Sunday’s sermon: Pride … And Not the Good Kind

Haman and Mordecai

Text used: Esther 6:1-12

  • Up until today, our Esther story has been fairly serious
    • A banished queen
    • A weak-willed king
    • A royal advisor on a major (and very evil) power trip
    • An entire people that have been sentenced to death
    • A young woman carrying the weight of it all on her shoulders
    • That’s a whole lotta heavy.
  • Today’s bit of the story = a little different → This is about as close to “comic relief” as the story of Esther gets, ya’ll. Today’s story involves a quirky little situation between King Ahasuerus, Haman, and Mordecai.
    • Kicks off with funny little bit right in verse 1: That same night, the king simply couldn’t sleep. He had the official royal records brought in, and his young male servants began reading them to the king.[1] → Did you catch that? The king was having trouble sleeping, so he had the official records brought in so his servants could read him to sleep with them. They’re that exciting. They’re that thrilling. They’re that … boring.
      • Better than counting sheep!
      • Hey, this story needed a little levity, right?
    • Okay, so as the servant boys were reading the royal records to the king, he heard something that was new to him: They came to the report about Mordecai informing on Bigthan and Teresh. (They were the two royal eunuchs among the guards protecting the king’s doorway, who secretly planned to kill King Ahasuerus.)[2] → Now, in order to understand this part, we actually have to go back a little bit.
      • May remember that at the beginning of this series, we were skipping around a little bit – didn’t read all of chs. 1, 2 or 4
        • Long chapters
        • Lots of names and details secondary to the main story
        • Basically, trying to save you a little headache
        • However, one of those little bits that we needed to skip over at the time is what we need to circle back to right now – end of ch. 2 (last 3 verses), occurs right after Mordecai offends Haman and Haman hatches his horrible plan: At that time, as Mordecai continued to work at the King’s Gate, two royal eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh, became angry with King Ahasuerus. They were among the guards protecting the doorway to the king, but they secretly planned to kill him. When Mordecai got wind of it, he reported it to Queen Esther. She spoke to the king about it, saying the information came from Mordecai. The matter was investigated and found to be true, so the two men were impaled on pointed poles. A report about the event was written in the royal record with the king present.[3]
        • So Mordecai heard the two eunuchs plotting and saved the king’s life, and someone wrote it down in the royal record. … And then it was forgotten … until today.
    • Maybe it’s because he was in such a good mood (after Esther’s first feast and anticipating the second feast). Maybe it was the insomnia talking. Whatever the reason, King Ahasuerus suddenly became swept up in the idea that something drastic had to be done to honor and reward this man who had saved his life – Mordecai.
      • Saw Haman standing out in the courtyard waiting to be recognized and invited into the king’s presence
      • Quickly invited Haman in
      • Requested the counsel of one of his closest, most trusted advisors: When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man whom the king really wants to honor?”
        • Thinking, of course, of Mordecai as he said this
  • Now, here’s where another one of the broader themes in the book of Esther pops up. It’s a theme that we’ve encountered before, though not one that we’ve named outright as of yet. It’s the theme of pride … and, more specifically, the perils of pride.
    • Certainly good facets to pride
      • Taking pride in your work = work harder and do a better job
      • Showing your family, friends, kids that you’re proud of them conveys attentiveness – can show how much you love and care for them
      • Plenty of people take pride in where they come from:
        • Hometown
        • Alma maters
        • Country
        • Heritage
          • E.g. – story of Eileen and heritage → My mother-in-law has always been incredibly proud of the fact that she’s 100% Norwegian, and she’s always teased my father-in-law about having just a little bit of Swedish in him. He’s only 95% Norwegian! But lately, she’s been digging into family history, and she’s discovered that he’s actually got a lot of English ancestry. And while coming to terms with the fact that her children aren’t as thoroughly Norwegian as she thought they were, she’s also found some incredible bits of that English heritage to be proud of. Pride in heritage … it can be a funny thing!
    • But there is also an ugly side of pride.
      • Athletes so bent on winning that they cheat
        • Steroid scandals
        • Intentionally injuring other players – trying to “take them out”
        • Does anyone else remember “Deflategate”[4] back in 2015?
          • AFC Championship football game
          • New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts
          • Patriots won the game → later found guilty of tampering with footballs to make them easier to throw, catch, grip in colder weather
        • Even darker side of pride gone wrong = pride in heritage taken too far
          • Pride of Nazis Aryanism → led to deaths of millions of Jews but also millions of Gypsies, people with disabilities, LGBT people, and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as the sterilization of mixed race children
          • Pride in white America throughout the centuries led to …
            • Slavery
            • Abominable Jim Crow laws
            • Segregation
            • Birth of such hateful and violent organization as the Klu Klux Klan and 433 other nationally recognized, race-based hate groups (according to report put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2013)[5]
  • This dark and all-consuming pride is the kind of pride that Haman had. Haman’s pride was what started the whole mess in the first place. Mordecai refused to bow to Haman … which hurt his pride … which prompted him to decide to have not only Mordecai but all of the Jews simultaneously and systematically murdered. You might also remember that Haman was boldly and brazenly displaying that pride at the end of our reading last week – bragging to his wife and all his friends about his wealth, about his family (about the fact that he had so many sons), about his position as the king’s advisor, and especially about the special feasts that he had been invited to with the king and with Queen Esther.
    • Today’s Scripture reading = particularly painful blow to Haman’s pride → When the king asked about displaying great honor for someone, Haman’s pride led him to immediately believe that the king could only be talking about himself.
      • Launched into a ridiculously lavish description: Have servants bring out a royal robe that the king himself has worn and a horse on which the king himself has ridden. … Have [that servant] personally robe the man whom the king really wants to honor and lead him on the horse through the city square. As he goes, have him shout, “This is what the king does for the man he really wants to honor!”[6]
        • Ancient Persian version of a tickertape parade
    • But poor Haman … the king wasn’t talking about him. When he spoke of a man whom the king wanted to greatly honor, he was talking about Mordecai – the man who had saved his life … the man who Haman had made into his arch enemy.
      • King even (unknowingly) adds ultimate insult to injury – instead of asking one of the servants to place the robe on Mordecai and lead the horse through the city and shout out Mordecai’s praise, King Ahasuerus asked Haman himself to do it → Haman himself had to place the robe on his enemy’s shoulders. Haman himself had to lead his enemy through the street in a position of greatest honor. Haman himself had to cry out the king’s praise and appreciation for his enemy. Can’t you just feel the shame burning in Haman’s cheeks and heart? Can’t you feel the humiliation twisting in his gut?
        • Text: Afterward, Mordecai returned to the King’s Gate, while Haman hurried home feeling great shame, his head covered.[7]
  • So where is God in this? What message do we hear about our faith in this story of Haman’s pride and shame?
    • Warning about pride, especially in relation to faith
      • Verse from Prov: Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall.[8]
      • More contemporary version (and probably the only time you’ll ever hear me quote the timeless and eloquent Meat Loaf – 1980’s rocker – in a sermon): “The truth is hard to swallow if you’re choking on your pride.”[9] → As we said earlier, there’s nothing wrong with having a healthy pride in aspects of our lives and ourselves, and that includes our faith. Our faith has been tested and tried throughout history and throughout our own lives, and there is power in the legacy of our faith as well as the way that faith has lifted us up and sustained us. It is an integral part of who we are and how we go about being in this world – our words, our actions, and everything in between.
        • Similar to pride in our heritage (where we come from) – spiritual heritage
      • BUT … pride in our faith can be taken too far as well.
        • Crusades throughout the Middle Ages
          • Purpose: regaining control of Jerusalem (Holy Land) from Muslim rulers
          • Hundreds of bloody battles and unspeakable atrocities committed … all in the name of God
        • Spanish Inquisition
          • Purported purpose: quell heresy
          • Way it ended up being use: tool of fear and manipulation, neighbor against neighbor, petty payback, often directed at people who were different
            • Jews
            • Muslims
            • Scientists/free thinkers
            • Anyone who thought differently than the Church
          • In America: Salem witch trials – similar to Spanish Inquisition
            • Purpose: rid themselves of “presence of the devil” within their midst
            • Way it ended up being use: tool of fear and manipulation, neighbor against neighbor, petty payback, often directed at people who were different
              • Widows
              • Natural healers
              • Scientists/free thinkers
              • Anyone who didn’t align with the Puritan beliefs
    • Friends, there’s a difference between healthy pride and fanatical pride. Healthy pride gives us purpose – a sense of empowerment and honor and satisfaction in who we are and what we do. Fanatical pride closes our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the world around us. It tells us that my way is the only “right” way, and that everything else is not only wrong but dangerous. As a nation, pride has us spiraling out of control, refusing to come to the table with those who hold a different belief, different opinion, different worldview than ourselves. We are becoming more and more isolated from each other because we refuse to open ourselves up to the possibility that there might be something we don’t know, something we don’t understand.
      • World of social media and online pseudo-news sources (“pseudo” because they purposefully only present one side of the issue) allows us to surround ourselves with only facts, articles, opinions that support our opinions and our beliefs → feeding not only our pride but our distrust and contempt for “the other side”
        • Blue Feed vs. Red Feed” interactive comparison graphic going around Facebook – compares “red side” posts and “blue side” posts about the same topics → shows just how much we insulate ourselves with the media/pseudo-news that we choose
    • “Pride comes before disaster, and arrogance before a fall.” God created us to be in relationship with each other – to reflect God’s own love and grace, forgiveness and joy in the way that we see one another and treat one another. We cannot let our pride choke that truth from our hearts, our lives, and especially from our prayers. Amen.

[1] Est 6:1.

[2] Est 6:2.

[3] Est 2:21-23.

[4] “Deflategate” from Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deflategate. Accessed July 14, 2016.

[5] Amanda Macias, “This Map Shows Where America’s Hate Groups Live and Operate” from The Business Insider website, http://www.businessinsider.com/active-hate-groups-by-state-2014-2. Published Mar. 4, 2014, accessed July 14, 2016.

[6] Est 6:8, 9 (emphasis added).

[7] Est 6:12.

[8] Prov 16:18.

[9] Meat Loaf, “Did I Say That?” from Couldn’t Have Said It Better, released 2003.

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