Sermon: What We Cannot Bear

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the book of Esther. Esther, chapter 8, beginning in verse 1. Esther 8, beginning in verse 1. Esther is in the Old Testament – Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Job. Esther 8, beginning in verse 1.

We have found ourselves this fall immersed in the book of Esther. In Esther, the people of God live as a small group of people in a vast and powerful empire. This empire is filled to overflowing with overblown bureaucracy and led by men who are amoral and best and wicked at worst. It is a land that has been ruled by the likes of Ahasuerus and Haman. Ahasuerus the fool will give his power to anyone who will do the job of thinking for him, including wicked Haman. Haman himself, the enemy of the Jews, has leveraged the bureaucratic behemoth of the Persian government to sooth his wounded and vindictive pride. He has declared an edict to the four corners of the empire that on the 13th day of the 12th month, which is the month of Adar, the peoples of Persia can assemble to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate the Jewish people.

Haman himself has fallen, but the edict still stands. Though the mastermind of this genocide has died, the law is still in place and the plan still in motion. How will God deliver his people? Let’s listen, but before we do, please take a moment to pray with me:

Lord, you promise that as the rain falls upon the ground and does not return empty, but brings forth the fruit of the field, that your word goes forth and does not return empty, but accomplishes exactly what you intend. We lean into your promise this morning, that as we hear your Word, you might work in us and work through us in all the ways that you intend. May we be open to your work in our lives today, remove any resistance in us and make us wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

These are the very Words of God from the book that we love:

On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews; and Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. Then King Ahasuerus took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. So Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.

Then Esther spoke again to the king; she fell at his feet, weeping and pleading with him to avert the evil design of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. The king held out the golden scepter to Esther and Esther rose and stood before the king. She said, “If it pleases the king and if I have won his favor, and if the matter seems right before the king and and I have his approval, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman son of Hammadatha the Agagite, which he wrote giving orders to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to the Jew Mordecai, “See, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he plotted to lay hands on the Jews. You may write as you please with regard to the Jews in the name of the king and seal it with the king’s ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”

The king’s secretaries were summoned at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and an edict was written according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and the officials of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred twenty-seven provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, and also to the Jews in their script and their language. He wrote letters in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed them with the king’s ring and sent them by mounted couriers riding on fast steeds bred from the royal herd. By these letters the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to assemble and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day through all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar. A copy of the writ was to be issued as a decree in every province and published to all peoples, and the Jews were to be ready on that day to take revenge on their enemies. So the couriers, mounted on their swift royal steeds, hurried out, urged by the king’s command. The decree was issued in the citadel of Susa.

Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king, wearing royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple, while the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced. For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor. In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

I’d like to let two questions guide us this morning in our journey through Esther, chapter 8. First, What can you not bear to see? In other words, what sin or brokenness or darkness in this world makes your heart sick to think it still happens today? First, What can you not bear to see? The second question: Where is God calling you to move?

What can you not bear to see?

Esther’s heart breaks for the sake of her people. In the span of two days, the world has turned right-side up for Esther and Mordecai. Haman is dead. His house has been seized and given to Esther. His position has been revoked and given to Mordecai. Queen Esther is known to be a Jew and Mordecai is known to be her uncle.

But the edict is still out there. The threat still looms over the Jewish people. Esther and Mordecai are increasingly safe. After what happened to Haman, no armed force is going to assault the Queen or Mordecai on the 13th of Adar. They are most likely safe, but others are not.

Esther again comes before the king. Probably unannounced, since the king extends the golden scepter to her again, meaning Esther risks her life again to speak to the king. She falls at his feet, weeping and pleading to revoke the edict of Haman and she finishes her plea with these words:

For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?

In all her interactions with the king, Esther has been so measured, so poised, but you can almost sense here at the end, that her emotions leak through. She cannot take it anymore. It is not right. It is not okay. The way things are are not the way things have to be.

What can you not bear to see?

For Esther, it was the death of the innocents. The death of her people, of those who trust in the one true God. In this moment, I believe Esther’s heart echoes God’s heart. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Throughout this whole book of Esther, we have seen that God will not bear the destruction of his people. When faced with injustice, when mired in the darkness, when lives are threatened and snuffed out by unjust laws and wicked powers, God does not stand idly by.

We see the heart of God when he rescues Mordecai in the night when he doesn’t know he needs it. We see the heart of God in bringing down wicked Haman and thwarting his plot. We see the heart of God in enabling Mordecai to write an edict in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring that almost word for word, measure for measure, counter-acts Haman’s original destructive plan. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people?

God did not stand by when his people faced the threat of death in Persia. And God did not stand by when all humanity faced the threat of eternal death as a result of our sin. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? But that is what God did in Jesus Christ. He bore in himself, on his own shoulders, through his blood shed on the cross, he bore the calamity that was coming on his people.

For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? In the darkness cast by Haman’s edict, the light of Christ shines. And Esther bears that light before Ahasuerus and by the power of God, the people of God are saved.

What can you not bear to see?

We live in a world much like Esther’s. While Christians know and hold fast to the hope of the world that is found in Jesus Christ and him alone, we also live in a world where Christ’s kingdom has not come in its fullness. Jesus Christ has not returned and set all things right and made all things new. So we wait in hope. We wait and live in a world that is being redeemed, but still has much darkness.

What can you not bear to see? What brokenness in this world does it break your heart to know it still happens today?

Maybe it is Christians being tortured and beheaded for confessing their faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Maybe it is Syrian children and families who flee from terror, leaving everything and everyone they know behind, only to be rejected, suspected, and accused of bringing terror with them by people who claim the name of Jesus.

Maybe it is the unborn, who have no voice for themselves, and are far too easily cast aside as a burden and unwanted.

What can you not bear to see?

Maybe it is the elderly, who often suffer alone and in silence, and are also far too easily cast aside as a burden, an embarrassment, and unwanted.

Maybe it is the homeless, the mentally ill, or the unemployed, who are shunted to the edge of society and seen more as problems than people.

Or maybe it is the 45 million people in this world who live as slaves, many of them women and children, used and abused as nothing more than a commodity.

What can you not bear to see?

For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?

As our hearts break over the injustice and suffering of this world, as our hearts echo the heart of God who has promised to and is, in fact, redeeming this world and setting it right, as we stand face to face with those dark places in the world our hearts cannot bear to see continue as they are, we are faced with our second question this morning:

Where is God calling you to move? 

My friend Kristen Johnson put it this way in her most recent book:

We need to face the darkness of our world head-on and move toward it, even into it. As we do so, we go with the gift of the light of Christ. Isaiah tells us that as we seek to right the wrongs of injustice, our light will be as bright as the noonday, and the glory of the Lord will be our rearguard (Is 58). We do not go as our own broken selves. We bear the light of Christ, who dwells within us and cannot be overcome. (58)

Where is God calling you to move?

Esther could not bear to see her people destroyed, so she, bearing the light of Christ that will never be overcome, stepped into the darkness. She pleaded with Ahasuerus and worked with Mordecai to see it set right. And by the power of God’s grace, it was done.

We, like Esther, do not step into the darkness alone. And we, like Esther, are not the savior, we are not Jesus, but do follow him and belong to him, and the Holy Spirit does dwell within us.

Where is God calling you to move?

What dark place in this world is God calling you to step toward in pursuit of justice, surrounded and strengthened by the light of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit?

The answer to these questions always begins with prayer. So for the next few minutes, we are going to spend some time in silent prayer, asking God these two questions: What can I not bear to see? and Where is God calling me to move? So take a few minutes to pray silently and then I will close us in prayer. [pause for prayer]

To confess is to tell the truth. In the life of the church, the word ‘confession’ has two main uses. Every time we gather in worship, we confess our sins – we tell the truth about ourselves – about those things we have done that we ought not to have done and those things we have not done that we ought to have. We tell the truth and trust in God’s forgiveness in and through Jesus Christ.

But we are also invited to confess our faith – to tell the truth about God. In this confession, we proclaim what we believe. It is perhaps the most appropriate response to hearing God’s word to say ‘we believe.’ This morning, we are invited to confess our faith as we prepare to witness to the sacrament of baptism. As we do, we will confessing what we believe to be true about baptism. Please join me in Questions 69-71 of the Heidelberg Catechism.

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