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Saturday, May 11, 2013

For Just Such a Time as This

Sermon for Education for Ministry Graduation

Well, nothing like a happy reading for a celebration, huh? I am sure Mark wondered what I was thinking when I chose it. He may still be in five minutes when I’m done,but I hope not. It is read each year on the Jewish festival of Purim, and the congregants use a noisemaker called a grogger to drown out the name of the evil Haman each time it is read.

Purim Exhibition at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem (2)
Grogger at the Purim Exhibition at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem

The Jewish people have known many instances of persecution during their history. As American Christians in the 21st century it is hard for us to identify personally with the idea of an evil figure cozying up to our head of state and successfully influencing him or her to have us removed from the scene, even if it meant an end to those long speeches at the National Prayer Breakfast. I also like to think Michele Obama would not need Gene Robinson or even Desmond Tutu to convince her to intercede with the President on our behalf.

But our world knows no lack of threats to our way of life, or our way of prayer. We continue to trivialize the impact of our way of life on the planet at our peril, spinning our own mental groggers when the news becomes more than we can bear. and -- despite all the electronic gadgets that purport to keep us connected -- many of us move through our lives in increasing emotional isolation. Many of our once-vibrant parish communities are waning, as individualistic, spiritual-but-not-religious ideologies and even atheism gain popularity, and volunteer programs to help those less fortunate must compete with other demands on our time. The church finds itself in a struggle for relevance, as Americans, particularly the young, are increasingly turned off by the way Christianity has been defined by those holding the microphone.

I think each of us can see aspects of ourselves in each of the major figures in this story, if not in the profound examples it offers. How often are we Mordecai, sitting in our own personal sackcloth and ashes, despairing at the state of the world, or our corner of it? How often are we Esther, taking refuge in the false security of our present comfort, or remaining silent because we don’t believe others will take our ideas seriously? Do we ever acknowledge how often we are “king” over others – even across the globe – whose lives are affected by how we spend our time, money and resources? And, being honest here, are we ever Haman, using our influence to get what we want, even when we know someone else will be hurt?

And yet, there is also redemption here. Mordecai, by making a scene his niece and the neighbors cannot ignore, triggers her to respond with compassion. Esther, in turn, is challenged by her uncle’s admonishment to risk, as our bishop often challenges us, something big for something good. If you read further, you’ll learn that The King, after learning that in fact he owes Mordecai the debt of his own life, consents to Esther’s request that the Jews will be spared, and Haman goes to a murderer’s reward.

And thus it can be for us. As we are each of the characters in this story, we can choose to use our influence for the greater good. EfM has gives lay people the scriptural, historical and theological context to respond to the many challenges and opportunities for ministry that surround us. So armed, let us not hide within the walls of our homes and churches, but show the world with our lives and our actions what people of faith can accomplish in a world that cries out for justice and peace.