a sermon on being filled with purpose and power

The Holy Gospel According to Mark 9:38-50

38 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.” 39 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. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 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. 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. 43 If 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. 44 45 And 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. , 46 47 And 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, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. 49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt 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.”

The Gospel of the Lord…

I feel as if, after this week, we might all just need to take a collective deep breath.  It’s been a hard one, friends. We are gearing up for more hard ones coming soon. From the beginning of a the trial of Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot and killed Laquan McDonald here in Chicago, to a Catholic priest in a parish only two miles from here burning a rainbow flag, to the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford detailing her sexual assault, to the powerful protest of two women demanding a senator look them in the eyes as they described their own sexual assualt.  For me, it is one of those weeks where I am not quite sure what to point at and say, yes, there is the hope. It is one of those weeks when I feel burdened, and cut down, and frightened by the powers that have taken hold in this world. It is one of those weeks where God seems hidden to me, because the stories and the sighs too deep for words remind me how many of us are carrying a trauma that will never fully leave us.

But before we move too quickly onto church stuff, I want to take just a moment, and to remind you, because it is 100% true, that this week was tough not just because the news was intense, but because many of you may have felt old hurts, old traumas, old pain touched again when you thought it was all over.  This church, like all churches, is made up of wounded people, and those wounds can start hurting again when we hear stories that sound so much like our own. And, if you are sitting here this morning, and you felt your story rising up in you this week, I want you to know, with all the certainty I have about anything, that what you are feeling is real.  You are not crazy. This community is holding you even when it feels like you might shatter inside, even if you are afraid or ashamed to tell anyone. And, whatever story you are bringing to mind, I want you to hear this crystal clear- I believe you. You are not alone. And whatever happened to you is not your fault. God has not and will not stray from you, no matter what you are carrying inside.

All this stuff that is in the air, all the pain and the vulnerability and the rawness, it is echoed in our texts for today.  Because, for the one time in the entirety of the church year, and this is only if you decide to go a little off the beaten path with this semi-continuous Old Testament texts, we hear the story of Queen Esther.  And what you get today, is really a pretty slim cut into the entirety of Esther’s story. But if this week, where we have seen the vulnerable stand up to the powers that be, even when it feels as if the only outcome is that those powers will stomp them down, Queen Esther might as well be our patron saint.

The book of Esther begins with another queen, Vashti.  In fact, in just the 10 chapters of the book of Esther, we hear a lot of stories about men drunk with their own power.  The king gives a lavish banquet, inviting everyone- all the nobles, all the warrriors, all the officials. The banquet is so lavish, in fact, that it lasts for 6 months.  180 days of wine and rich food, and after that, the king even decides that the common people, all who live in the citadel should have an equally fine banquet and sets aside 7 days for feasting for even the common people.  And after 187 days of feasting and festival, the King calls for Queen Vashti to come before the leaders again, wearing the royal crown so he can show off her beauty.

And Queen Vashti says no.  We don’t know why, we don’t know if after 187 days of parties she just wanted to take a nap, or be alone, but for whatever reason she says she will not parade herself before these men.  But like all the times when marginalized folks have stood up to power, the empire strikes back. The anger of the king is swift and it is strong. How dare a woman, even a Queen, say no to a King.  How dare she stand up for herself. The King calls his advisors, and asks, help me find a law that says what we can do to this Queen. Sound familiar? The advisors start paging through their books, and tell the king, what the Queen has done is wrong, because if other women hear it, they are going to start standing up to their husbands and their rulers.  It is as if, with this one act, the entire ruling party knows, these folks you have been parading in front of you, these women you have been using, they are going to burn it all down. So these men are scared, so they make a law that from now on, men will be the rulers of their households.

So Queen Vashti is sent away.  And in her place, the King calls women from all over the kingdom.  Among those women, is the one we only hear about once a year, Esther.

Esther doesn’t seem like a hero in the beginning.  Both her mother and father were killed, so Esther is taken in by her Cousin Mordecai, and raised as his own daughter.  She is Jewish, and our text tells us fair and beautiful. So when the King calls all these women to the palace to take the place of the Queen who said no, Esther is among them.  And Esther pleases the king, so for a year, she is given, and I am not joking, cosmetic treatments, so she can be prepared to be in the King’s household. And after a year of cosmetic treatments, Esther pleases the King more than anyone, and the King makes her Queen.

But the plot thickens, because still, Esther does not reveal who her people are.  Mordecai gets promoted, but so does Haman, and Haman, wants all the Jews to be exterminated.  Haman convinces the King to send out a decree that all the Jews are to be killed and their riches plundered.  Esther is afraid, and she sends her servants to Mordecai, asking him to tell her what to do. How can she save her people?  What will happen to them?

Mordecai is quick in his response.  Go to the King, he tells Esther, and beg for the lives of our people.  Save us.

But Esther knows the rules, and ever since that first Queen took a step

out of place, the king has shown his power.  No one can go before the King without being summoned, the price is death.  Esther doesn’t know what to do. And it is here, that Mordecai sends a letter to Esther that changed everything.

To his beloved cousin, Mordecai writes, “In the palace you will not be

safe, any more than the rest of us.  But if you keep silent, death will come to all of us.  Who knows, if it is for just such a time as this, that you became queen.”  

For such a time as this.  In a world where the men are literally making laws whenever a woman claims her own power to remind the world that they are in charge, Mordecai reminds Esther that she has been made for more.  She has been made for such a time as this.

Esther is a unique book in the bible, because we do not hear about God even once.  Not one naming, not one sacrifice, not one prayer, nothing. And the name Esther itself means “I will hide.”  Some say, it is because Esther must remain hidden as a Jew in the King’s court, but others say, it is because God is not absent from this narrative, but God is hidden in this story.

I wish our world felt different than the one Esther is living in.  I wish every time marginalized folks rose up the powers that be did not respond with 10 fold force to try and maintain their own privilege.  I wish that it seemed silly to us to read stories about women who were forced to parade themselves in front of men.

But, we all know it isn’t.  We all know that this is just the same story

but just another day. The day after the Kavanaugh hearings, many of us woke up feeling scared.  Wondering if our people are just going to keep dying. If every 98 seconds someone is still going to be a victim of sexual violence.  If one in 6 women is still going to be a victim of sexual violence. If 47% of trans and gender non-conforming people will still be victims of sexual violence.  We wondered who is going to save our people.

But here is what we learn from Esther.  My friends, perhaps we have been made for such a time as this.  Perhaps the God who is hidden, is right here, in us. Perhaps the God who isn’t named, and isn’t pointed at, is right here, with us, right now.  Perhaps all along, from the beginning, God has made us for such a time as this. Perhaps we, regular people, regular hurting people, will join our voices with a chorus of others, with women who refuse to be paraded in front of officials, with women who are standing up to power even when they are terrified, with women who are demanding that a senator look them in the eyes when he tells them that even if they have been assaulted he will help but the man who assaulted them into power, with trans folks who stood up to police violence in a tiny bar in 1969 and said no more, with all the people of all genders who have been rising up and saying our people are being killed and if we are silent death will come to all of us.

And I know, that some of us are tired, and some of us are limping along and trying to stay alive in the struggle, and so please hear me, this is not for us individually.  No one sitting here this morning can save our people on their own, but together, together, we are the ones we have been waiting for. Because every time God seems hidden, every time it feels like the tides are turning, every time we are too tired or too broken to speak a word of truth, we see someone saying, no, when you have no strength to speak, then I will speak for you, because, my friends we have been made for a time such as this.  

The book of Esther is a book of Queens.  Queens who were supposed to look pretty, and show up and spend a year getting cosmetic treatments.  But the men of this story underestimated us. The men of this story thought that once we had a crown we’d stay in our place.  But no, God has made us, our hidden God, the God who has claimed us and filled us with purpose and with power, has made us for such a time as this.  So if you are hurting, if you are playing back the stories of all the times you have been made to feel small, remember, that you are royalty. You come from a line of Queens who would not stay in their place, and you, like them, have been made for such a time as this.  Amen, and thanks be to God.

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