June 27, 2010

Ordinary Time Excursion-Esther

This week we visit Esther. She has a whole book in the Bible devoted to her life and a Jewish feast, Purim, remembers her courage. Nearly everyone thinks they know her story. The recent movie (2006) “One Night with the King” follows the Bible fairly closely and the 1999 made-for-TV movie entitled “Esther” is another telling of the story. Handel wrote an oratorio, Esther, and there have been other interpretations through the years.

Much is made of the fact that the Book of Esther is the only canonical book of the Bible in which God is not mentioned by name. However, God is present in all the action in the story, just like in all that we do—whether we are being ‘religious’ or not. Last week I mentioned Horace Tabor. His actions left a lasting imprint on the Leadville area, even though he died a pauper. He is remembered as much for his generosity as for his mine. Esther’s bravery and wisdom saved her people.

Hadassah (Esther) is a Jewish orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai in Susa, capital of Persia about 2500 years ago. Ahasuerus (Xerxes I of Persia) exiles his queen and seeks to find a new queen from the beautiful maidens of his provinces. Mordecai, wise in the ways of the court tells Esther her not to reveal that she is Jewish. “The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.” (Esther 2:17)

Enter the villain in this story—Haman, the Agagite. He hates Mordecai and all Jews. When the king promotes Haman he issues an edict in the kings name to “destroy, to slay, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, with is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.” (Esther 3:13) Mordecai tells Esther that she must intercede for her people (the Jews) to the king. This was not a task as easy as it sounds because “if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law; all alike are to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter. [Mordecai responds] ‘if you keep silence…relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter…who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:11-14) Esther sets aside three days to fast and pray.

Perhaps her prayer was based on Psalm 37, which we’ve been following throughout this series of blog meditations. Verses 7-11 are filled with encouragement to those who face evil.

“Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant prosperity.”

She approaches the king and after a heart stopping few seconds, he “held out to Esther the golden scepter.” (Esther 5:2) Then Esther shows her wisdom. She does not immediately tell the king what she wants, but rather invites him and Haman (!) to a dinner. At the second banquet with Queen Esther, Haman’s plot starts to unravel. She asks, “let my life be given me…and my people…for we are sold…to be annihilated.” When the king asks who issued the order, she responds, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” (Esther 7:3-6) Haman is hanged on the gallows he prepared for Modecai and the king issues a decree allowing the Jews to “gather and defend their lives [against] any who might attack them.” (Esther 8:11)
The Feast of Purim is established “that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation.” (Esther 9:28) As for Mordecai, he was promoted to “next in rank to King Ahasuerus and he was great among the Jews…” (Esther 10:3) It is a fun time with games and music and a recitation of the story.

Esther did not expect to be the one who saved her nation from destruction. Although the men and women who came to the Arkansas River valley in CO did not set out to establish churches or towns, they did. God used Esther and the anonymous (and well-known) pioneers to further the Kingdom of God. In his book And the Angels were Silent, Max Lucado says we each have something-a “donkey,” that God needs.

"All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or hug or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check.

Whichever, that's your donkey.

Whichever, your donkey belongs to him. It really does belong to him. Your gifts are his and the donkey was his. The original wording of the instructions Jesus gave to his disciples is proof: "If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkeys, you are to say, 'It's Lord who is in need.'"

I leave you with the question—what is God doing in and through your life that you never expected?  Esther trusted God to give her courage and willingness to be used, “though I perish”. What is your ‘donkey’?

June 20, 2010

Ordinary Time Excursion-Sarah

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the seeming inequities of life. It started with our visit to Leadville. Seeing the abandoned mines along the roads and up the mountain sides spoke to me of the great dreams of so many men (and women) who hoped to strike it rich, but so few did. On the other hand, the ‘lucky’ ones who did find gold or silver became VERY wealthy. In Leadville, Horace Tabor is a key figure. His wealth brought modern luxuries like gas lighting and the Opera House to Leadville, but he died a pauper. His (second) wife “Baby Doe” died destitute and alone in the middle of a Colorado winter in a cabin at the Matchless Mine 30 years later. Legend says she was hanging on to the mine in hopes of a resurgence of wealth, even though it no longer belonged to her. I suspect she felt it very unfair that the repeal of the Silver Act ruined the life ‘to which she had become accustomed’.

Our excursion today takes us back to a woman who was also troubled by the inequities of life. We first meet Sarah as a young bride. (Genesis 12) Her name is Sarai and his is Abram. It is not until many years later that God renames them Sarah and Abraham. Her great desire is to be a mother, but she is barren. This is a deep grief and even shame for her.

When it seems that God is not going to answer her prayers for a child, she tells Abram, “‘You see that the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.’ And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai…He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.” (Genesis 16:2-4)

Now isn’t that adding insult to injury. Hagar, the slave sneers at her mistress because she is pregnant! Sometimes life just isn’t far, is it? The writer of the Psalms often felt that way. However, in Psalm 37:5-6, the psalmist says, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” I’m sure that Sarah and “Baby Doe” Tabor both wished they could see their vindication. Tabor did not, but Sarah did, although she did not believe it at first. In fact, she laughs at God.

“Then one [of the heavenly messengers] said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. He said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’” (Genesis 18:10-15)

Would you have believed the visitors? Sarah knew she was 90 years old (Genesis 18:17)! The wonderful thing is that God doesn’t hold her arguing against Sarah. In fact, I can hear a chuckle in the response, “Oh yes, you did laugh”. God knows that her dearest dream will come true and delights in the surprise in store.

The men and women who came to Leadville over a century ago, 30-40,000 strong in her heyday, were searching for riches. They established a city. We can look at the discarded mines as evidence of failure or look at the neat homes and abundant history of the city as evidence of the human spirit seeking greater and greater things. Since before Abraham and Sarah, humanity has searched for ‘success’. It comes in as many ways as there are people. For Sarah it was her son Isaac. For Tabor it was wealth, which used to improve the city he loved. For the Psalmist it is vindication.

How do you define success? Is it family, or how much you own, or your relationship with God, or something else entirely? Sometimes the easy answer isn’t necessarily the deepest or truest answer. Sarah’s dream was to have a child, yet it was in the conception of Isaac she learned of God’s love. The Psalmist learned to trust that God will act—even if it’s not always in the way we expect.

Tabor came to Leadville as a grocer and almost by accident became a Silver King. I wonder if he would say his success was the wealth or all the small miners he helped with supplies and groceries? Because of his early generosity, miners and railroaders watched over Baby Doe in her self-imposed seclusion. When they realized that there was no smoke coming from the cabin, they set out to find out why and found her body.

Our paths are not simply a journey from point A to point B. We don't really know where we are going. Things that look unfair at first, may turn out to be blessings. Sarah thought she was helping God or doing God's will when she gave Hagar to Abram so he would have an heir. God had a better plan and her actions did not change that plan. Tabor arrived in Leadville an unknown stone mason turned shopkeeper. He ended up one of the more famous of the Silver Kings of Leadville because he took over a 'failed' mine. The men and women who came looking for gold, founded a city. Sarah and Abraham, despite their very human failings were the founders of a dynasty.

Who knows where your path or mine will end up? When we “Commit your way to the LORD [and] trust in him, " we can, slowly, begin to see that what we think are inequities are maybe just big surprises from God. 

Come back next week to see what God does with Esther's life and courage.

June 13, 2010

Ordinary Time Excursion-Rahab

Last week we visited Naomi of Bethlehem, a sad and bitter woman, who found herself transformed when God acted in her life. This week we back up along the historical time line to the conquest of Jericho and meet Rahab.

Rahab of Jericho is often overlooked, even by people who read the Bible. Of all the books I have written, Rahab’s Redemption is the one that people most often look perplexed about. “Who is Rahab?” they ask. Her story is encapsulated in the second chapter of the Book of Joshua with a brief mention in chapter 6:22-23. Then we hear nothing more about her until the genealogy of Christ in Matthew. “and Salmon (or Salma) [was] the father of Boaz by Rahab” (Matthew 1:5).

The little reference in Matthew shines a great spotlight on Rahab. Rather than just some harlot in Jericho who happened to give sanctuary to a couple of spies and saved her family—Rahab is one of the few women named in the lineage of Jesus Christ! She married one of the spies and became a faithful Jewish woman!

Despite her pagan upbringing, God was able to use her generous heart to fulfill his Plan. Although she was a harlot, perhaps a prostitute for the temple of Baal or Astarte, Rahab tells the spies, “I know the Lord has given you the land…there was no courage left in any man, because of you; for the Lord your God is he who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11) Her faith is mentioned in both Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 as an example to follow.

In our culture, the ‘big names’ get the headlines in sports, business, entertainment, etc. Often the rest of us, the ordinary folk, get forgotten as we go about our duties and prayers. Even in the Bible, Joshua gets the top billing, and Rahab is relegated to a few verses.

My husband and I recently spent a few days in Leadville, CO. Surrounded by lovely scenery and interesting history, it is easy to focus on the men who made the area famous because they found gold or silver and forget the thousands of miners who toiled underground to acquire that wealth. You forget, that is, until you drive outside the city and see the remains of hundreds of mines—dreams of riches and grandeur lost to time. Men who gave their last penny and often last breath of life for the elusive ore are forgotten, even by those who benefited.

Ps. 37: 3-4 reminds us of a different way to real life, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Rahab willingly cast her lot with the invading Hebrew tribes. She did trust in the Lord and found security and the desire of her heart. The men, and women, seeking fame and fortune a century ago in Leadville trusted in their own abilities. Even those who found wealth rarely found peace of mind. Horace Tabor, owner of the richest mine of the era, died a pauper because he trusted in himself and his wealth. True peace is found in trusting in our God and delighting in God’s way.

When we think about Rahab of Jericho, we should be reminded that none of us is too insignificant for God to use. CS Lewis tells us, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snug, and exploit…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Chist vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden. (The Weight of Glory)

I wonder what difference it would make in my life, in your life, in the world, if we were conscious of the Christ hidden in each of us. If we, like Rahab, were truly willing to cast our lot with the God of Israel who is “the Lord your God is he who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”

Next week, our excursion takes us to see Sarah, wife of Abraham who tried to force God's hand.

June 6, 2010

Ordinary Time Excursion-Naomi

The first person we meet on our Ordinary Time excursion is Naomi. You can find her story in the Old Testament Book of Ruth, esp. the first chapter. To summarize, Naomi is one of the early settlers of Canaan after the Exodus ends. With her husband Abimelech and two sons, Naomi settles in Bethlehem. A few years later a drought drives the family to Moab where her sons and husband all die, leaving her stranded as a widow in a foreign land with no man to support her. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, where at least the Law of Moses commanded that widows be cared for. She bids farewell to her daughters-in-law and Orpah returns to her home, but Ruth refuses with the well-known words, “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” (Ruth 1:16).

The rest of the Book of Ruth is taken up with the love story of Boaz and Ruth, although if you read closely you will discover that it is Naomi who moves the romance along by urging Ruth to go to the threshing floor, “uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:1-5)

Naomi was a sad and bitter woman when she returned to Bethlehem. “Do not call me Mara,” she says. “For the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has afflicted me and the Almighty has brought calamity on me?” (Ruth 1:19-21)

How often do you and I find ourselves railing against what appear to be the bad things that happen to us? For me it is too often. Recently I read a short meditation that brought me up short, though.

You can begin the journey of holiness by examining your reactions and attitudes to the daily doses of life you are given - for it is the day to day, the minute to minute, the joy and the sorrow, the bitter and the sweet that is the training ground for holiness.” (explorefaith.com)

Like Naomi, my reaction often leads toward angry bitterness. However, Naomi’s story reminds me that no one knows the whole story. God did not forget Naomi. Boaz marries Ruth and they have a son. “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel. He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’…They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:13-17)

Naomi, the destitute widow, became the great-great grandmother of the mighty King David of Israel. God, in love, took her emptiness and transformed it into a heritage for all generations. When she returned to Bethlehem, Naomi wouldn’t have believed that she would be a grandmother. We know the ‘rest of the story’ which she did not—that her descendent would become king of the nation and another descendent would be the savior of the world!

Ruth’s love for Naomi was the first step in her redemption. By loving her mother-in-law, Ruth was a mirror of God’s love to Naomi. Eventually Naomi was able to receive and reciprocate that love and accept the blessings God had for her. When she held Obed in her arms, and remembered her hard-hearted neighbors in Moab, Naomi might have been tempted to echo the first few verses of Psalm 37: “Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.”

You and I do not know the whole story either. Our life is written a day at a time. God’s love is always there before us, so we should not ‘fret’ or ‘be envious’ no matter what the appearances of our life. God is greater than appearances and we are safe in God’s hands! That is rather extraordinary, don’t you think? From the security of God’s love we, like Ruth, can offer that love to those around us because God’s love is for all, even those who irritate or wrong us. Paul reminds us that “all things work for God for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28)

I’m not saying it’s easy, but Jesus did say, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Teresa of Avila a 16th century Carmelite nun is credited with the following prayer that reminds me that, like Ruth, I am the mirror of God to those I meet. I am the hands and feet of Christ!

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

See you next week for a further Ordinary Time Excursion—with Rahab of Jericho. She was certainly someone that no one would have expected God to use. See what happened when God’s love transformed her life.

PS-one of my books is Naomi’s Joy. It is a fictionalized account of Naomi’s story from her childhood during the Exodus until Obed’s birth. Check out the My Books tab at the top of the blog for more of my books.