given on Sunday, September 27
Scripture reference: Old Testament book of Esther
I met Esther this week. A delightful woman living a God-centered life despite challenges that easily could have caused her to live in self-pity. Her example of living her faith is theology in action.
Esther was orphaned as a child, but her uncle raised her in the Jewish tradition and trained her to follow God’s direction. Life circumstances did not interfere with Esther’s reliance on her uncle. She followed her training, respected her uncle, and developed a strong faith in God.
Esther’s story may not match today’s culture; but for many young people today, the parallels are there. In a sense the story is a Cinderella story, too. An orphan or a stepchild living with at least one non-birth parent is a familiar arrangement in today’s world.
Sadly, many young people are entangled in homes where God is far from the center and that makes Esther’s story different. She had a loving, faithful Jewish uncle who raised her as his own which included religious training.
Granted, Esther’s life story may not match those of our young people today, but her story reflects the culture in which she was raised. The message, though, is the same: despite all life’s circumstances, keep God-centered above all else.
Esther’s story began around 500 years before Christ was born. The culture was so very different than it is today, yet the human nature tends to follow the same patterns. The three other primary characters in Esther’s story are her uncle Mordecai, the king Xerxes, and Haman, the number two guy in the king’s court.
Reading through the brief biographies of Mordecai and Haman, the conflict is defined primarily as a cultural clash. Mordecai was a Jew and Haman was an Amalekite. Today we might ask why that is significant, and the answer is the long-standing dislike between the two peoples. Haman despised the Jewish people. Mordecai was a Jew who still lived under the Persian rule as a captured slave.
Mordecai gained so much respect within his own community; he became a trusted leader among the Jews. When Persia took control, his leadership role continued to earn respect even from the Persian court. His faith-centered life dictated how he lived and that earned him respect and his continued leadership role.
King Xerxes is a key player in Esther’s story, but he is not part of the conflict. He is the official whose decisions lead to the story. His first queen refuses his summon, and upon counsel with his advisors, he decrees she is no longer his queen and cannot even be seen by him. A life long and non-reversible decree that once his anger subsided, he may have realized his error.
Enter Esther. Mordecia’s position and the search for a new queen placed Esther into a position to become the key to the entire Jewish people. Trained by Mordecia in the Jewish faith, to trust God above all others, and do what she was called to do. Her natural beauty and her character brought Xerxes to choose her as his next queen.
Telling Esther’s story can sound complicated but there is one simple theme to remember: We must have faith that God is in control. [from the Life Application Study Bible introduction to Esther]. Today’s culture promotes we in are charge of our own lives, so giving over control to God does not make sense. We make our own decisions.
Yes, we do make our own decisions, and that turns the focus back to Mordecai. He was a God-centered man. He followed God’s expectations to practice his faith much as John Wesley expects from us. What began as a story of a young woman being chosen to serve as a queen, changes each time we read it. The lesson in one reading seems the most important one, but a second reading adds another one.
In fact, the Life Application Study Bible, includes a chart at the end of the chapter that outlines three topics and how we can plan, pray and trust-and-obey even in today’s world. The three ways that God uses to get something done are identified as natural order (God’s creation has a normal working process), miracles (God can interrupt the natural order), and providence (God can overrule the natural order). Esther’s story provides examples of each one:
- Natural order—God gave Esther her natural beauty and the ability to plan.
- Miracles—God allowed Esther to speak to the king (which was not typical in the royal tradition); and the Jewish people did pray and fast for three days at Esther’s request.
- Providence—God allowed Mordecai to overhear the plot to assassinate the king and Mordecai trusted God to accomplish the impossible.
Even today, the same processes are available for God to use in our own lives. The decisive actions we take, also outlined in the chart, are to plan or disobey, pray or demand, or trust-and-obey or despair. We have a choice to make. All decisions we make, with God at the center, will determine the quality of our life and the final judgment God makes upon our death.
Where does this leave us? We have very different culture now, but much that Esther’s story shares are echoed in some of Pope Francis’ words this week. Remember he asked that we pray for him. We are to love one another, as we want to be loved. We are to be good stewards of our earth. We cannot remain faith-centered if we do not work at putting our theology into action.
Theology is the study of God. More importantly theology in action is developing a system—or a lifestyle—that puts belief in God into practice. What you believe must be lived out loud and that allows others to see your theology in action just like we see in Esther’s story.
The results, you ask? Life that centers on the triune God–the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost/Spirit—will lead to salvation. Faith-filled lives reflect God’s glory and others are drawn to people filled with that love.
Life is not about quantity. No matter how much money or wealth or power or control one accumulates, life is about quality. We have a choice to make: Do we follow God’s law or do we presume that we have full control of our lives?
Mordecai taught Esther that following God was the answer. Her story, as well as Mordecai’s, provides us one example for us to follow. Life’s challenges will not always feel like God is present in our lives, but it is our own decision whether to trust and obey or whether to despair.
Certainly despair will not improve the quality of one’s life. Trusting and obeying God’s laws will allow us to live life with an abundance of joy. By trusting and obeying God, we will know we are saved and others will see how God-centered lives provide riches beyond human measure.
So read and study scripture, pray all the time, worship regularly, participate in communion, and fast or abstain as a practice of discipline. These are the acts of piety that will guide you to a God-centered life and salvation.
Closing prayer: This is a prayer I received from BJ and a friend Mary this week. Please join me. . .
Thank You for each and every day
You have blessed us here on earth.
Thank You for Your tender mercies.
Thank You for giving us friends and family
to share joys and sorrows with.
I ask You to bless my friends,
relatives, brothers and sisters in Christ
and those I care deeply for,
who are reading this right now.
Where there is joy, give them continued joy.
Where there is pain or sorrow,
give them your peace and mercy.
Where there is self-doubt,
release a renewed confidence.
Where there is need, fulfill their needs.
Bless their homes, families, finances,
their goings and their comings.
In Jesus’ name, amen.