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Sunday, November 15, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 78:1-8 & Esther 10:1-3
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce
Small group questions for this week:
One of my favorite teachers of all time was Mr. Peterson. He was my AP history teacher in high school. He’d always tell our class that “History is 20/20 hindsight.” Meaning history always makes more sense once you’ve lived through it and had some time to reflect upon it.
In the last chapter of Esther the author wants us to know that it is noted in the royal records of Xerxes’s kingdom and, therefore a fact of the Persian Empire’s history, that King Xerxes’s second in command was a man named Mordecai. It’s specifically noted that Mordecai was Jewish, was well respected and spoke up for the welfare of his people.
This fact was included in the royal records so that future Kings of Persia would know that an Israelite held a high governmental office despite the fact that Jews were not just a minority, but were once in danger of genocide mandated by that same government. While history is indeed 20/20 hindsight, history also tends to repeat itself no matter how many opportunities we’ve had to learn from history.
Generations before Esther there was Joseph, another Israelite who propelled up the ranks of royal office in Egypt and placed in a position where he not only helped Israel, but all people in Egypt during a devastating famine. Future generations of Egyptians and Pharaohs, however, eventually began to resent the Israelites and chose to forget all that Joseph did for all of Egypt. This led to the enslavement of all the Jews. God’s people found themselves persecuted and oppressed for years before God liberated them. Generations after Esther’s story of Israel’s near genocide, Israel finds itself once again oppressed and persecuted under the Roman Empire.
Throughout history we see just how terrible humanity can be to one another. The Jews aren’t the only people who have found themselves under the threat of genocide. The Jews are not the first minority group persecuted for their ethnicity and race. Oppression and racism are just as prevalent today as it was in Esther’s time. Governments today still have laws and systems in place that benefit some while hurting others.
While it’s true that history tends to repeat itself, what we know from Esther, and from all of scripture, is that God is always at work throughout history. God, like history, in a sense repeats himself. This is because God can never be anything else but faithful, because that’s just who God is. Because God is faithful, God upholds the covenant he made with Abraham. We see how God honors that covenant by working through Moses to free Israel from slavery. We see this in how God worked through Esther to save Israel from genocide. We see how God ultimately fulfilled his covenant with Israel when God came in person, as Jesus Christ to liberate not just Israel, but all people. Liberation not just from an oppressive empire, but also from the darkness that exists inside each of us.
And God was at work regardless of whether or not people accepted God’s call on their lives to help carry out God’s purposes. Or in Esther’s situation God is at work regardless of whether or not God is even mentioned or acknowledged. As Pastor Troy pointed out last week, God is at work even when God’s people act in ways that contradict God’s merciful character. God is always at work, even in spite of us.
When we read the Bible we have the advantage of knowing how the story ends. This can make it difficult for us to completely identify with characters in the Bible like Esther when they are at a point in their stories where they’re faced with literal life and death choices. Because we know what happens, we can easily cheer them on to make the right decision as we know it will all turn out okay. We know God remains faithful until the end.
The entire Bible could be summed up as accounts throughout history of how God remained faithful to God’s people no matter how dire the circumstances were or how stubborn God’s people act. Today it’s more important than ever for us to remain in God’s word. We need the reminder that God is faithful. Christ is our constant. God is always at work no matter what we are experiencing. It’s why Psalm 78 is our other scripture for this morning. The Psalmist urges us to teach our children and our children’s children about the faithfulness of God. All so that they too will always remember God’s steadfast love so that they can feel confident about always putting their hope in God. While we know how Esther’s story ends, ours is ongoing.
We are in the throes of the second wave of COVID. Just when we got used to how we last altered our lives we find ourselves needing to pivot once again. Many of us are trying to figure out how to balance work and home life as our kids transition from “in-school” back to virtual learning. Many of us who were able to go back to the office now find ourselves working from home again as many have had coworkers who are either in quarantine or who have tested positive. We won’t be able to worship in person for the next two weeks due to rising cases in our community. Many of us have resigned ourselves to Zoom Thanksgiving gatherings when we’d rather be with our loved ones in person. Just when we got used to our lives being upended our lives are upended in new ways. We don’t know how or when this pandemic will finally be under control. We are still in the thick of the plot and we have no idea how this story will end. It feels like we’re at the mercy of crashing waves in the middle of a storm and we’re barely keeping our heads above water – if we are able to at all. Even though we can’t help but focus on the waves, God is at work to keep us afloat and to eventually bring us to shore.
Dr. Karen Jobes in her commentary on Esther writes: “God rules not only redemptive history, but by his power, all of history serves his redemptive purposes.” This doesn’t mean that God causes terrible things to happen in order to carry out a certain goal. But what we can take hope in is that God can use even terrible circumstances or even our bad choices to bring about good for all. God even used the bad choices of Xerxes and Haman to help Israel. This isn’t to say God purposely made Xerxes or Haman bad people, but God knew the bad choices they would make and also knew how the former Queen Vashti would refuse to be put on display. God used their choices to set into motion how Esther would become the new queen, placing her in a position of power to help her people. In every story there is a clear antagonist. In Esther it’s Haman, but there are examples elsewhere in the Bible where God’s people are the antagonists. The Israelites become antagonistic toward God and Moses when they choose to build a golden calf to worship instead of God. The Pharisees and Sadducees refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
The reason the title of our sermon series is “Prayerful Action” is because we have the tendency to either pray without acting or to act without praying. In both situations we are at risk of making choices that aren’t in line with what God is doing, making us antagonists in the story. In scripture we see how easy it can be for anyone to fall into this trap. Even the most faithful.
While we may be familiar with stories of God’s faithfulness in scripture we easily forget about God’s promises. Our tendency is to act out of fear or anxiety. We don’t see how God could possibly be present or at work so we take matters into our own hands. In that space we tend to act in a way that only benefits us without giving thought to how our actions may adversely affect others. In order to avoid that we must pray and act. In prayer we open ourselves up to God’s guidance. When we engage in prayer and with scripture we become more aware of how God is currently present and at work and what role God would like us to have in what God is doing for the good of all. Not just for one person or one group, but for all.
As I said earlier “History is 20/20 hindsight.” Our stories are ongoing and right now we are living in a difficult chapter. We are in the thick of it and we don’t know how this current chapter will end. But if we continue to be people of prayerful action we’ll see glimpses of what Christ is doing in the here and now until we’re able to look back with 20/20 hindsight. It will be then that we’ll be able to say with confidence that Christ was not just with us, but at work to bring about good – even in the midst of a difficult situation.