For Just Such a Time (sermon 9/27/15)

mcdonalds-employee-paraplegic

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 scepter 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 4:5-17

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You’d think that after several years of seminary, I‘d know where the Book of Esther is in the Bible. But I don’t. Any time I need to find it, I have to use the Table of Contents – not that I need to look for it very often; this Sunday is the only time Esther shows up in the three-year Lectionary cycle. Obviously, what we heard this morning was just an exceprt from an ongoing story – a great story; if you aren’t familiar with it and how it all plays out, you should read it; it isn’t very long. But here’s a basic, super-condensed version of what’s happened up to this point of the story. Esther was a woman in ancient Persia who becomes the queen while hiding the fact that she’s Jewish. At the same time, Haman, one of the king’s must trusted and powerful advisors, gets disrespected by Mordecai, who Haman doesn’t realize is actually Esther’s cousin. In order to show Mordecai who’s boss, Haman manages to convince the king to issue a decree to destroy not just Mordecai, but all the Jews living within the kingdom. When this happens, Mordecai tells Esther that she’s got to intervene with the king. But Esther knows that the king has a hair-trigger temper, to put it mildly, and she’d truly be risking her life if she entered his presence without his having summoned her. But Mordecai pointed out that she wouldn’t escape harm just because she was in a position of privilege – that one way or another, physically or otherwise, she’d suffer the consequences of this decree along with the commoners it was aimed at. He told her that whether she liked it or not, she may very well have arrived at the moment she was born for – that maybe her entire life, with all its twists and turns, had been leading up to just such a time as this.

Have you ever wondered whether your own life had a specific purpose? Whether you’re alive, right now, in this time and place, for some specific goal that God has in mind for you? I suspect that all of us have wondered about that, and if we think that’s true, we wonder just what that purpose might be. Is it something big and bold, and maybe something risky, like Esther’s dilemma? Or is it something hidden, something we’ll never even know, but something that we set in motion with our actions – a chance comment to the person in front of us in the checkout line. Turning left instead of right at the intersection. Not being able to find your wallet, or your keys, and getting on the freeway ten minutes later than you would have otherwise. Something that ends up having a ripple effect that leads to something important happening, or not happening, that we’re never even aware of.

By definition, we can’t know, and don’t have any control over, that second kind of thing. But we have a lot of control over the first. In our tradition, we believe that God equips everyone, and calls everyone, to some particular thing, some vocation, and whatever it is, that’s our actual ministry in this life. God provides us with the intellectual and physical abilities, the passions, the desires, the financial resources for our service – our ministry in the Kingdom of God – and each of us need to discern what that is, and to do it. It may be one thing for our entire life, or it might change, and be a number of different things over the course of our life. It might be what we do for a living, or we might be blessed with making a living in a way that enables us to do what our actual ministry is, for just such a time as this.

And just what kind of time is it? It’s a time when overall economic disparity, the gap between rich and poor, continues to increase, and it isn’t just a disparity in dollars but it’s a disparity of opportunity, a disparity of hope itself. It’s a time when political divisiveness and polarization is at an all-time high. When the discrimination of racial, ethnic, and other minority groups continues to tear at our society. Where we have the highest incarceration rate of any developed nation in the world, and a justice system that disproportionately imprisons people of color, and a society that then criticizes them for having so many broken homes and distressed families. Where hunger – real hunger – can be found not just on the other side of the world, but within a block of where we’re sitting. There are people suffering and in need of our help in this world, in need of the help that God has entrusted to us to help them with. And we can’t escape being caught up in their troubles, any more than Esther could. When one of them suffers, we suffer, we’re diminished, right along with them.

What purpose does God have in mind for you in this world? Which problem is tugging at your heart? Which one do you hear God whispering in your ear to take up? That thing, the good thing, the right thing, that no one else seems able or willing to do? Whatever it is, once you discern what it is that God wants you to be doing, at least right now, and you follow that path – it’s very possible, if not probable, that you’re going to face some consequences for following it.

Standing together in solidarity with the marginalized, the abused, the unpopular in our society will pretty likely cause you to be unpopular with some people, too – especially with those who may be doing the marginalizing. Following God’s plan for you may cost you some friendships or relationships. It’s likely that some people will think you’ve lost your perspective, your sense of balance. I mean, a little bit of religion is a good thing, but only in moderation – you can’t let it shape your whole life or let it change your priorities. You can’t let it turn you into some kind of bleeding-heart. The only problem with that is that Jesus himself was literally a bleeding heart, and he’s called us to be one, too.

What might God be calling you do? To work for justice and equity for discriminated-against people? To create a way of collecting the food that restaurants would throw away at the end of the night and getting it to the local hungry and poor? To enter the ordained ministry? To get arrested and thrown in jail at a peaceful protest against some social ill? What kind of good are you willing to stick your neck out for, in service to Christ? What kind of trouble are you willing to get into for God?

There are big things that God has purposed us for. But there are other things, too, things that are in front of our eyes every day if we just allow ourselves to see them.

He was scrambling, just trying to keep up with the rush of people that were standing in line at the fast food restaurant in the lunch rush. People yelling back at the cooks looking for a missing burger, French fries just out of the fryer sizzling and cooling off before getting packed up, an overflow at the soda fountain that needed to be cleaned up, a drive-through order that took some time to prepare and that had to be walked out to the waiting car parked along the curb. As he looked across the stainless steel counter, he saw the next customer was in a motorized wheelchair. It was obvious that the man had very little mobility, he could barely move his hands enough to bump the little joystick that controlled the chair. It was only with great difficulty that he could even understand the man’s order, but he eventually understood it. When it was placed in front of him on the counter, the man said something else. He leaned over and struggled to hear him, and he finally understood that the man was saying, “Help me.”

He looked at the line of others waiting to order. He knew that to help this man would slow down the ordering, and could possibly even get himself in trouble. But he thought for a moment, then looked at the man and said “One minute.” He walked back into the kitchen and washed his hands. Then he came back, shut his register off, came around the counter and led the man back to an open seat. He realized the man needed help cutting his food up. So he did that, and then he sat next to the man and helped to feed him. And he continued to help him until he was done. It was a holy moment in the midst of the noise and the chaos all around them. It was the body of Christ with fries, the blood of Christ with a straw. It was the communion of saints under the golden arches.

It was very possible that he was going to get in trouble with his manager for stepping off the line in order to do what he did. But it didn’t matter. He’d been born for that time, and that place. He’d been born for just such a time as this. And so are we.

Thanks be to God.

* The fast-food story above, and the picture accompanying this sermon, is based on the news story from this past week, which can be found on many news websites, including here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mcdonalds-employee-helps-handicapped-customer-eat-meal-in-viral-photo/

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