Sermon for Epiphany 3 based on Esther 3:1-15
There were some dark days, though they shouldn’t have been. The disgusting beauty contest of the king to find a new queen had resulted in Esther, a Jew, being given the crown as queen. Sure she was hiding her Jewish heritage, but at least she was in a pretty good position. Her adopted father, Mordecai, also had something going his way. He happened to be in the right place at the right time to hear about a plot to kill the king. He reported it, the plot was halted, and the details of the incident along with who reported it was recorded in the presence of the king. Saving the king from an assassination attempt might come in handy later. Things should have been going well for Mordecai and Esther.
Except they weren’t. In a twist Haman got the glory. This outsider who had nothing to do with stopping the plot got the recognition, fame, and the position. King Xerxes commanded all his servants to bow to Haman. “But Mordecai did not bow down and did not kneel.” Being a servant of the king, Mordecai was obligated to bow, but he was a Jew. He would bow to no man. He bowed, kneeled, gave glory only to God. That kind of insubordination didn’t go unnoticed. When Haman was made aware, he got angry. Really angry. “Haman was not satisfied with laying hands only on Mordecai. Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.” Taking out Mordecai wasn’t enough. Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews, Mordecai’s people.
That’s darkness in the heart that’s hard to understand. It just doesn’t make sense that Haman would get that angry, seemingly because of the actions of one man an entire people needed to be wiped out. That’s scary darkness. And that from someone in Haman who was rich. He used his own money to seal the deal with the king. “I will weigh out ten thousand talents of silver to the treasury of the king for those who carry out this work.” This work was killing the Jews. Haman was so invested in killing Jews he pledged a fortune just for the right to kill them off. Then Haman showed just how dark he was. The dice picked the date it would happen. Clearly he had no belief in God, nothing to say about the divine Creator. Didn’t care. Haman believed in the principles of the world. Chance and the stars. The roll of the dice. Without God something had to be in control. And if he tapped into that, his plans would succeed. Haman was turning all of this against one individual and a whole nation of people. Dark evil plans against God’s own people.
To Esther and Mordecai it probably felt like the world was falling apart when they heard the edict go out from King Xerxes. Things couldn’t get much worse. It was a pretty dark time. When the dark comes over you, when the worst happens, when everything is against you, where do you turn? There’s something challenging you this morning. It feels like forces aligned against you. They are what’s keeping you from a higher paying job. Dark powers pull you back into pornography or addictions. Bad luck in life has left you short on money, short on health, short in a lot of ways. Try and pass it off as just bad luck, that’s all. Could turn like Haman to cosmic forces for an answer. You tell people you just have to wait for your luck to turn. Karma will balance things out. If you’ve suffered, after a while the world will bring you good times. Sometimes though even when you do good, things turn out bad. Physical pain might keep you from being out there more serving God. Miserable health even comes to regular church goers. Death keeps butting in on a good life. Friends die. Family dies. Every one a reminder of your own death. Darkness, pain, sadness.
In the darkest moments, when greed, power, and things that don’t make sense seem to be winning, when everything is backwards, and life just seems to be getting it wrong, there’s a challenge to your faith. Can your faith believe in God in the darkest moments? When it seems Haman, the enemy, is winning. Believe God, especially when God seems to be missing or hiding.
But God isn’t missing. He’s just hidden in the details. After listening to Esther chapter three, hold on to two things you might not immediately notice. First there’s the roll of the dice. “A pur (which means ‘a lot’) was cast before Haman for every day and every month of the year, until Adar, the twelfth month, was chosen.” That’s chance right? Nope. God. Haman’s anger would burn for twelve months before he’d get to exact his revenge. Time during which God would be active. Esther is queen remember. That’s got to count for something. Second, notice the date this edict went out to kill all the Jews. “In the first month, on the thirteenth day, the king’s scribes were summoned.” That doesn’t sound like much, but why be so specific? It seems to just reinforce the terrible date. Except that date also represents a big day in Jewish history. Another important event took place on just that date. On the thirteenth day of the first month, God issued a verdict for his people centuries earlier. A verdict of life. God rescued his people from Pharaoh, in Egypt. The people painted their doors as God commanded with lamb’s blood. Death passed over those doors, those homes, sparing the lives of all inside. God spared them because of the blood.
When your faith is challenged, put to the test by forces and events you think will only swamp it, overrun it, and destroy it, remember. Remember what God has already done. Go find, remember, hold on to, Jesus. The blood of a better lamb, shed his blood for you. Jesus shed blood for your forgiveness. His blood pouring out, being shed over so many sins committed. Your sins, his blood shed so yours wouldn’t have to be. In Christ, with him, connected to him, remembering his deeds done for you, then it really doesn’t matter what’s happening to you, against you, or who’s against you. What matters is what God has already done for you. That in the darkness of your life there’s actually victory.
If it seems hard to grasp that’s because it is, when based on what you can see. You see evil holding the upper hand. You see hardship gripping your life. What you see is what everyone in Susa saw as the edict to kill the Jews went out. “The king and Haman sat down to drink.” Evil was victorious. Darkness had descended. But that’s not true of your life. Evil hasn’t been victorious. The Formula of Concord, a confession of the historical church, says this, “God sets the limits and boundaries for the evil which God does not will: how far it can go and how long it can continue, when and how he will impede it and punish it. Besides that, God the Lord rules all things so that they must promote the honor of the divine name and the welfare of his elect to the shame of the godless.” Yes the devil can attack. Evil moves in this world. But there’s a limit. This far…no farther God says. And no matter how far it goes, God uses it. God uses all things, even evil, to bring glory to himself. And for your welfare. He takes the evil and terrible things that happen to you and gets you right where he wanted you all along. Evil has no say. Sadness and pain don’t run unobstructed through this world. God is endlessly creative in turning evil into good.
Now believing that is no simple matter. If it were up to you it would be impossible, but God calls you to faith. Faith sees the worst happening, and sees God’s proof he can turn it for your gain. Jesus faced evil, stared down hopelessness. Went to the cross and died. His death turned to life. Not just for Jesus but for you and me. Remember what God has done for you. It influences your future. You can’t see your future, but God can. He’s got it. Then he removes your sight. Doesn’t tell you how things will work out for your good. Doesn’t give indications how that pain, that suffering, that death will result in eternal good for you. He calls for you to trust him. When life goes well, trust is easy. It’s when things get bad, that’s when God really gets to work. That’s when trust is strengthened. Faith deepened. You’re led into the darkness of life held firmly by God. The Word brings you back over again and again to what God has done for you in Jesus.
Can you believe that? Whatever the darkness of today, where you are, facing what you’re facing, can you believe that? You’re facing big things. Bad things. Suffering, pain, sadness that still haunts you. Nothing helps, but God. He’s here. Always has been here. Promising that though he looks absent he is anything but. That’s faith. Faith says God is there when he seems he isn’t, because God promises he is. He’s there in the darkness giving you the victory of faith.