With twenty-eight seconds left, trailing by four, Boston College’s Doug Flutie called “55 Flood Tip,” where all receivers ran straight routes to the end zone. Five foot, nine inch Flutie narrowly escaped a sack and from his own 37, threw the ball sixty-plus yards against thirty mile per hour winds into the waiting hands of Gerard Phelan, defeating the number one-ranked and undefeated University of Miami Hurricanes. [See for yourself.]
Now, that’s a Hail Mary. (It even earned its own name: the Miracle in Miami, but it’s actually Roger Staubach who first used the phrase when tossing a game-winner against the Minnesota Vikings, said, “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”] A miracle of football-like proportions.
Miracle: “an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause; such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God ; a wonder; marvel.”
Would we know a miracle if we saw one? What happens when God does intervene? What might happen if we prayed for a miracle?
The background to our story: Persian king Xerxes’ previous queen, Vashti, refused to enter the throne room and show off for a banquet, and this displeased not only Xerxes but also all of his advisors. Befuddled by her refusal, the king asked his advisors what he should do about it. Seriously, this guy thought he should be offended but he didn’t know what to do about it, so he let his buddies decide for him!
So these men advise the king to exile his queen from his presence, to teach the women of Persia what happens when they disobey their husbands. (This basically sets male-female relations back decades I’m sure.) But the end result is that the king needs a queen and an open call goes out.
Esther is one of the beautiful young women brought in, and she hides that she is Jewish. She’s one of God’s people who are living in the occupied lands, a second citizen. But Xerxes finds her beautiful and she ends up being his queen. And that’s when the story gets interesting.
Xerxes has two newer advisors, who are helping him with policies. One is Persian, Haman, and the other is Jewish, Mordecai, who also happens to be Esther’s uncle and primary caregiver. We can almost see the lines drawn!
Haman bends the king’s ear, and let’s face it, we know he’s pretty soft because the advisors told him to get rid of his wife and he did. Haman urges the king to sign into law that it’s open season on the Jews, and Haman will deliver a bribe to the king’s treasury. Who can stop this assault on God’s people?
Bum, bum, bum!
It’s Esther’s book so we figure she must end up back in the limelight and so she does. This is the time in the story when I’ve preached about seizing the moment, about stepping up to your time, about accepting that “with great power comes great responsibility” (even though it’s a shame that has something to do with a really bad trio of Spiderman movies!)
All of that is still true.
But I noticed three different things as I reflected on the story this year. First, there’s what actually happens at the end of the story; second, what is done by Esther, Mordecai, and others to make it happen; and third, the attitude Esther takes.
The stakes are pretty high. Everyone knows what happened to Vashti and Esther is no different. She tells Mordecai in Esther 4:11: “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”
Esther is not supposed to go to the king for anything: chitchat, vacation plans, an argument to save her people from extinction. On the pain of death! The king could’ve extended pardon to Vashti and didn’t, so what expectation could there be that he would condone Esther’s boldness?
Of course, Mordecai argues famously that Esther shouldn’t expect to be kept safe, that her silence would condemn her family to death (4:13-14). It’s interesting, in comparison to another “go forth and expect a miracle” like what happens in Joshua, that Mordecai doesn’t say encouraging things.
Mordecai doesn’t remind her that God is with her.
Mordecai doesn’t ask her to pray about.
Mordecai tells her that this is her purpose, to go do it.
And Esther, potentially a teen at this point (again, another teenager put in a position to make a difference, to go big or go home, like Mary herself), tells Mordecai to ask the Jews across the capital to do things.
To fast and to pray.
To focus on one thing and one thing only: asking God to intercede on their people’s behalf, as Esther represents them by entering the throne room uninvited.
Mordecai puts all of this in practical order. “You’re there, you do this.”
Esther puts it back on the community’s relationship with God. Esther knows she can’t do it herself, that if she succeeds, this won’t be about her. Esther calls out her ‘church’ and tells them that if they want to see change happen, then they need to pray about it.
Now, let’s consider that. What is your first move when you’re called on and called out to do something miraculous? When someone you know is sick, or struggling, or when you are dealing with tragedy?
Too often, it seems like our first reaction is to kvetch, a good Jewish word for complaining. We want to get heard, we want to make our grievances known. We want someone to feel sorry for us.
But Esther doesn’t do that. She recognizes that this is what she needs to do, but she’s putting it fully in the presence of God and demanding that her fellow believers be involved, too. Esther is absolutely clear about where the power for this challenge will come from.
That generates the second point: Esther is unashamed, unrepentant, undeterred. So this young queen does go boldly before the throne. That always reminds me of the hymn, “And Can It Be”:
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine;
alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach th’ eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Esther does go big, unsure of the outcome but sure of her purpose; she knows why and for whom she goes. She knows people are praying, and that if God wants her to succeed, he’ll make it happen. Esther is comfortable with her own skin, with her own decision, and steadfast in her faith.
Win or lose, she’s all in.
And then the scepter does get extended. Esther ends up interceding on the behalf of her people. Mordecai’s leadership, Esther’s boldness, and the people’s prayers are evident.
Because the third point of this story that I have regularly missed is this:
A miracle occurs.
A woman’s boldness and spirit overcomes a weak-willed king’s pride. Because God was in it.
I’ve heard the phrase before, “If God is in it, it can’t fail.”
That’s what Esther experiences. She throws up a hail Mary, the one thing that might work and prays about it. It’s a desperate move, a game on the line move, a “there’s no coming back from this” kind of move. It’s a faith move.
A miracle, a movement, a community in prayer. A community that is bonded together not because things are good but because they wrestle with what’s not good. It’s a family bonded, a team formed, because of the way their leadership dealt with adversity. And it’s the same kind of Christian life style that Paul proposes for us in Romans 1 because it’s the model he also set himself.
-Paul keeps his church in his prayers.
-Paul seeks mutual encouragement in faith with them.
-Paul is unashamed, because he fully relies on God, and the power of the gospel to bring righteousness by faith.
So, I’ll ask you: what do you need to pray about today, right now? What do you need to enlist others in praying about, because “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16)? What do you need to recognize is impossible without God? What do you need to embrace boldly about yourself, and about the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for you, and for everyone else?
The answers to those questions only lead to bigger ones, like, “what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” They move from what you think and feel and pray to “so what are you going to do about it?”
It’s not about your 401k, or your future earnings, or your family’s happiness. Those things do matter but that’s not what the story of Esther is about.
No, the story of Esther is about recognizing that God will use us if we’re willing to be used, that when God is in it that it can’t fail, that there are things in life that will only happen because of a miracle. Do miracles happen all the time? No. Do we always get what we pray or wish for? No. But the news is full of stories about things that didn’t happen the way we wish they would have, so I asked my Facebook friends what miracles they’d experienced and these are the stories that were sent back to me.
-The story of little four-year-old Wrenn who needed a double-lung transplant, whose mother remembers the helicopter landing on the roof of the hospital and thinking, “those are my baby’s lungs!”
-The story of William, who only had one lung already, but who went in to find out which part of his cancerous second lung they’d have to remove, only to discover that all of the prayers for him had resulted in no spots whatsoever.
-The story of Sherri, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer years ago, but who continues to get good reports about her cancer, and the fact that it is being reduced – thought impossible before!
-The story of the Society of St. Andrews, a project thought impossible, to stop hunger in Virginia by gleaning potatoes, that has fed tens of thousands of people for thirty years with 700 million pounds of produce.
-The story of Mackenzie Grace, a little girl I baptized and who gives me hugs every Sunday when she sees me, whose mother was told that she would never be able to eat or breathe on her own, and was potentially stillborn.
-The story of Addie, born four and half months early. The doctors were not 100% that she would live because she has cerebral palsy, as well as many other health issues. She turns 10 in March and is thriving, despite the many obstacles she has overcome, blessing the people who know her!
-The story of another William, who was born fifty-two years ago, weighing one pound and four ounces. All the doctors told his parents that he would not survive or if, by chance he did, he would be blind and handicapped. Heartbroken, his parents had him baptized, and he was so small, the pastor asked the nurse to hold his little body. He had no fingernails or pallet formed in his mouth. His skin was so thin he was literally blue! His mother My mother said that while she was crying and praying for William, Jesus would come to the foot of her bed and tell her “everything will be well”! Fifty-two years later, William is alive and kicking!
Those are real-world-your-pastor-didn’t-make-them-up miracles. What miracles should you reflect on today and recognize?
I know that one of the commonalities I noticed was that people focused on healing when they talked about miracles.
Not people overcoming addiction.
Not people being found who were missing.
Not the thing Paul would’ve said was the greatest miracle of all: that God saved him from his sins through the death of Jesus and his resurrection.
But the healings get our attention because they defy our expectations. They’re the Hail Mary we know we have no control over. We can only pray.
They’re the Hail Marys we fully put in God’s hands, knowing there’s nothing else that’ll work.
There are people today who needs miracles. And there are people here today who should be miracle workers. There are prayers we could be making on our behalf and on the behalf of others. For their physical bodies, for their physical healing, for their spirits and their souls.
We have that power for healing one way or another: to pray for them.
Prayer doesn’t change God- it changes us. It puts us in position to understand miracles when they appear.
Are you boldly approaching the throne, in prayer and action?
Do you believe in miracles?