Small Group Questions Esther 8:1-8 1. What did Esther gain from risking her life to stand up for her people? (8:1) 2. Why did Esther have to plead with the king a second time? (8:3) 3. In what ways might the edict ordering that all Jews in the kingdom be killed affect other minority groups in the kingdom? 4. What does this story reveal about God’s treatment of righteous versus wicked people? 5. What would it take for you to “see” those around you and their needs more clearly this week?
There are few things more clarifying in life than facing death. In our text Esther and Mordecai sure found it clarifying. When Haman’s plot became apparent, the two of them risked greatly to save their lives and the lives of the Jews. We’ve been dwelling on their bravery over the past few weeks. We’ve seen how Queen Esther risked her life to seek an audience with the king unannounced. We’ve seen her patience in rolling out her ask over the course of two days of feasting. She knew everything was riding on that ask, so she did everything she could to get the right result. By chapter seven, things are turning out marvelously. At her second banquet with Xerxes and Haman, Esther puts it all on the line. She outs herself as a Jew. “For we have been sold,” she pleads, “I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.” It’s one of those moments where we so clearly see how the story portrays King Xerxes as someone who just doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on. After all, he’s the one who signed on to Haman’s order to annihilate the Jews, yet here we are. Xerxes doesn’t know his wife is a Jew. He doesn’t know it’s the Jews who will be killed. He just hears Esther’s request and reverses course immediately. Within that night, Haman’s plan is ruined, and his body is swinging on the 75-foot-tall gallows he had built for Mordecai. Facing death has a way of clarifying things, for sure. Esther is not yet done. In our reading for today, she knows she has to totally undo Haman’s plan. She has to execute a rescue plan for the Jews spread throughout the Persian empire. Facing death once again, Esther approaches Xerxes and asks for further actions to be taken to preserve the Jews. Once again, Xerxes is ready to do whatever she suggests, basically handing her a blank sheet of paper and the communication power of the empire to spread the word. In a moment of supreme crisis, Esther does well in acting to save her people. I do wonder, however, if the stakes weren’t so high, would she have acted? I do think it’s human nature to wander through life without a great deal of focus, at least until the stakes are high. While I don’t believe it would be healthy to live each day worried about whether or not you’ll live through it, on the other hand, I think the Christian faith equips us to live as a people who are prepared to die. So, how do we live as a people prepared to die? Just as Esther found the deathly crisis facing her people clarifying, so living our days with purpose and intention is part of how we live best. This isn’t merely about having a bucket list – you know, that list of things that you have to do or see before you kick the bucket, as they say. It might include some of those things, but it’s really more about having our lives and loves properly ordered, which is something I think we’re all finding exceptionally hard in these strange times. The Bible talks about this proper ordering as tending to your love for God and then tending to your love of others and yourself. As Jesus tells us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and then all of these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). When our lives get out of order, we come to find that all of this stuff has been flipped on its head. We worry first about the stuff we have or want. We fret about our bank accounts or loss of freedom. Then we focus on ourselves and others, leaving our relationship with God on the sideline, as though it’s only something we add on when everything else is going well. Our relationship with God is not the cherry on top of our sundae; it’s the dish that holds the sundae in the first place – giving form, place, and purpose to what happens in the dish. So, we live as a people prepared to die by seeking how to put things in their proper place and order. Love God first. Love others (including yourself) second. Then everything else will fall in line. It’s the security of those loves being in order that allows us to live with boldness and intention, like Esther. This is what brings fullness of life. This is one of the main reasons God has given us the church because God knows that we all need that constant reminder to live with fullness, aligning our lives with God’s will for them. Today is All Saints’ Day. For this church, it’s an annual reminder that people who made this church what it is have died in the last year. It’s a reminder that we all will face death at some point and that very few of us will ever have an idea about when that time will come. It’s a reminder that we stand on the shoulders of others who have helped build this church and that others will come after us to stand on our shoulders. It’s a reminder that we are a part of something greater than ourselves. Finally, it’s a reminder that the Christian life is about God’s promises for life now, for death, and for the life to come. My hope for all of us is that the church is meaningful in life because I am so keenly aware that the church and faith are essential at the time of death. I didn’t get into ministry thinking I’d love funerals, but I really have come to because, when we face death, we get real. The rubber hits the road of our faith and our hope. Everything else in life just seems to melt away, and we become laser-focused on the people we love and have said goodbye to. It also gives us things to remember about our hope as Christians. I have some texts I like to turn to at time of death because they stand as reminds of the life and living that are left to be done for all of us. Often, they come from the pens of poets or from the faith statements of the church. The 17th century poet, John Donne, has a beautiful sonnet called “Death, be not proud” that concludes with this couplet, affirming that God’s work in Jesus Christ will ultimately defeat death. One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. Then, there’s Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes,” which gives us a reminder of how precious life is and of how vital it is to pay attention to your one wild life. She writes, When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. So, as we remember the saints of our church, I pray that this is a deeply meaningful act that will help give us focus and purpose for the living of our days. I feel this every year, but this year is feels particularly pointed. We have lost some saints on the church over the past year. They were key to making this church what it is today. They are irreplaceable, and we’re thankful for them. Yet, they were part of an ever-flowing stream of people God has blessed us with – including you. You are a part of that communion of saints charged with the important task of carrying the mission of the church forward. I’d like to close the sermon today with you joining your voices with mine to say what we believe, particularly when it comes to the troubles of this life and its end. As you say these words, I invite you to claim them as true for you. They are words that give me hope and purpose even now. Together, let us say what we believe. In Christ God gave us a glimpse of the new creation he has already begun and will surely finish. We do not know when the final day will come. In our time we see only broken and scattered signs that the renewal of all things is under way. We do not yet see the end of cruelty and suffering in the world, the church, or our own lives. But we see Jesus as Lord. As he stands at the center of our history, we are confident he will stand at its end. He will judge all people and nations. Evil will be condemned and rooted out of God’s good creation. There will be no more tears or pain. All things will be made new. The fellowship of human beings with God and each other will be perfected. In the death of Jesus Christ God’s way in the world seemed finally defeated. But death was no match for God. The resurrection of Jesus was God’s victory over death. Death often seems to prove that life is not worth living, that our best efforts and deepest affections go for nothing. We do not yet see the end of death. But Christ has been raised from the dead, transformed and yet the same person. In his resurrection is the promise of ours. We are convinced the life God wills for each of us is stronger than the death that destroys us. The glory of that life exceeds our imagination but we know we shall be with Christ. So we treat death as a broken power. Its ultimate defeat is certain. In the face of death we grieve. Yet in hope we celebrate life. No life ends so tragically that its meaning and value are destroyed. Nothing, not even death, can separate us From the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.