Whenever people tell me how petty and evil the world has become…I remind them to read the Bible. Or a history book. We humans have always had a penchant for the petty and evil. And the Jewsih community has been on the receiving end of more than their share. I’m reminded of the line from Fiddler on the Roof …where Tevye is talking to God and he says: I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?
Antisemiitsm has a wide and deep history. Here, thousands of years before Hitler joined its rallying cry…we have Haman…who, in his hatred for the Jewish people, has convinced the king of Persia to set a day when all the people of Persia were ordered rise up against their Jewish neighbors and kill them all – men, women and children..and take their belongings. It’s like Kristalnacht on steroids. And Haman, with the encouragement of his friends and family, personally builds a gallows…a huge gallows about 70 feet high…for the execution of Mordecai, a Jew who works in the kings’ court but does not kowtow his place to Haman appropriately. He is “uppity”, if you will.
Yes, there is evil in this world..evil .that infects and twists human hearts and minds. It has always been so…and we are all vulnerable to its power. It was evil that twisted “good church people” to justify slavery for centuries…and evil that later allowed those good church people to reject the civil rights movement and to turn a blind eye to lynchings and injustices of all sorts. It is evil that takes shape in all sorts of atrocities — hate crimes and rape and child abuse. And that evil feeds on the fear and anger and conspiracy thinking that is all too prevalent today…. and throughout history. And that is what is happening here in Esther. Haman is appalled that this “Jew”, Mordecai, would not recognize his superiority…and in his anger and fear, he lashes out with evil.
And, shockingly, Mordecai responds by making a fuss. Can you believe it? He’s wailing and wearing sackcloth and yelling his objections on the streets and in from the king’s gate. He refuses to let people ignore the evil that is happening around them. And in doing so, he makes everyone uncomfortable. Including Esther. She just wants him to put regular clothes on…to do things in a less confrontive way. She is reminiscent of the moderate pastors who asked Martin Luther King to delay the protests…to take the pressure off and make people less uneasy. And also some of the good church folks who object to the Black Lives Matter protests. Why can’t you do it in a way that doesn’t make everything so tense? Why? Well…because we’re dying here. Our lives hang in the balance.
So Mordecai refuses…and reminds Esther that even though she feels safe now as “Queen”…if they don’t stop Haman’s order….her life will be taken too. She is still Jewish. And she is in a place to maybe do something about it. She is beloved of the King…she is the Queen. And Haman says, Maybe that’s why she’s where she is…maybe it’s God’s plan…that she is there “for such a time as this”.
Esther would rather not. She is terrified, of course. To go see the king uninvited could mean death for her. That’s the way royalty rolled…nobody was allowed to do anything without their say so. If it displeased the king that she showed up to plead for her people’s lives…he would get rid of her as easily as he got rid of the queen before her. All her comfort…all her security …was at risk.
But, Mordecai reminds her….it’s already at risk. When we don’t stand up to evil…eventually it finds its way to us. Some of you may have heard the quote by Martin Niemöller — he was a theologian in Germany during the time of Hitler’s Reich.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Mordecai refuses to be silent…and pleads with his niece Esther, to speak up as well.
And here’s what I love about Esther. She’s frightened. She’s not a Miriam or a Deborah — she’s not a leader or a prophet. She’s not comfortable getting involved…or being a “change maker”. Honestly, she’s a pretty face and it has taken her far… but she knows her limits. She isn’t arrogantly thinking she can save the day. But she acts…she speaks up.. because it is the right thing to do…for her family’s sake…for her people’s sake. But she doesn’t want to feel alone in this. So she asks for everyone else to join her…to be with her in this journey..by fasting with her. Praying with her. Holding her in spirit. Sharing their courage, their faith with her. She needs her community with her.
This is a story of solidarity….of being there for one another. It is a story of the power of prayer…of holding one another up. It is a story of recognizing that we may think we aren’t able to make a difference….but we are put in places for a reason. And when we are afraid to do what is right…afraid to speak up…it reminds us to ask others for their prayers, for their support….for their courage and faith on our behalf.
I have a friend who I have known for over 30 years. I met her at Holden Village when we were just out of college. She’s originally from Texas. She is feisty. She is tenacious. She has been a vocal leader in the ELCA in the movement for racial justice, and a partner in the Black Lives Movement in Minneapolis. George Floyd was killed in her neighborhood, and she and her pastor and other members of her church have been at the heart of many of the services and ministries that have taken place at George Floyd Square over the past year. She inspires me. She is silly. She is joy filled. She is grieving and she is hopeful and she is angry and she is faithful. She didn’t set out to make a change…but she realized she couldn’t ignore the injustice around her. And she covets my prayers….she needs to know that she is not alone. She gets tired….she gets discouraged…but her faith gives her strength to persist…knowing she’s not alone…that a community is with her…keeps her going day after day after day.
We all get tired don’t we? We all would rather Mordecai put on the nice clothes and so we could pretend that everything is okay. But like Esther…like Niehmoller…like my friend Shari,..we are reminded that we need to persist in standing up to evil. We can’t let fear win the day. We need to persist in speaking up…not turning a blind eye. And we need to persist in holding one another up…persist in prayers of support and acts of solidarity for those who are fighting these battles on the front lines.
There is something powerful in knowing we are not alone…that we are part of one another…that our actions and words are not isolated, but come out of our collective heart…the heart of goodness. Thee heart of love. The heart of God that beats in all who seek justice…who love mercy. Knowing we are in this together….knowing God is in this with us…gives us strength to step out…to persist….like Esther …in such a time as this. Even when we would rather not. Day after day after day. Because Goodness is stronger than evil, Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness,
life is stronger than death; Victory is ours, Victory is ours through God who loves us.
Victory is ours, Victory is ours through God who loves us. Amen.