More Than Meets The Eye - Esther 4
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See if this sounds familiar. You live your life, you try to be a good person. You’ve been to church, you’ve heard some of the rules – maybe you don’t read your bible everyday, but you have a general sense of what’s expected, what it means to be a good person. Maybe not entirely on the gray areas, but in general – you know what’s right and wrong. But then there is someone in your life who is doing what is wrong. If it’s the little things, we tend to let it slide – don’t make waves, we barely even think about it. We get really good at pretending that nothing is happening. But for the bigger issues – we feel like we should speak up, we have this sense that we have a responsibility, especially if it’s family. Kids starting to experiment sexually, or getting in trouble with alcohol or drugs. Husband or wife not showing up at work, depressed or something. Abusive, maybe. Family problems. Gambling problems, Work problems Drinking problems, bad money decision problems. Brother, sister, husband, wife, cousin – whatever, when someone around us does something wrong or is doing something wrong - we feel like we should speak up. But there is one phrase. One string of words that paralyzes us more than any other – “It’s not my place.”
We want to help, we want to make a difference in the world, we want to say something, do something – but I’m just not sure if it’s my place. So what do we do? We gossip. We turn to one another and talk about the person or talk about the issue – but never to the person about the issue. We have this extremely hands-off approach to community. We’ve heard the stories. If I mention it, if I bring it up – it will only make things worse. If I set boundaries for my kids about drugs and alcohol and sex – they’ll freak out and go the other way. They’ll walk away from me. That’s the big fear, isn’t it? That people will walk away from us. If I push my husband about his drinking, if I push my wife about her spending habits, if I speak up, if I give a hint that I have an opinion, that I care, that I worry, that I disagree – they might walk away. And it’s true, if we do it the wrong way – they will walk away. That’s the world we live in. There’s no commitment anymore, there’s no binding social contract. And so we hide – we hide inside the words – “It’s not my place.”
But here’s the thing - we were not meant to be beaten by the world, we were not meant to be overcome, or crushed, or defeated. We are supposed to run away or hide from who we are meant to be. We were not designed to cower – we were made for something more. We are God’s children, and our God is awesome. We were made to rise. You are the underdog, this life is your story. And so today, following our Chronological study - we are going to look at one of the greatest underdogs in history. Not a man, but a young woman named Esther. Let’s take a look.
Now I always find it helpful to orient ourselves in the story of Israel, and if you remember from the last couple of weeks - we are in the exilic period. First they had the united kingdom - king David, King Solomon. Then there was civil war and the divided kingdom - with prophets constantly telling the kings what they were doing wrong, and the kings ignoring the prophets. And then we get to the exile. A series of empires - Assyrian, then Babylonian, then Persian - come in and wipe out the country of Israel. They take all the people, uproot them, and then deport them far away to serve as servants in the capital of the empire. You might remember Daniel - with the Lion’s den and all that - that was during the Babylonian Exile. Esther is another exile book. She and her Jewish people are living in a strange land controlled by people with strange customs. Her faith is dangerous and her obedience to God makes life challenging. But here’s what’s really cool about the book of Esther. Esther is the only book in the entire bible where God is not mentioned. God does not say or do ANYTHING directly, and yet somehow his fingerprints are all over this story. Scholars use the phrase, “this is a story of remarkable coincidences” to show us a different kind of action from God. This is brand new for us so far. In everything we’ve read in the Bible - it’s super obvious for us to find the ways God is working, because in every story up until now there is character called God and he did stuff. God parted the Red Sea, God spoke to the prophets, God shows up and does stuff - but in Esther, God is in the details. In a way, this makes Esther one of the most relatable stories for us - because this is how God prefers to work in our lives here today. With rare exceptions, God doesn’t really do the burning bush things so much anymore in our world. God chooses to work behind the scenes. God is in the details. This is the first big teaching I want you to pull from this text. The “remarkable coincidences” of the story show us a different sort of action from God. Here - let me show you what I mean.
The book of Esther opens up with King Xerxes in the capital city of the empire of Persia. Now Xerxes is not necessarily a bad king, but he’s a little unstable, and when he’s angry - he’s unpredictable and that makes him dangerous. In the first two chapters, he gets drunk at a party and orders his wife the Queen to come out and show everyone how beautiful she was. She refused, and so he banished her forever. Now the King needs a new wife - anybody want to sign up for that? (Yikes). So the king’s servants go looking for a new wife for the king and they find Esther, a young Jewish woman. The king loved her, and he declared she was the new queen. Almost without warning, Esther is thrown into this position of power and influence that she never expected and maybe she never wanted.
Then we meet Haman and Mordecai. Haman is the King’s right hand man - very powerful, very influential, but also very jealous - Haman was a small man who hated when other people were the center of attention. Mordecai is Esther’s cousin, who actually adopted Esther when her parents died. He’s like a Father to Esther. Now Mordecai was a good servant, dutiful and obedient. He was working as a guard one day, and he overheard a plot to assassinate the king. Long story short - Mordecai tells Esther, Esther tells the king, they investigate - Mordecai is a hero, they write it down in the history books and we all move on. Now remember Haman. Haman is the right hand man, and Mordecai is the lowly guard - and suffice it to say that they don’t get along. At one point Haman tries to get Mordecai to bow down, to show him proper respect - because remember, Haman is a fancy celebrity and Mordecai is a conquered jewish exile. Mordecai refuses to bow down, and so Haman is determined to destroy Mordecai. Chapter 3 verse 5, [read v.5-6] So Haman’s solution is not to deal with Mordecai, but instead to destroy all Jews. Why is that always the solution for the big bad guys of history - my goodness. Haman goes full Bond Villian and hatches an evil plan. He goes to the King, does his thing and convinces the king that there’s a whole group of people who are evil, and they hate the king and they are dangerous and they all need to die. He gets the king to sign an order to kill all the jews.
Verse 13, the plan is enacted, [read v.13]. Killed, slaughtered AND annihilated - just in case one verb wasn’t enough for you. So it seems to me a pretty good time for the Jews to start panicking! Chapter 4 opens up, [read v.1]. So Mordecai is out there making a scene. He’s wearing a bag, he’s all dirty and ashy, and he’s wailing. Which is the most awkward, socially unacceptable form of exclamation, right? I can deal with yelling - angry yelling, chanting, happy yelling, cheering - but wailing? Yuck, that makes me uncomfortable. And it made Esther uncomfortable too, [read v.4]. She sees her cousin wailing, and her response to the genocide of her people - she sends him clothes! “Mordecai! Cover up, stop making such a fuss, this is embarrassing!” Esther is in DEEP denial. It’s so easy, so tempting to just ignore, pretend you don't see what’s really going on.
I mean, that’s what Esther thought! She thought, “I can’t do this - I can’t do anything." Mordecai pushes her, “you’re the queen, go talk to the king.” And she comes up with all these excuses, but then we hit the pivotal moment in verse 14. Esther says, “I can’t do it - I might die.” And Mordecai responds, [read v.14]. Now there are two HUGE pieces of this verse I want you to catch. First, he says “Look, God’s going to get it done. God’s going to protect his people - with our without you.” We’ll come back to that one, and the second part - I love the last sentence. Mordecai says, “perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” Maybe all this weird, complicated story, this strange path that life has taken - maybe this IS God working in your life. You are where you are on purpose. Do you hear the way that that echoes from Esther’s life all the way up into your life right here, right now today? It’s pretty cool, right? This is the second big teaching I want you to grab this morning - Wherever you are, whatever your situation is - do what you can with what God has given you to work with. I think a lot of us assume, “well - I’m not there yet.” We assume - once I get to a certain level, then I will be ready to start working for God in the world. Once I achieve a certain level of spiritual maturity I can handle talking about Jesus to my friends. Once I know my bible good enough, once my prayer life is incredible - THEN I will be ready to get out there and share God’s love. But what if where you are at right now IS the mission field God has given you? Perhaps you are where you are, for such a time as this. There’s an old line from a really famous book called “Lord Of The Rings.” This is really nerdy, but it totally applies - the main character, Frodo, is exhausted and terrified of what he needs to do and he says, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” And Gandalf, the wise wizard, comes back at him with this, “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” That’s what Mordecai is telling Esther, and what God is telling each of us here this morning at Aldersgate Church. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
So Esther decides to give it a shot. Yes, I will go before the king, and if I die, then I die. So she invites the King and his right hand man Haman to dinner. “Come on over, I’ll cook you some dinner and we can talk about not committing genocide against my people, sounds like fun - right?” So she cooks dinner, the King comes over, Haman comes (and he’s feeling pretty good, because he got invited) - and the moment comes… and she chickens out. The king literally says, “What can I do for you, ask me anything.” Chapter 5 verse 7, [read v.7-8]. Esther tried and she failed. She couldn’t go for the goal, so she punted the ball down the field. Come back tomorrow. So close! But she couldn’t do it. But the food must have been good, because the King agrees to come back the next day. We get to chapter seven, and we’re back; dinner, king, bad guy Haman, Esther, and the moment comes - and she finally does it. She approaches the king, he lowers the scepter, she tells him Haman’s plot to kill the Jews and the King responds. Instead of killing the Jews, the King has Haman killed in the same way Haman was planning on killing the Jews. I think they pronounce that “karma” - although Christians would call that God’s justice. It took two tries, it took failure, fear, retreat, and then courage to get it done - but Esther saved the people of Israel.
But hold on a second, there’s a missing piece to the story. Remember how I said that this is a story of “remarkable coincidences” where God is moving in the details? Well we sort of skipped chapter 6. Chapter 5 is the first dinner, where Esther chickens out. Chapter 7 is the second dinner, the next day. Chapter 6 is what happens that night. Listen to this, [read chapter 6:1]. This is so good. The king couldn’t sleep, and so he ordered a servant to bring a book of history, so it could be read to him. Because what’s a better way to knock yourself out than to have a servant read you a history book? The jokes write themselves. Verse 2, [read it]. So the king is sitting there in his jammies, listening to the history, and he is reminded about Mordecai and how he saved his life. On the night between the two dinners, the king just happened to have trouble sleeping, and the servant just happened to grab that history book and the story he heard just happened to be about the faithful jewish servant who saved his life. Do you see what they mean when they say “remarkable coincidences”? The never mention the name of God in this story, but he is stamped ALL OVER this book. God is in the details, always working in our lives. From the cosmic level of universes interacting all the way down to the microscopic level - God is working in the details. And not only is God working in the details, but do you see how Esther’s failure is actually PART of God’s success story? God used her failure, with some remarkable coincidences, he used her failure for his glory. And the message for US in the modern world is “do give up, just because you messed up.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - because it’s a great line - when God placed a call on your life, he already factored in your stupidity. Esther is a hero for us today, not because she was some brilliant leader who always knew what to do and never made any mistakes. No! Esther is a hero because she did the right thing - even when she didn’t want to. Even when she messed up the first time. Do what you can with what God has given us.
The good news for us this morning is that God empowers us with his silence. Let’s go back to verse 14, chapter 4, [read it]. I want to focus on the first part of the sentence. If you keep quiet, relief for the jews will arise from some other place. This is such an important teaching. God’s plan is never in jeopardy. Mordecai is telling Esther, God can do this without you - but this situation is your invitation. God’s plan is never in jeopardy, but he has invited you into the narrative. God empowers us in the silence. You see this a couple of times throughout scripture. When Jesus was marching into Jerusalem on a donkey and everybody was cheering, and the leaders told him, “Hey tell your followers to stop cheering.” Jesus responds, “if they keep quiet, the rocks will cry out.” You’re not going to stop the praises, and so this is your invitation to join. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, we have to get in the game, NOT because God needs us - but because he has invited us. Not because there’s no other way - but because this is the obedient way to follow Jesus.
So our response is to follow the example of Esther. Try and then try again. Have you ever tried to help someone and failed? You tried to talk to someone about their drug problem, or how they need to get off the couch and get a job, or how their gossiping hurts others – have you ever tried to help someone and you made things worse? You failed, and so you avoid it? I don’t want to deal with it, I don’t know what to do. The story of Esther teaches us that sometimes when we try to help, we will fail. Maybe we’ll get scared, or say the wrong thing, or say the right thing in the wrong way, or at the wrong moment. The message we find in these words is not – “get it right the first time.” That’s too much pressure, that paralyzes us and we never do anything because we are afraid to fail. But the message of Esther is to try and then try again. There is no failure when it comes to relationship – there is a first try and then a second try and then a third. When one method doesn’t work, try another. We are not perfect people who will always get it right the first time. I want to give you permission this morning to fail. I want you to get out there this week and fail. Try, fail, repent, ask forgiveness and then try again. We are broken people who will fail, we will make mistakes, we will hurt, we will slip up. But as people of grace, because God forgives all our sins, not just the first one, God keeps forgiving us, giving us another chance and so we can keep trying. Keep working to love the people around us. Try and then try again.
Here’s my challenge for you today. I want you to ask yourself this question: What is your “for such a time as this”? What is the situation right in front of your eyes that you’ve been trying to cover up and ignore? OR, better said - what is the situation you wish you weren’t in, and could that be an opportunity for God to work through you? So many of us think, “I can’t do God’s work until I fix this situation, or I get this job or I get out of this drama” - but I want you to ask, what if you are where you are on purpose? What is YOUR “for such a time as this”? Are your obstacles actually opportunities for you to get to work? Are your challenges a chance for change? What if we took the horrible situation we were in, and we starting looking for God in the details. How can God put you to work right now, right where you are? Let me give you a silly example. I was at a coffee shop this past week - Creation Coffee over on Tittabawassee. And it was a really weird day, the power kept going out in the building, and my computer was really struggling. Sometimes if I try to have it perform too many functions at the same time, it can seize up on me. So I was editing a video, uploading some stuff to the website, and trying to write my sermon - and the computer kept freezing. Now normally that just drives me crazy. I barely scratch my to do list because the technology is slow. But something was nagging in the back of my head. I got this little nudge - hey, what if when the computer freezes - you spent some time in prayer. You’ve been meaning to pray more and what if this annoyance, this obstacle was actually an opportunity. Now that’s a silly example - but if you open your eyes and start looking you might find where God can use you exactly where you are.
My second challenge for you today is the lay the groundwork. I know when a lot of us think about speaking up and saying hard things to people we love - even if it’s the right thing to do, a lot of us think, “It’s not my place.” And you know what? You’re right! It’s probably not your place to reach into someone else’s life. It’s not your place to tell others what to do or challenge them - until you make it your place. One of our core habits at Aldersgate church is something we call “Accountable Relationships” - and what that means is that we don’t just want to be a collection of people who all sit in the same direction on a Sunday morning. We want to have real connections, authentic relationships - and sometimes that means we challenge one another, pushing each other towards transformation in Jesus. But the truth is that you cannot be effective in transforming a stranger. If you want to help someone with ANYTHING, you need a foundation of love and respect before people will listen to you. A stranger yelling on the street is not helpful. If you want to help someone, you have to build up a foundation of trust and don’t just tell them you love them - show them that love. If we want to reach someone, we have to get past the walls they throw up in defense. It’s not your place, until you make it your place. We have to take that first step - we have to step boldly into vulnerability, before we can make a real difference in someone’s life. I think about Esther, and I wonder. Maybe it wasn’t a mistake when she didn’t bring it up at the first dinner. Maybe she was just laying the groundwork, establishing a relationship and a connection. You can’t just get into someone’s life and start with the hard conversations. You have to start from a place of love - and that usually means time, fellowship and probably food.
So my first challenge is for you to ask, “what is your “for such a time as this” - open your eyes to how your obstacles might be opportunities. And when you find the purpose of this present moment in your life, my second challenge is for you to lay the groundwork. Start loving people, because that’s the first step in transformation. Let’s pray.