Friday, August 8, 2014

For Just Such a Time (Esther 4:9-17) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

On February 27, 2012, 17-year-old T. J. Lane from Chardon, Ohio, burst into his school's cafeteria and started shooting classmates.   He shot and killed three students.  Had it not been for the courage of Coach Frank Hall, many more students could have died that day.  Coach Hall doesn't consider himself a hero.  The 6'1", 350-pound football coach admits that he has plenty of fears.  He hates confrontations.  He's afraid of heights, roller coasters, and scary movies; and he jumps through the ceiling when his kids sneak up on him.  On one level, Coach Hall is more of a teddy bear than a fighter.  He loves kids.  He says: "Every kid is someone's pride and joy or wants to be someone's pride and joy …. I keep thinking, How would I want my kid to be treated?—and then I treat them that way."

As a father of four adopted children, coach Hall also sees himself as a protector of kids.  So as the shots rang out in the High School cafeteria, coach Hall knew what he had to do.  He said as a Christian, he felt the hand of God through the ordeal, and responded with courage in the face of danger.  

As students cringed under desks, coach Hall charged at the gunman, his voice booming, "Stop! Stop!"  The 17-year-old shooter was thrown off-guard by Hall's charge.  He shot and missed.  And the coach continued to charge at Lane, who turned and started running.  Police finally found Lane on a wooded road, shivering and wearing a t-shirt with the word KILLER on it.  When they asked him why he'd run away, he said, "Because Coach Hall was chasing me."

In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give her bus seat to a white man.  In her book Quiet Strength she writes:  "When I sat down on the bus that day, I had no idea history was being made—I was only thinking of getting home. But I had made up my mind. After so many years of being a victim of the mistreatment my people suffered, not giving up my seat—and whatever I had to face afterwards—was not important. I did not feel any fear sitting there. I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. It was time for someone to stand up—or in my case, sit down. So I refused to move.

These stories have one thing in common, they are about the right people, in the right place, at the right time, who did something noble, who took a stand, who acted with courage.   Each one had a God-given opportunity to make a difference and they seized it. 

What is an opportunity?  An English Proverb says: “Make hay while the sun shines.”  Samuel Johnson wrote: “To improve the golden moment of opportunity, and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of life.”   John Flavel wrote:  “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” 

Someone said opportunity is like an open window.  But a window of opportunity won't open itself - You must seize it.   An opportunity is made great or poor in direct ration to the quality of the character you bring to it.  An opportunity is seized or missed, in relation to our being prepared to make the most of it.  There is a call to duty and responsibility in opportunities.   If we bring our faith to it, it can be used for the good of others and for the glory of God.   God gives us opportunities.

Can you look back and think of opportunities you missed, that you let slip through your fingers?  An opportunity you had to speak, but you remained silent.  Can you think of opportunities you seized and made the most of?   God will offer you and me new opportunities in our lives.  Are you ready?

In our story from the Old Testament, Esther comes face to face with an opportunity in the form of a pending crisis.  The environment is extremely hostile.   The Jews are living in exile in Persia, modern day Iran.  Though Esther is the queen of Persia, she had been forced to marry the king and her power was limited.  The King's power is absolute.  Esther, a Jew, was faced with an opportunity fraught with peril, to save her people from annihilation by the Persians.  

Haman, the king's second in command, had deceived the king into issuing an edict to exterminate all Jews in the realm.   Mordecai, Esther’s uncle and Esther, could have tried to escape and save themselves.  But instead, they saw it in a radically different light, that God had placed them in that position for His higher purpose.  They saw it as an opportunity to be used by God for a good and glorious deed.  Hear again Mordecai’s famous reply to Esther:

Do not think that because you are in the king’s house, you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows, but that you have come to Royal position for just such a time as this?”

Esther realizes that she has a chance to save her fellow Jews in her privileged position as queen.  But even more, she begins to sense her divine destiny – here was a chance to be used to deliver her people from annihilation  for the glory of God.  It's a decisive moment.  And so, without being officially summoned before the king, and knowing full well the law of death, for such impertenance, Esther approaches the king and tells him of the deception behind the edict to kill the Jews.  A miracle occurs.  The king listens and Esther and the Jews are spared.

There are insights we can gain from Esther's story.   Her eyes were open and she saw the opportunity.  She believed God would act at the right time.   She trusted God to be with her.  She prayed for the courage to act.  She commited herself to be used as God's agent to save the Jews even at the risk of her own life.  She seized the moment and took action, rather than procrastinating.   It was a moment that could not be put off.  She prayed and fasted and thereby asked for and relied upon God’s help on her dangerous mission.   She didn’t over-analyze the situation, realizing the urgency and need to act. 

Are you faced with a difficult situation that requires action?  Maybe its a situation at work or in the community.  You may realize its time to talk with a spouse or friend on a delicate subject, or talk to your family about changes which you believe need to be made.  You too may see a situation where you alone have the opportunity to make a difference.  Rather than turning away from such challenges or putting them off, pray to God for the courage to take action and trust in God to use you in that situation.  Be inspired by Esther’s courage and example.

I close with the story of Sandra McBrayer, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the Children's Initiative and an internationally known advocate for children, youth and families. The Children's Initiative is a San Diego based child advocacy agency dedicated to assisting children, youth and families to help them thrive and prosper. 

In 1987, Ms. McBrayer saw the plight of homeless children in San Diego.  She saw how they were not going to school and receiving an education. She saw an opportunity and acted.  She founded and developed the first successful school in the United States for homeless and unattended youth, serving as head teacher for Monarch High School.  It began as a drop-in center before being transformed, like a butterfly, into the Monarch school of today.  

McBrayer had been teaching juvenile offenders in the court school system, when she came up with the idea of a school specifically for homeless children.  She said: "I realized that part of our responsibility is to take school to the students and not just wait for them to come to us."  

You never know when God will call you to fulfill his will at a particular time and place.  You never know when God will call you to act in a decisive moment, to change lives or to save one life, to act righteously and courageously on behalf of family, friends, even strangers or for a cause.  It can come at anytime, because you are the right person, in the right place and at the right time. 

As followers of Christ, God calls us be channels of his will, agents of his kingdom, lights in the darkness.  God brings sacred opportunities to serve Him and His kingdom and he calls us to seize them.  For remember these words, “Who knows, perhaps you are in this position for just such a time as this.”  Amen!

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