Sunday Service 23rd April - Esther
Esther : When power is lost
Introit: I am loved
Call to worship
Hymn 493: It’s me, it’s me O Lord
Time for all
Hymn 568: When I’m feeling down and sad
Reading: Esther 2: 1-18 Margaret
Hymn 94: By the Babylonian rivers
Prayer of Dedication
Hymn 543: Longing for light
Welcome to our reflection for 23rd April.
In our reading today we are looking at Esther, someone who had her choices taken away from her. But that didn’t mean she had no hope.
And we will hear about that later.
But this is a good time to remind you that if you feel that that is where you are, Alva parish prayer group can pray for you.
It can be as simple as ‘Hi, my name is Jim, and I am struggling just now, please pray for me.’
And I will send that over to our prayer team who will pray for you and your situation.
If nothing else, it reminds us that not all hope is lost, God cares.
Let’s now hear our reading and prayer from Margaret.
It is very easy to diminish the seriousness of this situation.
King Xerxes has fallen out with his wife.
After a six month party he drunkenly sends for his wife so he can show off her beauty to his other drunken mates.
There is an implication in the writing that this is meant to be taken literally, that Queen Vashti was summoned to appear naked in front of his cronies.
When she refuses his male pride is scorned and he seeks advice from his confidants.
To these males this is deadly serious, if the king can’t control his wife then all men in the kingdom will lose control of their wives, chaos will ensue.
So Vashti is punished and now the king is looking for a new wife.
What to do?
Well the same men suggest a beauty pageant and the king pick a new wife.
It just sounds silly.
Men being stupid men.
And often that is how we have read this passage;
stupid men being stupid, and Mordecai and Esther being smart enough to manipulate them into doing the right thing.
Only this isn’t some kind of joke, this isn’t a passage we can should take lightly and make fun of, these passages are deadly serious.
This is a terrible indictment of what happens when power is unrestricted.
The women would have no choice but to take part in the pageant.
They will be taken away from their families, their homes, for a year.
Forced into diets and beauty regimes without their choice.
Depending on the fashions of the day that might mean piercings or mutilations of the body, it might mean tattoos and permanent disfigurements, depending on the foibles of the king.
The sole purpose and reason for their existence of those women was to be at the whims and calls of the king. They were taken one night to the king and the next morning taken somewhere else, they would not be called again by the king unless he liked her enough to ask for her by name.
What do we think happened during that night?
Does it count as rape if you willingly have sex so that you’re not automatically killed the next morning?
Whoever wins the competition has no choice in what happens for the rest of her life, as long as she entertains then she lives, once she is no longer entertaining then who knows what happens to her.
What is not said, and what is quite frightening, is what happens to the hundred of women who go through all this for a year, and are no longer needed at the end of the process.
If there is no reason for their existence any more, were they just cast out the palace and made homeless, were they just killed off?
This is a situation where power is one sided.
How do we deal with situations like that when it feels there is nothing we can do to change the situation?
Here’s another thing.
In the past, when I had read this passage, I had fallen into the temptation of reading it about the powerless Jews and the powerful Persians and how do the powerless Jews cope against the powerful.
In this version Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, is a hero, one of the powerless Jews who helps Esther and in doing so helps the Jews.
But I don’t think that is true.
I think this is about the power of men over women and how women as a whole had to cope against the powerful men.
Mordecai could have hidden Esther so that she was never put through the ordeal of the pageant.
If Mordecai had a duty of care for his niece wouldn’t that be the best thing to do?
He didn’t know how this was all going to end up,
it could have ended up as Esther being killed at the end of the process,
or used as a sex toy and then flung away, rejected by their king, and then rejected by her own people as tainted goods, unfit to be married to anyone in her community.
Mordecia had his own agenda, he wanted influence in the court, and he saw the beauty of his niece as a way to get that.
How is Mordecia’s manipulation of his niece any different that how King Xerxes was trying to manipulate Queen Vashti?
They are both men using women as pawns; useful to them but also expendable if they don’t fulfil their wishes.
How do you cope when that’s how you feel?
The powerful do what they want; we end up paying one way or another.
COVID restrictions; one rule for one group of people, another set of rules for another.
Gas prices; the poor have to pay more, but somehow the rich make a fortune out of it.
Climate change; one group see their way of life destroyed, literally harvests devastated and people starving to death,
while other parts of the world say that we need more oil field exploration because we can’t have the petrol prices too high.
When one set of people make decisions that affect others, and that set of people seem to be unaware or uncaring about those consequences to those others, then what do you do?
The temptation is to give up.
The temptation is to take on a victim mentality.
The temptation is just to surrender and accept the suffering.
There was so much that she had no control over, and she could have railed against it, screamed and shouted and fought.
But none of that would have made any difference.
Do you know, she may have felt better for a while, but in the long run none of that would have mattered?
Instead, what she did was accept the limited power she had.
For no matter what little power we think we have, we all have power.
Let me give you a kind of extreme example...
We could be housebound in a nursing home; we feel we have lost everything.
But we have the power to make our room a place of hope, or a place of despair.
We can rail against all that we have lost, all the independence and power over where we go and what we do. That creates one environment in our room.
Or we can welcome the staff as they come in every morning with our breakfast.
We can share a joke with them and show concern for their families. That creates a completely different environment in that room.
Esther had little power, but she did have power.
I had never noticed that she made friends with a couple of eunuchs; slaves, people that had been mutilated against their will for the needs of their king.
I had never noticed their names Shaashgaz and Hegai.
They were just slaves, this is the only time they ever get a mention. In the great history of the world they aren’t that important.
But they were important to Esther, because they were her friends, people she could trust, people who could help her navigate the royal court, people who could help her survive what she was going through.
The greatest power we have is the power to create relationships; with God, with others.
It is those relationships that give us meaning and purpose.
When Jesus came to the earth to show God’s will he didn’t create structures for us to worship in, there were no temples built or organisations created,
all he did, was create relationships.
He created disciples based on a relationship with God, a relationship with him.
In my old study hall in Aberdeen there was a poster on the wall that simple said, ‘God so loved the world that he didn’t send a committee.’
Next week in our times for prayer in our facebook page the whole week, all my couple of minute videos with Jessica, are dedicated to creating friendships.
The greatest power we have is the power to create a friendship.
No one can take that away from us.
The danger though is that we can just neglect it...and then there is no hope.
Let us pray
God of hope,
we celebrate wherever doors are open to those in need,
where friendship and family find nurture and growth, laughter and belonging, dignity and agency.
We celebrate when one heart recognises another and acknowledges their place on this planet, that they too are deserving to be here and worthy to be loved and cared for.
God of compassion,
we lament that this is not the case for too many girls and women in our world today,
treated as objects of desire, traded as tools of satisfaction, with little agency or dignity.
We lament that this is not the case for too many boys and men in our world today, treated as objects of fear, traded as tools of industry and war with little care of their self worth.
God of justice,
we cry out demanding that those who imperil the lives of others would change their ways, and seek fullness of life in one another’s happiness, not in a pit of selfishness.
We seek forgiveness when it is our longing for cheap clothes, or cheap food, or cheap goods that causes slavery in other parts of the world. When we are happy to buy goods from countries that have terrible human rights, when we ignore the plight of others as long as we benefit.
Help us to change our ways.
God of hope,
that young men and boys, women and girls,
would find positive role models that encourage mutuality,
and misuse of power and create prejudice in all its forms,
and that all that know of the dignity given to them by your love and care, would continue to speak up for change.