Sunday, August 29, 2010

For A Time Such as This: Sermon for August 29

Read Esther 4

Last month I was reading through my books I have been given to review for a Christian website. One of the books I have been given to review was on Esther, and was a fictionalized story of her life. A lot of things intrigued me about the book as I read. One of the things that drew me in the most was some of the introductory historical materials talking about the legacy of Queen Esther into the mid 20th century.
Listen to this:
In September 1939, Hitler launches an unprecedented attack in Poland and begins his reign of terror. His first public proclamation closes all synagogues, effective the first day of the festival of Purim. Purim is the holiday that celebrates the heroism of one woman, Esther, and her triumph against the evil of Jewish genocide. Hitler was crafting a horrific annihilation for his Jewish captives, and Purim would give them the shining hope that the courage of even one woman might still be enough to stop him.
Hitler’s men raced against time to destroy the synagogues and wipe the festival of Purim from the mind of every Jew. (Purim is around February so they had 6 months) “Unless Germany is victorious,” Hitler shrieked to his men, “Jews could then celebrate a second triumphant Purim festival!” Hitler may have hated the entire race, but he feared one woman. Even her dusty memory could threaten his bloody regime. Who was this woman who gave a madman pause? Could she even now call out to her people across the centuries?”
So the story of Esther is pretty important. And the story of Esther is something that many of us remember vaguely, but don’t remember well. So I thought we would take a break from the book of Acts for this Sunday and look at the life of young Esther and her Uncle Mordecai.
Actually Esther’s given name was Hadassah. She, her uncle and their family were drug from Jerusalem to Susa, which is in modern Day Iran, on the border of Iraq after the nation of Israel. Somewhat like the trail of tears for the Eastern Band of the Cheyenne tribe, they were drug on a treacherous journey to one of the three capitals of the Assyrian empire. It appears that Hadassah’s immediate family had died while in exile, because Mordecai had taken his cousin under his care.
It is interesting to note here that Mordecai and his family were among those who taken to Israel with the political elite and craftsman of Israel. Mordecai was most likely a political operator while he was in Israel. He knew how political power worked, and he knew how his people thought.
Hadassah at some point changed her name to Esther. Or at least that is what she was known by. Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego also changed their names as they came to prominence in the country of their exile. It was something people did to make it easier to do business, make friends, and be successful in a strange land.
Esther changing her name from Esther from Hadassah was like what happens with phone operators I encounter when I need a little customer service with my credit card, my Amazon book shipment, or with some problem on my computer. I call for some help. The guy says his name is Jim. The guy has a deep East Indian accent. Sometimes I let it go. But sometimes I have to ask the guy what Jim is short for. He says his given name is Radheyshyam. I then say, “Well, Jim, here is my problem…” and we go from there. His given name is hard for me to pronounce and remember. So in order for him to do business and have people remember his name and make a buck, he goes by “Jim” with some people. Hadassah changing her name to Esther was like that.
So King Xerxes decided to party with a number of his friends. At some point he asked his wife to come out and entertain his men, dressed in a less than modest manner. The Queen Vashti refuses because she believes it would be undignified to appear before the king in such a way. The king gets angry. He asks his advisors what to do. They tell him to strip her of her crown, and put her away from him never to be seen or heard of by him again. After all, they argue, if the king can’t keep his wife under control, all of our wives are going to make our lives miserable. So Vashti is deposed.
After a while, the King decides he wants another queen. So he puts together a beauty contest….kind of.

For a Time Such as this Part 2

You see this beauty contest is not like a Miss USA pageant. You know, when people try to become Miss America they start out as Miss Fowler. Then they go to the Miss Colorado competition, and then to the national competition. We watch the candidates for miss USA go through an evening gown competition, a swimsuit competition, and an interview. And usually in the interview they say something about wanting world peace. And we give them a tiara and they live in a condo in New York for a year.
This beauty contest with Esther meant that you were conscripted into the king’s harem. Then, as one of his wives, you were given all sorts of treatments and training to prepare you to meet the king. This preparation consisted of getting one’s grooming just right, skin treatments, makeup makeovers, and instructions on what to do seduce the king. Esther had one night with the king when he summoned her, and if she made a really good impression on him, she would become queen. Otherwise, she would be in the harem with the concubines for the rest of her life.
Soon it came for Esther’s night with the King. It turned out that Esther won King Xerxes over. Xerxes decided to make Esther his queen. She won the “beauty contest”. Now she was one of the two or three most powerful women in the world. Not bad for an orphaned girl adopted by her cousin exiled in a strange land!
Soon after Mordecai heard of a coup that was being plotted by some of the elite soldiers that were protecting the king. Mordecai let Esther know what was going on. Esther passed the news on to the king, who foiled the plot on his life just in time.
A little while later Esther’s cousin Mordecai is spotted by one of king’s advisors named Haman. Haman became very irritated that Mordecai would not bow down to him. He found out this was because Mordecai was a Jew. So he made this law where for one day, everyone was to kill every Jew in their village, take their goods, and eliminate the Jews from the earth in said fashion.
This decree was sent throughout the country.
Mordecai is fearful that his people will be wiped out in a mass genocide. He knows he only has one option. Queen Esther must be persuaded to get King Xerxes to put an end to the day of extermination of the Jewish people. So he goes to Queen Esther. And he asks her to persuade the king to stop Haman.
Esther knows that approaching the king uninvited could mean her exile, or even her death. She sends Mordecai back to ask the Hebrew people to fast and to pray. She says that they will pray for a while, and then at an appointed time she will approach the king, and see what she can do. “If I die, I die”, she says.
Mordecai tells Esther these unforgettable words, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Well, Esther approaches the king, and begins to carry out an elaborate plan to rescue her people. She invites the king and the man named Haman, who meant to kill all the Jews, to a meal. The king joyfully says yes.
It so happens, by God’s timing, that the king was having the records of his reign read to him because he couldn’t sleep. After all, can you imagine a better sleep aid that minutia in minutes from government bureaucrats. In the middle of this reading he hears how Mordecai had saved his life previously. The king asks if he was recognized and thanked. He had not been. The king then singled him out for special recognition in front of the whole town, with Haman, the man who was to kill Mordecai, as his servant.
Esther meanwhile had dinner with this evil Haman and her husband and king. They have a good time. She invites them for a second meal. During the second meal she skillfully reveals that Haman wants to have her, Mordecai, and all of the Jews killed, and she reveals Haman’s plan to do just this.
King Xerxes has Haman executed and gives his job to Mordecai. Esther releases another decree that saves her people. Through one woman, a whole nation of Jews is saved from a mass genocide.
Because she believed that God had put her in that place, and that time, for a moment such as this. And nearly 3000 years later, the memory of her courage and her skill, and what God can do through her, had Hitler feverishly and vainly working to erase her memory and the celebration of her memory from the Hebrew people.

For a time such as this....Sermon p 3

8What makes the celebration of Purim so important? What makes the memory of Esther so powerful? What does this old story have to do with what is happening in the world today? And what does the celebration have to do with us today and how we live our lives from day to day.

First of all, I think it reminds us that God puts us in specific places at specific times for specific reasons. When we remember what happened with Esther, we remember that none of life is an accident.
God ordained Mordecai as Esther’s foster parent and adoptive parent. He raised this girl that was not his own. And he raised her in such a way that she was able to do the right thing at the right time to save a nation.
God put Esther in this very difficult situation she was in as a member of a royal harem so that he could make her Queen, and then work to save the Jews through this very unlikely woman who went from a prisoner of war and a foreigner to a queen and a conqueror.
And God puts you in your schools, among your friends, at your job, and in your clubs in order to do something only you can do for his glory in each of those situations. God calls you to be courageous in sharing the good news of what Jesus has done for you with your friends, even though it takes tremendous courage. God calls you to make the stand for him that only you can. To do the good for him that only you are blessed and gifted to do. Because God put you in the place you are in, with the friends and family you have, for a time such as this. Seize the moments you have.
But don’t miss, in the process of claiming your place in God’s plan, to remember that what God is doing is bigger than you. Purim in Judaism is a time for community. And the story we read from Hitler was about the fear of a community. A fear of what God is doing with and through his people.
God is always at work saving his people. He was when he was saving the Jews in the time of Esther. He is now in his church.
The church is always one generation from extinction. And it is always full of a ragtag bunch of sinners, who are made into God’s saints simply because he wills to save us. We are always on the cusp of barely surviving, and yet always being led forward by God’s grace into new times of hope and refreshing.
The festival of Purim celebrates the survival of God’s people by God’s grace. The world may try to buy out authentic Christianity with commercialism and materialism. God’s people resist. The enemies of God may try to persecute Christians into non-existence, and the church, whether in 20th century China or the first century Roman Empire survives and grows. The world’s power cannot defeat God’s people.
So, look around, and know that you were chosen by God to be a part of this church body. We may be older than some churches, and smaller than some churches, but we are who we are and we have been brought here by God’s grace to do the part of God’s work that God has set before us. You have a role to play here. You have gifts to offer to this body. You may try and run from that truth, you may avoid that truth, but that doesn’t keep it from being the church. There are several of you that this church needs to have the courage to step up, to commit to this church, and to serve this church in the name of Jesus. God brought you here because he wants you here, and he has a way he wants to use you to build up this church and the kingdom of God throughout the world. So look around.
And look around again. And realize that despite the fact that some of us rub you the wrong way, and others of us you don’t even really know yet, we have been brought together as God’s people here. This church is God’s gift. We are God’s gift to one another. We have been brought together as God’s imperfect people so that we can teach each other how amazing God’s grace is. Because even though we are an imperfect family, we are God’s family nonetheless. We may even argue, but as Kenny Fair says, this too is a gift, “Because every church is a family, and every family has a few arguments, but half the fun in being in a family is that after the arguing is the making up part. So it is all a good thing.”
This church has been given as God’s gift to you, and you need to accept it and celebrate it. Because God has brought each of us here, this day. And each Sunday is a reminder that God continues to call out to people and save them, and create a people to bear his name. Even here in this humble place called Fowler, in this modest church that bears the name First Baptist Church of Fowler.
Amen.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Parenting Posts #3--The VBS Weeks


Quick hits about the week that was


  • This week brought VBS, and also the departure of my mother

  • Karis was very upset about Mimi (grandma) leaving on Tuesday afternoon for most of Tuesday night. She has slowly adjusted well.

  • Karis has been at 10th Street tots in the morning while I do VBS. This is more difficult than doing day care in the afternoon for me. I had her sleeping during most of my work time in the morning, and then took her to day care before. Now she sleeps very little and for shorter times after she comes home from day care, which makes it harder to get work done.

  • We have been slowly extending her bed time. Last night she slept from 11:30 to 6:30 without waking up. That is better than I did!

  • Much to both my disappointment and my relief when I am stressed with Karis, she has taken to sitting in her bouncer and watching tv for 30-60 minutes.

  • So far, other than a Baby Einstein video, Karis' favorite television show is Around the Horn on ESPN. Perhaps there is a reason why some people refer to her as "mini-me" (referring to me)

  • I am finding poopy diapers bother me less, as does changing diapers as a whole. Having said that, it does not delight me like it does my mother. And, I believe I will be in for a rude awakening when she starts eating baby food and solid food.

That is it from the parenting front.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

First Funeral Eulogy (for Eva Lundy)

Proverbs 31:10-31
10 [c] A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.
Eulogy

I imagine that if Eva could speak to us today after seeing us cry, hearing our kind words, and choosing songs that we think she would like she would be very moved and thankful. She would flash that smile that meant so much to so many of us. Her face might even get a little red out of embarrassment that anyone would say so many nice things about her.

I also imagine the first words that would come out of her mouth would be something like, “Good night, I don’t know why everyone is making a fuss over little old me.”

I got to know Eva late in her life. She had just hurt her leg a little bit. She was not able to walk like she used to be able to. I think this at times, at least with me, led her to be a little reflective. When I visited with her, I got the impression that she saw her life as good, and yet at the same time fairly common and ordinary. This was something she was very happy with. But I believe Eva was far from ordinary. Eva, was in fact, a woman of extraordinary character and class, who expressed her faith in simple ways as she went about her everyday life. And that kind of simple, honest, real, authentic faith is very unique, and becomes less and less common every day.

Eva would say that she would not want us making a fuss over “little old me”, but there was very little that was little about Eva. She stood tall in stature. Her grandson Eric said that even as he grew taller than his grandmother, he still felt like he was always looking up at her. I think many of you felt the same way.

But there was nothing small or little about the way Eva lived her life. Each of you can testify to this. There is nothing small about living a righteous life. There is nothing small about living a life of character. There is nothing small about loving your neighbor. There is nothing small about being a good mother, a doting grandmother, a beloved auntie, or a faithful friend. There is nothing small about living a life of faithfulness to the Lord and to her church, Fowler First Baptist Church.

I have thought and prayed since Wednesday about what Scripture I would like to share to describe Eva. I wanted to find one that would speak to the kind person she was, and the kind of character she had. I thought and I thought. Then, as I was driving home from the family dinner out at Anna Jean’s last night, I felt led to share this passage from Proverbs 31. In many ways, Eva was a Proverbs 31 kind of woman. She was a woman of character

Eva and the woman in Proverbs 31 were both hard workers. Eva did not like to be idle. And as she got older it drove her crazy that she could not get out and do half of the things that she could do most of her life. Even as Eva’s mind was deteriorating, she would often talk about how she was doing chores and getting the wash done before noon. To stay active, there were many years that Eva would walk around town collecting pop cans. Sometimes people thought she did this because she was destitute. She wasn’t. She simply wanted to keep active. And do her part in helping keep Fowler a wonderful place to live. And the collected money from doing this helped her to give a generous gift to each of her grandchildren at graduation. She held jobs around town. She also held offices at the church, spending many years as treasurer of First Baptist, and many other years as a Sunday School teacher to the children of Fowler.

Eva was a caretaker. She looked out for folks. She delighted in her children and grandchildren. She adored her brothers and sisters as well. She made sure her family was taken care of with well-cooked meals including noodles made from scratch. She was also the kind that would take people under her wing who would benefit from and appreciate her attention and/or mentoring. She would not hesitate to set an extra place at the table for a family friend. She would seek to include people in her social circle who she felt needed a place to be and to belong. She enjoyed cleaning house for Doris Coberly as her health deteriorated, and trained her granddaughter Clair to take over the job as she grew older. Even in the last couple of years, Eva had this arrangement where she would read the paper, and then get the paper to Doris so that Doris could read the paper and not have to have a separate subscription.

Eva loved people. And she loved many of you. Eva showed often showed her family and friends she loved them through acts of service. She taught family and friends how to make pies from scratch. She would have grandkids over to spend the night, and get up early to make them a big, full breakfast that they would eagerly devour once they awakened. Many of you will attest to something that she did for you to let you know that she cared for you and was thinking of you. As humble as Eva was, she probably kept no mental account of the kindness she showed you, and it was you that still remember her good deeds even now.

Like the woman of Proverbs 31, her character extended into her relationship with Jesus. No dust settled on a book of crossword puzzles or a crossword dictionary in Eva Lundy’s home, and no dust settled on her Bible. If you look at Eva’s Bible, you could tell it was not a decoration, but rather a tool for living. The spines of her Bibles were cracked, and then put back together with packaging tape. The verses inside of Eva’s Bible were highlighted. Notes litter the sides of her old Bible, with summaries of what the passage of Scripture was saying. And those were just the Bibles she had in recent years. Because the Bible she treasured the most the dog tore off the end table and ate most of it. A sad story and a funny story, but a telling one. Her Bible was usually at her end table in the living room, and she read it daily.

Eva was also a woman of prayer. Even when her mind was not working as she would like it, her heart had been trained to pray. I remember visiting Roger and her in the hospital. I wanted to pray a simple prayer as I left her. She took it as an invitation to lead me and Roger in prayer. She couldn’t necessarily keep a train of thought for long at that point. So she kept praying a similar prayer with minor variations. That prayer was thank you. Thank you God for our family. Thank you God for my church. Thank you God for all that you made. Thank you God for Jesus. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

A couple of weeks later she was home, and being moved into the nursing home. She would fade from being awake to being asleep. I came to check in on her, and on the Lundy family. And as she would sit there, with Richard and Roger making arrangements around her, and she would sing a song of praise. Over and over again she would say “Alleluiah, Allleluiah, God is so good. Allelujah.”

Eva was such a woman of prayer that when her mind could not put many words together, she had trained her heart to sing. You could see the same thing when she was in chapel at the Fowler Health Care Center, and a song would click. And she would start singing along from heart. She might not be able to remember who I was, but when I would leave and I would pray the Lord’s Prayer with her, she still knew it from memory.

Finally, I think Eva would want me to say this. You don’t need to be sad for her. You may be sad because you miss her, but don’t be sad for her. She is with Jesus now. She is standing on the other side of eternity, and she is filled with joy. When Roger showed me where she left off in her daily Bible reading, it appeared that the last chapter that she read was Romans 6:23. It says this, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” Eva would want me to say today, from the other side of eternity, that her choosing to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior made all the difference in her life. And if you will accept him it will make all the difference in your life to.

Today, as we remember Eva, like the people around the woman in Proverbs 31, we rise up and call her blessed. We rise up and call her blessed because we have been blessed by her, and each of us has been enriched by knowing her. We call her blessed because she was a woman of character. We call her blessed because she was a woman who loved God, and faithfully lived her life following and trusting Jesus.

This world is going to miss Eva Lundy. This community is going to miss Eva Lundy. And I know I will too.