Proper 21 (B), Sept. 28, 2003
It’s Too Early to Say
Was it Yogi Berra, the New York
Yankee catcher who used to manage the New York Mets, who once suggested
the profound piece of information, “It ain’t over till it’s over”?
It looks like something good is coming and we are so sure God is
blessing us. Then it looks like something horrible is about to happen
and we are just as sure that God has abandoned and forsaken us.
story of Esther in the Old Testament has something of that flavor
about it. The book of Esther is a story which has delighted and
inspired Jewish people and communities for centuries. It is a short
story of ups and downs. The Jews have been carried off into Persia.
Things are getting better. Mordecai and Esther get picked. Things
suddenly look very dangerous. Persecution for the Jews is scheduled.
But it ain’t over till its over. God may have a few more moves left.
is a story full of the ironies of faith. A story full of conflict
marked by the huge difference between appearances and reality. Faith
mocks those who think they are something when they are actually very
little. Ironies of the powerful overstepping the boundaries and
falling. Faith trusts that this is a meaningful universe, God is a
just and moral God, and there are moments when irony is revealed and
there is a restoration of a broken morality.
story of Esther begins with the “conspicuous consumption of wealth.”
King Xerxes is giving a party for all the men of Susa and this party
is lasting a whole week and the keg is never empty. Over in the other
room Queen Vashti is giving a party for the women folk. After a week
of partying the King was feeling so good and so full of himself he
wanted to show off how beautiful his queen is so he told his advisors
to go dress her up and bring her in.
appears to have been a Woman Libber. “What? You want me to come in
there and parade around like a prize bull before a bunch of drunken
men? You’re crazy. I’m not coming.” Wow, did that make the King
angry. He calls his advisers in and you can just imagine that
discussion in the locker room. “What are we going to do? The king
gave an order and the queen said no.” Well, we have to do something.
Can you imagine what all the other women in the country will say to
their husbands if she gets away with it? Ban her from the King’s
presence forever and strip her of the crown!
But now we need a new Queen. Why not have a beauty contest in the whole empire and the winner will be the queen.
story shifts its focus to the Jews who are now living in Susa, the
capital, because of the Exile when Persia carried off Jews from
Jerusalem. They are beginning to get established. Mordecai had been
in the service of the King of Judah and so was familiar with
political infighting. He had a cousin named Esther whom he adopted
when her parents died. Mordecai entered his good-looking adopted
daughter into the pageant and told her to keep her mouth shut about
being a Jew. Esther wins. Esther is the Queen. Mordecai is given an
administrative position. In that position Mordecai hears about a plot
to kill the King and he tells Esther and Esther tells the King and
the King’s life is saved.
Life appears to be
good. Esther is Queen but she still has this secret about her
Jewishness. Mordecai is part of the bureaucracy. But in politics
there is always an enemy. Haman gets himself made Prime Minister. He
likes his power and likes to be recognized so he expects his
subordinates to kneel and kiss his hand when he passes. Mordecai will
not do that. Haman discovers that Mordecai is a Jew and so Haman
decides to get revenge by plotting to kill every Jew in the whole
Persian Empire. The first Hitler. It would be in your best interest
to eliminate them and put their wealth into the public coffers, he
tells the king. So the King says sure. Signs the Law of the Medes and
the Persians, which cannot be broken or taken back.
things are looking very dangerous. Mordecai tells Esther she better
do something. Esther says she is not sure she can. Nobody can go to
the king unless the King asks to see them and the King hasn’t asked
to see her in awhile. But she would see what she could do.
is riding the crest of power and prestige. He begins to relish his
dream of revenge. He plots this public and total destruction of
Mordecai on a 75 foot high gallows. During the same night King Xerxes
begins to wonder what ever happened to that man who saved my life. He
discovers that he never thanked Mordecai for his information. So in
the morning when Haman comes in and is ready to ask permission of the
King to hang Mordecai, before Haman can speak, the King asks Haman what
do you think would be an appropriate way to honor one of my servants.
of course, thinks he is the one the king is thinking about. So Haman
brings forth this long list of wonderful recognition, gifts and
tokens of power. The king says, “Yeah, that would be good. Go and do
that to Mordecai for saving my life.” Whoops, irony! The one who is
so arrogant and powerful is now having to honor and praise and
present to the media the one who was supposed to be “hanging from a
75 foot gallows.”
A hard day at the office,
Haman just gets home from praising Mordecai when it is time to go to
the small intimate banquet to which Esther has invited the King and
Haman. The King had promised her anything she wanted, so at the
banquet Esther says that she wants her people spared. That Haman is
threatening the Jews and she is a Jew. The King is stunned. Outraged.
He storms out of the room into the garden. He is enraged. Haman can
see that Esther is now calling the shots. She will get her wish to
save her people if possible. He had better stay with her and try to
beg for his own life. So he throws himself onto the floor to beg for
mercy. Irony. The one who had been so insistent on having people bow to
him is now face down in total humiliation begging for his life.
the King returns at that moment, sees Haman on the ground, and thinks
Haman is trying to rape his Queen. Now what is humility is perceived
to be insult. Reality and illusions keep getting mixed up. So the
King orders that Haman be hung on the gallows he has prepared for
Mordecai. Irony. Hanging there on his 75 foot gallows Haman
represents the blunderer, the powerful overstepping his boundaries,
losing his life on the very instrument of destruction which he
thought was to complete his happiness.
and Esther are promoted and rewarded and yet all is not well, because
once the King has spoken his word has to be carried out, and the
proclamation to kill the Jews has gone out into all the empire. What
to do? Irony. What looked like victory when Esther exposed Haman
still looks like death.
Mordecai and Esther
issue orders to the Jews to fight anybody who attacks them. They are
given permission and authority to defend themselves. The Jewish
soldiers are too much for the Persians, who really had no dog in this
fight. They didn’t care. So the Jews clean up on those who attempt to
attack them. Irony. Those who had been condemned to die inflict great
death on those sent to kill them. Esther and Mordecai are honored and
the Jewish people celebrate the victory still with the Festival of
The life of faith is the living of the
Frank Sinatra song, “See what tomorrow brings,” because it is sure
that God has another move up His sleeve. We keep wanting to rush to
judgment. Faith is living in the midst of moments when we see God
suddenly putting some small piece of history back into accordance with
His will and intention for life. Faith is trusting ourselves to the
God of history even when it appears that all our resources have been
used up and that the struggle is over. Faith keeps saying, “It is too
early to say. God may have another move to make.” Faith keeps
believing that we are in the presence and love of God even when we
feel we are most alone.
The sermon brief provided by Rick Brand, Pastor of
First Presbyterian Church, Henderson, NC