Thirty games into the National Baseball season, the leaders in the American League East are the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox. Baltimore is ahead on percentage points - .586 to Boston’s .567, but while they both have won the same number of games – 17 – Boston has played one more game than Baltimore, and has one more loss – Boston has lost 13 games so far, while Baltimore has only lost 12. The Yankees? Last place in the American League East – 11 wins, 17 losses, and a winning percentage of .393. In the National League East, right now the Washington Nationals are tearing it up with 19 wins and only 11 losses, .633. The New York Mets are right behind them at 18 wins and 11 losses, .621. My beloved Phillies are in fourth place, at 17 wins and 14 losses, and a .548 record. The Atlanta Braves have the worst record in major league baseball, 7 and 22, with a .241 record. I don’t know about God’s preferred future, but for the Yankees and the Braves, we can see how the mighty have fallen – NOT the preferred future their fanatical fans had anticipated! You can be sure that scouts and coaches are scrutinizing their rookies, hoping they have some young players who may fulfill the dreams of their fans – Who knows but that you’ve come to us for such a time as this?? This is baseball! Who knows, indeed??
Last week we thought about God’s preferred future, and how God positions people FOR that future, just as good baseball scouts and coaches try to position their young players for the good of the team in the years to come. God placed Mordecai and his adopted niece, Esther, into positions of power in Babylon. Mordecai was one of the members of the court’s secret police. Esther was the queen. They seemed to have the world by the tail. They seemed to have it all: power, fame, wealth, influence at the highest levels of the kingdom – until the enemy acted against them. In their case it was another official, one Haman, who also had a high level position at court. Unlike Mordecai, who had protected the king from a plot to assassinate him, Haman was most concerned about his own position of power. When Mordecai refused to grovel and bow to him, Haman went to the king and convinced the king to act against the Jews as a people, confiscating all of their wealth and property, and murdering them all, men, women and children, at a specific point in the immediate future. That’s where chapter 4 opens: Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; 2he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. 4When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. Esther was insulated from this news, inside the palace. She sent Hathach, the eunuch who was her attendant, out to find out what was going on. Hathach went out and spoke with Mordecai, who told him the whole sordid story. Mordecai also send back a request – that Esther go to the king and ask him to reverse this decree. Esther sent a message back to Mordecai - “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come in to the king for thirty days.” Mordecai sends back this reply: “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14For 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.” Who knows, Mordecai says. God will send a savior – but we will die, unless you act. Maybe you have become queen, have been put into that influential position, to be used by the Lord God to protect our people, as well as our own selves.
Last week, after the service, Wilma Matysek toldl me that she understood herself to be placed exactly where God wants her to be in this time and place, and that in fact, through the good times and difficult times of her life, upon reflecting on it, she can see God’s hand throughout it all. I asked if she would be willing to share her testimony with y’all, and she said yes. So Wilma, please come up and tell the congregation some of the ways you have realized that God has been preparing you and placing you for God’s preferred future. (Wilma’s story)
It’s so easy to live out our lives as well-connected, privileged people – because compared with much of the world, that is what we are, even if we don’t think of ourselves that way. Virtually all of us have at least a high school degree, or equivalency degree. Many of us have taken college or college-level courses. We live in safe houses with running water, flush toilets, electricity, and heat. We have drinkable water. We have clothes – many more than one or two outfits. We have access to healthy food, transportation, medical care. We have people who care about us. And how do we respond to all of this? Too often we take it for granted, or we act as if it’s all for our sole benefit. We aren’t mindful of the poor among us, the need among us, the folks who don’t have what we do. We are inclined to think in terms of “I, Me, Mine,” the song by George Harrison on the Beatles’ Let It Be album. Harrison was writing about the selfishness he saw within the band, but it’s a song that too often applies to us. I don’t think our preferred future is about I, me, mine, though – and I am absolutely certain that we can never get to God’s preferred future for us without setting aside our focus on ourselves. Our situations can change, just as Esther and Mordecai’s situations changed. How has God prepared us, equipped us, now, so we can have the courage to face those changes?
Who knows why we are here, in this place, at this time? God knows. And, in our hearts, so do we. Jesus told the people in His hometown why He came. Luke 4: 16-19: 16When He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was His custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Good news to the poor: affordable housing, safe places to live and learn, work that pays a living wage. Release from the addictions that tempt us all, including the desire to control and dominate others. The ability to see that we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, important members of the Body of Christ. To free us from racism and sexism and discrimination of all kinds. To proclaim the good news of salvation – that Christ came into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that the world could be saved through Him, through His sacrifice once for all on the cross. There is enough work in Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 58:6 and 61: 1 & 2 to keep all of the congregations around here very busy until Jesus comes again.
We are called to use our resources to further God’s kingdom on earth until Jesus returns. May we be inspired and encouraged to do just that, so we too can reflect back on our lives and share our testimonies of how God has been active in our lives, working to position us for use in God’s preferred future. Who knows? God does – and so do we. May we act on that knowledge, living and loving like Jesus, until He returns in glory. And even so, come soon, Lord Jesus. Amen.