Wherever You Go, There You Are

Esther was in a unique position to save her people. How might we also be useful to God wherever and whoever we are?

Read The Story of Esther or just Esther 4:1-17

If you don’t already know the story of Esther, the passage we just read from the middle of the story probably didn’t make much sense.  Who are Mordecai and Esther and why are they sending frantic messages to each other through Hathach and asking all the Jewish people in town to fast for three days?

On Friday, at our Sterling Community Vacation Bible School, my granddaughter Raegan helped me teach this story.  She played the part of Esther, and even after several rehearsals, when someone asked her what the story was about, she said, “I don’t know.  It’s like an episode of Game of Thrones.”

It IS pretty complicated, but I’ll do my best to explain it.

The story takes place in Susa, the capital of Persia.  It is 483 BC, about 100 years after King Nebuchadnezzar has captured Jerusalem and carried many of the Jewish people off to Babylon.  Esther is a descendant of these captured Jews.  Her parents have died, and her cousin Mordecai has adopted her into the family.

The king in Persia was named Xerxes.  He is one letter short of being the Persian photocopy king. [slide: Xeroxes.][1]

The story begins when King Xerxes throws a big party that lasts for days.  Xerxes sends for his Queen Vashti to come dance for his guests, but she refuses.  King Xerxes and his advisors are afraid that if word gets out that Vashti said no, then everybody’s wives will start saying no, so Xerxes banishes Vashti from Susa.

Afterwards, the king regrets sending Vashti away, but he cannot reverse a royal decree, so he starts looking for a new queen. He sends his officials throughout the kingdom to gather all the eligible young women, bring them to the palace, and the king will select one of them to be the new queen.

Esther is one of these young women.  God had given her grace and beauty, so when it was her turn to go before the king, he chose her to be the new queen.

So now you’ve met Esther and Mordecai and King Xerxes.  There’s one more person you need to meet – Haman.  Haman is the king’s second in command.  Haman is not a nice guy, and he’s quite full of himself.

Did you know that the story of Esther is told every year in Jewish synagogues during the festival of Purim?  As the story is being told, it’s traditional for everyone to boo every time the storyteller says the name Haman, and to cheer for Esther and Mordecai.[2]

Here’s why Haman gets booed. 

  • Haman decided that since he was second only to the king everyone should bow down to him.  But Mordecai refused because Mordecai would only worship God.  This made Haman really mad. 
  • Then Haman also found out that Mordecai was Jewish, so Haman decided that it wasn’t enough to just punish Mordecai.  He wanted to destroy all the Jewish people in the Persian empire.
  • So Haman tells King Xerxes that the Jewish people are evil and a threat to the empire and need to be destroyed.  And he convinces the king to issue a decree to kill all the Jews in Persia.
  • Haman casts lots to determine the day on which this should happen.  The word in Hebrew for “lot” is pur, the plural is purim, hence the name of the Jewish holiday.

So the king issues the decree that all the Jewish people in the kingdom will be destroyed on the appointed day, and sends that decree out to all the kingdom of Persia, hardly even thinking much about it.

And this is why, in the first line our reading for today, it says, “When Mordecai learned about all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on burlap and ashes, and went out into the city, crying with a loud and bitter wail.”  He had just found out that he and all his fellow Jews were going to be killed.  Jews all across the Persian empire did what Mordecai is doing, putting on sackcloth and ashes and wailing and mourning.

Meanwhile, inside the palace, one of Esther’s servants tells her about Mordecai. Esther hasn’t told anyone that she’s Jewish.  Mordecai had warned her not to, actually.  But if people see Mordecai in sackcloth and ashes and know he is Jewish and related to Esther, that will give away Esther’s secret.  So she sends Mordecai some new clothes. But Mordecai sends them back.

It’s too bad they didn’t have cell phones back then.  It would have been great for Esther and Mordecai to have a conversation about all this with a series of text messages, but instead they communicate through her servant Hathach. We can just imagine him running back and forth with all these messages:

  • Esther sends Hatach to find out why Mordecai is mourning.
  • Mordecai tells Hatach the whole story, gives Hatach a copy of the decree to show Esther, and tells Hatach to get Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for her people.
  • Esther sends Hatach back with a message for Mordecai that even the queen can’t just go talk to the king.  If she does, she’s doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter to welcome her. 

But Mordecai sends Hatach back with this message:

“Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

So Esther sends one more message asking Mordecai to get all the Jews in Susa to fast for three days. She and her maids will do the same, and then, after three days of fasting, she will go to see the king.

She says somewhat dramatically, “If I must die, I must die.”

My granddaughter Raegan did such a great job with that line.  And the kids at VBS did a great job helping me to encourage her to go ahead with her plan, shouting, “You can do it!  God is with you!  Be strong!”  as Raegan as Esther bravely went through the door to see the king.

Can you guess what happens? 

She doesn’t die! 

But she also didn’t tell him that she was Jewish that day.  Instead she invited him to a banquet where she wined and dined both the king and Haman.  At that banquet, she invited them both to another banquet.

Haman is feeling pretty special about being included in these banquets, and he’s also dreaming about the day when he gets to kill his enemy Mordecai, so Haman builds a giant gallows in front of his house.

Then it was time for Esther’s second banquet.  In gratitude for all this fine food, King Xerxes tells Queen Esther to ask him for anything.  So she reveals that she is Jewish and asks him to spare her life and the lives of her people who are about to be destroyed.

But the king doesn’t remember that he made this decree, so he asks, “Who would do such a horrible thing?”

Esther points to Haman.  Dut dut daah!

[3]Photo of painting by Ernest Norman

Now do you see why Raegan said this story is like Game of Thrones

It’s a pretty crazy story!  Some people wonder why it’s in the Bible, especially since the name of God is not in the story anywhere.  But God’s action is there.

God is our creator who makes us the way we are.  God made Esther beautiful and granted her favor in the king’s court.

We also see God’s hand in the way Haman chooses the date to destroy the Jews.  Casting lots is one way that people in the Bible inquired of God. It was one way they discerned God’s will. So when Haman casts lots to determine the appointed day, he may not intend to be asking God, but he is.  And the lots fall on a day that’s far enough in the future that there is time for Esther to carry out her plan for rescuing her people.

We see that Mordecai is trusting God when he begs Esther to go to the king and he says:

“Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

Mordecai trusts that God will send deliverance, even if it doesn’t come through Esther, but he also believes that God is the one that put Esther in just the right place at just the right time to intercede for her people.

And Esther demonstrates her trust in God when she asks all the Jews and her maids to fast for three days before she goes to see the king. That’s part of her discernment.

Even the government of Persia acknowledges the existence of a higher power.  When the king issues a decree, it is irrevocable.  Not even the king himself can cancel a royal decree.  So he can’t stop the order to kill the Jews.  Instead he issues another decree that says the Jews are allowed to defend themselves against these attacks, and that’s how they’re able to survive.

So even though God is not mentioned by name in this story, God is there, just like the same God is here with us in our lives today, even when we aren’t noticing or thinking about him.

It’s been said that coincidence is God’s way of being anonymous, but Frederick Buechner said that coincidence is God’s way of getting our attention.[4]

Last week, when Rob and I were driving home from South Carolina, we needed to decide whether to stop for the night in Kansas City. We’d already been driving for a long time, but it was tempting to keep going.  We were too tired to decide, so Rob prayed, “God help us know what’s the best choice.” Almost as soon as he finished praying, the traffic came to a stop!  We had our answer and so we got off the freeway and found a hotel. 

Not all our situations are as dire as the one Esther and Mordecai were in.  Sometimes it’s just a bit of traffic.  But who knows what God’s up to?  And who knows whether God has each one of us in just the place we’re in so that we might encourage someone like Mordecai encouraged Esther, or stand up for someone like Esther did for her people.

Each one of us is God’s beloved and treasured creation.  God tells us through the prophet Isaiah, “I have called you by name and you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)  AndGod demonstrated his love for us all when he sent his son Jesus to rescue us from sin and death. 

Mordecai encouraged Esther to consider whether God might have put her in the palace for just such a time as this. Not just to be another pretty face, but to make a difference.  We too are here for a reason.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -Ephesians 2:10

We’re blessed by the goodness of God so we can share the goodness of God with the world.  Wherever we go, there we are, to do and be the people that God has made us to be.

Last week, Samantha closed the worship service with a benediction that was written by a former Chaplain of the US Senate Rev. Dr. Richard C. Halverson. It says:

Friends, remember that you are a follower of Christ, and you go nowhere by accident. Where you go, God is sending you. Where you are, God has put you there. The very Christ, who fills you, has something He wants to do through you, wherever you are . . .[5]

Halverson is most known for being the senate chaplain, but he also pastored a church for many years.  Someone once asked Halverson what was the most significant thing he did at his church that brought vitality and spiritual strength to that congregation? We might expect him to say his preaching or his church staff or some church program. But he said, “I think it was my benediction.”[6]

It has indeed blessed many congregations. It reminds us that we are always and everywhere the people of God.

We are here to encourage one another to keep on trusting God and following Jesus, and to be encouraging to the people around us in our everyday lives.

Wherever we go, there we are, so let’s go and be the people that God has made us to be.

[1] Bramer, Stephen. The Bible Reader’s Joke Book: This book contains a collection of over 2,000 jokes, puns, humorous stories and funny sayings related to the Bible: Arranged from Genesis to Revelation. (p. 105). Unknown. Kindle Edition.

[2] I found this in several sources, including the day 5 lesson plan for the VBS called “Treasured” by Group Publishing, 2021.

[3] Esther Denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand, public domain from Wikimedia Commons, accessed June 12, 2021 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Esther_Denouncing_Haman.jpg

[4] https://quotepark.com/quotes/1766825-albert-einstein-coincidence-is-gods-way-of-remaining-anonymous/

[5] http://www.sanbornfrc.org/blog/2016/10/25/the-halverson-benediction

[6] http://mincingword.blogspot.com/2006/10/halverson-benediction.html

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