"Esther" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer
I.Intro - I hate the word bossy
-Mostly removed from my vocabulary
-Because I got called this so often as a kid
-Don’t mind admitting to appreciating control. A liking for things being done a certain way runs in the family.
-But “bossy” is one of those words girls get called with a frequency boys don’t
-girls that if they were boys would be called imaginative or natural-born leaders.
Later in life, after experiencing my call to be a pastor I was called a “bulldog” by a seminary classmate
-we disagreed on something
- I wouldn’t back down
-”bulldog” wasn’t meant as a compliment
-took a long time for that not to hurt
Then there was the time another pastor was a bit too handsy at a regional meeting in PA
-never met him before
-not the only woman, but the youngest
-he felt the need to comment on everything I said. Either correction or a piggyback.
-He was everywhere I was and worst of all kept touching me. Never inappropriately, but unwelcomed touch.
-First one to leave the meeting feeling gross, small, and wondering if I was imagining things.
-Never went to another regional meeting
Problem in the world: How often do we make people feel small?
-How often do we require them to shrink themselves, to be less than, to take up less space?
-How many of us have had it made very clear that who we are isn’t welcome? Because we’re somehow too much, too large, or just wrong for whatever room we’re in.
-How many of us have been expected to change ourselves to fit into someone else’s narrative?
-How many of you have experienced don’t ask, don’t tell first hand as much for your own safety as for someone else’s comfort?
-And how many times have we intentionally or unintentionally asked others to shrink, to change, to take up less space, to be a little bit less themselves to be in our lives?
Esther has been made small. She’s been told what to do.
-Summary: Esther has become Queen of Persia as wife to Xerxes. She’s an orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai who enters her into the king’s beauty contest to find a new wife but tells her to hide her Jewish identity. After a year of beauty treatments, the king falls for Esther and makes her his new Queen. Meanwhile, the King promotes a man named Haman to be right-hand man, placing him in a place of honor that among other things requires people to kneel before him. Esther’s cousin Mordecai, a faithful Jew, refuses to do this. This angers Haman and he hatches a plot to have all the Jews in the empire killed and sneakily gets the king to approve it.
-This morning’s text starts with the command to Persian people to kill their Jewish neighbors in one year going public. Mordecai hears of this genocidal plan and rips his clothing then puts on sackcloth and ashes - signs of mourning.
-small detail in 4:2 that can be missed but points to how isolated Esther has become even in lofty position, “[Mordecai] came only as far as the King’s Gate, for no one dressed in sackcloth was allowed to enter the King’s Gate.”
-Mordecai is in capital city, Susa.
-bringing attention to himself and plight of Jewish people
-but he doesn’t go further than palace gate because of his mourning clothing he’s not allowed inside.
-there’s no mourning in the royal space! King doesn’t allow it.
-Elsewhere in the empire other Jews are joining in Mordcai’s grief. Also wearing mourning clothes. “Fasting, weeping, wailing.”
-Except…Except Esther. Herself a Jew, though one hiding her identity, doesn’t mourn.
-In fact, when she hears about Mordecai’s carrying on outside the palace from her servants, she sent him clean clothes to wear.
-her way of telling him to knock of this public display. Stop making a scene.
-Why? Because she doesn’t know about Haman’s murderous plot that’s now become law.
-she’s insulated and isolated in King’s court. Information is tightly controlled in this royal space which affects how Esther responds.
-Another thing to keep in mind is that Esther has been told what to do by men her whole life.
-Parent’s die, Mordecai takes her in.
-King is looking for a new wife, Mordecai takes her to the palace
-King decides she’s beautiful and makes her queen.
-Now she’s a Queen, but one without access to information or even the ability to approach her husband without being summoned on fear of death. Did you notice that?
-back and forth between Esther and Mordecai after he tells her to plead for Jews to the King - verse 10: “Everyone who works for the king here, and even the people out in the provinces, knows that there is a single fate for every man or woman who approaches the king without being invited: death. The one exception is if the king extends his gold scepter; then he or she may live. And it’s been thirty days now since I’ve been invited to come to the king.”
-Perhaps because she hasn’t had the agency to think for herself, perhaps because of her lack of control over her life, perhaps because she’s had to make herself smaller, hid parts of herself to survive, Esther is naive.
-I’m going to call it “situational naivete” because it doesn’t last long
-But it takes Mordecai making the situation crystal clear for Esther to realize that being in the King’s household will not keep her safe.
-She’s a Jewish woman in an empire that’s suddenly moved from being “somewhere between positive and innocuous for the Jews” to becoming “mobilized in a personal way against the Jews as a people.”
-”This is shocking. Extraordinary,” in the worst way.
-Esther’s privilege won’t protect her, though Mordecai’s comment on the Jews being safe is interesting.
-One of the defining elements of the book of Esther is that God is never overtly mentioned.
-It’s usually defined as a novella, not a historical book as scholars have never been able to prove the existence of a Jewish Queen of Persia
-But it’s the lack of obvious reference to God that’s the most interesting about this book.
-Scholars make the case that there are oblique references to the Eternal and I learned this week that because of this passage the word “maquom”/מָקוֹם or “place” is another word modern Jews use for God due to Mordecai’s comment in verse 14, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place…”
Good News in the text: With Mordecai’s beautiful words, “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” ringing in her ears and ours we see Esther transition.
-She moves out of that “situational naivete” to a woman in charge.
-She finds her voice.
-She realizes the best thing she can do is align herself with her people
-Profound change occurs when Esther stops worrying about her safety, “when she’s no longer interested in color in the lines.”
-Rather, as this story progresses, we see Esther use these formerly controlling, limiting lines to her advantage.
-We see her become who she was created to be by God and the impact this has on her people.
Transition: I went to Facebook again this week to see if my friends would be willing to tell me about times when they’ve been made to feel small or wrong when they were they were simply being themselves.
-A friend of my mom’s commented that earlier in her married life she applied for a credit card in case of emergencies. The bank denied her because she was a woman, and she still remembers the sound of the banker’s voice who denied her.
-A former colleague said that she wanted to play drums as a kid but was told girls don’t play drums. She learned anyway and became the first female drummer in her high school’s history.
-One of my dearest friends told me about a time a man at church who was old enough to be her father told her to stop being a flirt when she was a teenager. She said it stuck with her because she was just being herself and this man not only sexualized her behavior, he acted like he was doing her a favor. She said the comment still bothers her today.
-Two seminary friends reached out. One told me about a time another classmate told her her voice was abrasive after listening to her preach. She considered this guy a friend, so his words were particularly hurtful. The other friend told me how much he hated being called overly sensitive. I don’t know all of the details of his experience, but this friend grew up a few towns away from me in East Texas. East Texas culture is basically the same as northeast Louisiana so I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean when I say that being a thoughtful, kind young man isn’t the culturally acceptable model.
-Finally, the comment that made me the saddest was from the wife of a high school friend. Her words don’t need commentary so here’s what she wrote, “ [I’ve] literally been told I am “too much”. For as long as I can remember I have actively tried to take up less space. In a pew. On a plane. In a car ride. Spending hours with every muscle clenched, try to make myself smaller to be more accommodating to others.”
Good News in the World
-Could you tone it down a little? Could you be a little less in everybody’s face? Could you just sit quietly in the back while we get through the important stuff? Could you not say something that will make everyone uncomfortable for once?
-We so often ask those around us to tone it down. Be quiet. Be small. Not bring attention to their differences. And I’ll be the first to admit that as a straight, white, cis-gendered woman I know the times I’ve experienced these sorts of things don’t hold a candle to the continued experiences of those of you in the LGBTQ+ community or people of color.
-On this second of Advent, the Sunday of peace, I’m mindful that we need good news. We need a way to connect this Esther story to our lives and I think we do that through Mordecai’s words, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this”
· Perhaps your experiences have prepared you to care for someone else. Perhaps you can use your heartaches and accomplishments for someone else’s benefit. What resources do you have that can be shared? How has your life prepared you for moments of challenge? Moments of need?
· Esther’s story reminds us that our fates are tied together. Not only are we better together, we are tied together here as the Body of Christ and more broadly as a human community.
· Good News this morning is that our Creator made us who we are on purpose. Not to be smaller, or less conspicuous. God doesn’t want us to make ourselves smaller or less than others, but rather on this Sunday of peace to find peace within ourselves. To make peace with who she created us to be and live into that creation for the world.
· Advent is a time of waiting and knowing not all is right. That the world and humanity are in need. In need of hope, in need of peace, love and joy.
· What if in addition to the Christ child you are also what’s needed? What if your abilities, your gifts, your talents, your experiences, your heartbreaks, your fears, and joys are exactly what God needs to work in the world?
· Because perhaps, just perhaps you were made for such a time as this.