September 26, 2021
Sermon: “Crucial Moments”
We’re in the Old Testament today…and it’s quite a story. It’s not an easy one and its full of some wild twists, but it’s incredible how things change in moments.
My campus minister from college gave a talk once about how never to underestimate a few moments. He said “A lot can happen in just a few minutes.” He went on to explain that this mentor figure of his wanted him to come to lunch. He was really busy and didn’t really have time for lunch, so the wise older friend explained, “everyone has to eat—just come for thirty minutes.” Okay, good enough. In that 30 minutes, another lovely Christian woman from the University was invited very intentionally to the same lunch. My campus minister fell in love within moments! He pleaded with all of us, never underestimate God’s timing and provision and those wonderful crucial moments where everything turns upside down and your life is changed.
The book of Esther is like that. It is chalk full of crucial moments that change circumstances for a whole people! This is a book in the Bible that you could read this afternoon. 9 Chapters long—a few pages packed in between the book of Nehemiah and Job. And here’s some Bible trivia for you—how many times is the God’s name mentioned in this book? None. Not one time. Yet, the work of God is at work—throughout the entire story.
To have some background on the book of Esther, I’m going to retell the story to us. If you know her story, you’ll be reminded of how shocking it can sound. If you don’t know this story…hear you go!
Esther, like all of us, didn’t want to die. At least, not anytime soon. She had a lot of life left in her! Even more so, she didn’t want her own people to die. Esther was an orphan who never knew her mother or father—they died long ago. Her dear cousin, Mordecai, was such a good guardian and took her in, and raised her as his own.
Now, this is how she went from orphan to Queen:
The current King was in the mood to find another wife! (His first wife made him angry—so he took her Queen title away and banned her from the kingdom). We’re not sure why she did it, but it was a crucial moment, where the King called for her, and for some reason this Queen refused. When I hear this story, I think that maybe this Queen was trying to escape—she found a way. And now, there was no Queen.
This was enough to give Mordecai a grand idea—it was a daring idea. He thought it possible that the King might find favour in Esther. Esther was a beautiful woman but she didn’t believe that fully. She just hoped she had some beauty to her—as approaching the King could result in her death, or in the end, thought they didn’t know this fully at the time—it could mean death for her entire people.
She did approach the King. And he found favour. It was a crucial moment, and she knew it. Within moments, the crown was hers—she was Queen! This is how Esther made her way into the Kingdom.
But the King didn’t know something critical. He didn’t know Esther’s people. Her cousin, Mordecai, advised her wisely not to speak of it. Mordecai was a caring and protective man. He was also a servant of the King. And now his Jewish cousin sits with the one on the throne. Telford Work is a scholar who sums up Esther with these words: “Esther is an orphaned cousin of an exiled people in a far-flung province of a shaken empire.” It was not on the King’s mind to connect all these dots.
There was one problem, though. A man named Haman. Haman was raised up by the King to have authority over the princes. Haman was ‘you might say’ conceited. He acted like he was more than his role. As if he had divine honours. And of course, he expected all to bow before him, as well. Even though he himself was not the king.
Mordecai was stubborn, though. Faithful, really. He never bowed or paid homage to Haman, which outraged Haman. This is about the time, when Haman did some research, and found out Mordecai’s people. He found out that Mordecai was a Jew and sought to destroy all the Jews throughout the kingdom.
Haman made plans for destruction. He was going to kill all the Jews, but the king didn’t know that Mordecai was a Jew. Mordecai wailed bitterly and was in great anguish. He pleaded with Esther to go before the King and plead for the lives of their people. But how could she? Because anyone, anyone who comes to the inner court who is not summoned, will be put to death, UNLESS, well unless, the King holds out the golden scepter permitting entrance.
Mordecai insisted that Esther do this, that maybe she had attained royalty for this crucial moment. Esther thinks, what if I remain silent? And in thoughtful prayer thinks, “who knows, maybe I have attained royalty for such a time as this.” She made a plan. She pronounces to all Jews to assemble and she ordered them to fast. Do not drink or eat, she exclaimed, for 3 days (night or day), and only then would she approach the inner court. And her famous words, “If I perish, I perish.”
Esther’s bravery is the most beautiful thing about her. But the other beautiful part of this story, is how she prepared to approach the King—not alone. Through the entire body of Jews praying and fasting, God strengthened her. God strengthened them.
Not all in this world are even free to use God’s name or have such a privilege to freely speak it. I remember when I lived in Hungary, I met a woman who said she could not say the word God in her native language…because growing up in Eastern Europe when she was a young child, the word or name “God” was spoken so harshly and with disdain and she wasn’t allowed to step inside a church. The memories were too hard, so she speaks the name in a different language, other than her own. It helps her.
“Throughout our world and throughout human history, there are entire populations who must trust that though God cannot be named, God is at work to put things right, to deal justly with both the oppressor and the oppressed.” There is hope.
Esther puts on her royal robe and prepares. You’ve seen or heard about make-up rooms where actors and actresses or newscasters, etc. are getting made up for the camera. She was getting made up for a real-life encounter. And it was sorta vital that she looked good! She stood, catching her breath, awaiting the King’s invitation, or his wrath.
The King’s gaze locked with hers, and she knew. She could see it in his eyes. She would live. And so would her people. The scepter signaled and she entered the inner court.
The Jews would live, and sorrow was turned into gladness the Scripture says, and from ‘mourning into a holiday. Making days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another, and presents to the poor.’ The festival of Purim today and for the Jewish faith is a remembrance of this day—this moment in the book of Esther.
When God gives us victories in our lives and we are right to celebrate, do we celebrate as these people who fasted for 3 days and 3 nights? Sharing the joy with one another, and giving presents to the poor? Grateful people, recognizing our mortality? What can we give, out of our own joy of living?
Kathleen O’ Connor writes that for Christians, “the feast of Purim calls to mind eucharistic feasts and, in the context of Esther, serves as strong warning against social systems that benefit the powerful and harm others.”
For those that are not free to name the name of God. We pray that God be known to them, just as God was known in this time of Esther. We ask God’s help in our own lives, in the daily moments and decisions that could prove critical. Let us remember Esther and her story, and let her story inspire us to pray confidently for wisdom—as we face our own trials…with strength and endurance.
Friends, there’s so much more to tell of Esther’s story, we could talk about a lot of different moments in this small book alone.
But let me just say, that this crucial moment where Esther was granted permission to enter the King’s court was a victorious moment, for Esther found favour in the King’s eyes and because this was so, she was enabled to save her people. She really didn’t have a choice. And often in this world, there are many who don’t have a choice, but God can work. And we can pray.
Here’s the other crucial fact: Esther didn’t do this on her own. There were many who fasted and prayed, and that strength gave her courage. That was her first step when she agreed to appear before the king. I need help to do this! We are not alone. I often say if we can’t come to the church and say “I’m hurting”, or “I need support,” then where can we go? It’s what the church should be. This is the one place one should be able to come and be free to be themselves. (Take off their masks---but today, not literally!) J
God saves us today.
In our gratefulness and joy, let us respond by reaching out to others in need and sharing the
gospel love. Loved by God, we respond, North Lonsdale, in love. Amen.