From a very early age we are trained to have enemies. Our society has progressed enough that many of those enemies turn more into friendly rivalries instead of outright wars, but that us vs. them human inclination is very strong in all of us. I grew up in the Iroquois School District. Our rival school was about five miles down the road – the Harborcreek Huskies. Even though they were several times larger than us, our games with them were always fierce. Many of my classmates now are raising their own children in the area, and it’s been a strange hurdle for me that they live in Harborcreek and now root for the Huskies. Don’t they remember they were our enemies? I arrived at Calvin and became a Knight. Immediately, I became aware of a new rival – Hope College – a school I had never heard of, but it was easy for me to project all the same things upon Hope that I had upon Harborcreek. It’s not as good of a school. We’re better at sports. We’re better students. They cheat. They party. You get the picture. They were the new enemy. When we moved to Ann Arbor we attended a church that had several Hope grads in its pews, and it took me months to get over the fact that my enemies were pretty much the same as me. Hardworking. Intelligent. Christ-followers. Little did I know that those interactions would be good preparation for my ministry here, where the membership is loaded with Hope grads – whom I, of course, love! We’ve figured out ways to do this all over society. Yankees or Red Sox. Michigan or State. Alabama or Auburn. You may recall around a decade ago how a rabid ‘Bama fan poisoned the live oak trees on Toomers’ Corner in Auburn in his anger that Auburn beat Alabama. The trees were replaced only to be set on fire in 2016 by an enraged LSU fan. Sometimes this benign way of keeping enemies erupts into actual destruction. Of course, there are many ways that these rivalries between people are not benign and end up being life- and soul-damaging. Just in my lifetime there has been ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. There was a genocide carried out in Rwanda in the mid-90s. Millions of people were killed by machete in the span of months because they were part of a different ethnic group. Our own nation likes to name its enemies. It was the Soviet Union. It became the Axis of Evil. Now it’s Russia. Or China. Or North Korea. Or stateless terrorism. Enemies are real, and the threat of violence is also real. This leads us to spend almost a trillion dollars on our military annually. That’s a lot of money to spend – all because humans have enemies and cannot peacefully coexist. As Christians, we are in the world but not of it, so we should consider what the way of Christ is in a world where it is easy to define enemies and hard to reach out to those with whom we disagree. I’ll dive into that a bit more towards the end of this sermon, but for now, let’s look at Esther 3, a story of enemies to see what it tells us about life today. In the past three weeks, we’ve gone from the lavish banquets thrown by King Xerxes of Persia to the deposing of Queen Vashti to the selection of Esther as the new queen. Two new characters show up in chapters two and three – Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) and Haman. Both appear to have significant roles in Xerxes’ government. Towards the end of chapter two, Mordecai becomes aware of an assassination plot against Xerxes. He reports it, and the rebels are hanged. Usually such an act would result in the elevation to a higher post for Mordecai, but nothing of the sort happens. We begin chapter three, but we have to remember that significant time has elapsed once again. From the deposing of Vashti to the crowing of Esther, four years have passed. Since then and the beginning of chapter three, another five years have passed. Folks, that’s nine years of history happening in just a few verses. We meet Haman at the beginning of chapter three. Like Mordecai, who is introduced first and foremost as a Jew in chapter two, Haman is presented in this way, “He was from the family line of Agag.” When I read weird names and places in the Bible, I know my tendency is to breeze on by them, but understanding their context really opens up this story to us here (and, frankly, it does so with great frequency throughout Scripture!). Haman is an Agagite. Our first text from Exodus 17 gives us the first and troubling mention of the Agagites in Scripture. There is a battle in the wilderness between the Israelites and the Amalekites. Agag is the king of the Amalekites centuries later, hence the Amalekites are the Agagites (that’s a mouthful). They are the first people to attack the Israelites after they have fled Egypt. Our Exodus text ends with these words, “The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (17:16). At root, this is an ongoing, centuries-long feud between the Jews and the Amalekites, which now shows up in our story of Esther. With that background, when we begin chapter three with these words, “After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman, the Agagite,” alarm bells should be going off. Jews and Agagites are enemies. This is not going to go well. What is worse, Xerxes gives Haman the highest seat of honor among all his officials, which is what should have happened – and didn’t! – to Mordecai. The scene is set for conflict between Haman and Mordecai. For centuries their people have been enemies, and that will focus down into a political war between these two. With his newfound role, Haman expects respect from everyone and receives it from them, except Mordecai refuses to bow the head to Haman. Some have argued that Mordecai doesn’t bow his head – like one would to royalty today – because that would be idolatry for a Jew, but that’s incorrect. Mordecai could have bowed his head, but he didn’t. Maybe he was angry that he was passed over for the position that Haman now holds. Regardless, Haman is enraged that his rival won’t give him this respect, and he uses this slight and his new power to create the trouble we read about in Esther 3 together. Haman wants to get back at the Jews. He goes to Xerxes with his plan. He tells Xerxes that he is concerned about an unspecified group of people whose practices could be bad for Persia. He knows that Xerxes is in need of more tax revenue because of his disastrous wars with Greece, so he pitches that he can get an extravagant sum from plundering these people who aren’t good for the empire anyway. Xerxes agrees to his plan, and they cast lots to determine the timing, believing that the gods work through the lots. This happens in the first month of the year. The lots fall on the last month of the year, meaning Haman has to wait almost an entire year to act on his wicked plan. Ironically, this date coincides with the Passover, the date marking when God freed them from slavery in Egypt. Haman sends out an order about what is to happen – the citizens of Persia are to slaughter and plunder their Jewish neighbors on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the Passover. Yet, what do we see happening in this story once again? Surely God is working behind the scenes for good. This time God buys Mordecai eleven months in which to make a plan to save the Jews. Just like God worked through hard circumstances to save them in Egypt, so now God is doing it once again, this time in Persia. When we dig a little deeper, we see there is so much more going on, don’t we? We read an ancient story that can still resonate today. Today I want to focus on enemies. Haman and Mordecai are enemies. The Jews and the Amalekites are enemies. What do enemies do? In the best of times, they have an uneasy truce where they just avoid conflict. In the worst of times, they wait until they can get an advantage and cause great harm to the other. This is the sad story of the inhumanity of humanity throughout history. Millions and millions of lives have been lost because humans make enemies and cannot struggle for reconciliation the same energy with which they are willing to wage war. That Haman and Mordecai are enemies will be their undoing in this story. Haman’s happens in an expected way; he is ended by his own violence. Mordecai’s is a bit different. We’ll go into that more deeply in a few weeks, but just to preview it for you now, his own desire for revenge leads to the deaths of many of his enemies. He may defeat Haman, but he has lost the battle for his own soul. As Christians, we must be careful about the harm we do ourselves and others by letting hatred into our hearts. Over time Judeo-Christian beliefs have moved in the direction of love – love for others, love for all, and even love for enemies. Jesus says as much in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells us, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:43-44). Or in Paul’s words in Romans 12, written as he faced death at the hands of Rome, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil….If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone….Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21). These are beautiful words, but they are hard words. It’s something I admire about the prayers of Pastor Kristine. In our divisive world, she is brave enough to pray for and name enemies, seeking their good and welfare. She’s not picking sides. She’s bringing all before our loving and just God. One of the Christian prophets of our own country, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holds this in front of us, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” If only Mordecai and Haman had these words to live by. Haman would not have sought centuries-old revenge on the Jews, resulting in his own death. Mordecai would not have saved his people only to turn around and smite his own enemies. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, right? So, what about us? We live in a time at a fever pitch. We live in a divided time, and those divisions run right through our community and at times through this church. I’m all for us having deep conviction and for those convictions differing among ourselves, but if our deepest conviction isn’t that Jesus is Lord over everything else, then we’ve missed the mark. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. There are no exceptions to this. Not nationality. Not political party. Not lifestyle. Love. Your. Enemies. If we don’t aim for this kind of love, the results are disastrous for the world and for our own hearts. If we do, then we have a chance to create a better world for us and our children. The way of love is the only way forward. Will we choose it?