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Ben Fleming: Influence in Exile, Esther 3-7

July 25, 2022

Audio Recording

Ben Fleming: Influence in Exile, Esther 3-7

Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside church in bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

00:07 The story of Esther. This is a, an interesting, bizarre often story. If you haven't read through this story, you really should read it. We're gonna skim through bits and pieces of it to, to give you help it fit inside of a message. I wouldn't be surprised if we did a whole series on eventually, but this story reads like an action movie. One of your favorite action movies. There's incredible irony in it. There's bad guys. There's good guys. There's good guys acting like bad guys, incredible violence and sex. And all of it is involved in this one story. And it takes place a hundred years after the Babylonian exile, which is the exile of the Jewish people that we've spent most of our time talking about in this series. It's a hundred years after that some Jews have returned to their Homeland, but some haven't. So this happens in the city of SSO, which is the capital city of the Persian empire at the time.

01:01 And these stories are really important, not just because they're in our Bibles, that makes them important. Absolutely. But these stories that exist within a life of faith, and this is an intricate one because the, the, the name of God isn't mentioned even one time in this entire book, but the reason it's important again is cuz it's a story it's it's historical. It is a group of people that are trying their best to understand who God is just like, we are trying our best to understand who God is today. And I had recently a, a massive encounter with storytelling in the form of Disneyland. I took my children to Disneyland for the first time I went, it was my first time at Disneyland. I had never been before. And and, and, and we went in July when it's hot and, and there's the most people.

01:48 So that was smart. And I really appreciate, I'm not a big fan of crowds, honestly. Like I don't like do concerts usually a lot of times all brave sporting events, cuz I love 'em so much. And I kind of get my own seat, you know, but being moved around like a bunch of sheep all the way through a theme park is not my idea of a good time. And I have noticed I'm really impressed by this business model, the courage of it, that they sell you a ticket and it says, this is a ticket for Disneyland. You get into Disneyland with this ticket is amazing. What it is. It's an invitation to come spend more money. I go, well, what do I get with this ticket you get in. Okay. And you get to ride the rides. If you're willing to wait at least an hour for all of them.

02:32 Well, how do I get on faster? Well, that will cost more money oh, you wanna get on the ride? Yes. $15 please. And, and I, I, I am really impressed also with how they structure the lines that every ride, especially the big ones that they, they don't ever go in a straight line so that you see where the end is. They take you through these little cabins and caves and you, you walk in and you go, wow, I've been in line for 45 minutes, but this is cool. And I have no idea where the end is. I feel like we're almost there and you never are and your, your children just climb on things. They can't climb on. And, and so with all of this being said, I hate the heat. I hate crowds. And here we are in Disneyland in July and I have a tendency to get a little cynical and I start to point things out and go, well, this is the reason for this, the corn dogs, they thought that were supposed to be so great.

03:20 This pineapple dull whip is super okay. And then I had a second one. It was amazing. I'm not gonna lie and then a few moments happen. You guys, where magic shows up and my son makes a light saber, we took video of this and they turn off the, they turn off the lights and they light his lightsaber and they call him a Jed eye. And he's just shaking, you know? And my daughter and I ride the little mermaid five or six times, which was great. It was air conditioned. I'm cool with it. And, and you go through this thing, it's old animatronics, it's nothing new. It's nothing special. They're just telling you this story that you've heard a million times and my daughter's singing it in her little shell ride all the way through. And I come out of the ride going, I wanna be where the people are.

04:10 walking around on that. What's it called street, where they and my daughter eventually's like, dad, shut up. Geez, we get it. We're out on the street again. And, and I, and then we go to the Disney world of color thing at the end. It's a, it's a water show with lights and they project the movies and they play the music. And my daughter's on my shoulders and she singing and let it go from the top of her lungs and the lion king and magic carpet ride. And I am weeping. I'm so happy. and she falls asleep. She sings herself to sleep on my shoulders and I'm like, gosh, dang it. It's magic. What is it? And I spent again, I'm, I'm a cynic man. I like to look for reasons why things aren't as good as everyone says they are. And I'm thinking about this as we're in the hotel and we're flying back and all this stuff, I'm like, what is that thing?

05:10 And it's stories. It's because of the stories. And they connect often with us. So often when we're little and then we grow with them and they grow with us and we actually see stories differently. And we find ourselves identifying with different characters and the music and it matters. It really matters. It matters with these stories that we're gonna talk about today, how we understand it and how we relate to it and how we grow with it. It really, really matters in the stories that we tell about ourselves, right? Some of us, maybe in the room today, you've been hearing so many stories about yourself from unreliable sources that have told you, you are a kind of person that I really believe that Jesus doesn't declare that you are as a son or a daughter of Christ. That means that we are permitted certain things. That means we are allowed certain things.

05:56 That means we are allowed to understand that we are loved beyond measure that this grace is coming for us relentlessly. And that there's nothing that can separate us from the love of God. And when we get that story into our souls and our spirits again and again, when we face the most difficult parts of life, no matter what that song of who Jesus says, we are can come again to the surface, no matter how much other music I listened to, no matter how much blink 180 2, I ingested in high school, I can still always go back to a whole new world.

06:33 And we're transported again to this moment in life. I really believe that if we get the heart of the spirit of the song of Christ within us, which we will attempt to do again today in this scripture, that we will always be able to arrive back at this confidence in knowing that God sees us. He loves us. He cares for us. And that story belongs to each and every single one of us in the room. Amen. And so this story of Esther matters in this way. As we try to understand God as best we can. So again, a hundred years after the Babylonian exile, there's a few main characters in this. And one is the king Xerxes Xerxes, just so you know is drunk almost this whole story. And he sleeps with as many women as humanly possible. And so what happens is he throws this great festival lasts 180 days.

07:24 That's a celebration of his power and glory. And so there's wine for everyone. There's food for everyone. There's celebrating for everyone on the very last day, the hundred 80th day, he invites his wife Vashti to come and to dance for him and the nobleman that he has collected into his home so that they can gaze upon the beauty of Xi's wife. Vashti being a total boss says no way, I'm not dancing for your stupid friends. And what happens is one of the most insecure moves that any leader could make immediately out of the gate. All the noblemen say, well, if she's not coming, the other women are gonna hear about this. You know, and they're not gonna do what we say. And so they insist that Xerxes actually enact a law that reminds women and children in all of the kingdom that the man is, the head of the household is the boss.

08:18 And you will do what he says. And in the process, he throws Vashti out from his family and from his kingdom. And he starts his own reality TV show to find his next queen. really what this is, is an opportunity for Xerxes to gaze upon and to sleep with as many women in the kingdom as possible. The one he settles on is actually a Jewish woman and he doesn't know she's Jewish named Esther in the middle of all of this. One of those nobleman named Haman, who's risen up to be the right hand at the throne of Xerxes is loving his own glory and power as well, loves to walk around the kingdoms and get respect from people and encourage them to bow down before them. And most all of them do all except one is named mean Mordecai. Mordecai is a Jew himself, and Haman gets so upset that Mordecai won't respect him.

09:15 Won't bow down to him that he goes to Xerxes, who again is drunk. And he says, Xerxes, these Jews, I met this one guy. He won't bow down to me. We got to kill all of them. And so what happens is in Esther chapter three, verse 13 says dispatchers were sent by swift messengers into all the provinces of the empire. Give you the order that all Jews, young and old, including women and children must be killed, slaughtered and annihilated. On a single day, this was scheduled to happen on March 7th of the next year. The property, the Jews would be given to those who killed them.

09:51 So there's this kingdom ordered hit out on the Jews, but it's not coming for some time. And so what happens is Mordecai. Who's actually the uncle of queen Esther. Who's still in secret. Nobody knows her nationality. He comes to her and he says in Esther, chapter four, verse 14, he says, look, Esther, if you keep quiet at a time like this deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for such a time as this, then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai, go and gather together all the Jews of SSA and fast for me do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then though it is against the law, I will go to see the king.

10:38 And if I die, I die. So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. This is an interesting expression of faith to me. A lot of times I think of faith being, I am so confident in this incredible outcome. That somewhere way out ahead of me, think about it this way. I played basketball in high school. I thought I was good. I was not, I was fine. And I would talk to the coach. I always had big dreams. You know, the coach was like, well, what are you hoping to accomplish this trip? Like, well, I wanna win the championship. I think we can win the league. I think we can do this and that. And I'm talking and I'm looking up here in the coach goes, that's great. I appreciate that. You have that kind of vision. Here's what I want from you.

11:23 I want you to learn to use your left hand. well, we're gonna win state though. That's great. Can you use your left hand to do anything to dribble, to shoot, to pass? Can you use your left? And it's this little thing. It's one thing for me to say, I've got these great aspirations to win this great competition, but the actual action that you need to accompany that statement of faith or vision is usually a small one that exists right in front of you. Now, a lot of us make this mistake ourselves. We say, I'm gonna accomplish this in life and I'm gonna go do this. And I'm gonna help these people, church people, especially pastors. We can do this all the time. Oh, we wanna take this city for Christ. We wanna grow the church. We wanna have the, a cool church. I don't even know what that means.

12:15 It's so dumb. But pastors think that way sometimes when our church should be cool. What does that mean? that was funny to me and my pastor friends. Okay. And , and we think about all these like really high, many of them don't even matter. And we're walking past, we're driving past the hurt and the need that exists right in front of us. The real step of faith that it takes is not just believing in this great big, far off someday, some kind of vision. That's all well and good. But I believe that the step of faith that God is calling us into is much like that of Esthers. She's not saying, I know this is gonna be the outcome she's saying, I know the next right move is to walk before the king and risk my life to advocate for a people that cannot advocate for themselves.

13:03 That's the next little quick right in front of me, move that I can make. I wonder if there aren't many, many quick moves where we can advocate or we can care. We can stand in faith in our lives that don't require a lifetime's worth of energy. Instead, they often require a minute's worth of conversation. All of us can participate in that kind of faith. We can make the next move. We can do the next right thing. I really did go to Disney at the next right thing. Okay. Some of you have five year olds and it shows, so Esther goes to him, even though it's against the law, unless he gives you a pardon in that moment. But she gets this audience with the king and Haman. It says, so the king and Haman went to the queen, went to queen Esther's banquet. And on the second occasion, while they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, tell me what you want.

14:01 Queen Esther, what's your request. I will give it to you. Even if it's half of the kingdom queen ster replied. If I have found favor with the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my request, I ask that my life and the lives of my people will be spared for my people. And I have been sold to those who had kill slaughter and annihilate us. If we had merely been sold as slaves I could remain quiet for that would be too trivial matter to warrant disturbing the king. So Esther goes to him. She makes your request. But before she does, it's really interesting. What Xerxes offers her, a woman who, even though secretly hiding her nationality until this moment has risen to a safe and secure place in the kingdom. Even as this edict goes out. And what does Xi's offer her at this moment where she's about to advocate for the least of these, those who cannot advocate for themselves. He offers her even more power and safety and security. You can have half the company. You can have half the kingdom. You can have half of all that you see.

15:16 Now, some of us in here right now are going to experience, or maybe you have experienced this challenge already. And I want to encourage you to do it in the way of Jesus, as best as possible as some of us are good at climbing the corporate ladder. Some of us have atta, incredible wealth. You continue to grow and influence people. Know you, what you say matters in this place. And you are faced all the time and will continue to be faced. Again, any of us who have more than enough, constantly faced with this question, what will you do with your influence? Is this influence for power or is it for people?

15:58 Is your influence for power or for people? Because the natural human state, the natural human condition is to continue to insulate ourselves from everyone else's system to continue to insulate ourselves from an economy that could go wrong at any moment to insulate ourselves from the group of people around us so that we can be as safe as humanly possible. And when we're met with these decisions, many people in the world would simply try to make themselves safer and richer and more powerful. But I want to encourage the people of God today, that those of us who have influence and resource when met with that decision, that we always choose people over simple power.

16:44 It's a difficult thing to do because we have subscribed to a lot of different things over the course of our life of faith. If, if you've been walking in a life of faith for any amount of time, one of the biggest phrases that I actually have a bit of a beef with, cuz I don't think it's a completely accurate way to talk about our faith. Is this phrase, my own personal relationship with Christ. Have you ever said that before I asked Jesus into my heart and now I have a personal relationship with Christ. It's not all bad, but at least for me, that has created at times this idea that my life of faith can exist at all without how I care about other people being on the forefront of it. My own personal faith in Christ does not exist without caring for the people that he has created that live in my family and in my neighborhood and in my city and in the world around me, how we relate to those things is how we relate to Christ. The baseball player and civil rights said, Jackie Robinson said, a life is not important except in the impact that it has on other lives. Jesus himself said you will. They will know that you're my disciples by how you love one another.

18:04 Now this is a difficult decision for an exile. Someone who has found themselves on the lowest end of the totem pole, even as she exercises her position as queen. And yet she chooses the people over power. And what happens for the rest of the story where here's, where it gets complicated. What I love most about the Bible is it is super honest about its heroes, but what happens for the rest of the story is that Esther gets the ear of the king and he says, well, I can't get rid of the decree that I already said before, but I can add a new one. And he essentially says that any Jews that feel like their lives might be at risk or somebody might come after them in the whole kingdom, they can fight back and they can kill and annihilate anybody that they think might do the same to them. So what happens is that no recorded Jews are killed on this day where their reckoning is supposed to come. But instead, what happens is that the Jews go out and they kill over 75,000 people in the Persian kingdom.

19:11 And again, the action movie lover in Migos hall, a revenge story, let's do this, the good guys annihilate the bad guys in the end. And we were sure that the Jewish bodies would be the ones that are on spikes. But now it's the Persian bodies. This is why Jesus ruins everything all the time. And look, there are some in the world that we exist in today. And I would say, even in the Christian world today that are seeking after this kind of outcome, maybe it's not the annihilation of 75,000 people. There's probably some really extreme thinking that way, but I think we can fall for this idea. So often that we're called on this world to go out and to attain victory over the people in the places that are around us. I like sports. I like competitions. I like to win. And Jesus ruins this for me every time.

20:24 Cuz what does Jesus say? Love your enemies. Bless those who curse. You care for those who persecute you. He even says it like this in Matthew chapter nine, verse 21, he says, you've heard that our ancestors were told you must not commit murder. If you commit murder, you're subject to judgment. But I say, I raise the bar even higher. If you're even angry with someone you're subject to judgment. If you call someone an idiot, you're in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. I wanna encourage you in this today as not very encouraging. That is that we, as exiles of people who are living in a place that is, is not truly our home, we are called to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. But then our tendency is to go out and try to create some kind of victory and dominate our world.

21:22 We believe that the world is God's and all that is in it already. And so our greatest calling right now, while we do have enemies, while we have people that curse us while we have people that curse you and hate you and wish the worst on you and our tendency, our desire is for revenge. Jesus calls the new Testament, exile the modern day exile into a place that says I choose to love the people that wish the worst for me. I choose to care for people of different religions and different nationalities and different backgrounds and different desires because God has called me to love these people.

22:09 So even denying our own desires, our own simple primal wants, pushes us farther into exile, to live in a way that simply doesn't exist everywhere in our world. Right now. I don't think this means that we remove ourselves at all from public spaces and systems. And on the contrary, I hope we find ourselves planting gardens and making music and enjoying the company of all kinds of people, cuz that's what Jesus did. What separates the way of Jesus from all the rest of the ways is these kinds of words, this kind of philosophy and behavior is a rarity in our politics and in our systems today. But I pray that we would hold ourselves accountable in such a time as this as exiles in this world, that even our anger against those who would wish harm on us would take us aback and slow us down and remind us again of the way of our savior. Let's pray, father God. We want to be this kind of faith. People who stand so firmly in faith, that we're willing to go out of our massive existential conversations and we're willing to minister and to care for the person right next to us in that conversation on that street corner in our schools and our spaces,

23:46 Jesus, you are so subversive in how you came to earth and even under the great expectation that you would be the greatest general and warrior the Jewish people have ever seen. You asked us to love our enemies, bless the people that would come against us love in such an uncommon and undignified way. As far as the world is concerned. Lord, we take on that tradition and that story. Why? Because we were loved in such a way we love because you first loved us. Give you praise and honor in glory in Jesus name. Amen.