Sept. 25, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Generous God, your Son gave his life that we might come to peace with you. Give us a share of your Spirit, and in all we do empower us to bear the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

1[King Ahasuerus] and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther.2On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. 4For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. 9Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
9:20Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

Psalm 124

1If the Lord had not been | on our side,
  let Isra- | el now say;
2if the Lord had not been | on our side,
  when enemies rose | up against us,
3then would they have swallowed us | up alive
  in their fierce | anger toward us;
4then would the waters have | overwhelmed us
  and the torrent gone | over us;
5then would the | raging waters
  have gone right | over us.
6Blessed | be the Lord
  who has not given us over to be a prey | for their teeth. 
7We have escaped like a bird from the snare | of the fowler;
  the snare is broken, and we | have escaped.
8Our help is in the name | of the Lord,
  the maker of heav- | en and earth.

Mark 9:38-50

38John said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
  42“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
  49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

Jesus lays things out quite clearly for his disciples. They were a bit put out because someone seemingly outside their circle was able to use one of God’s gifts. Jesus does not have a problem with the person casting out demons in his name. Nothing is supposed to stop us or the collective we from bringing in the reign of God. We don’t have to look past our Old Testament lesson to see unusual characters being instruments of God’s reign.

Esther and her cousin Mordecai were living in Susa, one of four capitals in the great Persian Empire. It was 475 years before Christ. A hundred years previously, the Jewish people have been overrun by the Chaldeans. They had been taken into exile in Babylon. Fifty years later, Babylon was conquered by the Persians and the Jews were allowed to return home. But some Jews chose to stay where they were. They had discovered something important. God did not just live in the land of Israel. God was here too. Mordecai and Esther were among the Jews who stayed.

However, living as a Jew at the heart of the Persian Empire was risky business, as the book of Esther makes clear. Straightaway we meet King Ahasuerus and we find the most powerful man in the empire to be a reckless, extravagant, and easily manipulated character. This is especially dangerous because when he passes a law, that law cannot be changed, even if it turns out to be a disaster. 

Not only do the Jews live under an unreliable monarch and an unworkable legislative system, they also have sworn enemies. One is Haman. Haman and Mordecai despise each other. When Haman rises to the post of prime minister, Mordecai riles him so much that he manipulates the king into issuing a decree that will wipe out all Jews in the Empire. We need to remember that Israel was still part of the Persian Empire at the is point. So, the king’s decree threatens to eliminate the Jews from history altogether. 

There is one faint hope for the Jews. Five years before the passing of the decree, Mordecai’s cousin Esther, without revealing her ethnic identity, had joined the king’s harem, undergoing a year-long grooming to prepare her for a one-night stand with the king. The king liked her so much that he made her his new queen. But being queen did not give Esther automatic intimacy with the king one might imagine. The king still kept his harem and no one got to address the king unless he took their fancy and he waved his golden scepter at them. 

Esther is queen, but she is still so isolated that she did not even know that the Jews were due to be exterminated in a few months’ time. Back in Chapter four, Mordecai told Esther about the catastrophic decree. “Look, Esther,” Mordecai says, “You’re the only one who can do something about this.” Esther tries to escape but Mordecai explains that being queen is not going to save her. He says, “Maybe this was exactly why you became queen. You thought it was saving yourself, but God thought it was for saving God’s people. Maybe God put you here for exactly this moment, for just such a time as this.”

In the end, Esther stops denying, stops ignoring, stops making excuses, stops running away. She realizes this moment needs more than her own strength, so she falls back on the devotional habits of her people and calls on the Jews to fast with her. She resolves that she will face up to her responsibility and go to the king. She also recognizes that she must disclose her true identity as a Jew. She takes stock of the realities of her situation. One scholar [Sam Wells] goes so far as to say that Esther becomes Christ. She is a kind of Jesus, at the right hand of God, laying down her life for the salvation of the Jews. Esther requires a mixture of courage, charm, and luck. The king issues a new decree that enables the Jews to live another day.

The story of Esther teaches us many things. One among them is that there are biblical characters who have had to hide their identity. I assume many of us have kept parts of ourselves hidden when in group settings. However, if you have LGBTQ people in your life, they may be the ones who most easily relate to Esther’s predicament. One minister wrote, “Esther’s task is to figure out how to come out in such a way that turns the king’s heart away from the slander and stereotypes he’s heard about the Jewish people, Esther’s people. Her goal must be to save all the Jews, including herself.” 

Another lesson Esther teaches its readers is the history of the Jewish festival of Purim, celebrated in late February or March. Esther also teaches that maintaining community and religious identity in foreign territory is a tricky but very important task. And the book has much to say about power, ethnic tension, and the sin of pride.

But the heart of the story lies in those words from Mordecai, which Esther took to heart, “Perhaps you have come to this place, to this moment, to these people, to this challenge, for just such a time as this.”

Just ponder Esther for a moment. Yes, she had some things. But she lacked other things. She had beauty. She had a certain kind of training. She had an ambitious and loyal cousin. She had a very powerful husband. But she did not have any power over her own life. She did not have any security in the face of those who planned to kill her and her people. And she did not have any real personal intimacy with her husband.

Think about Esther, and then think about yourself. You have some things. You lack other things. Maybe you have the gift of great intelligence. Maybe you don’t have great brains and are free of the burden of feeling you have to be clever all the time. Maybe you have good looks. Maybe you don’t have good looks and are free of the expectations good looks can bring. Maybe you have had a calm and stable family life and understand what trust and security mean. Maybe you have known none of these things. But maybe you have experienced anxiety that helps you understand the panic Esther felt. 

What makes you uniquely you? And then think about your context. Think about the number of times you have said “What Trinity needs”, or “What Canyon County needs”, or “What my family needs”, or “What the world needs”. Think about the number of times you have thought there was nothing or no one that could do anything about it.

And then feel this exasperating man Mordecai tap on your shoulder, and say “Perhaps you have been given these skills and experiences, these privileges and deprivations, so that just at this very moment you could do what no one else could do, you could be what no one else could be. God made you just as you are because he wanted someone just like you. Maybe you came to be here for just such a time as this.”

Think again about Esther. She found herself at a crucial moment — not a moment for sudden action, but a moment when she realized the rest of her life must be given for one cause that went way and above her own safety, her own privilege, her own status. You could call it a moment of conversion. And what she was converted to was a further time of preparation, of fasting, or planning, of biding her time, of waiting till it was worth taking an enormous risk and then of executing a careful plan. And perhaps most curious of all, the person who brought her face to face with her destiny was no saint but Mordecai, her stubborn, proud, scheming cousin who’d done a whole lot to put his people in this mess in the first place.

Esther listened. Without Esther there would have been no Jesus, because there would have been no Jews. The founders of Trinity listened. On All Saints Sunday, Nov. 7, we will celebrate so many people in the Christian tradition who have listened. But today is a day to celebrate the times when each of us gathered here have listened and to strengthen us to keep listening and paying attention to the tap on the shoulder. Has God put you right here, right now, for just such a time as this?

Prayers of Intercession (From Sundays and Seasons)

Made children and heirs of God’s promise, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.We pray for the church and its ministry. Bless the newly baptized and encourage them in their journey of faith. Sustain all members of the body of Christ in lives of prayer, service, and worship. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for natural wonders of your creation (local waterways, forests, and natural areas may be named). Restore damaged forests, waterways and natural habitats and lead us to be good stewards of what you have provided. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for those in authority. Give them wise minds and compassionate hearts. Strengthen in them a desire to protect the vulnerable and care for those underserved. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are struggling with cancer, dementia, or any other disease. Provide them with peace and resilience for the days ahead. Sustain caregivers with energy and patience. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We pray for the worship leaders of this congregation: musicians, readers, acolytes, and ushers (other roles may be added to reflect your context). Bless us through their ministry and grant them the passion to continue in their service. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.We give thanks for all your saints, those we have loved and known and those from every time and place. Continue to guide us by their example and reassure us of your promised salvation. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Receive these prayers, O God, and those in our hearts known only to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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