We as people of faith are called to have the bravery, to have the confidence to stand up and say no, to say this is not right when we see behavior which goes against the very values of the Kingdom of God . . .
July 11, 2021
Pastor Heather McColl
This happened in the days of Ahasuerus, the same Ahasuerus who ruled over one hundred twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia. In those days when King Ahasuerus sat on his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, in the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his officials and ministers. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were present, while he displayed the great wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and pomp of his majesty for many days, one hundred eighty days in all.
When these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in the citadel of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the court of the garden of the king’s palace. There were white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings[b] and marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl, and colored stones. Drinks were served in golden goblets, goblets of different kinds, and the royal wine was lavished according to the bounty of the king. Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.
On the seventh day, when the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha and Abagtha, Zethar and Carkas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, to bring Queen Vashti before the king, wearing the royal crown, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty; for she was fair to behold. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command conveyed by the eunuchs. At this the king was enraged, and his anger burned within him.
Then the king consulted the sages who knew the laws for this was the king’s procedure toward all who were versed in law and custom, and those next to him were Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven officials of Persia and Media, who had access to the king, and sat first in the kingdom): “According to the law, what is to be done to Queen Vashti because she has not performed the command of King Ahasuerus conveyed by the eunuchs?” Then Memucan said in the presence of the king and the officials, “Not only has Queen Vashti done wrong to the king, but also to all the officials and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will rebel against the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath! If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.”
This advice pleased the king and the officials, and the king did as Memucan proposed; he sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.
We continue our worship series “Faces of Our Faith” with a look at Queen Vashti Esther 1.
Where do we even start with this text? Between the names, the descriptions of the palace and its gardens, and the constant references to the banquets filled with lots and lots of drinking, it is hard for us to know what is going on because it all seems like overkill. Couldn’t the author have simplified things and just told us that the king gave a banquet to which the Queen refused to come?
Well, no. You see the whole point of the story is the opulence, the wealth, the power which is being put on display by the king. The descriptions about the palace and the gardens, the descriptions about the banquets and the abundance of food and wine is the author’s way of letting us know that all is not what it appears to be. Behind all this opulence, all this perceived wealth, lays an imperfect system, an imperfect system filled with men grasping for power, an imperfect system which cares more for the whims of one person rather than the well-being of all, behind all this opulence, wealth and power, lays an imperfect system which fears it’s destruction simply because one person speaks up and refuses to play by its rules. That one person is Queen Vashti, a woman who is seemingly powerless.
Yet through her refusal to adhere to this system which only cares for wealth and power, through her refusal to by the imperfect system’s rules, she shines a light on how we as people of faith are called to have the bravery, to have the confidence to stand up and say no, to say this is not right when we see behavior which goes against the very values of the Kingdom of God, even if it means losing our position and privilege. Queen Vashti’s refusal to be complacent is a model for us as we discern day in and day what is right and what is wrong. Her willingness to risk everything in response to an inappropriate request shows us as people of faith the importance of practicing what we preach. It is not enough to simply say the words. Queen Vashti’s actions remind us that we as Jesus’s disciples are called to pick up our cross, crosses which will put us at odds with the rest of the world, to pick up our crosses and follow him.
Or let me say it this way… Several years ago, our community of faith had its own Queen Vashti moment. A young woman who was engaged to a member of this church wanted to join and become a member. Sounds great, right? Except at that time, to join this church, one had to be baptized in this church to become a member. Even if one had been baptized in a different tradition, to become a member, one had to be rebaptized in this church. Only a baptism at Midway Christian Church was recognized as a “true” baptism for one to be a member of this community of faith.
This young woman told the minister at that time that she would be baptized through immersion according to the tradition of this church but it would be under duress. She knew that she was already baptized into the Body of Christ. She did not need to be re-baptized to prove her faith.
The minster was impressed by her words, so much so that he went to the elders and said what was being asked of this woman was not right. Thankfully, the elders listened.
They agreed that the re-baptizing of this young woman would be a “deeply sensitive challenge to the religious conscience of a committed Christian [because] who were they to call into question another’s religious convictions?
Parrish, that young woman was your great grandmother, Ruth Slack Roach.
Because of her words, because of her commitment to her faith, the policy at this church was changed. The elders crafted a statement which said that everyone who was a Christian after the manner of his religious tradition was recognized as a full member in the Midway Christian Church. Because of her words, because of her actions, Midway Christian Church became inclusive in its fellowship. Because of her words, because of her actions, the conscience of the powers that be of this community of faith was challenged. It became open to a wider and more inclusive vision of the Kingdom of God.
For me, when I hear the story of Ruth Roach, when I read the story of Queen Vashti Esther 1, I find examples of how to live with grace and beauty, secure in the knowledge of who we are and whose we are. In Ruth Roach’s story, in Queen Vashti’s story, I found examples of how we as people of faith are called to trust that voice, that light of Christ which resides in us, letting this voice, letting this light lead us in all our actions and decisions. In Ruth Roach’s story, in Queen Vashti’s story, I found a strength which comes to those who truly know that the powers of this world will not have the last word.
For that is exactly what our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ taught us through his life, his death and his resurrection.
Because of Jesus’ words, because of his actions, as his disciples here and now, we are called not to buy into this world’s narrative of imperfect systems, a narrative based on systems which only benefit a select few. Rather we are called to practice the way of the Kingdom of God, the way which calls us to love one another, the way which calls us to care for the least of these. As disciples of the one who showed us time and time again, that the love of God is inclusive and welcoming, we are called to challenge the conscience of the powers that be, even if that means we lose our privilege and position because who knows…our words and action just might bring about a change in policy, bring about a change in tradition. Who knows our words and actions might just bring about a change which breaks open wide the Kingdom of God in our midst and lives will be transformed. May it be so.