This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The talk is long.
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Moira: We will just pray for Paul before he comes to speak to us. Father, we thank you for Paul and we thank you for the time that he spent in looking at your word. We do pray now, Lord, that you will just help our hearts to be opened and our minds opened so that we can hear your holy spirit speak to us. Amen. Thank you, Paul.
Paul: Moira, thank you for everything that you’ve done in preparation for our service today and everybody who’s been involved as well. It was actually Moira, the birthday girl, who suggested that I might speak on Esther today. I also remember that quite soon after coming along to the church for the first time, Michael told me that he’d been intrigued by reading Esther and he celebrated a birthday this time of year as well. It’s also rather fitting that it’s believed that Ezra wrote the Book of Esther. As we’ve recently looked at Ezra, following him up with Esther also seemed to be a worthwhile thing.
Xerxes was one of the Kings of Babylon around the time of the return of the exiles. If you’ve been following the plot of Ezra and Nehemiah, you might recall that various Kings of Babylon had helped in the resettlement process of the Jews back to their homeland whilst other Jews decided to remain in Babylon. The Book of Esther is based around this time. Esther, as we heard from the cartoon, a number of times, is a Jew in Babylon alongside her adopted father Mordecai. It’s a bit confusing because there are different views on who King Xerxes actually is, and whether he might be King Xerxes the First, or perhaps otherwise known as King Ahasuerus, or perhaps even Artaxerxes.
Different historians and theologians have different viewpoints on who he is but suffice to say, let’s go with one of them and call him Xerxes even if it wasn’t because after all, what’s in a name? The King, Xerxes because it’s short, has thrown out his wife, Queen Vashti, and needs to find another wife. He obviously listens to his advisors quite a lot and their advice often seems to suit themselves. Esther, the Jew, though this fact isn’t as yet beknownst to the king wins the beauty contest to become the new queen. Anyway, before we get further into the story, you’ll know that I recently enjoyed being off-grid for a few days on the wonderfully weird Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
The cabin I stayed in was right on the water’s edge, facing a shell-strewn beach known as Shellness. There was enough technology to make it habitable. A gas oven attached to gas bottles, a solar panel for two electric lights, and to work the pump to get the water which came from the roof to the sink or to the toilet. Then nothing, nothing to distract my reading or my colouring-in except for birdsong or the gentle lapping of the waves onto the sloping beach.
Each time I went for a paddle, the tide was out, but I did enjoy just sitting on the beach or in a room overlooking the sea, experiencing the silence. Staring across the darkness at night, breathing slowly and deeply being unashamedly fully present in that moment of slow time. One of the lessons that is so often overlooked in the Book of Esther is that this moment matters. That’s what this short message is about today that this moment matters. For many people, perhaps especially those who have been or who are on furlough during the pandemic, time perhaps hasn’t mattered so much. There’s been so much of it.
Some people I know have been tidying the house from top to bottom, getting a skip and having a decent clear out, and then painting the interior from top to bottom. The interior of the house, not the skip. Others have enjoyed remodelling their garden, but perhaps there have been others who keep putting off the stuff that they never wanted to do. They procrastinate because there’s always tomorrow or the day after, or the day after that. I know that I can be a bit of a procrastinator when it comes to mowing the lawn. I may have admitted this flaw of mine before. It’s not even that I have a very big lawn, but the thought of it makes me want to hoover the house. That’s how much I don’t like mowing.
Anyway, once it’s done and I did it yesterday morning, it only takes about 20 minutes, I’m pleased that I’ve done it. Procrastination doesn’t help anybody, does it? I need to learn that every moment matters. When characters in the Bible are wise and know that the best thing to do is to act. They know it because they understand that things don’t always go as planned. They know, for example, that God has other ways and other plans. Let’s face it, I’m not sure that Esther planned to be queen, and yet she put herself in a position where these things could unfold as they did. The king obviously enjoyed her disposition and her looks, her personality, and her stature and decided to take her as his queen. Little knowing what political intrigue this would bring and what blessings it would ultimately bring to her people.
As queen, Esther was fully aware of the political, social, and spiritual shenanigans and had to learn how quickly her responsibilities towards the country and family that she’d married into whilst all the time keeping her wits about her. To get the most from the Book of Esther we need to know that there’s an awful lot going on behind the scenes. I would encourage you to read those whole 10 chapters in one sitting to get the best of her. Esther, being aware of some of those behind the scenes shenanigans learns a lot of the plot of her husband’s advisor, Haman, to kill her adoptive father Mordecai because of the whole bowing down thing.
There’s a similar story found in the Book of Daniel, the king’s word is law. If you’re found to be breaking the king’s law in Babylon, then you die. The problem is that if you want to approach the king without being invited, then you die. Esther needs to live in the moment because literally, every moment matters. In learning then that Haman’s plot to kill Mordecai, Esther is now in a position to uncover Haman’s wickedness. The problem is, however, that like any good advisor, Haman approaches the king and suggests that he resolves to destroy everybody who refuses to keep the king’s laws. In effect to bring in a law to kill anyone who doesn’t bow down.
In Esther chapter three, this is what happens by way of the letter with instructions to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women, and children on a particular date. The king stupidly gives his signet ring, his royal stamp of approval to Haman to do as he pleases, not knowing that his wife Esther is one of the Jews. It seems then that her life is in danger, either from Haman if he finds out she’s a Jew or from her husband if he decides that he doesn’t want to see her. Thankfully, as she approaches him she makes every moment matter.
Instead of panicking and being all flustered she keeps her royal prowess and waits for the king to grant her an audience. Now we remember that the king can do as he pleases, but Esther obviously has something to say to him. Somehow she bides her time. She seems to ignore the offer of half the kingdom that she’s offered by the king because that’s not important to her. What is important is that she keeps the king on-side. As her father Mordecai points out, who knows, perhaps she has become queen for such a time as this. In order to literally save the lives of thousands and thousands of people because of her well-timed moments, well-rehearsed moments with the king.
Esther didn’t live for that next moment. She knew that her life and the life of anyone else could be ended in a moment. She didn’t have the luxury of planning long in advance. She knew what it was to be here in this moment now. Philosopher Eckhart Tolle is quoted as saying, “Most humans are never fully present in the now because subconsciously, they believe that the next moment must be more important than the present one, but then you miss your whole life,” he says, “which is never not now.” There’s a revelation for some people to realize that your life is only ever now.
When Queen Esther discovers Haman’s plot to kill Mordecai and all of the Jewish people, she doesn’t go directly to the king. Cleverly, she chooses her moment and she schmoozes him. She waits but she waits actively. Her waiting isn’t like my waiting at the beach down in Kent for nothing to happen. She wasn’t gazing out to sea enjoying that moment. Her waiting was full of anticipation and thinking about the different ways that she could use her position for the benefit of others. She made every moment count by quick-wittedly arranging parties for her husband and Haman so they can enjoy themselves but all the while using them to expose Hayman’s evil and promote Mordecai’s goodness. She used her moments to wonder if there was any other way than to unmask herself as one of the Jews that could be killed as a result of Haman’s evil laws. Carefully, she constructs her plan and in doing so, she calculates the risks. If I perish, I perish. In other words, my life, my position, isn’t so important as another’s life, or certainly, my life is worth risking for another’s. I think Jesus’ life, Jesus’ example, Jesus’ thoughts, have the same risk.
From Mordecai’s point of view, indeed the most well-known phrase in Esther is found from him. Who knows that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? Who knows? Are you missing the moment because you’re wishing for something ahead? I know in myself, I often find myself thinking ahead of time a lot. It isn’t always good to be thinking only about the future because I live in the moment in the here in the now. I was brought up in a church that wanted me to think about my eternal future and it came across sometimes there’s much less about the moment that I was living in now. It made Christianity often feel like it was about then.
As I began to experience life and read more and more and learned more, I somehow know or knew that my future is safe if I seek God while he may be found. I think that future is safe now, which then begs the question, well, what am I doing with my now, if my future’s secure? This moment is all I have.
That’s where I live. What particular things and issues and people require the call of my attention now? Dallas Willard is famously quoted as saying that the gospel is less about getting into the kingdom of God after you die and more about how to live in the kingdom before you die. In other words, what am I doing with my now? How am I practising ensuring every moment matters? What is it to be here? Am I fully present because this is all I have been promised? The Book of Esther goes on to note that the king has a sleepless night and ends up reading the chronicles, the records of his own reign. He comes across what Mordecai has done for him in previously averting a plot to have him assassinated.
As he notes, he sees Haman in the yard below. He asks him “What rewards should the man who honours the king receive?” Haman thinks the king is talking about himself, of course, and so has the ignominy of having to parade around Mordecai as the king’s hero just a little bit later on. Then as that wasn’t enough embarrassment, Queen Esther approaches the king as he’s feasting with his friend, Haman, and blurts out that Haman is actually the enemy. The gallows that Mrs. Haman has suggested that Haman built for Mordecai ends up being used for Haman himself.
It’s all a bit of a gruesome part of the story, isn’t it? After the gruesome bits, truth is restored and the king rescinds the laws and ensures safety of Esther’s people. Indeed Mordecai is raised up and becomes part of the King’s household and so fortunes are reversed. The Book of Esther focuses on Esther being the right person in the right place at the right time. This is true, but just as important is knowing when to take the moment, choosing a time to say something wise or helpful, but will do good for another. Being present and making every moment matter is of great importance when we listen to someone or when we focus on just the one thing at a time. Multitasking maybe isn’t the be-all and end-all when it takes all our focus on the most important thing in that moment.
What does this all mean for us? I’m sure you can think of lots of examples for yourself. For us as a church and as government restrictions are lifted tomorrow, how will that moment matter? I think we need to take a leaf out of Esther’s book to look at the other, how safe will the other be without my choice to do something? I will continue to wear a face-covering in worship. I won’t have to by law, but it makes sense to do that. It makes sense and if others, and if it makes others more comfortable, I’ll continue to do that too. That’s just one example. I don’t want to put anyone in danger. I don’t want to have to say myself if I perish, I perish, but I know that every moment matters. I know that every moment must matter to those around me too. I think that’s the way that Jesus would have me at, moment by moment. Looking out for the other. Queen Esther was queen for such a time as that. She saved thousands because of her bravery and her deliberate calculated moments, choosing how to live and so I finish. I guess one of the questions that is posed as well, what will you do or say or how will you act to ensure that this moment matters?
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK or NIV UK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.