Litany for Hope


I wrote the following litany to be a part of the worship service at our presbytery meeting on July 12, 2016. I wrote it in early June … before Alton Sterling, before Philando Castile, before the murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, before the violence in Turkey and in Nice, France. As the pain and violence and distrust and abuse of power in the world around us continues to spiral out of control, our need for hope and for God’s peace grows. And so we pray – desperately and with light in our hearts – for that hope and peace.

If you desire, please feel free to use this litany in whatever way you need to. All I ask is that you credit it appropriately. Thanks, and God bless.

* Litany of Hope
Reader 1: From the voices of Scripture –
Reader 2: From psalms we’ve read and sung and prayed…
Reader 3: The Psalms boldly sing out,
“HOPE in the Lord!
Be strong!
Let your heart take courage!
HOPE in the Lord!”
ALL: We hear God’s words of HOPE. We hear the boldness of God’s CALL.

Reader 1: From the ancient echo of prophetic voices …
Reader 2: Isaiah, the Prophet, boldly declares,
“Those who HOPE in the Lord
Will renew their strength.
They will fly up on wings like eagles;
They will run, and not be tired;
They will walk and not be weary.”
ALL: We hear God’s words of HOPE. We hear the boldness of God’s CALL.

Reader 3: From the sermons of old …
Reader 1: Simon Peter boldly proclaims,
“My heart was glad and my tongue rejoiced.
Moreover, my body will live in hope,
Because you won’t abandon me to the grave,
Nor permit your holy one to experience decay.
You have shown me the paths of life;
Your presence will fill me with happiness.”
ALL: We hear God’s words of HOPE. We hear the boldness of God’s CALL.

Reader 2: From letters read over and over again …
Reader 3: To the Ephesians Christians and down through the ages, Paul boldly encourages,
“I pray that the eyes of your heart
Will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call,
What is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers,
And what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power
That is working among us believers.”
ALL: We hear God’s words of HOPE. We hear the boldness of God’s CALL.

Reader 1: We do indeed hear God’s words of HOPE.
Reader 2: We do indeed hear the boldness of God’s CALL.
ALL: But faith is about more than just hearing.

Reader 3: All around us, we see the world trying to tear itself apart –
Reader 1: Flood waters reaching devastating levels in a matter of hours …
Reader 2: Bullets flying and people dying in nightclubs, shopping centers, workplaces, schools …
Reader 3: Thousands of people fleeing the only lives they’ve ever known out of fear and desperation, fleeing into waters cold and dangerous, unwelcoming and deadly …
Reader 1: Countries and cities, provinces and regions where for far too long, violence and terror, conflict and rage, ruin and anguish have been the “normal way of life” …
Reader 2: Political posturing and finger-pointing and name-calling and an overall refusal to come to the table in peace that has left our political system in shambles …
Reader 3: Words of hate slung pointedly and deliberately at this group or that: refugees, Muslims, immigrants, the black community, the LGBTQ community, those who are poor, those who are homeless, those who struggle with mental illness, those who are “not like me” …

Reader 1: We see the headlines,
Reader 2: We see the news feeds,
Reader 3: We see the posts on social media,
ALL: But faith is about more than just seeing.

Reader 1: God calls to our hearts.
Reader 2: God calls to our minds.
Reader 3: God calls to our spirits.
ALL: God calls us to be people of bold faith, people of prophetic hope.

Reader 1: God calls to our talents.
Reader 2: God calls to our gifts.
Reader 3: God calls to our dreams.
ALL: God calls us to be people of bold faith, people of prophetic hope.

Reader 1: God calls us in the midst of our fears and our doubts.
Reader 2: God calls us in the face of our struggles and our failings.
Reader 3: God calls us in all our brokenness and messy humanity.
ALL: God calls us to be people of bold faith, people of prophetic hope.

Reader 1: Because we are not called to “leave well enough alone,”
ALL: God calls us to hope for a brighter future.
Reader 2: Because we are not called to let it all be “someone else’s problem,”
ALL: God calls us to hope for justice that is equal and unfailing.
Reader 3: Because we are not called to “maybes” and “not sures” and “I don’t knows,”
ALL: God calls us to hope as we confidently walk together, listening and discerning, leading and encouraging. God calls us with hope. God calls us to hope. God calls us for hope. And with the reassurance and the joy that that hope brings, we answer God’s call: HERE I AM. SEND ME.

Sunday’s sermon: Pride … And Not the Good Kind

Haman and Mordecai

Text used: Esther 6:1-12

  • Up until today, our Esther story has been fairly serious
    • A banished queen
    • A weak-willed king
    • A royal advisor on a major (and very evil) power trip
    • An entire people that have been sentenced to death
    • A young woman carrying the weight of it all on her shoulders
    • That’s a whole lotta heavy.
  • Today’s bit of the story = a little different → This is about as close to “comic relief” as the story of Esther gets, ya’ll. Today’s story involves a quirky little situation between King Ahasuerus, Haman, and Mordecai.
    • Kicks off with funny little bit right in verse 1: That same night, the king simply couldn’t sleep. He had the official royal records brought in, and his young male servants began reading them to the king.[1] → Did you catch that? The king was having trouble sleeping, so he had the official records brought in so his servants could read him to sleep with them. They’re that exciting. They’re that thrilling. They’re that … boring.
      • Better than counting sheep!
      • Hey, this story needed a little levity, right?
    • Okay, so as the servant boys were reading the royal records to the king, he heard something that was new to him: They came to the report about Mordecai informing on Bigthan and Teresh. (They were the two royal eunuchs among the guards protecting the king’s doorway, who secretly planned to kill King Ahasuerus.)[2] → Now, in order to understand this part, we actually have to go back a little bit.
      • May remember that at the beginning of this series, we were skipping around a little bit – didn’t read all of chs. 1, 2 or 4
        • Long chapters
        • Lots of names and details secondary to the main story
        • Basically, trying to save you a little headache
        • However, one of those little bits that we needed to skip over at the time is what we need to circle back to right now – end of ch. 2 (last 3 verses), occurs right after Mordecai offends Haman and Haman hatches his horrible plan: At that time, as Mordecai continued to work at the King’s Gate, two royal eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, became angry with King Ahasuerus. They were among the guards protecting the doorway to the king, but they secretly planned to kill him. When Mordecai got wind of it, he reported it to Queen Esther. She spoke to the king about it, saying the information came from Mordecai. The matter was investigated and found to be true, so the two men were impaled on pointed poles. A report about the event was written in the royal record with the king present.[3]
        • So Mordecai heard the two eunuchs plotting and saved the king’s life, and someone wrote it down in the royal record. … And then it was forgotten … until today.
    • Maybe it’s because he was in such a good mood (after Esther’s first feast and anticipating the second feast). Maybe it was the insomnia talking. Whatever the reason, King Ahasuerus suddenly became swept up in the idea that something drastic had to be done to honor and reward this man who had saved his life – Mordecai.
      • Saw Haman standing out in the courtyard waiting to be recognized and invited into the king’s presence
      • Quickly invited Haman in
      • Requested the counsel of one of his closest, most trusted advisors: When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man whom the king really wants to honor?”
        • Thinking, of course, of Mordecai as he said this
  • Now, here’s where another one of the broader themes in the book of Esther pops up. It’s a theme that we’ve encountered before, though not one that we’ve named outright as of yet. It’s the theme of pride … and, more specifically, the perils of pride.
    • Certainly good facets to pride
      • Taking pride in your work = work harder and do a better job
      • Showing your family, friends, kids that you’re proud of them conveys attentiveness – can show how much you love and care for them
      • Plenty of people take pride in where they come from:
        • Hometown
        • Alma maters
        • Country
        • Heritage
          • E.g. – story of Eileen and heritage → My mother-in-law has always been incredibly proud of the fact that she’s 100% Norwegian, and she’s always teased my father-in-law about having just a little bit of Swedish in him. He’s only 95% Norwegian! But lately, she’s been digging into family history, and she’s discovered that he’s actually got a lot of English ancestry. And while coming to terms with the fact that her children aren’t as thoroughly Norwegian as she thought they were, she’s also found some incredible bits of that English heritage to be proud of. Pride in heritage … it can be a funny thing!
    • But there is also an ugly side of pride.
      • Athletes so bent on winning that they cheat
        • Steroid scandals
        • Intentionally injuring other players – trying to “take them out”
        • Does anyone else remember “Deflategate”[4] back in 2015?
          • AFC Championship football game
          • New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
          • Patriots won the game → later found guilty of tampering with footballs to make them easier to throw, catch, grip in colder weather
        • Even darker side of pride gone wrong = pride in heritage taken too far
          • Pride of Nazis Aryanism → led to deaths of millions of Jews but also millions of Gypsies, people with disabilities, LGBT people, and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as the sterilization of mixed race children
          • Pride in white America throughout the centuries led to …
            • Slavery
            • Abominable Jim Crow laws
            • Segregation
            • Birth of such hateful and violent organization as the Klu Klux Klan and 433 other nationally recognized, race-based hate groups (according to report put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2013)[5]
  • This dark and all-consuming pride is the kind of pride that Haman had. Haman’s pride was what started the whole mess in the first place. Mordecai refused to bow to Haman … which hurt his pride … which prompted him to decide to have not only Mordecai but all of the Jews simultaneously and systematically murdered. You might also remember that Haman was boldly and brazenly displaying that pride at the end of our reading last week – bragging to his wife and all his friends about his wealth, about his family (about the fact that he had so many sons), about his position as the king’s advisor, and especially about the special feasts that he had been invited to with the king and with Queen Esther.
    • Today’s Scripture reading = particularly painful blow to Haman’s pride → When the king asked about displaying great honor for someone, Haman’s pride led him to immediately believe that the king could only be talking about himself.
      • Launched into a ridiculously lavish description: Have servants bring out a royal robe that the king himself has worn and a horse on which the king himself has ridden. … Have [that servant] personally robe the man whom the king really wants to honor and lead him on the horse through the city square. As he goes, have him shout, “This is what the king does for the man he really wants to honor!”[6]
        • Ancient Persian version of a tickertape parade
    • But poor Haman … the king wasn’t talking about him. When he spoke of a man whom the king wanted to greatly honor, he was talking about Mordecai – the man who had saved his life … the man who Haman had made into his arch enemy.
      • King even (unknowingly) adds ultimate insult to injury – instead of asking one of the servants to place the robe on Mordecai and lead the horse through the city and shout out Mordecai’s praise, King Ahasuerus asked Haman himself to do it → Haman himself had to place the robe on his enemy’s shoulders. Haman himself had to lead his enemy through the street in a position of greatest honor. Haman himself had to cry out the king’s praise and appreciation for his enemy. Can’t you just feel the shame burning in Haman’s cheeks and heart? Can’t you feel the humiliation twisting in his gut?
        • Text: Afterward, Mordecai returned to the King’s Gate, while Haman hurried home feeling great shame, his head covered.[7]
  • So where is God in this? What message do we hear about our faith in this story of Haman’s pride and shame?
    • Warning about pride, especially in relation to faith
      • Verse from Prov: Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall.[8]
      • More contemporary version (and probably the only time you’ll ever hear me quote the timeless and eloquent Meat Loaf – 1980’s rocker – in a sermon): “The truth is hard to swallow if you’re choking on your pride.”[9] → As we said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with having a healthy pride in aspects of our lives and ourselves, and that includes our faith. Our faith has been tested and tried throughout history and throughout our own lives, and there is power in the legacy of our faith as well as the way that faith has lifted us up and sustained us. It is an integral part of who we are and how we go about being in this world – our words, our actions, and everything in between.
        • Similar to pride in our heritage (where we come from) – spiritual heritage
      • BUT … pride in our faith can be taken too far as well.
        • Crusades throughout the Middle Ages
          • Purpose: regaining control of Jerusalem (Holy Land) from Muslim rulers
          • Hundreds of bloody battles and unspeakable atrocities committed … all in the name of God
        • Spanish Inquisition
          • Purported purpose: quell heresy
          • Way it ended up being use: tool of fear and manipulation, neighbor against neighbor, petty payback, often directed at people who were different
            • Jews
            • Muslims
            • Scientists/free thinkers
            • Anyone who thought differently than the Church
          • In America: Salem witch trials – similar to Spanish Inquisition
            • Purpose: rid themselves of “presence of the devil” within their midst
            • Way it ended up being use: tool of fear and manipulation, neighbor against neighbor, petty payback, often directed at people who were different
              • Widows
              • Natural healers
              • Scientists/free thinkers
              • Anyone who didn’t align with the Puritan beliefs
    • Friends, there’s a difference between healthy pride and fanatical pride. Healthy pride gives us purpose – a sense of empowerment and honor and satisfaction in who we are and what we do. Fanatical pride closes our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the world around us. It tells us that my way is the only “right” way, and that everything else is not only wrong but dangerous. As a nation, pride has us spiraling out of control, refusing to come to the table with those who hold a different belief, different opinion, different worldview than ourselves. We are becoming more and more isolated from each other because we refuse to open ourselves up to the possibility that there might be something we don’t know, something we don’t understand.
      • World of social media and online pseudo-news sources (“pseudo” because they purposefully only present one side of the issue) allows us to surround ourselves with only facts, articles, opinions that support our opinions and our beliefs → feeding not only our pride but our distrust and contempt for “the other side”
        • Blue Feed vs. Red Feed” interactive comparison graphic going around Facebook – compares “red side” posts and “blue side” posts about the same topics → shows just how much we insulate ourselves with the media/pseudo-news that we choose
    • “Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall.” God created us to be in relationship with each other – to reflect God’s own love and grace, forgiveness and joy in the way that we see one another and treat one another. We cannot let our pride choke that truth from our hearts, our lives, and especially from our prayers. Amen.

[1] Est 6:1.

[2] Est 6:2.

[3] Est 2:21-23.

[4] “Deflategate” from Wikipedia, Accessed July 14, 2016.

[5] Amanda Macias, “This Map Shows Where America’s Hate Groups Live and Operate” from The Business Insider website, Published Mar. 4, 2014, accessed July 14, 2016.

[6] Est 6:8, 9 (emphasis added).

[7] Est 6:12.

[8] Prov 16:18.

[9] Meat Loaf, “Did I Say That?” from Couldn’t Have Said It Better, released 2003.

Sunday’s sermon: Creative Opposition

MLK Jr quote

Text used – Esther 5:1-14

  • Continuing with Esther today
    • Now that we’re about halfway through the book of Esther, does anyone else feel like the story’s been all downhill so far?
      • First drop: Queen Vashti stripped of her title and banished for refusing the answer the king’s arrogant, drunken summons
      • Second drop: Esther made queen but did so by hiding her background and her family – by hiding the fact that she is a Jew
      • Third drop: Mordecai’s defiance of Haman (refusal to bow) and Haman’s revenge (plan to annihilate not just Mordecai but all the Jews)
      • Fourth drop (last week): Esther’s reticence to get involved (fear of approaching King Ahasuerus when she hadn’t been summoned)
      • Certainly every good story has to involve conflict and challenge. There’s got to be something to overcome … something sort of problem or complication or crisis. But come on! How much more conflict and crisis can one story take, right?
    • Fortunately, in the part of Scripture that we just read this morning, the story of Esther is starting to turn around.
      • Today’s portion of the story = all about good beginning to counteract that bad
  • Bad-to-good flip: the suggestibility of King Ahasuerus → We’ve talked a number of times throughout this series about how weak and pliable King Ahasuerus was and about how detrimental the king’s suggestibility had been.
    • Weak will/suggestibility led to …
      • Banishment of Queen Vashti à advisors’ idea, not the king’s: Then Memucan spoke up in front of the king and the officials. … “Now, if the king wishes, let him send out a royal order and have it written into the laws of Persia and Media, laws no one can ever change. It should say that Vashti will never again come before King Ahasuerus. It should also say that the king will give her royal place to someone better than she.” … The king liked the plan, as did the other men, and he did just what Memucan said.[1]
      • Haman’s evil and vindictive plot against Mordecai becoming law: Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, … “If the king wishes, let a written order be sent out to destroy them, and I will hand over ten thousand kikkars of silver to those in charge of the king’s business. The silver can go into the king’s treasuries.” The king removed his royal ring from his finger and handed it to Haman. … The king said to Haman, “Both the money and the people are under your power. Do as you like with them.”[2]
      • Safe to say 2 of the lowest points in the story so far → both caused by king’s weak-willed suggestibility
    • Today’s text – Esther begins to set up her own opportunity to suggest that King Ahasuerus take action
      • Dressed in her finest clothes “and stood in the inner courtyard of the palace, facing the palace itself,”[3] just waiting for the king to notice her and invite her in
        • Done very deliberately to circumvent law we talked about last week: Any man or woman who comes to the king in the inner courtyard without being called is to be put to death.[4]
      • Invited king and Haman to special feast – king’s response: “Hurry, get Haman so we can do what Esther says.” → at first feast (today’s story), invites king and Haman to a second feast on the following day so Esther can tell the king what she wants
        • Age-old adage: “A way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Hmmm … Esther may not be so far off here because not only does she have the king eager to hear and grant her request, she’s also got Haman all excited. – text: Haman boasted … “Queen Esther has invited no one else but me to join the king for food and drinks that she has prepared. In fact, I’ve been called to join the king at her place tomorrow!”[5]
  • Another bad-to-good flip = Esther’s courage/presence → When we left Esther at the end of last week’s Scripture reading, she was timid and afraid. Mordecai had ordered her to go to King Ahasuerus and ask him to save the Jews from the utter destruction that Haman was planning, but because of the law (and probably also because she was hesitant to be exposed as a Jew herself), Esther didn’t want to do that. While Mordecai talked her into taking this risk, she remained far from enthusiastic about it. And yet, in our text for this morning, we find Esther confident. We find her strong. We find her seemingly in control – of herself and of the situation.
    • Much more heroine-esque
    • Find Esther coming at “the problem” (Haman’s law to annihilate all the Jews”) from a different angle → Last week, when we read that Mordecai ordered Esther to go to the king and request that the Jews be saved, I think we can assume that this wasn’t necessarily the approach that Mordecai had in mind.
      • Probably was thinking of something more direct
      • Maybe expected Esther to throw herself on the king’s mercy …
        • Go to the king weeping
        • Reveal her own “family background and race” (as Scripture put it)
        • Beg the king to have mercy on her and her people and to spare them from this horrible fate
      • But obviously, this is not Esther’s plan. She has thought this out. She has planned and prayed and fasted and formulated a whole different approach – creative opposition to Haman’s hatred and evil. → powerful witness in this seemingly-simple act
        • Witness to just how strong and faithful and intelligent she could be → in turn, inspirational for other women throughout the ages who have read this story
          • Remember how disparaged the place of women was at the beginning of this story? – the whole reason Vashti was deposed and banished (according to king’s advisor): “News of what the queen did will reach all women, making them look down on their husbands. … There will be no end of put-downs and arguments. … When the order becomes public through the whole empire, vast as it is, all women will treat their husbands properly.”[6] → In enacting this plan of hers – in daring to take matters into her own hands – Esther gives strength and voice to all those women who had been long-silenced, long-subjugated, and long-scorned. In the face of the widely held belief that women should be seen and not heard, Esther uses being seen and heard to her advantage, not for own personal gain but for the wellbeing of an entire people.
            • Takes a strength
            • Takes a confidence
            • Where did Esther find these things? In those three days of fasting – in coming to God in humility, in need, and in prayer.
            • Found courage to step out and to speak out in her faith
  • Friends, I know I’m not the only one in this room this morning who is exhausted – who’s spirit is weary and worn down by the headlines that we have seen this week: Alton Sterling … Philando Castile … the police officers killed in Dallas – Brent Thompson … Patrick Zamarripa … Michael Krol … Michael Smith … Lorne Ahrens. As I sat and worked on this sermon last night, I did so in the midst of the news of protestors shutting down I-94 in St. Paul and their struggle with police – firecrackers and bottles that were thrown, smoke bombs that were deployed, officers injured, protestors arrested.
    • No words for the way that this violence seems to have spiraled out of control → kind of events that leave us aching and empty, disconcerted and grieving, bewildered and in shock
    • Kind of events that lead to …
      • A society based on fear
      • A society based on mistrust
      • A society based on retaliation
      • But brothers and sisters, this is not the people that God created us to be. We are created to be people of grace. We are created to be people of love. And yet we are also created to be people of justice … far from the selective justice that seems to be going around now-a-days.
        • Last week, Mordecai convinced Esther to act by saying to her, “Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.”[7] → “Maybe God has a plan for you in all of this. Maybe there is some special work for you to do – work that will bring justice and peace to those of us who have been oppressed and condemned. Maybe, in this moment, it is your turn to speak out. To act. To change the world.” And in our part of the story today, friends, Esther did it. She acted. With those who were hurting – those who had been oppressed and badgered and pushed to the breaking point – with them in mind, she found a creative way to oppose what was happening and what was going to happen.
          • Hear God saying to us: Maybe it was for a moment like this that you were created – a moment to speak out against violence, against racism and the racial profiling that has led to so many unnecessary deaths, against whole idea of lumping all kinds of people (be they black people, police officers, or anyone else) into one judgment based solely on the actions of a few … a moment to oppose what is swiftly becoming a culture of fear and mistrust, retaliation and violence … a moment to reach out to your neighbor with open arms instead of closed fists
    • One of today’s assigned lectionary readings happens to be Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan[8] – story of the man beaten and left for dead by the side of the road
      • Passed up by the expected “good guys”, the acceptable people (priest and Levite/judge)
      • Helped and cared for by none other than a Samaritan – the outcast, the enemy, the “wrong crowd” kind of guy
      • Story Jesus told in response to simple question: “Who is my neighbor?”
        • Question that has led to creative opposition throughout the ages – Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, those who helped escaped slaves reach freedom via the Underground Railroad, those who helped thousands of Jews escape the Nazis during the Holocaust → people who refused to accept that “the way things are” is the way things have to be, people who first asked “who is my neighbor” before asking “what’s best/easiest/safest/most beneficial for me”
        • Just like these people throughout history who have struggled against injustice, Esther struggled. Esther feared. Esther worried. Esther had doubts and hesitations. But when she was confronted with injustice – with pain and violence and suffering – she refused to sit idly by. Despite her fears and hesitations, Esther sought a creative opposition.
          • SPOILER ALERT: not a perfect analogy because end of Esther’s story is far from peace-filled and non-violent
            • Foreshadowing of this in Haman’s boasting today: Haman liked [his wife’s idea] and had the [seventy-five foot high spiked pole] prepared.[9] → spiked pole that will come into play later on in much different role that Haman intends
            • Still, Esther approached problem from a different angle
    • I think we’ve seen more than enough of violent reactions and retaliations just in the past week alone. It’s time for us to stop asking “Who can I blame?” and start asking “Who is my neighbor?” It’s time for us to stop coming to the conversation with clenched fists and come instead with open hands. It’s time for us to take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize our own fears, our own struggles, our own hesitations and preconceived notions and prejudices and how those affect the way we see other people.
      • Quote from MLK, Jr.: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. → Darkness and hate have been the automatic, go-to response for too long … far too long. It’s time we come together in creative opposition – dressed in our finest with feasts prepared, with light, with love, asking “Who is my neighbor?” Amen.

[1] Est 1:16, 19, 21.

[2] Est 3:8, 9-11.

[3] Est 5:1.

[4] Est 4:11.

[5] Est 5:11, 12.

[6] Est 1:17, 18, 20a.

[7] Est 4:14.

[8] Lk 10:25-37.

[9] Est 5:14.

July 2016 Newsletter piece

election season

137 days.

“Just” 137 more days.


That’s how many days we have left (as of today – June 23) in our current political season.

137 days.

I’m not going to shock anyone when I say that this one has already been a doozy, folks. Within the next 30 days, both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention will convene in Cleveland, OH and Philadelphia, PA (respectively). And if we thought things were crazy before, just wait ………

Somehow, as a nation, we seem to have forgotten how to compromise, how to share, how to “just get along.” The mudslinging started months ago, first between candidates in the same party. Soon, this will progress to across-the-aisle mudslinging. We will be inundated with ads – on television, on the radio, online, and in our mailboxes – trying to convince us that “the opponent” is wrong. Some of the political action committees and campaigns may even throw in the word “evil.” At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me.

When they go to school, we teach our children to share. We teach them to play nice. We teach them to listen to their teachers – the people who know more than they do, the authority figures – so they can learn and grow. We teach them to listen to their friends so they can build strong and healthy relationships.

And yet what kind of example have we been setting?

Finger-pointing …
Name-calling …
Villainizing …

As adults – as a nation – we might as well be sticking our fingers in our ears, closing our eyes, and shouting, “La la la la la la!! I can’t hear you!!”

I think our children may be better behaved than we are.

We have forgotten what Scripture teaches us.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks these challenging and unforgettable words: “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” (Mt 5:43-48)

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul says, “But why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you look down on your brother or sister? We all will stand in front of the judgment seat of God. Because it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God. So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. … So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.” (Rom 14:10-13, 19)

We don’t have to agree with each other. We don’t all have to vote the same way or support the same candidate. Our differences are exactly what are supposed to make democracy such a wonderful thing – representatives from all walks of life coming together to build a better city, state, nation, world.  But in order to this to work the way that it was intended, we have to remember to be kind to each other and to respect each other.

Even when we disagree.
Even when we are “voting for the other person.”
Even when we have trouble understanding the opposite point of view.

Pastor Lisa sign

Sunday’s sermon: A Desperate Cry

Esther 4.14

Text used – Esther 4:1-17

  • Recap of last week’s chapter of the Esther story
    • Introduced last main character – Haman, one of King Ahasuerus’ most important advisors, definitively evil villain of our story
    • Conflict btwn. Haman and Mordecai
      • As advisor, law requires everyone to bow down to Haman
      • Mordecai = Jew → refuses to bow down to anyone other than God (Remember that 1st commandment? “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not bow down to anyone or anything on this earth” … other human beings included.)
      • Haman doesn’t take the blow to his ego well → instead of choosing to “just” kill Mordecai for his insolence, Haman decides to kill all Mordecai’s people – all the Jews
      • Shrewdly proposes idea to King Ahasuerus – disinterested response: “Do as you like with [the Jews.]”[1] → gives Haman his own signet ring
      • Decree is written and sent out to all the corners of the kingdom and sealed with the king’s own seal (from ring) → plan: all the people in all the different cities and provinces of Persia are to converge on the Jews on “the thirteenth day of the twelfth month”
        • “Wipe out, kill, and destroy all the Jews, both young and old, even women and little children”[2] and steal their property
    • Chapter ended with Haman and the king carelessly having a drink together while the rest of the city of Susa is in shock over the decree
  • Pick up with today’s part of the story – powerful, powerful portion of Esther: Jews’ reaction to Haman’s evil plan and Mordecai and Esther’s reactions in particular
    • Period of great lament
      • Mordecai “tore his clothes, dressed in mourning clothes, and put ashes on his head. Then he went out into the heart of the city and cried out loudly and bitterly.”[3]
      • “in every province and place where the king’s order and his new law arrived, a very great sadness came over the Jews. They gave up eating and spent whole days weeping and crying out loudly in pain. Many Jews lay on the ground in mourning clothes and ashes.”[4]
      • And who can blame them?! Haman’s plan was so hateful, so evil, so sweeping … and so blatantly arrogant. Remember, he sent the notices of what was to happen to the Jews out to all the land to be posted in the public places (text last week: “A copy of the order was to become law in each province and to be posted in public for all peoples to read.”[5]) These are the same public places that Jews frequented on a daily basis along with everyone else. Haman had to know that the Jews would find out about his horrible scheme. Maybe he wanted them to feel the weight of his decree looming over them before that awful day. Maybe he didn’t think they were capable of doing anything about it. Or maybe he just didn’t care. Whatever the case, by posting this notice, Haman’s attack on the Jews had already begun.
    • Probably the only person in the whole Persian empire who doesn’t know about Haman’s plot = Esther
      • Sequestered in the castle with her female servants and eunuchs charged with her care → brought her word about Mordecai mourning the way he was
      • Esther eventually sends Hathach, one of the eunuchs, to find out what is going on with Mordecai → after talking to Mordecai, Hathach fills Esther in on Haman’s plan
    • But a simple explanation isn’t the only word that Hatach brought to Esther from Mordecai – text: Through him Mordecai ordered her to go to the king to seek his kindness and his help for her people.[6]
      • Esther’s reaction to this command = FEAR: “Any man or woman who comes to the king in the inner courtyard without being called is to be put to death. Only the person to whom the king holds out the gold scepter may live. In my case, I haven’t been called to come to the king for the past thirty days.”[7]
      • Now, from the way the text reads, Mordecai’s response to Esther’s objection is harsh – a painfully candid comeback: “”Don’t think for one minute that, unlike all the other Jews, you’ll come out of this alive simply because you are in the palace. 14 In fact, if you don’t speak up at this very important time, relief and rescue will appear for the Jews from another place, but you and your family will die. But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.”[8] → “Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” Friends, this is what I like to call “God’s plan theology” at its strongest. In the face of tragedies, one of the most common and yet most unhelpful sentiments expressed often goes along the lines of, “Well, God has a plan … we just can’t understand it right now.”
        • Been called unhelpful by people that have heard these words time and time again
        • Think about how those words come across when you’re dealing with the loss of a child, for e.g. → makes it sound like God, instead of being a comfort in the midst of grief, is a fickle puppet master with some grand script from which God refuses to deviate
        • Flip side: belief that God desires and intends good for us (Jer 29:11 – “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.”) but that in a world of free will and brokenness and sin, bad things still happen that derail God’s good plan for us → It is in this way that we can read empowerment and hope and conviction into Mordecai’s words to Esther: “Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.” Maybe it was for a moment like this – a moment in which you could do extreme good in the face of extreme evil, a moment in which the fate of an entire people could be saved, a moment in which you must choose to either shrink back or step boldly forward and follow God. “Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family.”
      • Mordecai’s words are enough to shock … encourage … maybe even a little bit guilt Esther into action:
        • Through Hathach the eunuch (still ferrying word back and forth btwn. Esther and Mordecai), Esther commands all Jews to fast for 3 days in solidarity with herself and her female servants – “to give up eating to help me be brave.”[9]
        • Esther’s plan = to risk not only her newly-acquired status as queen but also her very life by approaching King Ahasuerus even though she had NOT been summoned and speak up for her people – text: “Then, even though it’s against the law, I will go to the king; and if I am to die, then die I will.”[10]
          • Friends, notice for a moment that this is storytelling at it’s best! There is a delicious irony in this plan: Vashti’s hardship and heartbreak began when she refused to come to the king when she was summoned → Esther teeters on the edge of hardship and heartbreak for going to the king when she hadn’t been summoned
  • I think this portion of Esther is one of the easiest sections in which we can find both God and ourselves.
    • In this chapter, we find mourning. We find despair. We find fear. We find desperation. We find those moments in our own lives when everything seems to be going wrong – when it seems like the deck is stacked against us no matter what we do, and we have no idea how we’re going to make it through another minute … hour … day.
      • Find it on a personal scale – description of Mordecai’s own grief
      • Find it on a larger, more profound scale – description of reaction of all the Jews throughout Persian empire → brings to mind …
        • Recent terrorist attacks in Turkey and Bangladesh
        • Flooding in West Virginia
        • Mass shooting in Orlando
        • All deaths that have given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement – Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, and so many more
        • All those times when we are overwhelmed by the suffering in the world and feel powerless in the face of that suffering → “I’m just one person. What difference could I possibly make?”
    • And yet we also find strength. We find empowerment. We find hope. We find a fighting spirit willing to take on an epically daunting task. “Maybe it was for a moment like this …”
      • Hear so many of the psalms echoing through this chapter of Esther this morning → Biblical scholars classify roughly 65 of the 150 psalms as “psalms of lament” – psalms that cry out to God in desperation and despair – but even before that cry has fully left the lips of the psalmists, there is also praise. The entire psalm can be about enemies and suffering and pain and desolation, but woven throughout will be words of hope and trust in God’s goodness and mercy.
        • Ps 18: Death’s cords were wrapped around me; rivers of wickedness terrified me. The cords of the grave surrounded me; death’s traps held me tight. In my distress I cried out to the LORD; I called to my God for help. God heard my voice from his temple; I called to him for help, and my call reached his ears.[11]
        • Ps 69: And me? I’m afflicted. I’m full of pain. Let your salvation keep me safe, God! 30 I will praise God’s name with song; I will magnify [God] with thanks.[12]
        • Ps 40: Countless evils surround me. My wrongdoings have caught up with me— I can’t see a thing! There’s more of them than hairs on my head— my courage leaves me. … I’m weak and needy. Let my Lord think of me. You are my help and my rescuer. My God, don’t wait any longer![13]
        • This is where we find God in this portion of Esther. God’s is right there in the midst of the people – tearing God’s own garments, sitting in ashes, fasting and weeping and crying out. And all the while, remaining that source of hope: “Maybe it was for a moment like this …”
  • Just yesterday, learned of the death of author, Nobel peace laureate and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel → “Born in Romania, Wiesel was 15 when he was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland with his family in 1944. [He] was later moved and ultimately freed from the Buchenwald camp in 1945. Of his relatives, only two of his sisters survived.”[14] Wiesel spent the rest of his life advocating for peace, for human rights, and for all to be treated with basic human decency. After suffering such horrific hardships, Wiesel could have easily tried to “go back to life as usual” following his liberation. He could have remained quiet. He could have said to himself, “I’m just one man. What difference can I possibly make?” But he didn’t. He stepped out. He spoke out. He followed God into the unknown, trusting in God’s plan for good while always keeping in mind just how terrifyingly derailed that plan can become in the midst of powerful evil. As we sit with this story of Esther, as we wrestle with the presence of evil and suffering in this world and how we can respond to that suffering, I want to leave you with a powerful quote from Elie Wiesel this morning: “Look, if I were alone in the world, I would have the right to choose despair, solitude and self-fulfillment. But I am not alone.” Alleluia. Amen.

[1] Est 3:11.

[2] Est 3:13.

[3] Est 4:1.

[4] Est 4:3.

[5] Est 3:14.

[6] Est 4:8.

[7] Est 4:11.

[8] Est 4:13-14.

[9] Est 4:16.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ps 18:4-6.

[12] Ps 69:29-30.

[13] Ps 40:12, 17.

[14] Steve Almasy and Ray Sanchez. “Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, dead at 87” from CNN, Last updated July 2, 2016, accessed July 3, 2016.