"Father to an Orphan, Leader of an Empire"
June 19, 2011 Father's Day (Baptism / Membership) Esther 2:5-11, 17-23 et passim
XBOX / X-DAD?
A flyer offering deals for Father's Day featured an X-Box; over top of the X-Box was stamped, "Celebrate Dad." For some reason this grabbed my attention - why? What is it about these two that don't go together - a popular gaming device and the words "Celebrate Dad"?
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that, when I was a young boy growing up, and had a dad whom I view as very honourable and worth 'celebrating', I didn't see him sitting around for hours on end playing video games. When he himself had been a young man, the best part of his early twenties was spent fighting a World War out in the cold, damp, and mud of Italy, often under bombardment and usually in danger of driving over a landmine. Then upon returning to Canada he took up dairy / cash crop farming. This meant he was up about 6 every morning to milk the cows, doing farm chores through the day, then the second milking which wrapped up about 7 at night. Even then, his day wasn't done: in the evenings he often had meetings, whether for church elders or stewards, Presbytery pastoral care & oversight visiting other churches, or various other farm-organization-related meetings. When he was able to enjoy an evening at home, he'd often be reading Hoard's Dairyman or a magazine or watch a show like Laugh-In or All in the Family or hockey game on TV; if the latter, it was something we'd probably all watch together. He wasn't shut off by himself preoccupied with a video game.
So, perhaps for me the X-Box represents the temptation for fathers of today to opt out of maturity, to be an X-dad: to slip back into adolescence (at least temporarily) and play games rather than 'be the man' their family needs. A dad who spends most of his time on X-Box and ignores his family is not going to be worthy of celebrating.
For me, it's easy to pick on X-Box because I'm not a gamer (unlike my son); yet the same danger could trip me up in other ways, such as computers (on which it's easy for me to spend hours if I'm not careful). Maybe for you it's something different - tinkering on an automobile engine; riding snowmobiles in the winter and ATVs in the summer; crashing in front of the screen every time there's a football game or golf championship on. We all have our weaknesses. Yet the Lord calls us to be dads who don't exasperate their families but bring them up in His nurture and instruction.
Today we look at a man who lived about 475 BC in the Persian empire. While he wasn't actually technically a 'dad', he functioned as one; not only for a close female relative - he served in a fatherly role for his people, a whole race.
FATHER TO AN ORPHAN
In Esther 2:5 we read, "Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai...Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother.This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died." (Es 2:5-7)
Mordecai was a bachelor. He could have visited the night clubs every night. He could have been the hottest catch in the local swingin' singles group. But he didn't get trapped in an adolescent lifestyle. Mordecai showed mercy and maturity because he gave shelter and nurture to his young female cousin after both her parents died. Did that put a crimp in his prospects for marriageability? Instantly it shifted him out of the 'eligible young batchelor' category and into the 'single parent with significant baggage' category. But it was the right thing to do. It was the loving thing to do. He'd have to get used to nylons hanging to dry in the bathtub; a hair dryer left on the counter; in fact, not being able to use the bathroom a significant amount of the time. But Mordecai reflected God's tender mercy and care for the widow and the orphan. Psalm 68:5 reminds us, "A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Psalm 27:10, "Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me." In the New Testament, James writes: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (Jas 1:27) Mordecai chose to become a father (sort of), moved by God's love to look after those in need.
FATHERLIKE INVOLVEMENT AND IN-YOUR-FACE-MENT
Western society is threatened by delinquency and increased juvenile crime because children often do not have good discipline instilled into them at home. This makes a schoolteacher's job doubly difficult because they have to teach what should have been learned outside the classroom. "Honour your father and mother" is at the core of the Ten Commandments for a reason: home is to be a training-ground for obedience and self-control (among other things), otherwise God is more likely to be disrespected and lawlessness afflict society (Ex 20:12). Yet many parents today seem to have adopted a 'hands-off' / 'do-what-you-want' approach to childrearing that caters to selfishness and a rebellious attitude toward legitimate authority. It's much easier NOT to stand up to a teen who's pushing the limits: to just cave in and walk away muttering, "Whatever."
We're not told how Mordecai did it, but somehow he engendered in his foster-daughter a willingness to obey his guidance even after she left home. Esther 2:10,19f: "Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so...But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai's instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up." (Es 2:10,19-20)
While Esther honoured Mordecai by obeying his instructions, he also put himself into the relationship by staying involved, paying attention to what was going on in her world. In the part I skipped there we read: "Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her...When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate." He made an effort to keep in touch, be involved.
In Colossians 3(20f) Paul wrote, "Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." Dads are to lead in their families, yet not in a harsh or arrogant or arbitrary / unfair way that could lead to bitterness and resentment. Sometimes we're tempted to stay out of a conflict or situation that warrants a directive word because we're afraid of tension or saying the wrong thing. But when we were children, we needed adults to be 'in-your-face' at times - warning us, exhorting us, stretching us to grow up into the mature persons God intended us to become.
At a crisis in the book, when wicked Haman has set in motion plans to wipe out the Jewish people throughout the Persian empire, we see Mordecai get in Esther's face (after she has become queen) challenging her to use her position to intercede for her people whose lives are threatened. Esther 4:7f, "Mordecai told [Esther's servant] everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews.He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to urge her to go into the king's presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people."
Esther hesitated because to enter the king's court uninvited was to risk sudden death unless he extended grace - which was not the strong suit in eastern despots. Yet Mordecai doesn't back down, but presses Esther to do the right and noble thing even if it risks sacrificing her life. 4:12, "When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer: "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape.For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish.And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?"" (Es 4:12-14) He's in her face, coaching her, challenging her to act as a woman of God.
MANLY PUBLIC SOCIETAL INTEGRITY AND UTTER DEPENDENCE ON GOD
I enjoy huge self-esteem partly because I have such an honourable father. He never got drunk or acted silly in public; I never had to be embarrassed because of something he said. On Remembrance Day he stands tall with other veterans who risked their lives to safeguard our freedoms, our government, and the Crown. Dad took us to church every Sunday, and the man he was in church, he was at home - there was no hypocrisy. His public face was the same honest, conscientious, down-to-earth face we knew at home. What a gift to the next generation!
Mordecai was a 'dad' figure Esther could be proud of in the public square. He did what was decent and noteworthy. When he caught wind of a plot against King Xerxes, even though he was a Jew not a Persian and probably could easily have kept quiet and just let events take their course, he reported it. Esther 2:21, "During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows." (Es 2:21-23) Mordecai 'submitted himself to the governing authorities' as Paul put it in Romans 13(1). As a dad in a family, our attitude toward outside authorities is particularly important, because it rubs off on other family members. If we're always complaining about taxes or the cops or imply that 'the system' owes us a living, that will sour our children's attitude toward legitimate civil authority God means to be in place for our good. Are your words and actions encouraging the next generation of Canadians to be supportive of the police, the bureauracy (imperfect as it is), and the elected officials? This too is part of maturing as a man - gradually taking one's place 'at the king's gate'. You realize 'them' needs you. You are part of the answer to the need for a better country.
But where there is corruption or injustice, it is also a man's job to stand against it, with the Lord's help. Back when the Israelites had come out of Egypt as an unorganized refugee movement of recently sprung slaves, traipsing across the wilderness, they had been attacked by King Agag of the Amalekites (Ex 17:8ff); the Lord declared He would 'blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven' and 'be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation' (Ex 17:14,16). In Mordecai's time, a powerful descendant of Agag rose to power without apparent merit; a bloke with a severe attitude. Chapter 3 begins, "After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles.All the royal officials at the king's gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor...When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai's people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai.Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai's people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes." (Es 3:1f,5f)
Get the picture? Genocide is what Haman has in mind, much as the Nazis sought to wipe out the Jews in the Holocaust. This becomes the central crisis in the book. Mordecai and Esther team up to resist this great evil.
It's here we see the depth of Mordecai's devotion to God. He makes it obvious in public that he's in dire mourning. In a way, it's a silent form of civil protest: but it also reveals his total dependence upon God. The solution is not to be found in his own scheming or counter-plotting, but in God sovereignly orchestrating events to protect His people. Esther 4 begins: "When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.But he went only as far as the king's gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it...When Esther's maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them." (Es 4:1f,4)
So, Mordecai was a man of complete integrity in public, and was not afraid or shy to show he depended upon God to save him and all the Jews.
SERVANT LEADERSHIP, AND A HEAVENLY FATHER'S VINDICATION
How things got turned around makes the book of Esther a fascinating read. While the 'secularity' of the book is unique in that it's completely devoid of any explicit reference to God, it's very apparent that He is at work orchestrating events in a way that ultimately triumphs in the preservation of His people. In summary, Haman gets his comeuppance, Mordecai's earlier loyalty is rewarded, and Queen Esther's bravery establishes her as a significant force; she and the king in turn entrust much power to Mordecai who has proved himself in service. Watch how he who so recently was sitting in sackcloth and ashes suddenly gets promoted to better threads and higher seat. Chapter 8: "That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews.And Mordecai came into the presence of the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her.The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai.And Esther appointed him over Haman's estate....the royal secretaries...wrote out all Mordecai's orders to the Jews, and to the satraps, governors and nobles of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush...Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king's signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers....Mordecai left the king's presence wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen." (Es 8:1f,8f,15) Chapter 10 adds in conclusion - note the closing words of the whole book: "Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, [WHY?] because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews." (Es 10:3)
On this Father's Day, do you want to be a great dad, not an X-dad? Dwell for a moment on these words that describe one single man who had compassion, stretched his home to include his orphaned young cousin, and rose to be second-in-command over an impressive empire that stretched from India to Africa. Why was he preeminent, held in high esteem? Because he lorded it over people, or bullied them into submission, or intimidated his kids into compliance? No; "because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for [their] welfare..." The New Living Translation renders it, "He was very great...because he worked for the good of his people and was a friend at the royal court for all of them." He became great through serving, interceding for their needs. Does that remind you of anybody? Hebrews 2:8f, "In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him...we see Jesus...now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone." And Isaiah 53:12, "Therefore I will give him a portion among the great...because he poured out his life unto death...For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
On this day when we celebrate Christian baptism and receive new members officially into Christ's church - do you want to become a great disciple? Jesus your Lord and Saviour links greatness to service. He told his followers in Luke 22, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.But you are not to be like that.Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves." (Lu 22:25-27)
Praise be to our loving Heavenly Father for sending His dear Son to serve us at such great cost, not sparing His own life, that our sins might be forgiven - and our lives changed by His Spirit to walk in right ways, with the promise of eternal life! Let's pray.