I invite you, this morning, to open your bibles to Esther chapter 4. Esther is in the Old Testament, before Job, Psalms, and Proverbs, but after Ezra and Nehemiah. Throughout the Fall we have been listening and learning from the Book of Esther. Esther is an interesting book of the Bible as it’s the only book where God is not mentioned by name. However, it is extremely evident that God is at work throughout this whole story. We too may find ourselves in a similar position. At times it may not seem as obvious to us how God is at work in our lives, but God is at work.
Last week Haman entered the picture. In his frustration and anger toward Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who had refused to bow down and do obeisance to him, he plots to destroy all the Jews, Mordecai’s people, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. An edict for the destruction of the Jews was sent throughout the whole kingdom. Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month… and to plunder their goods. The city of Susa was thrown into confusion, but Haman and the king sat down to drink.
Our story picks up today with Mordecai and Esther’s response to the news. But, before we hear God’s word, let’s take a moment to pray.
Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
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.
In chapter 3 we were left off with the city of Susa thrown into confusion. We now learn that that confusion and turmoil has spread throughout the kingdom. 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. Mordecai himself tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry. In this state he goes to the king’s gate, and we learn something quite shocking.
Esther doesn’t know anything about the edict.
Esther lives at the heart of Ahasuerus’ kingdom — the palace — and yet has not heard about the edict that has thrown the entire realm into confusion, the Jewish people filled with mourning, weeping, and lament.
Esther’s confusion and distress comes as a result of hearing about Mordecai’s state of sitting in sackcloth and ashes, not the edict. She doesn’t understand his mourning and grief, and sends him clothes so that he might take off his mourning clothes. When he refused the clothing, she sent the king’s eunuch Hathach to find out what was happening and why.
It is clear that life in the palace is very isolating. We were already given a hint of this at the end of chapter 3, when we hear that the king and Haman sat down to drink while the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. Life in the palace seems to be completely cut off from the outside world. It is only because Esther’s maids and eunuchs know that there is some connection between her and Mordecai that she even finds out about what is happening in the world around her.
There are times that we are like Esther. There is so much that happens in the world around us, and we don’t know anything about it. We’re not intentionally ignorant, but we’ve simply not heard about or seen the injustice around us.
When I was in high school, my youth group went on a mission trip to Toronto — about 2 hours from my house. We spent the week learning about the needs of people in that city. On one of our nights we were each given $2 for supper and sent out to try and understand what it would be like to live as someone who was homeless on the streets. We were told to look for places that we might sleep if we had to resort to a life of homelessness. I can tell you that you will see a city much differently when you look at it from that perspective.
On a school trip to Boston a few months later I couldn’t help but see more homeless people than I would have earlier. I noticed the nooks and crannies that could serve as a sleeping place, and saw blankets and sleeping bags in almost every one. I had been living in ignorance, but now my eyes had been opened to a new world around me.
Mordecai tells Hathach all that has happened. 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.
Esther is no longer in the dark. Her eyes have been opened to the impending destruction of her people. And now, she is given a choice. She can either continue to live as if she doesn’t know what’s happening, or she can do something about it.
Doing something requires risk on Esther’s part. Up to this point she had hidden her identity as a Jew. Earlier in the story (chapter 2), we learned that Esther did not reveal her people or kindred, for Mordecai had charged her not to tell. Mordecai now says she has to reveal that identity. Going to king Ahasuerus will require Esther to publicly identify with the Jewish people. She can no longer live in secret.
Further, Mordecai says, “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.”
Mordecai reminds Esther that no matter what she decides, her life hangs in the balance. If she goes to the king without being called, she might be put to death. But, if she keeps silent and doesn’t go to the king, she will certainly die. Mordecai implies that God will save the Jewish people whether Esther helps or not. If she doesn’t help, help will come from another quarter, but she and her family will perish.
Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.
God doesn’t need Esther in order to save his people. But, he offers an invitation to have her help. And Esther says, “Yes”.
“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.
That same invitation is given to us. God doesn’t need us for work to be done in his kingdom. But, we are invited to come alongside as helpers. God places us exactly where he wants us, in order to reach out.
Like Esther, we are a part of a larger body — the body of Christ. And also like Esther, we are sometimes ignorant of the difficulties, and injustices that happen in the world and in our own community.
We don’t always know about people who have difficulties affording groceries, who aren’t able to work for a living, who struggle to pay their bills month-to-month. We don’t always know about people being trafficked through our area — depressed, lonely, scared, with no idea how to get out. We don’t always know about children who live with abuse, or who dread snow days because it means they won’t eat that day. Statistically speaking, we interact with these people regularly, but are ignorant to their plight.
When those situations are brought into the light, however, we have a choice — just like Esther. Do we continue to live as if in ignorance, but with knowledge of what is happening? Or do we acknowledge who we are — part of the body of Christ — and defend those in need?
Sometimes we’re too far removed from a situation to physically be able to help — or perhaps our family situation doesn’t enable us to help in ways we want to. In cases like that, what can we do?
In their book, The Justice Calling, Kristen Johnson and Bethany Hanke Hoang write this:
“But even for those of us who are not on the front lines facing the most brutal forms of injustice firsthand, we are invited to stand together with those who are suffering, to station ourselves with those who are putting their own lives in the balance to intervene, and to wait on the Lord together.”
In our story today, Esther chose to step out in faith. She, with the help of Mordecai, gathered the Jews for three days of fasting and prayer, beseeching God for wisdom. The future was unclear, but she chose to stand with her people and with God.
There is something we can do right now too. We can gather as brothers and sisters around this table. Today we gather not only here, but with our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, as today is World Communion Sunday. As we prepare to celebrate this meal together, I would invite you to stand together. And as we stand, let us join our voices in confessing our Christian faith using the Nicene Creed.