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Sunday Service 7th May


Esther : When the pantomime is over

7/5/23

Call to worship

Hymn 30 (MP): Alleluia, Alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzZYJSsW2YY


Time for all


Hymn 179(MP): Go tell it on the mountain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1RpUV2AQ24


Reading: Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22 Elaine

Prayer


Hymn : Perhaps you have been chosen


Sermon

Prayer of Dedication

Hymn 59(MP): Blessed Assurance


Benediction

Welcome to our reflection for 7th May.

In our reading today we are concluding our readings of Esther.

The book of Esther is meant to explain the origins of the Jewish Feast of Purim.

In Jewish tradition the feast of Purim is a joyful feast celebrating the saving of God’s people from evil Haman. They celebrate it with the children doing a pantomime of the events the same way as we celebrate Christmas by the children doing nativity events. And sometimes we lose the true meaning of these things when we make them too child-like.

I think there are deep meanings to be found in this book, meanings that we lose when we think it is just a story with a happy ever after ending.

But we will look at that after Elaine gives us our reading and prayer for today.

Remember, if you are struggling and you would like our prayer group to pray for you then please contact us at revjimalvakirk@gmail .com



Sermon

So there we have it.

Haman gets his comeuppance, the Jewish people are saved, and they all live happily ever after.

When the Jewish people celebrate this story through the feast of Purim, they have children do a pantomime of the event, in the same way that at Christmas we have our children do a nativity of the first Christmas.

It is an excellent way to teach children the basics of faith; it is a terrible way to understand the theology of what has happened.


And in the same way we miss much of the darkness of the Christmas story, a darkness that can help us face the darkness in our life; so we miss a lot of the meanings of Esther if we think this as a simple pantomime story.

And, let’s be fair, it feels like a simple story.

It has the bumbling king that is easily manipulated,

it has the beautiful princes, or in this case queen, that needs to be saved,

it has the evil pantomime villain in Haman, and when Jewish children play out the events...when Haman comes on, it is traditional for everyone to boo him like a pantomime villain,

it has the wise man in Mordecai that is able to save the day,

and of course, it has the happy ever after.


It is easy to read this book that way.

The Jews are saved from annihilation and they all live happily ever after.

But do they?

And that makes me wonder why do we do this to ourselves?

Why do we make complex things overly simple?


Like this?

How have we twisted this story to make believe that it is a ‘happy ever after’ ending?


Sure the Jews are safe, but how is this a ‘happy ever after’ for Esther?

She is still married to a man who at a whim can have her eliminated from history.

There is nothing in this story to indicate that King Xerxes has become a better person.

When Esther convinces Xerxes to save her people, it is not based on Xerxes sudden revelation that this is not what human beings should be doing to other human beings.

Esther does not plead to Xerxes inner humanity, because he has none.

She pleads to what is most basic to Xerxes.

In Xerxes mind everything are his possessions to do with as he pleases, the Jews are just his slaves, his possessions, and Esther convinces Xerxes that Haman has tricked him into destroying his own possessions.

It’s Ok for Xerxes to do what he wants with his toys, but for Haman to trick him into destroying his own toys...that is what makes him angry, the hurt pride that he was tricked.


And at the end of this story Esther is still married to this guy.

Xerxes is not going to change his ways.

He is still going to have parties, he is still going to get drunk, he is still going to demand that his every whim and call are obeyed, no matter how unreasonable or demeaning they are to Esther.

How is this a happy ending?


And as for Mordecai, he has got exactly what he wanted; he is now chief advisor to the king. He has manipulated Esther into a place of power so that he could get into a place of power.

It may seem that he is the great winner in all of this.

But remember that Haman thought he could be in that position and seal his place in history.

I imagine that trying to control Xerxes is like juggling with radioactive grenades.

Sure it looks impressive when you are doing it, but all you have to do is make one slip, and then things get very messy, very fast.

The first time Mordecai makes a mistake not only are things going to go sideways, Mordecai will be blamed for the mistake, just as Haman was, and look what happened to him.

Mordecai gets what he wished for, but sometimes we have to be very careful what we wish for. And getting what we wished for is not always the best thing to happen to us.

So how is that a happy ending?


So that got me thinking.

Why is this book even in the Bible?

And then I remembered something that Anne said about a month ago when we started this series.

That God isn’t mentioned in this book, he is not called upon in prayer, there are no real religious practises, no one reads scripture to seek guidance, God is conspicuous by his absence.

And I wondered if that was the very point of the book, to show us what happens when we keep God out of our lives.

Sure, God is everywhere and the people are saved from extermination.

But for these people in the story there is no peace, there is no contentment, there is no feeling of purpose fulfilled or a life well lived.

There is survival, and fear.

All the way through this story we have people living just to survive and most of their actions are directed by fear.


I think this story is put in the Bible to give us that reality, to see what happens when we keep God out of the story.



It’s a bit like those who have this image of what it is like to live on benefits. You hear the stories all the time. ‘That guy down the road has never worked a day in his life and goes on holiday aboard seven times a year and has the best television in the village. Why do I pay my taxes to let that guy live the perfect life?’

It’s a myth.

You see the documentaries of people having to live off benefits and it looks like a completely different reality, houses that have mould and are affecting their lungs, having to use food banks to survive and even then maybe not being able to heat the house.

Life spans literally decreased by decades because of the conditions they have to live in.


And we have similar myths about those without faith.

They have it easy. We have all these responsibilities and commitments because of our faith, and they get to do whatever they like.

They are the princess in the castle with all the luxuries.

And it is a myth as well.

So this story is put in the Bible to give us a truer perspective of what it is like to live without God.

If we want to live without God then that’s fine, but with it we get to live a life of survival and fear.


And I think that is what God is trying to tell us in this story.

I think the huge temptation of Israel was to seek the way of Mordecai, to get as much power as they could, believing that the more power they had the safer they would be.

In their heads if they could only get that power, have their own country, then they could feel free, then they could be secure.

And throughout history they have sought that, and they have found that.


But do we think that the people living in Israel today feel that are in a place of contentment and peace?

And the temptation for the people of Palestine is that they seek the same thing Israel has sought, if only they can get their own country, their own land, then they will be secure and free...and with both of them believing that they end up in perpetual warfare trying to get it.

What would happen if the people of Palestine succeeded, and they defeated the state of Israel, would they find peace, or would they be fighting a perpetual war against the children of Israel?


Don’t get me wrong here; this is not an argument for or against Scotland or Palestine or Israel having the power to determine its own future through independent states.

This is an argument stating that as far as God is concerned, political power is not the way to contentment and meaning. And if we chase political power thinking that it does then we will end up with nothing.




Contentment and meaning come in the relationships we form.

Contentment and meaning come from hearts that are full of compassion and love.

Contentment and meaning come from having the strength to put others first.


That is why the example of humanity that God gave us was never Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar or Winston Churchill...it was Jesus.

A carpenter that put his life into the lives of a few fishermen and their friends.

Who had no home of his own but created a place of safety for women and men to enquire about God.

Who have very little possessions but who gave healing and strength and hope to so many.


When we look at the things we chase thinking that they will give us peace and security, Jesus had none of those things, yet he had peace and security.


So, I ask this of you, please don’t read this book and think it has a happy ever after. If you do you might end up chasing the things that they chased, and end up with no peace and security.

Instead, look at this book the way it was meant to be read, as a story where God is absent, and a reminder of what our lives could be like if we keep God absent from what we do.




Let us pray





















Heavenly Father,

the creator of all, the provider of all, the loving parent of all,

we come today in glad thanksgiving for your presence in our world and our lives.


So often we get distracted and we keep you are arms length.

Or maybe we get fearful that you will expect more than we are willing to give and so in fear we hide from you.

Or sometimes things happen in our life and we get angry, and we direct that anger at you and we deliberately ignore you.

Whatever the reason, you feel distant, and we get scared.


We then seek peace in places that can never give us that peace.

Sometimes we deaden the pain by trying to numb our senses with alcohol and drugs, sometimes we try to hide from our fear by filling our lives with banal entertainment, sometimes we try to fill the void by buying the latest possessions.

But they never succeed.

When you are not in our lives, trying to find peace without you is like chasing rainbows or catching shadows.

And yet we keep on trying.


Help us to see the folly of our lives without you.

To see growth in your discipline.

To see love in the gifts of life that we are given.

To see compassion in the forgiveness that you offer.

To see that there is no peace in the grasping of what we have to keep ourselves safe.


But instead, that if we follow your path, follow the path of Jesus, the way of sacrificial generosity and openness to all,

that we find in that path that we have security because you give us more than we need, we have meaning because in your plans for us we have purpose,

we have love because you encourage us to share our lives with those around us.

And so, we offer you our lives, our gifts,

in the hope that they will be used for your good and the good of all your people.


We pray for the power, the boldness, and the strength

to offer more,

to offer ourselves to you, as workers in your service

bringing your kingdom ever closer.

Amen

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