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, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/02/world/elie-wiesel-dies/. Last updated July 2, 2016, accessed July 3, 2016.