Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
September 27, 2015
Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10
“Stand With Courage”
“Hear now these words from Esther, chapter 7, verses 1-6, & 9-10.”
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!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
9 Then Habana, 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.
“Allow God to open your hearts to a deeper understanding of these ancient writings.”
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Courage is something that is often attributed to great warriors, mighty leaders who have lead us in such historic events such as independence, freedoms of many civil liberties, even the abolition of slavery; the right of women to vote; and the list of accomplishments continues. Yet, we all know that the list is incomplete – as we continue to find ourselves ‘looking’ for new leadership to right many wrongs that are still ‘entrenched’ within our society. This morning, we are going to look at an allegorical accounting, as contained in the Book of Esther. I pray that as we do so, we will begin to see that ‘courage’ can come from the least expected places, and was raised up as ‘critical’ in society – even in ancient times
During the Vietnam War I learned about courage, that is: courage in others. Sure, I was courageous enough to volunteer to be stationed in South East Asia. But, let’s be clear. I was suffering through my second year in Minot North Dakota, and the extreme weather conditions there were causing me to desire a reassignment. Also, I had done the study, that concluded the vast majority of Air Force personnel, such as myself, were shipped to Thailand as support personnel for the ‘Air Support’ being supplied to the troops on the ground in Vietnam. (My best friend was not as fortunate as myself and was shipped into the thick of the war.)
On the way to Bangkok we landed in Saigon. I remember it well, the runway was spotted with big holes where bombs had exploded during the Tet offensive that had overrun the American maned bases beginning on January 30th, 1968, just weeks before our arrival that day. The date was March 16th, 1968. I remember how quiet the plane got as we landed. Then as the doors were opened, six marines ‘stood up’ and got off the plane; six others ‘got on’ taking their seats. I think my heart stopped for a moment. I know I stopped breathing as I observed their going and coming. Over the course of my 365 day stay in Thailand, I always held a great respect for ground troops that came to our area on R&R (rest and relaxation) from their duties in Vietnam.
If you faced the death of bombs and bullets
You did not do it with a banner,
You did it with only a hat to
Cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
Though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
That you kept swallowing.
/“Courage” by Anne Sexton/
There are many stories of courageous people in the Bible: Ruth Moses, David, Daniel and most certainly Esther, to name just a few. Perhaps the most memorable to most are the stories of Moses. He led the Israelites out of the bondage of slavery from Egypt. Yet, the account of Esther is far less known to us. Why, you might ask: was it because it was a story of a woman? Was it because the story is not packed with references to God throughout, with great accountings of God’s mighty power displayed through the leadership of a man such as Moses? Or is it simply that preachers are not sure how to tell their flocks of the ‘story’ – involving the great courage of a ‘beautiful young Jewish woman’ who had become a wife, the Queen actually, of a powerful Persian King, way back in the years surrounding 330 B.C. (Before Christ). History records that this accounting is what the Jewish festival of Purim celebrates; the festival celebrates that Queen Esther was able to save herself and the Jewish people from a man named Haman, who planned to have all the Jews in that area killed.
When Queen Esther stood asking to speak to the King of Persia, she knew he did not fully understand that she was a Jew. Yet, she stood there asking for her life and the lives of her people. Yes, it is believed that she was a very beautiful young woman; yes, it is reasonable to believe that the King would hear her out; yet, it was well known that this King was a harsh man and had stripped his former queen of her position, and had barred her entrance to the palace, because of her disobedience and her refusal to come running to him whenever he called upon her. Yet, Esther stood tall as she made her request, risking her very freedom and her life, to save her community, the community of Jews that were under the rule of this king.
Courage is the strength to stand up
When it’s easier to fall down and lose hold.
Courage is the desire to maintain our integrity
When it’s easier to look the other way.
Courage is the will to shape our world
When it’s easier to let someone else do it for us.
Courage is the power to step forward and lead
When it’s easier to follow the crowd.
It is the spirit that places you on top of the mountain
When it’s easier to never leave the ground.
The foundation of courage is solid,
The rock that doesn’t roll.
Courage is the freedom
Of our mind, body, and soul!
/”Courage” Author Anonymous/
Over my span of life I have observed many a courageous woman. My grandmothers were two such women. Grandmother Woodard was old when I was young, yet she did more every day then I can confess I have ever done in one day. She raised my father and his brothers and sister, while running the household of a small farm. By the time a sleepy grandson, such as myself, arose in the morning – she had stoked the fire, in the wood burning stove, she had already collected and cooked some fresh eggs from the hen house, fried up some bacon, cooked up some fresh biscuits and brewed some hot coffee for the adults, hot chocolate for the young ones and called us to sit down and eat breakfast. As a child I spent a lot of time with her. She always was working on something. Only in later years did she sit with her friend and it was then she relaxed and taught me to sew a button and a few other basics which still come in quite handy. Courage? Yes, she had courage, she never woke up in the morning and pulled the covers over her head and said: “No! I can’t face my responsibilities today!”
Grandmother Dixon, faced a different lot. She was the ‘Preachers Wife’. Some may think that is smooth sailing, but I saw a different side of that reality. She was always the one who was expected to represent her husband, my grandfather, in every event the church could dream up. She baked for the community dinners, organized the pot luck luncheons, and presided over breakfast functions. She stretched the food budget when the treasurer could not come up with a pay check for the pastor. Somehow she kept things together. With courage and confidence she reached out to the women of the church – covering the role of politician as-well-as stimulating both the choir and Sunday school in their weekly responsibilities. Her allegiance was to my grandfather, but her reach was deep within the church body. Pastor’s spouses take on a different role in the life of their churches in today’s society. Yet, they still need some courage to look someone in the eye and say: “no, I can’t answer that question, you will need to ask the Pastor directly yourself!”
It takes courage
To refrain from gossip
When others delight in it,
To stand up for the absent person
Who is being abused?
It takes courage
To live honestly
Within your means,
And not dishonestly
On the means of others.
It takes courage
To be a real man or a true woman,
To hold fast to your ideals
When it causes you
To be looked upon
As strange and peculiar.
It takes courage
To be talked about,
And remain silent;
When a word would justify you
In the eyes of others,
But which you dare not speak
Because it would injure another.
It takes courage
To refuse to do something
That is wrong
Although everyone else
May be doing it
With attitudes as carefree
As a summer song.
It takes courage
To live according
To your own convictions.
To love your neighbor
/”It Takes Courage” Author Anonymous/
It took courage for those that fought to have the Esther ‘story’ recorded and entered into the Canon, the Bible. Clearly, it was recorded to lift up what was considered to be a monumental moment in the history of the Jewish nation, portrayed in the historical journeys of the tribes of Israel. This is clearly lifted up in the modern day ‘Festival of Purim’. There is, however, no direct reference to devotion or allegiance to God in this scripture lesson. No great miraculous encounters. Although, the accounting does beg the question as to where this young woman got such courage? Was it from her Uncle Mordecai? Surely, it would not be much of a stretch to believe she had deep faith in a loving God that would stand with her, no matter the outcome. With or without that assumption, this is still a simple story of a courageous woman who became ‘caught up’ in the harsh realities of ‘tyranny’ during a time of oppression, and dangerous peril, for her and her extended family, her people. This ancient and Old Testament scripture lifts up for our hearing, the true courage it takes to not only ‘stand up’ for your own rights and needs, but to ‘stand up’ even at the peril of oneself, without reservation, for the needs and the very lives of others!
In a preceding section, chapter 4, verse 14, Esther’s uncle Mordecai asks her this question: “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 father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” What can we learn from this accounting? And can we apply it to our lives today?
Can you ask yourself, can I ask myself: “in what ways might you, might I, challenge ourselves to stand up for what we know is right?” And even more challenging: “how might we, as individuals and as a community, stand up for the needs of others, ‘at a time such as this;’” /Esther 4:14/ even if it jeopardizes our own safety or security? It is a big challenge and it is one that this community has lifted up and responded to in the past. One might suggest that it is being lifted up rhetorically today, to enhance our focus on the lesson in front of us; and of course that is true. Yet, there are so many possible situations and scenarios that might actually push this point and challenge us – way sooner than we are expecting or feel prepared for. The question is: “will we be up for the challenge when it comes!”