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Sunday, October 4, 2020
Scripture: Judges 6:11-16 & Esther 4:9-17
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce
We are continuing on in our sermon series on Esther titled: “Prayerful Action.” In going along with this theme we are encouraging people to find a prayer partner so I hope you’ve found one and if you haven’t, it’s not too late! Again it can be someone in your own family, a walking buddy anyone with whom you feel comfortable praying out loud. And if you need help finding a prayer partner please let me know.
We’ve been different tools each month to guide your prayer with your prayer partner. This month we are concentrating on creative prayer, specifically breath prayers, which are prayers that can be said in one breath. We have kits available to make breath prayer bracelets or necklaces available at the Clinton Street entrance during office hours.
In our passage from Esther this morning, we see Esther move from being a compliant young girl to a heroic young woman. Up until this point Esther just does whatever anyone tells her to do. “Esther, go join all the other young beautiful girls who hope to be the next Queen.” “Esther, you need to undergo 12 months of cosmetic treatments in order to meet the king.” “Esther, hide the fact that your Jewish.” In our passage today, however, Esther takes matters into her own hands.
In Esther, however, we see that faith and fear are not mutually exclusive. It wasn’t as if Esther instantly realized her position as queen could be used to save her people. It was a process for her to get to that point. Esther struggled with Mordecai’s plea that she speak to the King on behalf of her people. At first she was hesitant and fearful. She hadn’t seen the King in 30 days so it’s safe to assume the honeymoon between her and Xerxes is over. If someone, even the queen herself went before the king unannounced it is highly likely they would be killed. At this point Esther has been living as a Persian Queen for close to a decade and in order to continue to conceal her identity as a Jew she didn’t participate in any of the traditions or rituals that are important to the Jewish faith much less worship at the Temple and engage in prayer. It could be said that Esther is more Persian than Jewish at this point and her only connection to her people is Mordecai.
It’s Mordecai who has to convince Esther to use her position of power to speak for her people who are now facing genocide. He also reminds her that just because she lives in the palace there’s no guarantee that her own life will be spared. And it’s here that Mordecai says the most well known verse from the Book of Esther, that perhaps she became Queen in order to save her people for such a time as this.
It is also arguably the most theologically rich verse in this book. From this verse Mordecai implies that God has placed Esther as Queen in order to save her people. Mordecai implies that even as he and Esther exchange
messages God is at work to save the Jews living in Xerxes’s kingdom because he believesGod still cares for them. They are after all still God’s chosen people. It’s also clear to Mordecai that God will work through people to stop Haman’s potential genocide.
God working through people is not surprising for us. We often say things like “my surgery was successful because God worked through the hands of the Doctor,” “God worked through my Sunday school teacher or Youth Group leader to help me grow in faith.” While we don’t doubt God works through people when it comes to ourselves we’re not completely convinced that God could use us. I’ve heard many people say God couldn’t possibly use me because I don’t know enough about the Bible, I don’t pray enough or I’m not fill in the blank enough. If God can use a young woman who hasn’t been in worship for nearly a decade I’m pretty sure God can use any of us. It could also be that while we know God wants to work through us and is calling us to a specific action we’re afraid of what we stand to lose.
A few of us just finished the book: “Thou Shalt Not be a Jerk” by Rev. Eugene Cho that’s about how to engage in and speak about politics from a Christian point of view. I highly recommend this book, it’s an easy read and it’s very applicable for what we as a country are experiencing politically. In this book Rev. Cho tells the story of a pastor in Lebanon who he refers to as Pastor Maheer. That isn’t actually his real name, but for security reasons Rev Cho did not want to use his real name. Pastor Maheer is the pastor of a “large and successful” church in Lebanon and was very much loved by the congregation. Pastor Maheer knew that would soon change because after spending time in prayer about the vision of their church he felt convicted by the Holy Spirit to open their church to open their doors to refugees from Syria. Since 2011 Syria has been engaged in a terrible civil war resulting in 5.3 million Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring countries. Of that 5.3 million it’s thought that at least 1 million live in Lebanon.
Due to Lebanon’s own economic instability and tension between Syria and Lebanon that started years before the refugee crisis there is a deep dislike for Syrians among the Lebanese. Knowing that, Pastor Maheer had to say a couple more prayers of “Jesus, am I hearing your correctly?” In the end he knew he had and so with fear and trembling he went before the congregation and shared with them his vision. His congregation was livid. 90% of the congregation ended up leaving the church. But those who stayed were committed to serving Syrian refugees alongside Pastor Maheer. Not only were they committed to opening their doors to the refugees, but they were committed to welcoming and loving them.
Then an amazing thing happened. Many of the Syrian refugees began to ask about their Christian beliefs. Many started coming to worship and many decided to be baptized and follow Jesus. And the refugees who have chosen not to come to worship or convert? Pastor Maheer remains committed to loving and serving them in the name of Christ. Eventually this church regained not just the 90% of members they had lost, but they began to grow beyond that. This church became a witness for the rest of the community of what it can look like to welcome the stranger and love your enemy. And this all happened because one person chose to listen to God even though it involved great risk.
Whatever God is asking us to do God never asks us to do it alone. Christ will always be with us, and the way we see Christ helping us is through others. Esther, more than ever needs the support of her people. It’s safe to say that Esther, while convicted to help her people, is still scared. There’s no guarantee the King will accept her presence in his court and she could be killed, or even if the King does accept her into his presence he may deny her request to spare the Jews, her true identity will most likely be revealed and she could also be killed. It’s why she orders Mordecai to ask all of the Jewish residents of the city to fast for 3 days and 3 nights on her behalf. Esther also pledges that she herself and her court will join them in fasting. Fasting is a spiritual action that always goes hand in hand with prayer. In fact the whole point of fasting is to keep one focused on prayer and ultimately on God. It’s through those who have committed to fast and pray for Esther that God empowers and affirms Esther before she approaches the King. Which is why we’ve been encouraging prayer partners this fall. In praying out loud with others we have the opportunity to experience God’s love and empowerment in a new way specifically in the act of praying with and for someone else out loud.
It’s unlikely that we will be in a position like Esther’s where we potentially have the power and the influence to save an entire people group. But we are always in a position to help someone.
The quote on the bulletin this morning is once again from Pastor Eugene Cho: “We long for justice to run like a mighty river but more often than not, it begins with a trickle. Be that trickle. Do your part. Start where you’re at. Listen to the pain around you. Grow in empathy. Be a good neighbor. Seek justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.”
Our program staff decided on the theme “Prayerful Action” for our fall sermon series because we tend to do one of two things, we act before praying or we pray without acting. We need to do both. And just as Esther had the prayers of her people we need to be praying together. We need to ask God to make us better listeners to the pain around us. We need to prayerfully ask God to help us grow in empathy. We need to prayerfully ask God how we can better love our neighbor and how we can better love kindness right where we’re at. Because when we prayerfully ask for these things we are walking humbly with our God.
Our world could use more examples of Christ’s humility and love right now. I also want to clarify that being a witness to Christ’s humility and love doesn’t mean we side step difficult conversations or stop speaking out against injustices. Jesus did those things too. Jesus also invited himself over for dinner at the home of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who was seen as a traitor to his own people. And you know what? He was. And yet Jesus built a relationship with him and loved him, but also helped him see the error of his ways.
I don’t have to tell you that we are so polarized as a nation. In our “cancel culture” world we are encouraged to unfollow, unfriend or literally stop talking to our neighbors if we don’t agree with them. I know many of you aren’t talking to family members, and have lost friends. I’m so sorry that’s happened.
I know we’ve all been taught that it’s not polite to bring up politics or religion in conversation. So basically we’ve avoided learning how to have civil conversations with those with whom we disagree. It may seem like a small thing, but maybe our prayerful action is to simply ask someone to share their story and how they came to see the world as they do especially if they have a different worldview than you. Something so small could be the start of something big. Something as big as slowly narrowing the great divide that currently exists in our families, our neighborhoods, our community and our country. Whatever it is we are called to do we are all called to be a part of Christ’s healing justice in the world. For such a time as this Christ has called you to be exactly where you are to be an instrument of his peace.