Change: Esther

Change: Esther
A Message on Esther 4:9-17
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Oct. 17, 2021, Commitment Sunday
By Doug Wintermute

Esther 4:9-17 (NRSV)

Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” 12 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16 “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

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I want to continue our sermon series on “Change” by exploring someone in the Bible who certainly experienced a lot of change in her life: Esther.

The story of Esther, found in the book in the Bible that bears her name, is unique among the biblical writings. For one thing, God is never mentioned. Nope. This makes it one of only two books in the Bible, the other being Song of Songs, also known as Song of Solomon, that doesn’t mention God.

The story of Esther would make a great movie, and in fact one has already been made about it. It is a Veggie Tales movie, “Esther: The Girl Who Became Queen.” I highly recommend it. And yes, they changed some of the more adult parts so it’s very safe for kids. (And still very entertaining for adults!)

The book of Esther is not very long. It is found right after Nehemiah and right before Job, which is right before Psalms. So just to the left of midway in most Bibles.

It’s difficult to explore one portion of Esther without knowing the whole story. So, here is my “Reader’s Digest” version: (for you young folks who don’t know what “Reader’s Digest” means, ask an older person.)

The time period is around BC 486-465 and the location is Persia. The king of the huge Persian empire is Ahasuerus (AHA-zer-us), who we also know as Xerses. The Jewish people have been overrun and dispersed throughout the Persian Empire.

The king has a wife named Vashti. The king throws a big party for the men and wants to show off his wife, but she refuses to go. So the king removes her as queen and the king’s officials start looking for a new queen.

So a search ensues throughout the empire for a new queen. There is a young lady named Esther who is an orphan and who is Jewish. She was cared for by a relative named Mordecai, who was either her uncle or cousin, depending on which scholars you believe.

Esther is very beautiful and through a rigorous process she is selected as the new queen.

The king has a right-hand man named Haman who is not a very nice guy. He has a big ego and uses his power to stroke that ego. He wants everyone to bow down to him–literally–and gets really ticked at Mordecai because he won’t. But Mordecai, being Jewish, can’t bow down to anyone except God. Haman doesn’t care, though, and begins to hate Mordecai and, because Mordecai is Jewish, Haman starts hating the Jews as well..

Mordecai ends up getting some recognition that Haman thinks he deserves, which adds oxygen to the fire. So Haman comes up with a plan. He convinces the king to issue an order that on a specific date all the Jewish people in the empire will be killed. And Haman chooses that date using purim, which is kinda like dice we use for games,

The king, trusting Haman, issues the order. Mordecai finds out about it and is justifiably upset. He gets word to Esther that she has to do something to stop this planned slaughter.

There’s a problem, though. Esther can’t just show up to the King and ask him to stop it. There were some sorta-strange rules back then, and one of them was that if you approached the king uninvited, you were taken off and killed. The only way to keep that from happening was if the king extended his scepter (kind of a fancy stick) toward the person, then they could live and approach the king.

Esther knew about that rule. If she approached the king to tell him about the plan against the Jews and he didn’t extend his scepter toward her, she would die. Plain and simple. Therefore she was rightfully reluctant to go talk to the king.

But Mordecai knew that was the only way to save not only Esther and himself, but the entire Jewish people in the empire. So he tried to persuade Esther to at least try.

He tells her, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

Esther tells Mordecai to have all the Jewish people fast and pray for her, and then goes before the king. He points the scepter toward her, saving her life. She invites the king and Haman to a banquet, and they accept.

At the banquet, the king asks Esther what he can do for her. And she invites them to another banquet the next day.

So they come to the second banquet. And again the king asks Esther if there is anything he can do for her. She then makes the bold move to tell him about how her peoples’ lives were on the line thanks to the decree from Haman. The king gets upset at Haman and leaves the room. Haman starts begging and pleading with Esther for his life. The king comes back in and thinks Haman is getting fresh with Esther, and gets even more mad. Haman is arrested and ends up receiving the atrocity he had planned for Mordecai.

Esther asks the king to revoke the order, but there was a problem: once the king gave an order, it could not be revoked.

So Esther enlisted the help of Mordecai and sent out another decree from the king, this one saying that the Jews could defend themselves against anyone who wanted to do them harm. And that’s what happened.

The Jews celebrated that day and designated the day to be celebrated every year. And they still do today. It is known as Purim, its name derived from the dice-like method Haman used to select the date to annihilate the Jews.

“Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

The late Rich Mullins wrote a song years ago titled, “Who God Is Gonna Use,” and includes the story of Esther in the song. In those lyrics he paraphrases Esther 4:14 as, “Who knows but that you came into the world for such a time as this.”

Those ancient words of Mordecai to Esther are applicable to us today as well. Who knows but that you, each one of you, came into your place in the world for such a time as this. Who knows but that God has placed you in the fabric of time to be present here and now because he has something he wants you to do.

Today is commitment Sunday. It is one Sunday a year where we ask you to fill out a card estimating your financial support for this church for the coming year.

The reason we do that is so that we as a church can be good stewards. We prepare a budget in the fall of every year to estimate what our expenses are to operate this church for the coming year. We publish those numbers in every bulletin and newsletter so that you can see where we are financially.

Sarah, our wonderful financial secretary, goes over those numbers every month with our finance committee, and then the finance committee reports to the Church Leadership Council every month.

It is all transparent, includes levels of accountability, and ensures that we are good stewards with the gifts that God graces us with.

“Who knows but that you came into the world for such a time as this.” Who knows but that God has placed you in this church, at this time, so that as you fulfill his will for your life that his kingdom here on earth may grow.

So why give to this church? Why support it financially?

One reason is that it is part of the vows you made when you joined the church. You pledged to support the church with your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. And we renew that pledge every time someone joins that church, like we did last week when 10 adults and two children joined.

But the most important reason to give to the church is out of gratitude. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins with his life. As the words to the old hymn remind us:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

James reminds us that every good and perfect gift is from above. Everything we have is a gift from God. Jesus gave us the ultimate gift, a gift that we don’t deserve but which is the very best gift ever given.

I just finished reading In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park. It is a disturbing and eye-opening book about what life is like in North Korea. There are so many things we take for granted in this country that Yeonmi didn’t have growing up in North Korea, things like running water, electricity, and having enough food to eat. I found it fascinating how Yeonmi found it difficult to understand how people could take those things for granted.

We are blessed. Very blessed. But we shouldn’t take those blessings for granted. By giving to the church we fund those ministries that reach out to those in need, but even more importantly than that we offer Christ to those who don’t know him.

The grace that we receive from Jesus Christ is not something we should keep to ourselves. We should never be stingy or selfish with such extravagant love. We should share it with others. Love isn’t love until you give it away.

“Who knows but that you came into the world for such a time as this.”

So my challenge for you today is to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ that supports His church by your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Let us be like Esther and be willing to take risks in order that others may have life and have it more abundantly. Let us not only talk the talk, but let us walk the walk.

As we sing our last hymn I am going to ask you to bring your pledge cards down front and place them in the baskets on the altar rail. I want to assure you that the only person who will see these cards is our financial secretary, Sarah Hugghins. I won’t see them. No one else will see them except Sarah.

Come and make your pledge for the next year for this church.

After all,
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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