Esther 7: 1-10, September 30th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words which tell of the courage of a woman named Esther.”
7 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!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
7 The king rose from the feast in wrath and went into the palace garden, but Haman stayed to beg his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that the king had determined to destroy him. 8 When the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman had thrown himself on the couch where Esther was reclining; and the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” As the words left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
“Having heard the accounting of how Ester found courage to stand up to her enemies, let us prayerfully consider where in our own lives do we need to stand with courage.”
The topic of this lesson is courage. So, what is courage? Is it something we have, like an attribute which we are born with? Or is it something we reach down into our gut and muster up on a given occasion? Is it God given? Or is it born from our humanism? Most of us have seen the acts of courageous people. Not all acts of courage end up on the evening news. Yet, we see courage every day. Take for instance the courage it takes to get up and read the scripture. If you have never done this and are nervous about being asked to do so, well, you just need a little courage and you too, can do this… when your ready. Or, how about the vocalist that can sing a good tune in the shower on Sunday mornings, yet tries to sing softly when the hymns are sung so no one will hear her voice. Courage, is when you step forward, stand in front of a microphone and speak clearly as you read from the text of the Bible. Courage is when you stand up in front of a crowd and sing your heart out! That takes courage. We can be proud of the group we have here assembled under the leadership of our Music Director. They have the courage to lead us each Sunday, helping us to openly praise God with music! Thank you, each one of you! Without your voices and talents, we would be struggling to worship in the style that we do.
Courage is a word used to describe Police officers and Firefighters when they are preforming their duties. Men and women in combat are often lifted-up for their courage, their bravery and valor in times of battle. None of us want to see these men and women harmed or loss their lives for the sake of another, yet they do so every day. Courage is not always observed by everyone. Sometimes, it is a person’s nerve and audacity as they push forward with a challenge that has presented itself to them. It may be observed by only those really close to them. I hear people say things like: “This took a lot of ‘guts’ to confront that problem, confronting that person head on!” Now and then we see someone with the ‘mettle’ and the resolve to take on a seemingly impossible task… and do it for the sake of others as much as for themselves. There have been several stories of such courageousness in the news recently. These individuals were willing to take on formidable and intimidating circumstances to speak out in the belief it was the right thing to do and it would help others. No matter how you personally view this… no one can doubt their courage in speaking out as they told their truth!
Let us take a moment to review the story of courage from our scripture lesson today. Before we grapple further with this challenge let us fully set the stage for our drama. To grasp the full impact of this story you will need to read the book of Esther from the beginning. Not now, later when you have some time, it is only ten chapters of captivating discourse. So, for now, let me give you a short recap of this dramatic event. The apex, the climax of the story is Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews. The man Haman had been recently promoted by the king of Persia and was a powerful man. Haman was a vicious adversary and had become obsessed with planning to destroy all the Jews. Yet, Mordecai (a Jew) uncovers the conspiracy and persuades Esther to help, telling her of Haman’s plans. To clarify and open this story further for our review, we need to realize that: “The Jewish people (already) in captivity (in Persia, by the armies of Babylonia around the Fifth Century B.C. Before Christ) were facing execution. Esther, a Jewish orphan who had become the queen of Persia, realized that she was the only one who could appeal to the king to save her people. But royal protocol forbade even the queen from approaching the king without an official summons. (Esther had to contrive a way to get an audience with the King.) Violating the king’s rules could mean losing her throne, perhaps even her life.” Esther courageously faced this possibility, and she went to the king. Esther risked her life for a cause greater than herself.” /Recovery Devotional Bible NIV, page 522/ If not courage, what then? For something drove Esther to take a risk, risking her position and her life, for the people of her heritage. She could have chosen to simply allow circumstances to advance, as Haman had planned, and not take such a high-level risk. Having heard the accounting of how Esther found nerve to stand up to her enemies, let us prayerfully consider where in our own lives do we need to stand with this level of resolve and bravery.
Expanding our discussion, a bit, a member of our congregation had the nerve to take me up on my offer to answer questions about scripture and our faith. It was asked of me this past week “How do we love loved ones, whom spout hateful rhetoric?” Jesus teaches us to respect other’s rights and to love others with all our hearts. How do we do this, while holding onto our own integrity, this is the question? With tolerance, patience and with a bit of love is the answer; but it may also take courage. Jesus’ teachings compel us to stand up for the rights of others. In the same manner we have the right to expect to be treated with respect, especially from our loved ones! Starting from where the question places us, we can begin by praying, this is always a good place to start. It may take a lot of resolve, and patience, to respond to hateful rhetoric. We must be careful not to over simplify our response, yet, at the same time we need not over complicate it either. Bear in mind that the word ‘rhetoric’ can take on many meanings. We need to grapple with and be honest with ‘ourselves’ about what the ‘rhetoric’ may mean to the other person. Perhaps we need to walk in our loved one’s shoes – before we respond at all. It takes maturity, as well as courage, to consider the other person’s side of an argument. Sometimes patience is a key ingredient. Loving another needs to be done with kindness, compassion and with tolerance. Standing up for our side of a discussion takes nerve and is not for the timid or faint-hearted. Neither statement is false. Consequently, when the time is right, we need to respond speaking our truth, surrounding the subject at hand, leaving room for our loved one to respond openly as well. Bear in mind, we ought not allow ourselves to respond to hatred with hatred. Always remember that the way we walk, and the way in which we talk, makes a good power of example for others to follow.
Perhaps before we, you and I, before we can come to some closure about the topic of courage today, we need to accept the fact that most of us have been pushed aside, marginalized into a time of exile. Perhaps not like a refugee, but more like an outcast or an outsider. Many of us here gathered have experienced this, in some manner or another, in our lives. If you cannot see this in your own life, surely you can see it in another’s. Women have been known to be forced ‘off’ or ‘out’ of a women’s social club, because their spouses, their partners, were not ‘in’ or ‘of’ the correct social status. Men are pushed out of or excluded from men’s fraternal orders because they ‘did not’ or ‘do not’ agree to discriminate against others. Perhaps, some of you would be shocked to realize what some of these groups demand of their members. I gave up being a part of a social group earlier in my life, a fraternal order, because I could not accept discriminating against people who were of a certain ethnic background. Don’t be naïve, such groups still exist. Before you join a social group or even a fraternity of any sort, read their by-laws, you may be surprised, if not shocked! John C. Holbert, an Old Testament Professor suggest to us the following, as he reflects on the courageous story of Queen Esther. Listen carefully, see if you can identify. “All of us, in whatever exiles we are in, are ever in need of such stories when the flame of freedom is guttering, (wavering and fading away) and the spark of hope is dim.” His remarks are a reminder to all of us, when needed, we are responsible to stand up, with courage, for the good of others as-well-as for ourselves. When we, or others, are marginalized or pushed aside, we, as Christians, are called to action!
Before we close our discussion about courage, I would like to tell you about a close friend of mine. One of the things I really enjoy about him is that he smiles a lot. He often comments “It’s all good.” To put this into context, I met Denis about six years ago. I had just taken an early retirement, at age 65, my personal financial life was upside down. I was rather anxious about the dramatic changes in my life. I shared with Denis about my situation. He shared with me that he had a stroke five years before we met. Denis’ right arm is permanently affected by the stroke. His right leg is in a brace from the just below his knee holding his foot in place. He speaks, brokenly at times and he is terrible with numbers, because of his stroke. Denis lives by himself over a thousand miles away from his closest relatives, because he cannot tolerate the ice and snow. He gets around in his golf cart, within the community of Barefoot Bay, and he gets around in his own home. When I whined and complained about my situation, Denis would just smile and say: “It’s all good!” Of course, we talked, and we still talk at length. Yet, his prevailing attitude and the positive way he goes about his life, has had a profound affect upon my own understanding of life. My friend, he is a man of courage. He walks the way he talks.
As we bring this discussion to a close, we need to be reminded of the many, many women and men whom we personally know and countless others we have read about or seen on television, who have shown great courage. Today’s scripture lesson, retelling the recorded story of a woman named Queen Esther, tells us of a brave and courageous woman who was willing to risk her status in society. As well as her life. The story tells us she did this to protect the wellbeing of countless others, of her own heritage, whom were being threatened with extinction. This harsh accounting was recorded and placed in the Bible for this primary purpose. Likewise, history shall record the brave actions of women and men, especially women whom stand out in our society, at this period in history. May God bless them and all who courageously share their truths for the sake of others.