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.