(sermon note: 12-04 sermon note)
When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.
Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, ‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that 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. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.’ When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’ Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about eleven people who were hanging on a rope under a helicopter, 10 men and one woman. The rope was not strong enough to carry them all, so they decided that one had to leave, because otherwise they were all going to fall. They weren’t able to decide which person would make the ultimate sacrifice until the woman gave a very touching speech. She said that she would voluntarily let go of the rope because, as a woman, she was used to giving up everything for her husband and kids, or for men in general, and was used to always making sacrifices with little in return. As soon as she finished her speech, all the men started clapping their hands.
Simple, to-the-point, brilliant! Well, perhaps a little sexist but humorously revealing nonetheless. We live in a society that often expects women to make the lion’s share of sacrifices. We also live in a society that often regards men as chauvinistic and stupid. So stupid as to let go of a helicopter to applause the sacrifices of the women around them! Both claims are gross generalizations at best, wildly sexist and prejudicial at worst. Men can be equally sacrificial and women can be equally stupid at times so to think either, as a whole, is more sacrificial or stupid is foolish and untrue. But boy, sexism can be funny at times!
We don’t have much time to reflect on our rich passage this morning since we used most of it with the Bible Project video. The lectionary authors didn’t do us any favors by dropping us in the 4th chapter of Esther and expecting to know the context of our passage. Thanks to Bishop Laurie who visited us at our Bible study this past week who suggested the video might best help us to understand the context of our passage. And she was right! Those videos provide such excellent summaries of the books of the Bible, I highly recommend checking them all out when you get a chance. They’re so clever and easily accessible to anyone looking for quick summaries of books of the Bible. I highly agree that the Bible study videos are a great resource for better understanding scripture. But that video took up most of our time together this morning so I guess I have to keep my message brief and to-the-point.
I think we better know what’s going on with Esther and Mordecai and Haman, enough to be able to jump right into ch. 4. Esther and Mordecai have caught wind of Haman’s plan to kill the Jews and Mordecai suggests that because of her powerful position, she just might be the only person to save them. Naturally she doesn’t think she’s qualified for such an awesome feat but after a little convincing from Mordecai she comes to realize that she IS just the right person for the job, even if it means sacrificing herself to get it done. Like that woman hanging from the helicopter, Esther was willing to sacrifice herself to save those around her: “If I perish, I perish.” What a bold and daring leader of God’s people! Few of the leaders were asked to give of their own lives in leading God’s people, even fewer being women, at least according to scripture. Esther is a rare anomaly in scripture.
We heard the rest of the story in that video and know that Esther didn’t actually give up her life to save the Jews. The king was impressed by her boldness and clever plan to counteract Haman’s plan. Her willingness to simply put her life on the line was enough to save the Jews. Now we then ask ourselves, what does Esther’s leadership have to do with our Advent journey? Well, it certainly lays the groundwork for the sacrifice that Jesus would eventually make on behalf of all people, not just the Jewish people. In this season, we are awaiting the birth of our Lord and Savior who became the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known. Maybe Esther’s story would be better suited for Holy Week but alas, we get to reflect on it at the start of Jesus’ journey instead of at the end. We get to reflect on why we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus. His teachings and healings are great but it’s his sacrifice that is most celebrated. We can’t help but let go of the rope to applaud HIS sacrifice!
Sacrifice is the ultimate act of service we can make for others. As Christians, we are called to serve one another even to the point of sacrifice and scripture only reinforces this. In Hebrews, we are told, “do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (13:16) And in Philippians, Paul advises, “let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (2:4) Jesus himself says, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) Sacrifice is at the core of servitude and we better be prepared to make sacrifices on our Christian journey. Be assured, we will be rewarded for our sacrifices just as Esther was rewarded even though she didn’t have to actually give her life. God is most pleased when we serve each other. Let us use Esther’s witness to reinforce our own callings to serve and sacrifice for each other. Service and sacrifice are what Jesus is all about! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.