Holy Moly!

Martha M. Shiverick
Sermon August 26, 2012
1 Kings 5, 6, and 8:1-13 and Matthew 28:16-20

What do you know about King Solomon? Well, if you are like me the first thing that comes to mind is that he was wise. Scripture tells us that he was wise, that he had good judgment, and that his understanding of concepts was not to be compared. It was written that he was the wisest person living in his day. He was the author of 3,000 Proverbs and 1005 songs. People came from all over the earth, or as it was written in the Bible from all the kings on the earth, to hear his wise words. His knowledge base was not just that he was a wise ruler but he knew all about the natural sciences and could help people with his knowledge of trees, plants and animals.

In chapters five and six of 1 Kings we also learn that it was Solomon that was chosen to build the Temple for the Lord. This was a huge ambition to take on and a task that Solomon’s father King David had wanted to build but was unable to fulfill the job. But, now was the time to build the temple. It was a time of peace and prosperity for the Jews and Solomon felt called to build it in Jerusalem as a symbol of God’s abiding presence there.

And the descriptions in these fifth and sixth chapters of the materials and sizes of the temple are pretty intense. Although, as you know, the temple no longer exists, these chapters read like an architectural brochure for the visitor to the temple. So exacting are the descriptions that renderings of the temple are drawn in exegesis books on 1Kings and we can really imagine what it must have looked like. The dimensions that are given for it would have made it the largest temple known in Palestine at that time.

The temple project is dated the 480th year of the exodus. That would mean that about 12 generations have come and gone since the time of Moses delivering his people from slavery in Egypt. It took 11 years to build and hundreds of thousands of workers. Solomon started by placing 30,000 men into forced labor who knew how to cut timber from the cedars in Lebanon. He would send these men to Lebanon in groups of 10,000 for a month and then they would return for two months at home.

Besides the lumber jacks, Solomon had 70,000 laborers and 80,000 stone cutters and 3,300 supervisors besides himself to oversee this huge project. This project must have run like a well-oiled machine!

And the workmanship was beautiful! Everything was overlaid with cedar and was decorated with carvings of gourds and flowers. The most interior of the sanctuary was overlaid with gold. The furnishings were spectacular as well. The flooring was gold and the furniture was carved from olive wood with cherubs. It really must have been spectacular!

In the midst of these very detailed descriptions of the temple is a story of a dream Solomon had while the building was in progress. In Chapter 6 it is written in verses 11-13, “Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, “concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David. I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.”” Richard Nelson, professor of Old Testament at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg PA, writes in his exegesis of this passage that the dream is about the obedience to God and the freedom of God’s presence. If, and only if, God’s commandments are obeyed, the promise to David will be made good and God will dwell in the midst of the people and will not abandon them.

One gets the feeling that in the excitement of Solomon’s big project, God does not want the people of Israel to forget that it is to God that this temple is being built. God sends a message to Solomon to refocus on the big picture. It is really not about the temple, but about being a follower of God. Perhaps building the temple had become such an ordeal that God needed to remind Solomon exactly for what purpose what the temple was being built. I smile when I think about this as it reminds me of some of the pre-marital counseling I have done with couples before they are married. There is a reason for that counseling. It is because often the couple gets so caught up in the wedding and honeymoon plans that they forget the reason for the huge wedding. When you meet with them, they only talk about the wedding and never about the marriage. They can tell me all about the caterer, their colors and clothing, but need to be reminded that after their wedding and honeymoon, they will be a married couple for hopefully many, many years. That is what they are got here for. And in the same way, God wants to call Solomon back to the reality that once the temple is built, the relationship that the Israelites have with God is what is important.

Another meaning to Solomon’s dream was to counter the prevailing cultural experience of why a person would build a temple. Whereas other religions build a temple to their gods to somehow contain them and they bring offerings to their gods to manipulate their gods into giving them what they want, our God here makes it perfectly clear that a temple will not control of house our Lord. The God of the Israelites is in control and will not be manipulated by a temple or a king.

God’s message here is that God is not automatically as Israel’s beck and call. The whole universe cannot contain God. And God is only symbolically present in the temple. The temple is a concrete representation of the reality of the sovereignty of God. It is not and never will be a building to contain God.

This has theological implications for us. It is one of the uncertainties that we must allow our faith to take hold and believe is that our God is both immanent and transcendent. Just like Solomon, we all want to control God. We want a nice relationship where if we build a nice house for God, God will do God’s part for us. How can we trust that God is reliably present for us (whether God is immanent) without forgetting that God cannot be controlled and taken for granted (that God is transcendent). Our experience is that God is at one time both.

Chapter 8 tells of the dedication of the temple. This showy procession and impressive religious actions resemble many dedications I have been to before. Although the showy religious action here is “the slaughtering of so many sheep that you could not count how many there were.” The Ark of the Lord that had been carried by the Hebrew people throughout their 40 years in the dessert and kept without a home during these centuries since, was carried in with much pageantry. Solomon says in verse 12 and 13 of chapter 8 that “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell forever.” Clearly Solomon, for all his wisdom, still has not captured the message that God will not be contained within a building; that we God’s people cannot control God.

We Fairmounters have built an impressive temple to God as well. We love the beauty of this sanctuary, the gardens in the Garth, the chapel with its one wall of stained glass windows, and the charm of the English cottage architecture. We all drive by the building with pride and say to our friends, there is my church. This is where we come to be nurtured in Christian love; this is where we come to celebrate what God has done for us Sunday after Sunday. This is where we come to be with brothers and sisters in Christ in fellowship. This is where we come to be educated in our faith and to be fed with God’s sacramental food. This is where we come to celebrate life’s transitions from birth to death. But we know that this is not the only place where we find God. We know most definitely that this is not the only place where God wants us to be. We come to our temple in order to go out. We come here so that we can live as Christians outside of these walls.

That is why the other scripture lesson for today is what we call “the Great Commission”. It is to remind us that while it is lovely that we have this awesome temple called Fair mount, we must remember that the reason for its being is not to hide within the beautiful walls. Inside these walls we are nurtured and fortified to leave them and go back into the world. When Christ commissioned disciples it was not to stay within the walls of a temple. When Christ told them of the ministry to which they were called, it was not to stay in a building and keep the faith. Christ promised that he would be with them as they went out and left the walls of their security. In Matthew 28: 18-20 Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.”

God is not contained within the walls of the temple and our place as disciples of God is to go out from them as well. Our work and ministry is to a world which desperately needs to hear of God’s love and Christ’s mercy. That is the ministry to which Christ calls us all. Amen!


Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
August 19, 2012
2 Kings 5:1-17

“Holy Moly: Standing on the Shoreline”

I wonder how many of you remember the 1983 movie Trading Places? Dan Aykroyd stars as Louis Winthorpe III, a successful New York commodity broker. He had all the hallmarks of success: a mansion, a manservant, the fancy clothes, the club membership, and the haughty attitude to match.

On the other hand, his costar, Eddie Murphy, stars as Billy Ray Valentine, a penniless beggar who is arrested and thrown in jail for supposedly assaulting Winthorpe.

Winthorpe’s out-of-touch tycoon bosses, a hallmark of 80s movies, make a bet, a bet that changes the direction of these character’s lives. The series of events that follow find the rich and haughty Louis Winthorpe III at the bottom of the barrel. He finds himself stripped of his resources; angry, humiliated and humbled.

His redemption comes from the most unlikely place, a prostitute named Ophelia; a person without any social standing or meaning in Winthorpe’s worldview.

In our reading from II Kings today we are introduced to Naaman, who is the Old Testament version of Louis Winthorpe III. Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Aram, which is located in modern day Syria. To this man of valor and courage were attributed great victories over Israel.

Much like generals from our own history like George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Colin Powell, these military victories made Naaman very popular and brought great favor from those in power. Naaman was successful, wealthy, highly respected by those around him, and well connected. He was exactly the kind of person the world would want in charge, EXCEPT, he had one little problem.

He had leprosy. And as it progressively got worse, it probably bothered him that when he returned from battle his king and comrades would not share with him those customary celebratory gestures.

You can imagine this powerful man, who could have anything in the world, was probably shocked to discover that all of his success and all of his wealth, could not cure this disease.

He knew all the right people in the kingdom; every door was open to him; every “expert” would take his calls and yet no one could provide him a cure. Naaman’s help came from a source he never expected – a young Jewish slave girl who served his wife after being captured during a battle with Israel. She was the very least of least in Aram – a slave, a child, a girl child. This was a person who had absolutely no value in Naaman’s worldview. We don’t even know this girl’s name

This young Jewish slave girl, captured from the land of Israel, is in a position to observe Naaman’s distress so she approaches her mistress and tells her about the Prophet of her God who can cure this leprosy.

At the end of his rope, with little hope for future he listens to this little girl’s wisdom and takes off for Israel. Of course he does not go empty handed. Remember, this is a man with connections; and in order to grease the wheels and get himself healed more quickly he brings along gifts and other signs of his prestige and stature.

He brings a personal letter of introduction from his king to the king of Israel. He also brings with him 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of fine clothes. This is a HUGE amount of money intended to impress upon everyone that he is important and to ensure that he will be received in a dignified manner.

Carrying all of these gifts to Israel, Naaman goes directly to see the king. He goes because if there was a Prophet powerful enough to cure his leprosy then surely the king would know about him.

I would love to have seen Naaman’s face when the King of Israel tore his clothing and carried on about the war mongering King of Aram.

Listening to this, he thinks to himself, “Why did he listen to that little slave girl. How could a young slave girl know about a powerful prophet when the King of Israel knew nothing about him?”

This encounter between the king and Naaman must have been a huge scandal. The whole country must have been talking about it because somehow Elisha hears that the king of Israel has torn his clothes and he sends for Naaman. So, surrounded by all his pageantry and wealth, Naaman goes to Elisha’s house. He is positive that this prophet from a back water country will greet him like the celebrity he is, and recognizing his stature will then proceed to heal him. But his expectations are shattered by a prophet who is unimpressed with his credentials and bravado.

But clearly, Elisha is unimpressed. Not only does Elisha not come to the door, he sends a servant out to him telling him to take a nice long bath in the Jordon River. This is the second time a servant has pointed him in the right direction, but this time Naaman will have none of it.

He angrily pushes past his servants, yelling at the top of his voice about the indignities he has experienced on this quest, about how he has violated his national and religious pride merely by sojourning into Israel in order to request this favor of such an insignificant nobody. All of this and now this prophet wants him to simply dip himself in some shallow, muddy river when there are far grander and cleaner rivers at home.

He is the General of the Army of the King of Aram, an army which routinely clobbers Israel on the battlefield; He comes with a huge gift that very few kings could put together, yet he is being treated as if he were a lowly servant. It is more than he can take and he stomps off, ready to leave and forget this whole thing.

Naaman is holding on too tightly; it seems that he craves respect more than he wants health. He is so sure he knows what he needs, he almost refuses what God wants to give.

But for the THIRD time a nondescript, nameless, apparently insignificant character plays a crucial role in the story.

(Here’s a quick hint, anytime you see a character without a name you usually need to pay attention because God tends to use those who appear to be insignificant and powerless to break open God’s promises in amazing ways.)

A servant calls Naaman’s bluff. “You would have done something difficult if the prophet had demanded it; so jump in that dirty little river and be cleansed.”

All Naaman wants is a proper healing ceremony, one with a touch of class as befits a man of his stature, but all he gets is a dirty river in the middle of nowhere from a God who refuses to be tamed to his expectations.

Finally he crosses to the water’s edge and pauses. The servants are standing there thinking, but not daring to say, “Just do it already!” He’s thinking, “I can’t believe I am standing here, I have hit rock bottom.”

This, this was the beginning of Naaman’s cure. He completely humbled himself and finally let go of the pretense and the ego so something new could claim space in his heart. Into the river he goes. He wades out into this shallow little river and he has to work to get himself under the water. It is not dignified. It is not a pretty site.

Seven times he dunks himself. Seven times he pushes himself under the water allowing the current to wash over him. He emerged from that dirty little river a changed man; he comes up with skin as pure as a young boy’s, but more than his skin was cleansed.

In the River Jordan Naaman discovered that along with his skin, the window of his soul had finally been cleared of the debris that was blocking its view. Those rippling waters had pulled away his arrogance, pulled away his entitlement leaving him wide eyed, leaving him open to the new thing God was about to do.

He realized, in those waters that it didn’t matter that he was a mighty warrior. His royal letter of introduction did not matter; even his silver, gold and servants were of no matter to God.

What mattered to God was the surrender of his pride, his ego, and his status. A huge sacrifice.

Pride, both corporate and personal, is a difficult bedfellow which often keeps us from being open to the new thing God can do in us. Pride is not always a bad thing. As we just saw at the Olympics, national pride can push athletes to higher achievements, but it can also fuel the arms race and perpetuate war.

National pride can bring communities together to celebrate milestones and care for one another during terrible tragedies, but it can also drive a wedge between countries and be used as a club to beat others into toeing the line, even when the line is unjust.

Likewise, personal pride can be destructive. Some of us would rather maintain high blood pressure or an arthritic ache than seek help from a doctor. Some would rather forgo seeing parents, children or grandchildren than humbly beg for forgiveness or seek reconciliation with a family member.

We are not perfect and more often than we care to admit our pride gets in the way, our pride keeps us from acknowledging the leper that lurks inside all of us; our pride over how things have always been keeps us from dreaming about how things could be.

An assortment of the most unexpected people participated in Naaman’s cleansing. Among others, a young slave girl, multiple servants, a crazy king, and a wild prophet, challenged Naaman’s pride, challenged the way he saw the world so that he was ready and able to experience the healing power of God in his life.

In the same way God uses a variety of characters and events to cast the light of God’s grace upon the inner leper in all of us, to challenge the pride that keeps us rooted on the shoreline.

Let us walk, no run, into those dirty waters. Let us immerse ourselves and allow God’s grace to free us from the miry clay that keeps us in place so that made whole once more, the currents of God’s grace may pull us in new directions to fulfill God’s purposes in the world.

May it be so! Amen.

Rev. Martha M. Shiverick
August 5, 2012

Daniel Chapters 1-6 (links to Ch. 1-3, navigate to 4-6)

I hope that you have enjoyed these sermons this summer on the great stories of the Old Testament or Common Scriptures. Eric and I have certainly enjoyed working with them and the children have been studying the same scripture passages in their Sunday School. This morning we are delving into the Book of Daniel, which is a later book of the Old Testament set in a period of harshness for the Jews when they were no longer in their promised land but were foreigners in Babylonia. This as not an easy time for the followers of our God and there was a lot of persecution and hardship. The book reflects this in its themes and the promises it teaches.

The book of Daniel can be divided neatly into two distinct sections. The first half of the book is made up of little stories that we all have heard that are almost like the stories of the Arabian Nights, set in a world of kings, harems, bawdy pagan rituals, and bizarre methods of capital punishment, while the second half of the book is a scary story about the end of time. This eschatological vision tells of three distinct apocalypses with symbolic beasts and monsters. It sounds a lot like the New Testament book of Revelation, whereas Revelations is poetic, these stories in Daniel are scary… The stuff out of which nightmares are made.

So for this morning, I am going to focus on the first six chapters, which are a kind of Paul Bunyon stories of a smart young Jewish man named Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. There are six short vignettes in these first six chapters which have a common theme. They are about these young men living in a country where they are the outsiders, where they need to match wits with the best of the non-Jews and come up on top. The setting for the stories is important as they. Add the tension to them. They are in exile, and Nebuchadnezzar and his decedents were kings. The writer’s forte was not historical accuracy, but int that he was a great story teller. So, I will briefly tell you the wonderful stories of these young faithful young men.

The first story tells of their faith. They were brought to the court of King Nebuchadnezzar to be wise men or magicians. The king was not prejudice of outsiders and gave them equal education and room and board even though they were Jews. Now we don’t exactly know what an observant Jew would eat in the third or second century BC as the Jewish dietary laws we know had not yet been established. But we do know that pork was not allowed to be consumed and can also assume that meat that is too bloody would be considered defiled. What we do know is that Daniel refused to eat the rich and wonderful food that was offered to the wise-men and that the young Jewish men remained healthy in spite of their living off of what the king and his steward considered a starvation diet. The young men realized that a Jew who is true to hs heritage can make it in Babylon, this foreign city whose inhabitants worshiped other gods. The young men did not have to compromise their faith and heritage and give up their identity while living in the King Nebudchadnezzar’s court.

In the second vignette we see Daniel at work as a wise man! The king is having these terrible reoccurring nightmares. They haunt him. He knows it must be a message, but doesn’t know the meaning. So, he asks the wise men in his court to help; but to be sure that they are indeed wise men, he does not just ask them to interpret the dream, but to tell him what was in the dream as well. None of the wise men can do it and the king is angered. That is none of the wise men but Daniel. Daniel prays to God to give him insight and God gives him the power to perform the miracle of dream recall and interpretation. The dream is bizarre. A huge metal statue is cut down and it then becomes a mountain. As Daniel interprets it, it is pro-Babylonain and pro king Nebudchanezzar. The king is ecstatic and wants to reward Daniel, but he attributes his success to God. none the less, he and his three friends are rewarded and the king praises God, saying Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries as you have been able to reveal this mystery to me.

In the third chapter, this vignette might be called, “It’s cool in the furnace Lord” . This chapter of the book is different than the other six chapters we are looking at this morning in that Daniel is missing and the king is not seen as been lenient, but a tyrant. After Daniel’s success of interpreting dreams his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also put in higher positions in the kingdom. During this time, a law was established that all of Nebucanezzer’s subjects must worship a golden image. The three young Jewish men would not even after being threatened. When they were eventually brought to court, they did not even try and defend themselves. They said that if God could deliver them from the situation they were in, then God will; but more importantly even if God could not save them, they would not worship the golden image of Babylon. To quote St Augustine, “a martyr is made by his or her cause, not by their punishment.”

So the three young men are sentenced to death and were to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Somehow while they are being thrown it, the executioners trip and fall into the furnace too. The executioners die, but somehow the jewish young men survive! They are in the tent and a forth voice of God’s angel is heard in the furnace with them. When they open the furnace, the three men come out. They are not hurt, not even singed in any way. The king professes that God is powerful and that the God of the Jews delivers.

The next vignette is similar to the second one. In this forth chapter, Daniel once again finds himself in the position of being called on to interpret the king’s nightmares. And again, Daniel is asked not just to interpret the dream, but he must also be able to tell the king what the steal was he was having. This time it took an even more skillful person as the message Daniel had to tell the king was not a happy one. Daniel says the king needs to break off his sinful ways and practice righteous leadership to the oppressed. Daniel explains that God is overlord of all kings, and that he only allows power and might to the righteous. To Daniel’s credit, the king changes his ways.

In the fifth chapter, a new king has taken rule after the old one has died. This one is a king named Belshazzar. He needs a wise man who can interpret strange writing that has appeared on a wall. He calls on Daniel and all the other wise men to tell him what this graffiti from God can mean. Daniel is brought in to solve the mystery of this disembodied writing might mean after the others can not. Daniel again had to tell a king what God was displeased with the way he was ruling Babylonia. The king listened to what Daniel had to say and respected his counsel so much that he made him the number 3 man in the government.

Which leads us to the sixth little story of how Daniel ends up getting trapped by his fellow court rulers and thrown into a lions pit by a king who loved and respected him. This is the story that we all know so well. It is the one that is depicted in art and children’s Bibles we all have seen and grown up with.

At this point, we know that the king really respects Daniel. He has made him one of three presidents in the land and he and several kings before him have come to appreciate his counsel and advice. I am sure because of this, Daniel also had made many enemies who wanted to have him knocked down a peg or two. So these other rulers conspire to get rid of him. They make a rule that for thirty days any man who worships or petitions in prayer to anyone besides the king will be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel is a practicing Jew who prayed three times a day facing Jerusalem and he is caught in the act of this civil disobedience. The trap works and Daniel is brought before the king who says to him, ” may your god whom you serve continually deliver you.”. It is the kings benediction to his friend and Otis uttered in a hope and a challenge to God.

And as we know an angel was with Daniel in the lion’s pit and the angel shut the lions’ mouths. As the Angel protected him, it was said that no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God. The chapter and the first half of the book of Daniel ends with a king of another faith singing a hymn of thanksgiving and praise to our God who saved Daniel form the jaws of the powerful lions.

Some theologians wonder why even study the book of Daniel at all. Is there a message for us today in these six little vignettes that are found in the first six chapters of the book of Daniel. Are they really stories that are about men of faith that are set too long ago and too far away to give meaning to us today? It seems that theme of all the stories is that those who trust and obey God will be vindicated. If I were a tele-evangelist whose purpose was only to make you feel warm and fuzzy about God and give you a sure and easy equation for happiness and salvation, this certainly would be the angle I took in my sermon today. And that is a great feel good theme,and that theme would be great if it were true. But we know that statements like be good and all will be well, do not play out in real life. We who are honest about life know that very good people have some pretty miserable things happening to them. I was driving to work the other day feeling overwhelmed as I mentally counted all the very good Fairmounters who are now battling cancer. Their diagnoses do not make sense if we believe that simplistic statement that just believe and God will save you from the pit. Not one of them deserve their cancer, and even though they are good faithful people, God has not saved them from their Lion’s dens! After all, God did not save the thousands of good Jews who kept their faith from fiery pits in the camps in world war two.

But let’s go back to that story in chapter three when Daniel’s friends are in the fiery pit. I think in there we find the message that is relevant for us today. We need to ask what could being saved from a fiery pit have to say to those who are not. For people who expect God to save them from all hardship or wrong, we could assume that if we are good enough, we too will never have to face a den of lions or a fiery pit in our lives. However, that is not the theology that the author of the stories intended. If you go back to verses 16-18 in this third chapter I think we see some theology that might explain this. These are the verses that are very important to understanding what the message really is. In these verses the men about to be thrown into a fiery out were not hoping for deliverance. Their actions that brought them to the fiery pit were ones of faith. This is really a story about faithfulness being carried out for its own sake. It is not as much about being saved as its about the martyrdom of those who are willing to make sacrifices in the face of danger for principle. The childlike view is that the stories are about a god that will step in and save the faithful from all kind of wrong or pain, these stories are much more complicated. They are about being about the business our own faithfulness, as in the end that is what is important. In each of the Daniel stories, the characters are superlative in their faith. They do not give up what is important to them, but Hold on closely to their faith and heritage.

It is written that the book of Daniel gives hope and encouragement to those who are crushed by an oppressors. What we find is that it us not because of a sugary promise that the faithful will be saved, but because in the face of extreme hardship, our purpose is to continue to be faithful. Daniel and his friends serve as examples of those who keep their faith in times of trial. Keeping faith and faithfulness to God become our life vests when our lives are in their times of unrest and fierce storms. It is in the times when we feel that we have been thrown into a fiery pit or a den of lions, the stories from Daniel give us examples of not loosing faith. My hope is for all of us that when we find ourselves in times of trial, we too will be able to stand firm in our faith and principals, because in the end, that is what defines us. amen!

Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
Sunday, July 22, 2012
Genesis 40 & 41

Last week we began a journey with Joseph, a journey that showed us how devastating sibling rivalry can be. We learned that Joseph was not an easy traveling companion. While I am sure he was a very godly man, he did not seem to have a clue as how to get along with those closest to him.

He was an entitled young man and the world was his oyster; that is until his brothers had enough. They grew tired of the favoritism he enjoyed and the dreams he was given. They wanted to put an end to his dreams so they threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery in Egypt. They thought this was the end of their brother. They thought their actions were enough to end God’s dreams, but God had other plans.

Feeling despair unlike anything he had ever felt Joseph was taken down to Egypt. He could not understand what was happening. His brothers had thrown him into a pit and then sold him into slavery. How could this be happening to him he wondered. His family had abandoned him!

But God did not abandon him.

When Joseph was sold to an officer of the Pharaoh the Lord was with him and helped him to prosper, helping him to rise to a position of power in his owner’s house. But once again Joseph was filled with despair after being wrongfully accused of an inappropriate relationship with his master’s wife.

But God did not abandon Joseph.

The Lord’s blessing was upon him and soon the Chief Jailor placed Joseph in a position of power, a position that brought him into direct contact with those the king threw into jail. Two such individuals, the cupbearer and the baker of the Pharaoh were thrown into jail. One night they were both disturbed by their dreams. They could not figure out what the dreams meant and were greatly troubled. Joseph, knowing something about dreams, listens to them.

The Cupbearer said, “In my dream there was a vine before me, 10and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” (Gen. 40: 10-11)

And Joseph, as if this dream was not even a challenge, launched right into an interpretation saying, “the three branches are three days; 13within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer.” 14But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place.” (Gen. 40:12-14)

Joseph is no dummy! God has helped him see that this man will be restored to his position with the Pharaoh, the only person able to get him out of prison.

Joseph also interprets a dream for the Pharaoh’s baker who said, “I also had a dream: There were three cake baskets on my head, 17and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” (Gen. 40:17)

Unfortunately for the baker, Joseph’s interpretation of his dream is not so favorable. 18Joseph answered, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 19within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you! —and hang you on a pole; and the birds will eat the flesh from you.” (Gen. 40:18-19)

And things went pretty much as he interpreted they would. The Pharaoh had to find a new baker and the cupbearer got his job back. And Joseph was hopeful that his situation was about to improve but the cupbearer forgot all about him.

For two years the cupbearer forgot about Joseph, leaving him in prison. But God did not forget Joseph and God certainly did not abandon him. It was not until Pharaoh began to have dreams that the cupbearer remembered and convinced the Pharaoh to rescue Joseph from the prison. “15And Pharaoh said to Joseph,

‘I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ 16Joseph answered Pharaoh, ‘It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’

17Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; 18and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. 19Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. 20The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, 21but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. 22I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, 23and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; 24and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears.’ 25Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what God is about to do.

26The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one.

27The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine.” (Genesis 41: 15-27)

Joseph went on to explain the dreams further, explaining how Egypt would enjoy seven years of bountiful harvests, harvests to plentiful that the Pharaoh would not be able to imagine it. These years would be followed by unimaginable drought and famine, as Egypt has never seen. The doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.

Recognizing the discerning Spirit of God upon Joseph, Pharaoh puts him in charge over his entire house. Only Pharaoh himself would be greater in the land of Egypt.

God surely did not abandon Joseph.

And Joseph took full advantage of his new station in life. He stored up the treasures of harvest for seven years and then when the famine struck he opened Pharaoh’s storehouses so the people did not perish. All the world ended up coming to see Joseph to buy grain because God did not abandon Joseph and God did not abandon God’s people.

The Word of the Lord Thanks be to God

Our man Joseph is a significantly different person on this end of his journey through life. At the beginning of our journey with Joseph he was this young obnoxious tattletale who had the world handed to him.

But as we know, journeys change people. Like Joseph, we encounter pitfalls that challenge how we understand our place in the world and humble our egos, making us more open to new understandings.

Journeys rarely take the path we always thought they would and sometimes, like Joseph, we are forced to take paths we would not choose to journey down.

• A company falters and has to cut jobs and suddenly you are looking for new employment.

• You wonder why that pesky cough will not go away only to discover cancer has come to spend some time with you.

• Your parent or child becomes ill forcing you to spend time where you are really needed.

The list can go on and on. We, like Joseph, encounter unexpected and sometimes unwanted detours all the time.

Joseph was forced down many paths he did not sign up for. He was thrown in a pit; He was sold into slavery; He was falsely accused and thrown in jail; He was ignored and forgotten by someone in a similar circumstance.

Joseph was forced down many paths he did not choose on his journey. But on those paths Joseph discovered an important thing. He discovered the presence of God was still with him. He discovered the presence of God was still working for him wherever he found himself and he began to trust. He began to trust in God’s power to bring about good things; he began to trust in the power of God’s grace to work in and through him and for him;

He began to trust more in God, than he did himself.

Joseph has learned and now stands as the model of the godly life, but significantly it is a life lived in the midst of the full range of human problems; it is a life that reflects the complexities of the human experience and at the same time the joy and privilege of serving God with all he has been given.

When the Pharaoh himself finally calls upon Joseph to interpret a dream and then to guide Egypt through the crisis the dream foretold Joseph does not flinch, he does not shy away and he does not allow the power of his new position to go to his head. Instead he trusts in God’s power and becomes an agent of grace for the whole world.

There is no doubt those unwanted paths are difficult and there is no doubt that they can be painful, but there is also NO doubt that God’s presence is at work in you and through you when those changes happen.

This week some of our brothers and sisters in Colorado found themselves on a new and unwanted path. They became victims of senseless violence. It is easy to throw up our hands and ask where is God, to throw up our hands say, “this is just too much!” or “Nothing can be done!” But Joseph reminds us to trust in God, to trust in the grace of God at work in and through us. This very day you have been at work to alleviate pain and suffering. Your mission dollars, which have gone to support the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Ministry of our denomination, are already winging their way towards Aurora, Colorado.

You are already actively supporting chaplains and congregations who are serving as agents of God grace for the whole world.

But there is much work to do! Change is happening all around us which means each of us has the opportunity to become an agent of grace for this congregation and for the whole world. You are invited to place your trust in the power of God to do far more with you and through you than you could ever hope to do on your own. You are invited, like Joseph was before you, to place your trust in the One who journeys with you and through you to the far reaches of the world.

To trust and to follow knowing the power of God is with you, even when you are in the pit, even when the path seems long, even when you don’t know where to begin.

May it be so! Amen.

Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
Sunday, July 15, 2012
Genesis 37:1-28

Genesis 37:1-28

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’  I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.  I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.  I have a dream today.  I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

I have a dream today.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was a man who had a powerful dream.  He was a man who was not afraid to share that dream and to work for that dream!  He understood the power of dreams and the ways God moves in and through them.  I would bet, as he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on that hot day in August of 1963, that he also understood how dreams can inspire people while at the same time be the cause of so much fear, so much discord.

This was not a talent that our dear Joseph seemed to have. He did not seem to have a clue how other people felt.  He was the favored son, of the favored wife of Jacob.  He was the 2nd youngest, but the story tells us he was the apple of his father’s eye.   This boy was showered with affection and gifts while his older brothers of another mother were expected to do all the work.  And when he was finally sent out to work with his brothers the first thing he does is bring back a bad report about them to his father.  And then, to top things off, he starts having these dreams; these dreams that he apparently can not keep to himself.

First, he dreams that he and his brothers were in the fields harvesting wheat when his sheaf rose higher than the rest and their sheaves bowed down to his.  Of course his brothers are going to hate him when he shares this dream with them.  I find myself getting annoyed with Joseph and I’m not his brother.   But Joseph does not stop dreaming.  And either unaware of the animosity, or in spite of it, Joseph shares the second dream.  In this one the sun, the moon and the eleven stars all bow down to him.  At this point, even his greatest admirer, his father, rebukes him.

I understand that Joseph is a celebrated ancestor of our faith, but we have to admit, he was obnoxious.  It was easy for his brothers to hate him.  It was easy for his brothers to hate his dreams.

In some way, the brothers perceived that these dreams threatened the natural order of things.  They threatened they way things had always been, the way things were supposed to be.  The brothers assumed the dreams were about Joseph’s ambition and some kind of preferential treatment. Can you blame them?  This is how Jacob dealt with Joseph all the time, so they had no other frame of reference.  Joseph’s brothers want to kill the dream, to stop it from becoming a reality.  While we might not be driven to kill someone because of a dream, this kind of angst is not beyond our experience.

It’s a dangerous thing to dream.  It’s a dangerous thing to share a dream or vision for the future that challenges the way things are now.  These kinds of dreams can make people uncomfortable, they can make people drive their feet into the ground and do unreasonable things.  In Joseph’s time his brothers were unreasonable.  They contemplated killing him, but ended up throwing him into a pit and selling him into slavery, thinking this would be enough to put an end to the dream.  James Earl Ray took the shot that he believed would put an end to Martin Luther King Junior’s dream.

And if those dreams had only been about those two men the story, and this sermon, might have ended here.  But the good news of the Gospel is that God’s dreams for humanity are bigger than the wrong actions of misguided individuals.

God does not appear in Joseph’s dreams yet we know God’s hand was directing the action.  Joseph’s dreams were God’s dreams and God’s dreams do not die in some pit, or wither on the slave train to Egypt.  Martin’s dreams were God’s dreams and God’s dreams don’t end because of a rifle.

Instead, as God has always done, God uses the perfect messes we create to work out God’s dreams and visions for the world.  In the remaining chapters of Genesis we see how the actions of Joseph’s brothers were redeemed by God to work out God’s plan of salvation.  And in the years since Martin’s death we have seen how God has used his life to inspire change in our world.

But God has not stopped dreaming and we have not stopped dreaming.  As we live out our faith on this corner in Cleveland Heights we have to work together to discern God’s dream for us today.  But sometimes as we seek to discern together God’s dream and vision for us we might get uncomfortable and want to dig in and resist the dream because it calls us away from how things have always been done.

Rev. Martha “Missy” Shiverick
July 8, 2012

1Samuel 17: 1-16, 24-26, 32-50

The Story of David and Goliath is one we all know. Our whole lives it has been used for us as an example of “triumph in the face of terrible odds”. As I began researching and thinking of it as the ‘Holy Moly’ scripture passage for this week as Pastor Eric Dillenbeck and I preach on the great Hebrew Scripture stories that you often don’t get to hear as texts for sermons, I found it to have many more messages for us today as we delve into it. There is some real depth in theology here past the surface story of the shepherd boy slaying the giant with a stone and a slingshot. This morning I will mention a few of them in hopes that as you think about the story this week you will find many angles in it with which to contemplate.

The first thing to ask is what the story is saying about God? In this super hero action story, God might not be the action figure in the story, but God certainly is the central figure of the story and the most powerful force within it. WE learn in the story that God can do anything! God does not need strong warriors, swords, or large armies to be in control. Strength and might, swords and armor are human tools of power, not God’s, and God’s will will be done. In fact, God’s will will be done against all odds. We also learn that God can see potential in things that are not obvious to us humans. God saw potential, courage, and leadership in a shepherd boy to beat a giant, not a mighty and trained warrior which might have been the obvious choice to us. And this means of course, that God might also find potential in us in spite of our thinking that we have no skills or purpose in God’s work and plan for the world. We might feel that we are unworthy, but God might have other plans for even you and me. Without a PhD, God might see that you are the brains to be a future leader in God’s realm. Without proper training, you might just be the caring arms to nurture and care and show God’s love to another. After all, God used a little shepherd bot named David to slay the big monster, so God might use even us!

The second lesson I am gleaning from this story has to do with where David got his strength to fight the monster named Goliath. David had the courage to face something really very, very scary because he was fighting for his people AND he faced his enemy in the name of God. He had faith that God was with him and that God would not abandon him. Clearly how he acted was in some way a demonstration of his faith. He faced what frightened all the other Israelites, because he had the faith that God was behind him. I think that when we know we are doing the right thing, we can go up against odds that others might think are overwhelming. I think of one member of our church whose daughter donated a kidney to a stranger, because she felt she was doing the right thing. Knowing she was on the right, gave her courage to do something we all think is amazing. I think of members of our church who have served as missionaries in parts of the world most of us would be frightened to venture into. But they had the courage to do it, knowing they were doing God’s work. A friend of mine told me her daughter became her hero when she signed up for a ‘Teach America’ year in a city like ours where it takes courage to walk in some neighborhoods. She was so proud of her daughter who saw that there was much she could do to help the world by working as a volunteer in the inner city. These individuals and many others you and I can name and share their stories are the Davids in a world of Goliaths. They are that way because of the courage they get from their faith and convictions. And because of that they are also our heroes.

And what about the stones? David picked up five smooth stones from the river to arm him as he went into battle. They certainly were not the conventional arsenal of choice for his day but they were the weapons he felt would serve him best. It’s interesting to think what our stones might be if we went into battle with our Goliaths in life? We all have Goliaths, huge obstacles in life that we need to overcome. What would we want to take into our personal battles? Would we take our faith? Would we take our love? Would the strength we gain from our families be the stones we need as we go into battle? Is Fairmount Church a source of strength for you in the rough roads of your life? I hope that it would be. It is interesting to contemplate from where you get your strength in life and perhaps if you need a bit more strength, to whom you should rely.

A next theme to ponder in this story is to think about the monster. Who was this man Goliath and where do we see him today. I think it is always healthy to look at ourselves first. Although we automatically identify with the character of David, perhaps we should also look inward at ourselves and the possibility that we might be the scary monster as well. Let’s not name the monsters in our society without seeing if they might be in us as well. After all, isn’t that what Jesus asked us to think about before we started casting stones? Do we all not have a sort of monster living within us? Whether it is our selfishness, our materialism, or maybe even a tendency to lose our tempers or even become violent… we all here most likely have a monster that we are not too proud of hiding within us. Others of us have more serious monsters that we fight on a daily basis… mental illness, addiction, or other powerful things that they must wrestle with on a daily basis. But whatever your circumstances, my guess is when you are honest with yourself, there is indeed a monster lurking somewhere in your personality that you are trying to conquer or at least keep under control. And the good news for us Christians is that we can have the courage to face the Goliaths within us because of our faith. We believe that, like David, our God will not abandon us when we are up against tough times. We can face and deal with the scary uncertain things in our lives, knowing that God is in control and that God will help us.

There is another aspect of being a Goliath that must be mentioned here too. One of the shocking things we as a naïve nation learned 10 and a half years on 9/11 was that we are not universally loved by everyone as a nation. Some countries fear us, others see us as country that abuses out power and does not follow rules that others must. Are we the giant force that inflicts its power, judgment, and culture on others less strong and influential? If so, we sound an awful lot like the Goliath in this story….Could we possibly be conceived by others as a nation that bullies? This is indeed something else to think about.

And the final lesson that I will raise up today as we think about the story of David and Goliath is the notion of power. Clearly this story is one of power reversal. Goliath was a monster of a man. His height alone was 6 cubits and a span which would make him about 9 and a half feet. The Hebrew measure of a cubit is the distance from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger and a span is the distance from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your middle finger. Clearly, the story teller wants us to know that this was indeed a fighting machine, a huge guy with an impressive fighting record. And David was just a shepherd boy without armor or spears. AND, yet, David won. One commentary of this passage wrote that if David had chosen the spear and armor that King Saul had given him he would have clearly lost. It was in choosing what the giant perceived as non-threatening that David won.

Power as a reality has changed throughout history. In the late 1980’s I was a new minister living in Columbus Ohio. I would travel to Cleveland to hear speakers that came here to Fairmount and spoke about Peacemaking as a year- long series sponsored by our William Burkett William Speaker Series. One of the speakers was a Senator’s wife named Betty Bumpers. Her husband, I think might have been a Senator from Arkansas. At any rate, Mrs. Bumpers told the group that she had always lived in the security that there were these very wise and wonderfully educated people in Washington making all these well thought out decisions She went to bed at night with the security that the firm foundation of our nation was these brilliant elected officials making wise choices on out nations policies and long term strategies. That was until her husband became a senator, and although she said she thought he was wonderful, he was human and therefore imperfect. And then she began to question whether the policies our government had were the correct ones. She questioned whether our belief in power as a deterrence to war. She asked, ‘Do we have national security because we have as many weapons pointed at our enemies as they have at us.’ And, because of her feeling, she went on a national tour to question this. And, history has taught us, the proliferation of all those nuclear weapons did no bring peace and security. And in these past years we have experienced yet another change in power. As we have come to fear the terrorist attacks on our country, we know that it certainly does not take a superpower or even a super powerful weapon, to bring a country to panic. Power has indeed changed yet again.

But the one thing that remains the same, no matter what the power is that we are up against. We have the same smooth stones David had to fight whatever Goliaths we are up against. Whether our Goliaths are our own personal monsters or the monsters which threaten our world, we can rely on God. The smooth stones we have been given is the knowledge that our God is indeed in control.

And that is the underlying goo news of the story. God is in control. We can have courage, and can face whatever scary monsters and demons that are in front of us or even within us, knowing that the real power and control is not with them, is not within us, but is with God. And how we react to that knowledge is a demonstration of our faith. Amen.

Martha M Shiverick
Sermon July 1, 2012
Scripture: Esther (the whole book)

This morning’s scripture passage is the Book of Esther, and although a shorter book, a novella of sorts, in the Bible, it is still ten chapters long which is a little too much for me to read in its entirety this morning as is recommended by most Jewish rabbis. Of course they do it over two weeks where we are covering Esther this morning in our Holy Moly summer series on the great stories of our Hebrew Scriptures. For the Jews this book is to be read publically in its entirety during the festival of Purim in the Jewish tradition. Esther is a great story and because of that I thought I would approach is as such and tell you her story this morning within my sermon. So, please listen to God’s word as I retell the story of Esther.

Before I begin, I must tell you a little about the book and why it is considered an important part of the Bible. Sidnie Crawford, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Chair of the Classics department at the University of Nebraska writes in her commentary of Esther, that the Hebrew book of Esther is an exciting, fast paced story that has captured the imagination of Jews over the century even though it has not been focused on too much by the Christian church. It contains all the elements of a romance novel with great characters, the beautiful heroine, the terrible egomaniac villain, the wise older father figure, and the comedic buffoon of a figure in the easily swayed and somewhat inept ruler. On a purely surface level, the book is a good read, it is meant to make the reader laugh, but its deeper darker themes which run through the story, and (those of racial hatred, the threat of genocide, and the evil of pride and power) make it a great book to study and from which to preach. The book was written around the third century BCE and was written for Jews in exile. But there is much in it for us to glean from as well.

Once upon a time, perhaps 465BCE, there was a King named Ahasuerus, who had everything he could want. He controlled land from India to Ethiopia. He defined excess in abundance in his life. He had so much wealth and so many possessions that he had a big party to celebrate it all. He invited people from all over the world (and by people I mean men…. Think of when this was written after all) to come to his party where he could show off his wealth and the guests ate everything they wanted and drank everything they wanted for over 180 days! At one point actually day 187, when, as the story puts it, he was merry with wine, he wanted his beautiful Queen to make an appearance in her crown so he could show her off too, and he sent several of his servants to come and fetch her. Queen Vashti refused to come and sent that message back to the King. Rabbis sometimes discuss here why Queen Vashti would not go to the stag party that had been going on for ½ of a year, and some have surmised that King Ahasuerus wanted her to come wearing ONLY her crown and she refused.

The King was publically humiliated and in his embarrassment makes a decree that all wives must obey their husbands. Vashti is retired as queen and loses all her status and power. The excess of anger and pride of the King creates something oppressive for others. We learn that King Ahasuerus is a dangerous man as part of his danger comes from his absurdity and the ability of others to manipulate him. We learn that the biggest manipulator of the king is the villain character Haman. Haman and the court, in an effort to make the King happy, work on a way to replace the queen. They make a sort of “beauty pageant” of all the beautiful young virgins and the king will be able to pick from among them Vashti’s replacement.

This is where we meet the characters of Esther and her Uncle Mordecai. They are Hebrews in exile in the Kings land. Esther, a beautiful young virgin, is taken to be in the contest to see who will be the new queen. She is going to live in a gentile court and her uncle tells her to hide the fact she is a Jew for her protection. Now this contest Esther is in is not like the beauty contests that people enter today. There is not a choice of whether you enter this contest, and once chosen, if you lose, you don’t get to go home with prizes and other wonderful things, but you stay in the harem of the court. Now I am not sure what exactly the beauty regime was in this land in this time, but the young women chosen spent a year primping to get ready to see the king. They had one chance to win him over and for him to remember them. And each was presented to the king and he told each they could take anything that they wanted from his court. When it was Esther’s turn he fell immediately in love with her. He gives her the crown and has a banquet for her. She is now queen.

The next scene in the story is a short one but it is important in the way it plays out in the rest of the story. Uncle Mordecai stays by the gates to where Esther is so that he can talk to her and see her on a regular basis. While there, he learns of a plot to kill the king. He alerts the authorities and the plan is stopped. Unfortunately, even though it is recorded in the record books it is not brought to the attention of the king, so he is not rewarded in the way he should have been. Meanwhile, the villain, Haman, is taking advantage of the malleable king and rising to power and status in the kingdom. At one point he passes by Mordecai and Mordecai does not bow down to him. We are not told exactly why Mordecai will not but great conversation can take place about the reasons for his not obeying the order. The families had been feuding for generations. Perhaps that is why? Is it for religious reasons? Will he only bow down before God as to bow down to another is idolatry? Or could it be that he is just a stubborn man? Whatever the reason, Hamon gets ENRAGED. And the word for enraged here in the Hebrew is the same enragement that the king felt when his wife would not obey him. He was mad! So this VILLAIN plots to get back at Mordecai by making a mass murder of all the Hebrew people. He approaches the king and tells him that there are people in his kingdom whose laws are different and that it is not appropriate for him to tolerate the Jews. Now if the king has been wise, he might have researched it a bit, or made a punishment that was a little less severe, but he was not and went along with Haman’s suggestion that a verdict be made to annihilate, not enslave, the whole Hebrew population.

Needless to say the whole Jewish population is a wreck. Mordecai speaks to Esther and tells her that it is up to her to save her people. Only she can do it!

Now, up until this point we have not seen a lot of leadership qualities in Esther. And she is very nervous. She tells her uncle that she has not been called to the king’s court in over 30 days and that a person cannot go into the king’s court without an invitation. Also, she is very aware of what happened to the last queen when she did not follow the king’s commands so she does not relish the idea of putting herself in danger. Mordecai reasons with her that her life is already in danger, as she is a Jew and if she does nothing, she will surely die.

It is at this point that we realize that Esther is more than just a pretty face; that she is a true queen. She dresses in her royal clothes and goes to the court and stands outside to catch the king’s attention. He invited her into speak and asks what he can do for her. She asks the king and his not so trusted advisor Hamon to her home for a banquet and they go. At the banquet after she most likely has filled a few hearty glasses of wine in the king, he asks her if there is anything she can do, and she again asks him and Haman back to a banquet the following afternoon. Haman is now thinking that he must be the luckiest person in the king’s court. He has been invited by the queen to have a meal two days in a row with the king and her.

But that night fate played a wonderful card. The king had trouble getting to sleep and asked for his staff to read him the log books about what had been happening in his court. The staff read to him about Mordecai saving his life when he overheard the plan to assassinate the king and told the authorities. The king asks what has been done to pay him for his good work and is told that indeed nothing had been done. So when Haman, feeling that he was the most important person in the court, came in to see the king the next day, the king asked him what should be done for a man the king wants to honor. The king is of course talking about Mordecai, but Hamon who is so full of himself assumes it must be he of whom the king speaks. So, Hamon goes through a pretty extensive list of the things that he would want thinking that he indeed was the recipient of the honor, and then learns that it is his mortal enemy Mordecai that will get everything. To make matters worse, Hamon must give these things to him personally.

That day at the banquet, after she has once again been a very heavy pourer of the wine at lunch, the king asks Esther what she would like. He offers her anything in his kingdom. At this point she begs for her life and the life of her people. When Hamon’s plot to kill Mordecai is finally unearthed, it is Hamon who is condemned and impaled at the stake he had built for Mordecai and Mordecai even gets his home.

The enemy is gone, but it is not yet a happy ending as the law is still in effect to wipe out the Jewish population. Esther pleads not for her life but the fate of her people. She wanted the king to know that she and her people are one. And this next part I don’t get…I don’t understand why the king just could not have cancelled the law but that is not the end of the story…. Instead, the king allows the Jews to fight back. They can defend themselves. And after nine months peace and order are once again restored to the land and the Jews are safe. To celebrate their safety and to honor the woman who saved them, the festival of Purim was established to celebrate the Jews being saved from annihilation.

The story calls for conversation on many levels. It would make a great book to be read in a book club. Not only do the issues of prejudice of a people, the hatred, and genocide of a population rise to the surface in the story but so do character flaws of greed, power, and pride. WE have seen over and over again throughout history how people can use hatred and fear to create their own power base and even commit acts of genocide. Certainly the evil Hamon can be seen throughout history and has the ability to be seen again. Another issue which runs throughout the story is how to balance your life with your faith in the secular world. Mordecai and Esther were people of a faith whose values and customs differed from that of the society in which they lived. In the same way our society is sometimes at odds with our Christian values we find ourselves in situations where we must decide if we will bow down to a power different than our God as Mordecai did. Esther was put in a position of defending her people and her religion in the face of adverse situations. We must ask ourselves if we could do the same. If we had to defend our values in a situation where we too are at risk, could we? Holy Moly! What a good story!