The theme of God’s people struggling to survive in a sophisticated, alien culture appears all throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. This theme is central to the Book of Esther, which supplies today’s first reading.
Today is the only Sunday in our three-year cycle of readings when we hear from this book. That’s kind of amazing, right? We only have this one section of this one book which we only hear once every three years. The folks who put our liturgies together must have thought this a very important reading.
Because of this, I’d like to draw your attention to a key verse in Esther, even though it is not a part of the passage we just heard.
The verse I have in mind comes from the fourth chapter of The Book of Esther. In this section Mordecai, who is Jewish and living in the Persian capital, is addressing his kinswoman Esther, who has become the queen. Mordecai sends this message to her: Mordecai says, “Who knows Esther? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
“Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
I offer you this verse for your consideration, not simply because it is a key to the story of Esther; but because it is a key to the story of each of us and to the story of every one of the people of God. “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
The Book of Esther is brief, and lively, and engaging, even comic literature at times. Read it for yourself, and you will delight in its twists and turns. Very briefly the plot is this:
Mordecai, a Jew at the court of the King, exposes a plot to kill the King but Mordecai is left unrewarded. The King must choose a new queen, and Mordecai arranges to have his young kinswoman, Esther, selected. Esther becomes the King’s favorite. Esther learns of a plot to destroy all the Jews in the empire.
Again, long story short: Through dramatic twists and turns, Esther obtains a royal decree to stop the Jews from annihilation.
What we have here is an old story, repeated many times throughout all of history.
And even though the Book of Esther is sacred scripture, it cannot be understood as historically accurate. BUT, it IS the Word of the Lord to God’s people today … This Day.
The truth is, fantastic though it sounds, each one of us has come to royal dignity. Esther came to hers by marriage to a King. Each one of us came to our royal dignity through our Holy Baptism, by which we became God’s child and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
So, each of us can arrive at a moment, perhaps many moments, when we face some threatening decision that requires holy courage on our part, a decision that will make a world of difference not only to us but to people around us.
I have another story for you, a far more recent story than that of Esther and completely historical; and a story which involves a woman who, like Esther, was called upon to exercise holy courage at a critical moment and thus save a vast number of lives. G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber tell this story in their book, A Year with American Saints.
In 1909, Lillian Trasher broke off her engagement to a man she loved so that she could answer a call to serve as a missionary. She opened her Bible and came upon a verse mentioning Egypt. On that basis, she went to Egypt, settling in a village near the Nile River.
Shortly after her arrival, Lillian was summoned to the bedside of a dying mother who asked her to care for her malnourished baby. Lillian took the child home, but because of the baby’s incessant crying through twelve days and nights, her supervisor told her to take the child elsewhere. THERE WAS NO OTHER PLACE. So, Lillian left with the baby. She managed to get just enough to live on by begging for food and clothes.
Over time, the scorn and ridicule of local people turned into admiration for her persistence and stamina. Gradually, support came from a variety of directions. Children kept arriving, too.
By 1915, there were fifty children.
By the time of her death in 1961, Lillian counted herself blessed to look into the faces of twelve hundred children.
The Lillian Trasher Orphanage continues to this day.
To date, it has cared for more than twenty thousand children.
It was to help that first baby and all the thousands of subsequent orphans to whom she devoted her life that Lillian Trasher had come to royal dignity as a child of God.
Each of us has our opportunities. These opportunities appear
in community service and public citizenship,
and through every field of endeavor.
Each of us has our opportunities.
None of us is overlooked.
Each moment of every opportunity is lodged somehow in the thick fabric of our distinct lives, our unique set of circumstances.
There are risks we can take. And sometimes, by the grace of God, we take them.
These risks threaten us with death in one form or another – but they promise the world an unexpected resurrection.
Perhaps our opportunity for such a time as this will be to ask God to give us holy courage so we will:
- help another student who is being bullied
- help another person in our community who is hungry
- help another family resettle here in our neighborhood
- A little further from home, I’m imagining what we would have done had we found ourselves on our southern border this week between the United States and Mexico? Would we have been the people on horses chasing Haitians back into the Rio Grande River between our two countries or would we have found ourselves like Esther or Lillian, offering assistance to refugees on their incredibly difficult journey?
What holy courage will God ask of us this week?
God has created each of us at just such a time as this so that we can do great things for God and others.
Please pray for me and know that I am praying for you as well as we all ask God to bless us with holy courage.
Peace friends, chuck.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog