Recently we can hardly pick up a newspaper without seeing headlines and articles about aggression in Syria. Our first reading today is from the part of our Bible called the Apocrypha, from part of the Book of Esther. It has to do with plots of aggression in Syria thousands of years ago. Those plots were planned against a group of Jewish exiles that included a young Jewish woman, Esther, who had been chosen to be the Queen of King Artaxerxes. The verses that are today’s First Reading give us some of Esther’s prayer that such a plot might not take place.
As soon as Esther learned of that plot she was moved to prayer for her people. She removed her royal robes, her splendid apparel, and put on sackcloth, garments of distress and mourning, covering her head with ashes in the custom of her people. (Cf. Esther 14:2)
In the eloquent prayer that you heard in the first reading, Queen Esther first of all acknowledged God as the only King. Then she prayed for the salvation of her people, confessing the sin of having given praise to the gods and idols of their captors. She prayed that the hearts of those plotting against her people would be turned. Finally she prayed for strength for herself and her people to resist the evil, and to be rescued from danger and death.
In the subsequent parts of the Book of Esther we can seen how Queen Esther’s prayer was very fully answered. But that is not the main point for why those verses were read this morning. For us that reading can illustrate the purposes of prayer, and the power of prayer. We can see this in Esther’s sincerity.
That first reading was chosen as an example of prayer; as a petition to God, as a confession of sins, and as an intercession on behalf of the exiled Jewish people faced with a plot against them.
Though Queen Esther lived in a different era than Jesus, many years earlier, she found the same teaching about prayer as Jesus taught in The Sermon on the Mount to be true for her. “Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.” (Mt. 7:7)
Perseverance in prayer can help all of us to learn better how to pray with sincerity and truth.
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