Steve Lindsley
(Esther 4: 1-17)

She was staring down at the pile of books sprawled out on the floor.

Geometry.  American History.  British Lit.  Intro To Chemistry.  Along with an array of spiral notebooks and manila folders.  Covers wide open, pages all bent.  The chaos created when intentionally knocked out of the arms of the one holding them, gravity taking care of the rest.

They were not her books.  They belonged to Jonathan.  She didn’t know Jonathan all that well.  No one did, for that matter.  He was kind of a loner; had been since middle school.  It was almost as if he went out of way to blend in to the 9th grade scene, being as inconspicuous as possible.  Of course, as he found out, that sometimes has the opposite effect, which would explain why the upperclassmen had enjoyed harassing him from almost the first day of school that year.

Everyone saw it happen – how they confronted him at his locker first thing each morning, a daily ritual of sorts.  And how, on this particular day, one of them swiped at the mass of books in his arms and sent them flying everywhere, all over the hallway floor.  Then left him to stew in his humiliation. 

Everyone saw it happen – including her.  And it angered her.  It wasn’t right.  But what could she do?

What could you do?

As you know, Grace and I are in the middle of a sermon series of call stories in the Bible and what can be gleaned from them about our own sense of call.  So far we’ve delved into the call of Jesus and the call of Isaiah. Today we consider the call of Queen Esther.

The book of Esther is a heavily-nuanced story with lots of twists and turns, so here’s the Reader’s Digest version: God’s people are under Persian rule, and two unexpected things happen.  First, Esther, a Jewish orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai, finds herself plucked from obscurity to become queen of Persia. 

Second, a plan is set in motion by some in the king’s court that, if carried out, would result in the mass extermination of every Jew in Persia – all without the king’s knowledge.  And where’s Esther in all of this?  She’s very aware of what’s brewing, but the thing is, she can’t just run and tell the king – because to enter the king’s court unannounced, even his wife, was an egregious offense punishable by death. 

So what should Esther do?  She didn’t ask for this, any of it.  She didn’t concoct some plan to become queen, and she certainly didn’t ask to be put in between a godawful rock and a hard place like this.

What should she do?  What would you do?

It was Frederick Buechner who once famously said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  As usual, Buechner was spot-on.  Thing is, the call to serve very rarely comes to us expected.  It almost always surprises us.  It can happen in grand ways – a voice from heaven, seraphs and hot coals and the like.  But more often than not it happens in the sublime – a circumstance that develops in a flash, a quick turn of events, a blink of an eye in the moment.

Esther’s call, it appears, came in the back-and-forth conversation with cousin Mordecai about her predicament.  I can’t do anything, she tells him. My hands are tied. I’m sorry.  Mordecai cautions her against feeling safe from the impending disaster just because she’s queen. 

And then he offers up this little musing:

Who knows? Maybe you were put here for just such a time as this.

You know, I’ve often wondered if Mordecai really did say this the way it sounds – an afterthought, a random throwaway line he just stuck on at the end.  Or if he planned to say it all along, finish with it, kind of leave it hanging out there like a worm on a hook to see if she took the bait.  I find it notable that he doesn’t say to her, You were put here for this time, so you do something!   He doesn’t tell her what to do – he muses, he wonders, he offers up.  Who knows?  Maybe you were put here for just such a time as this.

I think the entire Esther story pivots on this one line, really.  I can’t imagine that things would’ve played out as they did if Mordecai hadn’t said this.  I don’t know that her sense of call would’ve been made obvious to her otherwise.

I mean, like we said before, that’s kind of the way the call usually comes, doesn’t it?  Not always obvious, not always in-your-face. Rarely expected.   What I find fascinating about the call to serve God – as a minister, an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a ministry team member, whatever – what I find fascinating is that other people tend to see it in us before we see it in ourselves.  And when they tell us, as a “Mordecai aside” – we can either brush it off or let it grow.

I know that’s the way it happened for me in my call to ministry.  There were no blinding lights, no voices from above, no choirs of angels singing.  But there was a choir – a choir member, specifically.  This wonderful lady Lib in my church growing up, our next door neighbor at one time, who came to me after a Youth Sunday sermon I had helped to preach.  And she offered the ubiquitous praise and thanks for what I’d done, and I was grateful for that.

And then, turning to walk away, she swung her head back and said very matter-of-factly, “You know, you ought to consider the ministry. You’d make a good pastor, I think.  Just a thought.”  And then she left.

And up until that moment I had never thought once about becoming a minister.  I was going to teach English in high school.  I was going to gig music professionally.  But I could not shake what she said to me.  And from that point on, little steps along the way through high school and college and the working world that helped me grasp my call bit by bit; like pieces of a puzzle coming together until I gained enough of a sense of the as-yet-unfinished picture to know what I needed to do….

You know what I think?  I think God works this way on purpose. And not just for ministers but for everyone.  A little aside comment, some small event, some set of circumstances.  And a seed is planted and a call grows.  Who knows why God does it like this.  Maybe God knows we rely way too much on the bold and bombastic, the obvious call presented on a silver platter with neon lights flashing.  Maybe God knows what we really need is for the call to be voiced by the people around us – parents and children and neighbors and co-workers and even random folks we cross paths with – seeing as clear as day that thing in us that we cannot see ourselves.  The call never comes from a vacuum, separate from the community.  The call comes through the community.

Who knows, Esther? Maybe you were put here for just such a time as this. 

For Esther, in that moment she heard Mordecai’s words, it was like a switch was flipped.  She had heard her calling.  She knew what she needed to do.

So, Reader’s Digest version: she makes preparations to go before the king.  And when she does, thankfully, the king does not have her executed for coming in unannounced.  Instead he asks, what’s up.  And so Esther opens his eyes to see the evil unfolding around him.  And in the end the wrong is made right, the wicked punished and Esther’s people saved.

Let me ask you something, Trinity Presbyterian – who are the Mordecais in your life?  Who are those people who, in casual conversations or heart-to-hearts, shed light on the calling God has for you in your life, the moments when you are uniquely positioned and gifted to make a difference?  Who are the Mordecais in your life?

And even more – what is your time?  Notice I said, “what,” not “when.”  It’s not lazy grammar; I did it on purpose.  Because if our scripture today tells us anything, it’s that the “when” is always now.  Not tomorrow, not next week or month, not “sometime down the road.”  Now.  Like Esther, we all have been called “for just such a time as this.” 

The question is, what is your time?  What does the world, this city, this neighborhood, this church need from you right now? 

You answer the phone and on the other end is chair of one of our church’s ministry teams.  They’re asking you to come on board. Maybe you’ve done the committee thing a time or two already.  Maybe you’ve never done it before and never thought about it.  It’s not like you’re bored or anything – you’ve got plenty going on in life.  But they sure could use your help….

Who knows? Maybe you have been put here for just such a time as this.

You come most every Sunday and see the same thing in our beautiful building out of place, worn down, scuffed up  You know that, ultimately, church is about the gathered people.  But it’s important to you that the facility reflect the brilliance and awe of the God we worship.  If only someone would step up and be part of the solution instead of just complaining about the problem…..

Who knows? Maybe you have been put here for just such a time as this.

You’re serving dinner at Room In The Inn.  A middle-aged woman sits by herself, her face worn from the journey.  Everything about her says, “stay away, I don’t want people around.”  But is that really what she’s thinking, or is that an excuse in you? Truth be told, if anyone was deserving some human interaction and grace right now, it’s probably her…..

Who knows? Maybe you have been put here for just such a time as this.

You’re staring at the books sprawled out on the high school hallway floor.  And Jonathan, that reclusive 9th-grader, standing over them, completely embarrassed and humiliated.  The upperclassmen head off to class, laughing.  You don’t want to get involved.  You’re going to be late to class.  Until you hear the voice of someone behind you, said almost as an afterthought: That’s not right.  Someone ought to do something…..

And that’s when you hear your calling.  That’s when you know what your time is.  So you walk over and start picking up some books.

And then he’s beside you, helping you.  Jonathan awkwardly says thanks; you say it’s no big deal.  He tells you it is.  You get to talking and realize you both have the same class next.  Better to be late together, right?  Along the way you realize a few things: you both like baseball.  You listen to the same music.  You each have a younger brother.

In the days and weeks ahead, a new friendship grows.  And you notice a change in Jonathan.  Everyone does.  He’s happier and he smiles more.  Once a below-average student, his grades improve – to the point, in fact, where he is first in his class your senior year.  So there is Jonathan on Graduation day giving the valedictorian’s speech.  And in it, Jonathan shares his dreams, his hopes for the future – but also, Jonathan shares his heart.  He tells everyone about the rough start to his freshman year. As a matter of fact, he says, at one point things were so dismal that he made the decision one morning to run away from home – his only alternative, he reasoned, was to start over again somewhere else. 

He made all the necessary arrangements.  He purchased a one-way bus ticket into the next state.  And on the morning of his departure, he even went to the trouble of cleaning all the books out of his school locker – so his mother wouldn’t be burdened with doing it after he was gone.

He recounts the upperclassmen and the bullying and the books smacked to the floor.  And then he shares how a strange face and helping hand changed his life.  She didn’t have to help him pick up books, but she did.  They became good friends, he says.  And through her friendship he realized that he wasn’t alone, and things weren’t so bad.  And he decided to stick with the life he’d been given rather than try to start a new one somewhere else.

And out in the mass of capped and gowned seniors sits you, speechless and on the verge of tears.  Because for the first time you are hearing the back story to that morning four years ago, and you realize the full impact of picking up his books. Because in that moment you chose to answer the call.

Who knows, Trinity Presbyterian?  Who knows?  Maybe – just maybe – you were put here for just such a time as this. 

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!


* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.