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Sermon preached at the Vestry of St Elizabeth’s Westville

Readings: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

In the words of today’s Collect:

Mysterious God:

Reveal the narrowness of our blinded sight,

And make us aware of all who serve your purposes

So that together we will celebrate the glory of your reign;

Archdeacon Gumede, in my flesh I don’t know whether to say thank you for inviting me to preach today, it is no small thing to address St Elizabeth’s at their Vestry, at this time in our life together.

But – I come in peace to share from God’s word and this homily is just that. I would have preached this anywhere.  But I have contextualised it.

I don’t know if you here at St Lizzy’s follow the lectionary – but I do. If ever asked to speak I take the lectionary readings for the day – and often they challenge us way beyond what we could have come up with if we had chosen a theme that we thought would be contextual.  We didn’t read from Esther this morning, but we are familiar with the story –  – and that’s ok – the set reading is Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10, 20-22..and it is the basis for my homily…

And so, I merely preach that which was prearranged by the Lectionary to preach this day and pray that it will find you where you are and do what scripture is supposed to do – (2 Tim 3: 16) Rebuke, correct and train in righteousness.

And in that process restore hope, and bring healing – 

We turn to scripture and draw on our inheritance of faith to reconcile us to God, ourselves and our neighbour.

Scripture tells us that Israel was a divided nation for most of its existence, the Old Testament is one long story of infighting and power struggles, people who we revere in scripture, were often seen as the enemy in their own time. Very often when we read scripture, the story is presented as that of the King, the one with the power in the nation – and we have to dig a little deeper to think about how the little people felt in all of this.

When Saul and David were enemies – how did the people experience it, we read it and fondly remember the victory – the outcome, how God used those many turbulent years, to grow the Kingdom,

But people had to live it and suffer through it, they had to persevere. They carried the consequences of both Saul and David’s actions and the many others kings to whom they were subject.

Some caught up as soldiers, on either side, some as leaders, some as advisers and some just as innocent citizens, circumstantially positioned – just trying to live out their lives.

Mothers lost sons, in the battles between Kings – life has consequences, and God is not ambivalent, heaven has wept over every life that was lost in the futility of the affairs of people, and through the human condition of seeking power and dominance and their own will. 

When we read the scriptures, we believe that God cared about these people, we rejoice in the words of the Psalmist

if the Lord had not been on our side
    when people attacked us,
 they would have swallowed us alive
    when their anger flared against us;
(Psalm 124)

But we need to realise that these words were spoken after plenty of hardship – they were bigger picture words and while they were under attack – it felt like they were being swallowed – in all our interactions with one another there are casualties.

When we read scripture, we need to read between the lines and between the punctuation marks.  Life is not lived in the conclusions –

In the years to come, we will look back on 2020, 2021, and we will remember from the context of the bigger story, we will remember as survivors of the pandemic and strife of our time,

but right now, as it has always been,

 life is lived in the struggle, it is lived in the battle, it is lived between what is desired and what is done.

It is lived in the painful experience of daily life and death

But our battle is not against other people – it is against powers and principalities -attitudes, spirits…of  

Greed, jealousy, personal ambition, and the resulting power struggles, we see it at every level of society and in the Church.

fundamentalism, competing convictions, desires, ego’s, agenda’s, hopes and fears. We don’t live in the theory of godliness we live in the reality of “all have fallen short”  – God knows that these are all part of the story.

Salvation does not elevate us out of our humanness – The Church is not a haven for saints but a hospital for sinners, seeking the love, mercy and grace of God –

We tend to sanitise scripture when we just look at it as an historic encounter, read the scripture in a personal fashion and your own struggles and hurts and battles will make a lot more sense.

But just as you read scripture and conclude that God’s intention is healing and hope and life in abundance, read your life and see that the present struggles and suffering, are worth it – (St Paul) –

The hope and the abundance the crown of glory are the end product, but being shipwrecked, going hungry, being imprisoned, persecuted and constantly on trial, are the journey (St Paul)

10 plagues in Egypt, hard labour, constant fear of death –

and we see the point of it, now, and we delight in the exodus – and we jump to that part of the story – we quickly read over the hardship of making bricks without the provision of straw – but that is where we live – we live in the ever-increasing demands of the world – and the ever-decreasing provision of the means to live this life.

And often we say – Oh Lord how long will you delay (ps 90:13)

We acknowledge the psalmists words –  “if the Lord had not been on our side” – but do we see him on our side even now… in the midst of our trials.

our Gospel warns us:

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

In the Levitical, Law salt represented the Covenant with God – ( Lev 2:13) salt is what preserved the offering – fire  – trouble hardship disagreements and how we conduct ourselves,  how we remain faithful to God in all our difficulties – how we be salt…..represents our covenant with God…how we preserve our faith and persevere…that is how the Covenant is represented to the world….

St Paul writes  – (Romans 5:3-5) suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

‘Everyone will be salted with fire.’ (Mark 9:49)

to lose our saltiness would be to give up along the way – to abandon the faith because we have faced trials.

Again St Paul says we are persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.(2 Cor 4:9)

When things are tough, we are called to respond in humility, our New Testament reading says:

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. ( James 5:16)

That’s how we stay salty – through prayer and forgiving as we are forgiven.

Our Old Testament reading today, tells a story about life and saltiness  about a means to maintaining our identity as SALT –

It is through using our position whatever it may be, to reconcile, through remaining committed to God, through all our trials. It is through reordering our lives that we retain our saltiness.

The story of Esther takes place in exile – the Jews were slaves to a powerful and ruthless King. King Xerxes. He had been offended by Queen Vashni – and so he made Esther, a Jewish girl of great beauty – His queen. But I think he took a slave girl to insult Vashni back, not because of any other noble intention.

Mordecai was a Jew who had foiled an assignation attempt against Xerxes, but he and his fellow Jews were still being persecuted. Haman was a man who felt that he had not been honoured enough and was bitter against the Jews, probably even more so now because the Queen was one. Haman set up for himself a series of events that he hoped would bring honour to himself and see Mordecai the Jew hanged, even building the gallows himself.  Haman had the ear of the King, he had the power, Mordecai had none, and Esther had to put her life at risk to ask the King to save her people.

We can see ourselves in this story – again not just here at St Elizabeth’s, this pattern of behaviour is evident in all our lives everywhere –

For we all like Hamon have set up a gallows for another – our attitudes our prejudices, our ego’s our self-centred desires – our actions, impact on others and bring them down to elevate ourselves – us getting our own way at a cost to someone else, is a human condition. And equates to setting up a gallows!

And we experience this and are all guilty of it. And therefore, we all need to repent of it. Confess your sins one to another. Stay Salty. 

And we all are pretty good at naming the Haman’s in our lives those who have set themselves against us and those whom we want to meet the same fate because they have done to us what Haman did to Mordecai.

But our battle is not against flesh and blood but against attitudes, and prejudices and the sinful character that seeks to use every opportunity to drag us down.

But we don’t need a Bible to tell us about the Haman’s of the world –   we don’t need a Bible to tell us how to wish ill upon our enemies or those who disagree with us – we can do that quite easily all on our own – we need a Bible to tell us of Esther – we need a Bible to find the Esther in us that overcomes the Haman in us and establishes the Mordecai – think of these as three spirits or attitudes or ways of being….

Don’t label others in your life as Haman – realise that the spirit of Haman in us, it is our common denominator – the ways of the flesh – and all have fallen short of the Glory of God.

We all want to elevate ourselves – we are Haman.

But likewise –  we all have a spirit or an attitude of Mordecai   – that in us which is wholesome but persecuted –  The spirit of Mordecai in us that seeks to bring peace – and maybe you acted in peace and got shot down for it – can you see this story in your own life?

We all have a spirit or an attitude of Haman – ego centrical and seeking power and prestige and we all, like Mordecai have tried to do the right thing – we have in our own way attempted to bring righteousness back into our situation, and maybe we feel that we have failed.

Those two characters in us are easy to find – but it is the third that we must seek for we all have a spirit of Esther – and it is the Esther in us that the Holy Spirit seeks to draw out of us all today.

Esther had been given a position that excluded her from the sufferings of her people. As Queen their plight was no longer her plight – she had a life of luxury and had no reason to rock the boat with Xerxes, but

At risk to all that, all that she had been given, she saw that her position, if used with humility, could have a positive influence on her people who were suffering. 

Each of us are given the opportunity to rise above our own circumstances and be set free from them. Salvation sets us free from the sin that insnares us,  forgiveness gives us power –it elevates us above the quagmire but like Esther, we must use that freedom, even if it is a risk – we must use that power to uplift and to empower others to serve God.

Like Esther we must commit to the healing of the suffering –  I know there is hurt here – let’s heal it, I know there is confusion here – let’s bring hope I know there is brokenness here, let’s bring healing.

This new council will have the role of preparing this parish for a new priest; this new council will be responsible for a transition from the past to the future; This Vestry must not just change the names of the role players  – it does not help to change the Names – we need to change our hearts  – we cannot just repeat the same pattern of events with different names on the doors… but all of you, all of us must today commit to reconciliation; all of us must confess our sins one to another and be released from what got us here. We must be set free to re-establish ourselves as a worshipping community that brings glory to God in this place.

In each one of us is an Esther – Salt of the earth…. so take heart and be an Esther among God’s people. Preserve the Covenant – persevere!

Because the God who has called you is faithful, and He will not fail you.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Amen. 

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