The Alpha Course
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Sermon Text for Civic service 19th July: Esther
It may seem strange to have two readings from the Old Testament and a story of a political power struggle that happened nearly 3000 years ago. Considering what a set of high tech, future proof, set of Mayors and councillors you all are. I do hope you have turned off your mobiles laptops, I pods and blackberry’s; by the way no texting or twittering while in church. There you are ...with your hyper modern state of the art offices and assembly room; just one question? Have you got the air conditioning fixed yet? It was a bit sticky last time I was there.
Given all that modernity, why go for something that almost reads like a fairy tale. Well this story is not so far away from our lives today, as you might think. King Xerxes presided over an empire that stretched from India to Egypt and from southern Russia to all of what we call Arabia. All of modern day Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were completely inside it. The Jews had lost their homeland and lived all over the empire that had conquered them. Many had come to the capital Susa and had done very well, as traders, bankers, scribes and court officials. Susa was not too far from present day Baghdad.
It was a multi faith, multi ethnic, multi race, empire ruled with an iron fist. But as huge and powerful as it was it had a problem. Taxes. There were too many and they did not bring in enough money. No matter how many clever taxes they thought up, there was never quite enough cash to go round. This was not helped by the fact that the people at the top, especially the king emperor Xerxes, thought that whole empire was his to do with as he liked. So he had party after party, Harem after harem, Palace after palace.
He even had a palace for his ducks. And no one could say no to him because it was all within the rules. Trouble was he made the rules.
Now no one could run and empire that big and have time to do all the fun things Xerxes liked doing. So he delegated.
He delegated to an up and coming bright boy called Haman. Haman was a sort of chief executive (sorry about the reading Mr. Rivers) who was given a free hand. So long as the money came in and no one complained, he was left to get on with it.
Now Haman had a cunning plan to balance the empire’s books and make a tidy profit for himself. His solution was radical. It was visionary. It was far reaching. It gave an instant solution and it would stimulate growth and create new jobs while ending unemployment. Haman’s focus group (made up exclusively of his close friends) said it was popular; So given all that it....... must be right. What was his solution...it was:
Kill all the Jews, take away all their wealth and give it to the treasury. For Haman it was a golden opportunity but for the Jews it was a final solution
Now into all this mess comes someone, who is considered by most people at court as little more than a trophy wife. Reading all of Esther is very worthwhile if you have a half hour or so, there is so much to learn. In fact that is exactly what she is, a trophy wife, because she was selected as queen after a process that was a combination of Miss Universe, this empires got talent and blind date.
Now some say women should stay out of politics, they are the same sort of people who say women should not be priests let alone Bishops. While after nearly 30 years of being married and 25 years of serving the church I will say this. Women seem to be the only ones who know what is going on and women seem to be the only ones who can get things done. A case in point is Jenny Bradin without whom none of this would be possible.
Esther knew exactly what was going on. She also knew how dangerous it was to take on the most powerful man in the empire and get the king to see he had made a huge mistake. Just going and asking to see the king could mean death. You see at the very top they were absolutely paranoid about security.
So before she goes, she prays and she fasts, and she asks everyone else who has faith to do the same. That is why she says: 15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." 4:15-16
But as we see she is called. More than that Esther knows how egotistical king Xerxes is. She also knows his real god is his belly. Yes the way to this man’s heart is through his stomach. So she throws a party to end all parties and then to cap that, she throws another party that is better than the last. So now she has Xerxes, right where she wants him.
Now while Esther is weaving her web, another plan is coming to its conclusion. Haman is now so confident of his power and position that he feels strong enough to make take down his rival in court.... Mordecai. His hatred had got personal; in fact you could say this rivalry was the real cause of his dreadful master plan, his 1000BC final solution.
But then in the very hour of his great triumph, with his 70 foot gallows built for his enemy. It all goes pair shaped in a very big way. Surprise! Surprise! Esther is Jewish. If you want to kill the Jews and you have to kill the queen as well. Kill the queen and despite his many harems Xerxes will look at best stupid, at worst he will be really ticked off.
So Haman ends up on the gallows he has built for others. The Jews are saved, but only just. Esther and Mordecai end up running the empire between them. And that leaving Xerxes to do what he does best which is to play with his ducks. So what should we learn from today readings?
Well we could say: Wow the bible is a rich store house of wisdom and insight. Why don’t we re-introduce Scripture lessons at school? You never know they might learn something and start behaving properly, like they used to when the bible at the centre of school life and it was allowed to teach them some real values.
Or you could learn that there is nothing new under the Sun. We also face all the problems of a multi – faith, multi ethnic, multi racial society. The most important lesson to learn is that in such a society you cannot let one group, particularly a minority hold sway over everyone else. This is especially true if the group is bent on destroying any group it feels threatened by.
In Britain there was a time when we could trust liberal secularism to play fair by all. Sadly those days are long gone. We face a new militant secularism which will not tolerate any form of religion especially Christianity. They are not content with marginalisation; they want us to be just a memory and bad memory at that. It’s their final solution for us. This despite the centuries of good works the church and faith groups have done, and all the effective work that we are doing today, across the nation. Of which, this church and its many works, is just one.
Or we could learn in the face of economic crisis we need to be on our guard. It not just about raising revenue it is all about what you do with it and where it goes. Please avoid quick fixes. Never go with the popular and the easy. For you never know who you might injure on the way.
Or we could learn that women make the best leaders. And this nation has plenty evidence of that. But we have to be careful of that one. For while Esther knew what she was doing, Haman’s wife Zeresh gave him very bad advice. The gallows she suggested was the instrument of both his sudden down fall and his abrupt end.
Maybe what we should learn is that leadership and power, is not a license for self indulgence, but rather requires wisdom fortitude and courage. There is no place for personal rivalries in democracy, because it clouds your judgement and makes you part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
It’s all about personal integrity expressed in courageous acts.
It takes courage to challenge the centre when they have clearly got it wrong. They may not waste millions on parties but they do waste millions on consultations and reorganizations which just increase anxiety and reduce efficiency.
It take courage to stick with public life when you name is blackened unfairly. Any old fool can write in and say: “it is obvious to me” when it isn’t obvious to anyone who has all the facts to hand.
It takes courage to keep going, when those we have always looked up to, have let themselves down, and by so doing made it harder for us all.
It takes real courage to build when so many say no. For the record I like the Arc and I do shop there, but have to say I hate the name.
The highest example for fortitude and courage is to do you duty when you are battling with illness or to keep going when those you love are suddenly taken from you. Yet it is when we do our duty that we prove ourselves to be truly human beings, not just some form of higher animal which is what some experts would have us believe.
Actually what we should learn, is to see the hand of God in all things that are around us, especially the political process. God hardly gets a mention in this book, yet we know that Esther knows him and trusts him with her life. For while some are preoccupied by their view of the big picture and their own answer to its problems. The real Master of it all, goes on working quietly and un-noticed. Just like the people who empty the bins and clean the drains.
It is he who gave Esther the beauty, the brains and the courage for this crisis. It is he who has positioned Mordecai to help and advise.
It is God who has brought the Jews to the very centre of this multi faith empire in the first place; to help clean it up and to show that there is only one God after all. Why, because he cares for all the people of the world. We are his children, whether we know it or not and he longs to do good for us all.
Through this account, He also speaks directly to us today. He asks us not to be self indulgent with our money, and other people’s money, because actually all money belongs to him in the first place.
Jesus himself calls to us all, to be cautious of the quick fix, and the headline grabbing answer. We must care for everyone not just our own side and our solutions must reflect that
He also calls us to a sense of proportion in all things and value what we have. Weeds are important on Moreton Hall, but they are not that important.
But the real lesson to learn, this above all the lessons I have mentioned so far; is that we cannot govern others unless we learn how to govern ourselves. And we cannot govern ourselves unless we let Him govern us first. King Xerxes had never learned to govern himself and his desires; he was actually enslaved to them. Haman had never learned to curb his ambition and jealousies and in the end it was his un-doing.
The good news is that, He who is king of Kings and Lord of Lords will give us all the wisdom we need, if only we would stop and ask him. Solomon’s reputation is not based on his own wisdom but rather that he knew how weak he was, asked Jesus for his help and then became wise. Esther did the same.
If ever there was a time for our national leaders to stop talking about moral compasses and actually ask God for some help... and agree to do things his way... not theirs - it is now.
Patsy and Frank have been very good friends and neighbours to this church and it is a joy to welcome them here again today. At the centre of their lives is a rich and lively faith, which has sustained and guided them though the years, both in good times as well as bad.
They will tell you, as will many others here today, that faith like their and like Esther’s is not the privilege of a select few, but rather they joyous discovery of anyone who stops seeks and asks. With Jesus anything is possible. Without Him new empires of oppression seek to dominate us both from without and within. There is a choice, and for once it is simple. As Jesus once put it:
7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. 13"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Amen
I am the Reverend Canon Jonathan Ford and I have been Minister here since 1990. I am ordained in the Church of England Ministry, married to Jane, and have two daughters Elizabeth who is married to Richard; and Rebeccawho is married to Andrew.