Gap Menders

Esther 7:1-10, 9:24-25
September 30, 2012
Mary Hammond

A couple weeks ago, I preached on two healing stories from the Gospel of Mark–that of a woman’s daughter tormented by affliction and a man facing the silent world of a deaf/mute. We spoke together about the oft-unnoticed and unrecognized roles of the caregivers in each story—the child’s determined mother and the man’s unnamed family or friends.

Today, we meet another person who “stands in the gap” on behalf of the vulnerable, but this story’s plot is much different than those in the Gospel of Mark. Esther’s legacy is steeped in political intrigue, both potent and dangerous. Neither a desperate mom nor a weary friend, this heroine is royalty, a closeted Jew married to the powerful Gentile King Xerxes, who rules an ancient vast kingdom.

The plot of the story unfolds carefully, tumbling toward a cataclysmic ethnic cleansing launched by Haman, one of the king’s trusted advisors. Haman convinces the king to order the extermination of the minority Jewish population. Queen Esther faces two dire choices: to continue to protect her own identity, or to come “out of the closet” as a Jew and risk her life for the sake of her people.

Esther is human, just like you and me. Initially, her silence protects her from the impact of the king’s policies on the Jews. Her solidarity with her people grows gradually, and not without struggle. The Queen begins her journey toward self-disclosure uncertain and undecided, carefully weighing the consequences of silence or action. As her decision to expose her identity solidifies, she chooses both her words and tactics of engagement carefully, requesting a private dinner with Haman and the king. There she makes her case.

Haman’s plot is revealed in new light as Esther exposes her Jewish identity. The king acts swiftly and without mercy, ordering the execution of Haman. The Jews are given the opportunity to defend themselves against attack, as the king’s former edict is considered irreversible. Esther’s people are victorious and forever recall this experience of deliverance with a celebration named “purim.”

There are few, if any, ways that the plot of Esther’s story remotely resembles the plots of any of our lives. Yet we, like Queen Esther, “stand in the gap” for those who lack the power to fight their battles alone. All of us need others to stand by us at one time or another.

How many times throughout history have others taken similar risks? Two weeks ago we looked at intensely personal narratives of “standing in the gap.” Esther’s story is an intensely political narrative, yet also a story with profound individual and social consequences.

“Standing in the gap” requires a lot of us. Sometimes it calls forth simple acts of everyday compassion or tenacious acts of relentless engagement. We may be called to “come out of the closet” in support of issues which matter deeply to us, but which we have been publicly reticent to disclose for fear of rejection by significant others in our lives. Amid social crises of a global magnitude, “standing in the gap” requires massive, persistent mobilization.

People often tell Steve and me what an amazing church this is, and they are absolutely right. I never cease to be touched by the deep, enduring love that this congregation pours out on the world, whether next door or across the planet. During our August Church Retreat, our final Reflection Question was this: “What faith issues and questions are rumbling around your own soul?”

Some identified their struggle with discovering and focusing on their own particular calling amid the vast sea of human need without feeling guilty and torn about not trying to do everything. Others wanted help learning to say “no” to old commitments in order to say “yes” to new opportunities. Several had questions about how to practice healthy self-care amid all the passionate, visionary activity we tend to unleash as we live in community together. A college student remarked to me after Church Retreat, Part II: “I didn’t expect to learn that people in their 60’s and 70’s are asking the same questions that I am asking. I guess we keep struggling with these issues all our lives.”

Without the advice and encouragement of Queen Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, Esther might not have taken the stand that she did. She needed Mordecai. Sheltered amid her palace life, Esther needed his report and analysis “from the ground.” She listened to him, and ultimately she acted. How I wish this kind of listening would happen more often in our own political milieu!

We all need Mordecais in our lives who help us see what we may not be able to see by ourselves. We all need encouragement to do “the right thing” when our hearts are wavering and the risks are real. We all need Esthers in our 21st century world, people who risk themselves for the sake of a stronger, better good; who speak truth to power; who practice self-disclosure when it can make a difference in the lives of others.

We need Mordecais and Esthers. We need to be Mordecais and Esthers in our own unique, individual ways. Like these personalities of ancient times, we can “stand in the gap” in our own day, mending the spaces between us rather than extending them.

May God give us grace to continue this journey we are already taking. We are on the way! Amen.