Today’s sermon title comes, of course, from this passage Alina just read for us from the Old Testament book of Esther. Esther was brought into the Persian king’s household as one of his many wives, not a situation over which she, as a young Jewish woman, had any control. Once she reached the palace, her life was governed there by elaborate rules and regulations. She had a clearly defined place, and she knew she’d be in big trouble with the king if she stepped out of line. Yet Mordecai, the uncle who had raised Esther, challenged her, when her people were facing grave danger, to take a tremendous risk in order to save them. He said: “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”(Esther 4:13-14)
“Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” A rallying cry for Mordecai and Esther, in their specific context many centuries ago, it’s a phrase that has resonated with countless people of faith since that time, too. Because the royal language there can so easily be expanded to refer more broadly to the kingdom of God. “Who knows? Perhaps you have come into the kingdom for just such a time as this.”
God can bring people into each of our lives at particular moments for a reason. God can put each of us in certain places at certain times for a reason too. It can be kind of amazing, actually, when we get a chance to see God’s timing at work. So it’s well worth asking ourselves – and each other - Mordecai’s question periodically: “Who knows? Perhaps you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this.”
I think of individual stories, like a wonderful couple who found their way back to Church after many years’ absence because of what felt at the time like an entirely coincidental encounter here on our front steps one evening last spring. But was it coincidental, or providential? I think of God’s timing in having Justin settled in place as our Associate Pastor just before I needed to be away in NY this summer, caring for my mom in the final weeks of her life … and the wonderful timing too of having his wife Liina-Ly here to serve as our Interim Children’s Director for a season. A season that just happened to include World Communion Sunday and an opportunity for our kids to learn a praise song in Estonian? How cool was that? (Nicely done, God!) I’ll bet some of you can think of examples too, either from our church’s life or from your own lives, of being surprised by God’s timing, as a gracious gift.
And remember that Mordecai’s question to Esther also carried with it a call and a challenge. Esther was asked to play an important part in God’s plan for the Jewish people. She had been put in that place at that time because God had a job for her to do. So she had to step up to the plate and get to work.
If we wonder whether we are being called “for such a time as this,” perhaps the prior question is “what time is it?” Broadening our focus well beyond our own congregation today, on World Communion Sunday, we know there are all kinds of answers to that question.
What time is it? Well, in 2016, we live in a nation that is being ripped apart by deep political divisions and incredibly charged racial tension. We live in an age in which violent acts of terrorism are happening around the globe with such frequency we don’t have time to process one before the next one hits, and the next, and the next.
And on top of all that, we now live in a world in which 15 million refugees have been forced to flee their homes. I don’t know about you, but when I hear a number that big, I can’t even wrap my mind around it. Rich Stearns, the president of World Vision, helps us put these numbers into perspective:
"Imagine that every man, woman, and child in the following American cities [were impacted in this way.] Here’s the list: San Diego, San Jose, Dallas, Albuquerque, Austin, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Columbus, OH, Fort Worth, Charlotte, and Detroit. I’m not done. Let’s add Denver, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Boston, Nashville, Baltimore, and how about throwing in Seattle and Tacoma, to bring it a little closer to home. That’s the number of refugees who have fled from their homes in and around Syria and Iraq. That’s what this crisis means in terms of human suffering."
Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist who traveled to Lebanon with Stearns to witness this crisis firsthand, calls this “a generational test,” saying “if American churches and charities are not relevant here, they are irrelevant.” Or in Mordecai’s words, [how can we] “keep silent at such a time as this?”
When I ask God: what time is it? I hear the answer loudly and clearly: It’s showtime, people of God. It’s time to get to work. Perhaps we have been brought into God’s kingdom, into Christ’s church, perhaps we have been training to be Jesus’ hands and feet in the world, for just such a time as this.
How do we get to work? Well, we have our Connect youth class with us in worship today, and I’ll bet they could tell you it can be as simple – and as vitally important – as befriending the new kid with the foreign-sounding accent at school, or the one with a skin color or way of dressing that’s different from our own. We could learn a lot from students building those friendships in their schools and neighborhoods. And certainly we can do things like contributing basic household and cleaning supplies for refugee families resettling in our area, as we’ve been doing this past month here at church. The time in which God has placed us also demands that we speak out against racism, in all its forms, and that we demonstrate – yes, even in a presidential debate week - that Americans are, in fact, capable of civil conversation about our political differences.
I’ve been thinking… we’ve had plenty of reason to focus our attention internally, on our own congregation over the past year (important staff transitions, church members moving in and out of our area, friends in our congregation who’ve been sick, friends who’ve been grieving, and so on), and there are plenty of reasons to continue holding this congregation and our immediate circles of family and friends in our prayers.
But at such a time as this, we simply can’t afford to leave the rest of the world behind when we enter this sanctuary or when we bow our heads to pray. So we’ll be experimenting this year with making each communion Sunday a World Communion Sunday, in a sense, inviting your prayers for God’s children around the world in a variety of ways to keep global issues close to our hearts each month. We’ll give thanks for the good work God is doing around the world, and we’ll regularly lift up international concerns in prayer. In fact we’ll be enlisting our youth in this effort, as they’ll be with us in worship every communion Sunday. So stay tuned for some creative ways to broaden our focus in prayer time in the coming months.
Meanwhile, let’s all encourage one another to widen our vision of the Church, and to expand the reach of our prayers more regularly to include children of God around the globe. When an international news story catches your attention, whether breaking your heart or bringing you great joy, lift it in prayer as you read, and share it with us on Sunday morning too.
After all, the family of God in need of our prayers not only includes our friends in neighboring pews. The family of God is international in scope, living on every continent, speaking thousands of languages, worshipping God in many different ways. At our best, we remember that God loves each of God’s children equally, and each one is worthy of our love and prayers too.
Watch, as well, for where God might be placing you for a purpose. Because, let’s face it - in the state our world is in right now, God’s got work for all of us to do. Middle school and high school students, twenty- and thirty-somethings, middle-aged folks like me, and senior citizens alike.
Keep your eyes peeled and listen carefully for your place to lend a hand, your opportunity to live out your identity as a faithful follower of Jesus and to make a real difference in the world.
Because who knows? God may have called you into God’s kingdom, for just such a time as this.
 Rich Stearns, “A Matthew 25 moment for the American Church.” Sermon preached at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, June 19, 2016