Esther, 18th Sunday after Pentecost B, September 26, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Esther is a bold woman of faith. She literally saved the lives of her people, standing up for them when no one else could. She used her political position as Queen of Persia to convince the king that Haman did wrong. Esther is a role model.
Not only were her actions dangerous and honorable, but her words were as well. There are few women in scripture who have more words recorded than Esther. Even the fact that the book is named after her is extraordinary.
Few women throughout religious history have risen to such high esteem. Yet few Jewish or Christian women have become queen without revealing their identity. Esther is a rare case, yet it is the ordinary women who face such large obstacles who are more noteworthy. Most women do not have the power of Queen Esther, yet they also break secular systems to enact justice.
It is stories like these that I heard about last week at the Why Christian? conference. I went because it was hosted by two of my most favorite Christian public figures, Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans. Yet it was the eleven other speakers who took my breath away. These speakers were vulnerable as they told their stories. They wove their past struggles with deeply held beliefs about God.
These female speakers gave a voice to gay, transgender, black, Asian, and Indian Christians. Most were clergy of various traditions, and a few were laity. Each shared bold stories of faith. Many of them faced situations that were just as life threatening as Queen Esther. Many felt like foreigners in their own churches.
What was so powerful for me was to hear their stories firsthand. I could not do justice to their stories telling them secondhand, so I won’t. At least not yet. Instead, I think it is more important that I respond to the same question that they answered. Which is,
“Why Christian? Why, in the wake of centuries of corruption, hypocrisy, crusades, televangelists, and puppet ministries do we continue to follow Jesus? Why, amidst all the challenges and disappointments, do we still have skin in the game?”
This question is intentionally not, “Why Jesus?” The question is not why do we intellectually believe in God. The question is why we choose to have a relationship with Jesus and the church. Why do we continue to live in Christian community even if the possibility of getting hurt is great?
Well, for me, I haven’t been hurt too much by the church. Yes, I thought I might have to leave my internship site because of problem makers. And yes, I have faced other difficult people in other churches. But the fact of the matter is that I have never been turned away from the church.
Nobody has ever told me that I can't be a pastor because I am a woman. Sure, my young age has been a challenge at times, but you have all grown to respect me.
So, why do I need the church? Because the church and her institutions are where I get inspired. Nature is nice, but that is not where I experience God. Sometimes, even worship is not where I get inspired. It is the classroom.
I have been a Lutheran my whole life, but I didn’t learn to love the Bible until college. I didn’t learn to love liturgy until seminary. As each inspiration happens, my challenge is to take the old and make it new. I must take Bible passages, understand them in their original context, and then relate them to our modern lives.
I am often amazed at how Jesus’ words, though 2,000 years old, still are as countercultural today as they were then. I love studying Old Testament women like Esther and celebrate how they break cultural stereotypes. I also grieve that so many women in the Old Testament are victims of violence.
Even the basic structure of our liturgy goes back to the beginning of the church. Since the beginning of Christianity, worship has used Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending as the pattern. Yet my challenge is to take these ancient words and make them relevant to you.
You know that I enjoy taking old things and reviving them for a new generation. I do this with tatting. I take hundred year old patterns, use bright thread and add some beads. Then old boring edgings become vibrant jewelry. Recreating brings me joy, be it with scripture, liturgy, or tatting.
I may not feel like I need Jesus as much as the Why Christian? speakers do, but the fact of the matter is that I want God. I want the Old Testament stories to ring truth today. I want to follow Jesus' teaching. I want to feel God's presence in the classroom and in the sanctuary. I want it all enough that eventually, I do need it to be true. I don't need to have a dark, convoluted past to need Christ.
This is a messy world that we live in. We are surrounded by violence, hatred, and despair. We see it in the news and on the streets. We hear of family suffering from cancer and fighting losing battles. We know friends struggling with financial crises. With so much to bring us down, only Christ can bring us up.
Only Christ can give us hope that there is something more to look forward to after this life. Only Christ could offer himself to die to show us how to live. Only Christ could love those rejected by society. Only Christ. Amen.