July 22, 2018 – The Courage to Be Yourself

Posted on : Jul 19th, 2018 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Esther’s story from the Hebrew Bible illustrates what can happen when you have the courage to be yourself.  While the story is a fictitious comedy, a short story, there are definitely some truths we can glean from it.  I encourage you to read the story prior to Sunday’s worship service, to help you understand better what is happening.  Keep in mind that the events in the story are purposeful, as are the characters.

You may find yourself wondering at the outrageous nature of some of the events as they unfold, such as King Ahasuerus divorcing his wife, Queen Vashti, for refusing to appear before the king and his nobles at an extravagant banquet, filled with much drinking and bawdiness, and Esther becoming queen in Vashti’s place after winning a beauty pageant – after spending a year receiving beauty treatments in Ahasuerus’s harem!  You may question Haman’s decree to exterminate all of the Jews in the Persian Empire after Mordecai, a Jew, refuses to bow down to Haman.  And that’s just the first chapter!

(A word:  the destruction of the Jewish people is a serious, rather than funny, matter.  However, the story itself is a comedy.)  Perhaps it can be described as taking a serious subject and dealing with it in a comedic style.  Jewish scholar Adele Berlin writes, “The threat of the destruction of the Jewish people is no laughing matter, but the Book of Esther is hilariously funny.  The raucous Persian court, with its lavish display of luxury and its pervasive drinking parties, is not the setting we expect for the impending annihilation of the Jewish people.  The plot glories in revelry and bawdiness…” (from The Book of Esther, www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-book-of-esther/ , accessed on 07/09/2018).

The story of Esther outwitting her husband, the king, in order to save her people, shows us a woman of courage, strength, intelligence, influence.  The purpose of the story of Esther is to show the post-exilic Jewish people how to live, survive, and succeed in a foreign land.  It is a story about a woman, Esther, who is living in a very difficult situation.  She is a minority in the Persian kingdom, and her guardian, her cousin Mordecai, insists that she keep her Jewishness a secret (“hidden”).  She is at conflict with herself when the plot to murder her people is made known: does she declare her loyalty to her husband, or to her people?  What does it mean for her, a woman living in the Diaspora, to have the courage to be herself?  And what does the story mean for us, today, living amidst war, violence, abuse, rape, murder, #metoo, #churchtoo, and equal rights for minorities (for example, people of color, LGBTQ) being stripped away along with our democratic rights, health care concerns, clean water concerns and other environmental issues?

Think on what it meant for Esther to be courageous and what it means for you to be courageous to be yourself today.  I look forward to seeing you on Sunday as we wrestle with and ponder these powerful questions.

Blessings,

Rev. Stacy Thomas, Guest Minister

 

This Sunday we welcome the Rev. Stacy Thomas as our Guest Minister.  Stacy has worked in hospice care for the past 7 years, primarily as a chaplain, as well as a bereavement counselor and volunteer coordinator.  A graduate of Claremont School of Theology with a Master of Divinity degree, Stacy has been influenced by progressive biblical scholars and theologians, and is an advocate for animal rights, women’s rights, and queer rights.  Stacy is involved with her home church, First Congregational Church of Pasadena, UCC, and currently serves as the Vice Moderator for the Central Association of the Southern California Nevada Conference. Stacy lives with her wife of 11 years, who is a hospice social worker, and their son, who loves animals and wants to be a veterinarian. 

 

A Summary of the story of Esther

by Jay Smith

The genre of the book of Esther is Narrative History. Its author is anonymous however; some believe Mordecai, (Esther’s cousin and guardian), wrote it. It was written approximately 470 B.C. in Persia. Esther became queen in 479 B.C. The key personalities are Esther, Mordecai, King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes), and Haman.

Its purpose is to demonstrate God’s love and sovereignty in all circumstances. It is a post-exile story about Jews who stayed behind after most returned to Jerusalem after captivity. Babylon was conquered by Persia and Esther miraculously becomes the queen of the land, and saves her people.

  • In chapter 1-2, Esther becomes the queen to Ahasuerus of Persia. She was personally chosen by the King. “The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she found favor and kindness with him” (2:17), probably because of her beauty and intelligence.
  • Chapters 3-4, Mordecai (Esther’s guardian) refuses to bow down and pay homage to Haman,  a high official of the king. Haman becomes infuriated and plots to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom because of his pride. Mordecai hears of the plot and reports it to his Esther. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (4:14).
  •  From chapters 5-10, Esther outwits Haman and takes her petition to the king and pleas for the protection of her Jewish people from Haman’s wicked stratagem. The king out of anger, has Haman hung on the gallows, which he had built to destroy all the Jews. Esther’s faith and courage saves her people.

 

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