Sermon December 7, 2014: Esther, Pearl Harbor Day & the Gift of Agency

Text: Esther 4:1-17

Today is December 7th, the 73rd Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. 2,000 servicemen lost their lives on that day, a day that President Franklin Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” It was an event that shook the entire nation, and marked the United States entry into WWII.

A brief history lesson: up to that point, the United States remained “neutral” to what was going on around the world. While Germany swept across Europe and began invading Russia, as the Japanese swept across the Pacific, the United States, stayed out of it as much as possible, sending only supplies and equipment to aid other nations. And of course, while all of this was going on, the greatest evil of all was happening, one kept hidden from the world: the Holocaust – the mass genocide of Jewish and other people – torture, starvation and death in concentration camps resulting in millions of lives taken. The United States remained neutral…perhaps asking, “Who are we to enter into a war that isn’t being fought on our soil…it isn’t our place to get involved.” and “What can we really do that will make a difference in a war fought so far away?”

If you were listening to Esther’s words earlier, does it sound familiar? “Who am I? What can I do?”

I want to talk a little bit about agency….our ability to act and affect change in the world. The questions surrounding the United States and Esther today are questions of agency. Who am I? What can I do? And…..should I really do anything?

And this is where for me, our Lutheran tradition gets misinterpreted. We believe that we are justified – we are saved by God’s grace through faith. Nothing we do can bring the fullness of righteousness, grace, truth, salvation, and justice to a broken world. Only God alone can do that. And that is most certainly true. We are not saved by our own efforts, we are not made righteous by our works. But to interpret that to mean we simply do nothing in the face of injustice and evil in the world, relying on God to swoop down, wave his hand and fix things, or that we just wait for Christ’s 2nd coming, or a passive notion that faith is just believing God will magically make injustice and tragedy and suffer disappear from our lives if we just believe enough while being good boys and girls in the meantime – then we missed the boat about gospel. Because gospel certainly saves, but it also bids us to come and die – to follow Christ – so that all might live. We have agency….because God has freed us in Christ.

Here’s an interesting fact about the story of Esther: there’s no mention of God in the entire book. God isn’t a character in the story, and God is never mentioned by any of the characters in the book. In fact, no word or name for God even appears in the whole book.

I don’t know about you, but most days God doesn’t just show up in grand ways, speaking and acting for me. No visit from an angel, no burning bush, no booming voice from heaven. There’s no grand miracle or sign. It’s like God isn’t even there……But that’s not the confession of faith. We believe, we TRUST…..that God is there. But perhaps it’s God, working behind the scenes…..working through us and others. God is working….freeing people in grace and love, giving them agency to take part in God’s saving work in the world.

God is at work, freeing us in grace and love, giving us agency to take part in God’s work to bring justice and peace to a world that sorely needs it.

I think a lot of us would really like to move past the tragedy and issues surrounding Ferguson, MO, and go back to our little lives. And I thought we could do that, but then we get news of things happening in NY City this past week…. another man – a black man – who lost his life at the hands of police officers. And I’m not here to debate the legal system, he decisions or non-decisions, who was right or wrong, what side to take, because as we’ve seen, that has gotten us as a nation nowhere. I think the question most of us are asking is “what can I do?” Who am I to get involved?” And when we think of all the anxiety and shame and anger and challenges facing our nation – facing us – we just simply resign ourselves to do nothing. Because we believe….we don’t have the agency to do anything that will really matter.

And now let me ask these questions another way: “what can we do – as the church?” “Who are we as the church to get involved in social and political issues?”

Those last questions are interesting……what can we do, what should we do as the church? And who are we to get involved? This past Thursday, at our Theology Thursday debate, those questions came up. And there were a couple insights that came up that I think were profound and positive in that.

One, we have the ability, the agency, to honor and listen to the experience of others – especially those different from us. We can listen what it’s like to be black in the United States, to be female, to be old, to be helpless, to be fearful, to be angry…and try to understand but above all respect and value that this is their experience of life – and acknowledge that in grace and truth.

Two, we can – no we must – insist on those without a voice be given voice to speak, the powerless. When they are not given voice, we the church have the agency to speak for them and demand that they be heard from those same powers that oppress and silence their voice.

Three, we can be aware of our own little prejudices and stereotypes we hold against others, often unaware. They are those thoughts and feelings that stir up in us when someone different from us walks into a room or passes us on the street. A term for these things is “microaggressions.” We can be aware of these microaggressions, be honest about them and seek ways to not live in fear and hate of others because of them.

Finally, while there was hesitancy towards this, this truth holds: issues of racism and all sorts of prejudice matter to us as people of faith because they are issues of humanity – a humanity embraced and loved and saved by God in Jesus Christ.

This season of Advent….it is a season of preparation. We light the second candle today to remember that we are to prepare to receive Christ into our world – into our lives. And as people who are seeking for God….preparation means opening ourselves to the questions of “who am I? and what can we do?” with courage, trusting that God has made us free, that God is present and at work with us, and trusting that God gives us the agency to act in the wake of tragedy and suffering and death. Like Esther, like our nation 73 years ago, we have agency…..united by Christ, we can act. And it matters.

And like Esther, like the United States on this Pearl Harbor Day……we wait for Christ’s coming, prepared for Christ to work in us so that God might work through us as agents of that light, so that Christ’s light might shine through us and into the dark places of tragedy and injustice, bringing peace and hope. Alleluia! Amen.

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