March 21, 2021 Sanctuary Worship, Sermon, "For Such a Time as This"

Mar 21st  |  The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming |  Esther 4:4-16

 

Click HERE to view and download the worship bulletin.

 

     I will share a fact and venture a guess as we begin our sermon for the morning.  The fact is this: I have never preached a sermon on the story of Esther.  My guess is that you have never heard a sermon on the book of Esther.  Some of you know the story of Esther from VeggieTales.  (By the way, the entire cartoon is available on YouTube.)

     One reason for this - and you trivia buffs pay attention - is simply this: nowhere in this book of the Bible do you read the name of God.  That caused no small problem.  Neither is there any mention of the Law, covenant, prayer, dietary regulations, or Jerusalem.  The editors of the Septuagint - the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible - added some verses to the text to bulk up Esther and Mordecai’s faith - but they do not appear in the Tanakh.  They do appear in the Roman Catholic Bible and are consigned to the Apocrypha in Protestant Bibles.  There is no extra charge for this information.

     Still, the book is a religious work.  God may not be mentioned by name, but God is standing in the wings - “standing in the shadows, keeping watch above his own.”  God is following the story.  Certain religious concepts are in play, among them providence, the importance of fasting, and - at least by implication - prayer. 

     Now, you can read the whole story this afternoon.  It doesn’t take very long, but here is a quick synopsis:  Esther, the beautiful Jewish wife of King Ahsuerus (also known as Xerxes 1) and her cousin, Mordecai, persuade the king to take back an order for the extermination of the Jewish people throughout the empire.  The horrific act had been planned by Haman, the king’s chief minister and the date was determined by the casting of lots - in Hebrew, purim.  Instead, the king caught wind of it, Esther disclosed her request to save her people, and Haman was hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai.  That’s the bold outline of the story. 

     But the line of the story that caught my attention and interest was this:

Who knows?  Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Est. 4:14c)

Mordecai speaks the line to his cousin.  It’s a bit mystical and numinous.  Maybe there is more to this story and this situation than meets the eye. 

 

     When you get into the details of the story, Esther is taking great risks.  Esther goes to see the king unsummoned.  This was a violation of court customs and was punishable by death.  Mordecai warns her that she will not escape simply because of her beauty or because she is queen.  Mordecai’s admonition is plain: if you do this, there is nothing anyone can do to help you. 

Who knows?  Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Est. 4:14c)

Well, of course, Esther is not condemned.  She is not even judged.  Instead, she saves her people from extermination.  The evil Haman is judged and executed.  The story is completed with a happy ending.  There is, of course, far more to the story and I’ll leave it to you to make your own discoveries.

 

     One of the great narratives - in the Bible and in literature in general - is the appearance of a hero or a heroine.  Someone, or a group of people, find themselves in a dangerous and seemingly dead end.  Hope is disappearing.  It is hard to see a way out.  Whatever shall they do?  And, just when the situation seems the most desperate, a hero or a heroine shows up.  Hope is restored.  A new pathway is made.  Life is redeemed.

     It’s the plot line for every super-hero comic book, television show, and movie.  Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Storm - this is their story, along with so many others.  Central to their “super-ness” is some form of “super power” - an ability, or abilities, that no one else possesses.  The hero or heroine appears at just the right time, sets things right - which often involves righting a wrong, or addressing an injustice, or saving a life - and then, quite often, they disappear until they are needed the next time.

     Such heroes and heroines have captured the imagination of people in every time, in every culture, in every country.  The late Joseph Campbell documents this meta-narrative in his book, “Hero of a Thousand Faces.”  Campbell writes:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.1

The hero or heroine moves from the everyday world - the common world - into a world of supernatural wonder, where supernatural forces are unleashed and a decisive victory is won.  It gives you chills, doesn’t it?  And the emergence of the hero, or heroine, is a blessing to the people.

     Esther, the queen who saved her people was certainly a heroine by this, or any other, definition.  When certain destruction was to be visited on her people, she risked her own power and authority - and even her life - in order to do what she could to save her people.  Mordecai’s question comes back to us:

Who knows?  Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Est. 4:14c)

Maybe it was for this specific purpose that Esther was in a position to act.  Maybe it was for this very reason that Esther had become queen, a stranger in a strange land.  Who knows, indeed.

     In the same heroic mold, Jesus Christ came into this world to rescue and redeem people like you and me from the folly of our own misconceptions and misbehaviors.  Jesus Christ came into the world, not to condemn it, but to deliver us from our own self-destructive way of living.  He called us to a new way of life and living.  We rejected his message and sought to silence him by killing him.  More about that next week.  And then, three days later, “the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

 

     And what of us?  Dare we believe that we have been called to live a heroic life?  Is there something of Queen Esther in us?  Have we been called to deliver our world from its self-destructive way of life, in the same way Jesus was called?  Or are we waiting for someone else to show up?  Have we told the lie long enough that we truly believe “we are not worthy” or “we are not able” to live heroically? 

     Jesus called us to the same work, the same life, that he lived.  And maybe knowing that we would raise objections and plead powerlessness, Jesus told us we would have the very power of the Holy Spirit to do what he was calling us to do. 

 

     It would be very easy to simply sit back and wait for a hero or a heroine to show up and save us.  We do it every time.  We do it every year, when we vote for someone who we think will set everything right.  And then, shortly afterward, we become disillusioned and disappointed and go looking for another hero or heroine to save us. 

     So, let me ask it this way: what if we are the heroes and heroines that we’ve been waiting for?  What if we are being called to set things right, to bring the wholeness of shalom, to right the wrongs, to bring justice to the victims of injustice, to stand with and to stand up for those who suffer discrimination and violence?  What if we are the heroes and heroines that we’ve been waiting for?

     What if we are here - for such a time as this - to make a critical difference in the lives of others?  What if we are here - right now - to do heroic work and offer heroic service?  Oh, I don’t mean that should start wearing capes and masks.  But, what if, what if you and I are here - at this moment in time - in the history of the world - to meet the challenges of being God’s people in a world that needs God’s people?  What if we are called to something powerfully important that could make the difference between life and death? 

     What if we are the heroes and heroines that we’ve been waiting for?

 

     Joseph Campbell wrote: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” 

     Maya Angelou put it this way: “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”  Christopher Reeve, who knew more about being a superhero than we do, tells us: “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

 

     A hero might just be someone born for such a time as this.

     A hero might just be someone who is ready to put his or her life into something bigger than themselves.

     A hero might just be a person who is really intent on making this a better place for all people.

     A hero might just be ordinary people like you and me who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

     Are we the heroes and heroines that we’ve been waiting for?

     Are we the people who can do something about bringing the fullness and wholeness of peace to the broken and shattered of the world? 

     Are we here for such a time as this?

 

     It was Mister Rogers’ birthday the other day.  Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, advocate for children, and a sane voice in a often insane world.  Here’s what Fred Rogers told us:

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

     Fred Rogers was a hero to many of us.  May we be a hero or a heroine and bring hope, peace, and wholeness to the broken of the world. 

     For now and evermore.  Amen.


1)      Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968, p. 30 / Novato, California: New World Library, 2008, p. 23.