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21st March 2021

Joining the Dots

Passage: Story of Esther


You don’t have to be in a good place in order to do good things. This is what the story of Esther is about.
Esther was a young, beautiful foreign woman, living in an enemy country. And we all know what happens to young, beautiful foreign women in enemy countries. We know what happens to young and beautiful women in our own country- don’t we just……
And although Esther’s story reads like a romance: the poor, virtuous girl marrying the rich, powerful King, we are grown-ups; we know what it was really like. Esther was taken into the King’s harem; just one of many wives who would only be summoned to the King’s presence when he called them. To approach him uninvited was to risk death. OK, Esther was a lot better off than many other Jewish girls living in Susa, but it was hardly the life we would wish for our daughters. Yet, even from this difficult and dangerous place, Esther was able to save her people from a massacre.
You don’t have to be in a good place in order to do good things.

We have seen this ourselves, haven’t we? People who are tragically bereaved campaign for action or raise huge sums of money for charity; Terry Waite and John McCarthy, unjustly imprisoned, write the most inspiring books to help others; Revd Chad Varah, and the few elderly members of his congregation in the aftermath of World War Two, stepping over the piles of rubble which had once been their church, founding the Samaritans. You don’t have to be in a good place in order to do good things.

Right now, this is a message WE need to take on board. Most of us are not in the best of places, having had our lives and church turned upside down. Things are looking more hopeful, but we find it hard to plan a future because situations still change from week to week. Our lives feel chaotic. Some of us say that we are not sure who we are much less what we are doing here… There is a lot of good to be done but how can we do it? &&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 4, Jesus joins the people in the synagogue- place of worship- in his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus’ people were not in a good place. They were living under enemy occupation, suffering poverty and injustice. Their only hope was in God; God who had chosen them to be his people; God, who would send them a Messiah, to get them back their freedom, put them at the top rather than at the bottom of the political heap and establish a kingdom of peace and prosperity.

Jesus was invited to choose a passage of scripture and he read from the prophet Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind; to release the oppressed and to proclaim the time of God’s favour.”
Jesus then said openly- today this promise has been fulfilled. Right here, right now. What? Said the people. This is the son of Joseph the carpenter. Messiah? I don’t think so.
Jesus went on to tell of how God had sent religious leaders of the past to foreigners, foreigners who had come to believe in God. This could happen again right now. Even in their harsh circumstances, there were people of other nations who could be reached for God. And if they were reached for God, then the justice, the healing, and unity of God’s kingdom, promised by Isaiah might just happen.

But the people in the synagogue would have none of it. Share their God with the foreigners who were making their lives a misery? This was not what they had signed up for. They threw Jesus out of the synagogue and nearly killed him right then.
The men and women who chose to follow Jesus became both social and religious outcasts. Jesus himself was crucified by a combination of Jewish and Roman hatred. Yet it the Christian faith succeeded in being multi-cultural; in bringing people once divided together; and even in becoming a strong influence for justice and peace in the corridors of power. Being in a bad place then, can produce good or it can produce more bad. &&&&&&&&&&&&&&

In the Bible, it is made absolutely clear that God is the giver of life. Everything started with God. It is also made clear that things went wrong- that life can quickly turn bad and destructive. We don’t know why. It is never really explained. But we do know that it happens.
Therefore God, in the Bible, spends a lot of time picking up the pieces and getting life going in the right direction again. God is a renewing force in life. He is not going to give up. He will keep making and re-making and re-making again in the hopes of bringing us and our world to the beauty and the goodness he intended. No matter how bad a place we are in, God can enable us to do good because he is deeply and lovingly committed to us.

What went wrong for Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth? Sadly, those people’s idea of what was good was not God’s idea. Their idea of “good” was a safe place just for them, where they never had to see a Roman soldier again and from which they could expel anyone who broke the rules or challenged the faith. God’s idea of “good” was a world in which all races could live at peace together and in which factions now at war would learn to produce food and shelter in unity. God’s idea of “good” was not a return to the past but a creative re-shaping of life and faith for the future. God’s idea of “good” was not necessarily safe. It involved risk, sacrifice and commitment.

The Bible Society, whose Lyfe course we have been discussing during Lent, makes this comment: “Our souls will never grow in God if we read the Bible solely to get ammunition to defend ourselves or defeat others. We read the Bible in order to be fed. Strengthened, taught, rebuked, counselled, comforted.” The Bible does not present us with a plan; rather, it enables us to allow the plan to unfold. The good things we find ourselves able to do from bad places are not always the good we expect to do but the good God is calling us to do and yes, sometimes this goodness comes at a high cost. Look at what it cost Jesus Christ.

But I guess that what most of us need in the end is the belief that our lives have a purpose and a plan; that we are here for a reason. It is one of the few questions both science and religion ask- what are we here for? Can we join the dots and see the whole picture of what human life is really all about?

Dorothy Sayers wrote that our lives are like the weaving of a huge tapestry and in this life we see only the back, with all the knots and tangled threads- no obvious pattern. It will be only after death that we shall be able to go round to the front of the tapestry and see the full picture- trace the pattern and the plan. And she is right, isn’t she? Because life is never static, it is always changing. And this is why God -if there is a God- has to be about renewal and not about maintaining the status quo. And this is why-if there is life after death- it is only then that we shall be able to see the whole picture. And this is why achieving goodness is always risky, carrying a high personal cost. And this is why I need God.

I am still reading this book… (Jordan Peterson. Maps of Meaning) and I am on the chapter about chaos and upheaval in life and how it scares us. But one sentence stands out for me: We do not know our own potential. That is what gives us hope.
We do not know what life will bring us-whether of good or bad.
We do not know how we shall cope with it- good or bad?
Because we do not know our own potential. We cannot say with certainty that we shall achieve great good from the difficult place we are now inhabiting. But nor can we say with certainty that we shall not. I can only believe that if Jesus Christ could reconcile us to God from the point of crucifixion; if he could release the loving, redeeming, saving power of God from the cross, then there is hope even for me. Maybe the tapestry of my life will have a pattern because it has been woven by that daily renewing grace of God.

In the months and years ahead, there will be a great deal of goodness needing to be done- in our nation, in our world and in our church. Going right back to where we started: the story of Esther; she believed her uncle when he said that there was a plan and purpose to her life; she asked him and all her people for powerful prayer support; and then, trusting in God’s grace, she risked her life to save her people.

Keep connected to each other; encourage each other to believe in a plan and purpose for each one of our lives.
Keep praying for each other; that the renewing power of God might revitalise and re-shape each life.
Keep trusting that there is a good work for you to do; something which will make the world better and the church stronger.
And be ready to recognise and to take up that good work so that the time will come for each one of us when we can look at the pattern of our lives and trace the beauty which has come from our present bleakness. Thanks be to God.