Sermon, “God Will Use Whomever God Chooses…” Sept 26th, 2021

Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Reading                                                     

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

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther.
On 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.”
Then 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. For 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.”
Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.

Then 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.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as 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.

*Gospel Reading:

Mark 9: 38-41

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
But 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.

Whoever is not against us is for us.
For 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.

Sermon, “God Will Use Whomever God Chooses…..”

            Today’s Scripture reading sounds like an interesting reality show! There’s drama, power, a bit of comedy, sexuality, murder, plots, secrets, you name it and it’s found in the Book of Esther. I’m not saying I ever watch reality shows, but I would guess that Esther would probably fit in an evening television line up. It’s an interesting 9-chapter book of the Bible for all the reasons I mentioned, along with the fact that it’s the only book in the Bible that never mentions God or the divine once. It does name the Jewish faith of course and the act of prayerful fasting as requested by Esther, but it doesn’t name God once. Even so, this dramatic reality show of a story has something great to teach us.   

            In a time when the Jewish people were living in the Diaspora, dispersed from their home land, and living among the Persian Empire, we find King Ahasuerus who ruled over the vast stretches of the empire from India to Ethiopia. He does what powerful people do. He throws a big party, for seven days I might add, and entertains the powerful and elite. I know it’s hard to imagine a time when political leaders boasted of their power, wealth, and possessions, but that’s how it was back in those ancient days.

On the seventh day of the party, the King asks for his Queen, Vashti, to enter the party wearing a crown and impress the crowd with her beauty. Vashti refuses. At this the king was enraged and his anger burned within him. It’s not just the king who lost his cool, but all the powerful men. What if women started to say no their husbands just like the queen did? The Persian Empire would crumble! So he does what kings do. He gets rid of Vashti and needs a new queen.

            This is when we could use that show “The Bachelor” here. The King orders that the most beautiful women from the 127 provinces be brought to him, so he can choose who to pick. It really does sound like that show, doesn’t it? Before he met each one they went through a beauty treatment of sorts for a whole year before meeting the great king. Eventually the king chooses Esther.

            Esther, the orphan, the Jew who was in the care of her uncle Mordecai. The same Mordecai who uncovered a plot to get rid of the king. But he’s also a faithful Jew to the point that when Haman, who holds some power in the king’s cabinet, comes by, Mordecai refuses to bow down. Haman seeks revenge by plotting to destroy all the Jews. Again, so far we have covered parties, power, sexuality, plots, revenge, and murder and we’re only in chapter 3 of our story. 

Before we continue in our story, those of the Jewish faith celebrate the Festival of Purim, which commemorates the day that Esther saved the Jewish people from Haman’s deadly plan. It is usually celebrated in March or April every year. During the synagogue service, the story of Esther is retold. Haman’s name is blotted out, as he is a descendant of Amalek and we read in the Torah in both Exodus and Deuteronomy “You shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven,” because they are enemies of the Israelites. Whenever the story is retold, the entire congregation, young and old alike, stomp their feet, yell and uses noise makers to “blot out” the name of Haman. With that in mind, you know what’s coming next. Whenever you hear the name Haman, I need you to yell, boo, stomp your feet. Make some noise!

We left off with the plot from Haman to destroy the Jews. As you can imagine, they were distressed by the news. Mordecai sent news of the plan to Esther, who hadn’t heard of the news in the palace. He begged her to help, but it wasn’t that easy, even for a queen. Do you remember Vashti? It’s not like Esther could walk up the king and tell him of Haman’s plot. She could be killed for just going up to the king without being summoned. Her uncle Mordecai reminds her, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the 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. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

It’s a powerful reply that her uncle offers to her. It speaks of his faith that God will bring relief and deliverance for the Jews, but it also reminds Esther of this moment, this opportunity to serve God and God’s people. Esther asks her uncle to gather all the Jews in the empire and hold a fast on her behalf for three days. This spiritual discipline, one we don’t often emphasize outside of Lent, is a way to seek God’s power and a prayerful way to connect with God. So all the people fast for Esther.

Esther goes in to see the king. While she was terrified, the king was willing to grant her favor, even half of the kingdom. Apparently he was found in a good mood. Esther invites him and his political ally Haman to dinner. That Haman was so full of himself when was invited to the president’s mansion for dinner.  He passed Mordecai on the way to dinner and heckled him about what was to come.

Esther was trying to find the right moment to tell the king about the plot, but she couldn’t muster up the courage or the words. Instead, she invited the king and Haman to yet another party. They agreed. That’s when we get to today’s reading in chapter 7. If this was a reality show, again something I don’t watch at all, it would be the “big reveal” moment of the show.

The king said to Queen Esther, “What are you asking for? It shall be given to you. Even half of the kingdom.” That’s when she finally told him about wicked Haman’s plot. Can you imagine how Haman reacted? Did he nearly choke on his steak and wine? The queen is Jewish! And Mordecai had saved the king! Haman was rightly terrified, because the gallows prepared for Mordecai was used on him instead. Through some political maneuvering, the Jewish people are saved from the terrible plot of the wicket Haman. It’s quite the story!

We might wonder what this somewhat troubling, intriguing, and reality show like story has to teach us today, a story that doesn’t even refer to God once. We have to note that this story is of a people who are strangers in a strange land. They didn’t choose where they are, they were forced into this foreign culture. The main character was a woman, an orphan and a Jew who would have been marginalized. She is the only hope for the survival of her people. God chose her, a woman, an orphan and a member of one of the minority religions in this empire. Perhaps God will use whomever God chooses.

There will be times where we don’t like, don’t trust, or don’t understand why God chooses to work through and with those people or that person, but God will use whomever God chooses. We can be quite sure that Haman was surprised by who God used in that story. Even in the Gospel, the disciples apparently struggled with this other person who they didn’t know who was doing work in Jesus’ name. He is outside of the circle of the disciples and therefore unknown to them. Yet Jesus tells them not to stop him. The spirit here is that the disciples are to embrace anyone whose action, bold or modest, sincerely conforms to Jesus’ teachings. It’s not about being the greatest, remember, it’s about being a servant.

Just like the disciples, it can be hard to accept that God can teach us through the unexpected, that God can bring transformation from those we label unworthy of God’s action, that God can use whomever God chooses. Like this unknown person casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Like the orphan girl who was in a position to bring about the survival of God’s people. God is in the business of using the unexpected, the unknown and the unapproved. God will use whomever God chooses! God can use even you!

While God is not named in this book of the Bible, God is not absent. God is fully present in the faithfulness of Mordecai who refuses to bow to no one, especially not that Haman, besides God. God is found in the prayerful fasting of the people who were appealing to God. God is found in the courage and faithfulness of Esther. God is found in you and me. People God wants to use for God’s purpose.

Today’s story is about seeking God’s purpose, God’s way in big and small ways, just like that call to serve others. We are invited to do that in a world that, on the whole, doesn’t really worship or obey God. Most of the time we don’t ask “What does the Lord require of me?” instead we’re asking “What do I have to do to survive?” It’s easy then to ask, “What can I really do?” We’re likely tempted to let ourselves off the hook too easily thinking we can’t make a difference.

Yet, we hear the stories of God using the unexpected, the unknown and the unapproved often in ordinary and unspectacular ways. God chooses people wherever they are, with whatever faith they have, and God can use whatever we bring to the table. This reminds us that each of us has a purpose. God has given you a purpose. Wherever you are, God wants to use you. God is counting on your courage, your loyalty and your faith to carry out God’s will.

God can use whomever God chooses…..even you and me! Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer Practice: Covenant Renewal Litany

Every day we journey on this earth is a day in which we make choices.

Some choices are simple, and some are very complex,

but one choice informs all the others:

Who will be our God?

Who will we trust to see us through this journey?

Who has been with us from before the beginning,

bringing us into existence?

Who has loved us and blessed us and sent us on our way?

Who has pointed us toward the path

and posted the signs we need to find our way?

Who has been at our side when the road has been smooth

and gently curving?

Who has kept with us through hairpin turns

and construction zones and potholes and detours?

Who will celebrate with us when we complete our course

and seek the comfort of eternity?

Only One. The One and Only.

Holy One. The One and Holy.

Will you choose this day to stay faithful to the One who is faithful to us?

Count us in.

Will you choose this day to place your whole trust

in the One who is trustworthy?

Count us in.

Will you choose this day to commit your talents and your resources

to the One who first endowed them?

Count us in.

Will you choose this day to love the One who loved us first?

Count us in.

Praying together,

We devote ourselves to you by renewing the covenant—

the promise you made to humanity so long ago.

Because you are our God, we will be your people.

Enlarge our faithfulness, our trust, our commitment and our love

so that we may graciously uphold our side of the deal.

Help us always to recognize your presence and your blessings

throughout our journey.

Keep us in your care.

Amen.

— written by Rev. Christine Sobania Johnson on her blog, Freshly Squeezed Liturgy.  http://freshlysqueezedliturgy.blogspot.com/

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