Eighteen years is a long time. Some of you are eighteen years old. A lot of you don’t remember much from eighteen years ago. Perhaps the woman Jesus met in the synagogue didn’t either. Maybe she was born with a disability and had grown up with it, or got very sick as a young child, before the brain starts filing things away as clear memories, so it seems like she has always been unable to stand up straight. Eighteen years is a long time. Her suffering was not new, and she had probably long ago reconciled herself to enduring it for the rest of her days. Surely, then she could have waited one more day. What’s one day after eighteen years? It wouldn’t have been too hard for Jesus to say “meet me here tomorrow, when it’s not the Sabbath, and I will cure you then,” and thus dodge the whole hubbub about breaking the rules of the sabbath. I mean, he knew the rules. But that isn’t how the story goes. Jesus couldn’t wait a moment… she was to be healed on the spot.
It matters, you see, that Jesus performed a healing on the sabbath and scandalized the leaders at the synagogue. It tells us something about how God moves in the world. You could, I guess, make this into a story about how being a workaholic is good and virtuous. People have done that. The protestant work ethic is all about showing your virtue by never taking a day off. God doesn’t take a day off, why should we? Except that God totally did take a day off, in the first chapter of the Bible, after six days of creating the universe, and that doesn’t seem like some casual fact. Probably this Gospel isn’t about being a workaholic.
I think it’s about love. And as I say that word—love—some of you may start drifting away, because here he goes off into happy clappy land, where everything is love and light and you just have to follow your bliss. It’s true that the word has grown a little cliche, a little too lightweight, worn out by greeting cards and stencils on the walls of houses on HGTV.
But when we talk about love here—and we talk about it a lot—we aren’t talking about something passive, or about the fluttery feeling you get when your crush smiles at you. That feeling is pretty fantastic, but love runs deeper and wider, and wilder too. Love is far more than an emotion. It is, and I’m not exaggerating, the core of what it means to be a person who is aware of the sacred in the world.
Love is an intention. It is a commitment. It is a strong and dogged insistence that each person and each moment matters. When Jesus heals the woman on the sabbath, it is an act of love. There were rules in place, rules patterned off of the day of rest God took at the beginning, that said today was not the day for a miraculous healing, that the work of God didn’t get done on the Sabbath. It was part of the covenant. And Jesus saw the woman and was moved. The love he knew as the son of God was not meant to be contained and carefully rationed. It was excessive and abundant. Her suffering was his suffering, because he could imagine what it might be like, because he could see the pain on her face, because he could help.
Again and again, Jesus confronted situations structured like this. There are rules about when you do things and who you do them with, and on the other side of that rule there is a disabled woman, or a man with leprosy, or a Samarian woman by a well who deserves as much as anyone else to be heard. There are the rules about what is good and proper, and there is the call of our common humanity calling us to realize something higher than rules is in motion. It is love that reaches across the rules, across the gap between people, and it is love—a tenacious, insistent love—that extends the possibility of healing across the distances we create between ourselves. It is love that repairs the breach. This is no greeting card. This is a way of life.
So, welcome to the Episcopal Center. This place is about love. Each person, in each place, in each moment, is sacred and worthy of love, for they are creatures of God. It should go without saying, but it’s worth saying—each person is sacred, and categorizations of gender or race or sexuality or socio-economic background or age or politics or legal status or ability or religion are simply not relevant to one’s sacred worth. Each person is sacred. Period. Full-stop. That’s a simple statement, but to live a life based on it is not simple work. It’s hard, and it takes intentionality and accountability. There’s a really good reason that God calls us together in community. Love is not easy. It takes practice, it takes support, it takes nourishment.
So we practice. We worship twice a week—Eucharist on Sunday, Compline on Tuesday—and we study Scripture, and we talk about God and life and about the opportunities we have to help God’s love be felt in our world. We help deliver food to families in East Durham. We repair hurricane damage. We help serve migrant farmworkers. We can do more, and we follow the passion of the people gathered here.
We support one another. Duke is an amazing place full of amazing opportunities, and it is also stressful and it can create runaway anxiety if you aren’t mindful of it. It’s easy to lose sight of the sacred, to forget about love, amidst the pressure and grind. So we take care of one another and help each other through.
And we eat together. Ha ha ha, college students like free food, ha, what a funny joke. It’s not a joke. To sit around a table and share a meal together is one of the foundational human experiences, and this community grounds us and reminds us who we are. If you’re brand new, you might not feel it yet, and that’s fine. You’re coming off of a seriously overwhelming week. But give it a couple weeks. This place feels like home pretty quickly.
All of this because God is not passive. Because Jesus reached out on the Sabbath, and the Holy Spirit reaches out right now. You are called to a life of tenacious love, to find the depth in yourself and in other people and in the creation that surrounds us, and to repair the breach. Love is serious business. So here we go.