Eighteen years.

By my calculation,
that's 936 Sabbath days
and some 5,616 non-Sabbath days,
this leader who critiques Jesus,
had to help this woman.

Recall that Jesus was a visitor to that town,
to that synagogue.
But not her.

These were her neighbors.
This indignant one, a leader in their community.

She had come day in and day out.
Hopeful that someone.
Anyone.
Would pay attention to her.

That this leader would pay attention to her.
That those who had power and influence and authority
would pay attention to her.

But for 18 years,
—18 long years—
936 Sabbath days
and some 5,616 non-sabbath days,
no one did anything.

And its not like people didn't know of her trouble.
In fact, Saint Luke goes out of his way
to describe her clear and present ailment.
Not because he's concerned
with one particular aliment or another.

But Saint Luke describes her aliment
because he wants us to know
that day in and day out
what troubled her
could be sensed,
could be seen—
by even the most casual of observer.
And if by the most casual of observer,
certainly by this leader
and everyone else, too.

Her back bent over.
Barely able to walk.
Relying on all manner of physical aids.
Hers was not an ailment hidden away.
But right in front of those who ignored her.

Growing more and more pronounced as time went on.
Which means this leader's critique of Jesus,
is like the critique most people give
when they should have acted otherwise.

Guilt turns to false indignation.
False indignation turns to attack.
Attack on the one what actually
does the right thing.

And the person who matters most?
Lost in the balance.

Eighteen years.

Imagine her pain.
Imagine being passed over.
Time and time and time again.

Imagine wondering if anyone sees you.
Imagine wondering if anyone cared.

Imagine the residents of Baton Rouge.
Imagine the mothers and fathers of unarmed
black children gunned down by police.
Imagine immigrants waiting in detention centers
all across this country.
Imagine our Muslim and Jewish sisters and brothers,
derided for their faith in the same God as us.

Sisters and brothers,
dear friends,
we are not without our own women and men
afflicted by things far outside their control.
18 years.
50 years.
Decades more.

And how often they appear in front of us.
How often they walk into this place.
Or into grocery stores.
Or into the hallways of their apartment buildings.
Or across border fences.

On television,
and in our news feeds—
seeing them, but not really seeing them (or knowing them).
That's probably part of the problem.
Let's face it.
We look the other way.
We're good at that.
Society looks the other way.
Worse, paints these who are in such blatant need as enemies.
As persons in the wrong.
Are there not six other days?
This leader shouts at her.

Are there not rules?
Are there not ways boys could have acted differently
and not gotten shot?
Are there not better places to build
than on the bank of a river?
Are there not jobs in your own land?

Like the leader of the synagogue,
we have ceded responsibility.
Worse still, we have
transferred blame to the injured and already suffering party.

Jesus will not abide such disregard.
Jesus will not stand by and watch
a neighbor or a stranger,
a friend or an enemy,
a righteous person or a sinner
suffer.

Jesus will not allow the kingdom
built on the principle that you do unto others
what you wish them to do unto you—
Jesus will not allow that kingdom where love
rules all in all
to be denounced or defeated.

Sabbath or not.
Person having done right or wrong.
With or without merit.
Jesus offers healing right then and there.

And not only healing.
Jesus goes to the cross.
to put to death those ways of disregard and shame.

God gives up life.
So that this kingdom of life.
Might have a chance.

From the world's perspective
what God does makes little to no sense.

Loving liberally.
Doing generously.
Treating others as or better than you wish to be treated.
That makes no sense.

Not in our culture of blame and stigma.
Not in our economy of greed and corruption.
Not in our climb-the-corporate ladder world.

Jesus heals,
though he himself will be hunted down and killed,
to place us not simply in God's hands,
but in the hands of one another.

Into the hand of a community
who see the wounds of the cross,
and the wounds of one another,
not as things to be ignored, but address;
not as liability, but strength;
not as death, but life.

Communities that reach across
class and race,
gender and sexual orientation,
religion and political leanings.

Communities that reach across divides of all sorts.
So as to unite.
To gather the least and the last and the lost.
In the shadow of that life-giving cross.

On the cross, Jesus places us in God's hands,
and paces us into each other's hands.
And says that caring for one another
as God first cares for us
is the way of life.

That's not a new idea.
Isaiah had it long before.
Care for the least among you.
And even though the metrics
don't work by the world's standards.
You will thrive.
Society will thrive.
"Light shall rise," Isaiah says,
"Light shall rise in the darkness."

That's why what you do in this place.
What you do by coming to this place.
What we do by making music together.
And praying together.
And reaching out to others together.
Forming community together.
Is so important.

Why
Church and Synagogue and Mosque and Temple
are so important.

It is here.
In these places.
Where God's people gather.
Where we come to learn
that doing for others in ways that make little to no sense,
actually brings light and life to the whole world.

Jesus gives us this community.
Gives us the courage
to see and to respond.
to those who, like the woman who
walked into that synagogue
for 18 years
936 Sabbath days.
and 5,616 non-Sabbath days,
you shall be well.
Because we will care for you as God cares for us.

Courage to face those who would say otherwise.

Because we all shall be well only when the least of those among us matters most.

At its best,
that's the way of the church.

The way of life.

Live it.
Live it not simply to put opponents to shame.
But so that our society,
our world,
our neighbors near and far,
our friends and our enemies,
those who are like us and those who are not —
those who have waited far too long,
will finally come to know justice and compassion,
healing and peace.

Then at last we can have Sabbath rest.
Then at last God will say to each of us,
to the whole human family.
As God said as in the beginning
on that first day of Sabbath rest:
"it is—you are all—good."

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

14TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
August 22, 2016 - Jazz Vespers

Psalm 103:1-8
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Saint Luke 13:10-17