Good morning friends! Here is the worship service I recorded for Sunday, March 22, 2020.
Here is the liturgy if you'd like to follow along:
4 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.
6 So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate.7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews.8 He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.
9 Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”
12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will
escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will
arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.
Let us pray,
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be pleasing and acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer…
It’s good to be with you all this morning. Welcome to my home office! It’s been really fun to learn new ways to connect with people as we all practice good social distancing. Since everyone is out of their normal routines with the COVID-19 pandemic, I thought now would be a good time to preach from an unusual book of the Bible; Esther.
I know many of you don’t know the story of Esther so I thought I’d offer a brief recap. Esther lives at a time when God’s chosen people (the Jews) lived in exile. Persians now rule Jerusalem and Jewish people are in the minority.
Esther is a Jewish orphan. She must marry if she is to survive. She marries well and becomes Queen to Ahasuerus of Persia. The king chose her for her beauty and her intelligence.
Mordecai (Esther’s guardian) refuses to bow down to Haman (a high official of the king). Haman, insulted, plots to kill all Jews in Ahasuerus’ kingdom.
Mordecai begs Esther to go to the king and plead for the protection of the Jewish people. He tells her:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?
When Mordecai asks Esther to act on behalf of her people, I can easily imagine her saying “Who? Me?.”
Esther is a new member of Ahasuerus’ family. She is a woman and a Jew. If she speaks out against Haman to Ahasuerus, she could be killed. What Mordecai is saying to Esther is that she must step into this particular historical moment.
Esther must decide what to do. Will she do all she can to protect her people? Or will she do nothing and protect herself? Spoiler alert- Esther decides to declare her faith publicly. And by doing so, deliverance comes to her people.
We as a nation are facing a ‘for such a time as this moment’ as we fight to contain the spread of COVID-19. Allegheny County is taking drastic measures to slow the spread of this virus by banning gatherings of more than 10 people, closing bars and restaurants, and encouraging people to stay home.
With confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our community, Session and I decided to move worship online and suspend in person meetings until at least the end of the month.
The information surrounding COVID-19 changes daily. Everyone is worried about their health, their jobs, their families, and their finances. In the midst of all of this uncertainty, I find it incredibly helpful to focus on what I can do to protect the health and safety of my community.
The first thing we can all do is make some changes to our routines that prioritizes the health and safety of those most at risk of dying from COVID-19 in our communities.
All of us can increase the frequency and duration of our hand washing.
We can talk with our employers about staying home when we are sick.
We can prepare our families for an extended period of staying at home. By purchasing food, medicine, and essential household products. But we can resist the urge to hoard toilet paper, Lysol wipes, and hand sanitizer.
We can support local businesses by buying gift cards, or purchasing take-out.
We can check in (via phone or Facetime) on the elderly and isolated.
Friends, I have no idea how long we’ll need to stay apart from one another for the health of our community. Never in my wildest dream did I think the most faithful thing I could do as a pastor would be to lock the doors of the church, and tell everyone to stay home.
I am so very grateful we live in an age where we can stay connected via technology. The reason I chose to preach from Esther today is because Esther teaches us how to be brave in the midst of uncertainty. She teaches us how to do what is right instead of what is easy. She reminds us that discipleship demands our faithfulness to following God even when we’re not sure if our faithfulness will pay off.
As we face the uncertainty of the coming week, I challenge you to do two things. One- I challenge you to look for ways to build community when we can’t physically be together. Maybe that means teaching Mom and Dad how to Facetime. Maybe that means calling a friend on the phone. Maybe that means giving your kids a little bit more screen time. We’re all in this together.
Let us reach out as we stay apart.
My other challenge is for you to look for ways to be brave in the midst of uncertainty. For me that means canceling/rescheduling everything and practicing social distancing. For you that may mean working from home while your kids are home from school. Or it may mean coming up with creative ways to keep your elderly parents home and entertained. We all are called to do what we can with what we can while we can.
I have every hope that we are going to get through whatever the next few days and weeks and months have in store for us. I trust that our government, healthcare workers, and local leaders are doing the best that they can to protect us. I believe that people will step up and do their part to protect the vulnerable in their communities. In the meantime, let’s look for ways to be brave and build community with one another.
Thanks be to God,
In Jesus’ name,
God's peace be with you all! See you next week!