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Tuesday, September 26, 2006
When the people of God face challenging times, our charge is to season our actions with our faith. In this Sunday's lesson, the community of Israel in exile stands at risk; Esther embraces such a time as this with an act of courage. The psalmist confesses the need for God’s presence in crisis. Mark calls for risky hospitality that preserves community in trying times, actions that James reminds us to ground in prayer. Esther 7:1–6, 9–10; 9:20–22 A fool for a king and a racist for a king’s chief advisor create the backdrop for this story. The advisor Haman schemes to secure King Ahasuerus’ approval of genocide against the Jews. Neither as yet knows Queen Esther’s secret: she is a Jew. Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who once advised her not to reveal her Jewish identity, now declares the time for silence is over. Though God is never mentioned in this book by name, Mordecai hints at providence in Esther’s present position. “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Such a time as this begins innocently at a banquet. Esther speaks with courage and shrewdness. She does not shy away from her identity as a Jew, but she declares solidarity with her people. At such a time as this, the people support Esther’s courage with prayer. But a fool like King Ahasuerus cannot be turned by courage alone. So Esther translates the obscenity of genocide into an attempt by Haman to do damage to the king. Even though Ahasuerus had approved Haman’s plan, now he flies into a rage. The storyteller of Esther laces the narrative with irony, both subtle and obvious. The family histories of Mordecai and Haman provide example of subtlety. The text says Mordecai is a Benjaminite (2:5)and Haman is an Agagite (3:1). The hatred between the Benjaminites and Agagites was centuries old. In 1 Samuel 15:7–9, the story is told of an Israelite victory led by King Saul the Benjaminite against King Agag. The obvious stroke of irony comes in the details of Haman’s fate. Ahasuerus does not order Haman’s execution for plotting the death of the Jews. Instead, the king misunderstands Haman’s plea for mercy from Esther as an assault on the queen. Haman hangs on the gallows he had constructed for Mordecai. The closing verses (9:20–22) relate the celebration of Purim. Purim means “lots,” in reference to Haman’s casting lots to decide when to kill the Jews (3:7). While the story does not name God, God’s redemption occurs through Esther. Purim celebrates – with drama, meals, and gifts for the poor – this preserving of Jewish community by Esther’s courage. The story of Esther reminds us how human acts of courage may enact saving activity. For such a time, Psalm 124 celebrates God’s standing with God’s people in times of danger. James 5:13–20 calls for prayers and actions for the sake of those made vulnerable by illness. Human words and touch (anointing) are part of the ministry of healing we exercise for one another. In Mark 9:38–50, Jesus speaks of standing with those who engage in ministry. For Mark’s community as it faces persecution, cups of cold water, not causing little ones to stumble, and life lived in peace bear witness to how community may be preserved in threatening times. Just as Esther took her stand and acted to preserve life, and as Mark’s community exercised hospitality in times of risk, to welcome and shelter those who are vulnerable still requires our courageous action today. In such a time as today, who waits on your action and courage? What aspect of your identity as God’s child may be hidden, in need of claiming for God’s work in this time and place?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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