Winnie the Pooh, in talking to his friend Christopher Robin, said, “You can’t always stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” Christopher Robin replied, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.”
The Rev. Casey Baggott said to the congregation, “There are occasions when we are called to step out from our corner of the forest and claim our bravery, strength and smartness to put to good use for others.”
Baggott gave the homily at the 9:15 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 11, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Her homily title was “Esther: A Story of Empowering Courage.” The scripture text was Esther 4: 13-14 (NRSV) —
“Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For 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.’”
After the Babylonian captivity, many Jews returned to Israel, but others decided to stay in Babylon. In the Book of Esther, which chronicles the aftermath, King Ahasuerus is manipulated by his minister, Haman, to issue a decree of execution for all the Jews in the Persian Empire.
Meanwhile, Mordecai, a Jewish adviser to the king, places his niece, Esther, in the king’s harem and, eventually, she becomes queen. She does not know at first that the Jews are to be exterminated.
Mordecai tells her that she is the only one who can do anything to help. Esther replies that no one, not even the queen, can petition the king without the king giving permission first.
Mordecai responds that maybe she was placed in the royal court for such a time as this. Esther takes the risk, stands up to King Ahasuerus, and saves her people from destruction, forming the foundation for the Jewish festival of Purim.
“Whenever I hear that story, I wonder what would allow someone to do what Esther did — how do you account for people like Esther, who take so much risk upon themselves for the good of others?” Baggott said.
She continued, “I think it takes basic trust in the possibility of realizing our most precious hopes; it also seems to require a willingness to be drawn toward a new future, rather than clinging desperately to the old ways. How many of us have these qualities?”
Abraham Lincoln, in his address to Congress on Dec. 1, 1862, just before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, told them that they had to think anew. He said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” They had to think anew and act anew and “disenthrall from the well-known structures of the past, and then we shall save our country.”
Baggott quoted theologian Walter Brueggeman, saying people of faith are well suited to see that the transformation and salvation Lincoln spoke of are not only possible, but likely.
“The biggest danger may be in fearing the future and avoiding what faces us,” Baggott said. “We could spend energy looking back to a safer past, but we may miss what God is doing now and where God is asking us to go next.”
During World War II, the Rev. Harrison Anderson, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, had the trust and goodness to believe in the new things to which God called him. He did not hinder the future, but helped it flourish.
After Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans nationwide were deemed “suspicious.” In Chicago, Japanese-American Christians were not allowed to meet for worship in their church. The pastor of the Japanese church was urged to talk with Anderson, to see if they could worship at Fourth Presbyterian.
Anderson took the request to the church’s governing body. There was discussion and some misgivings, but the session voted to allow the Japanese congregation to meet at 2 p.m. every Sunday, which they did throughout World War II.
Bricks were thrown at the church windows and the press printed harsh words. Anderson responded by standing outside the church every Sunday to greet the members of the Japanese church, and he would walk around the church while they met.
“He did not hinder what God could accomplish, but helped it flourish,” Baggott said. “Harrison Anderson, Abraham Lincoln (and) Queen Esther … stood with integrity and purpose, with love and courage, in a time of turmoil. Surrounded by hostility, danger (and) suspicion, they lived out their best understanding of what it meant to be a person of faith. Each were placed ‘for such a time as this.’”
Baggott suggested that the confluence of extraordinary events and extraordinary people is not as rare as people think. “Every life has the potential for great significance. Everyone has the opportunity to act effectively with courage and empathy.”
She continued, “Perhaps our time is right now.” Referencing the issues of the summer — the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter — Baggott said, “Maybe right now, we are being called forward as witnesses to the possibility that hopes and dreams may yet be realized. God’s mysterious power and influence are still at work in the world, trying to transform it and renew it. (Each of us must) take a bold step out of our corner of the forest, into a good future.”
Perhaps the call to Queen Esther is our call, Baggott said. “Perhaps you have come to this place ‘for such a time as this.’ You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. May we each heed the call of God’s mysterious power of transformation and find the love, grace, hope and healing of Christ.”
The Rev. Natalie Hanson, a United Methodist minister and co-host of the United Methodist House, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Meredith Smietana, a student in the Chautauqua School of Music Voice Program, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was “Andante Tranquillo, by Charles Villiers Stanford. Smietana sang the hymn, “God of Grace, and God of Glory.” The anthem was “Lento,” by Stanford. Stafford played “Allegro,” by Stanford, for the postlude. This program is made possible by Willow and Gary Brost and the Susan and John Turben Foundation.