September 27, 2015 – For such a time as this

Pentecost 18   9/27/15 James 1:1-8,5:13-20; Esther 4:1-3,10-17,   For such a time as this *********************************************************** Sandwiched between our readings from the letter of James – most Jewish of all New Testament letters – is our reading from Esther – perhaps most controversial of all Old Testament books among Jewish teachers of old… James, brother of Jesus, is deeply rooted in Jewish traditions. He reveres Torah (the Law of God). He highlights the names of Abraham, Rahab, Job, and Elijah, whose steadfast faith is expressed in their works… He knows his way around in the local synagogue and the Jerusalem temple… The book of Esther, on the other hand, is the only book in the bible in which the name of God is never mentioned. In Esther no prayers are heard, no visible signs of worship (other than fasting) appear. Stylistically, Esther is closer to the Persian novelistic literature of its day than to other books of the bible. Which troubled Rabbis of old sufficiently to delay Esther’s acceptance…Though, over time, as teachers came to recognize the beauty of the hidden-hand-of-God-at-work in the story, they accepted Esther as sacred scripture. James, similarly, was one of a handful of New Testament writings that took longer to be accepted as scripture by the church. James, it was sometimes said, sounds more like an Old Testament prophet than a New Testament letter… Jesus is only mentioned twice in the letter. The word grace never appears. But, like Esther, over time, James was accepted as holy scripture. (It often takes time for the message of prophets to be appreciated… as a life-saving word…) And perhaps the story of Esther is also a prophetic book… For just such a time as this…. *** Once upon a time, King Ahasueres – also known as Xerxes – ruled over the vast Persian empire. When we first meet King Xerxes, he’s putting on a grand banquet and drinking festival for his staff and political supporters that continues without a break for 180 days. (Even in famously party-hearty ancient Persia that’s a long banquet.) The king then follows up with a seven-day-banquet for all the men of the city, great and humble, with a very big open-bar. As the party’s in full swing, Xerxes sends for Queen Vashti, his wife, who’s been hosting a woman’s banquet. ‘Come over to my banquet, honey; show your face to my guests…’ he says. (Some Rabbis of old say she was expected to show more than just her face.) Vashti says no. (Even showing up well-robed before a huge crowd of men who’ve been drinking night and day for a week…was considered over-the-top, even by royal Persian standards, bible commentaries tell us…) King Xerxes gets very angry, but doesn’t know what to do – so he does what kings do when they don’t know what to do. He calls in political consultants, and asks: ‘What should be the punishment for a Queen who disobeys?’ ‘Make her stay out of your palace’ advisors say. Keeping her away from where she’s refusing to go sounds like funny logic to me… But these advisors are wise in the ways of the world. They’re concerned about precedents. Once other women hear what Queen Vashti’s up to, what’s to keep all of them from saying no to their husbands?...

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