Quick quiz: what two Old Testament books don’t mention God? Give it some thought; I’ll wait.
Okay; got your answers? One is Song of Solomon, and the other is Esther. The Song, we get. It’s about love. Oh, is it about love.
But Esther? That’s kind of surprising, especially when you know the story. The Jews, in exile, are in deep trouble. Haman, their nemesis, has gotten the Persian king to agree to their annihilation. But the Jewish people have one trump card (who happens to be a lot better looking than Trump 2015, and a lot wiser). Her name is Esther, and she’s the queen. The only catch is: she has to go in to the king and ask for her people to be saved; but she has to go in, uninvited. In that culture, that’s either a ticket to getting the ear of the king, or death. Apparently, no in-between.
So Esther, wisely, questions her Uncle Mordecai when he tells her she needs to go see the king. She balks. And Mordecai responds: Well, yeah, it might be messy for you. You might even lose your life. Even so, “who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14). So Esther goes in to the king, and, long-story-short, the Jews are saved (but Haman, is not).
This story, and especially this verse (Esther 4.14), have been used repeatedly by preachers and teachers to say: Use what position you have for the glory of God. Take whatever role you’ve got in life, and situation, and let God work through you in the midst of it. And I agree with that challenge. Sometimes we choose our place in life, and God uses us in it. But sometimes, life seems to choose us for our place in it, and we have to decide: Am I going to let God use me? Here? Now? Even though it may be messy? Difficult? Even, possibly, deadly?
But, as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog: God is nowhere mentioned in the story of Esther. This doesn’t mean He isn’t seen on the edges of the story, but this notable lack of God’s mention reminds us of another key point: Sometimes we aren’t clear how this whole thing will play out. Sometimes, you see, God’s glory and guidance aren’t as clear as we would like. And maybe, just maybe, we act — not being sure how it will all turn out.
In other words, like Esther, we have to trust God when we do God-things in God’s world — trusting that God will be present. Even if it’s less like a blinding presence, and more like a flickering candle.
Which leads me to an issue in the news the past two weeks: Syrian refugees. Politicians are pontificating, and commentators are commentating on what we should be doing. In other words, they are doing what they always do.
So where is the Church? Shouldn’t we be doing what WE always do? Which is to say: trusting that, even when we have unanswered questions, God just might have put us where we are for such a time as this?
Years ago, I was at a missions conference where I met a missionary, Randy, who works in Germany. I haven’t seen him for over 20 years. But today, as I was going through my email, I came across a message this missionary had sent regarding the Syrian refugees that are streaming into his country. Here is some of what he had to say:
“The biggest event in our lives right now is that we have gone through an organization and have taken on 4 young Syrian men as sponsors to help them adjust to Germany. Three are from the same city in Syria. We met them first last Sunday. Yesterday we helped them with some papers they received and with where things are in the city. They are in the limbo asylum-seekers status. That means their cases are being considered by the government office for immigration.
After Paris and the cancellation of the soccer game in Hanover last night because of a bomb scare, many people are concerned when they hear that we are meeting with Syrians. Many Americans are very concerned/fearful about terrorism coming with refugees. We have seen some very strong comments in the social media from Christians. Fear is the natural reaction – think about Ananias in Acts 9 as he was to go to that Christian Killer – Saul/Paul. But love conquers fear and Ananias goes to Saul and ends up baptizing him. Who would have thought?
A couple of weeks ago I preached on Esther and a couple of thoughts from her story come to mind. Mordecai to Esther: ‘And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?’ Esther to Mordecai: ‘Fast for me. I will go to the king. And if I perish, I perish’ (Esther 4:12-16). We Christians can hide from them and hope they do not overtake our land or we can reach out to them. ‘As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24:15).”
I believe Randy is right. For 2000 years, the Church has not looked at opportunity with fear — but faith. Trusting that even when things aren’t clear, and may even get a little messy, God is at work. Bringing people in need to us. And our call is clear: reach out, with the love of Jesus. Because, after all, who knows that you aren’t where you are — right now — for such a time as this?