It was her beauty that you first noticed. So young. So exotic. So striking. Easily intrigued by her, you want to know more. She trusted few, kept her secrets close, and relied on only one for advice and guidance. She struggled to do the right thing and live a good life, wavering at times...fully human. She believed in her God, while existing in a world that seemed faithless. She used her allure and became the one to have, the one to win, and the one who won. Esther caught the eye of the king and used her only apparent power to her advantage. She was so special and yet so normal...for even the most beautiful can be painfully flawed.
Hiding her race and religion from her husband, she lived a life of secrets and fear. As a political soap opera played out around her, full of sex, power, and greed, our villain Haman had a law passed to have the Jews in the land killed. Uncle Mordecai, Esther's support and rock, needed her power, her position, her influence. He told Esther, "Use your pull with the king. Act to save your people." But the fear crept in. Esther responded in no uncertain terms to dear Uncle Mordecai. "Don't you know that I'll be killed if I speak to the king without permission?"
Did you hear that? When she had an opportunity to try and save her people, our hero--our beauty queen--said no. The pedestal she was placed on just turned over and the halo around her head was knocked to the floor. Like many who have heard and felt the call to act boldly to do something right, she first said, "No."
Mordecai did not give up. He knew that God would prevail, whether or not Esther decided to act. He told her, "Do not think that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal position for just such a time as this." For just such a time as this.
Mordecai believes that God will work for God's people with or without Esther's action. So Mordecai doesn't order Esther around, telling her what to do. He instead wisely presents Esther with an opportunity. The opportunity to be a part of God's plan. The opportunity to live beyond selfishness and looking out for her own interests. He confronts her with the opportunity to rise up and speak out when God needs a witness. "Be more than the beauty queen and the star. Be more than the world sees in you. You can be bigger than your stereotype in the world, Esther. Use your power. Live."
Now, even with her history, with her less than virtuous choices that probably made her the queen, even though she had her own skin to save, something happened and Esther said "Yes." She claimed her real identity: a child of God. She answered the calling to do God's will. She risked the loss of riches and her own life. She asked the community of people who shared her faith for prayers and support. And then she took action. And this is why we remember Esther: not for her beauty, not for the errors of her past, not for being the queen of an empire, but because she said yes to serving God with boldness.
It's a fabulous story, and it's easy for us to hear this and want to be an "Esther." Everybody wants to be remembered for being the savior, for riding in and saving the day to make up somehow for all of our past transgressions. Hollywood understands this concept. There is an "Esther" is in almost every movie we see. Rocky, Erin Brochovich, Harry Potter, there's Katniss Everdeen, Luke Skywalker...you name it! Someone with a troubled past works hard, overcomes family issues, saves everyone at great personal risk, kills the bad guy, and lives life a little wiser, strengthened in character and fulfilled in soul. That's Esther. Name your superhero, Disney character, or action star; and they all seem to overcome past shortcomings, save the day, and achieve heroic status. Ahhh...to be an Esther.
With her flaws and the insecurities, with her less than typical family and checkered past, and even though she first said "No," still something empowered Esther to rise up and to dare to save her people. We Christians often want to be Esthers. Perhaps this is how we want to see ourselves. We carry histories that are not perfect, we feel called by God to act for good, and we think there is more to us than most people will ever see. We feel the pain of a hurting world. We want to act boldly and make the world better; we yearn to live differently.
For most who seek to live lives of faith and following, somewhere along the way there was a Mordecai. There was a Mordecai who spoke the holy prompting, "God is going to act with or without you. But maybe, just maybe, you were put here in this place for just such a time as this. You have the gifts, the talent, the position to affect real change and real good. You are bigger and better than who the world sees on the surface. You are more than the beauty, more than the recluse, more than the jock, more than the smart kid, more than the princess...you are more than the Breakfast Club version of your perceived being. Live bigger than that. There is more to you than the world claims you to be."
Such is the power of Mordecai. I believe he looks past the shell of Esther and realizes that she is needed by the people by God. He is faithful enough to realize that God can handle the situation of saving the Jews in another way, but Mordecai sees Esther as someone who can be an active participant in God's saving acts. Esther is more than her caricature and pinup; she is a child of God who is capable and called to act. Mordecai does not MAKE her these things; he calls them out of her. How blessed we are today for the modern Mordecais who see beyond our shells to realize that we have potential for usefulness and for God. That is Mordecai's charge to Esther, and that is God's call to each of us. Perhaps, we, too, are here, for just such a time as this!
When I was very new in the pastoral ministry, I visited Reverend Joe Neal Blair in his eldercare community. Joe Neal had served as one of my pastors during my childhood, and I loved him very much. His outspoken stance on integration during the civil rights movement in Alabama earned him many enemies then and much respect later. His speech and body were slowed by health and time, but his mind was keen and playful, even dancing. We enjoyed reminiscing about old times, and he shared some of his adventures in ministry with me. He talked of both joys and sorrows: the days when his faith was tested during times of adversity and the times of joyful triumph when he felt he was a part of God's plan. As I shared my excitement and enthusiasm for ministry, as well as a bit of fear of the responsibility for leading God's people as a pastor, he painfully stood and walked to his closet and retrieved his white stole. He placed it around my shoulders, and he prayed for me. He prayed not for an easy ministry or freedom from conflict. He didn't pray for me to have "good appointments" and good churches or great prestige. He prayed that I would be courageous and faithful to respond to serve God and proclaim the Good News. He prayed for me to be like Esther: to let my light shine and to serve God with my very life.
And so brothers and sisters, empowered by the witness of Mordecai and all Mordecais who have testified to the power of God in others, I challenge you to be more than you are. In the name and power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I invite you to be a part of God's redeeming work and proclaim freedom and hope and help in just such a time as this. Each of us is given the opportunity to be a part of God's plan. We are called from our own agendas, our egos, and our insecurities to act for those in need in our world and to raise up others who follow with courage, those who are called to use their positions for good, for honor, for virtue, for participation in God's plan. We are called to wear our stoles, and we are called to place them upon the shoulders of others. For Esther and Mordecai's story is our story, and theirs is a story that continues in every generation. God's time for Esther and Mordecai was then. Now, it is our time. God will act with or without you...what will you choose? Perhaps you have been brought to this moment for just such a time as this? Can you hear that ancient charge of Mordecai? Can you hear the call of God? Can you hear the song of the saints? Listen. Listen.
Pray with me. Almighty God, who called Esther and Mordecai to holy boldness, give us the wisdom and courage to live in love for just such a time as this. Amen.