Aug. 28 sermon: Epilogue

end of Esther
Scene from the movie “Esther and the King,” 1960

Text used – Esther 8:1-11; 9:1, 12-17

  • Before I read our Scripture this morning, I want to recap a little bit.
    • Spent basically the entire summer together in the book of Esther
      • Met all the central characters: King Ahasuerus, Queen Vashti, the palace eunuchs, Queen Esther, her cousin Mordecai, and the king’s wicked advisor Haman
      • Watched the rise and fall of the storyline
        • Queen Vashti’s banishment
        • Esther’s elevation to the throne
        • Clash between Haman and Mordecai à wounded Haman’s pride and spurred his plot to annihilate all the Jews
        • Mordecai rouse Esther to action on behalf of her people despite her own personal danger (king’s fickle temper)
        • Last week: Esther reveal that Haman’s horrible plan would affect her, too à king’s terrible rage à Haman’s death on the very pike intended for Mordecai
      • And believe it or not, I wish that was where the story ended. Despite Haman’s less-than-pleasant demise, that’s a fairly lovely end to the story. Esther’s happy. The king is happy. We’re happy. … But, friends, that’s not the end of Esther’s story. Buckle your seatbelts. Let’s finish the story of Esther together this morning.
  • Do you see what I mean? Do you understand now why I said I wish that we could have ended Esther last week? Hmmm. Yeah.
    • Today’s Scripture seems to start out not too bad – rewards for Esther and Mordecai: That same day King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther what Haman the enemy of the Jews owned. Mordecai himself came before the king because Esther had told the king that he was family to her. The king took off his royal ring, the one he had removed from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. Esther put Mordecai in charge of what Haman had owned.[1] → Esther and Mordecai had been through a terrible ordeal. They had been subjected to severe mental and emotional strain thanks to Haman’s wickedness. Call this their “pain and suffering settlement.”
      • BUT … one thing that doesn’t sit right with me even in this – Where did that settlement come from? Did you catch it?: King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther what Haman the enemy of the Jews owned. … Esther put Mordecai in charge of what Haman had owned. → Esther and Mordecai were rewarded with Haman’s own property and wealth. … But Haman had a family. He had a wife, Zeresh. We read about her last week. And Haman had sons – 10 sons, to be exact. Scripture doesn’t tell us anything about provisions being made for any of them. So our text this morning starts out with Esther and Mordecai profiting from the suffering of others.
        • Sit uncomfortably with anyone else?
        • Make you frown? Make you squirm a little bit?
    • And it only gets worse from there: [The scribes] wrote exactly what Mordecai ordered to the Jews, rulers, governors, and officials of the provinces from India to Cush – one hundred twenty-seven in all. … The order allowed Jews in each town to join together and defend their lives. The Jews were free to wipe out, kill, and destroy every army of any people and province that attacked them, along with their women and children. They could also take and keep anything their attackers owned. … They put to rest their troubles with their enemies and killed those who hated them. The total was seventy-five thousand dead, but the Jews didn’t lay a hand on anything their enemies owned.[2]
      • [PAUSE]
      • If you weren’t uncomfortable before, are you uncomfortable now? We’ve talked about how God isn’t explicitly mentioned in the book of Esther – about how we have to creatively seek out God in various aspects of the text. I’ll admit that that’s been a fun and interesting challenge this summer. I’ve enjoyed it! But this … I don’t want God to be in this. I don’t want to find God in this sort of retaliation – in this revenge and bloodshed and pain.
        • Totally flies in the face of what we talked about last week – how it wasn’t Esther or Mordecai or any of the Jews who called for Haman’s death, how the idea came from one of the palace eunuchs instead → We took solace in that last week – that in the face of such ugliness and evil, Esther rose above it.
        • But this week, we hear the rest of the story – the epilogue. And we shake our heads. And we question: “Why, God? Where are you in this? Why is this part of your Grand Story of faith? What could you possibly say to us in this?”
          • Truth: I struggled mightily not only with how to preach this text but whether to even preach this text
            • Would have been really easy to just leave the end of the story off → lectionary certainly doesn’t include this part of Scripture in the 3-yr. cycle
            • But I have this sometimes-pesky, strong conviction that we shouldn’t shy away from the challenging parts of Scripture … that we can’t ignore the uncomfortable texts because it’s when we wrestle with those – when we question and explore that uneasiness and hunker right down in the midst of the ugly with open eyes and open hearts – when we wrestle with these parts of Scripture, we grow in our relationships together and our relationship with God.
  • That being said, it’s still really hard to come at this Scripture to preach it. Not gonna lie. Someone came up to me after church last Sunday and asked me how I was going to preach the end of this, and my honest-to-God answer was, “I don’t know yet.” But Dick Eick overheard this exchange and passed on some wisdom that had once been passed on to him: “Sometimes, instead of preaching the text, you have to preach against the text.” And in that perception, I began to see the Light of God dawn on this text. Not in it, but through it.
    • Often talk about how we are broken people who live in a broken world
      • Comes up in worship in the form of confession (always part of our opening prayer) – just like in the relationships we have with people, in our relationship with God, when we make mistakes – when we hurt, when we offend, when we slip up, whether it’s intentional or not – we ask for forgiveness
        • Part of our worship because worship is meant to be an act of deep and genuine connection between us and God → cannot have that truth in that connection unless we come with total honesty … And so we confess. We lay our hearts and souls and very lives bare before God and ask for forgiveness. Because we’re people, and sometimes we screw up.
    • Talked about this in sermons, too → And often, these sermons are paired with Scripture passages that are shining examples of the love and joy and freedom that come from that forgiveness. These Scriptures extoll the virtues of the other side of forgiveness – the fulfilled side, the pretty side, the comfortable side … the forgiven side.
      • Today’s text = the other side – the unsatisfied side, the ugly side, the distressing side … the “not yet” side → today’s text = reason to need forgiveness
      • We hear the words of Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, ‘Don’t commit murder,’ and ‘All who commit murder will be in danger of judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.”[3]
      • We hear these words juxtaposed with the staggering violence and vengeance at the end of Esther, and maybe we come to a new understanding of the need for repentance and forgiveness.
        • Cultural context: plight of the Jews → Remember, at this time – Esther and Mordecai’s time – and for a long, long time – centuries! – afterward, the Jews were a people who had been conquered and subjugated by one powerful empire after another. They had already been fighting for their right to live and worship as they wanted for generations! The whole reason they were in Persia in the first place was because Jerusalem had been conquered by Babylon, and the people had been taken into exile – forcibly removed from their homes and their center of culture and faith (the Temple). And then, when Babylon was conquered by the Persian empire, the Jews found themselves conquered and subjugated yet again.
          • Wasn’t the first attempt to wipe them out entire, and as we know, it certainly wasn’t the last
          • Centuries worth of oppression, defeat and injustice à frustration, anger, indignation finally boiled over
          • A context we cannot truly understand as people living in country of such extravagant freedoms
          • A context that cannot be ignored
        • That being said, the scale and intensity of the uprising and carnage at the end of Esther still feels extreme. Defend your lives and your family’s lives, yes, but then go after not only your attacker but also his own family and even his whole village – “women and children”? Doesn’t that feel like it’s going too far?
    • Times when we go too far – either intentionally or unintentionally
      • Words spoken (or, sometimes even worse yet, typed) in the heat of the moment: in frustration, in anger, in fear – words that cannot be taken back
      • Relationships severed in haste because of a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, or just plain laziness – bridges that take years to mend (if they ever can be mended)
      • Actions that forever tarnish a moment in time – unkind to others, unkind to ourselves
      • Maybe in those times, we feel like we’re just defending ourselves or our families. Maybe we feel like if we don’t strike first, the other person is surely going to strike at us. Whatever the reason, what we say and what we do causes other people pain. Is it as devastating as the retaliation of the Jews against the Persians? Not numbers-wise. But we all know that that old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a load of you-know-what. Words can be devastating. They can bring your whole world crashing down, and in this age of instant communication and the ability to post things anonymously, it has become far too easy to drop those kind of bombs in the lives of other people.
        • Words from book of James: Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.[4] → That word that lives inside of us is God’s word – peace, love, grace (mercy and compassion that is wholly undeserved), forgiveness. Believe me, I know how hard it is to come up with these words when you’re angry, when you’re hurt, when you’re upset or frustrated or feel backed into a corner. But our Scripture reading this morning shows us just how devastating “getting back” and “getting even” can be.
  • End sermon with a time of silence
    • Think about times when you may have gone too far in a reaction
    • Think about times when someone else’s “going too far” has affected you
    • Use time for reflection and repentance
    • [LONG PAUSE]
    • Amen.

[1] Est 8:1-2.

[2] Est 8:9, 11; 9:16.

[3] Mt 5:21-24.

[4] Jas 1:19-21.

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