Proper 21 2009
Theme: God is in the hopeless
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we give you thanks for the examples of women who rise above adversity, finding hope where there is hopelessness; may we rejoice in their examples and thereby apply those lessons to our own lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
One of the house visits we made in Burkina Faso last month was of a widow, whose son is enrolled in the third Compassion project we visited. After her husband died, his family kicked her and her son out of their home. She went to Ouagadougou, the capital city, to live in the same complex her aunt lived.
Her home is part of a one-story cinder block building in a series of cinder block buildings where several families live. I suspect they are one very extended family. She has a living room that is about 10 feet by 12 feet. Beyond a curtain that acts as a door is a bedroom of about 5 feet by 10 feet. This is where she and her son live. There is an outdoor brick oven that is the community kitchen. For most of the residents of Ouagadougou, they use open sewers.
One day at the Compassion center, at a local Assemblies of God church, a free HIV testing and screening clinic was held. This woman and her child went. I believe she did this, because she knew her husband died of AIDS. She tested positive. Her son did not.
She told us she was sick. If any of her neighbors ever got wind that she was HIV positive, she would be shunned and she could lose her home.
Some time ago, she wasn’t very specific, Compassion gave her a bag of rice and a bag of beans. These two food items are luxury items in Burkina Faso. She could have easily used them to feed her and her son until it was gone, but she didn’t. She would rise early in the morning. Cook the rice and beans. And then go to one of the city’s main thoroughfares selling the rice and beans to anyone who wanted to pay for breakfast. She turned this gift into a way to make a living, supporting her and her son.
This is a courageous woman. She has received more than her share of shocks and set backs. Yet, she persevered. Beyond those of us who were there and share her story, no one else will ever know of her. There must be thousands and thousands of women like her.
We heard of another remarkable woman today. Esther is one of the most delightful stories in the Bible, if you like revenge stories, or stories where the bad guy gets his. Esther is also the only book of the Bible where God is not mentioned. The story takes place after the Babylonian exile. Babylon and Judah, the Jewish homeland, were then part of the Persian Empire.
Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, is part of the royal court. Mordecai arranged for Esther to be a candidate for King Ahasuerus’ queen and Esther was chosen. The king’s Prime Minister, Haman, took umbrage that Mordecai would not bow to him. It was Persian law that bowing before the king or the Prime Minister was required. Haman wanted to get even against Mordecai and all Jews.
Mordecai counseled Esther to not reveal that she is a Jew to anyone. This seemed easy for Esther to pull off, since we are not told that she observed any Jewish customs, law or worship. Her secret is really safe.
Haman issues an edict that on a certain date all Jews in the Empire are to be executed. Everything is falling in place for Haman. He will have his justice by eliminating Mordecai and all his Jewish ilk. Hitler was late in trying to repeat Haman’s desires. Everything is going so well, that even the queen has invited him to a special banquet that only Haman, the queen and the king will attend. Haman is truly special.
Then Haman hits a bump in the road. The king had the annals of his reign read to him and he was reminded of how Mordecai saved the king’s life and the king was remiss in rewarding him. So the king asked Haman what should be done to honor one whom the king wishes to honor. Well, Haman couldn’t think of anyone deserving honor other than him.
So he tells the king that a high official should lead the honored one on the king’s horse while wearing one of the king’s robes. So the king ordered Haman to lead Mordecai just as Haman described. Haman was humiliated and furious. For Mordecai, Haman has something special. Haman has a gallows built outside of his house for Modecai.
Now we are caught up. The queen pleads for her life and points out Haman as her executioner. One part that was left out is that when Esther accuses Haman, the king storms out of the room in anger. The queen, still reclining at table, finds Haman on top of her, pleading for his life. It is at that moment the king walks back into the room and is even more incensed at what appears to be attempted rape. Haman is executed on the very gallows that he built for Mordecai. If you ever think you have had a bad day, remember Haman.
What happens next is complicated. It seems that Persian law or edicts, once published, cannot be revoked. So the new Prime Minister, Mordecai, issues an edict that the Jews can defend themselves from any and all who wish to kill them and all the people of the empire are encouraged to help the Jews.
The Jews killed many on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar. Mordecai urges all Jews to keep those days in observance of the deliverance of the Jews by feasting, gifts of food and giving to the poor. This is the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim. You now have the equivalent of the Reader’s Digest version of the Book of Esther.
So, where is God in all of this, especially since God is not mentioned in the story? I think the author of Esther struggled with that too. We can say that Esther’s strength to ask that her people be spared came from God. We can say that God was active and present in Esther’s people who were turned from sorrow to gladness. We can say Jesus is in the story in that the exalted are brought low and the low are exalted. Esther spoke and history was changed.
How many times are you in a situation where God is never mentioned and you either realize at the time, or it occurs to you upon reflection, that God was present in that situation? I think that is what Esther teaches us. I think that is what that woman in Ouagadougou taught us. When all seems low, when all seems down, when all seems hopeless, God is there. The God of hope breaks into the hopeless.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gifts of courage and ingenuity to rise above our troubles, finding solutions where all hope seems to be gone; empowered by the Holy Spirit, we will make differences in the lives of the people around us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22 (NRSV)
7 1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, 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. 4 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.”d 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
9 Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” 10 So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
9:20 Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22 as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor. 
d Meaning of Heb uncertain
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.