Sermon based on Esther 4:1-17 for Epiphany 4
King Xerxes and Haman had just toasted to the fact that they signed the death warrant for thousands of people in their kingdom. A year later Haman hoped to be celebrating the death of Jews all over the kingdom. He was unnecessarily angry at one Jew in particular, but ended up angry at the whole race of people. He turned that anger into action, bribing the king to agree to an order that would destroy every Jew in the land. In the Persian kingdom, that was all it took.
Mordecai was the man Haman was really angry with. He was the Jew Haman wanted to destroy along with every other one. Mordecai was Esther’s father by adoption. Esther had been living in the palace for a while, after having been named queen in a contest. Ever since hearing about the edict of death on Jews, Mordecai was showing his grief. “When Mordecai became aware of everything that had happened, he ripped his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went out into the middle of the city, and let out a loud, bitter cry.” Now it was his turn to be extremely upset. Not angry, just sad. Sad that these were his people, scheduled for destruction. And he was one of them. Yet instead of mourning in private in his home or synagogue where he wouldn’t attract undo attention, he went right to the king’s gate. There was purpose to that. To get attention. Mordecai showed everyone what he thought of the edict and what was making him sad. He was in the right place at the right time, where God put him.
All around us looks like a world in freefall. There are sins out in the open that generations ago people were ashamed to talk about much less think about. There’s brokenness everywhere we look. Hurt that happens in our lives and other people’s lives too. Plenty of things for us to be extremely upset and sad about. Relationships between husbands and wives have almost never been under more strain. Each is pulled in different directions, stress from work and home life make finding time for each other difficult. Employers and employees are at odds with each other. It makes getting the company going in the same direction hard, no one is on the same page, and few work towards common interests. Instead they work towards their own. Community leaders and citizens don’t see eye to eye. Mistrust and mismanagement don’t bring people together, but push them apart. We see things and get upset. We see things and get sad. We participate in sins that bring us down into the same brokenness.
Instead of mourning your sins and the sins and brokenness of the world around you in private, or on social media, or with sackcloth and ashes, go to the king’s gate. God didn’t make a mistake placing you in this place, at this time. You’re right here, still here, at your address, in your job, with your life and people surrounding you. You’re there with purpose. The people around you need attention. They’re there for a reason. God wants you impacting them. You have something to share with broken people. It was first shared with you. You have hope. Because you know Jesus. So when you live your life as a teacher, builder, engineer, military service member, IT person, business owner, neighbor, husband, wife, child, parent, or grandparent you have purpose. Jesus is your something to share. Jesus is the one who heals brokenness. Jesus is the one who gives you purpose.
Esther was scared of her position. Being where she was, as queen, scared her at this time. She hadn’t seen the king, her husband, in thirty days. He didn’t call for her, didn’t reach out. Did he want her anymore? Did he miss her? It was a scary place to be. Scary because the king could replace her any time he wanted. Plus if she had tried to force contact, like come to him in his inner court without being called, even though she was the queen, she could find herself dead really quick. Plus she heard about the edict. “When Esther’s female attendants and her eunuchs came and told her what had happened, the queen agonized over it.” She agonized because of the edict and because of what her adopted father was asking of her. “Mordecai also gave Hathak a copy of the written decree…Hathak was to place the responsibility upon her to go to the king to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.” She was a Jew too. The Jews were her people. She sat in the palace, in a position to help, and tried to ignore it. Tried to smooth things over with Mordecai, giving him gifts so he’d forget about this terrible tragedy. She was scared because she was trying to remain comfortable.
In this place, at this time, purpose comes with responsibility. Having money means responsibility. We use it to care for ourselves, for our families, and for others. After we’ve done the first one though, the rest are more of a challenge. When two people get married they might leave their money separate. They’re living together, but spending my money on her seems too much. Letting him use my money for what he wants, I don’t think so. Marriage, family, means putting someone else’s needs on the same level as our own. That might mean one gets less. One might be less comfortable. Within relationships we already have a responsibility to care for another. Naturally that means sharing Jesus. But that comes with risks. Our comfort could be compromised. So we don’t say anything. The relationship may not last, so we don’t say anything. We don’t want to see a relationship harmed, so we don’t say anything. Even within the church we have resources and gifts. We have people. But by using those, we’re risking those. If we feel uncomfortable, we pull back. We don’t like risk. It just might be too great. Ignoring position, ignoring opportunity, smoothing over things so we don’t feel bad, what’s really happening? We’re attached to comfort. The world likes comfort and so do we.
Like a good father, Mordecai instructs his daughter, Esther the queen. “Do not imagine that of all the Jews, you alone will escape because you are part of the king’s household.” Her position wouldn’t be enough to save her. All Jews would die, including her. Doing nothing would mean she was already dead. Mordecai doesn’t mention God, doesn’t command her what to do. He makes it clear doing nothing is not an option. If she does nothing, Mordecai says “relief and deliverance for the Jews will spring up from somewhere.” Again, no mention of God. But isn’t that what Mordecai means? God will get things done. She could either work with God or stand on the sidelines. Either way, God would get things done.
Then Mordecai motivates her to action. She wouldn’t respond purely off the threats. She needed promise. Esther needed only remember her immediate past. She was born a Jew, something she didn’t pick. She was adopted by Mordecai, something she didn’t pick. She was in the contest to pick a queen, something she didn’t pick. She was selected by King Xerxes, made queen, and brought into the royal household. A Jew, in the royal house, at a time when an edict went out to kill Jews, and Jews needed an ally in a strong position. She had been gifted by God with purpose. “Who knows whether you have become queen for a time like this!” No question, but promise. God had given her this time, this position, this purpose.
God doesn’t need you. Truth be told, the gospel spread around the world, people were saved, faith came to people before you were around doing anything. God doesn’t need you. But he wants to use you. By grace you know that. Your past tells you. God got you here, right now. God had you born into your family. Gave you gifts for specific work. Moved you around the country without a say in some cases. Gave you your house, this church, interaction with these people. You can’t claim it was your knowledge, smarts, or skills that got you here, right now. God’s grace did. He put you here, right now, for his purpose.
Because it was Jesus who put himself right where he was, at the right time, for the purpose of saving you from your sins. Jesus would stand in for a whole bunch of people, the whole world. Stand in as the one who would be sacrificed in place of all people. His work meant those people would live. Christ Jesus achieved his purpose. He didn’t say like Esther, “If I perish, I perish.” Jesus knew he would perish. He lost his life for you. He refused to take the comfortable position, but suffered instead. And in doing so gave your life purpose.
That gospel moves you to action. Gives you purpose to focus on others. To go and say, what will be, will be. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Risk the relationship, the money, the status. Risk it for the good purpose of God’s kingdom. Spend yourself completely because God gave you everything. Right here and right now. You have purpose. God’s purpose. You have this place for such a time as this.