did send Esther into that palace. God knew she was faithful and caring, that she had the potential to be a strong and brave leader. God knew that the king would make horrible decisions, and someone would need to stop them from the inside.

I learned that we hadn’t been waiting for nothing. We had to wait for the right moment to act. But then, once the moment was right, we had to act even though it was the most terrifying thing that ever happened to us. We had to wait. But we had to keep alert the whole time, paying attention and preparing ourselves to act. The timing had to be right. Once it was, we had to act.

I learned that God acts through human beings like me and like Esther. Too many of my friends said “we just need to wait more, wait for God to save us.” But I knew the time for waiting was done. I felt God’s power in me, power to act. Even when Esther first said no, I reminded her that God could work through her and help her. We couldn’t have done anything alone. But we never were alone.

And I learned that we can’t just assume people will do the right thing, especially people with in the palace with some amount of power. I knew Esther was a good person. I knew her heart. But I also knew the pressure was so heavy on her to say nothing, to go along to get along. She would need to be held accountable by those outside the palace – like me, to do the right thing. I had to hold her feet to the fire.

My people are safe, for now, but true peace has yet to arrive. That buffoon is still king. The kingdom is still ruled by power hungry, blood-thirsty men, filled with hatred. But I know now that God is still working in us and all around us to make things better. Right now I’m waiting and watching, carefully, ready to act again. Esther is still in the palace, and if I need to remind her of her duty once more I will. I’m not sure if true peace will come in my lifetime, or even in the next century. But I trust God’s promise to make things right. I believe that someday, God will send true peace to the earth as the prophets have said. In the meantime, I will keep waiting, I’ll keep working for what is right and pushing all around me to do the same. I am at peace with myself. And someday, God’s peace will prevail in all the world. Peace will prevail.

As we await the coming of the Prince of Peace, may we follow Mordecai’s example. May we wait when waiting is called for, and act when acting is called for. May we hold those inside the palace gates accountable to do what is right, from village halls to the house of congress. And may we trust that true peace has come, and is coming, for our God is working to make it so, with all who wish to join in.

Thanks be to God. Amen.