So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, 2 and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”
3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.[a]”
5 King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
6 Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”
Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. 7 The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.
Equality Ride video:
Good morning, everyone! Did you happen to recognize anyone in that video? Yep, that was baby Bethany way before I even thought about going to seminary. In 2011 and 2012, I had the chance to work with Soulforce, a national non-profit dedicated to social justice. I was part of their annual Equality Ride, which was made up of 17 young adults who (after months of training) traveled on a bus for a little over two months, visiting universities which have discriminatory policies against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer persons.
We chose each university that we visited because students there had reached out to us about their school’s policies towards LGBTQ persons. In many cases, a student who was found to be gay or transgender on one of these campuses could be expelled, outed to their families, and in extreme cases forced to undergo ex-gay therapy and even exorcisms.
During our time at each college, we tried to be a voice for those students who could not safely advocate for themselves. Our intention was never to be troublemakers on these campuses. Rather, it was always to engage in a holy dialogue with persons who have been taught to use the Bible in ways that are spiritually abusive towards the LGBTQ community, and to show students who were suffering in silence that they were not alone.
The day that had the biggest impact on me during my time as an Equality Rider was the day that my Bible was arrested. That day we visited a Christian college which would not allow us on campus, so we held a peaceful demonstration on the public sidewalk. Several students who were walking by stopped to talk with us, both students who agreed with our message and students who did not.
But the school administration was not allowing any students who were already on campus to come out to the public sidewalk to talk with us. Not only that, since we always informed schools months in advance that we were coming, this school had arranged for the police to be present and blocking the gate into campus.
After about an hour of being blocked from any real conversations, one of my fellow Riders asked if he could borrow my Bible, because they were going to try to go onto campus and have a Bible study with the students on the other side of the fence. I gave it to him, and watched as he stepped up to the gate, my Bible in hand and said to the crowd, “As a queer Christian, I desire to share my love for this text, and the love and affirmation that I find for myself within it with the students on this campus who are suffering in a culture of silence. Please let me share my faith with you!” He crossed over the line from public sidewalk to private property, and was arrested.
Four other Riders also stepped forward. Each announced their desire to do a Bible study with the students, and each were arrested as they crossed onto campus.
This is an example of holy resistance, something that we see throughout Biblical text. This is the next type of story from Rachel Held Evan’s book Inspired that we are covering in this sermon series about the Bible. You can check out the texts for my sermons on Origin Stories, Deliverance Stories, and War Stories on our church website.
In this section of her book Rachel Held Evans wrote that, “It’s easy for modern-day readers to forget that the Bible was written by oppressed religious minorities living under the heels of powerful nation-states known for their extravagant wealth and violence. For the authors of the Old Testament, it was the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, and Persian Empires. For the authors of the New Testament, it was, of course, the massive Roman Empire. These various superpowers, which inflicted centuries of suffering upon the Jews and other conquered populations, became collectively known among the people of God as Babylon.”
Oppressive situations sometimes require resistance, which is why resistance stories make up a lot of the Bible. From the prophets who spoke truth to power, to people like Daniel who was thrown into a lion’s den for refusing to stop praying, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were put into a fiery furnace when they refused to worship an idol of the king.
My favorite resistance story is the story of Esther, who risked her own life to save her people. The story is a familiar one to most of us. In it, Esther is taken to the palace and presented to the King along with many other young women. She becomes chosen to be queen. Soon after that, her cousin Mordecai refuses to bow to the evil Haman who becomes so infuriated that he decides that every Jew in the Empire should be killed.
Mordecai beseeches Esther to go to the King and ask him to spare her people, and says that perhaps she has become queen for “such a time as this.” Esther does this and even though it puts her own life at risk, she ends up saving the lives of her people.
These stories of resistance teach us that as people of faith we are called to speak out against injustice, to stand up to intolerance, and to fight for equity for all people.
This is one of the reasons I joined the Equality Ride in the first place. The LGBTQ community has been harmed by dangerous religious rhetoric and those ideas need to be challenged and changed.
Over the course of those two months, we visited 26 colleges and 58 other organizations. We led trainings, had difficult conversations, and when necessary, used non-violent protest to bring attention to the injustices happening against the LGBTQ community by Christian organizations. And I found that our work did make a difference.
The day my Bible was arrested, the Riders who had not been arrested invited any students who wanted to talk to join us to a local coffee shop. Several students did, and that afternoon we ended up having some of the most transformative conversations of our entire trip. One student was so moved by the way the college responded to us that she transferred to a different school the next semester.
Another student found me on Facebook afterwards and thanked me for coming to her school. She said she was gay, but had never felt safe enough to come out to anyone before. She asked me for resources to help her find a support system in her town. A third student, who I had talked to for about an hour that day, wrote me an email weeks later telling me that he hadn’t forgotten us, and apologizing for the ways the he and other Christians had behaved towards LGBTQ people.
Our scriptures are held together by story after story of resistance. Our spiritual ancestors stood up to oppression in many forms, and set an example for us to follow today. In a world full of injustice, oppression, and ignorance we need more people of faith standing up for what is right. So, I invite you to consider what causes you are passionate about, and what you can do to make a difference. Who knows, maybe you too were born for such a time as this. Amen.