We Choose to Step Out.

9-2 SermonTitleOkay, let’s review – God created us and we’re all God’s children.  God chooses us just as we are, we are chosen FOR something, to use our gifts and graces in the world, and we choose to follow Jesus wherever he leads.  We’ve also talked about the underlying theme of fear throughout this whole series.  Following Jesus is not a moment, it’s not a one-time thing, it’s a life.  When we accept Jesus into our hearts, when we are made into new creations, when we realize God’s justifying grace is for us, when we have that “ah ha” moment and make the decision, it’s not one choice, but it’s a million little choices.  We choose to step out; it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement of the Triune God.

We decided to go on the Sawmill Branch Trail last Friday as a celebration of the first week of school being completed.  We went to Precious Treasures, otherwise known as the candy store and get 3 different kinds of cotton candy and ice cream.  I constantly looked at “You are Here” maps on the trail to make sure we were going the right way.  I even had my google maps on my phone to Enoch and I guiding us and Mike and Evy.  We knew we were on the trail, but we didn’t know at what point we were or which way to go.  That’s the position in which we find Esther.  She knew where she was, in King Xerses Court, but she needed God to give her direction on what she should do, and God’s Spirit to lead her steps and guard her mouth.

The story takes place in the 5th-century B.C. somewhere in the 470’s or so. Xerxes I (519-465) is the king in Persia. You might call him “king of the world.” He is known as Xerxes the Great. He invades Greece in 480 (he came to power about 486). He is a monarch with absolute power and authority. Even today his legend is immortalized in Hollywood in movies such as 300 (2006). It begins with a party lasting for seven days. In Esther chapter 1: 8-9 it reads, “Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.” Can you imagine a party lasting for seven days? It would be like Mardi Gras or Carnival in the extreme. The party never ends. On the seventh day, the King, who was in “high spirits” from wine orders Queen Vashti to make an appearance so they can behold her beauty; she’s his centerpiece after all. But Queen Vashti refuses to come. The text doesn’t say why she didn’t come. Maybe she didn’t feel like it or maybe she was sleeping and she didn’t want to be rudely woken up by a summons from the king. We’re not sure. As the eunuchs give the Queen’s response to the King, he’s furious. Queen Vashti was gone by the end of chapter 1.

How did Esther arrive on the scene? While the king was having second thoughts for having Vashti banned, his servants encouraged him to gather beautiful young women from every province in the kingdom and let “cosmetic treatments be given them. And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” The king thought this was a very good idea.  His own version of The Bachelor.

I feel like at some points I’m telling a fairy tale. Esther was the most beautiful, fairest in the land. There was a Jewish man named Mordecai, and he had brought up Esther as his own daughter because she was an orphan. And so of course, she ends up with the king. I’m skipping several plot points here – the twelve month beautification in the king’s harem and the king actually choosing her for the final rose. The king gave a banquet in Esther’s honor and they lived happily ever after.  As Lee Corso on College Gameday says, “Not so fast!”  What happens after happily after? Things get real.

Shortly thereafter, when Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gates, he overheard two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai let Esther know, and she warned the king about it. Mordecai was given credit for unfurling the plot and the two treasonous guards were hung on the gallows.

Now you should be hearing villainous music and lots of bass and minor notes because I’m about to introduce the character of Haman. It says the king “advanced him and set his seat above all the officials who were with him. All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down.” But Mordecai refused, because he was a Jew, who would bow to no one except God. The kids and I have been reading through the Old Testament and God is very serious about the Israelites worshiping other gods.  This made Haman very angry and he along with his wife and his advisors plotted against the Jews making plans to get rid of them. Haman uses his influence on the king and makes the king a pawn in his chess game against Mordecai, saying the Jews don’t keep the same laws. So the king agrees with Haman.

When Mordecai learns this he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth. When Esther finds out, she is obviously distressed because she is a Jew and from the beginning Mordecai told her to be silent about her heritage in the palace. Mordecai sends this note to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

For such a time as this.

She sees the “You are Here” sign but she wonders why?

Perhaps you’re here in this world at this particular time in this particular place for such a time as this.

What ensues is some palace intrigue.

Esther was not permitted to see the king unless he had asked for her otherwise she could be put to death. And she had not been called in to see the king in 30 days, so she, her maid-servants, and all of the Jews of Persia fasted earnestly for three days before she built up enough courage to enter the king’s presence. When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and held out his scepter to her. He then asked Esther what she wished of him, promising to grant even up to half his kingdom should she ask. Esther requested a banquet with the king and Haman. During the banquet, she requested another banquet with the king and Haman the following day.

Cue villainous laughter, Haman was already ordering gallows to be constructed to hang Mordecai. At the same time, Esther 6:1 says, “On that night the king could not sleep, and he gave orders to bring the book of records, the annals, and they were read to the king” and he remembers that Mordecai had saved him from the previous assassination attempt and the king realizes he had not rewarded Mordecai.  God was working everything for good.

Early the next morning, Haman came to the king to ask permission to hang Mordecai, but before he could, the king asked him “What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman assumed the king meant him, so he said that the man should wear a royal robe and be led on one of the king’s horses through the city streets proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” The king thought this was appropriate, and asked Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets in this way. After doing this, Haman rushed home, full of grief. His wife said to him, “You will surely come to ruin!”

The king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther and after they had feasted sufficiently, she took courage and stepped out.   Esther 7 starting at verse 3 “Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request.  For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?”  Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!”

And you can guess what happened to Haman. He was hung on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai.

How do we relate to the story of Esther?  Haman reaped what he had sown? Did God place us exactly where we are now, in this time, and in this place “for such a time as this?” How can we stand up on behalf of the poor, hurting and marginalized in our own lives by speaking truth to power? In what ways are we challenged by the story? How does Esther’s story intersect with your life and where God is calling you?  Is God calling you to fast and pray and take the courage and boldness only God can give to step out in faith?

What did Esther have?  She had an attitude of openness to God’s leading.  She was willing to take risks, gathering her lady’s maids and praying and fasting as Mordecai gathered all the Jews together to pray and fast right along with her.  She knew what the cost was, “And if I perish, I perish.”  Sometimes what God calls us to, is to be faithful to the opportunities God puts before you.  Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War 2. She was imprisoned for her actions. Her most famous book, The Hiding Place, describes what transpired.  She knew what she was talking about when she said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

“For such a time as this.”  Esther knew that taking that step could mean her very life, but as Uncle Ben says in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Esther didn’t know what would happen AND her life was on the line, but she knew that God was with her every step of the way.  That’s the thing to remember.  Jesus journeys with us as we take that first critical step.

We just have to be willing to take it.  Remember Jesus walking on the water?  In Matthew 14 it says, “And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  Peter who’s always leaping before he looks, the brash, bold Peter.  I could show a clip from the movie The Son of God or Bruce Almighty as he walks on the water, but you get the picture.  Well, what happens?  Peter gets scared about what’s happening all around him and he begins to sink.

We automatically hate on Peter, BUT at least he gets out of the boat.  It takes loads of courage to even attempt that first step.  And then another.  And then another.  The key is keeping our eyes on Jesus and NOT all of the other “stuff” in our lives.  We have to abide in the Word and put on our full armor of God to get through the daily grind.   I’m just as guilty.  I have to set aside time in my day for intentional time with God.  Not for sermon prep, not with the kids at Bible story time, but for ME.  Y’all see this staircase?  It has a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  I like that image.  The first step is often the scariest, most intense.  Who knows what God has in store for us after we take that first step, but I know we have an endless staircase to explore depending on him, letting him carry us up a few of those steps, and climbing in Jesus’ beautiful, amazing grace. If we truly walk with Jesus, we’re going to go through some trials and tribulations, no doubt, but it will indeed be also filled with awesome mountaintops, joys that are unceasing, and the promise of life everlasting.  James 1:2-4 says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”  That’s the promise of God.  God doesn’t leave us in the muck and mire, but in God’s sanctifying grace we’re made into new creations, growing in Christ’s perfect love and mercy, and ready to share that love with all the world.

I visited L’viv, Ukraine during the protests in January 2013.  I arrived on the day the first protester was shot and he happened to be from where I was the keynote at this conference for college students.  I wrote in one of the sermons that I gave, “This may be naïve for me to say as an uninformed and ignorant American who’s been here for less than 48 hours, but God can work and move in seemingly impossible situations and God can make a way when we see no hope of there being a way forward. I know y’all know that because I can bear witness to intentional prayer times for the future of this country, I can bear witness to the fasting for the future of this country, I can bear witness to the fervor I’ve seen since arriving here to seek the will of God. I know you all believe that God can move mountains, because as we hung up posters in one of the universities, it showed a picture of a protester that was killed holding a sign that said, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

As Corrie ten Boom put it, “Don’t bother to give God instructions; just report for duty.” Yes, you are here.  We are here.  We may not know all the who’s or why’s.  But God does.  And God can guide and lead us to help shave or sand off our growing edges, the things that hold us back from being fully present to go or to step out.

Remember Isaiah 43:1-3, “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

For such a time as this.

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