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’?

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