Note that I am very grateful for the UCC Worship Ways Intergenerational Service for September 26th, 2021 resource, upon which much of the inspiration for this service was drawn.
Scripture - Esther, selections, Psalm 124
Esther - Selections
So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. 4For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.
20Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, 22as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.
1If it had not been the Lord who was on our side—let Israel now say--
2if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us,
3then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;
4then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us;
5then over us would have gone the raging waters.
6Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
7We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
So maybe this isn’t the most pertinent or relevant story from Scripture I could have picked for our celebration - after all, the story of Esther in the Bible is one full of political intrigue and wicked plots and less-than-ideal treatment of women and power-hungry eunuchs and potential genocide.
What does that have to do with us on this tiny little island, celebrating our new beginnings apart from the United Methodist Church?
The book of Esther tells the story of the survival of a religious minority - the fear of a cultural community that might not survive in the wake of large, oppressive structures. Certainly this is an important narrative for the Jewish people, who tell this story during Purim each year. We can also think of cultures in our modern era who would resonate with aspects of this story because of the threats faced to their survival - I think of especially our Indigenous peoples here in America as we honor and remember them this weekend.
And the fear and questions of survival also resonate with many congregations who wonder - will the church be able to continue for future generations? What will it take not just to survive, but to thrive?
What strikes me in the Esther story is how she was in the right place at the right time to work for the deliverance of her people. Her position - even though she came to it in a way not of her own choosing - meant that she could intercede on behalf of the Jewish people with the king. Her words and actions made an impact that lasted generations. What would have happened if she hadn’t done what she did? We get a clue from 4:14, which wasn’t included in our reading - words from Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, spoken to her: 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.”
We don’t often get to know the impact we make on others - how our actions have ripple effects in the lives of others. We also don’t often share how others make a difference in our lives with them. This is no less true when thinking about how we are the church together. It makes me think a bit about the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” where George Bailey has the opportunity to know the difference he has made by observing what his community would be like without him. We see story after story in the movie about how things would be different had he not been around.
In the church, we rely on more than just the gifts of others - what people do or contribute - people matter for who they are. We depend on people of all ages and abilities - each person here has made an impact on our lives, on our church, on our community.
Take a look around - and think about what your life and your community would be like without each person here in this space. Take a moment to draw the circle wider to include our seasonal friends who have already departed for the winter, to include folks who aren’t able to be here with us this morning.
I’m going to give you a minute or two in silence to consider this - about what your life, this community, this church would be like without those people here….
Now take a moment and note two or three people that are here -- and we’re going to tell each other what impact they have. Without Cathy, we wouldn’t have lovely pictures that share the joy and beauty in our gathering together. Without ____, we wouldn’t have
So begin your sentences with “without you, we/I wouldn’t….” and go from there - we’re going to take a couple minutes to do this.
[I Need You To Survive]
We need each other to survive - and we need each other to thrive. That’s the beauty of church community together - and that’s the beauty of this moment as we celebrate the Chebeague Community Church. We are stepping into this future together because of the daring to envision a church apart from a denomination that caused harm to so many. Each one of us is a part of the tapestry that God is weaving with the stories of our lives, our gifts, our belovedness. We learn and grow from each person here in this space, from the youngest to the oldest...from the generations yet to be born to the generations long past.
I want to turn back to our texts for this morning for a moment - both our story from Esther and the Psalm, which we haven’t really referenced in our time yet. It is interesting to note that in the book of Esther, God is not mentioned - at all. Queen Esther is proactive about her future and rescues herself and her people - while Psalm 124 praises God’s saving acts and rescuing us from danger. The tension between the two that we find - between making our own way and divine initiative - is part of our human experience, as we thank God for the opportunities that open up around us, as we understand God’s movement in the unfolding of the kingdom and as we make our own choices and responses in conversation with what God has placed before us.
As we step into this moment together, I’m especially mindful of that tension - that God has given us this great gift of a new beginning, of a fresh start, to set a new future beyond survival for this congregation as the Chebeague Community Church...at the same time, it is up to us to make the most of that opportunity. It is how we respond to this moment, how we connect with friends and neighbors, how we set priorities and visions, how we carry ourselves, how we study Scripture together and learn and grow together -- it is up to us to be proactive in using the gifts God has giving us toward a future of our own flourishing.
I invite us to hold these things - how we use our gifts and how we discern God’s leading - as we walk forward into the future to build the church together. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.