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Pentecost 18 Proper 21B September 26, 2021

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

Our opening reading from the Book of Esther explains the Jewish feast of Purim, which is a joyous celebration of the freeing of God’s people from a holocaust. The next celebration of this festive holiday will be on March 16 and 17, 2022. It is set in the time of King Xerxes of Persia, who reigned from 485 to 404 BCE. In our passage, he is called King Ahasuerus.

Esther is the heroine of this story. Her ancestors were captured by the Babylonian Empire and taken to Babylon, which has now been conquered by the Persian Empire. She lives with her cousin Mordecai, who has adopted her because her parents have died.  Esther and Mordecai are Jewish. Esther has always kept silent about that fact.

Haman, the king’s right hand man, is extremely anti-Semitic. He has cooked up a plot to have all the Jews killed in all parts of the Persian Empire. By an improbable series of events, Esther has become queen. She has invited the king and Haman to a feast at which she will make a request to the king. Mordecai has kept her updated on Haman’s hateful plans, and Esther has quietly steeled herself to be the person of the hour. Although God is never mentioned in the story, it is clear that God has called her, as God called Moses centuries before, to free her people. 

In our passage for today, Esther tells the truth about Haman’s plans and asks the king to save her people. Her request is granted. Esther goes from a quiet young woman hiding her identity to a courageous leader fighting for the lives of her people.

In our gospel for today, John reports that the disciples saw someone healing in Jesus name, and they tried to stop him because he was not one of their group. Herbert O’Driscoll notes that John does not get credit for “diligently protecting the teacher’s territory.” (O’Driscoll, The Word among Us, p. 117.) What Jesus is saying here is so important. He says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” If people are doing things to help people and care for people, they are doing God’s work.

O’Driscoll notes that Jesus does not thank John for trying to protect his turf. He writes, ”Instead, there is a gracious but firm correction, suggesting a different way to look at this moment. There is a generosity in these words, an openness to cooperation, a readiness to trust before all the evidence is in. It is a statement about opening doors rather than building walls.” (O’Driscoll, p 117.)

When Jesus talks about “little ones,” sometimes he is talking about children, whom he calls us to love and care for, and sometimes he is speaking about his followers who are not powerful or famous or influential but just ordinary people such as we are. He is calling us to help each other and support each other as we move ahead in building his kingdom.

And then, in pointed language, he calls on us to deal with any obstacles in ourselves which get in the way of following him and helping him build his shalom. And then he calls us to be salt that has not lost its saltiness.  He calls unto be people who are full of life and love, willing to serve others and build his kingdom of peace and harmony.

Our reading from the Letter of James calls us to be a loving and supportive community, to pray for healing for those who are sick, to share our challenges, to support each other on our journeys, to care for each other, and to love each other.

One of the main themes in this passage is the power of prayer. It means so much that we pray for each other. James reminds us of the great prophet Elijah, and how powerful his prayers were. And, finally, James reminds us that we can all help to keep each other on the path, so that we are all walking the Way of Love.

Scholars tell us that our psalm today is a song of pilgrimage. People would sing this song on their way to festivals and observances in Jerusalem. Walter Brueggemann writes, “In this psalm, Israel voices its astonishment and gratitude for God’s wondrous deliverance.” (Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching year B, p, 525.)

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

“Blessed be the Lord! He has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth. We have escape

Esther and Moses and Elijah save their people. Our lord calls us to be open and inclusive rather than clinging to our turf. James calls us to build a community of love and healing.

Perhaps the greatest message for today is how thankful we can be to our loving God, who has saved us all and has brought us together. May we accept with joy the fullness of God’s grace. May we run the race. Loving God, thank you for all your many blessings. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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