God's Open House

Sunday, September 30, 2018


When I was growing up, I had one of those assignments where they asked me to interview someone I know about what it was like to live through a crucial time in history. So I asked my Dad about what it was like to live in the Civil Rights Era in the 60s. Both of my parents were born in 1956, two years after Brown v. Board of Education. In Tennessee, cities either shut down their school systems and gave vouchers to students for whites only schools or simply refused to integrate. My parents were in the latter group. Their schools were finally desegregated 12 years after the Supreme Court Decision.

I assumed that my Dad would tell me about watching historic marches on TV, or the desegregation process in his hometown, but his answer was a little frustrating. He said it didn’t feel like a crucial time in history. Everything that was happening just felt normal. He’s not the only one who gave me an answer like that. For everyone not directly involved, you still wake up, go to work or go to school, come home, eat dinner, go to bed. You’ve got to eat, you’ve got to sleep, and history making events don’t always affect that. People still fall in love and get married, graduate, grow older, and take out the trash, even in the most dramatic times in history. Now normalcy, at crucial times in history, is a privilege that not everyone has. But even for those profoundly affected, the rhythm of life goes whether you want it to or not.

I say all this because I want to talk about a person in a privileged position at a crucial point in history: Esther. The whole story of Esther is worth reading. It is simply one of the greatest stories in the Bible.

It begins with King Ahasuerus, King of Persia, calling his wife in to show off her beauty to his drinking buddies. Queen Vashti refuses to be an object of their drunken admiration. On the advice his advisors, he puts her to death, because what if other women learned to disobey their husbands. You don’t know how hard I pushed to name my daughter Vashti.

This leaves an opening for a new queen. When they gather up all the beautiful virgins from within the Kingdom, young Esther, who was raised by her cousin Mordecai is brought in. After a year of beauty treatments, Esther goes before the king and he is so taken with her that he declares her queen. We might see this as a story of sex trafficking, though it is portrayed in the story as a sort of rags-to-riches rise. But not too long after, her journey from young unknown to Queen of Persia takes a turn. The King’s advisor Haman was a cruel and petty man, and when Mordecai refuses to bow down before him, Haman promises 10,000 talents in the treasury for the king to issue a command to destroy all the Jews. Every province and official receives word that on a specific day, they are to kill them all.

Mordecai tears his clothes and dons sackcloth and ashes and stands at the city gates. When Esther hears about it, she sends someone with new clothes for him. Through messengers, Mordecai tells her about the edict, and that she must be the one to save her nation.

Esther had no idea what had happened. Until she saw her cousin in mourning, everything felt very normal to her. She had her own problems. Her husband had not spoken to her in a month. And life in the royal court is easy, but as her predecessor had revealed, one wrong move could be the end. She is afraid. But Mordecai says, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this.” For such a time as this. At a crucial moment.

Esther has the power to change the fate of her whole people. The whole Jewish nation living in Persia depends on her. But it’s a risk. Even though she is powerful, her position is vulnerable. King Ahasuerus does not know that she is a Jew, and has just signed a law that all Jews should be killed in one day. What will he say if he finds out she’s Jewish? To speak up could cost her position, or even her life. Anyone who went uninvited to the king was putting their life in his hands. Would he extend his scepter to her?

Esther has a crucial choice. She can stay silent and things will continue to feel normal for her. Or she can put her life on the line for someone else.

The word crucial comes from the Latin crux, or cross. The implication is that a crucial moments are when paths cross and we have to choose. For Christians, the most crucial moment was when two pieces of wood were crossed, and our Lord nailed to them. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s love, the choice to deny himself and lose his own life to save ours.

So for Christians, for something to be crucial is for it to be cross-shaped. That is, it should be shaped by what happened on the cross – Jesus died to raise us up. At crucial moments in history, at crucial moments in our lives, we should strive to be cross-shaped, reflecting in our actions and our behavior the sacrificial love of Christ. It should be formed by the teaching of Jesus, but above all, it should follow in the example of Jesus, who, as Paul writes,

“emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness,
and being found in human form,
he humbled himself,
and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Therefore God highly exalted him,
and gave him the name that is above every name
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven
and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

For Christians, the crucial moment in history was when he humbled himself so that we might be lifted up. It changed everything for us, and revealed the light of his teaching to love God, love our neighbors, and take up our cross and follow him.

Even though it may feel normal, you may be living in a crucial time. This could be a time of great change. Maybe it is a crucial time in your own life, or the life of someone in your family. Maybe it is a crucial time in the life of your community, or your nation. But what you do, your actions in response to the people around you, are crucial. Perhaps you are in the position you are in, as a mom, as a colleague, as a person, for such a time as this.

I have not told you the end of the story of Esther. I have not told you what choice she made. I don’t do this because I think it is all that much of a cliffhanger. It’s in the Bible. I do this for two reasons. One, to encourage you to read the book. It’s a great story, at least until the end. Two, because the story might be a foregone conclusion for Esther, it is still up in the air for you. Maybe you have been called to where you are for such a time as this. Maybe it will feel normal, maybe it won’t. But what you do will be crucial.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

She can be silent and continue to feel normal. Or she can risk her life to save her people. She asks for their prayers.

Key thoughts about Esther – she is privileged. She is privileged enough to be able to keep her normal life, even when life isn’t normal for her community.

Esther was hardly living a normal life. But her life was normal for her. She had worries and anxieties, rhythms of your life.

The root of the word crucial is the Latin crux, or cross. A crucial instant is the moment two paths cross. For Christians the most crucial moment was when two pieces of wood were crossed, and our Lord nailed to them. It is the moment that everything changed.

Finish the story of Esther – big emphasis on Mordecai’s statement, “Perhaps God has put you here for such a time as this”

Then, reverse Dad’s statement, and say that when it feels normal, it is likely a crucial time. Perhaps because it is always a crucial time in history for someone. Perhaps because it is a crucial time in your own history, or the history of your family or community.

Then highlight that crucial’s etymology is the cross, and so it is in crucial moments that we are called to take up our cross, and choose to be Christ-like.