Heroes of the Faith: Esther
Esther 3:13; 4:13-17

by | Sep 14, 2023

PRAYER: God of Love and Justice, speak to us today that we may hear your calling on our hearts to defend those who are defenseless, to feed those who are hungry, to lift up the broken. Enable us to lift our heads so we can see that which you have called us to do.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

I was driving to work one day about 20 some years ago when something started to feel not quite right in my car. I must have driven over something because my back passenger side tire was flat. If I could have picked a worse neighborhood for this to happen in, I’m not sure I could. But, I pulled over to the side of the road and got out in my suit and tie to put the donut on the car.
As I’m working the jack to lift the flat tire off the ground, this big truck pulls up behind me and the driver kills the engine. At this point, I’m just thinking, “now what…” I was not really parked in a safe place, but I obviously had no choice. The truck driver opens the door and I’m bracing myself for more trouble when I realize that the truck driver is my brother-in-law. He drives a fuel truck around to construction sites to fill up all the heavy equipment, and he saw me on the side of the road and stopped to help.
My 6 foot plus truck driver brother-in-law just happened to be driving his truck in the same neighborhood that I was and he was able to stop and stand over me while I changed the tire. And yes, I changed the tire. But my brother-in-law was there in the right place at the right time.
I want to tell you about some other people who were in the right place at the right time:
Susanna Wesley was a pivotal figure in the development of Methodism as we know it today. Known as the “Mother of Methodism”, she raised children to impact the world by teaching them good manners by modeling good manners ourselves. Two of those children that she raised were John and Charles Wesley. She believed girls and boys could be educated in the same way and during her time, that was remarkable. She was considered a liberated woman and many believe that were it not for her, there would not be a Methodist church.
Isabella was born a slave who was emancipated when New York State abolished slavery. It was then that she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. That same year, she co-founded Kingston Methodist Church. In 1843, she felt “called in the spirit” and began to travel and preach. She became involved in the abolitionist movement, and her public speaking combined her religious faith with her experiences as a slave.
Frances Willard was a professor and Dean of Women at a time few females went to college. A faithful Methodist, she is probably best remembered for her 19 years a president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in the US. The Rev. Fred Day, of the United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History said, “They weren’t concerned about abstinence from alcohol for abstinence sake. They saw that the church had a message to proclaim to people that mothers and women needed to speak up about because of how social conditions in that time were really ruining people’s lives. While Willard was instrumental in banning alcohol in the late 19th / early 20th century, the extent of what she and other women like her in that period of time were concerned about is still felt today.

VIDEO: United Methodist Social Creed

Esther hid her Jewish identity and became queen to the Persian king. Haman, the king’s advisor, made an edict to kill the entire Jewish population. Esther – whether she knew about this edict or not – tried to keep her head down and not cause trouble, but her uncle Mordecai challenged her to speak to the king on behalf of the Jewish people. God called Esther to use her privilege and position courageously. For anyone to approach the king unrequested, the punishment was death. But she pleaded for her people’s lives, and the king granted it to her and instead had Haman executed.
God is using the right person – or the right people to bring about God’s justice, even if they may not necessarily see it that way. It may very well be “for such a time as this” – a moment like this as the Common English Bible calls it that we, like Esther are called upon to stand up. Nothing stops God, certainly not human edict. The edict was understood to be an all-encompassing, final law. It was given with absolute human authority, and yet God cleared a different path through God’s people.
As we were watching the women’s World Cup these past few weeks, I thought a lot about how all of these great women started as my kids did in youth soccer. All three of my kids played youth soccer for many years, and one of the first things they learn is how to dribble the soccer ball without actually looking at the ball. There is a drill that many coaches use – the player dribbles the ball down the field while the coach holds up their hand overhead. The player has to shout out how many fingers they’re holding up to prove that they’re looking up. The reason for this is simple: if you’re looking down at the ball while you’re dribbling, you’re going to get lost on the field and lose track of where you’re going.
The same is true of learning to play the piano. Piano teachers will constantly encourage their students to keep their focus on the music and trust that their fingers are going to the right keys. The principle is the same: if you’re constantly looking at your fingers, you’re going to lose your place in the music.
There’s a path in Frenchtown that I love to walk. It’s a 1-mile loop behind the Frenchtown park that goes along the creek through the woods. You have to watch where you’re going in a lot of the path. It’s rocky, there are tree roots sticking up through the path, it can be slippery. You have to watch where you’re stepping. But there are also some parts of the path that are straight and clear of debris. Those are the chances for you to keep walking, but look up and see the beauty of the environment around you. We can’t go through life constantly looking downward at our feet. We have to look up and see where we are.
That’s what Esther had to do. She had to look up from her own situation and recognize the place she was in and the opportunity she had. No, not opportunity. Obligation. She wouldn’t have seen it if she didn’t look up.
When she finally does, we see again that God’s people will not be destroyed. Like the Israelites under Deborah’s care, the spies under Rahab’s care, and the church under Lydia’s care, God will continue to work for the salvation of God’s people. God takes hopeless situations and brings hope into and out of them. To be a part of that heroic work for justice, we have to first look up.
John Wesley understood the deeply intertwined relationship between poverty and poor health. Wesley’s practical theology set high standards for disciples seeking to live in the example of Jesus Christ, who reached out to those on the margins of society, healed them and sent them back into their community for a greater good. As a faithful response to our discipleship, The United Methodist Church provides health care and aid in more than 27 countries through hospitals, clinic work, parish nursing programs and other volunteer opportunities.
The people of The United Methodist Church have a powerful record of looking up and joining together to develop a commanding response to issues of need. We are a denomination that has played a significant role in abolishing slavery and advocating for child labor laws, women’s suffrage and civil rights. Our prevailing message is that we have the hope, the people, and the power to facilitate change.
Right here in the Greater New Jersey, our Annual Conference is committed to a just, inclusive, and equitable church through the Journey of Hope plan which sets forth a bold agenda to work to end the sin of racism.
As baptized Christians, we renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin. We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. We confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races. But we cannot do any of that with our heads down; we must look up to see the injustices in the world – to see the spiritual forces of wickedness so that we know what to resist.
I’ve made no secret about my advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community. For the better part of the last 10 years, I have been an outspoken critic of those who would use their faith in Jesus Christ as an excuse to dehumanize those in the LGBTQ community. Just this past week, I attended a Board of Education meeting at Hunterdon Central where a group of people who claim Christ as their savior are trying to force the school to classify LGBTQ students as second class people – to push them to the margins. This is not what Jesus demonstrated for us, and no matter what you may believe about the LGBTQ+ community, our faith should never be used as leverage against someone else’s humanity.
What are the groups of God’s people or areas of justice for whom you are passionate? For whom do you feel led to advocate? Whether we’re talking about women’s rights, education, the environment, food insecurity, healthcare, Black Lives Matter, human trafficking, the LGBTQ+ community, or a whole host of other categories, God calls us to look up from our own comfort zones and courageously speak up for others in ‘such a time as this’.
Please understand that I’m not – by any stretch of the imagination – suggesting that we have to tackle all of those items; there’s no way in the world we could set our sites that high. But in the weeks ahead, I want to challenge you to read the entire book of Esther (It’s 10 chapters long), and to prayerfully consider what is one way that you can use your voice, your privilege, your skillset, your heart to work toward justice. What is one way that we, as a church, can look up “in such a time as this,” and be positioned as agents for God?
Esther could have chosen to look the other way, but she didn’t. She was in the position she was for such a time that she could save Israel.
In the sixth chapter of Micah, the prophet is asking how to appropriately come before God. What kind of sacrifice or burnt offering would be best suited to please God. And as he asks the questions, he comes to this conclusion in verse 8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
Collectively, we are called to be doers of justice. As a congregation, we are positioned to be heroes of the faith by engaging in the pursuit of justice, seeking mercy, and walking humbly before God. And it starts – the first step for us – is to look up.

To God be the glory.