This morning we begin a four-week series on women in the Bible. We will unwrap the stories of two women in the Old Testament and two women in the New Testament. All of these women are named, which is a small minority of the women who are mentioned in the scriptures. By and large, women in the Bible are unnamed due to their low place in society.
Esther is celebrated by Jews and Christians for her courage, her wisdom, her commitment to her people, and her political savvy—all of which she uses to remove the threat of extinction for Jews living in the Persian empire. The book is laced with historical inconsistencies and improbable stats (like a 180-day drinking party and a 75 foot gallows), and should not be viewed as historical narrative, but more like historical fiction that is set in the 5th century BCE when the Jewish people found themselves as a threatened minority. The same storyline is repeated in recent history for Jews in Germany, Poland and the rest of Europe under the regime of Adolf Hitler, another proud, selfish and paranoid leader with great power. Sadly, there was no Queen Esther to arrange for a reversal of the holocaust.
Through the exchange of letters we heard read this morning, Esther names very realistic fears about asking King Ahasuerus to change his mind about wiping out the Jews. She knows that just busting in on the King without being summoned could get her killed. And she would have to reveal her Jewish identity if she spoke up for her people. And she would have to confront the evil Haman, the king’s manipulative right-hand man who was the originator of the whole idea to exterminate her people. Mordecai admonishes her to be courageous. He says: “For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Mordecai sees Esther as being in the right place at the right time. Although God is never explicitly mentioned in this entire story, here is one of the places that God’s guiding hand and God’s loving care for God’s people is implied. This is not a time to be afraid, but a time to be bold and full of courage. Mordecai lays it all out: if Esther won’t rise to the occasion, he trusts that God will send someone else. So, will you take the challenge or not?
Esther chooses to act. She chooses to risk her life so that the lives of her people may be spared. She does the right thing. You know stories throughout history of people who have been willing to risk their lives to do the right thing. People like Malala in Pakistan, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Martin Luther King, Jr. in the southern USA. I want to tell you the story of a father and son from in the 1930’s and 40’s. Thanks to Joan Higbee for sharing this story with me.
Both the father and the son chose a course of action directed by a similar moral compass to Esther’s, putting themselves in danger for the good of someone else. It appears that both Eddie and Butch adopted Esther’s resolve: “If I perish, I perish.” Easy Eddie was a lawyer for Al Capone, the famous Chicago mobster. He was a good lawyer, getting Capone free of legal charges again and again. He was richly rewarded by Capone and lived high on the hog. As he got older, Easy Eddie began to be uncomfortable with the work he was doing and became concerned about the lessons he was teaching his son with his life. Easy Eddie eventually blew the whistle on Al Capone, testifying against him in court. It was a dangerous decision, but an ethical and moral one. In this case, he did perish for telling the truth, becoming a victim of mob violence.
Easy Eddie’s son, Edward “Butch” O’Hare, became a fighter pilot in World War II. At one point in the war, he singlehandedly distracted a squadron of Japanese aircraft which was heading directly for an unprotected American fleet in the South Pacific. At great peril to himself, he repeatedly dove at the Japanese aircraft, rendering at least five of them unfit to fly. He was so persistent that they eventually gave up. Butch became the Navy’s first Flying Ace, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. He lost his life a year later during an aerial battle. The City of Chicago wanted to find a way to acknowledge the courageous, ethical and moral act O’Hare performed on that day, sparing the lives of all of the American soldiers on the aircraft carrier Lexington. So, in 1949 the city gave the new international airport his name, placing a statue together with his medal of honor in between terminals 1 and 2. That is the kind of statue that should be visible in our community!
Where does courage come from? We find courage in following Biblical examples of courage and in seeking courage from God in prayer. We can summon courage for today through past experiences. Then there are times when the Mordecais in our life encourage us to do something that requires courage, wisdom and clear understanding of the political ramifications of that action. Although the likelihood of being killed for being courageous is slim, it certainly does happen today. This year two Safe Streets workers have been gunned down, two men who had dedicated themselves to diffusing conflict on the streets of Baltimore. Dante Barksdale and Kenyell “Benny” Wilson were courageous, frequently putting themselves in harm’s way. Like the rest of the Safe Streets workers, they each had a history of heading down the wrong path in life, experiencing a reversal, and committing themselves to reducing violence in their own neighborhoods, trying to help others to head in a healthier, safer direction. Sadly, Dante and Benny did perish.
We are less likely to be asked to put our physical lives on the line, and more likely to take the risk of other kinds of loss. It is more likely that our speaking the truth, standing up for what we know is right, intervening on behalf of those who are boxed out or boxed in, could directly cause us to lose a friend, a reputation, or a job. It could cause us to lose precious time or needed income. It could take a toll on our own health and well-being. It could reduce our savings account.
It takes courage to risk potential loss or harm of any kind. We must weigh the long-term impact, the immediate political repercussions, and the potential for new life or wholeness or peace to someone or some group. We weigh those things against the potential for losses of any kind and we must make a decision. Will we act or will we not? Do we have the courage to do the right thing even when it is not the popular choice or the safest bet? Will we let the opportunity slide by, assuming God will send someone else? Or will we find the courage we need to realize that we just might be in this particular spot for such a time as this? We might be in the right place to take an ethical, moral action that could change some harmful threat against us or another. Taking steps to better care for our environment, refusing to use vocabulary that demeans others in any way, acknowledging the presence and contributions of the indigenous peoples of this land, taking a stand against violence and the proliferation of guns, recognizing, calling out and halting microaggressions against anyone who looks different from you. There are a lot of times when we find ourselves in a place where our action is crucial to someone else’s well being. Do we have the courage? May it be so, Lord. May it be so.