Esther...my non-political sermon after a triggering week
Before we jump to today’s reading, I want to remind you of the beginning of Esther’s story, it’s simply not fair to jump to the end without knowing or understanding what happened in the beginning.
The story of Esther is a story for times such as these...Before we get to Esther we first need to talk about King Xerxes and Queen Vashti. Some translations refer to King Ahasuerus while others refer to King Xerxes and since Xerxes is easier to pronounce and the king referenced in The Message, that is the king I’ll be using today. King Xerxes ruled over a huge territory, 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. Just as many leaders with great kingdoms and prowess, he longed to show off for the other leaders so he held a week long party with all kinds of leaders and generals.Queen Vashti was in charge of keeping the women entertained while King Xerxes and the men ate and drank to no end. After much drinking and excess, King Xerxes called out to have Queen Vashti, a ravishingly beautiful woman, come and show herself to the king and his men.
The story goes that he wanted to show off wearing only her crown...King Xerxes wanted his beautiful and loving wife to parade around in her crown so all the men would know of King Xerxes prowess and be in awe of his beautiful wife. From what we know of how women were treated in the ancient near east as well as the abhorrent effects of drinking men...this was a dangerous set up for Queen Vashti no matter what decision she made. Parading naked before a room of drunken and boisterous men while her husband weaves tales of her beauty and her body...talk about being put in a dangerous situation…
Queen Vashti dangerously refused. Perhaps she was afraid of what could happen to her in that room. Perhaps she was afraid that if she walked through the room naked, later King Xerxes would use it against her after he sobered up, telling her that was not the way a Queen should behave or in a rage of jealousy accuse her of looking to find another lover...the list of possibilities is endless.
Queen Vashti dangerously refused. It was dangerous because she did not obey her husband. It did not matter than he was drunk, it did not matter that it was a dangerous situation for her to walk through a crowd of drunken men wearing only her crown. It only mattered that she did not obey.
It was most dangerous because her husband the powerful King Xerxes was taunted by the men who had wanted to see his wife in all of her glory. They snickered whispered loudly about her setting a precedent for women all over the kingdom to disobey their husbands. They shouted that this was not only about the King’s power in his household, it was about theirs and how if the Queen did not obey her husband then other women all over the kingdom would not obey their husbands. The men called for Queen Vashti to be put down...literally. King Xerxes cowered before their demands...showing his true power. King Xerxes banished Queen Vashti from the kingdom, in essence he cowered to the whims of his men and executed his beloved and beautiful queen.
A King cannot be without a queen for long so he called for all the beautiful virgins of the kingdom to submit themselves for the opportunity to become queen.
Our heroine does not want to present herself but her Uncle Mordecai tells her this is her time and urges her to do so. Esther concedes and ends up winning the crown.
Can you imagine why Esther is afraid? She has at least two very good reasons to be afraid and I think many more...first of all, she has seen what happens when a queen says no to her king. She, like every other girl and woman in the kingdom, learned that to say no...whatever your reason may be, would result in death. As a queen, one would never know what tasks she would be expected to perform. At least as a regular wife, she knew the expectations...love your husband, feed him well, provide for your household however you can and bear children. But a queen’s life is more complicated...not only must one take care of her husband and bear children, she had to entertain guests from around the world and ensure their happiness, and always, without fail obey the king.
Secondly, Esther was Jewish. The Jewish people’s role in society was still on the edges. Her Uncle Mordecai wanted her as queen to help protect the Jewish people as there were rumblings from other kingsmen of an attempt to finally do away with the Jewish people. Uncle Mordecai wasn’t trying to convince Esther to become queen because it would be a good and safe choice for her but that it is a time in which a brave Jewish queen was needed.
Eventually Esther agreed to be prepared for becoming a queen, her beauty and demure intelligence shone through and she transformed from a young woman into a queen.
As she became used to her role, those rumblings of undoing the Jewish people became louder and began to shake within her and within Uncle Mordecai. Mordecai and Esther knew that the man who wanted the Jewish people dead was King Xerxes’ right hand man, Haman. Uncle Mordecai and Queen Esther came up with a plan. Queen Esther’s fear for her people overtook the fear for her life.
In that time, a queen did not speak or call to her husband unless she was spoken to or called for first. She was terrified but Uncle Mordecai reminded her that she was prepared for a time such a this...a time to be brave to speak even as her voice shakes. And so she did.
The first time, she invited her husband, King Xerxes and Haman to dine with her, under the guise of showing her love as a good wife and appealing to her king through his stomach...that has always been the way, hasn’t it? That dinner was a success! The food was wonderful, she was charming, and King Xerxes and Haman were greatly impressed.
From the Message: 7 1-2 So the king and Haman went to dinner with Queen Esther. At this second dinner, while they were drinking wine the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what would you like? Half of my kingdom! Just ask and it’s yours.”
3 Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives.
4 “We’ve been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed—sold to be massacred, eliminated. If we had just been sold off into slavery, I wouldn’t even have brought it up; our troubles wouldn’t have been worth bothering the king over.”
5 King Xerxes exploded, “Who? Where is he? This is monstrous!”
6 “An enemy. An adversary. This evil Haman,” said Esther.
Haman was terror-stricken before the king and queen.
7-8 The king, raging, left his wine and stalked out into the palace garden.
Haman stood there pleading with Queen Esther for his life—he could see that the king was finished with him and that he was doomed. As the king came back from the palace garden into the banquet hall, Haman was groveling at the couch on which Esther reclined. The king roared out, “Will he even molest the queen while I’m just around the corner?”
When that word left the king’s mouth, all the blood drained from Haman’s face.
9 Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, spoke up: “Look over there! There’s the gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai, who saved the king’s life. It’s right next to Haman’s house—seventy-five feet high!”
The king said, “Hang him on it!”
10 So Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he had built for Mordecai. And the king’s hot anger cooled.
After the second dinner, Haman’s plan for the Jewish people was over. It wasn’t over because it had been discovered that he wanted death to all of Jewish people but because King Xerxes discovered that his wife was Jewish and he had come to love her and thus wanted to protect and care for her.
Queen Esther’s story has many lessons for us, if you go and reread the story you’ll see that I’ve left out quite a bit but I wanted you to hear the story from Queen Esther’s side rather than getting caught up in the drama of men. Queen Vashti and Queen Esther are more than footnotes to a dramatic story...they hold truths and inspiration for women and men to this very day.
The one truth I want you to hear this morning is that we were made for times such as these...perhaps you are just a girl, or just a boy, just a kid, or just a person without power and privilege but you too must speak out even though your voice may be shaking.
We live in a crazy time...perhaps all the times of the world have been crazy and it just feels especially so because it it our time. Perhaps you are a person with power and privilege...this is your time as well.
We live in a time in which we get to advocate for justice. We get to advocate for systematic changes to make the world a better place not just for some but for all people. We may not always agree on the methods but we must continue to speak with one another even when our voices shake...not so that someone will end up hung from a tower but so that people without power and privilege do not continue to be stepped on and ignored.
God has prepared us for a time such as this. Amen.