Preached on June 3, 2018 at PC Chestertown
I bet you could hear their cries, loud and filled with pain, extending out across the provinces, as Jewish people from town to town learned of their fate – destruction. They thought the worst was behind them. Sure, they haven’t been able to return to Jerusalem, but they’ve been living peacefully among the Persians. Until now.
Mordechai ensures that his mourning is not overlooked. He paces back and forth in front of the king’s gate, grieving publicly. The king’s gate was a place where people stand and wail when they are victims of an injustice and they want the king to do something about it. Mordechai would take no chances, wanting the king to know that a great injustice has been inflicted upon his people, one of racial hatred and threatening genocide.
Surprisingly, Esther has no idea about the decree. And she doesn’t know how to react. Since she came to the palace, Mordechai had instructed her to keep her Jewishness a secret. If she were to go before the king, she risks her life by exposing who she is. She is facing a major problem, on multiple levels. And Mordechai puts it to her this way – she’ll die one of three ways: at the hands of the king for entering the inner court uninvited, at the hands of some unnamed entity if she doesn’t do anything at all, or at the hands of the Persians because she is Jewish.
Esther may be the queen, but that doesn’t mean she’s safe. She is faced with a choice – to speak up for the Jewish people, for her people, or to sit back quietly and do nothing.
What can we compare this situation to, today? It’s shameful to admit that we have countless injustices happening all around the world against varying groups of people. Where do we even begin? Hatred, violence, and discrimination abound related to the race, gender, religion, education, and socioeconomic status of different groups of people. These issues, these injustices, are so far-reaching and so deeply engrained that overcoming them seems insurmountable.
Like Haman, we can be preoccupied with what we think we deserve, how we think we should be able to live. And we fail to see the value of others around us, the rights that they too have to a life well-lived. Like Mordechai, we mourn for ourselves, for those we love, for those we may never know, who are facing destruction. But we fail to act, waiting on someone else to do it for us. Like King Xerxes, we are completely oblivious to all of it, living in our own world where all is good. Like Esther, we want to do something, we know we should do something, but we don’t know what to do and we don’t know if we’re willing to face the consequences.
We all want to say no to taking action in a situation that we didn’t cause or that we didn’t ask for. But as Mordechai points out for Esther and for us, we are God’s chosen people and we do not have the option of remaining silent and being complicit.
At Mordechai’s initial request, that Esther make supplication to the king on behalf of the Jewish people, Esther hesitates. There are serious consequences to approaching the king uninvited and to exposing herself as a Jewish woman. Mordechai seems to interpret Esther’s hesitation as a sign of selfishness, of weakness and fear. But it might also indicate growth. Up to this point, Esther has done whatever she has been told to do; she has always followed Mordechai’s orders, including hiding her Jewishness, and since coming to the palace she has followed King Xerxes’ orders. Esther is thinking and acting for herself, for once in her life.
Mordechai’s response to Esther’s hesitation forces her to consider who she really is.
“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.”
Esther must ask herself who she is, most deeply and most importantly. Is she a Jewish woman? A Persian queen? A cousin? A woman without power? In this moment, Esther must decide who she is and how she will act.
Even if she isn’t sure of the impact she could have, Esther decides to go for it. She decides that her Jewishness is most important, that who she is and how she will live and act in the world is interwoven with her faith. It just so happens that she is also the queen, giving her the power and responsibility to speak up on behalf of her people.
She gives Mordechai orders to instruct her fellow Jews to fast and she will enter the king’s inner court. She is giving orders and taking risks. But most importantly, she has called on her faith community to support her. Esther asks them to fast and to pray as she takes the bold step of claiming her God, of claiming her people, of claiming her faith. Mordechai’s words cut deep, yet they are a call to action.
Like Esther, it is time for us to recognize who and whose we are. We are, first and foremost, Christians – children of God, created out of and for love and mercy. We are one Body, one people, belonging to one God. We have the great and humble responsibility of publicly claiming our faith and identity – speaking up for those God has created in God’s image, acting on behalf of those God loves infinitely, and loving each and every person God has given us as brothers and sisters. We cannot remain silent, inactive, disengaged when it comes to matters of injustice.
What kind of risks are we willing to take on behalf of those who are vulnerable and threatened? And which part of who we are will lead us towards action? Are we first family members? Employees? Students? Americans? Christians? Gun owners? Sports fans? Consumers? What privileges are we relying on to convince ourselves that we are safe and that we don’t need to act? How is God preparing us and calling us to be God’s people, to seek love and mercy for God’s creation? We, like Esther, must recognize who and whose we are.
The book of Esther has a happy ending. The king receives Esther, has Haman hanged, promotes Mordechai, and sends out a decree to cease the destruction of the Jews. All ends well because Esther took a chance, because Esther was reminded of who she is and who she belongs to. With Mordechai’s urging, and King Xerxes easily persuaded nature, she saves her people.
I can’t help but feel like I’m stuck in that stage of hesitancy that Esther experienced, wondering what good I can really do and what the consequences might be if I speak up for the people and injustices I care deeply about. I have been asking myself: Who am I? And who am I when it really matters? Is my identity as a child of God ultimately shaping my life?
I know that I am a Christian woman, that I am a child of God before all else. I know that all people have been created in God’s image, out of God’s infinite love. And I believe that we have all been created to make God’s love and mercy known and felt in the world. Imagine what we could accomplish, imagine the injustice that would exist no more, imagine the lives and relationships that would flourish, if we all claimed these truths and lived into them, claiming our God and claiming one another as our own. We would move from hesitancy, complacency, and self-doubt to action, change, and justice. Amen.