Sunday, 7 December 2014

For such a time as this

Esther 4
Esther Agrees to Help the Jews
​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; he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 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.
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. 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. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, 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. 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.
Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, “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.” When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, 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. 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.” Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.

Esther is one of those books of the Bible tucked away among the books of the Prophets. A small book, often little known and little read.
It tells the story of a young Jewish orphan, brought up by her cousin, and taken into captivity by the King of Babylon.
Esther became part of the king's harem and went on to become queen.
She alerted the king to a plot to assassinate him and thus saved his life but earned a few enemies in the process.
One of the king's advisors was determined to destroy the Jews who lived in the kingdom, so he started to spread stories about how they disobeyed the King's laws in favour of the God whom they worshipped and managed to persuade the king to issue a decree to kill them.
The part of Esther's story that we read today was an elaborate tale of how Esther managed, at great personal risk, to get the Kings attention so that she could alert him to the consequences of his proposed action. While the king might have easily decreed that the Jewish people in the kingdom should be killed, he wasn't prepared to see Esther, his queen killed. And so the general became specific. And a people that, up until that point had seemed of no consequence to the king, was given a very human face - that of Esther, a young Jewish woman. Esther and her people were spared - but at great personal risk for Esther - she risked death by attracting the attention of the king without being summoned. When she wavered over the risk she was about to take, her cousin, Mordecai, spoke these words: Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 
There is much more to the story of Esther,so much packed into a small story. Unfortunately, while the Jewish people were spared and granted the right to defend themselves and to take up arms, they abused those privileges and exacted revenge on those who held them captive, sadly a story that is repeated time and again throughout history, where those granted freedom become the oppressors, sadly a story that we are al ,too familiar with today.
But, for this morning, I want to focus on that more hopeful phrase, spoken to Esther to encourage her to take a risk: Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” 
And,on this second Sunday of Advent, I'd like us to consider the question - to what are we being called today?
What risks are we being called to take to make a difference?
How can we make the general specific?
What is God's plan for us - that unique purpose that only you can fulfil?
This second Sunday in Advent is also vocations Sunday in the Church of Scotland, when all of us are encouraged to prayerfully consider that particular role to which God calls us. How will we serve God in the church and in the community, in our homes, in our schools and in our work places? 
What does serving God look like in our lives.
To what specifically is God calling us today?
As you know, one of my roles is as a National assessor in the Church of Scotland, interviewing and assessing those who offer themselves for ministry.
And one of the most wonderful aspects of that role, is hearing the story of some one's call.
Hearing how an inkling gives way to a niggle that grows until it cannot be ignored.
Hearing how God speaks in so many different ways to convict folk to respond to this sense of calling - through word, through worship, through other people, through opportunity, through changed circumstances, through everyday life, through joy and adversity - God uses so many ways to get our attention.
We are not all called to ministry of word and sacrament, but we are all called - to serve God in the church and, perhaps even more importantly, to serve God in the world today.
For such a time as this.
Our world needs people to step up and to speak out.
For such a time as this.
Our world needs us to take risks, putting ourselves in the line of fire, to make a difference for those whose voices are not heard, whose struggles are ignored.
For such a time as this.
You and I are called to speak out against the injustice that pervades our society today.
For such a time as this.
We are called to use our position of privilege to benefit others.
Whatever struggles we endure every day, most of us have food on our tables and a roof over our heads.
However impotent we might feel, we are not silenced or persecuted - our children are not murdered-  because of our race or colour.
For such a time as this.
In this second week of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the light that came into the world, the light that darkness could not overcome, we are called for such a time as this to carry that light into our community and into all the world.
We are called to live into the privilege that we have to call for justice and to work to change a system that denies people basic human rights and that keeps people in poverty and fear.
For such a time as this, you and I are called to speak up and not keep silent and then to step up so that our actions match our words.
For such a time as this - you and I are called by God.
This Vocations Sunday, this Advent, may we respond to God and live into our calling as the people of God for such a time as this.

For the glory of God, Amen.