Against the Grain: Esther

  • Against the Grain: Esther
  • Esther 4:13-17
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • June 24, 2018
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6-24-18 sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

There aren’t many things that happen these days that I find to be truly shocking. I’ve come to grips with the fact that the world that I grew up in doesn’t exist anymore. As a child, the world as I knew it gave Christianity a place of honor and respect. The church used to have a significant role to play in shaping culture and determining the overarching moral structures of society.

 

When I was a child, the only store in town that was open on a Sunday was the local convenience store. The school never had anything on a Wednesday night because that was reserved for church related events and no one ever had an extracurricular event such as a ball game on Sundays. My friends and their families all went to church, for the most part. Life simply doesn’t work that way anymore.

 

Reality is that the church and Christianity have lost their status within society. Sometimes it can start to feel like those of us who are trying to follow Jesus are speaking a language only we understand.

 

Ten years ago the Pew Forum did a religious landscape survey and it revealed the seismic shift that was taking place within the religious beliefs of Americans. The survey of over 35,000 people reported that the U.S. was on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country for the first time in U.S. history. The fastest growing religious affiliation is “unaffiliated” or “The Nones.”  Today we are no longer on the verge of being Post-Christian. Today we are a Post-Christian society.

 

There is whole host of things we could unpack from that information, but one of the things that survey says to me is that it is only going to become more common for those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus to find ourselves going against the grain of society. The church and culture used to run on parallel tracks, but today culture is headed in one direction and often that is a direction that is counter to orthodox, biblical Christianity.

 

Which raises the question, “How do Christians live out their faith in the context of a world in a Post-Christian Era?”

 

I’m not trying to assert that all of contemporary culture stands against the church and its beliefs, or that the things that traditional Christianity stood for were infallible expressions of the gospel.

 

What this does offer us is the chance to evaluate what the church is supposed to be and where it fits in a highly non-Christian society. It gives us a chance to examine ourselves and how we authentically live out our faith in this context.

 

This morning we are going to examine a story from the Old Testament book of Esther where the Jewish people found themselves in a similar challenge where they were called to follow God in a context that required them to go against the grain of culture. But before we do that would you say a prayer with me.

 

Our biblical narrative begins in the Old Testament with the King of Persia, Xerxes, throwing an elaborate banquet for all his nobles and officials. This was no Saturday afternoon get together. Xerxes and his friends partied hard for a solid week.

 

By the seventh day, the King and his guests had been drinking heavily. In other words, he was plastered. In his present condition he wasn’t thinking too clearly and he ordered his queen, Vashti, to come out and display herself before the King and his guests – wearing only her crown. Not wanting to be paraded around before a bunch of drunken men, clad only in her royal tiara, she refused.

 

Her refusal really ticked off the King. His advisors tell him that Vashti has done wrong, not only to him but to all men in the King’s provinces. Why? Because, if the queen can refuse to obey the King’s command, then obviously, all women will follow her example and disobey their husbands too. They said to the King, “There will be no end of disrespect and discord.”

 

Xerxes dumps Queen Vashti and decides to find a new queen–perhaps one who was less opinionated and defiant. All the land is scoured for beautiful, young, female candidates to become queen; enter Esther.

 

When she was just a little girl, Esther became an orphan when her father and mother died. Mordecai, her cousin, raised Esther from childhood, as if she were his own daughter. Esther, now a young woman, is selected as one who will be introduced to the King.

 

Everyone who looked upon Esther was captivated by her beauty. Wouldn’t you know it, when Esther is brought before the King, he finds her more beautiful and desirable than all the other women. The King, completely taken with Esther’s beauty, makes her his queen.

 

Now, there was one man who was one of the King’s closest friends, his name is Haman. He’s a guy with an ego bigger than Texas. Haman convinces Xerxes to make a decree that whenever Haman is around everyone in his presence should bow down to him. Talk about egocentric!

 

But Mordecai is a Jew and he will only bow to God. Mordecai flatly refuses to bow down to Haman. As you might imagine, this gets Haman’s goat.

 

Rather than just blowing it off, Haman stews about it. Haman devises a plan to exterminate not just Mordecai but all the Jews in Persia because Mordecai won’t bow to him. The Scriptures say, “Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.”

 

Haman tells Xerxes that there are a group of people who do not honor the King’s command–specifically the one about bowing to Haman. He says, “If it pleases the King, let a decree be issued to destroy them.” Xerxes tells Haman to do as he pleases with the Jews. A decree goes out with the King’s seal to “destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews–young and old, women and little children.”

 

Eventually, word gets back to Esther who sends a messenger to find out what was going on. Mordecai returns a copy of the King’s decree to Esther and begs her to go before King Xerxes and plead for mercy for the Jews.

 

Royal protocol dictates that no one, including the queen, is allowed to enter the King’s presence without his express invitation. Esther sends word back to Mordecai that she can’t just go waltzing into the King’s court. She could literally lose her head over such a breach of etiquette.

 

Esther 4:13-17 reads, “13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: ‘Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?’ 15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 ‘Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.’ 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.”

 

During the three days of fasting, Esther devises a plan. She decides to hold a banquet in the King’s honor, invite Haman and publicly expose him for the scoundrel he is. Her plan is to get the King to repeal Haman’s order to have the Jews exterminated.

 

In the meantime, Haman is strutting around outside the Kings’ courtyard when he sees Mordecai. Haman becomes enraged when Mordecai refuses to bow to him and he runs home and tells his wife all about Mordecai’s defiance.

 

Haman’s wife says, “Well then, Haman honey, you’ve got clout. Just build a gallows and have Mordecai hanged. And then go to the banquet happy.” Liking his wife’s advice, Haman builds the gallows upon which he’s going to hang Mordecai.

 

The night before the big banquet, King Xerxes has a bad case of insomnia. He can’t sleep so he calls to have the record of his time as King read to him. He’s pretty sure this will put him to sleep. As it is being read to him, he is reminded how Mordecai had saved his life from assassination by the two palace guards.

 

The King asked, “What recognition has Mordecai received for this good deed?” The attendant answers, “Ah, well nothing has been done for him.” Which leaves the King thinking, “I need to do something to honor Mordecai, after all he did save my life.”

 

The next morning Haman comes strolling in to the King’s court and Xerxes says to him, “What should be done for the man the King delights to honor?” Well, Haman’s ego and swelled head get the better of him and not surprisingly Haman thinks the King is referring to him (Haman doesn’t have a clue that the King is really asking what should be done for Mordecai).

 

Haman suggests an elaborate parade, “Well by all means, clothe the man in royal robes, put him on a beautiful horse, and place a royal crown on his head. Let it be shouted, ‘This is what is done for the man the King delights to honor!’”

 

Imagine Haman’s chagrin when King Xerxes says to him, “Ah. I love it! Now do exactly what you’ve just said, for Mordecai.” Can you just see Haman’s mouth hanging wide open in disbelief? In an ironic twist, Haman ends up being the one who leads Mordecai through the streets of the city shouting, “This is what is done for the man the King delights to honor!”  As you might imagine, Haman’s madder than a hornet.

 

Remember the feast that Esther wanted to have in honor of the King? The one to which she specifically invited Haman? Well, at the feast, and still feeling quite generous, King Xerxes says to Esther, “My dear, what is your request? I will give you anything you ask for, even up to half my kingdom.”

 

Esther, seizing the opportunity, “If I have found favor with you, O King, and if it pleases your majesty, grant to me this one request. For I and my people have been sold to destruction and slaughter and annihilation.” King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther replies, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.”

 

Someone gets word to the King that a gallows has been built in Haman’s own yard upon which Mordecai was to be hanged. The King says, “Hang Haman there!” Haman is dragged out kicking and screaming and hanged on the very gallows he intended for Mordecai.

 

Esther then asks the King to overrule the edict initiated by Haman to destroy all the Jews. The King happily agrees and a new royal edict is issued that all the Jews in every province throughout all Persia are to be protected and have the right to defend themselves from any and all attackers.

 

Esther continues to find favor with the King. Mordecai is elevated to second in command of Xerxes’ kingdom, and all the Jews in every region throughout all Persia celebrated. There was feasting and joy and gladness in all the land for the Jews had been spared.

 

A happy ending to a remarkable story full of twists, turns, plots and deception, which resulted in ultimate victory for God’s people. But how does this story from the Old Testament intersect with our lives today?

 

Esther and the Jewish people found themselves in a time of exile. They were living on foreign soil during this whole experience. I’m fairly certain that as they went through this whole experience of Haman trying to eradicate them that they must of questioned, “Where is God in the midst of all of this? Can God even help us? Has he abandoned us?”

 

My hunch is that many of us have gone through circumstances in life that have left us asking the same questions or a variation there of. Maybe you know what it is to doubt where God is or to just doubt God period. Maybe even as you sit her today you ask yourself “Where is God?”

 

However, I would remind us that just because we can’t see God doesn’t mean that He isn’t on the scene and at work. Esther is a good example of God having His person in the right place at the right time. When the lives of God’s people are in grave danger, Mordecai says to Esther, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to the royal position for such a time as this.” Meaning, to save God’s people from destruction.

 

It’s no accident that Esther becomes queen when she did. God placed Esther in the right place at the right time to carry out His will and His plan for the salvation of His people. Mordecai knew that, and Esther learned it.

 

The same holds true for us. God has us in the right place at the right time to serve Him and bring about the fulfillment of His will. It’s not coincidental that you work where you do. It’s not fate that you live in the neighborhood you live in. Your lives, your relationships, your jobs, your friends, your everything is not just dumb luck. It’s providence. God has something for you to do. God has placed you where you’re at to be an influence for Him in the lives of the people with whom you come in contact.

 

I believe that it’s no accident that you’re here this morning. God has something for you today. God wants something of you today. He wants your heart. He wants you to say yes to him. As we say yes to God, He is going to use us, every one of us, to accomplish His purposes in us and in the lives of others.

 

God gives us small whispers of awareness that we are where He wants us to be. God may say to us that we are to continue where we are at, even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable. He may tell us to move on or forward.

 

The reality is that sometimes the place we expect or want to be will be different than where God has us in that moment. But we have the assurance that God will use us where we’re at as long as we’re living for Him. I want to assure you my friends, God is with you and He has something for you to do for His kingdom even when it feels like you are going against the grain.

 

Can I play Mordecai for just a moment this morning and simply ask you, “Could it be that God has called you for such a time as this?”

 

If so, then know this…

 

God is with us, He will go before
He will never leave us, He will never leave us

God is for us, He has open arms
He will never fail us, He will never fail us