A sermon preached at Niles Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Fremont, on Sunday, September 27, 2009, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scripture:  Esther 4
Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey S. Spencer


            The book of Esther reminds us of the reality of violence.  The Bible isn’t an escapist book.  The Bible doesn’t offer us a fairy tale to disappear into.  It doesn’t offer pabulum to lull us into a false sense of security.  No, the Bible talks about the realities of life.  And then it challenges us to live faithfully in the midst of those realities.

            As I think about the broad scope of violence, the vast spectrum of types and experiences of violence, I think, of course, about war and terrorism and crime.  And then I think about the subtler forms of violence, the more systemic forms of violence.  I’m talking about the great list of isms – racism, classism, heterosexism, and sexism.  We’re reminded about these forms of violence by the book of Esther in the first chapter when Queen Vashti is shunned because she had the audacity to refuse a demand from her husband.

            On the other end of my imagined spectrum of violence is genocide, the pogroms that have been planned and all too often carried out.  We’re reminded of these forms of violence, too, in the book of Esther in the third chapter when Haman plots to have all Jews executed.

            Esther lived in violent times, as do we.

            I did a quick survey of the articles in Friday’s and Saturday’s editions of The Argus.[i]  I was looking for themes, and violence came through as a major one.  Sometimes the violence was obvious.  There were articles about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the coup in Honduras, Holocaust deniers, attempted acts of terrorism, and nuclear weapons and the nuclear ambitions of Iran.  There were articles about violent crimes an about the violence perpetrated by an overcrowded prison system.

            Sometimes the violence wasn’t quite so obvious, but it’s there.  I think it’s fair to say many are experiencing an economic violence these days.  And when stories surface about insurance companies denying claims, violence is a fitting label.  Pollution is violence against nature and global climate change will certainly bring violence against the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.  In fact, I think global climate change, if not addressed now, will bring some degree of violence – directly or indirectly – to every person on the planet.[ii]  Even cutbacks in public services are forms of low-grade violence.  When parks are closed, when public transit isn’t available, when children are given less educational opportunity – we all suffer.

            Like the book of Esther, the newspaper reminds us that we live in violent times.  And I can’t help but wonder if the book of Esther might not be calling us.

            Mordecai pled with Esther to use her position to try to stop a genocide.  It was a dangerous request.  For a woman to step outside of her role as subservient spouse after what Vashti did, especially in the palace, was risky.  To go before the king when you weren’t summonsed could prove fatal.  It was a dangerous request, but Mordecai made it.

            Mordecai reminded Esther that her place in the royal household didn’t change her Jewishness, and that she would almost certainly suffer the same fate as every other Jew if the planned genocide was not stopped.  Then Mordecai offered up an interesting theological statement.  Without mentioning God by name, Mordecai suggested that God would deliver the Jews – somehow.  Deliverance of the Jews will arise from somewhere.  “But,” Mordecai says, “if you’re not part of God’s solution, you and your family will die.”  Then he goes on:  “Who knows, Esther; perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”[iii]

            It’s a more humble suggestion about the will of God than we often hear from religious people.  It seems to me that the more religiously fanatical the person, the more likely they are to claim that God has called them to do something very specific, or that it’s God’s will that something happen.  And the more fanatical the person, the more certain they seem to be about their claim.  I don’t think I need to quote fanatical American Christians for you to know what I’m talking about.

            Mordecai’s suggestion is much less certain.  It leaves open the possibility that he might be wrong.  And I like that.  I want to do God’s will but recognize that I don’t always know what that will is, and even when I think I know God’s will, I might be wrong.

            And yet, at the same time, here I am in this position in my life.  Might God be ready to use me, here, now, for some purpose?  Might God be ready to use me for just such a time as this?

            I am deeply impressed by Esther’s response.  She’s been asked to take a huge risk.  “Fast and pray for me,” she says.  “I’ll fast and pray, too.  And then I’ll go.  I’ll go to the king.  And if I die, I die.”[iv]  Where did that courage come from?  How did she muster the resources to take such bold action?  I don’t know.  I suspect that a discipline of prayer had something to do with it.

            I would have understood it if fear paralyzed her.  I would have understood it if she had said, “I’m new to this queen thing.  I don’t have the experience necessary to get the job done.”  I would have understood it if she had planned to do it, but just never got around to actually doing it.  Fear, the excuse of inexperience, and procrastination have each derailed many a worthwhile plan.

            Funny, that, because time and again, the Bible tells us, “Fear not,” and “Don’t be afraid.”  Time and again, the Bible tells us that God uses the unfit and the too young to get the job done.  Time and again, the Bible calls us to act without hesitation.

            It’s a bit trite, but the questions have value:  If not me, who?  If not now, when?

            Our scripture today is a reminder that we always have some power.  And our scripture asks us:  How will we use the power we have for such a time as this?

[i] The local Fremont paper.

[ii] You can read a essay about global warming at my blog at jeffsjottings.wordpress.com.

[iii] I am, of course, paraphrasing.

[iv] Again, paraphrasing.