For the month of November, the focus is on the concept of “change.” Under the tab entitled WORD – Pastor’s Homily, BOOK VI, TRANSFORMATION, a sermonic excerpt on the “Book of Esther” of the Holy Bible is presented to address the concept of “fear.” This holiday season provides opportunities to reflect on giving thanks, remembering why, and moving forward. Therefore, below is the sermon based on Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:21-22. The entire book should be studied.
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“RISK YOUR LIFE TO LIVE OR DIE! Such a Time as This”
Alletta R. Jumper, BS, MPM, MDiv
Many members of families have lived or will live in a very precarious world. As one reflects on the history of this world, the history of this nation, the history of the American people, and the divisiveness among ethnic groups, cultures, nationalities, families, and particularly the history and treatment of African people – both on the Continent (the Sudan, Dakar, Uganda, Darfur, South Africa) and in the Diasporas (Brazil, Benin, Haiti, Panama, Korea, Belize, the U.S.A), many have lived, are living, and will live in a precarious world.
What is meant by living precariously is experiencing the effect on an individual, on a people, on a nation that depends on the will or pleasure of others, on chance circumstances, on uncertain conditions and on uncertain developments. The precarious effect is manifested when living is in an atmosphere, environment or predicament that is not safe or that is not stable; and when children are being monitored for controlled discipline in schools and not educated for abundant life. The precarious effect exists when a person has to decide to neglect healthcare to pay the rent; when a worker can’t afford the price of gas in order to drive to work; when families pray for children who are sent to fight a war that was created to control oil; and when citizens are afraid to walk the streets or keep windows and doors closed and monitored to avoid burglaries and/or sexual assaults.
Many live in a precarious world that is dangerous when placed in conditions, circumstances or situations that put them at risk; when there is no quality education that catapults children to a healthy and holistic future; when no jobs are satisfying or appropriate for the skill sets and, consequently, are unemployed or under-employed; when no affordable or safe housing are available; when nutritious and healthy food are not affordable; no healthcare is accessible, affordable or trustworthy; and when there is no hope in the governmental structure or system. However, living conditions may be, and oftentimes is a situation that was decided by others.
After the September 11, 2001 morning event in which two of three passenger airlines were purposely flown into two towers in New York by terrorists that killed the passengers and crews of the airplanes, thousands of occupants within the towers, hundreds of first responders, and many going to work, the nation changed. The nation was affected physically, emotionally/psychologically, and economically. The personal relationships within and among families of different ethnic groups and nationalities were devastated or shattered. From that event, another ethnic group, persons of Arab descent, were generally and suspiciously viewed and stereo- typically considered as dangerous because of the ethnicity of the terrorists. Because of that incident, racial and religious profiling of all persons of Arab descent and of the Islamic belief were targeted as terrorists and/or suicide bombers. The system for travel changed to be inconvenient with less traveling freedom to assure safety. Racial profiling expanded to perceive blacks and Arabs as suspicious and dangerous.
Not only are minority people or races castrated through “ethnic cleansing” in many nations, now, threats of life are posited between religions (Jews vs. Christians; Christians vs. Muslins; Muslims against Jews; Catholics vs. Protestants; denomination vs. denomination). There is also divisiveness, tension and discrimination between genders. In the 1970’s, a renowned lyricist, rhythm and blues singer, Marvin Gaye, in his song asked, “What’s Going On!”
The question is still valid for the following reasons:
- We are living in a country where the government decides to spend more money on a preemptive war than money for educating our children.
- We are living in a country where our government is providing tax cuts for the rich and wealthy while ignoring the plight of the middle-income and poor.
- We are living in a country where conservative politicians are more concerned about increased corporate profits from oil producing products rather than about global warming that cause extreme seasonal weather conditions and health-related maladies.
- We are living in a country where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer (the “1% vs. 99%” ) which is essentially a financial disparity (some claiming “class warfare”) emanating from the unfairness of the tax system, corporate employment practices, and inequitable resource provisions for the public school system.
- We are living at a time which conservatives want to financially benefit through the stock market and propose that legislatively workers invest their social security (a portion of their hard-earned savings that comes from payroll deductions) in the volatile stock market to gamble with their retirement savings.
- We are living in a society where the owners of large “big box” retail companies do not want to pay employees a “living wage” or provide “adequate and affordable healthcare” or other benefits.
- We are living in a country where rich developers are allowed by local governments to buy up properties in communities where families have lived for generations and where absentee-owners let their property become slums so that they can profit by rehabbing or building expensive condominiums or apartments that raises the property tax formula in the communities and literally push families out of the community. The neighborhood becomes gentrified.
What is wrong? This is a precariously time for living and the question remains, “What’s going on?” With all that is going on, our Lord and our God provided a way to discern what can happen, and more importantly, what must happen.
From revisiting Esther with a new discernment – Jesus gives us the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19-20) with all authority in heaven and on earth given to him “. . . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you….” What is discerned as the dominant revelation for me and for you is that “I/you have to risk my/your life to live or die trying – at a time like this.”
Now, let us look at the text with a spiritual and discerning eye. Most early biblical scholars did not want this book to be in the canonized scripture, and the debates continue, because the name of God does not appear in it, while a heathen king is referred to over one hundred and fifty times. Also there is no allusion to prayer or spiritual service of any kind, with the possible exception of “fasting.”  However, when studying about the narrative of Esther, the Thompson-chain Reference Bible indicates that there are many hidden teachings of “an over-shadowing providence in connection With God’s people and the certainty of retribution overtaking their enemies.” Esther is a book for public discourse. So – let us go deep into this text which will energize us to look at the risky business encountered. The word of God says that – “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20- New International Version).
When the first part of the Book of Esther is read, the personalities of the characters against the context of the times promote a deeper undertaking of who, what, how, and why decisions were made. The narrative first tells about the king, King Ahasuerus who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia (countries whose citizens are people of color) from Asia to Africa. The name, Ahasuerus, means king; therefore, his title and the name were the same. As the events in the story emerges, the value disparity of the title and name become evident. Ahasuerus sat on his throne in a city (a citadel – meaning strong fortress) called Susa (Shushan).
Also, at the beginning of the Book of Esther, the queen was Vhasti whose name means “the most beautiful.” What did the king do about Queen Vhasti? He put her out! Why did the king with the name king put her out? Ahasuerus did it because she said, no! Why did Vhasti say no? She said no because she refused to parade herself in front of the king. She refused to parade her beauty only “wearing a crown” in front of the king’s nobles and people! In that era, that refusal was revolutionary, an act of treason (especially for a woman to refuse to do what her husband asked; and, specifically refusing to be obedience to the request of a king). In fact, the people and the king’s noble persuaded the king to put her out because they asserted that Vhasti would influence other women to do the same; thus, rebel against their spouses. Because the king did not want to lose favor among the nobles and the people, King Ahasuerus put her out to set an example for women who took a stand.
After the first chapter in Esther, there is no mention of Vhasti. The fact remains, however, that the beautiful queen said, no! Do delve into the underlying reason for the negative response; perhaps, the refusal was against exploitation, belittlement, abuse, intimidation, humiliation, and degradation. Vhasti said, no – even to the king! Hence, she took a risk. She took a risk with repercussions. Vhasti had a death experience – the loss of her crown and status. She lost her crown; however, she did not lose her dignity, her pride, her self-respect, and her self-esteem.
Yet, Vhasti does not appear again in the narrative. She experienced the death of her throne, the death of her station in life to another beauty – a Jewish girl whose name was Hadassah (myrtle means shrub, an evergreen bush with beautiful white flowers). Even though Vhasti was out of the king’s palace, she was not out of the King Ahasuerus’ head because the king looked for and found another beauty (both in strength and character) just similar to Vhasti. Meanwhile, in the harem of the king’s palace, Hadassah assumed the name of Esther so as not to reveal her true identity as a Jew. Later, not only did she function as the queen and enjoy the many benefits of a queen, she was on the edge of forgetting who she was – her real identity.
The important note at this point of the discussion is that there is the need to be careful when one gets some kind of status, recognition, degrees, certification or title. The tendency may lean toward forgetting the background, birthright, struggles and victories that motivated or built character and/or prominence. For example, one might forget the price paid by other in the struggles for freedom; right to vote, fair wages, access to quality education and housing. One might forget the historical advocates, heroes and heroines (e.g., Denmark Vesey, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Ida B. Wells, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), as well as the grandpas, grandmas, uncles and aunts that were the sacrificial lambs that ushered improved liberties and standards of living. It is very important, that one needs to be careful when blessed with better living standards, because unintentionally, one might end up becoming part of the oppressive or suppressive force – sleeping with the enemy.
In chapter 2, Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, revealed a plot against King Ahasuerus to Esther who subsequently passed the information to the king. Ahasuerus was very grateful to Mordecai and celebrated. In chapter 3, the king appointed one of his men, Haman (means, “the disposed one”) to a position higher than all of his nobles. Haman was “puffed up” with that recognition and wanted everyone to bow before him. Of course, Mordecai, being a Jew, did not bow down to Haman. Haman was furious and instead of persecuting Mordecai alone, his disdain for Hebrews motivated him to persuade King Ahasuerus to order an edict for the destruction of all the Jews in the Diasporas through all of the king’s territory (India to Ethiopia).
In chapter 4, Mordecai persuaded Esther to render help in the situation. At first, forgetting that she was a Jew, she did not think it had any relevance to her. However, Mordecai reminded her that her life, her relatives, and her people were also affected. Mordecai reveals to her in verse 16. “Who knows but that you have come for such a time as this?” Hence, she instructs him to gather with the Jews and fast for 3 days and she will go to the king – even though it is against the law. (Remember Vashti – and the decree for her being disobedient.) What did Esther say? She said, “If I perish, I perish.”
With just that reading, my spiritual eye caught the presence and handiwork of God. The baton (her civil disobedience) was passed from Vhasti on to Esther. Vhasti was the forerunner. Vhasti took a risk to live when she said, “no.” She may have lost the “bling bling,” but she kept her life, and her integrity in tacked. She may have been evicted out of the palace, but her spirit transcended to touch Esther. Esther became Vhasti – Vhasti became Esther – strong and courageous to do what they had to do to make things right.
In Chapter 5, I believe King Ahasuerus remembered that he had lost one beautiful queen by listening to his nobles who used him for their agenda; but, the king did not want to lose this queen. He asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you” (5:4). That promise was a tremendous gift! Queen Esther petitioned the king to grant her request, but first, to invite Haman to a banquet she would prepare and, then she would answer the king’s question.
In Chapter 6, Haman was, again, very upset. The king remembered that he had not honored Mordecai for saving his life, so he asked Haman’s advice as to how he should honor someone. Haman, thinking it to be himself, suggested giving the honoree the robe and the horse; and to have him led throughout the city streets proclaiming honor upon him! As you read further, the king did exactly that – not for Haman, but for Mordecai. Haman was very grieved and angry. He told his wife, Zeresh, about it. She warned him about Mordecai’s heritage and that it would be Haman’s downfall if he went up against Mordecai. Zeresh was a woman attuned to the historical events of the faith tradition of Mordecai. Again, sounds like God’s manifested handiwork!
Now, here we are in chapter 7, verse 3, Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your eyes, O king, and if it pleases the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives.” At the point in the narrative, Esther teaches us to stand up for what is right – to stand up for what is just – to speak truth to power. Queen Esther took a risk to live or die trying! The unwritten thought process that Queen Esther possessed was that she knew she had the trump card; she discerned that because she was of a chosen people, she had favor; she felt the power within her to challenge the king because the king remembered Vhasti, his beautiful queen that he wanted to parade in front of his noblemen and people but his beautiful queen who said, “no.” Yet, because Ahasuerus listened to his court that did not care about the king’s personal desire, but only cared about their own interests, the king lost the beautiful, strong queen he really loved. However, at this time in the king’s relationship with Queen Esther, he had a second chance and the king was not going to let that happen, again – lose another dynamic, beautiful woman.
Queen Esther pressed the issue further in verses 4 and 5 by asking him to rescind his edit to kill all the Jews. She took a risk! Yet, she said to the king: “If I have found favor in your eyes, O king…” She knew she had the king wrapped around her little finger because he promised her whatever she wanted. “…and if it pleases the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives.” Queen Esther was intuitive and smart because she knew that the king would not want to lose her. She asked for her own life first, and then, she claimed the life of her people – a strategic move. In other words, her life was more important to the king, then the people! Hence, she attached the lives of her people to her life.
Queen Esther took a risk to live or to die trying! Also, she took additional risk! She not only asked for her life, the added risk is that she revealed and claimed her identity – Jewish – the identity of a condemned people by the edit of her husband, the king.
“We’ve been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed – sold to be massacred, eliminated. If we had just been sold off into slavery, I wouldn’t even have brought it up; our troubles wouldn’t have been worth bothering the king over.” (7:4, The Message)
Queen Esther took advantage and tapped on the king’s emotion and authority when she took a risk to live or die trying. She brought up some historical facts about herself and her people. Her people were condemned not just to slavery (which was a condition they were already in while exiled; but, that they felt they could endure slavery because the culture then was that slaves were part of the community and blended with the families to which they were sold. Queen Esther had no issue with that and she would not have brought it up. If fact, she became queen from being part of the king’s harem. However, she took a risk to live or die trying when she requested that the king spare her life and the life of her people.
Reading the remaining narrative in the Book Esther will provide knowledge and insight as to the demise of Haman, his family and people, the triumph of the Jews in the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Xerxes, the establishment of the Feast of Purim (two days of Jewish celebration), the elevation of Mordecai’s status to have authority – second only to the king; and Esther granted his requests with full authority to write the degrees. However, the focus of the author’s writing is to glean and grab hold from this story what God has charged the faithful community. It reveals that God wants the followers of Jesus Christ to take a risk to live or die trying. As contemporary disciples, proclaim and set strategies to do the following:
- take back the communities from the drug dealers and the gangs so that families can live
- take back children from an ineffective and inefficient school system by mentoring and teaching their history of noble, innovative, God-fearing leaders, and faithful ancestors;
- take back the community by challenging the socio-economic, and educational structures and systems that affect the establishment of laws that perpetuate the incarceration of young and vulnerable boys, girls, men and women and their families;
- speak out in communities, churches, and gatherings against racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ablism, ageism, denominationalism, and civil liberties;
- Identify oppression in every manifestation; and
- Preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus for the “least of these,” God’s people.
Yes, we live in a precarious world; but God is present when you take on the baton and take a risk to live or die trying. Serve the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God and reflect on God’s promises which are clear and true, such as:
- “Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find, and knock, and the door will be open to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
- “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray. And seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)”
- “…that the good shepherd will prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” (Psalm 23:5a)
- “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54:17)
- “The LORD is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
- “Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say on the LORD.” (Psalm 27:14)
- “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for [God] has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.”(Deuteronomy. 31:6, 8: Joshua 1:5)
- “Weeping may endure for a while, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
- “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strengthen.” (Philippians 4:12-13)
Take a risk to live or die trying and don’t sweat the small stuff; but boldly proclaim the Gospel and reclaim all oppressed people. Be faithful because God is faithful and great is God’s faithfulness.
 Alfred W. Cleveland.; Renaldo Benson; Marvin P Gaye., “What’s Going On” (EMI Music: January 17, 1971). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What%27s_Going_On_(Marvin_Gaye_song)#Inspiration_and_writing.
 Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, 1990, p. 1654.
 In the New International Version of the Holy Bible, the name Xerxes’ is used which means king.
 Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Gramercy Books, 1989),”myrtle.”
 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message, The Bible In Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, NAVPRESS), 2002
 Great is thy faithfulness phrase comes from the hymn written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960) in 1923.