The Least, First

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Sermon of October 1 , 2006, New Oaks Church, Washington, IA, USA (Proper 21)

Esther 7:1-6,9-10; Esther 9:20-22;Psalm 124;James 5:13-20;Mark 9:38-50


Call to worship


Come, Now Is The Time to Worship

Lord, I Lift Your Name On High

Shout to the Lord

Cue Psalm 124

If The Lord




Short version of the Esther story as background to the reading:
400 BC, King Xerxes of Persia, at the palace at Susa/Queen removed – virgins sought throughout the realm. Many Jews are there, still captives from the wars of conquest of previous generations/ Among them, Esther, an orphan girl, raised by her uncle Mordecai/ Brought to the palace, has 12 mos. of makeover/Eventually, Esther chosen above them all to be queen. Mordecai tells her not to let anyone know she is Jewish.

2nd in command is Haman. Haman hates Mordecai – who doesn’t fawn over him like Haman commands/So Haman convinces the king to pass a law under which all Jews will be destroyed on such and such a date.

M passes word to Queen Esther. But Esther can’t initiate contact with the king – no one can go to the king without being summoned. If someone does, they’re put to death – unless the king picks up his scepter and extends it to them.

M passes the message: your people are about to die – perhaps it is for such a time as this that you were brought to the kingdom.

Esther walks in to the court – the scepter is extended.

“My Queen – what do you want – up to half my kingdom!”

Much happens, but it all ends up at a dinner the queen puts on for the King, herself, and the 2nd in command, Haman.


Esther 7

1-2 So the king and Haman went to dinner with Queen Esther. At this second dinner, while they were drinking wine the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what would you like? Half of my kingdom! Just ask and it’s yours.”

3 Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your eyes, O King, and if it please the king, give me my life, and give my people their lives.

4 “We’ve been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed—sold to be massacred, eliminated. If we had just been sold off into slavery, I wouldn’t even have brought it up; our troubles wouldn’t have been worth bothering the king over.”

5 King Xerxes exploded, “Who? Where is he? This is monstrous!”

6 “An enemy. An adversary. This evil Haman,” said Esther.

Haman was terror-stricken before the king and queen. …

9 Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, spoke up: “Look over there! There’s the gallows that Haman had built for Mordecai, who saved the king’s life. It’s right next to Haman’s house—seventy-five feet high!”

The king said, “Hang him on it!”

10 So Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he had built for Mordecai. And the king’s hot anger cooled. …

20-22 Mordecai wrote all this down and sent copies to all the Jews in all King Xerxes’ provinces, regardless of distance, calling for an annual celebration on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar as the occasion when Jews got relief from their enemies, the month in which their sorrow turned to joy, mourning somersaulted into a holiday for parties and fun and laughter, the sending and receiving of presents and of giving gifts to the poor.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


They are saved. Enemies overcome. Mordecai becomes powerful. Esther is given Haman’s estate. Feast of Purim begun.


Strange things about this book: Deliverance comes through a pagan king. And did you know that God is not even mentioned in the book of Esther?


God accomplishes his will through a king who doesn’t know him, and has it recorded in the Bible in a book that doesn’t mention him. God must not be limited – he must be able to work about however he wants!


Now to the Gospel of Mark, and events of about A.D. 30. Remember where we’ve been in the last few weeks:

There was the story of their expectations about Messiah as a political king who will set up a new Jewish nation: Jesus responds by speaking of his death and resurrection. Peter disagrees, and Jesus calls him Satan and says “Anyone who comes with me has to let me lead. … Self sacrifice is the way … to saving yourself …”

Did they get it?


Then there was the story of the disciples’ private argument over who among them was the greatest: Jesus responds with “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”


Be the servant of whom?


Did they get it?


And those form the backdrop for today’s reading:

Mark 9:38-50


38John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”


39-41Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.


They know Jesus is the leader, they’re following him. “Here,” they assume, “is where the revolution will begin – in our group. ” Perhaps they’re planning on being the chiefs of the new government they think Jesus will set up. This stranger couldn’t possibly fit the plan – and maybe they’re thinking he’ll be competition for them.

Did they say they stopped him because he wasn’t serving Jesus? Look again. Why? Because he wasn’t in our group. And Jesus tells them the man is on their side. “Even if someone just gives you a drink, they’re on our side.”

“But Jesus,” moderns might insist, “He doesn’t even know about the governmental theory of the atonement! Or the trinitarian nature of God!”


Jesus insists: “Leave him alone.” And not only leave him along – he goes even further:


42″On the other hand, if you give one of these simple, childlike believers a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.


Like Esther story, God can work through whomever he pleases, whether or not he’s part of our group. We’d better not be throwing stones. Better not be thinking revival has to start with us. God can work however he pleases.


I’ll tell you what I learned this week in a minute.


So, remember: Jesus has been telling them it’s not about fussing over which one of them is the greatest – not even about fussing over which group is the greatest. And James offers a better way:


James 5:13-20

Prayer to Be Reckoned With

13-15Are you hurting? Pray. Do you feel great? Sing. Are you sick? Call the church leaders together to pray and anoint you with oil in the name of the Master. Believing-prayer will heal you, and Jesus will put you on your feet. And if you’ve sinned, you’ll be forgiven—healed inside and out.


16-18Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.

What had they been confessing? They’d been “confessing” to each other their own greatness!


The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. Elijah, for instance, human just like us, prayed hard that it wouldn’t rain, and it didn’t—not a drop for three and a half years. Then he prayed that it would rain, and it did. The showers came and everything started growing again.


19-20My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.


The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson


Some weeks ago, read an article in the newspaper by a fellow pastor. It was badly done. Really badly. Words misunderstood, misspelled, thoughts unrelated. Further, I’d seen this fellow make some pretty unwise moves. The thought went through my mind: “He is stupid!.” Then I winced and retreated: “No, that’s not so good.”


Here’s what I learned this week. On Friday night, while reflecting on this sermon, this thought gently floated into my mind – almost as a challenge: Suppose he is dumb?

If was as if God was saying something like this: “Does he have to be smart to have your affection?  Who’s the greater – one who thinks easily and follows me, or one who has a hard time thinking and gets to the truth anyway?  One who has the study skills to prepare accurate sermons and get all the spelling right, or one who struggles with those things but hangs in there and does what God has called him to do anyway?  Which one deserves the most tender care – one who can think clearly, or one who thinks poorly?  And what should your role be toward him, then?”

Once again, Jesus turns my values upside-down.   As with Esther, as with the man who “wasn’t part of our group” – can’t God do as he pleases?  Does it have to be my way?


Last week, we read:

Live Well, Live Wisely

Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. … Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings …


Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.


Our world becomes better only as its people become better.


Giving/Alabaster Offering

Today is Worldwide Communion Sunday.


The Reconciliation Song


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Written by Monte

October 8, 2006 at 7:20 pm

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