Preached at talk 1 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.

We’ve been digging into stories at Gator Wesley, the United Methodist campus ministry where I serve, this past year, and I would like to share with you the story of Esther. 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 to 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, maybe she was sleeping and she didn’t want to be rudely woken up by a summons from the king, maybe she thought ‘I’m the Queen,’ how dare the King request me. We’re not sure. As the eunuchs give the Queen’s response to the King, he was furious. Queen Vashti got deposed at the end of chapter 1.

Okay so 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.

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 ended up with the king. I’m skipping several plot points here – the twelve month beautification in the king’s harem Esther underwent and the king actually choosing her. The king made her queen instead of Vashti and gave a banquet in Esther’s honor.

And they lived happily ever after? 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. This made Haman very angry and he along with his wife and his advisors plotted against the Jews making a plan 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. Esther 3:13, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.”

When Mordecai learns this he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth. When Esther finds out about this 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 reply 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.

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.

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!”

Esther 7:1-10
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7 1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 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. 4 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.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 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? 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?

Think about these questions and chew on them a bit, while I show you this video.

Bluetree “God of this City” Story

I love that story. I love that the band took a step out in faith to play at The Climax bar. I love that even out of a horrific situation, we can call on the name of Jesus or cry out to God, and God immediately is there as the Holy Spirit turns our mere utterances into prayers. I love the specificity that the guy from Bluetree gives us the name of the city, Pattaya, Thailand because we can name this specific city of L’viv, Ukraine in our prayers. We can name Gainesville, my home in Florida, in our prayers. We can name the city of Kiev in our fervent prayers. 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 Michael and I hung up posters in one of the universities, it showed a picture of a protester that was killed this past week holding a sign that said, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

protestor killed

We don’t lose heart. As it says in 2 Corinthians 4:1 “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

The guy from Bluetree asks the question in the youtube video, “What does the global church do to actually combat things that actually exist on our planet that are completely wrong whether it’s child soldiers, prostitution within your own city, homeless within your own city, anything that’s going on, what does the church do? We should be the pioneers. We need to understand that we have an authority that comes from Christ…that we need an attitude to serve the world with love and actually living out the great commission.”

And they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love. We will walk with each other, we walk side by side. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our Love.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” 1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” We have to show a hurting, hopeless world that God loves them, in the US and in the Ukraine, in all of the world. 1 John 3:17-18, “If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s live? It disappears. And you made it disappear. My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.”

This is all about our Christian witness to be in this world, but not of it, and that sometimes means being a prophetic voice in the wilderness. The Old Testament has a long history of prophets speaking truth to power and the prophets suffering for it. And what about Peter and Paul in the New Testament. They couldn’t stay out of trouble with the authorities, but Paul wrote some of the most powerful scriptures while in prison. The American missionary Jim Elliott wrote this quote in his journal before he was killed by the native people who he was serving in Ecuador, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

For such a time as this.

Matthew 5:13-16 says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all of the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

For such a time as this…..Holy God, may we have the courage to shine your light in all the world and may you guide and lead us in all that we do now and in the coming days. Amen.

Greater Things Are Yet to Come

Posted in Grateful, Young Adult Mission Intern


As I write this I’m preparing for a trip to the Ukraine, January 21st – January 28th, to keynote 3 sessions at the “Greater Things” student conference where there will be students from other Protestant denominations as well as from the Eastern Orthodox tradition and to preach in L’viv at a local Ukranian United Methodist Church. Oh, the connectional nature of the United Methodist Church! You may be wondering how in the world I’m connected to the church in the Ukraine, and that’s a good question. One of my former students at Winthrop Wesley, Erica Oliveira, was assigned as a mission intern to a campus ministry that serves the students at all of the universities in L’viv. The young adult mission intern program consists of approximately 18 months in an international setting and 18 months in a US site. She’ll be flying back to New York two days after I return to start her US-based internship in a partnership between Miami Wesley and FIU-MDC Wesley also based in Miami. We learned late last week that we have been assigned our own mission intern. Brad Kenn, originally from Arizona and a graduate of Pfeiffer University in Charlotte, NC, will begin in March 2014 and will finish the program in July of 2015. Brad’s international placement was in Brazil and he feels like God has called him to campus ministry.

What a small world! I’m grateful that the Ukranian campus ministry received a grant from GBHEM to cover all my expenses associated with the trip, grateful to the staff at Gator Wesley who I know will step up in tremendous ways giving me the reassurance that it’s all taken care of and grateful to see and experience this part of the world.

Speaking of grateful, I’ve chosen that as my word for 2014. Have you noticed the “choose a word for the year” trend? I first read about it in One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp as well as on her blog, A Holy Experience. She named 2008 “eucharisteo,” 2009 “communion,” 2010 “the Year of Yes,” 2011 “The Year of Here,” 2012 “The Year of No Fear,” but she did something different as she entered 2013 that’s explained in the post below. Ann wires that she wants a do over for last year. She continues saying this, “Well…. do I tell you that this last year was the year I didn’t lose 10 pounds, forgot every morning for. a. year. to exercise, didn’t finish reading the Bible, failed to write what I really wanted, never got the basement backroom gutted, rammed about in the same ruts on rinse and repeat, only read half as many books to the kids as I’d planned, and missed living up to what I’d named this year?”

It doesn’t matter how well you do, it’s not about achievement. It’s about moving forward in grace for yourselves and others. It doesn’t matter what you name your year or even if you do name it. A friend posted this on Facebook at the beginning of the year, “Last year I went to adopting a “word of the year.” My word for 2013 was ‘Overcome.’ So many stories of how I watched God help me overcome in my life and the lives of those around me. My word for 2014 is ‘Glorify.’ In all I do, every moment, might God be glorified!”

In this season of Epiphany may we recognize the gift of God’s manifestation in Jesus as a baby, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. May we celebrate those that give us unexpected gifts on this journey – whether friends or strangers or The triune God working ever in our midst. May we be grateful in the big and small things: a hug, a smile, a chance conversation that makes our whole day, the perfect lyrics to the song that came on the radio at just the right time, or an unexpected trip to the Ukraine.
May we be ever longing to bring the light of Christ to pierce the darkness of our world.

Grace and Peace,