The Bible celebrates the work of God:
God says, Let it be, and it is.
Creation and all of its creatures, sun, moon and stars …
The call of Sarah and Abraham …
The promise of a child …
Deliverance from Egypt …
Guidance in the wilderness: manna in the morning, water from the rock …
Through the sea to the Promised Land …
Jericho conquered and enemies defeated …
Judges and prophets, kings and queens …
God at work,
God at work,
God at work.
But … Esther strikes a startling note …
God never shows up … not even once!
Just Esther and her Uncle Mordecia … and the people held captive in a faraway land.
Ahasuerus, the king of Persia … vain and powerful … proud and willful …
And Haman, a sniveling snot, hateful of the Jews.
Our story begins with a party … Ahasuerus, in all of his pomp and power, throws a wild party …
The Bible reads:
The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were present, while he displayed the great wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and pomp of his majesty for many days, one hundred eighty days in all.
When these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings ◙ and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired.
When the king is thoroughly potted, he calls for his queen, queen Vashti … the king wants to show off his eye-candy … but to everyone’s surprise, Vashti tells the king to take a hike.
The king is embarrassed.
The officials incensed.
The guests shocked.
The king and his officials huddle … this is a crisis of state.
If the women of the empire hear that Vashti refused the king, it’s going to go down bad for men everywhere.
So, Vasthi is dumped … never again to enter the king’s chambers … she’s history, because she refused the king … she’s lucky she didn’t lose her head.
What’s a king to do without a queen?
A king needs a queen …
A little eye-candy to decorate the palace …
A pretty little thing hanging on his arm …
A trophy wife to show the boys at the country club …
Look, this is not a pretty picture …
It’s gross, sickening and silly.
Power without restraint.
Wealth without purpose.
Bloated egos and huge expense accounts.
Life at the top of the heap …
Everything big …
Big appetites, big egos, big parties, big homes, the bigger the better …
What’s a king to do when he needs a queen?
Well, of course … announce a beauty pageant …
All lovely young ladies apply here.
If accepted, you’ll be given an extreme makeover …
You’ll be coddled and doted upon …
You’ll be exercised, bathed and perfumed …
You’ll be taught how to walk and talk and think like a queen … ah, well, ah, excuse, me … you’ll be taught to walk like queen … but ease up on the talking – the king isn’t interested … and forget about thinking – the king couldn’t care less.
All the king wants is a little eye candy.
So the young ladies of the land send in their applications … sounds like reality TV, doesn’t it? With high hopes of being chosen by the king to be the next queen of Persia.
For a moment, the story shifts to Mordecai and his beautiful niece, Esther … her parents died early on, so Mordecai adopted Esther and raised her as his own daughter.
She’s an eye-full, that’s for sure.
And when the girls of the realm are gathered, Esther is among them.
For a whole year, the girls are preened and prepped:
Six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics.
And then the moment … drum roll please …
The most eligible bachelor in the realm calls for the pageant to begin… everyone dressed fit to kill … the girls can wear anything they want from the finest wardrobes of the palace … they’ve prepared mincing and posing for 12 long months … now the moment is here:
Who’s going to be sent home?
Who’s going to get the red rose?
One by one, the girls pay a visit to the king.
One by one, they’re sent packing … whisked away in a cheap chariot … they can keep the perfume and the clothes.
Now it’s Esther’s turn.
She catches the king’s eye.
He’s smitten by her.
Esther gets the rose.
The little Jewish girl, an orphan and a captive in a strange land, becomes the queen of Persia.
In the meantime, Mordecai discovers an assassination plot to kill the king … Mordecai spills the beans and wins the king’s affection.
But Mordecai gets crossways with a top official in the palace … Mordecai refuses to bow and scrape before Haman … the sniveling snot … Haman is incensed … his pride wounded … his ego yelling for blood.
Haman manipulates the king into signing a death order for the Jews throughout the kingdom - every last one of them … Kill ‘em all!
Well, that’s one way of taking care of it …
Is anything here done reasonably?
It’s all over the top.
Power gone mad.
A party that lasts 180 days.
Thousands to die for one man’s pride.
The Jews hear of the order and are frightened out of their wits … what can they do? … their captors hold all the cards … the “Golden Rule” – you know what that means, don’t ya’? Those with all the gold, make all the rules!
Mordecai approaches Esther …
Esther, Esther, can you do something?
Esther replies, Mordecai, you know the deal … I’m the queen, and that and five bucks gets me a caramel latte at the local coffee shop … if anyone goes into the palace unbidden, they can die, just like that. Just like that! No one goes to the king unbidden.
But Mordecai says, Don’t think for a moment you’re going to be safe. When the hammer falls, you, too, will die. Help may yet come to the Jews from some other source, but it’ll be too late for you Esther, too late for you and your family.
Every time I read this story, I’m reminded of Pastor Martin Niemoller who lived through the Nazi Holocaust … Pastor Niemoller protested and paid a price for it, and when the war was finally over, he wrote a poem:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
In my mind’s eye, I see Esther pacing the floor, brow furrowed, deep in anguished thought …
What shall I do?
Should I take a chance? Am I a fool to try, or a worse fool to remain silent?
Ever been there?
An ethical dilemma on your shoulders?
A young truck driver told by his boss to dump toxic waste in a nearby stream late at night …
An HR VP told by the higher-ups to fire 400 people, and do it now … and if she does it now, there’ll be a fat Christmas bonus for her …
An accountant who sees the books being cooked …
A scientist who knows the toxic compounds being used in food products …
A farmer trapped - between paying fruit pickers a decent wage and the giant buyer who pays pennies on the dollar …
Ever been in an ethical dilemma?
Tough, isn’t it?
Do I keep my mouth shut and do I what I’m told?
What about my family?
Hey, I need the job.
I’m glad to have a job.
I’ll close my eyes to what’s going on.
Or will I?
Is there something more important here than me?
More important than my family?
Big questions, aren’t they?
You pace the floor, your nights are troubled, your stomach churns … you can’t think of anything else … your turn it over in your mind a thousand different ways – you try to get on with your life, but you can’t … you try to forget it, but it snaps back at ya’ …
You have to decide …
Esther, Esther, what will you do?
I can hear her thoughts, can’t you?
The people … who are they?
Who do they think they are?
Maybe they don’t deserve it.
Look at ‘em … look at me.
I live in luxury; they live on the edge.
I’m beautiful; they’re not.
I’m on top of the heap, someone has to be on the bottom.
I’ve got it, and they don’t.
Good for me, and too bad for them.
Esther, Esther, what will you do?
I can see her, can’t you?
There she stands … in the middle of the room … alone.
A deep, deep, breath taken.
Esther looks up …
Eyes determined …
Mouth set …
Resolve - written all over her face.
She’s made the decision - at last.
She walks to the window of her room … overlooking the palace courtyard … across from the gate, where Mordecai sits in sackcloth and ashes, mourning the fate of his people.
His people … my people.
Esther’s going to do it!
She’s going to do it, and she’s going to do it right!
For the people … the people, yes … the people.
Maybe I’m safe, but they’re not.
Maybe I’d make it, but they won’t.
It isn’t about me … it’s about the people … the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker … the kid flipping burgers at In n Out, the gal pushing the vacuum cleaner in the hallway of my hotel room … the bartender in the nightclub … the man on the corner hoping for a buck … folks on the bus and folks on the sidewalk … folks in Beverly Hills and folks in east LA … the haves and the have-nots … the rich and the poor … the most and the least …
Think of the world in which we live … the people, yes, the people …
Esther cannot separate herself from the people.
What she does, she does for them.
The courage of compassion … to see a need and fill it … to risk ourselves for the greater good …
The courage of Martin Luther in Germany defying Pope and Emperor, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in an Alabama jail.
The courage of Albert Schweitzer in Africa and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi prison.
The courage of Carl Sandburg, to write for the people who worked in the horrible factories of Chicago … to make the steel, to butcher the meat and load the trucks … children, 12-hour days, seven days a week … women on the streets … men desperate for work …
Courage to see the world.
Your courage and my courage.
Now, let me get back to the earlier comment about the Book of Esther … God doesn’t show up in this little book … nary a mention of God … why?
Because there comes a when God says, You know what you need to do … you don’t need anything more from me; I’ve given you everything you need. You know what you have to do!
Esther had everything she needed from God … the rest is up to Esther … God will not decide for us; God will not kick us in the butt or grab us by the ear … God steps away, and we’re left on our own!
That incredible moment when we can’t defer any further to God – no more questions to ask, no more data to gather, no more Bible studies and no more prayers … all the grace we need has been given; all the love we desire is ours …
The rest is up to us!
With a deep breath and firm resolve, Esther puts on her royal robes and goes to the palace. The king sees her and says to her, Whatever you want, Esther, it’s yours.
Esther’s story ends well.
But not every story ends so well, does it?
We know that.
So does Esther.
It’s must never be the outcome that determines our action.
It’s the need.
It’s the moment.
It’s the people.
Today, tomorrow … the world out there.
You’ll meet it on the road.
You’ll read it on your computer.
You’ll hear it on the evening news …
You care, don’t you?
Of course you care.
Because you know Christ.
You ARE the people, and THEY are you.
Every man, woman and child is you.
And you are everyone!
That’s what it means to be alive!
To be a human being.
That’s what it means to be in Christ.
You care, don’t you?
Of course you do!
Now let’s put on our royal robes and go see the king!
Let’s take a chance … let’s go for the people … let’s see what happens … it may turn out better than we expect!
Amen and Amen!