As thousands in the Lodi community walk through the journey called "The Story," we can rejoice in its effect. At Emanuel Lutheran, the number of people involved in Bible studies has quadrupled. This story is repeated in similar fashion at First Baptist, Ham Lane Church of Christ, Temple Baptist and Vinewood Community Church ... God and His people are on the move.
As thousands in the community dig deeper into "The Story" and, of course, the Bible, we find that God's people have been exiled from their own land and have now returned, as Pastor Steve Newman, First Baptist, wrote about last week from Chapter 19.
Now we are reading Chapter 20, and this chapter can teach us something about the "Official Chapters," so to speak, of "The Story." In other words, the books of the Bible were written over a very long period of time by a vast assortment of God-directed persons. These books that were written were included into the Bible (the cannon) by the acceptances and acclamation of church leaders.
Some of those books (chapters, as they are referred to in "The Story") included in the Bible (Story) were not universally held in high regard. Chapter 20 (the Book of Esther) is such a chapter. I realize not everyone has read Chapter 20 or the Book of Esther, but if you did, you would have noticed that this chapter/book is the only one so far in the Bible in which God is not explicitly mentioned.
Is this chapter/book devoid of God's message and proclamation, or does God speak in this chapter/book much like He speaks in our world today, through His people who know His Story (the Bible)? There is a great character in Chapter 20. His name is Mordecai, and he tells Queen Esther that "for such a time as this," Esther has been given opportunity to speak up for God and His people.
Let me share some quick background info. In the time of Esther, there were Persian kings who were famous for their over-the-top parties, maybe like your own Super Bowl party. So when Queen Esther invited King Xerxes to a "big party" (Esther 5:8), the pressure was on. She was going to ask a major favor but first thought softening up the king was in order.
How about you? Have you ever "softened" a hard question, story or situation by having a meal first? Hey, for your next dinner party, maybe you could make a big Persian dinner in honor of Queen Esther. During the Achaemenid Empire, Persian kings could get nearly any food they wanted. It was as if they had a Raley's and Safeway in their backyard.
I recall mimicking Queen Esther's party at church. We did it up right with the youth group, and everyone brought a dish (fruit and fish were big back in the day) that may have been eaten in the time of Queen Esther. The funniest part, of course, was dessert.
Give this a try: Bake hamantaschen (ha-man-tosh-en), a traditional Jewish cookie made for Purim (see Esther 9:18–32). This is a celebration that honors Esther and Mordecai for saving the Jewish people from extermination. These triangular cookies may look a little funny to some, and the name Hamantaschen means "Haman's ears." But they're fun to make and taste delicious. Look in a cookbook or go online and search for hamantaschen.
Anyway, back to "The Story." One of the most well-known verses from this chapter of "The Story" comes when Mordecai tells Esther that God may have raised her to be queen "for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14).
If you get a chance, go online to www.tinyurl.com/ 7tpcvpp. This is Wayne Watson's song, "For Such a Time As This." Grab a piece of paper and pencil as you listen to the song and watch the lyrics scroll across the screen. Then write down phrases that have special meaning to you. Also, ask yourself: How does this song relate to Queen Esther's story? How is this song meaningful in my life and in my relationship with God?
After all of that, take a brief moment and just maybe offer the following prayer: Lord, I want to be used for Your kingdom, just like Queen Esther was. Fill me with Your spirit, so I am ready for such as time as this. Amen.
Don't forget to join in one of "The Story" worship celebrations this Sunday.
Chris Townsend is lead pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Lodi.