Rev. Danielle K. Bartz September 26, 2021
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 20-22 “…Perhaps”
In the mid-1850’s, a cholera epidemic struck St. Louis, MO and its surrounding communities. The epidemic was particularly deadly for the (largely) German immigrant community as they were much poorer and didn’t have access to adequate healthcare. As a result of this epidemic, hundreds of orphans were left without a home or family to care for them. Rev. Louis Nollau (know-l-ow) pastored a small congregation in the heart of the city called St. Johns. A missionary from Germany, Rev. Nollau was struck by the plight of these children and knew God was calling him to do something for them. He went to the leadership of his congregation and asked them to offer their support to build an orphanage as part of the ministry of their church. The church elders shook their heads and reminded Rev. Nollau they did not have anything they needed to build an orphanage. They did not have the buildings, the volunteers, and most importantly, they reminded him, they did not have the money. Rev. Nollau acknowledged all of this scarcity, but responded with one simple statement. He said, “Yes, but we have the children.” In 1858 the congregation took in one orphan and very quickly had 50 children they were caring for. That orphanage is still in existence today, called Every Child’s Hope, and is a part of the United Church of Christ. It provides residential services for vulnerable children as well as in-home support for families who need help to create a loving and stable environment.
“Yes, but we have the children,” the response of Rev. Nollau, was a prophetic cry. He approached the immediate needs of his community and saw clearly that God was calling him to respond. And he did so from a place of abundance, not scarcity. The leaders of his church, doing what most would do, looked at what they had and declared it was not enough. Yes, perhaps God was calling them to care for the children, but how could they possibly do so without the radical resources necessary. Rev. Nollau, in a moment of faith and trust in the abundance of God called them to act anyway. It is impossible to know how many lives were touched, and continue to be touched today, by this act – but it must be in the millions.
The Book of Esther, from which we heard our scripture lesson for today, only appears once in the three-year lectionary cycle, and then only as what is known as the alternate reading. Esther is a unique book in the Bible – it is written as a story fit for television: full of political intrigue, double-dealing, power, lust, and an unlikely heroine. It is the story that is told each year by our Jewish siblings as the reason for the creation of Purim, a holiday to remember when the Jews were saved from slaughter. And while this is the only book in the Bible that does not include any references to God, the work of God’s people and wisdom is very evident.
This Old Testament story is short but carries a powerful message. Esther, the adopted daughter of Mordecai the Jew, is declared the new Queen of King Ahasuerus. He does not know she is a Jew, a people, at the time who were a cultural and religious minority. The story tells of the manipulation of the King by one of his advisors, Haman, who convinced King Ahasuerus to sign an edict to have all of the Jews in the kingdom killed. Mordecai, Queen Esther’s uncle and the man who raised her, calls on her to speak out to the King on behalf of her people.
Esther may have been Queen, but she had no power or authority. In fact, she was named Queen only after Vashti, the previous Queen, had refused to appear before the King to be an object of lust for attendees at his party. Further, this request would force her to reveal herself as a Jew, a race of people who were scorned and treated with no respect. This was no easy ask. Mordecai was asking her to risk her life and relative safety as Queen. The text does not elaborate on her decision process, but it can be assumed it was not an easy one. Even if her response was immediate, even if she knew in her heart that this was not a choice, but a call, even if her heart was clear, she was still likely distressed and afraid. What we do learn from the text is she calls on the Jewish people to fast and pray for her for three days. She needs the collective spiritual presence of her people to give her strength and courage. She says she will entreat the King to show mercy to the Jewish people, because “perhaps, this is the moment for which she had been created.”
This was an act which Esther knew could lead to her execution. She knew, at the very least, it could cause her to lose her place in the Kingdom and that her uncle Mordecai could be killed. But, she spoke up. She went to the King, invited him and his advisors to two lavish banquets, and asked him for mercy, which he extended. In fact, the scripture goes on to tell the story of how the manipulative advisor, Haman, was executed and Mordecai given his estate. Even as a subsequent plot to destroy the Jews was hatched, they over-powered their executioners and prevailed. Esther’s bravery and recognition of her purpose, her trust in God and the combined faith of her brethren, saved a people. In that moment she acted in faith.
It can seem to be an odd pair, the story of Rev. Nollau and Queen Esther. But they have something in common. In acts of faith, Rev. Nollau and Queen Esther, have seen or heard a need, took a brave step not knowing where it would lead, spoke truth to power, and effected profound change. They each have recognized that perhaps this was the moment for which they had been created. Perhaps…they were meant to do this hard thing all along.
It is over-whelming, this recognition of a need to act in faith. It is frightening at times, steeped in uncertainty and shadows. It involves taking a step on a path with only faith in God as a guide along the way. These acts, big and small, ministries of individuals or collections of faithful, lead to places only God knows. Sometimes they are great successes, other times they only provide learning opportunities to figure out what we can do differently next time. They can lead to ministries which are 160 years old like Every Child’s Hope and still growing. And they can lead to single moment of grace shown to a person who has wondered if God ever noticed them. And both of those outcomes are causes for great celebration.
What is God calling you to do? What have you been created for? We hear in the much beloved Psalm 139 that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made and assured again God is with us in our waking and our sleeping, and God’s blessings are so abundant we cannot possibly count them. God would not create you and me for any other purpose than to be God’s hands and feet in this world. So, again, what is God calling you to do?
It doesn’t have to be big – it does not have to be something like the ministry of Rev. Nollau or Queen Esther. It doesn’t have to change millions of lives or even be considered successful. To answer this call, whatever it might look like for you, is what you have been created for. It could be simple, like a smile to a stranger who looks like she needs a friend. It could be huge, like starting a ministry for the immigrants new to our community. All of this is important, all of this is an act of faith, and all of this is responding to God’s beloved creation of you.
And, if you are like most people, worried that perhaps you are not special enough for God to want to use you to bring about God’s Kingdom here on earth, remember this – you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us are created with a purpose. Each of us are created in the glorious image of God. So, who are you not to respond to God’s call?
Let’s close with that wonderful poem, often attributed to Desmond Tutu because he read it in his inaugural address, but it in fact was written by Marianne Williamson, founder of the Peace Alliance. It reads:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
How is God calling you to act in faith? And as you consider this foundational question, ask yourself this as well – who are you not to shine? For, perhaps this is the time for which you have been created. Amen.
revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth,
present to us now through your Spirit,
we hear your call to care
for the lost, the last, the little, and the least
that even through us your grace may touch their lives.
friend of outcast and stranger
prejudiced in favour of those whom others reject,
we hear your call to care for those on the margins of our world;
Aboriginal sisters and brothers lost in their own land,
refugees seeking asylum and new hope,
those excluded from our communities.
May our ministry offer dignity and respect to each and every person
and offer a place at table for the stranger and the outcast.
relating to us as a generous parent
offering yourself in love to every person
we hear your call to offer hope of renewed relationships
where trust and love have been displaced by fear and jealousy,
where family has become a place of abuse rather than nurture
where hurts, real or imagined, remain unforgiven.
May our ministry offer your gifts of grace and reconciliation
and hold out the hope of restored and renewed human relationships.
known to us in the dance of community we call Trinity
mediated to us through the common life of the church
we hear your call to offer new communities of meaning and hope
to those who live in isolation and emptiness
to those whose lives lack purpose and direction
to those seeking a safe place to nurture their journey of spirit.
May our ministry offer the hope of deep and trusted friendship
and a way to find connectedness with those who share the journey of life.
God beyond all names
whose presence lives in those you call by name
whose presence goes before us into the lives of those to whom we minister
we hear your call to serve in a variety of places.
We pray that each one of us
as we serve you in our particular ministry
may find renewed depth in our relationship with you,
may be confirmed in our call to this ministry,
may find our gifts and call affirmed as we offer them in service,
may become a part of a healthy and life-giving community of faith.
Hear these our prayers
as we offer them in the name of Jesus