Queen Esther & Such a Time as This

December 7, 2014 Esther 4:1-17

Wow. We’ve got some catching up to do, don’t we? We were plopped down in the middle of this story. Esther is a Jewish woman living among the Persians who are now the ones in charge. So she’s a minority – a foreigner, and an orphan. Mordecai is her cousin and he took care of her after her parents died. At the beginning of the book of Esther, Vashti is queen. But, at the height of a good long party, the king who has had too much to drink, demands his wife, Queen Vashti, come to the party at his command. Using what I consider excellent judgment of refusing to attend a party where all the men are drunk, she’s then dethroned. After all, she’s set a bad precedent for all the women in the kingdom. What if they too did not listen to their husbands and directly disobeyed them as Vashti had? Certainly she must go. The king takes away her crown and then begins the search for a new queen. Esther is swept up in a crowd of eligible, virginal candidates to be queen and undergoes a 12 month beauty regiment along with all the other women trying out for the part. She keeps her Jewish identity secret, just as Mordecai has told her to do. And wouldn’t you know, she is chosen by the king to be queen.

In the mean time, Mordecai, her cousin, uncovers a plot to kill the king and saves the king’s life, unbeknownst to the king. Soon after, the king appoints a guy called Haman to the highest ranking office in his government and commands that everyone bow down to him. Being a faithful Jew, Mordecai refuses to bow down to him and this angers Haman enough for Haman to personally fund the extermination of the Jews living in the region, justified to the king as “people who don’t fit in.” The king writes a decree and news spreads of who will be killed. The city of Susa, where our story takes place, is plunged into darkness and despair.

This is right where we jump into the story today. Mordecai hears the news and knows it is because he did not bow down to Haman that all Jews would be killed. Thus the sackcloth and ashes, symbols of grief and repentance. Imagine the guilt you would bear knowing you caused the death of so many. Here, the very thing he’d told his cousin to hide – her Jewish identity- now is the very thing threatens his life and the lives of all the Jews living in the region. Indeed, his Jewish identity and his loyalty to God by only bowing down to God and not Haman – is at the heart of this story of Queen Esther.

But wait. What about Queen Esther? Mordecai sends his cousin, Queen Esther, word about what is going to happen and asks her to do something. She’s the queen after all. And did you catch her response? Essentially it’s Gulp. Who? ME?! Who am I to do anything? I could get killed!

Mordecai is told of her response and he doesn’t relent. He reminds her that she’s the queen and challenges her further, begs her to see clearly her position of authority, of being someone who could turn things around, save all their necks. He reminds her that she too is a Jew and is not exempt from this extermination. He exposes her privileged place as not the ultimate hiding place but the ultimate place for making change happen.

Who knows, he says, Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.

It’s all perspective isn’t it?

Maybe you are right where you are, where you need to be, for such a time as this.

Today we celebrate and welcome the newest among us and tell you we love you. River of Hope is a congregation that emerged from sackcloth and ashes. And it was an incredible day when I could feel and see and witness that the time for sackcloth and ashes was over and we could move forward in new and important ways. It was incredible sadness and regret and anger that I encountered when I first arrived here to be with you. Yet, I still remember the first time I said, “I’m so sorry for how you’ve been hurt. But I’m so glad to be here with you now.”

Maybe we are here for such a time as this. Our community continues to grow in number and in spiritual maturity and as curious and thoughtful people, reading scripture together, serving from a place of passion; wanting to engage in a life of faith. Just this last year, River of Hope has grown by 21 new families, which means there are 41 new people who call River of Hope home. Maybe you are here for such a time as this.

And each and every Sunday we tell each other – we proclaim out loud – why it is we exist. We put words to why this church even matters, why being a Christian matters at all. We go out to transform lives through Jesus Christ, we remind each other. Some weeks believe it. Some weeks we need others to believe it for us.

We do not go out alone. We go out following Jesus who leads the way smack into the middle of such a time as this. Because it’s through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives are transformed – our own included.

Esther’s life was transformed when she was made queen. Yet she could not clearly see – at least not right away – the position she was in to create change, to help transformation get a running start – until her cousin, Mordecai, challenged her, reminding her that she too was a child of God, a Jew in the midst of Persians. That she could die just as easily as the rest of them, or she could die trying to save them.

Our lives are transformed through Jesus Christ. We are forgiven and made new constantly. We follow Jesus, a Savior who always leads us into the dark corners where the hungry wait, the mourning cry out, where the oppressed have been scattered. Jesus leads us to the place where perhaps we were meant to be at such a time as this.

How are we being called, like Esther? Who are the Mordecais in our life who are asking us the hard questions? How is River of Hope being called into such a time as this?

How are we to respond to the events in Ferguson and New York? Of course, we’re not there, we’re here. But what we say and do here matters. If we’re silent or if we speak up matters. We may feel helpless, but we follow Jesus at such a time as this, and that can’t simply mean we do nothing.

We are a church where people of all sexualities are welcome, because they are people. Children of God, in fact. Not all churches say this and mean it. We are River of Hope at such a time as this.

We are a church that believes God is already at work in the lives of people all over town long before we show up. We even believe God is present in bars and that events like beer & hymns and beer & carols can bring community together.

We are a church that believes disciples are life-long learners, not experts at Christianity. And we must constantly practice loving and forgiving and teaching each other.

In a world that is an absolute mess with violence and division, God continues to love this messed up world and continues to call us into it, to do the hard things. To use our place of privilege to speak truth and to show mercy and stand with those who are used to standing alone. Lets let Queen Vashti who lost her crown for saying no and Queen Esther who dared to speak out of turn be the ones we follow, knowing that in following their lead, we follow Jesus himself.

Thanks be to God.