I Thought We’d Start With A Light Salad, And Then See How We Feel After That
*This post features a personal story from a member of our congregation*
Esther lives in a complex and dangerous world, and she’s maneuvering life in the grey. In order to survive, she must be innocent as a dove and shrewd as a serpent. Haman has a plot for the annihilation of all of the Jews, and Esther needs to do something. Esther hasn’t seen the King in more than 30 days, which means the King has almost certainly been sleeping with other women. She doesn’t share a room with the King – and we know from the Vashti story that the King is the one who is supposed to do the ‘summoning’, not the other way around. Esther could be executed for daring to summon the King. She has little to no influence or power over him, and so she must develop a scheme of her own.
She appeals to the King’s appreciation of her beauty and of food and drink. She seeks to give honor to Haman and Mordecai. She doesn’t break with the Persian customs. She’s innocent, she’s under the radar. But she’s shrewd: she knows her beauty will rekindle his desire for her, the feasting will flatter him, and the alcohol will loosen him up.
The Book of Esther is not a black and white book. Esther is living in a grey world, and the author takes us into the grey with her. But isn’t this exactly what’s prescribed for the Church living in the world today?
The Church isn’t meant to be in the seat of power – we are powerless and small in the world. As Esther was. We too must be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents. Like Esther, we are faced with unique challenges and problems that are unique to our time now. We must make decisions without clear guidance from Scripture. We struggle to know the right way to move forward.
God calls us to care for the vulnerable, and many of us drive to work to enable us to do just that – but the car we drive to work releases carbon emissions that harm the earth. There are many examples we could give. We are supposed to be good citizens of our nation, and yet we’re only supposed to pledge allegiance to Jesus.
Jesus says in Matthew 10:17, “Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” To be Christian is to experience powerlessness – like a sheep amongst wolves. We cannot be a “bull in a China shop for the Gospel”. The way of the kingdom is that of: Careful planning, quiet faithfulness, shrewdness.
But isn’t this the way of God in our lives and in our world? God isn’t mentioned once in the book of Esther – but perhaps God is there. Innocent as a dove. Shrewd as a serpent. Rustling the leaves, working behind the scenes, scheming and conspiring goodness. Think about it: throughout Esther, God is the unnamed character. He is never acknowledged or perceived by any of the other characters. He moves within human systems and cultures, innocently playing by the rules of human kingdoms and yet all the while shrewdly, quietly bringing about his own Kingdom from within – even when we don’t see it.
I grew up believing in a vending machine God. That if I followed all of the rules, I’d encounter God. I grew up in purity culture and really believed I had to be perfect. At 11 years old, I believed I had to write a page in my Christian journal before I allowed myself to sleep. I felt a lot of shame, and when I didn’t experience God, I believed that it was my fault.
Recently, I was sharing with my mom some woes of parenting. I shared with her that with little kids, days are chaos and nights are too short – I have no spiritual rhythms, no structured prayer life – and I feel ashamed. It seems I still think God is a vending machine – that if I don’t do what is expected of me, God won’t be in my life. My mom spoke with the Spirit and said: “He’s there, Kara, regardless of what you do or whether you notice.”
This the truth that Kate brought to us so vulnerably and courageously last week.
This is the truth brought to us by the author of Esther.
This week, I met with Nikayla to talk about this sermon and I shared about my conversation with my mom. She shared this story with me:
A woman recently moved down to Richard Rohr’s community in New Mexico. People go there for study and spiritual rhythms like silence and contemplation, but she was a mother of young children and there was no quiet for her and no awareness of God. She met with a spiritual leader and they role played a conversation with God. She said: “I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to meet with you, God. I miss you.” Her mentor responded her with the words he imagined God spoke: “I love seeing you in the morning and you just want to be with me. I can’t tell you what it means to me, so much that I have to rush into the bodies of your children and wake them up just so that I can know what it feels like to be held by you.”
God is with us! Regardless of what we do or whether we notice, how often we don’t notice, how often we are uncertain, how often we stumble and fail and how often we cry out:
Speak, God, for Pete’s sake, tell me what to do!
The Gospel according to Esther is that Our God is innocent as a dove and shrewd as a serpent in our midst.