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     Sermons | Passionate worship

    This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

    Sept. 27, 2020 | 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

    They Tried To Kill Us.
    We Survived. Let’s Eat.

    Esther 7:1–10 and 9:20–22

     I T HAS BEEN SAID that the history of the Jewish people can be summarized in nine words:

    “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

    Esther is a story that has unfortunately been played out again and again (with different enemies) in Jewish history. We see this as slaves in Egypt and killing the boy babies. We see this in exile. We see in 1st century Bethlehem when Herod orders all boys under two to be killed. The Russian pogrom as fictionalized in Fiddler on the Roof.

    We see this with horror of the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were rounded up and executed.

    Even to this day, there are extremists who shout “death to the Jews.”

    † † †

    THOSE SAME nine words — “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” — summarize the Book of Esther and the feast of Purim.

    The Hebrew people are a religious minority living within the dominant Persian culture. Esther is an orphan as the book opens. She is taken in by her uncle Mordecai, an advisor at the royal court. Later, he is a hero by saving the king from an assassination plot.

    Esther finds herself as part of the king’s harem. She hides her Jewish identity in order to be in the king’s favor and access to his ear. Mordecai’s nemesis, Haman, convinced the king to decree that all Jews be killed, including special plans to hang Mordecai.

    † † †

    IN ALL of these intrigues, Esther maintains her proximity to power in order to deliver her people from destruction, which she does.

    As the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” Esther speaks and reveals Haman’s treachery. In doing so, Esther reveals her own heritage to the king at the risk of her life.

    Esther speaks and appeals for the safety of her people. The king grants her requests, reverses the decree to kill Jews and authorizes them to defend themselves.

    † † †

    JUDGE GINSBURG also said, “Women belong in all the places where decisions are made.”

    Esther is Jewish woman in the Persian court. Without her being present, without her speaking up, there would have been devastating consequences for the Jewish people. There were no men advocating for this minority group.

    Esther takes a risky stand in order to deliver and preserve the Jewish people. By the end of the book, the powerful are brought low, while the servant is raised up. The plot of the evil Haman to destroy the Jews is overturned, and Haman himself is hanged.

    But the story does not end here. The very day that had been decreed for Persians to attack Jews is now decreed as the day for Jews to defend against these enemies.

    “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.”

    † † †

    HERE ARE SOME quick thoughts for us in our own world and context.

    ■ This satire offers theological reassurance to a religious minority that God is indeed still at work delivering his chosen ones.

    ■ While the powerful (and often evil) appear in control, there is an unseen hand at work in all things. Though God is never explicitly mentioned, throughout the book a greater power is at work. There’s an old saying “a coincidence is a miracle in which God prefers to remain anonymous.” God does not speak or act in the story. There are no burning bushes here; no miracle by the sea. And yet, by the end of the book, God’s people are saved and their enemies are defeated.

    ■ God has not abandoned his people. No matter how bad things get, God is still God.

    ■ God is faithfulness to promises. God saves his people, Israel. And if God is faithful to Israel, then God will continue to be faithful to those of us who, by God’s grace, are grafted into Israel through Christ. (Romans 11:17-24)

    ■ We may wish for God’s direct intervention, for a burning bush or an obvious miracle, but most days we don’t get such things. Indeed, most of the time God works anonymously. God saves people not through direct intervention, but through the wisdom and courage of Esther and Mordecai. And yet, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, we may be able to discern where God is acting in our lives.

    ■ Finally, hang in there. There is hope. Rather than succumbing to despair, this story reminds us to hold fast to our conviction that the grace-filled power of God ultimately will overcome the destructive powers of this world.

    — Keith Cardwell   

    «The very day that had been decreed for Persians to attack Jews is now decreed as the day for Jews to defend against these enemies.»


    ►This is the Word of God for the people of God:

    Esther 7:1–10 and 9:20–22
    Holy Bible, New International Version

    Haman impaled
    7 So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, 2 and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”

    3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life — this is my petition. And spare my people — this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.[a]

    5 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he — the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

    6 Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

    Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. 7 The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.

    8 Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.

    The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

    As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. 9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits[b] stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”

    The king said, “Impale him on it!” 10 So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

    ■ ■ ■ 

    Purim established
    20 Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, 21 to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar 22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

    — This is the Word of the Lord.
    — Thanks be to God.


    a Esther 7:4  Or quiet, but the compensation our adversary offers cannot be compared with the loss the king would suffer
    b.  Esther 7:9  That is, about 75 feet or about 23 meters

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