Faith Among the Faithless: Living with Faith in a World Gone Mad


So, Daniel is, sort of, the primo example of it and a lot of people today when they're talking about what it's like to live a faithful presence they say, "Well, we should look to Daniel as an example of guidance for us." But, I think that's too optimistic. Because, if you look at what happened to Daniel, Daniel was taken into exile when he was about 15 years old. Which means that the formative years of his life were spent inside of a well established religious and moral education. So, his formative years of his life were spent in Jerusalem, spent worshiping at the temple, spent in a way of life that formed him and gave him a strong sense of identity as a Jewish person. 

For ourselves, as an example, it's difficult because, most Christians in general are growing up in a culture that has raised them in a culture of moralistic, therapeutic deism. They've grown up in a culture that is de-Christianized. They've grown up in a secular age. That's the primary, sort of, formative space that we all come out of. 

Now, the Lord has done his work. He's rescued us. We've awakened to the truth of the gospel. But, I think it is problematic to look at Daniel as an example because, Daniel's spiritual formation work was done before he was put into the crisis. We're sort of born in the midst of it. Most of us. We're long past the time when the Judaeo-Christian values were the primary shaping influence on our culture. If you look at our formative institutions, they're radically secularized or the even neo-pagan. Whether it's education or media or politics. 

When you add the ... sorry ... perhaps no where this is more clear within politics where the party of the so-called Christian Right elected a thrice divorce, serial adulterer who brags about money, who brags about sexual conquests and seeks to humiliate his political enemies. Whether they're grieving widows or senators. When you add that to the fact that this candidate's been enthusiastically endorsed by Christian leaders, it makes the situation even more clear.  I want to be fair, if there are Trump voters in the room, I want to be fair, I know there are a lot of folks who voted for Trump because they saw him as the lessor of two evils or they held their nose and pulled the lever. I'm not trying to speak to condemn those folks. What I'm speaking to are the guys who are on Fox News saying this is "God's man" and "what an amazing gift to Christianity Donald Trump has been to us." To me that's a clear example of compromise. If you disagree, we can talk about that afterwards. 

So, that's why I want to look at the book of Esther. Because, Esther introduces us to characters who's situation is far more like our own. We have to be careful with Esther because most of us grew up with the Sunday school version of the book of Esther, which is a very sanitized, sort of, Princess fairy tale story. The Sunday School, or the Veggie Tales version of this is the story of a virtuous, beautiful girl who wins the heart of the King and saves the Jewish people. But, the actual story is about power and sex, compromise, people are plotting murder, people are getting impaled ... it's much more like Game of Thrones than the Veggie Tales. 

So, to revisit the story just a bit, Esther opens with the King, Ahasuerus, throwing a massive banquet for his Princes and his military leaders. What's happening in Esther, Chapter One is this is actually a fundraising campaign. Ahasuerus or Xerxes, as he's also known, is about to go to war against the Greeks. If you know anything about, sort of, ancient history, this is an infamous war. In the movie The 300, that's Xerxes going to attack the Greeks and ultimately failing in his campaign against the Greeks and getting humiliated. But, during this fundraising campaign he throws this big party, he invites people from all over the Kingdom to come and see his wealth, and it's more, or less, a promise of the wealth that will come when they conquer the Greeks. 

At the end of the big, six month party he throws another week long party for the citizens of Susa who hosted this whole thing. So, the citizens get to come in and they're treated like nobleman and they're able to eat from the Kings table and drink from the King's cups and it's this big act of generosity on the part of Xerxes. During the party, he summons his Queen. She refuses to come and we don't exactly know why she refuses to come. The context suggests that something sexual was going on, that he was going to humiliate her in some way so she refuses to come and he ends up banishing her. He goes to war against the Greeks and three years go by and we, essentially, find a different version of Xerxes towards the end of Chapter One who is somewhat depressed. His Queen is gone and he's remembering Vashti and he's lamenting it. 

So, his advisors try to cheer him up. They say, "Listen. We can find you a new Queen. We can have you sleep with all the young virgins of Persia and your favorite one you can pick as your Queen." If we read over that too carefully, there's a lot of people who make jokes about how this is like the Persian bachelorette. But, this is more like, who wants to be raped by a brutal, Persian dictator. This is a campaign of terror. It's a horrible thing that's being done to the people of Persia because women are being kidnapped, taken to the palace and once they sleep with the King, they're confined to the harem for the rest of their life. They can't be allowed out of the palace because no woman who slept with the King is ever allowed to be with another man ever again. 

So, you're kidnapping women, you're torturing them and then you're promising to isolate them for the rest of their lives. Again, this is not the Veggie Tales version of the story. 

Then in Esther, chapter two, verse five there comes a sentence that, if you were a Jewish reader of the text and had never had heard the story before, there's a sentence that would raddle you. It's Esther two five. It says, "Now there was a Jew in Susa, the Citadel, who's name was Mordecai." There's several things to notice here. Again, this is a sentence that would have hurt Jewish ears during the exile. 

Jackie Mason, the comedian, has this joke. He says, "What is it with Jewish families these days? You hear Jewish families and you're introduced to their kids and you meet them and their names are Americanized. They're Christianized names. You meet Tiffany Swartz or Jessica Lipshitz. I keep waiting to meet a Crusafix Finklestien." 

A Jew named Mordecai is like a Jew named Crusafix Finklestien. Mordecai is named from our Duke, a famous Persian God. Esther, as well, is named for a Persian Goddess. We find Mordecai, a Jew with a Persian name, living in Susa the Citadel. Not Susa the city. Because, the Jewish ghetto would have been in Susa the city. But, the fact that he's living in the Citadel means he's living amongst the Persians at the center of power. This is, essentially, to say he's living near the palace, in the midst of the palace. So, Mordecai, when we're introduced to him, is a profoundly compromised person. He has a Persian name, he's living amongst the Persians and, as we see from the story, as the story goes on, we see he's passing as Persian. No one knows he's Jewish. There's no signs of his Jewish identity in any of his outward life. 

So, this plan gets announced to the Kingdom that the King is going to kidnap and sleep with all of the young virgins of Persia and choose one of them to be his Queen. We're introduced to Mordecai and to Esther, his cousin who is living with him, who he's adopted and Esther goes right along with this opportunity. 

Starting in verse seven of chapter two it says, "He is bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, the daughter of his Uncle, for she had neither Father nor Mother. The young woman had a beautiful figure and was lovely to look at. When her Father and her Mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter. So when the Kings order and the edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in Susa the Citadel in the custody of Hegai, Esther was also taken into the King's palace and put into the custody of Hegai, who was in charge of the women. The young woman pleased him." Esther pleased Hegai, the King's unic who's in charge of the harem. "Esther pleased him and won his favor. He quickly provided her with cosmetics and her portion of food and with seven chosen young women from the King's palace, and advanced her and her young women to the best place in the harem. Esther had not made known her people or kindred, for Mordecai had commanded her not to make it known. Every day Mordecai walked in front of the court of the harem to learn how Esther was and what was happening to her." 

So, notice, there's no resistance to the command to sleep with the King in spite of the fact that this violates more Jewish laws then you can count. She eats the food, she takes the cosmetics, she takes on the preparations eagerly. All of this implies, sort of, sexual preparations in order to be prepared to sleep with the King. It's a profound contrast with Daniel, who never violated his conscience and never violated Jewish law in order to win favor. 

As the story goes on, Esther wins the contest. She becomes the Queen. So, we meet these two characters then at the end of chapter two. We've met Mordecai and we've met Esther. They are Jews passing as Persians. They're eager and willing participants in this pagan culture and they're fully assimilated. 

So, a lot happens in the next several chapters in the book. There's this plot against the King. The plot to murder him. Mordecai manages to hear about the plot, passed the word on to Esther and the plot is foiled and the men are hanged. Then we're introduced to this character named Haman. It's shortly after the assassination plot that Haman comes into the story. Haman is, basically, given absolute power. 

One of the interesting things that you'll notice in the book, a lot of commentators point this out, that early in the book the King is talking to his advisors. Once Haman is introduced, we only see the King and Haman talking to one another. Then when bad things happen to Haman later on, the King is once again surrounded by his advisors. So, what you see is after the assassination plot, Xerxes, who's been humiliated in this war that he's lost, now concentrates power into the hands of one key advisor. He's trusting this one guy to solve and fix the problems. Obviously, his empire is shaky, there are plots within his own palace to kill him, he has reason to be afraid, and so, out of fear, he reaches out to this guy Haman. He says, "I'm putting you in charge. You're going to be just like me. I want you to sort out what's going on here and I'm going to vest you with all of my authority." As a result of this, Haman ... the Agagite, as we're told ... Haman comes into this place of power and, if you see Haman, if you encounter him, you're supposed to bow in front of him. 

One of the interesting things is the fact that Haman is an Agagite. That's an important part of the story, because Agagites are descendants of Agag, a King, or Agag, I don't know how to say it, he's a King who did battle with King Saul. King Agag was an Amalekite. The Amalekites had this back and forth battle with Israel starting from the very beginnings of the story of the Exodus. In fact, the Amalekites where the first tribe to attack the Jews in the wilderness after the book of Exodous. 

Now, Esther is celebrated in an annual celebration in Jewish communities. It's celebrated with a festival called Purim and it's probably the second most important festival in the Jewish year. Before the book of Esther is read, when Jews gather to celebrate Purim, they read this passage from Deuteronomy. It says, "Remember what Amaleck did to you on the way when you had come out of the land of Egypt. Remember how he met you along the way and attacked your rear and all those who were faltering behind and you were faint and weary and he feared not God." When the Amalekites attacked, they attacked from behind. They attacked those that are straggling. They attacked the sick, the old, the vulnerable, the poor. What we can see in the Amalekites is, more or less, the origins of terrorism. Attack the innocent because we want to attack the innocent people and demoralize the strong before the battle ever even begins. 

Yoram Hazony, a Jewish Philosopher, writes this about the Amalekites. He says, "We have no idea what Gods ruled over them. None are named and for all we know there may have been none at all. What we do know is that whatever Gods that may have belonged to Amalek as a people, they did not fear any moral boundaries established by them. Unlike even the most depraved of the Idolaters of Canaan, they respected no limits on their desire to control all that they saw fit. They were willing to go to any means to grasp for power to accomplish what they wanted, which was to defeat Israel. So, the attacked children. They attacked elderly. They attack the sick and those that are straggling behind. 

So, the author of the Book of Esther is intentionally linking Haman to these Amalekites. He's linking them to a historic, anti-Semitic enemy of the Jews. He's connecting them to a people who will grasp for power at any cost. This sets up the great contrast of the Book of Esther. Haman is essentially an idol of power embodied. He's an idol of power and the empire, itself, is told to bow and worship this idol of power whenever he shows up. 

Mordecai has this choice. He's an assimilated Jew. He's in Persia. Nobody knows that he's Jewish. But, he knows who Haman is and he knows that Haman is an Amalekite and he has to face this choice. Do I bow down in front of this Amalekite? Do I bow down in front of this idol of power or do I expose myself for who I am as a Jew? 

Something happens inside Mordecai where he can no longer live as a Persian and he chooses to disobey this law and announces, in the book he announces, that his reason that he refuses to bow in front of Haman is because he's a Jew. I think this is like the first moment where we can start to, kind of, go, okay, well, what are the parallels here for us? I think it's the simple fact that there are going to come, moments for all Christians where if they hold on to the name "Christian", they're going to come up to these hard edges where they have to say, "Am I willing to risk my neck and to literally ... literally is the wrong word ... and to really work the metaphors, to stand up when everyone else is bowing down to these cultural idols? Am I willing to risk my neck and risk what comes along, whatever punishment might come along with refusing to bow?" 

So, this creates this crisis situation and it creates an opportunity for spiritual awakening in the midst of the very spiritual ... the very dark, spiritual place that Persia is for Mordecai and Esther. 

Haman, of course, is furious but, rather than taking his fury out on Mordecai directly, he goes to the King and he convinces the King that the real problem with the whole Kingdom, the real thing that we need to solve, is these Jews that are living amongst us. We have all these Jews, we have all these people ... they worship differently than us, they don't participate in the rest of us, they don't believe in what we believe ... and this is kind of a classic, political situation. Anytime in world history, any time you see ethnic cleansing. If you look at the Holocaust, if you look at ethnic cleansing that took place in Eastern Europe in the 1990's or the kind of stuff that's taking place in Africa now or in other parts of the world, you see this political ideology that rises up that says, "If we can rid ourselves of these toxic people, then culture's going to be just fine. The real problem in our world is this class or this ethnic group or this religious minority or whatever it is. If we can attack them and drive them out we're going to purify our culture and everything is going to thrive."

That's exactly what Hitler said in Germany about the Jews and this is what Haman is saying now. Ideology is intoxicating. It pervades the way we think about politics. It's not just applied in a way that would lead to ethnic cleansing, but, it's also implied in ways that make us attach ourselves to political philosophies as if ... if we just implemented them completely everything in our culture would be healed and everything would be okay. So, some people do this with free markets. If we could just truly get a free market society, true free market capitalism would be a perfect world. Or, you hear people today talking a whole lot about income inequality this way. If we could just fix income inequality, our society as a whole, everything would thrive, everything would flourish. The poor would have more opportunities and the rich couldn't push down the poor. 

You hear this with, like, the language of stopping illegals. From the Left, you hear this with stopping the oppression of the LGBT community or of women or whatever. If we could just solve the problem of this oppressive group that's keeping down these minorities in our culture. You hear it from the Christian Right. If we could just return to our roots as a Christian Nation, then everything in our culture would be okay. 

I point this out now to suggest that we don't hold on to our political convictions. But, what I am saying is that we should be suspicious when the language around any political idea becomes utopian. Whenever somebody says, "Hey, we can fix everything by just solving this one thing." You're dealing with ideology and, really, to boil that down more, you're dealing with an idol of some sort that's promising to fix our society. 

So, what happens is that King Xerxes or Ahasuerus, is totally taken in by Haman and loves the idea. Again, to save time, I won't read the passage but, this is what takes place in Esther, chapter three, verses eight through eleven. 

So, word then spreads throughout the Kingdom. There's this decree. They set a time. They set a date. On this day, on this specific day, we want all the Persians to attack all the Jews and to take all of their stuff. So, the word spreads about this and immediately Mordecai begins to protest. He actually puts on ashes and sack cloth and he can no longer enter the palace because, when you're mourning death you can't go in there. But, he, basically, makes himself look like a dead body and he sits outside of the Kings gate shouting day and night for somebody to pay attention to the fact that they're going to come and kill all the Jews. Further risking himself. Further exposing himself to this command that now calls for his life. 

So, communicating through messengers, Esther hears what's going on with Mordecai and, kind of, freaks out and sends him clothes. Like, "Hey, put your clothes on and go home. Everything's going to be okay." He refuses and they end up having this exchange, which is one of the most famous parts of the Book of Esther. This is, if you're looking in your Bible, it's Esther four starting in verse eleven. 

Actually, we'll back up and start in verse ten. They've had this back and forth. Mordecai is begging her to go and intervene with the King. "And Esther spoke to Hathak, Mordecai's servant, and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, "All the King's servants and all the people of the King's Provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the King inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law. To be put to death. Except for the one to the King holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But, as for me, I've not been called to the King in these thirty days." They told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, "Do not think to yourself that in the King's palace you will escape more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews form another place. But, you and your Father's house will parish. Who knows whether you have not come to the Kingdom for a time such as this.""

"Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, "Go. Gather all the Jews to be found in Susa and hold a fast on my behalf. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will fast as you do. Then I'll go to the King, though it's against the law, and if I parish, I parish." Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him." 

Just one thing to note right off the bat is this call to prayer is the only specific religious moment in the entire book. God's name is never mentioned once. God is totally hidden. That's deliberate. This is a literary masterpiece, as well as being the word of God. It's a literary masterpiece because that's a device the writer is using to make sure that it's very clear to us, this is a Godless world. This is a dark place. In the midst of this dark place, there's this crisis and Esther is willing to say that she'll go before the King. But, she has to be compelled to go there. What Mordecai says to her is actually really fascinating. She says, "I can't go. No one can just walk into the King's presence without him bidding them. If I go into the King's presence, he's going to kill me. Only those he extends the scepter to does he let live. The law is that you die." 

So, Mordecai's response is a bit strange. He says, "If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place. But, you and your Father's house will parish. Who knows whether you have come to the Kingdom, whether or not you've come to the Kingdom, for such a time as this." 

So, he says if you don't help, help will come from another place. So, now Mordecai is expressing faith. He trusts that God is going to save the Jews one way or another. So, what he's telling her is he's saying, "Something's on the line here for you that goes beyond whether or not the Jews survive or don't survive." Mordecai has faith that God is going to preserve the Jews, but, he says, "You and your Father's house will parish." 

So, the Jews will be safe but, you won't be okay if you don't help. It kind of doesn't make sense. If God's going to preserve the Jews anyway, then how would Esther's life still be at risk? 

What's happening here is that Mordecai is pressing Esther to have the same religious awakening that he's had. He's saying that if you don't identify with God's people now, if you don't stand up as one of us in this time of crisis, you're going to be cut off. Your Father's house will parish. 

God's great promise throughout the old testament is to preserve the Jews. In Jewish communities today, that is like, the heart of Jewish identity is we are God's people who He's preserved through all of these historic crises like this one. 

Walker Percy points this out and talks about the strangeness of it. He says, "You can't walk down the street and meet a Mennonite or a Canaanite on the streets of any city in the world today and yet somehow the Jews have been preserved as a people. It's this beautiful, mysterious thing that, in the midst of God's grander design, He has preserved the Jews and continues to preserve the Jews." 

Mordecai in this time, he has faith in that promise but, he warns Esther that her place in that legacy as part of God's people, is going to disappear if she doesn't stand up for the Jews now. Her response is an awakening. She actually ends up using the same word Mordecai uses when he says, "If you don't go you'll parish." She inverts it. She promises to go to the King and risk her life saying, "If I parish, I parish." She's recognizing that it's better to die and be counted among God's people than to live and be cut off from them. 

So, she calls for the fast and only after that does she approach the King. This is another one of the moments in the story where, like the Sunday School version of the story doesn't quite get what's going on. Often times, the Sunday School version says, you know, we see Esther, she gets dressed up in one of her fabulous gowns and she goes and she walks before the King and he's so compelled by her beauty that he can't help but say, "Well, I don't want to see her die. I want to save her life." Then he saves her. But, actually, we need to see that Esther is coming in weakness and not in strength. She spends three days and three nights not eating and not drinking. Then she puts on this gown and in her weakness, in her wariness, she goes before the King and the King's reaction to her is, "What's wrong?" The King's reaction is, "Something troubling is going on. Something terrible has happened." 

I think this is one of the keys, when we think about faithful presence in a post-Christian world. It's a willingness to accept the place of weakness and vulnerability. In fact, we get that part of the story wrong. We miss such a significant moment. She comes in weakness. She comes willing to die. She comes ready to pay the price for who she is. There's a difference here between vulnerability and victim-hood. She doesn't come to him crying out, immediately saying, "Haman's out to get me." Rather, she comes simply identifying herself in a place of vulnerability. 

Victim-hood is about power. Victim-hood is about leveraging someone else's behavior to give ... to grasp for power for ourselves. Vulnerability is about putting ourselves into a position of risk. Are we willing to risk our reputations, our place in society, our comfort, our wealth, our jobs and our lives to be counted amongst God's people? 

You know, it's a story ... there's a story, sort of, in the life of Sojourn that exposes some of this for me, personally, which is, we ran this art center for several years. We had art galleries and music venues. We had studio spaces on the third floor of the center. For about two and half, three years, the place just ran swimmingly. It was great. We had partnerships with local radio stations. We showed Christian and non-Christian artists. It was a beautiful thing when it lasted. Then one day a reporter from a local news weekly came along and said, "Hey, I want to do a story about the nine thirty." The long story short was it was a hatched piece. It was basically, like, hey, you know, FYI to the Louisville art scene, this art gallery and these music venues that you've been taking part in are run by a bunch of bigoted people. They hate gay people. They hate women. You're supporting them by taking part in this. 

What was interesting was, in the aftermath of that we never lost the support of the artists community that we were serving directly. But, we activated the anger of enough people in the crowd that whenever we'd book events, whenever we'd book an artist or we'd book a musician, they would get spammed. Their websites would get spammed with email from angry activists saying, "You can't go there. They hate gay people. Etc, etc." For a while, our partners, our local partners, promoters, radio stations and things like that spoke up on our behalf and said, "That's just not the case." But, they got tired of defending it themselves and, ultimately, the attendance that the concerts dwindled and we really just acme to a place where it wasn't sustainable anymore. 

So, I look back on that as a story that I think you can find hundreds of similar stories right now of Christians who in some way put themselves out into their cities or in trying to serve their communities and find themselves facing angry reactions from people who think that because of their historic convictions, they're somehow bigots, they're somehow racists, or whatever you want to call it. I think the call to vulnerability is a call to say, "That's a risk we're willing to take and we're going to do it anyway."

See, victim-hood stands in the aftermath of a situation like that and says, "We're the victims of these oppressors who came and shut us down." Vulnerability says, "I'm going to look for the need and I'm going to go ahead and pursue it anyway." Vulnerability accepts the risks. It accepts the fact that the next time we try to do something like the nine thirty arts center, we might still get shut down. It might mean that the work that we try to do serving our public schools is going to face a whole lot of hostility from angry people. Whatever the ministry opportunity, whatever the thing we might want to do, whether it's in our personal vocations or as a work of our church, we have to recognize we're putting ourselves in harms way. I think embracing a sense of vulnerability says, "Yes. I'm going to do it anyway. I recognize the risk." 

You know, I think if you hear from ... well, let me move on. I want to save some time for questions. So, don't get caught up in the scapegoating and try to resist the culture of rage. That's another example here of resisting the culture of rage. Resisting the culture of angry responses. The response was mourning. The response was weakness. The response was prayer and fasting. 

So, what happens next? Moving quickly through the story. Haman's grasp for power, ultimately, turns against him. There's this great sequence of events where Haman interrupts the King and thinks the King is asking him, "What should I do to honor you?" He gives him this grand vision of, you know, "March me through the streets and say that the King wants to honor me." Ends up that Haman has to do this for Mordecai so Haman is humiliated. He ends up dragging Mordecai through the streets saying, "This is the man the King delights to honor." 

He comes home humiliated from this experience and when he tells his wife about it, his wife asks him, "Is Mordecai a Jew?" She's recognizing, oh, there's something happening here. There's this decree. You've just been humiliated by this guy, Mordecai. Is this Mordecai one of these Jews? He says, "Yeah, he is." Then his wife basically says, "Oh. You're screwed." That's the Mike Cosper translation of the passage. 

So, Esther hosts these two dinners. At the second dinner she reveals to the King that she's a Jew and she begs him for help. Haman ends up being exposed for the murderer that he is. He ends up getting killed on a gallows that was actually built for Mordecai, a Persian gallows was actually like a big spike they would empale you on. So he's empaled on this spike and hung above the city. 

There's a big lesson about power here. That when we grasp for power, power consumes us. It blinds us and it, ultimately, destroys us. The Rabbi's that comment on Esther in the Talmid, they talk about how power is like having a pet crocodile. You feed it and you feed it and you feed it and when you have nothing left to feed it, it finally eats you. 

So, Haman is dead. Ahasuerus appoints Mordecai as his new second in command and he brings back the advisors. This is when we see the advisors back in the story, back in the conversation with the King. You can miss this in the text. The way it's worded is a little funky. But, actually, two months goes by and the King has done nothing about the decree. He's killed Haman but, he hasn't done anything to rescind the decree. 

So, Esther goes back a second time. She goes back again to the King and risks her life a second time going to him unbidden. She throws herself at the Kings feet. He gives her the scepter again and spares her life and she begs that he would spare the Jews. This time the King does rescind the command. He can't rescind it but, what he does is he gives a second command saying, "Hey, on this day, when people attack the Jews, the Jews are supposed to defend themselves and if you want to help out the Jews as they defend themselves, you should." 

So, the day comes and goes. What ends up happening is that the Jews in Persia end up, basically, killing all the anti-Semites that were out to get them. Persia ends up being a safer place for the Jews in exile than it was before. 

After this, Purim is inaugurated. This festival that, where on an annual basis, this story is supposed to be told and retold and retold. 

One of the interesting things about Purim, if you look at, again, if you look at some of the Jewish commentators on the story, is they say the reason this festival is so important and the reason that they inaugurated a new festival at this time and in this place is because this was a cross roads where people who didn't have to acknowledges their Jewish-ness recommitted themselves to the covenant. Where Jews in Persia who had assimilated themselves came back and recommitted themselves to the covenant and re-embraced their Jewish identity. In a sense, Yoram Hazony puts it, he's like, this is like revisiting Mount Sinai. This moment where we say, "We are God's people. We will identify as God's people from here forward."

So, just a few final reflections. I'm probably not going to have time for questions, but, I'll stick around. 

The first thing is that one of the obvious conclusions to the Book of Esther is that compromised people are not written out of God's story, are never written out of God's story. 

Second thing is that being counted among God's people is a life and death decision. It always has been. That when we put ourselves in the position of saying that I'm going to identify with the people of God, we are embracing risk. We have to be willing to accept that. 

A third thing is that, while power itself is an evil, Esther and Mordecai are incredibly powerful figures by the Book's end. Power for power's own sake is suicidal. Seeking power, grasping for power is like having a pet crocodile and the day will come where it eats us. The temptation for the church in a post-Christian world to grasp for power in the midst of it is extremely dangerous. I think that Christians that are gladly, sort of, compromising their moral and ethical standards to grasp for political and social capital are going to pay a big price for it, ultimately. 

The fourth thing, vulnerability is different from victim-hood. It means embracing risk for the sake of others, for the sake of God's people. We need soft hearts and open hearts that are willing to embrace that vulnerability even while we remain committed to our identity and our convictions. Our convictions should drive us to being vulnerable and to being risky. Because, we're willing to embrace consequences in this like knowing that we're part of a people of God who will be sustained, who will be kept for his coming Kingdom. 

I think another thing is that, like Purim, Christians need to embrace formative traditions that will help us and our children and our children's children to remember our faith and preserve our faith in decades to come. 

I think the idea of, sort of, re-inaugurating a celebration that re-identifies, that re-affirms our identity as God's people makes a whole lot of sense. I'm not suggesting we restart Purim, but I am suggesting that we think about what it means to gather as the church and in what ways are church gatherings are reaffirming of our commitment as God's people in the midst of a hostel world. Are we walking through those particular challenges?