Aug. 21 sermon: The Finale

Esther Rembrandt
“Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther” by Rembrandt, 1660

Text used – Esther 6:13-7:10

  • It’s been quite a while since we journeyed through the story of Esther together.
    • Recap the basics (just in case you forgot or you missed a week here or there!)
      • Persian King Ahasuerus banished his queen, Vashti, on the suggestion of one of his advisors
      • Chose Esther as new queen
      • Esther’s cousin and guardian, Mordecai, ended up crossing one of the king’s most powerful advisors, Haman → Haman’s revenge = get the king to endorse a decree to eliminate all the Jews in the Persian kingdom
        • All at once: specific time on a certain day
      • Mordecai got wind of plot and enlisted Esther to help him save their people
      • Esther invited King Ahasuerus and Haman to special feast
    • And that’s where we left Esther’s story about a month ago! We’ve also explored a lot about our faith through the story of Esther along the way.
      • Talked about strength of God’s all-encompassing compassion
      • Talked about the importance of living a life of love
      • Reminded ourselves that ultimate power lies not with us as humans but with that compassionate God
      • Reminded ourselves that in the midst of struggles and pain, God is there with us, sharing our pain and grief
      • Encouraged to seek out creative ways to oppose injustice in the world
      • Heard a warning to not let pride take control of our hearts, our lives, or our faith
  • And today, we come to the climax of Esther’s story … the final showdown between the persecutor and the persecuted … the dramatic finale of what has been a long, crazy, gripping narrative. And as with the rest of Esther’s story, today’s portion of the tale is just as theatrical.
    • Foreshadowing again in the very beginning of today’s text: Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened to him. Both his friends and his wife said to him, “You’ve already begun to lose out to Mordecai. If he is of Jewish birth, you’ll not be able to win against him. You are surely going to lose out to him.”[1]
      • “Everything that had happened to him” refers to Haman having to so lavishly and publicly honor Mordecai in last portion of Esther’s story that we read back in July
        • King learned that Mordecai saved his life
        • King asked Haman how to honor someone whom he greatly values
        • Haman mistakenly assumed the king was talking about himself, so he concocts elaborate display involving one of the king’s own robes, one of the king’s own horses, and the honored one being paraded through the streets while his praises were shouted for all to hear
        • King loved this idea … but Haman ends up having to do all of that for Mordecai (enemy) → goes home utterly humiliated and begins grumbling and complaining to his friends and his wife
      • So in the midst of Haman trying to build himself back up after such a terrific blow to his pride, his wife and his friends basically said to him, “Give up. This isn’t going to end well for you. You can’t beat Mordecai.” And even while they were all in the midst of discussing this, the palace eunuchs arrived once again to collect Haman and bring him to a feast at Queen Esther’s palace. And as readers, we are left with Haman’s wife’s words of warning hanging in the air. [PAUSE] Remember that.
    • When they got to feast, King Ahasuerus once again asked Esther what he could possibly give to her: “This is the second day we’ve met for wine. What is your wish, Queen Esther? I’ll give it to you. And what do you want? I’ll do anything—even give you half the kingdom.”[2] → Here, friends, is the opening that Esther needed. Here is the exact opportunity that we can only imagine Esther had been praying for. The king – the most powerful man, perhaps in all the world but certainly in her world – has pledged to give her whatever she wants. She needs only to ask.
      • Imagine how her heart must have been racing
      • Imagine how her pulse must have been thundering in her ears
      • Imagine how her nerves must have set loose a thousand butterflies fluttering about in her stomach
      • Think about it for a minute. Do you remember how truly powerful King Ahasuerus was? He banished Vashti with a single decree. He condemned an entire people with yet another decree. He had the power to put a person to death simply for appearing in his presence without first being properly summoned and invited. And Esther was about to ask him for a massive
    • Esther: “If I please the king, and if the king wishes, give me my life—that’s my wish—and the lives of my people too. That’s my desire. We have been sold—I and my people—to be wiped out, killed, and destroyed. If we simply had been sold as male and female slaves, I would have said nothing. But no enemy can compensate the king for this kind of damage.”[3] → Short … sweet … and powerfully to-the-point. Esther doesn’t mince words. She simply and compellingly asks King Ahasuerus for her life and the lives of her people.
      • Can imagine the uproar that follows
        • King demanding to know who has done such a horrible thing to his treasured new queen
        • Esther naming Haman
        • Terror and disbelief dawning on Haman’s face as he realizes what is happening
        • King storming out to pace the gardens (presumably to let a little of his anger burn off) only to come back to find Haman perched on Esther’s own divan (big “no no” … huge!) begging for mercy → throws king into an even greater rage: The king returned from the palace garden to the banquet room just as Haman was kneeling on the couch where Esther was reclining. “Will you even molest the queen while I am in the house?” the king said. The words had barely left the king’s mouth before covering Haman’s face with dread.[4]
    • And once again, King Ahasuerus falls prey to his own suggestibility: Harbona, one of the eunuchs serving the king, said, “Sir, look! There’s the stake that Haman made for Mordecai, the man who spoke up and did something good for the king. It’s standing at Haman’s house—seventy-five feet high.” “Impale him on it!” the king ordered. So they impaled Haman on the very pole that he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger went away.[5]
      • Foreshadowing from first verse in today’s reading is fulfilled
  • Now, I want you to notice something here, because believe it or not, this is where I see God in this part of Esther’s story. Who has been so grievously wronged throughout this tale? Mordecai and Esther and the rest of the Jews. And yet, who is it that calls for such brutal and exacting retaliation against Haman? One of the eunuchs … not Not Esther. Not one of the Jews. The king has already promised Esther ANY.THING she wants. She can have it. It’s hers. All she has to do is ask. She could have asked for revenge as well – for pain, for suffering, for some sort of payback that will make Haman wish he’d never even met a Jew. But she didn’t.
    • Friends, we know that there are lots of times in our lives when we want to “get back” at someone – when we want to take justice into our own hands.
      • Small scale: cut off in traffic, dealing with a rude customer/service person (depending on which side of the counter you’re on) → all those day-to-day slights that leave us feeling frustrated and rankled, those things that sort of fester and gnaw at us until we’re all worked up
      • Plenty of large scale e.g.s: wars and violence around the world (picture of Syrian boy who survived air strikes this week); men, women and children abducted or purchased from family members and forced into human trafficking every year, children taken from their homes and their families and forced to be child soldiers, corrupt government mismanaging and downright stealing aid relief that is mean for thousands of people reeling from natural disasters → We read about situations like these in the news, and they make our blood boil. We want to see something done. We want someone to pay – to be held accountable for the pain and suffering. We want to see justice … or, at least, what we think of as justice.
        • Particular e.g.: mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. just over a year ago – angry and hate-fueled white man named Dylann Roof attended a Bible study at the church, then shot and killed 9 people during the following prayer service before fleeing
          • Later arrested by police
          • During Roof’s bond hearing back in 2015, the family members of his 9 victims were invited to address the court – to shed some light on the lives that he’d so viciously cut short. Very often, these types of addresses (made either by the victims themselves or by family members) are pleas for the court to “exact justice” – pleas for guilty verdicts and harsh sentences before the trial itself has even begun. But not that day. The family members of the 9 victims spoke to the court about forgiveness and God’s grace.[6]
            • Sister of Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor: I acknowledge that I am very angry. But DePayne … taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.
            • Daughter of Ethel Lance: I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.
  • In today’s passage, Esther = champion for those hurting and desperate and in need without exacting revenge → She was the only one in that room that truly had the “right” to ask for revenge – the only one who’s life was actually being threatened by Haman’s evil and hateful plan – but instead, she asked for life. As Christians – as people who declare ourselves disciples of the Living Word, of Love Incarnate, of the One who conquered death to bring eternal life – we are called to follow Esther’s example: to seek life, not payback … to seek restoration, not retaliation … to spread light, not darkness.

[1] Est 6:13.

[2] Est 7:2.

[3] Est 7:3-4.

[4] Est 7:8.

[5] Est 7:9-10.

[6] Elahe Izadi. “The powerful words of forgiveness delivered to Dylann Roof by victims’ relatives” on The Washington Post website, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/06/19/hate-wont-win-the-powerful-words-delivered-to-dylann-roof-by-victims-relatives/?utm_term=.78fd03369733. Posted June 15, 2015, accessed Aug. 21, 2016.

[7] tobyMac. “Speak Life” from Eye On It album, released Aug. 24, 2012, ForeFront Records.

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