Sunday, September 27, 2015

Queen Esther and Divine Providence

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Old Testament reading from the book Esther is a good example of what it means to be responsible for the safety and well-being of others, even if doing so involves great personal risk. It is perhaps necessary for me to give a short summary of the story as, sadly, I fear there may be some here for whom the story is not entirely familiar.

It is a story of courage, and daring, and intrigue; of great risks taken and evil plots overthrown; a tale where the stakes could not be higher – the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It is set at a time when many of the children of Israel as a result of war no longer live within the boundaries of the Promised Land. They are dispersed among the lands of those who conquered them, first the Babylonians, and then the Medes and Persians who conquered the conquerors. And just as Daniel became a person of importance at the court of King Nebuchadnezzar, so also does the Jew Mordecai become someone who is valued by the king of his time, Ahasuerus; in this case Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king and so Ahasuerus owes him his life.

The person who is second only to the king in all the empire is Haman, a man full of pride and ambition. He hates Mordecai, because he, alone of all men, will not bow before him. He does not care that this is not intended as a slight towards his honour and dignity and that the reason that Mordecai will not bow is that he is a faithful Jew and will not treat any man as if he were a God. But with a sinful pride that mirrors that of Satan himself, Haman can not bear that even a single man does not treat him as he thinks he deserves.

So, driven by his irrational hatred, he determines to destroy not only Mordecai, but all the Jews dwelling within the borders of the empire. He proceeds with cunning; Mordecai has saved the king's life after all. So Haman goes to the king and deceives him; he tells him that there is a people dwelling within the empire who are dangerous to its safety and security, a people who will not obey its laws. He does not, of course, tell the king that they are the people of Mordecai, the man who had saved his life. He asks for permission to root out and destroy this threat to the peace and stability of the empire; and the king, trusting the man who is second only to him, gives him the authority to proceed as he sees fit.

So a decree goes out, in the name of the king, that on a certain day all the Jews are to be killed – man, woman, and child. Mordecai learns of the plan and determines to do what he can to save his people. There is one slim hope for survival; his niece Esther. For unbeknownst to Haman, or anyone else, she is the queen. And this was a more slender hope than one might think. Firstly because a decree of the king was irrevocable, even by himself; and secondly for anyone to appear before the king unless summoned the penalty was death, even for the queen, unless he chose to forgive the transgression. And it was more likely than not that he would not do so – for this king was a temperamental sort of fellow, and, although no Henry the Eighth, had a record of getting rid of queens who breached royal protocol.

Esther is terrified. But her uncle reminds her of the faithfulness of God – if she does not act, then he will surely find some other way to save his people, and then her failure to act in order to save her own life will surely come back to haunt her; and in any case what if it was by Divine Providence that she is now queen, placed in this role by God so that the Jewish people may be saved?

So despite her fears, Esther decides to risk death to save her people. She prepares herself by three days of prayer and fasting, and asks that her people do the same; and then she puts on her royal robes and, uninvited, enters the presence of the king. It is a tense moment – will she be struck down by a furious king? Or will he smile upon her and invite her in? But her gamble pays off; the king spares her life.

But that, of course, is only the beginning. She must now persuade the king to find a way to do the seemingly impossible – save a people who have been condemned by royal decree in an empire where even the king himself may not revoke his command once given. Does she succeed? Well, you will know from the short fragment we heard read earlier that she does. We do not have time this morning to go into the details – I must ask you to open your Bibles when you return home and read the full story for yourself later!

But her success proves true the prophetic words spoken by Mordecai, that it was Divine Providence that Esther was queen at this time of danger, God putting her in this position so that through her he might save her people. The Fathers point to many important lessons to be learned from the book of Esther; but today I wonder does it not speak to us of trusting in God, trusting that he has a plan for each and every one of us. What is his plan for you? To save countless thousands of lives? Perhaps not; but perhaps it is a task even greater – to save some few souls from spiritual death. We see from today's Epistle our duty to bring back those who wander from the faith – are there those in your life whom you can help in such a way? But remember first that you must begin with yourself – the blind cannot lead the blind. In fact, if you are not living the faith yourself you are more likely to cause others to stumble, as you lead others astray by the poor example of un-Christian living; and what does our Lord say in our Gospel today about those who cause others to stumble? That it were better that a millstone be tied about their necks and they be cast into the depths of the sea.

So, as I finish this morning, I conclude with a prayer: I pray that you will open your hearts to be faithful to Christ and all his teachings; that in that faithfulness you will strive daily to help others to be faithful also; so that in that fidelity you will learn what it is that God wills for your life; and in so doing, attain at last unto eternal life in heaven. Amen.

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