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Third & Adams Street, PO Box 9774, Moscow, Idaho USA | (208) 882-3715

Imagine and Grow With God - June 29, 2014

Esther 4:12-17; 7:1-6
Matthew 13:31-32

We celebrate Vacation Bible School today by singing many of the songs and looking at some of their crafts and decorations. The theme for VBS was Workshop of Wonders: Imagine and Grow with God. Each day the children explored a different Bible story related to the theme. This morning I want to highlight two of them: the story of Queen Esther and the parable of the mustard seed.
Queen Esther's story is one of my favorite Bible stories. It is only ten chapters long. While that's too long to read in worship, it makes for a great Sunday afternoon story. I encourage you to give it a try.
It is a drama full of intrigue and action, with colorful characters ranging from a beautiful and brave heroine to a proud and evil villain. Imagine it with me. Cheer for our heroine and boo for the villain.

The story begins with another brave woman. Queen Vashti was deposed after she refused to be displayed before the King's courtiers. A beauty contest was held to find another queen, which Esther won. (HOORAY!) Esther was Jewish, a minority in the Persian Empire. She kept that identity to herself.
She had been orphaned at a young age, adopted by her Uncle Mordecai. Mordecai had once revealed a plot to assassinate the king, though he received no reward for his action.
Enter Haman, the king's second in command, a vain and haughty man. (BOO!) When Mordecai refuses to bow down before Haman, Haman throws a fit. He orders gallows built to execute Mordecai and having heard that Mordecai was Jewish, prepares to institute a pogrom against the Jewish people.
In the next scene we watch as Mordecai alerts Esther (HOORAY!) to the danger facing not only him but all Jews, Esther included. She alone is in a position to save her people, though taking action risks her life. Mordecai tells her, "Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."
Esther's (HOORAY!)courage now comes to light. Though she is Queen, the law of the land says that no one is to initiate contact with the king. They must be summoned. Unless the king extends his scepter, those who dare to approach him are to be killed. Esther dares to approach the king anyway, and he gladly receives her, extending his scepter. Cleverly she invites him and Haman (BOO!)to a series of banquets. Only after the second banquet does she reveal her request: to save the lives of her people, noting also the cost to the king himself should the pogrom go forward. When the king asks who has dared to endanger them, she names Haman, (BOO!) a foe and an enemy.
In true dramatic fashion, when the king hears of Haman's evil (BOO!) he orders him to be hung on the very gallows which had been built to execute Mordecai. Esther (HOORAY!) saves her people.
Throughout the drama, God is backstage. Nowhere in the Book of Esther does God play a leading role. God doesn't even come up on the credits for nowhere is God named. We have to imagine God at work, quietly cueing Mordecai at one point and directing Esther at another. God does not show up with a flash and a bang: no earthquakes or floods, no burning bushes or voices from heaven.
Imagine and grow with God. As we have to imagine God behind the scenes in Esther's story, so Esther herself had to imagine. Dressed in royal robes with all the benefits of the court before her, she had to imagine the disaster looming not only for Uncle Mordecai and her people but for Esther herself.
The nightmare of genocide is not something any of us like to imagine. Sadly we must recognize it is not just a bad dream but a reality: the slaughter of Native Americans in the early days of this country, the holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur. The list goes on.
Esther not only imagined the nightmare, she imagined a way forward. She saw past her fear to hope that things could be put right. Like the mustard seed that begins small and insignificant, Esther's courage and cleverness grew from a small beginning to something much larger, which in the end made a big difference.
God is still back stage. We don't see God as a major player in most of our lives. Sometimes we mumble an opening prayer at the start of a meeting, usually brief so we can get on with the real business before us. Often we don't even make time for that.
God is still backstage: no burning bushes except for range fires where the bush and too much else are fully consumed. No voices from heaven, no flashes of insight, no choirs of angels.
We live in a culture which wants to keep God backstage. Esther kept quiet about her faith and so do most of us. Those of you who teach, whether that is at the University or in the public schools, know it is not appropriate for you to speak publicly to your students about your faith. Even among family and friends, many of us choose to keep quiet about our faith, knowing that if we speak offense will be taken.
God is still backstage – and God is very much at work in our lives and in the world. To imagine God at work is more than a flight of fantasy. Rather, to imagine God working in our lives is to open ourselves to God's power for love and grace within us.
We do not sit back and wait for God to magically appear, like some superhero, who zaps the evil Hamans of our world and rides off into the sunset. To imagine God is to receive from God the courage and cleverness to become the answers to our own prayers.
Anne Frank had not imagined that genocide would touch her family, though she knew of the restrictions facing Jews in Amsterdam in 1942. When her father was called up by the SS, her family went into hiding in their Secret Annex. They lived there for two years. Anne wrote in her diary, recording everything from how the family lived to her fights with her mother to the life she imagined after the war. Sadly she never got that life, a victim of genocide when her family's secret annex was discovered. She died in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in 1944.
A different kind of imagination is taking place across Africa, as people there, with the help of the United Methodist Church, imagine no malaria. It is a killer disease that takes the lives of seven hundred thousand people a year. This week, more than three hundred and fifty thousand insecticide treated bed nets will be distributed in Sierra Leone, largely through United Methodist Churches. Health workers will also distribute vitamins and Albendazole tablets, a treatment for other common parasites, targeting children under the age of five, those most vulnerable to the disease.
It is a breathtaking goal to imagine no malaria. Every sixty seconds a child dies of the disease. That's one child a minute, all of the children in our church in the space of one worship service. It is a different kind of genocide. And the good news is that progress is being made. A few years ago one child died every thirty seconds so the rate has already been cut in half.
Together with other organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Methodist Church is tackling malaria head on with bed nets, community health workers, communication and education about prevention and treatment of malaria, and access to treatment.
We are not sitting back and waiting for a superhero God to fix things. Instead God has given us the courage, the cleverness, and the compassion to find a solution. God has filled us with the audacity to confront evil, just as Esther dared to approach the king to plead for the lives of her people.
Imagine and Grow with God. Like the mustard seed something is growing. Like Anne Frank our dream can live on past our lives. Like Queen Esther, who went from being an orphaned girl to the savior of her people, we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Action! God is saying. And the drama goes on.

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The First United Methodist Church of Moscow, Idaho takes as our mission to be the body of Jesus Christ, ministering to a community which draws strength from its diversity. Our mission centers on the worship of God, expressed through varied forms of prayer, preaching, music, and ritual.  See more...

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