Proper 21 Year B
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Waco
Sermon Audio Available Here
Rembrandt van Rijn's Ahasveros and Haman at the Feast of Esther
I had a beautifully illustrated picture Bible as a child (it’s still in my office!) It wasn’t complete by any means but it followed the big, best known stories of the Old and New Testaments. There weren't many heroines to follow, except, for the story of Queen Esther. Not only was she a lady, and in the Bible, she started out as a regular girl and ended up a queen and a hero! For a young girl it doesn’t get any better than that, just ask Walt Disney. And even as a child I realized that beneath the gold, the jewels, the fabulous robes and perfectly done up hair was a frightened, but brave young woman who saved her people.
Esther is interesting to me today for slightly more subtle reasons. Like this one: God, as a character, is entirely absent from the narrative. There is no description of God speaking, or acting throughout the entire book. Why then, when every other book in the Old Testament describes an active involved God, is Esther even in the Bible? Biblical scholars might disagree, but I think Esther gives us a little balance. For while there are no stage instructions for God to “enter stage right,” or lines to speak, the Jews have been celebrating God’s work through Queen Esther, for thousands of years. The festival is called Purim, and it leaves no doubt that the Jewish people see God very much active, if hidden, within this story.
There was a certain phrase that was popular in the last few years among some Christians. For a while there it seemed it was getting used constantly! Pastors asking their people: “where did God, show up and show off?” I have always been very uncomfortable with that phrase. Mostly because it too easily makes God into a vaudevillian performer. Where, in your life, this week was there a puff of smoke a drum roll and then God walked on stage with a huge sack of money and Lazarus by the hand!
God can show up that way, and our scriptures are full of instances where people felt sure God had shown up and definitely showed everyone else up. But Esther gives us a more everyday look at the work of God. One that resonates more deeply with my life experience. There are no staggering miracles for Esther. There is just a young Jewish woman to stands between the whole Jewish population and death. Esther’s story is about the small everyday miracles that happen when we stop relying on Earthly power and security, and instead put our faith in God’s way.
We don’t often focus on the everyday, small, brave acts of faith that turn into life changing miracles. We’re trained to look for those big showy miracles, a few loaves feeding 5 thousand people, a dead man walking whole and healthy from his tomb, a paralyzed woman leaping for joy, a blind man who can suddenly see. In college an old Jesuit professor who was trying to teach a bunch of self centered college students how to live like Christ. Trying to break through our apathy and surety that our “baptism was enough,” he told an amazing story of a man in Indonesian, the owner of a large successful corporation who lived in the same tiny apartment as his workers, who rode to work every day on a bicycle, who ate simple meals of noodles and vegetables and owned only one good suit. He donated the whole of his earnings above that simple living (the same one shared by his factory workers) to build schools, and health clinics throughout his impoverished country. We all wiggled a little uncomfortably in our seats, acutely aware that this Buddhist man was most definitely getting the WWJD thing better than we were.
Stories like that, and the stories of Jesus, of Paul’s trials, of Moses and the prophets can make living a holy life seem like an impossible task. And then we have Esther. What was it that made Esther a hero and saw her remembered for thousands of years? Simple bravery. The law said that the king could call his queens to him whenever he liked, but they could not come unsummoned into his presence. To do so, meant death. Esther though, young and foreign and with little power, trusted in something other than earthly power, she believed in something bigger than herself. Faithfulness to God, to her people, and to justice was more important than personal safety. And so she took a risk. I’m sure there were women in her court her urged her not to, who told her it was folly. I’m sure there were voices of doom.
But you know the phrase, nothing ventured, nothing gained? This is true for all people of God. We are called to look beyond ourself, beyond our own immediate gratification, our own selfish interests. We are called to think first about the people of God, about justice, about faithfulness. For some of us that may lead us to live like the Indonesian businessman, or like mother Theresa, Ghandi, or St. Paul.
But for most of us that call leads us to those small, everyday miracles that God works through our lives when we lift our eyes to what could be. When we dare to risk what common wisdom, and the ways of the world will say are foolish. This week we made manna bags as part of our Wednesday night activity. I worried that no one would bring supplies, what if we had nothing to PUT in those bags? So I decided to hedge things, to go get some supplies “just in case” none showed up. You can guess the end of this story. My little bag of “just in case” supplies? Utterly lost among the table piled high with the bounty that filled more manna bags than I’ve ever seen made at one time. Our own little miracle of the loaves and fishes in tinned meat and applesauce.
If you pray the daily offices from the Book of Common prayer there’s a phrase you probably know.
The officiant says: Our help is in the Name of the Lord; And the people respond: the maker of heaven and earth.
What would it be like for us if we truly allowed that one verse to shape our lives in community? To shape how we lived with one another, and with the living God? Might we risk a little more, dare a little more? Might we risk our own personal resources for the greater good with less trepidation? Might we find it easier to make sacrifices to work little daily miracles for those around us?
Our help is in the name of the Lord. Prudence in this day and age says “cut back,” “do with less,” “there isn’t enough.” And that might be true, if we were anyone else, but we are the family of God. For us, united as a family, there is NOT too little, if we trust in God and risk. For us there is another good, another goal. Beyond our own comfort, or power, or security. For us there is justice, there is risk. In the words of my favorite professor/adventurer there is a “leap of faith from the lion’s head” onto an invisible path that has always been there.
Esther was just one young woman. One woman who knew nothing she had, not her wealth or even her life, was her own. And laying them all at the feet of God as a fragrant, living sacrifice she gained the world. May we dare as much.