Potsdam United Methodist Church
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Pastor Rev. Brooke Newell
Secretary Donna McDonald
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Irony of Justice

September 30th:

Irony of Justice
September 30, 2012
Call:           Mark 9: 42
Text:           Esther
Read:   Psalm 124       (846)

                Irony of Justice

For the last 4 weeks    I have preached from the letter of James.

Although James is the favorite book of a number of Christians
        It is a book that, when taken seriously, hits us with heavy messages
- messages which I, for one. know that I need
even now - centuries after the letter was written.

During those four weeks, James has forced me - and those reflecting with me - to ask ourselves hard questions:

        "Is our faith reflected in our actions
                Or do we merely claim that we believe?"

        "Do we respond
to the wealthy and well dressed
differently than we respond
to the poorer and less well dressed?"

"What can we do to tame our tongues?
        And stop misusing that powerful gift from God?

        And finally last week,
Recognizing that that selfishness is the essential root of all sins
        And thus is the real sin
we asked, "How selfish am I?"

and so, if we have taken James seriously,
        Then we have been challenged mightily over the last four weeks

But God is not only about challenges.

Sometimes you and I need to hear a "feel good" kind of story
        A story where we can take our shoes off
lean back in our recliners,
and hear something that teaches us
but teaches us in a way that comforts rather than challenges.

One such story is the story of Esther
        We find it in the older testament of our Bible
                In a section of Writings
                        After the histories     and before the prophets
                        Along side Job, the Psalms, and Proverbs.

So I invite you to kick back;   to relax;       to listen.
And don't worry about falling asleep
        For Esther is too good a story to miss.

The story begins in Susa, one of the Persian capital cities
It opens with King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) showing off.
        He is giving a seven day long banquet
        To mark the end of a special 90 day celebration.
There are, of course,   only men at the banquet
        But Ahasuerus' wife Queen Vashti is giving a banquet for the women in another part of the palace.

On the final day of the banquet         - and while well fueled by wine -
the king calls for the queen to come in to his banquet so he can show off her beauty
but     she     refuses         to come.

He doesn't know how he should react.
He doesn't know what to do.

So he seeks advice from his sages - his advisors or cabinet
        Their advice is clear and concise:
Depose her!     Get rid of her! Remove her as queen!

You have to hear their reasoning.  You absolutely have to hear it!
And you have to hear what the king did in response:  [1:16b - 17, 21-22]

To replace the deposed queen,
Ahaseurus holds a contest (somewhat like a beauty contest.)
Some 400 virgins (young women) are gathered to compete for the honor

The winner  and the new queen   is Esther
Now, Esther is Jewish   - although she doesn't disclose this

Her cousin and adopted father is a man named Mordecai
        Mordecai is a lower level government official.
        Who discovers a plot by some of the king's eunuchs to kill the king

Through Esther,         Mordecai warns the king of the plot
        And thereby thwarts the attempt
The conspirators are captured and hung.

After that, Ahasuerus decided he needed someone to control things
        He appointed a man named Haman
                To be what amounts to   his prime minister.
Haman reveled in his importance
and expected everyone to bow down to him

Most did.

Mordecai, however, refused to bow because his only Lord was God.

Haman was not pleased

Upset over this refusal,
        Haman drafts a decree to destroy the Jews in the kingdom on a particular date
                He does not, however, disclose to king the name of the people he plans to destroy through that decree.
                The king doesn't ask many questions about it
(In part because Haman gave the king a gift of a large sum of money)
                Instead the king simply gives Haman the royal signet ring to make the decree official.


Haman sees to it that the decree goes out to all parts of the empire
Like the rest of the people, Mordecai learns of it
He recognizes what it is and what it means.
So he tells Esther that she must go to the king and convince him to not allow the decree to be effectuated

Esther is at first hesitant
        But her life and the lives of her people are in danger.

The day set for that destruction was some time in the future
In the meantime,        Mordecai continues to refuse to bow to Haman
        Haman's wife and his advisors urge him
to build gallows        and to hang Mordecai from them.

That idea appealed to Haman
So he built gallows over 75 feet high - expressly to hang Mordecai.

However, this is where God steps in through King Ahasuerus' insomnia

The king, unable to sleep, gets up in the middle of the night and looks at
his Book of Records
The entries in it remind him of how Mordecai had saved him from assassination.

And then he discovers that he has not yet rewarded Mordecai
        He is appalled  and wants to correct this oversight immediately

The next day, when Haman appears at the palace to seek the king's permission to execute Mordecai
        the king first seeks Haman's advice
asking his advisor how he should reward someone who had done much for him.

Not surprisingly, the arrogant Haman concluded immediately
that the king wants to reward him.
        After all, who else could the king possibly want to reward?

So Haman describes an elaborate and impressive celebration
        Giving the man a robe and a crown,
And putting him on a grand horse
                To be led about by one of king's servants

Haman must have practically been drooling as he described the celebration.
Can't you just picture
the delight in his eyes and the smile on his face.
That picture should be in the dictionary
right next to the definition of "beaming."

And can't you just imagine the stunned look on Haman's face when the king says,         "Great idea!  I like it.                Do this for Mordecai"

Haman, therefore,
        Instead of obtaining the king's permission to execute Mordecai
        found himself - like a humble stable boy -
holding the reins of a horse
a horse carrying, of all people, a celebrated Mordecai.

Then at a banquet Esther gave for the king and Haman
        She revealed both her Jewishness and Haman's plot
The king was upset at Haman for misusing his position
        And embarrassing the king

Haman must have thought that things could not get worse for him
But they did.

For when he went to beg the queen for his life
        He threw himself on the couch where Esther was reclining
The king returned to see Haman on the couch with the queen
And concluded that he had attempted to rape Esther.

And so the king ordered that Haman be hung
from the very gallows he had built for Mordecai
and then appointed Mordecai to replace Haman as prime minister.

Finally, despite the fact that the previous decree about attacking the Jews
        Could not legally be revoked (I don't understand why)
Ahaseurus          issues another one   allowing the Jews to defend themselves

This ending drips with irony
        Haman seeks to kill Mordecai
                But ends up helping to celebrate him.

        Haman builds the gallows to hang Mordecai
                But is himself hung on them

        Haman wants to destroy the Jews even though they are innocent of wrongdoing
                But ends up being executed for a rape of which he was innocent.
Don't you have to smile at the ironic nature of God's justice?

There are lessons in here about arrogance, prejudice and intolerance
There are lessons in here about the manipulation of power and of deceit
There are lessons in here about bravery,
for it took courage on Esther's part to approach the king about Haman.
And it took courage for Mordecai to refuse to bow down.

But the real lesson in here is about God's justice and presence
        That lesson is exciting, reassuring, and comforting
        It makes me feel good.

And that is how we should feel
        When we rely on God
                Which is what Christ taught us.