The Book of Esther remarkable in so many ways. First and foremost, it tells the story of a woman in a time when women’s voices were not considered important. It is one of the few standalone books of the bible. God is not mentioned once in the entire book and yet ever present as this tale unfolds. It is a tale of intrigue and social politics. In order to understand our readings for today, we need a little background to understand how Esther becomes the Queen Esther. The book of Esther takes place in Persia under the reign of King Ahasuerus.
King Ahasuerus is in the mood for serious celebration, we don’t know why. He declares that there will be a seven day celebration for all the people in the palace. And the king knows how to throw a party. It says in the first chapter of Esther “Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished in accordance with the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired.” (Esther 1:7 – 8) Queen Vashti did the same for the women.
Queen Vashti was very beautiful and the King on the seventh day of merrymaking decided he wanted to show her off his beautiful wife. And by show off, the King meant show up at the party wearing nothing but her crown. In anytime this was a terrible and crude request. The Queen may have hosted a celebration but she still had a sense of dignity and refused the Kings command.
This was a big problem for the King. This was a time when women were considered property and they had to do what is asked of them. You could not refuse a command even if it was crude. The king was both annoyed because she refused and not sure what to do next because he was so used to getting his own. He consulted with his royal advisors who were also terrified that their wives would follow Queen Vashti’s lead and stop listening to them. Then the country would be in a real mess. They advised the king to depose Vashti and choose a new, more obedient Queen.
The king ordered that the most beautiful virgins in the country are paraded in front of the king as though it were a beauty pageant. One of those young women was Esther. Esther was a Jewish girl and an orphan. She was raised by her cousin Mordecai who adopted her and raised her as his own daughter. The Jewish people living in Persia at this time were part of the diaspora who were captured by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Esther quickly won the kings favour and he gave her special cosmetic treatments, her share of food and seven servants. Esther did not tell the King that she was Jewish because Mordecai advised her not too.
After a period of testing, the King decided that he loved Esther best of all the virgins and made her Queen. During this time the King promoted Haman and gave him more responsibility. Haman did not like Mordecai because he refused to bow down to him. Mordecai followed the ten commandments. You shall not worship other gods. Mordecai was faithful to God alone. Haman decided he wanted all the Jews in the land killed. He persuaded the King that this was a good idea. When Mordecai heard about the devastation that was to befall his people he begged Esther to do something about it.
At first Esther refused. She knew that if she went to the king without being called she would die unless he raised his royal sceptre. Mordecai replied to Esther saying ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 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.’ Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai, ‘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.’” (Esther 4:12 – 16)
Esther was wise and courageous. After the fast she went to the king and he raised his sceptre. The king asked what she wanted. He would give her anything, even it was half of his kingdom. Esther invited the King and Haman to a banquet she was preparing. The King enjoyed the banquet and asked Esther what she would like. Again, Esther invited Haman and the King to another banquet.
On the second night the King offered to grant Esther any request even it if it half of his kingdom. Esther said, “‘If I have won your favour, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.’” (Esther 7:3 – 4) The king rose and demanded who would do such a thing and Esther pointed to Haman.
And with that Esther saved her life and the lives of all the people of Israel living in Persia. One act of courage changed the course of history. Courage takes on many forms. Esther was raised as a person of faith. She knew the stories of God’s deliverance and through her courage she helped her people. Esther’s faith and courage are celebrated every year at the feast of Purim. We can learn from Esther’s courage. We too can stand up for what is right. We can speak out when we see injustice. It is particularly important to stand up today as All of this takes courage.
Think of the people who’ve lived with courage down through the ages. Scott and watched the movie Selma this week about Martin Luther King Jr. march from Selma to Montgomery. It took courage demonstrate in peace for the right to vote. It wasn’t just one person – it was thousands upon thousands who stood up for what was right. Think of the courage it for Christian Blassey Ford testifying about her own terrifying experience of sexual violence. Think of Phyllis (Jack) Webstat who shared her experience of residential schools so that we can all remember those who suffered at residential schools and those who died while in residential schools and intergenerational survivors of residential schools.
Courage takes on so many forms. A while ago I read this story of courage that has its roots in a meal.
“During the Everest climbing season last May, just 1000 feet from the top of the world, 24-year-old Israeli law student Nadav Ben-Yehuda noticed a 64-year-old Turkish man, Aydin Irmak, lying in the snow with no gloves, no oxygen, no shelter as other climbers streamed past him in their quest for the summit.
Climbers know instantly 26,000 feet is the infamous 'death zone' where the lack of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life for any length of time. Exposure in that zone quickly leads to acute mountain sickness, hypothermia and, most often, death.
In the death zone of Everest, there is no time for inaction. In an instant, Nadav relinquished his summit bid and put all efforts into Aydin's rescue. Nine hours later, Nadav arrived at base camp having saved the life of Aydin.
What makes this story remarkable is that Turkey and Israel have long been nations with relations icier than the slopes of Everest. Nadav's act not only saved a life, but also bridged a distance between inimical countries. When asked why he relinquished his dream of conquest and instead stopped to help, Nadav answered, "Because we had shared a meal together." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-hickman/eating-with-the-enemy-est_b_1916776.html?utm_hp_ref=religion)
Sometimes courage has its roots is a simple meal. Courage is something countless numbers of people have shown over the generations as they stand for what is right and just. As we live our lives of faith, let us to have the courage to stand up for what is right for our community, for the earth and for our world. God is with us as we proclaim our faith and seek to live justly in our community and world. Thanks be to God. Amen.