“For Just Such a Time as This”
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
September 30, 2018
Rev. Barbara Keast
Today’s scripture reading is from the Book of Esther. There are other passages in the lectionary readings for this day, but the only time that Esther appears in the three-year Revised Common Lectionary is today, so I want to focus on her. The book of Esther is unusual not only because it’s got a strong female character at its center, but because God is never mentioned in it. Neither is prayer or worship. Yet God is still at work in this story as once again God’s people are saved, thanks to a woman named Esther.
So hear these words from the book of Esther:
So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is y our petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.
To set those verses in context, let me give you a brief summary:
This story takes place around the 5th century BC, when King Xerxes, or Ahasuerus as he’s known, was the king of Persia – he was like the “king of the world,” with ultimate power and authority. One day he decides to throw a party – actually parties, because the partying lasted about six months. But his wife, Queen Vashti, refuses to attend – we don’t know why – maybe she was tired of being a trophy wife, maybe she wasn’t being listened to. Anyway, her disobedience makes the king really mad, so he decides he needs a new queen – someone who’s pretty and will do what he says. So Xerxes decides to choose his wife by having a beauty pageant among all the most eligible young women, including one named Esther. Esther is an orphan and a Jew, raised by her Jewish cousin, Mordecai. Mordecai is active in civic affairs around the king’s court, and it’s at Mordecai’s suggestion (maybe insistence) that Esther becomes a contestant. After a year of beauty treatments for the harem he’s assembled, the King selects Esther as the winner and she’s named the queen. But Esther – once again at Mordecai’s urging – doesn’t reveal her Jewish roots to her husband.
After a time, Queen Esther discovers that her people, the Jews, are in danger. The king has an evil advisor named Haman. Haman gets really ticked off by Mordecai because Mordecai doesn’t honor him sufficiently – he doesn’t bow down before him. So Haman convinces King Xerxes that not only Mordecai, but all Jews, should be killed. Hearing this news, Mordecai implores Esther to prevent this massacre by speaking to her husband, the king, even though revealing herself as a Jew could imperil her own life. She’s in a position of influence and power, with access to the king like no other, even if her being there wasn’t necessarily her choice or desire. One way or another, she has ended up in an important position.
Whether through coercion or circumstances beyond her control, Esther finds herself in a particular moment that matters. In words that are perhaps the most famous in the entire book, Mordecai asks if this – the threat of massacre of her people and her ability to stop it – may be the very reason she has come to this moment. He asks, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
Despite all the risks, Esther then uses her power and diplomatic skills – which involve planning feasts, offering subtle hints, and making well-timed revelations – to convince the king to change his order to massacre the Jews, and she risks her life by admitting her true identity as a Jew. Esther saves her people, and the evil Haman is punished.
It’s quite a story. A story told without a mention of God – at least in the original Hebrew. In subsequent translations, verses were actually added to the story so that God was mentioned. Religious authorities and translators feared that the original Hebrew story wasn’t legitimate because it didn’t mention God.
But this story is still legitimate. Because Esther’s story demonstrates that God was at work in her, as God is at work in all the circumstances we face.
We all – women and men – so often feel that things in our lives seem to “just happen” to us. Maybe we’re elevated to a lofty position – by our own accomplishments, or by chance. Maybe we’re brought low – by a bad decision, or by illness or misfortune. As much as we seek direction in our lives, things happen that make us lose our way. We try to follow the will of God, but then we lose sight of it. We try to climb mountains, but we end up in valleys. Things in our lives just happen, but sometimes we can’t figure out the pattern to all the “just happens” of our lives. And we ask “why?”
Do you ever wonder why your life is as it is? Do you ever ask, “Why am I in this job?” or “Why am I living in this town?” or “How did I end up surrounded by these people?” We ask ourselves with bewilderment, “Why in the world am I here?”
The good news is: It’s alright. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to wonder. It’s okay not to have all the answers. We can’t always see the path before us.
But we can trust in the God who DOES know the way.
We can look out for and recognize God’s presence in our lives, being open to where God is leading. We can admit that we’re lost and turn to God for guidance.
We also can be willing to take risks. Esther found herself in a unique position, evaluated her situation, and decided to risk her life to save her people.
And we can recognize when a situation has potential for something great to happen.
Recognizing that she can have an important role – a life-saving role – in the survival of her people, Esther uses the opportunity she’s been given to make a difference. Esther was where she was meant to be “for just such a time as this.” Esther is best known for one thing, and her one act was huge — it stopped a potential genocide and saved a whole nation. As today’s passage notes, this event was henceforth celebrated by the Jews “as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.” This is the Jewish festival of Purim.
Some people are born for a lifetime of public recognition; but not many of us. Most of us live out our lives and never do anything that puts us in the limelight. And yet, there are moments in life that are critical moments — situations in which our response will make a difference for the long haul, maybe even for eternity.
These moments may not be on the scale of Esther’s, where her response saved a whole generation. But these moments are still important — maybe in the life of one of our children or other family member, or with a co-worker or friend. Or think of first responders, police and military troops, who train constantly to hone skills that might be used only once or twice in a lifetime. But when they’re needed, they’re needed, and they make a difference. However mundane a moment may appear, the miraculous may wait to be unwrapped within it.
Maybe you feel like your own life is little more than a series of meaningless events that “just happened.” You may not see the pattern of your own life. But you do have influence on people that no one else can influence. You and I – we all have opportunities that no one else will have. We all have a purpose in God’s story.
There may well be many moments waiting behind this one, and although the most significant moments of your life may still be moments away, the moment you are in right now waits to be seized. Esther seized her moment by taking advantage of the timing, place and opportunity that God gave her. Will you? Amen.