For Such a Time as This
Sermon for Pentecost 2 – Summer Series
June 18, 2017
Grace, Mankato, MN
Esther 3.1-11; 4.1-17
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses, or articles of debate to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. Four and a half years later, in April 1521, Luther appeared before the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, to defend what he had taught and written. At the end of the appearance he made his infamous speech in which he declared his conscience was bound to the Word of God. Luther ended by saying, “Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one's conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.”
A gutsy move, his stand against the emperor and pope ultimately resulted in a death sentence, putting his life in mortal danger. Though not alone, Luther was largely credited with igniting the Reformation bringing sweeping changes to church and society. Indeed, if Luther lit the fire, others before him had prepared the kindling and still others added fuel to the fire and fanned the flames.
It seems there are pivotal points in history where unlikely people step into the breach. Luther was certainly one; Esther is another. Last week we learned how this Jewish woman becomes queen to the Persian king Ahasuerus. Before we proceed with today’s reading, some background and context are in order. The Babylonians—modern day Iraq—had conquered the Israelites, destroyed the temple, and carried most of the population into exile. As is often the case, another bully came around and the Babylonians have likewise been conquered by the Persians (modern day Iran). We know that when this happened some of the Jewish exiles returned to Israel but many stayed having already built new lives.
At any rate, Esther is an orphan and the only family Esther has is her uncle Mordecai who, in the passage prior to today’s has uncovered an assassination plot against the king, earning him fleeting favor with the king. One last item needs to be mentioned: the book of Esther is unique in that God is never explicitly mentioned, but seems to be lurking in the background, if not offstage somewhere.
This week, the plot thickens as the king’s right hand man, Haman, conspires to exterminate the Jews. (Where have we heard that story before? It seems to be the perennial plight of the Jewish people.) Haman does so because Mordecai refuses to bow down before him. The book of Esther doesn’t say why, but we do know from the book of Daniel that Jews would not bow down before anyone who isn’t God. (An interesting side note: Haman himself was a foreigner, an Agagite. The Agagites were a sub-group of the Amalekites, whom we learn from the Exodus story, are a historical enemy of the Israelites.)
Well, Mordecai somehow learns of the edict, tells his fellow Jews, and they all go into mourning. Esther learns of it and, through an exchange with Mordecai is persuaded to appear before the king on behalf of her people, in spite of danger to her. Mordecai convinces her to do this by saying this momentous line, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
The story of Esther and Mordecai proposes some provocative questions about the life of faith for us. Though perhaps not as momentous as a Jewish extermination pogrom, there are crucial times that occur in our lives. Each one of us is faced with “such a time as this” when God asks us to step out in faith for one reason or another. Certainly, there is no lack of opportunities these days to speak on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves. On May 29, two men on an Oregon train discerned “such a time as this” and interceded on behalf of two Muslim women. They were not as fortunate as Luther or Esther (as we’ll learn next week), but they determined that it was “their time.”
We are able to step out in faith because of the One who came in the fullness of time for us. Jesus took on human flesh, spoke truth to the Roman and religious powers and gave himself up. This is not an easy faith to which we have been called, but it is an important and meaningful one, and there are a number of opportunities to do so. For example, a couple of you have stepped up to help with the emergency homeless shelter so desperately needed in our community this winter; I hope more of you will do the same, for “such a time as this.”
Through our baptisms into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been born again for a time such as this, to speak the truth in love as Esther, Mordecai, Luther and others have done before us. And we can only do so through God’s strength and love in Christ, the one who is present in all time. Thanks be to God. Amen.