I’m not a preacher. I’m a writer through and through – I’d much rather write out a sermon and just publish it. Someone else can read it, but please don’t make me speak!
Which is why this past week, I attended the Young Preachers Festival at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. At one of the workshops, I introduced myself like this:
“Hi! I’m Melissa Gepford, and I’m here because I suck at preaching.”
But a tiny part of what I do is preach. I know I need to work on it, so I went to the Festival, ready to soak up all the awesomeness.
One of the most productive parts of the festival was the opportunity to preach in front of our outgoing Bishop Scott Jones. While I almost threw up in my mouth a little when I saw he’d be critiquing me, I knew it was a good thing. After I preached, he offered me invaluable advice and encouragement – and it was actually a really affirming time. I actually didn’t hate preaching as much as I’d remembered. And I actually was pretty satisfied with speaking my written words.
The prompt for the festival was “Divine Disruption,” and we had to choose a scripture passage from an approved list. I chose to talk about my favorite Old Testament character – Esther. She’s a boss.
Check out my sermon below!
Christmas is always an interesting time for my family – my husband and I are both pastors, so Christmas Eve is always a late night, and if we’re lucky, we’ll wake up in time the next day to see Bill’s side of the family for dinner on Christmas. My family lives in East Texas, so we don’t get to see them until the following week. My birthday is exactly two weeks after Christmas day, so we split the difference and celebrate both occasions on the week of New Year’s Day.
And so this past December, Bill and I poured ourselves into the car right after Church and headed South to see my family. Now, we’ve made longer drives than this before, but 8 hours in the car after a long morning, driving through Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory doesn’t make you want to take the scenic route. We wanted to get there as fast as possible. Especially since the weather was getting pretty bad.
There was this huge arc of snow and ice storms heading south, exactly following our route. The whole way we were watching the temperature gauge in the car and praying that we could outrun the freeze line; Hybrids don’t do well on ice. Midway through Oklahoma, the rain just started dropping on us like buckets – luckily it wasn’t freezing, but the road was slick and visibility got cut in half. By Texas, the flooding was getting bad. The ditches on the side of the road were filling up higher and higher – and as we got further from the main cities, things just kept getting worse.
And then we hit it. We came around a corner and there were these two big, East Texas Pickup Trucks with lift kits and tires as tall as our car. These trucks were built for mudding and offroading – and they were just stopped in the middle of the road. And then we looked past them – and we see why. The road ahead dipped down, straight into this 100 foot wide puddle where the road should’ve been. The trucks turned around, and if they couldn’t make it through, there was no way our little Hybrid was going to make it. So we turned back too. The rain was still pouring down, we were exhausted and started to bicker a little bit, and we were stressed and just wanted to be done with this road.
We spent the next 2.5 hours winding through what should have been a 1 hour straight shot. While Bill was driving, I was checking the weather on my phone to see what roads might be washed out – and spoiler alert – all of them. Then we got to a point deep in the heart of Texas where there was no more signal. We had to rely on the street signs and me saying, “I feel like it’s this way….”
An 8 hour drive turned into a 10 hour drive.
Aren’t the little disruptions in life annoying?
At the very least, they’re annoying – they set us back two hours on a road trip, delay our Southwest flights, or they derail our train of thought or force us to start over again. They mess up our workflow, disrupt the status quo, and interrupt our plans. I mean, people take PILLS these days to avoid disruption!
But at the very worst? They’re life altering. Disruptions throw a wrench into our reality. When we become disrupted, and we’re forced to see things differently or do things differently or think differently?….That’s when disruptions are the worst.
We can’t un-see them. We can’t un-experience them. And we can’t remain unchanged by them.
And when you think about it, the story of human history is just a series of disruptions, isn’t it? And the Bible, well that’s the story of a series of divine disruptions.
Ironically, one of my favorite stories about divine disruption is the only book in the entire Bible that doesn’t even mention God. The story of Esther.
To set the stage for you: It’s during the Persian Empire, and king Xerxes threw this huge party that lasted for weeks, and at the height of its…festivities….he commanded his wife Vashti to appear before the men he was partying with. When Vashti defied him publically, Xerxes made an example of her and had her banished from the kingdom and put out an “order” for all of the most beautiful virgins of the empire to be brought to him, where he would choose his next bride.
This wasn’t a Cinderella story, where Prince Charming invited all of the maidens to a ball and he chose “the one” for him. No. Xerxes sent out commissioners to find the most beautiful women and remove them from their homes. And once they arrived at the palace, they lived in a harem, where someone fixed them up before they were forced to spend the night with Xerxes.
These girls were victims of sex trafficking. And Esther was taken.
She was beautiful, young, and just what the king had ordered, so she lived among the other contestants in this sick beauty pageant, and she ended up winning.
She was chosen to be Queen Esther of the Persian Empire, but nobody knew she was Jewish. And that’s important.
Haman was the king’s right hand man, and when a Jewish man named Mordecai refused to bow to him, Haman became outraged. Surely he knew how to act. Surely he knew to respect authority. Surely not bowing down meant he was a menace to society – dangerous, a criminal. Surely Mordecai deserved what happened next.
Haman convinced the king to make a law that would systematically wipe out the Jewish race from the face of the earth.
Somehow, Mordecai found out about this. And he spread the word – Jews in every city gathered outside the gates and began to mourn, to protest, to wail about the injustice that was being done throughout the land.
Surely Jewish Lives Mattered?
Queen Esther heard about what was happening to her people and she was distressed. Even more than that, Mordecai was her cousin, her own flesh and blood who was right in the middle of it all. And even more than THAT – Mordecai had just begged her to talk the king out of killing the Jews.
Of course, Esther was terrified and very hesitant. She was a Jew herself, so she knew if she outed herself she could be killed on the spot. Xerxes also had a reputation of killing those who went before him without an invitation. But Mordecai continued to plead, and he said to her, “Perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this!”
After learning of this unjust and systematic oppression, she couldn’t unsee it. She couldn’t un-experience it. And she certainly couldn’t remain unchanged by it.
So she crafted a plan.
And she did what she did best–she did exactly what made her win the beauty pageant.
And just at the right time, she revealed to him that she was a Jew, and begged him not to follow through with Haman’s plan. When the king heard her story, when he realized what he had done, that Haman had tricked him and used his power to create unjust laws that targeted the Jewish people, he changed the law and set things right. Who would have ever thought that the Jewish child victim of sex-trafficking would prevent genocide–would single-handedly thwart a Holocaust? Esther surely didn’t expect it.
Esther could have stayed in the palace, safely, without anyone ever knowing she was a Jew. She could have saved her own skin and remained comfortable as the Persian Queen, not get involved in the mess. But she couldn’t unsee what she saw. She couldn’t un-experience what she had experienced. And she couldn’t go on remaining unchanged. She knew she was called for something more. This was Divine Disruption – and when the Divine disrupts our realities, it’s never just to make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. There’s always a commission.
God disrupts always with an assignment, an invitation to take part in the disruption of the world. To challenge power, ego, sexism, trafficking and racism, and injustice in all its forms. We see that once we are open to the divine disruption, we become part of God’s disruptive work on earth.
When God is at work, the disrupted becomes the disrupter.
Today we are at a crossroads. We look around, we see on TV, we see on our newsfeeds, and everywhere we turn – we witness injustice. We see racism and division. We see the violent reactions to protests, and we experience the turmoil that comes when a people rises up, mourning and wailing, demanding we recognize that their lives matter.
We can’t unsee it. We can’t un-experience it. And we can’t remain unchanged by it.
We can either roll our eyes at the disruption on our news and Twitter feeds, and the streets full of protests, and we can chalk it up to that – another disruptive interruption that we must bear until it passes. We can avoid taking a stand, and we can avoid getting our hands dirty and standing in the mess of injustice. Or we can see and embrace that disruption and become part of God’s divine work through that. This is a festival full of preachers – of speakers with platforms and podiums. In the next month, will you speak out against the injustices against our sisters and brothers of color?
When we embrace divine disruption, we join in the divine disruption of the world, working toward justice and redemption, and peace and restoration – fighting back against oppression and racism, by speaking out – by disrupting the complacent and shaking up the status quo. By offering a new way forward in Christ.
Perhaps WE have found ourselves here for such a time as this.