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Prayer for the Prideful

Sermon for Epiphany 5 based on Esther 5:9-14, 7:1-10

If you’ve been here for the last couple of weeks as we’ve explored the first chapters of the book of Esther, by now something is becoming clear.  As the story has unfolded we have found Esther, the namesake of the book, to be the hero.  She’s the queen because of a beauty contest in which women were horribly mistreated.  Yet she’s in perfect position to help her people when they need it.  Reluctant at first, she ends up convinced of the action and helps.  Mordecai, her adopted father, misses some very easy ways of helping his daughter stay out of the mess.  But he’s also in the right place to help the Jews, he contributes by pressing Esther when she didn’t really want to help.  And finally there’s Haman, an official of the king.  He is the undisputed villain of the entire story. 

He’s not a redeemable villain either.  There’s no feeling sorry for the guy.  Every time we hear about him there’s some kind of reminder that he’s a man with everything.  Literally everything.  He’s got the money, power, and position.  Remember how he was willing to pay big money, insane amounts of money, to the king so the whole race of people of the Jews would be destroyed.  Haman was some kind of official in the king’s court.  So he certainly had the power.  And he knows he’s got position.  Listen to him bragging.  “What’s more, Queen Esther did not invite anyone except me to come with the king to the banquet that she prepared.”  Things are turning up roses for Haman all over.  But like a setup scene in a movie, the background music switches to a more sinister tone.  Haman is full of joy and happy in his heart, for the moment.  We’re left with the sense it won’t last.  That’s still not a reason to feel sorry for him.  Thousands would’ve died if he got his way.  A whole race of people would have been wiped out.  This guy was not nice. 

What controls Haman is pride.  One day after returning home from the palace, he reviews for his wife and friends everything going right for him at the moment.  “Glory of his wealth, the number of sons, all the details about how the king had made him great, and how the king had elevated him over all the officials and the king’s administrators.”  Haman is basking in the good times.  Or at least he would like to.  He has all these things to take pride in.  Success at all points of his life.  Self-made.  He would love nothing more than to take pride in what his life had become.  Except one thing stands in his way.  Mordecai.

Here too Haman is controlled by pride.  “When Haman saw Mordecai at the king’s gate, and Mordecai did not stand and tremble before him, Haman was filled with rage against Mordecai…None of this means anything to me whenever I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.”  The mere sight of this Jew refusing to stand while such a high official of the king passes by drives Haman over the edge.  The man who has it all wants nothing more than for this one person, a nobody, to stand when he passes.  Recognize his greatness.  Honor him as important.  Haman felt superior.  It was his pride.  So when Mordecai wouldn’t stand, it was a slap against his pride.  Haman craved the approval and honor of others. 

Worse, Haman’s pride gave him no way out.  He wasn’t going to outgrow this.  He couldn’t just let it go.  That would be like rewarding bad behavior.  It might spread.  Then others would reject him too.  More punches to his ego.  More loss of his pride.  Haman became obsessed with taking care of it.  Pride got him the edict from the king to kill all the Jews.  And pride caused Haman to do something really foolish.  He listened to a suggestion from his wife.  She probably was only trying to make him feel better.  You know, lift his spirits by appealing to his pride.  It was the only place to go for Haman in his pride.  People weren’t listening.  His one recourse, the destructive slavery of pride caused him to kill.  Build a gallows seventy five feet high.  In order to hang Mordecai.

We’ll argue that taking stock of everything we have is okay.  It’s good to know what we have, what we need, and make plans to get it.  Why not enjoy the fruits of our hard labor?  What’s the harm in being joyful in what we have?  We’ll argue that’s not pride.  Maybe not, but there’s always a danger.  Because pride can take over.  We bask in the good times.  See success as our own.  But there’s one thing standing in the way of true joy in what we have.  We take pride in the house we have, but it’s the bigger one or newer one we don’t have that makes us jealous.  The job we have isn’t as good as the job someone else has.  We think it’s easier, quicker money, faster promotions.  Our pride wants it for ourselves.  We love our spouse, but it isn’t hard to find one person who is more handsome, more beautiful.  Pride leads us right into misery.  What’s sad is we have so much.  Houses full of stuff.  Lives full of riches.  Still pride won’t let us be content.  Someone always has more, it should be ours.  We’re slaves to pride and it’s destructive.

Pride won’t let us become better either.  What’s the reaction when someone tries to give us advice?  “Perhaps you want to try doing the wash this way.  Oh, yeah, why don’t you do the wash then.  Consider doing your job this way.  Why don’t you mind your own business.”  Pride fires back in bitterness.  Advice comes across as critique.  Critique makes us defensive and turn everything around on the other person.  They’re the one that needs to improve, not me.  They’re the one that needs to be a nicer person, not me.  They’re the one that should change, not me.  Or we skip to something else.  Find a different group, a different scene, somewhere else where we don’t have to change.  We can be exactly the same.  Just like our pride wants to be. 

Pride is destructive.  It’s not just a simple sin.  It is THE sin.  Number one sin.  Kills more people in unbelief, ends more relationships, gives people more struggle than all the rest.  Pride is what separated humans from God in the first place.  A prideful Eve thinking she knew better than God and Adam thinking the same.  Pride leads us to take faulty advice, find comfort in ourselves, and we end up building our own gallows.

It was Haman who actually ended up on the gallows he built.  Events turned things against him.  The banquet was a trap, and he walked right into it.  Queen Esther planned to accuse Haman of trying to destroy, kill, and annihilate her people.  Which he was doing.  She appealed to the king.  Told him the cruel plan.  “Who is this, and where is this person who has the audacity to do this?”  Trap set, trap sprung.  Esther answered, “This hateful enemy is this evil Haman!”  Haman’s pride got him hanging from his own gallows.  One man dying for his own sins, his own pride.

To keep you off your own gallows, one man died.  Not for his own sins, but for yours.  Jesus never thought it was unfair someone had more than he did.  His was the universe.  Jesus never flashed an air of superiority over someone else.  Or get mad that someone didn’t recognize his greatness.  Jesus hung from the cross, a gallows of sorts, killed and cut off from the relationship he had with the heavenly Father.  Humbled, Jesus took the eternal curse on himself that you deserved.  God’s justice over sin meeting God’s love.  Christ Jesus, the perfect one, who perfectly lived up to God’s demands.  Perfect so God might punish sins in him.  Christ Jesus, the love of the Father for sinners.  God’s love won.  You are forgiven in Jesus.  He didn’t stay dead, but rose again to life.  Proving that no gallows, no cross, no tomb could hold him.  He was the Savior.  The one who set you free from all sins, pride and all the rest.

Released from pride you can see yourself differently now.  There’s no need for you to fight to be the center of everyone’s attention.  You already have the attention of the only one who matters.  Jesus has you on his radar.  He’s always thinking of you.  Always working for you.  Always by your side.  You can humbly take the grief of whatever someone wants to throw at you.  Let it slide off, because you have one who carried the grief of all.  In Jesus you have from God a gift.  You are loved by God.  Secure in him.  Honored by him.  Everything you have is a gift.  You’re children of God.  There’s nowhere higher for your pride to go.