Sermon Series: Lord, I want to be better
1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes. 4 When Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther summoned Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why. 6 So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. 7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. 8 He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to urge her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.
9 Hathach went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”
12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.
Have you ever wondered where does hostility come from? In the case of Haman it stemmed from an interaction with Mordecai. Haman was a high-ranking official within the Persian Empire under King Xerxes. On one occasion following Haman’s promotion, the king commanded his royal officials to kneel before Haman as an act of tribute and honor. Mordecai refused to kneel down or pay him honor. Haman proceeded to use his position of influence to persuade the king to sanction a plan of genocide against Mordecai and his people.
The hostility that Haman directed toward Mordecai was the by-product of anger that eventually turned into rage. Essentially, Haman did not like the fact that Mordecai had showed him up and it made him angry. Haman’s anger was fueled by those close to him prodding him to make an example of Mordecai and save face. The more Haman thought about it the angrier he became until ultimately his unchecked anger turned into rage. Anger is a God-given natural human emotion that needs to be expressed appropriately. Anger that is left unchecked or has no outlet for expression could or will become something far worse like rage. Rage, which is anger to the extreme, has the power to transform an otherwise rational person into an irrational person. It can turn a peaceful loving environment into a battlefield or war zone. Haman whom the Bible describes as “Enraged” decided rather than getting rid of Mordecai alone, it would be better to eliminate all Jews or everyone like him.
I want to share three experiences with you. First, when I was about 14, a friend and I went to the mall. We rode our bikes and parked them outside and went in to shop. When we returned an hour or so later our tires had been slashed. We went to the nearest gas station to fix them. As we were in the process of fixing them a group of five young men surrounded us and stated point blank, “We want you out of our neighborhood.” To emphasize their point, they had tire irons and chains in their hands. Second, some years later a gentleman walked up to me and told me in no uncertain terms, I don’t like you and what he was going to do to me. Third, a few years later, I was working for a social services agency and their was a change in directors over my division. The outgoing director and I had a very good relationship, but that was not the case with the incoming director. He made it very clear from the beginning that whatever success the department I was the head of had experienced it was not good enough and we could do better. The new director, who had never worked in social services prior to this appointment, found something wrong with everything that I did or the way in which it was done. The Bible says, “When Mordecai learned of all that had been done…he went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.” When people are openly hostile towards you because you are different from them, you think, feel, express yourself, or believe differently then they do it is a bitter and difficult pill to swallow. Haman’s issues with Mordecai had more to do with the differences that existed between them than what Mordecai actually did. Mordecai’s only crime was that he was different. He believed something different and he subscribed to a different set of principles for his life. Sometimes, the hostility we experience has nothing to do with what we have done, but it has everything to do with the fact that others cannot accept the reality that we do not think like them, feel the way they feel, or act in the manner they think we should act. They cannot handle the fact that we are different.
This raises the question, how do you deal with being in an environment where you are devalued because you are different? Mordecai initially chose to deal with it by wallowing in self-pity. The text points out that not only did Mordecai breakdown, but he put on mourning clothes. “He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes.” This would be the equivalent to putting our pajamas on crawling up in bed and pulling the covers over our head. When we discover that people are intent on bring about our demise or making our lives exponentially more difficult, self-pity and suffering in silence are not options.
While Mordecai was being primarily driven by grief, the hand of God was also moving him into position so that he and those who shared his plight would come to the attention of Queen Esther. You and I can take comfort in the promises that Jesus gave to His disciples when he said “I will not leave you comfortless,” and “I will send a comforter.” One of the reasons we should not allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity is because God will always provide someone to comfort us in our moments and times of distress. The challenge is that we need to be open to the sources of comfort that God sends. Esther initially sent a change of clothes for Mordecai, but he refused them. Esther then sent to inquire as to the exact nature of Mordecai’s troubles. We cannot presume that everyone close to us knows what we are going through or how we are feeling unless they have been informed. How many times have loved ones asked, what’s wrong and we either got upset because they could not deduce the problem or simply said nothing is wrong. If you and I expect that others will be able to read us or figure out what is wrong with us we may be setting ourselves up for additional unintended pain and suffering. If people who love us reach out to us in our distress we need to let them in and not shut them out. It is Jesus making good on His promise to send a comforter.
They say if you want to know who your friends are look and see who is with you when things are going bad. Mordecai informed Esther of Haman’s plan and implored her to intercede. Esther responded by outlining the hurdles and limits of what she could actually do. She pointed out, a) the law forbade a man or woman from approaching the king without being summoned; b) violation of the law meant death; and c) the king had not summoned her for 30 days. The obstacles that Esther faced are similar to what we face today. There are some situations where the only way we can get to the person who can impact our situation is by appointment only. In other situations if we breach the chain of command we run the risk of getting fired. Sometimes we simply are no longer the flavor of the month or the person we need to see is inaccessible. One of the lessons we can pick up here is that even unconditional relationships have their limitations. The truth is it doesn’t matter how strong the bond between family members or friends is, there are limitations as to how much they can do or how far they can go for us. Some will say this is why I do not share what I am going through, because I know that people can only do so much. Good point! Now here is the counter point, when family, friends, loved ones, or even our neighbors ask us to help them and we say we can’t what we really mean is we are afraid, we don’t know how, or simply we don’t want to get involved. Whatever reasons we give, let us keep in mind:
a) At some point you and I are also going to need help
b) We are not exempt from being in the same position as those who seek our help
c) If God has put us in the position to help, then God expects us to do whatever we can and go as far as we can to help
After Esther informed Mordecai of her limitations, Mordecai responded by saying, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Nothing in God’s world happens by accident. When we are in a hostile environment we need to take notice of where God has positioned us, we are either in the position of Mordecai where we need help, or we are in the position of Esther where we can provide help. If the person we seek out declines to help us, it just means that God will send relief and deliverance from another source, but we first need to ask for help. Remember, if we need help then we need to go as far as we can to get help and if we can help then we need to do as much as we can to provide help.
How do we survive in a hostile environment? Esther called for a total fast. She called on Mordecai and all in Susa, who were affected by Haman’s plan, to abstain from eating and drinking anything for three days. Esther called on Mordecai and everyone else involved to engage in the spiritual discipline of fasting. John Wesley taught that God communicates His grace to His people through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Scriptures, fasting, and partaking in the Lord’s Supper. Spiritual discipline is the conscious decision to adopt God’s Biblically proscribed lifestyle for the purpose of drawing closer to God and realizing God’s will for us and His power in our lives. Esther understood she needed to be changed before God could change her outcome. Our attitude, our behavior, and our approach to whatever we are facing and dealing with all have to be changed first and abstaining from things we want, desire, and can control us helps to bring about our change. Esther also understood that fasting and spiritual disciplines in general do not necessarily change outcomes. She said, “If I perish, I perish.” The purpose of this fast was for God’s guidance and protection as she navigated within her environment. In any hostile environment we are in there are at least three positions we need God to assume:
1) We need God to be our shepherd – to lead us through the minefields by navigating and directing our path
2) We need God to be our covering – the covering of God protects us from things coming crashing down all around us when we are our most vulnerable
3) We need God to be our rearguard – to make sure that nothing sneaks up behind us or catches us off guard should we become distracted
Some would say, couldn’t they have just prayed? Let’s be honest, no matter how hard we try not to let it happen, God gets lost in the daily shuffle of us trying to manage all of the things we have to get done. Spiritual disciplines like fasting help us to get our priorities in order and acknowledge our own limitations and inadequacies while letting God know how much we really need Him at all times and in all places.