All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.– 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
Sunday morning Rebekah and I expanded our “grand tour” of local PC(USA) churches with a visit to North Raleigh Presbyterian on Strickland Road. Our last visit had been for the most recent in-person gathering of New Hope Presbytery in January of 2020 (click on this link – Church Architecture – to see more photographs of the beautiful facility).
It was a beautiful cool, clear North Carolina morning and we arrived just in time to say hello to a few people and find a place to sit. Like most church communities, North Raleigh leans heavily toward COVID caution, and a lot of the congregation are still staying away from group gatherings.
No matter what restrictions are implemented (and these vary from church to church) Covid decisions are necessarily fraught. Rebekah and I, however, remain grateful for any opportunity to worship God in the company of believers. Our opinions vis-à-vis masks and distancing are less important to us than our faithfulness to God and our commitment to stand with the community of faith.
Esther and Lisa
I always have to chuckle when a preacher so obviously does not like their sermon! And I believe God chuckles too. In our experience (I estimate Rebekah preached approximately 180 messages in Pensacola, around 750 in Brandon, and more than 300 in Wake Forest – no repeats), it has been those times Rebekah felt the least confidence in her own words that God tended to use her in ways beyond our imagination.
So, when Rev. Hebacker made a huge “I do not like this sermon!” disclaimer, you know I made sure to listen more closely.
The very thing that bugged the preacher was, I believe, exactly what made the message work – and that’s the fact that the Esther story is impossible to reconcile without acknowledging some unsettling elements. It turns out I am increasingly convinced that God wants us to be more honest about the scriptures, open in our dialogue, authentic in our journey, and committed to the lens of The Good News Jesus Story when we read the Old Testament.
When we tidy up stories like the Book of Esther to fit our less barbaric cultural sensibilities – dancing around the wholesale retaliatory brutality perpetuated by Esther’s own people, sanitizing the troubling so we can harvest the preferred – I believe we run the risk of separating them from the sweeping arc of the biblical narrative, and forgetting exactly what Jesus came to save us all from and for.
Esther, like many religious people today, allowed the politics of the situation to obscure God’s consistent call for righteousness and justice; God’s mercy extended not just to The Chosen People but to all God’s children.
So my take away from church yesterday is that God wants us to struggle with our faith, to wrestle with the scriptures, to dialogue with other believers, to extend mercy and grace to all, and to invite others to join with us in the holy imperative to live as a redeemed people committed to the message of reconciliation.
To put this in Esther terms: “For such a time as this...”