I flew from the Charleston airport this week for an Imagine What’s NEXT Design Team meeting. I flew into Charlotte and then onto Atlanta as well as on the way back. The Charlotte and Atlanta airports somehow illicit a fog on me because you see they were our “home” airports. We lived in Atlanta for four years and we lived near the Charlotte airport 11 years counting when I was in high school and college. So although I think I know where I’m going, I need the “You are Here” maps. I don’t need to assume or attempt to go on autopilot. That was particularly helpful in Charleston as I had never been there before but it was just as true in Atlanta and Charlotte trying to find my gate. I would look at the monitors and find my flight and then a moving side walk or a tram later the info would drop out of my head. I constantly looked at “You are Here” maps and the monitors to give me direction. That’s the position Esther was in. 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 and is a monarch with absolute power and authority. Even today his legend is immortalized in Hollywood in movies such as 300. Xerxes knew how to throw a party. The party lasted seven days and 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, it doesn’t say. As the eunuchs give the Queen’s response to the King, he is furious. No surprise, Queen Vashti got deposed at the end of chapter 1.
How did Esther get there? 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, let cosmetic treatments be given to them and let the girl who pleases the king be queen. The king thought this was a very good idea. Of course he did. He had his own version of The Bachelor.
I feel like at some points I’m telling a fairy tale. Esther was the most beautiful woman, the fairest in the land. There was a wise old 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 a fairy tale ending and marries the king. I’m skipping several plot points here – the twelve month beautification in the king’s harem and that the king chooses her and gives her a banquet to celebrate. And they lived happily ever after. What happens after happily after? Things get real and challenging and tricky negotiating because he is this all powerful king and she can’t go and see him anytime she wants to. He has to summon her. Talk about a complicated marriage.
Meanwhile, Mordecai is sitting at the king’s gates and he overheard two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai lets Esther know, and she warns 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.
She sees the “You are Here” sign but she wonders why? Why was she placed here? Why was she called to this place? What gifts did she have to offer? Her faith in God? Her fervent desire to go where God leads even though it may cost her?
Perhaps you’re here in this world at this particular time in this particular place for such a time as this, to step out and risk everything….
We’re back in Persia with some palace intrigue. Remember when I said Esther was not allowed to see the king unless he had asked for her? She could be put to death for this 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 (NRSV)
“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? Haman reaped what he had sown? Is the moral of the story that we should speak up even when it’s hard? Why 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? Who are the poor and hurting in our lives? Do we see them? They may be us. How have the disappointments in life and the valleys shaped us for such a time as this? In what ways are we challenged by the story? How does Esther’s story intersect with your life and where God is calling you?
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 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 Mount Pleasant, South Carolina or Charleston or Bangladesh or London in our prayers. We can name the city of Rio de Janeiro in our prayers. I love that God put that song in his heart and it came out in the notes he played and his words for God is not defeated even in the darkest places.
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 speaking at this conference. I immediately changed much of what I would share in the 4 talks I would give there. I saw great faith in the Ukranian people. Though I’ve never been that cold in my life, their fire and passion and trust in the will of God for their lives and their country was awe-inspiring. I preached that 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, but they lived it. I bore witness to the intentional prayer times and fasting for the future of their country. I bore witness to the fervor to seek the will of God. When we hung up posters for the NEXT event in one of the universities, it showed a picture of the protester who was killed, holding a sign that said, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Their country was in a civil war, and me an American that had only been there 48 hours, was supposed to speak into that turmoil. They were watching on big screens set up in the town square 24 a day the news coverage coming out of their capital city. I don’t actually know what they got out of it, but I know what I did. I saw faith and fervor in the face of death that I had only read about. I saw and heard through their prayers, their heart’s desires.
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. 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.” God wants us to be change agents in the world. God doesn’t want us to give only lip service, but God seeks disciples that will walk in the way that leads to life.
There is an old legend that tells how Jesus, after his ascension, was asked by the angels how he planned to complete his mission. The angels were incredulous. “Them?” they exclaimed pointing to the fearful, unlearned disciples who stood lost and confused on the earth below, “You are going to depend on them to complete your mission?”
“That’s correct,” Jesus answers.
“And should they fail??” the angels counter, “If they are not capable of carrying on your work, do you have a back-up plan?”
“They are my only plan,” Jesus says.
We don’t have to do it on our own. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and transformed them. We may fall or fail, but 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.” It’s not by our own strength, it’s God’s.
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. Henri Nouwen says, “Our little lives become great – part of the mysterious work of God’s salvation. Once that happens, nothing is accidental, casual or futile any more. Even the most insignificant event speaks the language of faith, hope and, above all love.”
We have to show a hurting, hopeless world that God loves them, in the US and in Thailand, in the Ukraine and Rio, in all of the world. That’s why I love the Olympics. The stories of endurance and overcoming adversity inspires me to ponder what’s holding me back. The ways I have put up a “closed” sign or the large words UNAVAILABLE or a “for sale” sign in the window of my soul. We all need to make ourselves available. 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.
43:1 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.
43:2 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.
43:3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
43:4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.
43:5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;
43:6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth–
For such a time as this.