Equipped and Empowered

Sunday, October 25, 2020
Scripture: 1 Kings 3:16-28 & Esther 7:1-10
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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Small Group Questions Esther 7:1-10

  1. What is your reaction to the quote: “God doesn’t call the equipped. God equips the called?” Do you find it encouraging? Believable?
  2. When in your life did God equip you to handle a difficult situation?
  3. How did God give Esther the words to say to the King? How was it a masterful argument?
  4. When did God give you the right words at exactly the right time?
  5. Was there ever a time when you, like Esther, felt compelled to hide your identity as a follower of God?
  6. How have you seen Esther grow as a person of faith thus far?

We are in the 6th week of our sermon series on the book of Esther titled: “Prayerful Action.” In our passage this morning the tides continue to turn in favor of Esther and thus all of Israel. As Pastor Troy said last week the great reversal of this story is when God gives Xerxes a sleepless night in chapter 6. In chapter 7, Esther finally asks the King to spare her life and the lives of her people.  Up until this point we don’t get much insight into Esther’s intelligence or ability to strategize. Here we see how Esther masterfully presents herself as the obedient queen as she carefully chooses her words. It’s one of those passages we could quickly gloss over, but in doing so we’d miss the subtle brilliance of what Esther does here. Or more appropriately put: How God brilliantly works through Esther. First of all she uses the strategy of suspense. This isn’t the first banquet Esther has thrown in King Xerxes’ and Haman’s honor. This is the second banquet and up to this point she has not given the slightest hint in regards to what it is she wants from the King. She’s continued to keep them guessing and it’s safe to say the King’s curiosity continues to grow. For the second time the King asks Esther: “What is your petition? It shall be granted. What is your request? Even up till half of my kingdom it shall be fulfilled.” While Xerxes is ready to grant whatever it is she wants, Esther is still careful about her clhoice of words.  She begins her answer by not using the formal 3rd person. Instead of saying “If I have won the King’s favor” she instead says: “If I have won your favor.” In this subtle change of grammar she’s reminding the King of just how important she is to him. Numerous times throughout this story we are told that Esther either “pleased the King” or had “won his favor.” She’s playing upon the affection (or one might argue lust) he has for her. She also makes sure to exactly structure her answers according to the King’s questions. By asking “What is your petition and what is your request?” Xerxes gives Esther permission to essentially ask for two requests. The first thing she asks for is that her life be spared. This is her petition. This leads into her answer to the 2nd half of his question of “What is your request?” Her request is that the lives of her people would be spared. In first establishing just how precious she is to the King, any harm done to the Jews would mean harm done to Esther. She’s asking that the favor and affection he has for her be extended to the rest of her people. In doing so she is also outing herself as a Jew, part of her identity that she has hidden for all the years she’s been queen.  Esther then lays it all out for the King. She explains that her people have been “sold” to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. She coyly reminds the King that there was money involved. If you’ll recall Haman essentially bribed the King to issue the command to wipe out all of the Jews. It’s not clear whether or not Xerxes accepted the money, but nevertheless Esther reminds him that someone had the audacity to bribe him. She is also careful to not implicitly name the King’s role in approving the edict or accepting a bribe.  She goes onto explain that if she and her people had merely been sold into slavery she wouldn’t have bothered to waste any of the king’s precious time to try to prevent this. Side note: Esther isn’t justifying slavery here. But she’s using the example of slavery to express the respect she has for Xerxes’ sovereignty. Of course he has the right, as king, to make anyone become a slave. It’s as if she’s saying:  “Oh King, if  I and my people were just sold into slavery I wouldn’t have bothered you. As you can do what you please with anyone. But oh powerful one, it is my life and the lives of my people that are at stake.” While playing up the role of his adored and humble queen, she’s giving him the chance to switch his role from murderer to savior. Savior not just of an entire people group, but of his beloved queen, who presents herself as a damsel in distress. It’s clear, however, that Esther is anything but that. She knows exactly what she’s doing. Esther is careful to play into the King’s ego. She’s also very aware of how emotional he can be and how quickly he loses his temper. Which is exactly what happens. He loses it to the point he has to step out of the room and take a breather in the garden. But first he demands to know who is responsible for this order and who dares endanger his queen. Which, let’s pause and think about how funny/ironic this is. Ultimately it’s him! He’s to blame! In the end Xerxes is the one who approved the edict. But Esther doesn’t go there because she needs to remain in the King’s good graces as he is the only one who can reverse the order. Which he does and it’s Haman not Esther or any other Israelite who loses their life.  So what are we to take away from this passage that resembles a scene out of a soap opera? It’s this: God is always at work regardless of whether or not we acknowledge God or can see God at work. God is accomplishing a big thing here by saving the Israelites. But God does so by equipping individuals to do small acts that have a big impact. God equipped Mordecai to say exactly the right words to convince Esther to risk her life by going before the king unannounced. God equips Esther with exactly the right words to say to the King in order to convince him to save all of Israel.  Furthermore we see in Esther’s story that God equips us in difficult situations, but more often God equips us in small ways to make a big impact. Just as God worked through Esther to know exactly what to say to the king, God will do the same for us. The first funeral I ever officiated was for a young Dad named Alex who was in his mid twenties. He had just gotten his life back on track after a series of bad choices. He was committed to his wife and their two year old son. He died instantly in a car accident. No pastoral care class I took in seminary could prepare me for what I was about to walk into. We were living in Scotland at the time and I was working at a church but was not yet ordained. My official title was “Assistant to the Minister.” At the time of Alex’s passing the Sr. Pastor was out of the country on vacation. It was up to me to walk with this family through their grief and I was terrified.  As customary I went to visit the family to talk through the service and of course to provide care and prayers. Before getting to their door I prayed: “Lord, this is terrifying. I don’t know what I’m doing so please help me to say the right thing.” After taking a deep breath I knocked on their door. Alex’s mom answered and of course you could tell she had been crying. She began to sob when she saw me and cried: “I don’t know how you do what you do because it is obvious God is cruel, if God even exists.” I was like a deer in headlights.  Wordlessly I followed her into the living room where she continued to rail against God. In my mind I was forming an argument about why God is present and is the exact opposite of cruel. Christ is who she should be running toward to get her through the loss of her son. While all of that is of course true what actually came out of my mouth was: “I’m so sorry.”  It was one of those God moments. I had no intention of saying “I’m so sorry.” I was ready to give a theological discourse about how Christ is our comfort and strength and to plead with her to once again put her trust in Christ. While all of that is true, God knew what this grieving mom needed to hear at that moment. It would not have been helpful if I launched into why her anger directed at God was wrong. What was helpful in that moment was for me to acknowledge and affirm her grief. And because I did so I was eventually able to gently remind her that Christ was not just present, but grieving with her. The quote on the bulletin this morning is “God doesn’t call the equipped. God equips the called.” Just as God equipped Esther, God also equips us. Just as God gave Esther the right words to say, God will do the same for us.  Unlike Esther our lives aren’t in imminent danger. In our present situation there isn’t as much stake as there was for Esther. Nevertheless we are living in difficult times and are living in a way we weren’t made to live. God made us relational beings, but right now are limited in how we can connect with one another. More than ever we feel disconnected from others  And this is of course true within our own church family. So what are some small ways God has equipped you to make a big impact in our current situation?  One way to make a big impact is to simply pick up the phone. I encouraged Session to think about who in our church has God put on their heart lately. I’m going to ask the same thing of you. Take a few moments to think about someone you miss seeing here at church. Do you have a name? Give them a call. Maybe it’s someone you know well or maybe it’s someone you just enjoyed chatting with about the weather during coffee hour. Whoever came to mind that’s God asking you to reach out to that person. A phone call seems like such a small gesture, but believe me it goes a long way. And in our texting culture it may seem intimidating to actually pick up the phone and call someone, but know that God, just as he did for Esther, will give you the words to say and to know when to say nothing at all. It reminds me of what Jesus said in Luke 12:12: for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” Pray for the right words to say and for God to be present in your conversation. Then pick up the phone and call them. Many people think that this is just one friend calling another and that it’s not ministry. Well, Jesus called his disciples his friends, but he also ministered to them. In Jesus Christ we see that ministry is all about relationships. Christ ministered to others by showing he cared about them enough to invest in a relationship with others. We’re called to do the same.  So while it seems small and insignificant, it’s sometimes the small gestures that make the biggest impact. Making a phone call is more than just a phone call. God will use it as a reminder not just for the person you called, but for you yourself that it’s the people God brought into your life through First Presbyterian Church of Grand Haven that helped you grow in your faith in Christ. And it’s through those same people that Christ reminds us He is still with us and still at work even even when we can’t see him or don’t acknowledge him. Much like the story of Esther.