Guest Sermon: Quinn Rice preaches on Esther as the Anti-Fairytale
A sermon on Esther 7:1-6, 9-10
You have probably all heard the story of Cinderella.
A poor orphaned girl wants to go to a ball, but she can’t because of her cruel step-mother. Fortunately for Cinderella, her fairy godmother swoops in to save the day. She gives her beautiful clothes and sends her off to the ball, where Cinderella wins the heart of the prince and lives happily ever aftern.
That’s where the story of Cinderella ends. But, that’s where the story of Esther begins. Except the happily ever after part.
In the story of Esther, much like the story of Cinderella, the King is looking for a wife.
A young, orphaned Jewish woman is selected out of all the young beauties of the Persian empire to become the new queen.
Since she has entered into the highly political world of the palace, her guardian, Mordecai, advises her to keep her Jewishness a secret, because the Jews are a captive people in Persia.
Meanwhile, Mordecai serves in the King’s court. He is a very devout Jew, and he refuses to bow to the king’s top advisor, Haman.
Haman is easily angered and he gets quite upset at Mordecai’s insolence. Upset enough to take a proposal to the King. Haman convinces the King that the Jews are a threat to the order in his empire and must be eliminated.
The King gives Haman his assent and Haman issues a proclamation that, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, it would be legal for all Persian citizens to kill Jews and steal their belongings.
Like I said, not so happily ever after.
But, the plot thickens. The King is reminded that Mordecai had uncovered an assassination plot against the King, and so the King calls Haman to give him advise. (That’s what advisors do.)
The King asks Haman what he should be done for the man the king wants to honor.
Haman, believing the king to be talking about himself, describes an extravagant show of honor.
Haman is enraged, however, to discover that it is Mordecai the King wants to honor, and not himself. To add insult to injury, Haman has to be the one to honor Mordecai.
(Dun, dun, dun!)
He decides to build a gallows 75-feet high to hang Mordecai from on the day of the Jew’s destruction.
Unlike Haman, Mordecai does not care about the honors of the King’s Court. He is concerned about the suffering of his people.
He goes to Esther and tells her that she must intervene with the King for her people.
But, Esther doesn’t believe that she can. For, anyone who enters the King’s inner chamber without being summoned, is subject to execution.
Mordecai, however, tells Esther that if she does not speak up now, someone else will come to save the Jews, but she and her family will perish, for the palace will offer no protection.
But, perhaps she has been placed in the palace “for such a time as this.”
Esther is emboldened to advocate for her people. But she doesn’t do it on her own.
She turns to her people and ask them to fast and pray with her for three days. Then she goes to see the King.
Esther is spared and she invites the King and Haman to come to a special banquet that night.
At the banquet they dine and talk and enjoy themselves and the King offers her whatever she wants.
But Esther is in for the long haul and chooses not to show her hand, instead inviting them to another banquet the following night.
This is where today’s reading picks up the story, with the King eager to please his queen.
Then, Esther springs her trap.
She reveals the threat to her people and the King is horrified. He demands to know who is threatening them, and Esther points the finger at Haman.
That very night the King has Haman hung from the very same gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai.
And so, the story does end happily after all. The bad guy is punished. The people are spared. And Esther has learned to stand up for herself.
Now, as my English teacher would say, “why does this story matter to us?”
The way we are used to seeing God is as a Savior who swoops down to save the day, much like the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella.
In Esther, however, God is never explicitly mentioned. You have to read between the lines (another favorite expression of my English teacher).
To see God’s intervention, you look at the people who are seeking to follow God’s way.
Let us start with Esther.
Esther starts the story as a passive character whom others act upon. The King selects her as his Queen. Mordecai tells her what to do.
But, when the crisis comes, Esther discovers that this passivity won’t work for her anymore, because, as Mordecai tells her, staying silent won’t keep her safe.
This same truth was expressed by Martin Niemoller in his famous quote:
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”
Through Esther, we see that God does not want us to just act in our own self-interest, but also to stand up for others who are more vulnerable than we are.
But that’s not easy. That’s where Mordecai comes in
Mordecai challenges Esther’s perspective. He forces her to look past the palace walls to where her people are suffering.
Through his example and through his words he gives her the conviction to do what is right even when it’s hard.
But even once she has the conviction, she also needs strength.
So, she turns to her community.
Even though she will be alone before the King, she needs to know that are people will be behind her.
By joining her in prayer and fasting, her people show her that they are with her and that they believe God will work through her.
We can learn from Esther lessons that that apply outside of fairytale worlds:
When there is a problem in our world, even if it seems too big for us, or like it doesn’t affect us directly, we should not sit back and trust that we will be safe if we just stay quiet.
We should stand up for what we believe in, even if it makes powerful people mad.
And, when we need strength we can turn to our community and trust that God will work through them and us.
Thanks be to God!