Can a beauty queen become a national hero and have a book in the Bible named after her? Can God call a reluctant royal to be God’s instrument of deliverance? That’s the story of Esther.
Every year, our Jewish siblings celebrate Purim. It is a time of celebration, feasting, and rejoicing. People reach out to the poor and read the book of Esther in its entirety. Hamantaschen, a sweet fruit filled cookie, are baked, and men are encouraged to drink adult beverages to the extent that they cannot distinguish between the good Mordecai and the evil Haman.
According to legend – in the time in the 5th century before Jesus Xerxes I, the great king of Persia, throws a several day party to impress his powerful friends and the rulers of the world. After several days of partying, he demands that his wife Vashti dance for the assembled multitude. Vashti has a party of her own going on and refuses to attend. Perhaps she is simply enjoying herself or just as likely doesn’t want to the be lust object of hundreds drunken men. Xerxes angrily removes her from the throne and then discovers that he needs female companionship. His royal aides sweep the nation, looking for the most beautiful women, one of whom is Esther or Hadassah, a Hebrew orphan, under the care of her uncle a governmental official Mordecai. Entranced by Esther’s beauty, Xerxes chooses her as his next wife.
During this same time, the king’s chief advisor Haman and Mordecai get into an argument, apparently Mordecai doesn’t give Haman the honor he believes he deserves. Being a thin-skinned, easily upset, immature and overly sensitive and defensive politician, Haman persuades the king to announce an edict – today it would be a tweet- that all the Jews living in Persian territory must be killed.
Esther has been lying low, hiding her Jewish identity. Although she is now queen, she remembers what happened to Vashti. No doubt she is enjoying the wealth and adulation of being the King’s favorite. Mordecai alerts her to the danger, tells her she must act, and states that her coming to the throne my be providential, it may be God’s way of saving the people, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape more than other Jews. 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. Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this.”
Esther goes into seclusion, fasts, and prays, looking for guidance, and then hatches an elaborate scheme, involving wine and flirtation, that leads to the evil Haman’s execution. The Jewish people are saved, Mordecai becomes a chief counselor to Xerxes, and Esther becomes not only an object of kingly romantic attraction but a political advisor.
We don’t know if Esther, Vashti, or Mordecai ever existed. We know that Jews lived in the Persian Empire following the fall of Babylon. But historical fact isn’t the point. Like other great literature, there is a deeper truth to be found and it is in Mordecai’s challenge, “perhaps you came to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
Isn’t that question? What are we doing here? What is our vocation? In this time of protest, pandemic, and global climate change – this time in which the ties that bind our nation are fraying and incivility and partisanship threatens the common good? When we have awakened to the injustices that many Americans feel on a daily basis? We need to ponder what time it is and the nature of our calling for just such a time as this.
There is a providence, a moral and spiritual arc that runs through our lives and history. It influences – though it is often neglected – every person and nation. It is God’s vision for each moment and for the long haul, for each person and for every country. God’s vision doesn’t compel or coerce but is the horizon that calls us to our vocation in our time and place.
This is our time and place, with all its complexity and challenge. This is the time of salvation for us, our nation, and the planet. We recognize that as individuals we aren’t powerful. We may be privileged in terms of economics and race but we aren’t in the White House, Halls of Congress, or running a huge corporation – yet we still have a calling, and our calling is the place where our gifts meet the world’s needs. Our calling is right where we are – as grandparents, parents, children of aging parents, workers, citizens, and friends.
Frederick Buechner counsels “listen to your life” and Parker Palmer asserts “let your life speak.” Everything we do makes a difference. Like the theme of Frank Capra’s movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we discover that a good life is made up of countless small acts, often forgotten, that bring beauty and fulfillment to the lives of those around us. We may not be able to do great things in the world’s eyes, but we can do small things with great love and tip the balance of life from ugliness to beauty and death to life.
The Jewish tradition asserts that when you save a soul, you save the world. The world cannot be complete until everyone experiences wholeness and each of us can bring beauty and wholeness to our part of the world moment by moment.
God has called you “for just such a time as this.” God has a vision for your life, where you can make a difference that changes the world. I have realized more acutely over the twenty weeks my vocation as a grandparent of two young boys who spend every weekday with us. If I can nurture their growth and character, I will have done something important. I also daily realize how important our congregation is for our lives. Despite the distance we keep from each other, I have realized how important a phone call or an email can be. In this time of national chaos, I have made a commitment to contact our representatives on issues of public safety, environmental concerns, and care for the vulnerable. The world is saved one kind word, phone call, or one act of citizen responsibility at a time.
This is our time. This is the time of our lives. In this life, it is the only time we have. We matter and if we don’t claim our vocation to be God’s companions in healing our nation and the world, who will? If we don’t reach out to the lonely and hurting, who will? We have a place no one else does in the whole world and God is calling us, unimportant as we may think we are, to bring joy and justice to the place where we stand, for just such a time as this.