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Good morning. (Trigger warning)
Today, I am not preaching from the lectionary, but rather from a verse that came to me 2 weeks ago.
“For such a time as this…”
This verse is from the Book of Esther, one of only two books in the Bible that is named after its female protagonist. This book had difficulty reaching canonical status in both Judaism and Christianity, because it lacks religious elements – there are no prayers, no mention of Jerusalem or the Temple, the lead characters don’t seem to follow Jewish law – Esther is married to a gentile, eats non-kosher food, and most crucially, God is not mentioned in this book at all.
But just because God isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean God is absent. And this is an invitation for us to look more closely when we think God is absent.
The Book of Esther is set during the reign of Ahasuerus (the Persian Emperor Xerxes 486-465BCE). Esther, a Jewish orphan raised by his cousin Mordecai, becomes the Persian queen after the king disposed his previous queen for refusing to obey his commands. Esther was selected from all the beautiful young virgins in the kingdom.
Later on, her uncle Mordecai offends Haman, the vizier (what today we call a minister) when Mordecai does not bow down to him. Mordecai explained to people that he did not bow down to Haman because he, Mordecai was a Jew. Haman was so offended that he then plotted to kill all the Jews by 1. Telling the king that there is a certain group of people scattered in his kingdom who have different laws from other people, and they keep their own laws instead of the king’s, advising the king to destroy them. He also offered the king 10,000 talents of silver (equivalent to 300 tons of silver) and that leads to our reading today – chapter 4 from the Book of Esther.
When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; 2 he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3 In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why. 6 Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, 7 and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.
9 Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, 11 ‘All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden sceptre to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.’ 12 When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 13 Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.’ 15 Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, 16 ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.’ 17 Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
This story sounds as though it is from a period palace drama right?
Rightly so – because Biblical scholars describe the Book of Esther as an early Jewish novella – it is a work of literature and should be read from a literary perspective. This kind of writing is not designed to meet any tests of historical accuracy –Xerxes’ queen was Amestris, not Vashti (the deposed queen) or Esther.
But while it may not be historical, it can still teach us something.
Esther’s Hebrew name was Hadassah, meaning “myrtle” (Esther 2:7). However, for the Jews reading or hearing this story, Esther’s name had another hidden meaning – The three letter root of Esther in Hebrew is s-t-r (סתר), which means to “hide, conceal”. This meaning is central to the story.
The key to adverting the destruction of the Jews in the Persian empire was for Ester to no longer hide, but to come out about her identity – her Jewish identity.
“For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”
There is a lot going on now – every day for more than a week, I come across misinformation and mischaracterisation of the LGBTQ community. There is a lot of people spreading falsehoods about LGBTQ folks, further entrenching stereotypes, biases and prejudices against the LGBTQ community.
We don’t have the same reach. We don’t get our message out as far or as wide.
Not only that, many of us fear what repercussions we might face if we do speak out.
Like Esther, who told Mordecai that if she went to see the king inside the inner court without being called, she would be at risk of being put to death, we fear the consequences.
Even straight people who are affirming of LGBTQ folks may fear consequences – being ostracised, losing friends, getting into “unnecessary conflicts.”
Many of us fear what may happen if we come out. Will we be rejected? Will we be kicked out of home? Would we lose our jobs?
Mordecai tells Esther “if you keep silence at such a time as this….”
Coming out is a risky thing – for some of you, you are not ready, and that is ok. But for some of you, it may be that you have been dragging your feet.
Visibility of LGBTQ folks will change people’s perception and counter all the misinformation – this is how we witness to the truth – by our very own lives, our very own stories. We have sermon series about “The Story of God and Us” and “Let your lives speak” – we have invited you to draw your stories onto these tiles that is our stained glass project. The tiles may have faded – but our stories have not.
“For such a time as this….”
I want to invite you to discern if you are ready to come out and allow your live bear witness to how God has loved you beyond measure, and how you are a child of God.
Not all of us are ready to come out – and I understand that. But that doesn’t mean that you just sit by the sidelines.
There are many people who are affected by all the things they hear people say, and all the things people are sharing. I know of many people who receive open letters, petitions to “protect 377A,” “protect the family,” “protect the children” – messages that are misleading, spreads all kinds of misinformation about LGBTQ people and they felt hurt and helpless. Hurt because these messages are spread by family members, friends, and other Christians. I know because some of you have spoken to me. Some of you have shared these messages with me.
What all of us can do – is to reach out and check in with one another – for such a time as this. We need to be community for one another – that is to be there for each other, so we don’t feel all alone. FCC has always been that “anchor of love,” that “beacon of hope.”
For such a time as this, rise up to the occasion!
There is a lot of work that lie ahead. If 377A does get struck down, it is only the beginning. Be ready to make yourself available to respond, participate, serve, to heed the God’s summons, God’s invitation to “come and follow.”
I do not know in what shape or form that may look like. May you recognise when that call comes. May you respond like Esther, overcoming her initial fears, and gather her courage to do what is required, rather than keep silent, or do nothing at such as time as this.
I came across a reflection on the book of Esther by Dan Clendenin
“Esther is notable for what it never mentions — God, the Torah, Jerusalem, or the temple. By one count, the pagan king is mentioned 190 times. The plot hinges on intrigue, hatred, deceit and the revenge by the Jews, who massacred 75,000 of their enemies.
As it turns out, the later Greek version of Esther in the Septuagint interspersed 107 new verses throughout six places in the original 167 Hebrew verses. That’s a massive makeover. The KJV calls these “The Additions to the Book of Esther.”
Some people thought Esther wasn’t religious enough and had to edit it, and add these new verses to make it more religious and more pious.
Dan Clendenin continues, “The most common takeaway from Esther is that it’s a story about God’s hidden providence. He works in unspoken and unknown ways. He’s present even when he’s absent. I like this interpretation. I believe it’s true.
“Esther reminds me how tempting it is to edit my own story in order to make myself look better, more spiritual and pious, like the later Greek version did to the original Hebrew.
It would be liberating to tell the truth about ourselves — to our own selves and to others. But as Frederick Buechner writes, “that is often just what we also fear more than anything else… And so little by little we come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.”
Thank God for Esther. She didn’t need a makeover. Neither do you or I.”
The FCC original worship song that we sang “Free in Your Presence” begins with “If I could rewrite your story of love for me, I will not forget those moments of doubt, if I could rewrite your story of love for me, I will not erase those times of struggle”
For such a time as this, may we overcome our fear – and know the truth that we are already beloved by God and we do not have to edit anything to make us look better, make us look more spiritual or pious –
May you all learn to love the ‘you’ you hide, when God calls your name,
May you quell that fear inside and never be the same?
May you use the faith you’ve found
To reshape the world around,
Just like how Esther stopped hiding, and overcome her fear.
For some of you, you may have tried coming out before. For some of you maybe you have tried reaching out to help, support someone. And that may not have turned out well or that may not have been a good experience.
Perhaps you faced rejection. Perhaps that person rejected your help. Perhaps you made a mistake and made things worse. Perhaps the other person responded negatively. Perhaps when you helped, you were taken advantage of, or you were hurt in the process. Perhaps you tried your best, and you still couldn’t help.
You remember that, and you stopped helping, because you don’t want to make mistakes again, or you don’t want to be taken advantage of, or hurt again.
You will probably find yourself in a similar situation again. “For such a time as this…”
I came across this twitter thread recently –
Every doctor carries along her/ his own little graveyard. Inevitably, we make mistakes. People die, or become disabled. You never forget those patients. (Michael Laurent) He goes on to describe a patient he lost in his first year of training, and another who became paraplegic when he missed a spinal fracture.
Point is we learn from our mistakes, but the consequences are severe. You never forget them though. A little graveyard with all the lost lives, limbs and abilities, you carry around.
You remember them when you are on holidays with your family. Or another quiet time. We have to cope with that and give it a place in our heart. Or else we become second victims, get burn out and can’t help others anymore. We don’t talk about this enough.
Occasionally you can diagnose or treat patients no other doctor was able to help. Those victories are however forgotten after some time. They never compensate.
I am not a doctor, and most of us are not doctors. But there is something to learn here. We don’t give up because we failed, or we faced rejection, or we made mistakes. We learn from the past, and we try, try again.
I have lost friends to suicide. They are the ones I think about, once in a while. I carry them with me, just like what Dr Laurent does – and wonder, if I have done enough. And the past 2 days, I have been thinking about them, how some of them felt that they were so unworthy, so dirty that God did not love them, and they did not see the point in living. It is the misinformation that is going around right now that is perpetuating such thinking in LGBTQ folk.
And just on Friday evening, I received a message.
“Hey Miak, it just occurred to me that, I’m alive and was able to be in the room with you because of the chat we had 5 years ago.
Thank you for being there for me then. I didn’t know how to verbalise it earlier.
That chat was definitely a turning point. Even after that I was still planning to carry it out, but what you and a few other people said, held be back.
And I’m glad I did. I’m glad I push through with my counselor, treatment and all of that.”
I really don’t remember that chat. I don’t even remember that this person was at their lowest at one point. I only see them where they are now – doing well.
What they told me, felt like God speaking to me – reminding me God’s invitation to you and me
Will you come and follow me
If I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
And never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown
In you and you in me?
And may our response for such a time as this be:
Lord, your summons echoes true
When you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
Where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
In you and you in me.