Wednesday, October 10, 2018

For a Time Such as This - Esther 4:3-14

Esther 4:3-14
Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” 12 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 

Having been a pastor for 38 years, I can say that I have preached on every single book of the Bible – except one.

If you are wondering why I am preaching on Esther today, I have to admit, that’s why.  It is the only remaining book of the Bible I have never preached on.

I’m not alone.  A lot of ministers have not preached from Esther.  There were those who did not believe it should be included in the Bible  -  for one thing, Esther and the Song of Solomon are the only two books of the Bible that does not mention God.

So let’s begin with a quick overview of the Book of Esther and what this book is about.

It starts with the King deciding to give a party for the men – no women are invited.  The Queen has her own party, women only, no men are invited.

I know, what kind of party are those?

Anyway, the king decides he wants to show off his queen because she is one hot lady – well, the Bible doesn’t put it that way, it says the King ordered his servants, “to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.

By the way, biblical scholars agree that the term “wearing her royal crown,” meant that was ALL she was wearing.  No clothes at all.  Just the crown. (IB, v3, page 837)

Queen Vashti refused.  Good for her.  She was not going to go to a party just to be put on show and to be sexually harassed. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe called Vashti's disobedience the "first stand for women’s rights.” 

Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that Vashti "added new glory to [her] day and her disobedience; demonstrating that ‘Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.’”

Well, the king didn’t like it that his Queen had disobeyed him, so he fired the Queen.  Not only that, but the king also made a law that women were to respect their husbands and that every man was to rule over his household – period.

Yep, king was old fashioned, but after all, this was 25 hundred years ago.

Everything went fine until the king realizes, he has no queen.  She he sends his servants to go out and look for one.  The only requirement is that she has to be good looking.

Yep, this king leaves a lot to be desired.

So all these beautiful women come in, and this is where Esther comes in.  Now she is smoking hot – or as the Bible puts it more delicately, she “had a lovely figure and was beautiful.”  The king picked her to be the queen.

As for Esther's backstory, she was an orphan who was raised by her righteous cousin, Mordecai.

As the story goes, Mordecai helps uncover a plot to kill the king, he tells Esther. Esther tells the king, and this earns Mordecai some Brownie points.

But, not enough Brownie points – because when Mordecai refuses to bow down to one of the king’s counselors, Haman, Haman goes to the king and says Mordecai is a Jew and all those Jews are trouble.  Let’s kill all the Jews in the kingdom. 

The king ponders this and says, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Sounds good to me, let’s do it.”

What the king doesn’t know is that Esther is a Jew.

Esther eventually approaches the king and he offers to give her whatever she wants.  She asks for a banquet for her and Haman the next day.  Yep – that king is still a party animal. 

Haman is excited about the massacre of the Jews that is about to happen.  He builds a special gallows to hang Mordecai.

But Haman’s hopes are dashed the following morning, when the king—remembering how Mordecai saved the king’s life—orders Haman to honor Mordecai and lead him in a parade through the town (which Haman very reluctantly does).

At a second banquet – yep, the parties are still going on - Esther asks the king to punish Haman for trying to kill her and her people—and the king does. Haman is hanged to death on the same gallows he had built for Mordecai.

Man, talk about irony.

The Jews of Persia massacre all of Haman's agents and supporters (roughly 75,000 people in all), Mordecai is made into the king's new counselor, and Purim becomes an official Jewish holiday to celebrate this story.

Good times, gang.  Good times.

Hmm… now that I retell this story, there may be a reason why I never preached about it.  This is a wild story.
But it is an important story because tells how Esther changed the course of history for an entire nation. 
And looking at her life can serve as an example of how we can make a difference. 
If you want to be an element of change in your family, in your community, in your school or work place, or change the world, here are two things that Esther teaches.
Two things that stand out.
The first is – know when to be silent.
In the business of advertising that the most successful ad campaigns don’t try to change people: they try to reflect how people are already feeling. Advertisers know that consumers won’t respond to an ad unless the ad is a response to them. This is why advertising companies spend so much time and money on market research. They want to “Listen” to the market and respond to it.
The story Esther teaches us the same lesson. If you want to be an element for change there are times when you must learn when to be silent and listen.
Esther listened to her mentor – her uncle Mordecai – and kept her mouth closed.
Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, didn’t tell the king she was a Jew because Mordecai had told her not to. (Esther 2:10).
Keeping her mouth closed preserved Esther’s life and enabled her to gain access to the king.
Sometimes, you have to be silent for a period of time.
You have to gather information, learn about the others involved, and sometimes even gather your own thoughts.
Proverbs teaches, “A fool gives full vent to one’s spirit, but a wise person quietly holds it back.” Proverbs 29:11
James, in his New Testament letter, wrote, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak.”
Whenever we see an unjust situation, it may well be that our first step is to be silent for a period of time.
However, there is a second principle we can learn from Esther.
First, know when to be silent,
Second, know when to Speak Up .
Perhaps you know the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was active in the anti-Hitler movement of the second world war. He was a German Lutheran Pastor who spoke up against Hitler; he worked as a double agent; and he was actively involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazi’s in 1943 and hanged on 9th of April 1945, just days before the end of the war.
But what Bonhoeffer’s life shows us, is that if we want to be elements for change, we must also learn when to speak up.
Esther also chose very carefully her time speak - - this was the third occasion she had approached the king. And then she came out with the hard truth. Esther said, "The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman" (Esther 7:6)
There comes a time when we must speak up for the truth and to speak loudly for justice.
We see evil, we need to speak up.

We see people abused, we need to speak up.

There comes a time in Esther’s story that she has been silent, but it is now time to speak up.  She is hesitant.  Uncle Mordecai tells her “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will die.”

And then Mordecai says these great words: “who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Queen Esther refused to let her people die. 
Before her, Queen Vasti refused to be sexually harassed.
Anytime we see injustice, there comes a time to speak out. 
We can be elements of change – in our families, at work or school, or in our nation.
We just need to speak out.