Homily for Day One of Provincial Synod 2019
Wednesday 25 September
Day 1, Homily 1
- What are the things that we are currently reviewing and what should we be reviewing as ACSA?
- Part of reviewing is to be honest about our failures. How did King Xerxes fail Mordecai? How have we failed those who are seeking refuge?
- If we are serious about reviewing and reflecting; who should we be reflecting with? Who is invited to the discussion?
A quick walk through Esther in 2019
by Natalie Simons Arendse[Available as a PDF]
Esther’s parents had been killed and she was being raised by her older cousin Mordecai. They did not return to Jerusalem after the exile and made their home in Persia. Her real name is Hadassah but because she lived in a foreign place she took a foreign name.
The Persian King Xerxes is a weak leader who is advised by a group of “leaders” who have their own ideas of how the kingdom should be run. When the king’s first wife Vashti refuses to degrade herself by parading her beauty and her body for the king’s advisors and friends; they recommend that she is dethroned as queen and that a beauty contest of all the virgins in the kingdom; Persians and foreigners be held in order for the king to choose another queen.
The women are rounded up like cattle and treated to beauty treatments and feasts while living in the palace; getting ready for their one night with the King. Yes, the king will choose the next queen by sleeping with each virgin who has been taken from her family and brought to the palace against her will to be part of the King’s harem.
Esther finds herself in the palace part of the King’s harem. Mordecai works in the palace as a scribe and is able to communicate with her via the servants. Esther is chosen as the next queen and soon a plot to assassinate the king is uncovered by Mordecai. The plot is averted and recorded in the journals of kingdom, but Mordecai is not acknowledged for this.
Meanwhile Haman; a descendant of the Aggegite tribe; a tribe whom God had ordered to be destroyed; finds his way into the advisory council of the king. He has an encounter with Mordecai who refuses to bow down to him and he makes it his mission to have Mordecai killed. Haman creates rumours about foreigners who are living in the kingdom; who follow their own laws; who are not loyal to the king. Tensions rise and soon the king succumbs to pressure from Haman; he signs a decree; giving the Jews 3 months to leave Persia or be killed.
Mordecai informs Esther of the decree and reminds her that she did not come to be placed in the palace to protect herself; perhaps she had become queen for such a time as this. Esther is afraid of what could happen if she breaks with the protocols of arriving unsummoned to speak to the king; but she is convicted and responds… if I perish; I perish.
Esther is granted an audience with the king and she invites him and Haman to a banquet. They attend and the king inquires of Esther what she wants; offering her anything up to half the kingdom. Esther responds by asking the king and Haman to attend another banquet the following day. The king agrees. And this is where our lectionary reading begins today.
The king cannot sleep and asks for the journals to be read. Here he learns that Mordecai had averted his assassination. He wants to good by Mordecai.. he wants everything to stay the same. Let’s throw another party for the man who saved the king’s life.
By reviewing the book of Esther; we must read it through different lenses and perspectives. What is the story behind the story? We cannot continue to read and preach the dominant narrative of Esther through the lens of a young Jewish woman who saved her people because she was obedient to God.
Considering what has happened in and around our country and its borders in the last few weeks; we cannot read Esther and conclude that it was a happy ending. There is human trafficking in the story of Esther, young women are taken away from their families against their will. There is exploitation of the vulnerable; women and foreigners. The Jews are living in Persia as second class citizens. There is patriarchy and weak leadership; as the king seeks advice from people who want to maintain the status quo and there is political instability because the king just wants to throw a party for any occasion.
By reviewing where we are as ACSA; we cannot continue to preach the dominant narrative of complacency. We must review and we must lament. We must lament for the way in which we
have failed God’s people, women and children, queer and divorced. We must lament for the environment.
But we cannot only lament; we must act. We are reviewing our policies and using inclusive language, but when will we invite other voices to be part of our decision-making processes? We must review who the people are that have the power to change our policies; maybe that group of people needs to be more diverse? Maybe more young people must be invited to the table?
Sunday’s gospel reading of the dishonest manager pushes us to look not only at the dishonesty of the manager but at the critical way in which he devised his plan to not get caught out. We need to think critically, and we need diverse voices and ages to contribute to our conversations and decisions. In his charge yesterday the Archbishop urged us to be a more inclusive church; not only on paper but in practice. He called on politicians to stop fighting and to start leading; when will we stop fighting about whether women are good enough to be deans and bishops and start electing them as deans and bishops?
Esther is the only book in the bible that does not mention God by name; one author describes God as being conspicuous by God’s absence in the book of Esther. Where is God in the midst of what is happening with Esther. As Jesus followers our hope is in a God who uses the mundane events of everyday life to accomplish God’s kingdom. Everyday life for us should include reflection and review of how we can live abundant lives in Jesus Christ.