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Give us Grace, O Lord, not only to hear your word with our ears, but also to receive it into our hearts and to show it in our lives; for the glory of your great name.  Amen.

Please be seated.

Several years ago a police officer received a call to respond to a drowning in a small lake.  The officer was surprised since the lake at the deepest point was only about five feet deep.  He assumed that the victim was a child or maybe a teenager.  When he arrived he was shocked to find that a person over six feet tall had fallen out of a boat and drowned in five feet of water.  He imagined him thrashing and fighting the water until he was completely exhausted and “all hope of being saved was at last abandoned.”  What makes this a tragedy is that if only the man had been able to stand up, he would not have drowned.

Often when the storms of life assail us, we look for answers all around us but ignore our own God-given resources and strengths, like the six-foot individual who drowns in five feet of water.  Many times the answers and solutions we seek are within us.  We compound the problem when we look for difficult or complex solutions, when what we needed is often quite simple and within our grasp.

There are times in our lives when we need to stand on our own God-given two feet.  God  has given us the ability and knowledge to help solve our dilemmas.  God gives us the strength we need when we need it as we confront the evil forces in our world.  Too many people simply dismiss any possibility of accomplishing something remarkable by saying, “Oh, I could never do that,” without even trying.  That is a sad commentary on too many people.

There are times in our lives when we need to stand up for what we believe.  When we view something as wrong it is the responsibility of Christians to make their opinions known.  The best way for great causes to fail is for good people to do nothing.  “Let someone else tackle that problem.  What can one person do against the system?”  We hear these responses from people who then list a whole host of excuses.  Throughout the pages of the Bible we find people who were willing to stand up for what they believed.  These men and women saw that something just was not right and they could no longer tolerate it.  They felt they had no other choice than to take a stand.  Oftentimes taking a stand places us in an unpopular light.  When we take a stand we place ourselves at risk.  We risk our reputation, our social standing, and occasionally even our economic well-being.  Many are afraid to take a stand for precisely those reasons; they are fearful of the risks involved.  It is easier to sit back and do nothing than to stick your neck out.  When you stick your neck out, you risk having someone chop it off.

Word had reached Queen Esther that a plot had been devised to kill all the Jews.  Esther was orphaned as a child and raised by her uncle Mordecai.  Soon after Esther became queen, Mordecai overheard a conversation concerning a plot to kill the king.  The king had a practice of writing down the names of persons who did him favors, which would payoff handsomely for Mordecai in the future.  Now Mordecai told Esther the latest news that all the Jews were to be killed.  This plot was devised by one of the king’s closest advisors, Haman.  Mordecai told Esther that she was the only hope for her people, the Jews.  She was the only person who had the power or influence to stop this evil plan.  Something had to be done, but what could any one person do?  Would anyone be brave enough to confront the powerful king?  Certainly anyone brave enough to confront the king would jeopardize his or her life.

This information weighed so heavily on Queen Esther that she prayed and fasted for three days.  Even though she was the queen, Esther could not just march into her husband’s court and talk with him.  It was customary for the queen, and everyone else for that matter, to wait until the king summoned them.  However, Esther could not wait until the king called her; she had to see him as soon as possible.  It was a matter of life and death.  Esther was able to use her God-given abilities, her beauty, charm, and winsome personality to her advantage.  Esther rose to the occasion and risked her life by confronting the king,

The person devising this horrible plan, Haman, was one of the king’s most trusted advisors.  It was one thing to warn the king about some fanatic plotting against him, but it was quite another to warn the king that his most trusted advisor had devised a plan to kill her people.  Haman sought to have all the Jews killed on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar.  Haman especially wanted to see Mordecai, his enemy, put to death.

The intrigue continued as the plot thickened.  Esther devised a rather complicated plan.  She hosted several banquets for the king and his advisors.  Esther’s goal was t expose this evil plot as well as Haman.  Esther very effectively set up Haman.  Haman suspected nothing, since he left the second banquet “happy and in good spirits.”  At the third banquet everything came to a head.  As the king was sipping wine Esther made her daring request, “What is your petition, Queen Esther?” the king asked.  “It shall be granted you.  Even to half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled,” he promised blindly.  This was the moment that Esther was waiting for.  “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given to me – that is my petition – and the lives of my people – that is my request.”  She made her petition known to the king in the presence of Haman.  The scene had all the ingredients to be explosive.  Everyone was having a good time at the banquet.  Esther engaged the king in what he thought was a light-hearted conversation, but it quickly turned deadly serious.  Esther reminds us that there are times when we need to take risks.  There are times when we have no other option than to stand up for what we believe to be true, even if that means placing ourselves at risk.  When we take a stand, our actions might help other people.

When we reflect on our lives it just might be the risks we have taken or failed to take that best define who we are.  Esther risked her life in exposing Haman’s evil intention.  King Ahasuerus asked Esther, Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?”  Esther reached the point where there was no turning back, looking at the king she replied, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!”  Immediately upon hearing this the king was furious.  He was angry that such a devious plot was formulated and almost carried out by one of his most trusted advisors.

Before the day was over Haman was hung on the very gallows that he had hoped to see Mordecai hang on.  Esther had saved the lives of the Jewish people.  She was willing to risk her own life to save the lives of others.  A festival was in order, which is still celebrated by Jews today, called Purim.  The Festival of Purim is a celebration of life and rest.  The word carries the meaning “lots,” as in the casting of lots.  Purim became the festival that addresses the issue of fate and destiny.  On this joyous occasion people exchange gifts.  It was recorded and would forever be celebrated “as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make then days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.”

The book of Esther challenges us to use our God-given voices and our lives for the work of God’s salvation.  Only God knows what might happen to us and others as a result of our faithful witness.  Only God knows our destiny. 

Almighty God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whose grace nothing is strong, nothing is holy, increase and multiply on us your mercy, that through your holy inspiration we may think the things that are right and by your power may carry them out, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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