This week, we continue to explore the notion that God calls people to new places in their lives and in the world. In recent weeks, we’ve considered calls to Jeremiah, Zechariah, Isaiah, Peter, Samuel, and Timothy and talked about the ways that God’s call is extended to folk in every station of life, that it brings us to humility and confession, and that we are in need of mentors and guides to help us grow in our attentiveness. This week, eavesdropped in on a call that Queen Esther of Persia received about 500 years before Christ. Our other text was Acts 4:23-31.
The book of Esther begins like a fairy tale – a beautiful young woman is plucked from obscurity and becomes the queen. However, the fairy tale I have in mind is Bluebeard, not Cinderella or Snow White. Ahasuerus is a greedy, violent, egocentric man who enjoys a life of luxury out of touch with the real world. When his first queen disappoints him, he takes care of her and brings in version 2.0, a young Jewish girl named Esther. While the text does not indicate that she lied about her faith, she didn’t publicize it either. She is mentored in her faith and life by her uncle, a man named Mordecai.
Somehow, Mordecai gets on the wrong side of the king’s chief advisor, who seeks to avenge this wrong by killing not only Mordecai, but every Jew in the land. Later, the advisor gets the king to sign off on this deal. Listen:
When Mordecai heard about all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on rough cloth and ashes, and went out into the city crying loudly and painfully. But Mordecai went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one was allowed to enter that gate dressed in rough cloth. As the king’s order reached every area, there was great sadness and loud crying among the Jewish people. They fasted and cried out loud, and many of them lay down on rough cloth and ashes to show how sad they were.
When Esther’s servant girls and eunuchs came to her and told her about Mordecai, she was very upset and afraid. She sent clothes for Mordecai to put on instead of the rough cloth, but he would not wear them. 5 Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs chosen by the king to serve her. Esther ordered him to find out what was bothering Mordecai and why.
So Hathach went to Mordecai, who was in the city square in front of the king’s gate. 7 Mordecai told Hathach everything that had happened to him, and he told Hathach about the amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasury for the killing of the Jewish people.
The first thing that we notice about the call to Esther is that it comes at a time of particular need. There is clearly a crisis – the “chosen people” are threatened with extinction. If no action is taken, then disaster will ensue.
It’s interesting and important to note that the first part of Esther’s call story is not God speaking truth from the sky, but rather a trusted mentor and friend bringing a problem to Esther’s attention. This fits in very well with the story of Samuel and Eli last week – here, we see Mordecai preparing Esther to be able to receive the call by educating her as to the current situation. And even though they are unable to speak face to face, Mordecai makes sure that the message gets through:
Mordecai also gave him a copy of the order to kill the Jewish people, which had been given in Susa. He wanted Hathach to show it to Esther and to tell her about it. And Mordecai told him to order Esther to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and to plead with him for her people.
I’d like to point out at this part of the story that the call of God to Esther is entirely consistent with her abilities and station in life. Mordecai is asking her to approach the king and to seek to save the Jewish people because, well, she lives with the king and she is Jewish. This is an important distinction for us to consider when we think about God’s calling and direction for our lives.
There was a time when I talked about my life’s purpose, and I actually said out loud that I’d really appreciate being called to be the trombone player for the rock band Chicago. A couple of years after that, I noted in my college yearbook that my highest aspiration in life was to be the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. There were several problems in each of those plans, perhaps most notably the facts that I wasn’t that good a trombonist, I hated to practice, and I didn’t ever go to law school. The list of people more capable than I to do either of those things is incredibly long.
Yet here, Mordecai shows Esther not only that it is entirely possible for her to respond, but that she might be the best person on the face of the earth to answer this call.
There’s a problem, though. Esther, apparently, does not want to do this. She would prefer not to.
Isn’t that so often the case? Sometimes we allow our feelings to dictate our actions in a way that diminishes our ability to be faithful to God’s calling in our lives. In this instance, Esther sends word back to Mordecai telling him that it’s a little more complicated than he seems to think it is, and thanks for his concern, but she’d prefer that someone else took care of this, thanks very much.
Then Mordecai sent back word to Esther: “Just because you live in the king’s palace, don’t think that out of all the Jewish people you alone will escape. If you keep quiet at this time, someone else will help and save the Jewish people, but you and your father’s family will all die. And who knows, you may have been chosen queen for just such a time as this.”
Mordecai, however, reminds Esther that her feelings and her own sense of her abilities may not be the best guides for the current situation. “You don’t know everything,” he says. “What if this is the exact reason for your presence in the kingdom right now? What if God is choosing to do something great through you?”
The call has been extended, and just as in Samuel’s case, it has not been recognized. And, just as in that situation, there’s a mentor to help the person get a greater perspective and be able to see more clearly the path forward. With Mordecai’s help, Esther is able to see through her own confusion and to get past her own feelings of what she’d rather not do and move to embrace the call in her actions.
Then Esther sent this answer to Mordecai: “Go and get all the Jewish people in Susa together. For my sake, fast; do not eat or drink for three days, night and day. I and my servant girls will also fast. Then I will go to the king, even though it is against the law, and if I die, I die.”
There is not, in Esther’s life, a sense of recklessness and a jumping out ahead of God’s spirit. Nor is there a selfish pride that says, “Look, I’m going to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Mind your own business, Mordecai.” As you’ve just heard, she turns to the wider community for help in doing what she doesn’t really feel like doing, and asks them to hold her accountable and to pray for her ability to follow through. She invites people inside and beyond her own little circle to join her in this call to faithful living.
Note, too, that Esther’s response requires her to act without knowing the whole story. She has to move forward in boldness and trust that God will supply the things that she needs at the time that she needs them.
I don’t know about you, but that’s usually how God acts in my own life. I am often nudged to act without having all of the particulars. I get a glimpse of what could be, I see a possibility, I hear an invitation, and then I have to choose whether or not to say “yes” without knowing how all of the details can possibly come together.
These lives that we lead – this daily, ordinary faith that we have – requires that we do what we can, and then we leave the rest up to God. In all likelihood, you are not being called to save an entire race from a genocidal maniac. Chances are, you have experienced less dramatic calls or nudges from the Lord…
- there’s a new kid at school, and he’s eating alone. Should you call him over to your table? Or go sit with him?
- There’s that woman. You know that she’s having problems, even though she hasn’t spoken to you about them. Should you approach her? Should you say something? What?
- You’ve been asked to play a role in a new ministry, or to take a trip, or to reach out to a neighbor. Will you?
- What about that job offer you’ve received? It looks like a good fit, but you never know…
Beloved, God has placed you at this juncture in history and equipped you with a story that is partially – incompletely – written. What are you doing right now with who you are and what you have?
My mother-in-law has often told the story of when she caught her father rehearsing his line prior to her marriage to Sharon’s dad. Gramps Wetterholm was standing in front of a mirror, saying “Her MOTHER and I do….no, Her mother AND I do… Her mother and I DO.” He wondered which inflection would best convey the meaning of the blessing that he wanted to extend to Gene and Mary’s wedding.
I’ll take a page from Gramps’ notebook here and ask you a question…
Why are YOU here? I’m not asking about your mother, your brother, your better-looking cousin or your more talented sister. Why is it that of all the people on the face of the earth, God has nudged you toward that job, this relationship, or that other opportunity? What is it about YOU that makes this a good time for you to move forward?
Why are you HERE? I mean, you’re not in Africa, you’re not playing center field for the Pirates… You are here, at this station and time in your life. How did you get here, and what do you think that means? And you know, I trust, that this is not merely a question of geography. You are your you, right here, right now. How did that happen?
WHY are you here? Can you believe that the creator of the universe, the giver of every good and perfect gift, the author of life – has some ideas about how and why you should live – right here, right now?
When Esther received a call, it became pretty clear. It came to her through trusted channels, it was consistent with the direction her life had been going, and it allowed her to act in a way that was loving and just toward her neighbors. It was a good call.
But it was also a scary, scary call. It was an inconvenient call.
In that way, it was similar to the calling experienced by Peter and John in the book of Acts. They’d been summoned by God to tell people of the good news of Jesus Christ. They’d been arrested by the authorities because they kept talking about the good news of Jesus Christ. What did they do?
Take note, people of God – when the early church was in a pinch, when Esther was facing danger, the prayer that they lifted up was a prayer for boldness. They did not pray for safety, nor for ease, nor for someone else to come along and do this thing better than they could. In each of our accounts this morning, the Lord is approached and asked for conviction and boldness.
God’s people pray that we might have courage to be the right people, doing the right thing at the right time, and the grace to live with the consequences of that.
A few weeks ago, I stood up here and suggested that you might spend a few moments in each day simply being quiet and alone, breathing deeply and centering yourself, asking God to fill you.
I would like to think that at least some of you have tried that…and would hope that you will continue. I’d like to encourage you to modify that in one very significant way. As you ask God to fill you, ask, “God, what do you have for me today?”
Ask God to stir your heart. Seek the counsel of a trusted friend. Educate yourself on what the world needs. And start to walk in that direction. Ask for boldness and confidence as you journey, and you may find yourself engaged in a different kind of conversation about important issues today. You may discover an opportunity to begin a process of reconciliation in a relationship that has been fractured. It might be that you are finally able to leave a destructive habit or addiction behind.
Why. Are You. Here.? That is a beautiful and loaded question. Live today expecting to discover more about the answer, and pray for boldness to walk in the light of what you learn. Thanks be to God. Amen.