Sermon: 12 Step Eucharist St. Philip’s, 2-21-10
Good Afternoon: My name is Tom and I am a recovering Alcoholic. Welcome to this Community 12 Step Eucharist and to lovely St. Phillips’s In The Hills. We are indebted to her Rector, Father John Kitagawa, to the Rev. Dr. Clare Yarborough, who is presiding at the Eucharist, to the readers and especially to the Rev. Dr. Dan Behling for organizing this moment and bringing us together. Dan has always been a guiding light in this Diocese to bring together folks who want to practice a 12 step program.
I am not asked to preach here very often. Actually there’s several good reasons for that which will become obvious as we go along. My friends tell me that I tend to preach too long and frequently lose my place and I can’t seem to stay focused,…I worry a lot about how critical my friends are. But I’ve realized that I don’t have any enemies. Just friends who hate me.( I am also a little paranoid.) I am asked to preach from time to time and I am grateful for that except that I am usually scheduled on a day of the month doesn’t exist, like I am scheduled again this month for the 29th of February.
When I am lucky enough to preach I usually speak from the Book Stand because.. well. the Pulpit is just not safe. You may have noticed that it has wheels and can be pushed anywhere you want it. It's kind of like an “ecclesiastical skate board.” I have always been afraid that if I misspeak or get too far off the point, The Rector and the associates would finally have had enough and give me a push and I would go flying down the aisle and out the back door and into the street and end up going South on Campbell, and possibly come to a stop in the intersection of Campbell and River roads. Come to think of it, maybe the intersection of Campbell and River Road is where the pulpit ought to be anyway. Not to be preachy ..but to be where sickness reigns and where people are searching for answers.
When I was in the infancy of my recovery, I asked my sponsor if he thought that the Church had anything to offer in recovery. He was saddened that I even asked. He was a priest. “As far as the church is concerned, he said, “We people in 12 step programs need all the help we can get. What the church can offer through her Sacraments, the Mass, the Eucharist, the Confession, Forgiveness, the congregation and prayer are simply time tested avenues where our higher power enters our life … and we are lifted to him.” He said “Church is another opportunity to strengthen sobriety and serenity, don‘t miss it!”
What can the church offer a 12 step person? What actually goes on here?
It is expressed very well at that gorgeous Convent on Country Club which is home to the Benedictine Sister’s of Perpetual Adoration. I never really knew why, but they used to ask me to be the preacher on their annual Day of Ecumenicity. Their Chapel is a beautiful affair where at least one nun is at prayer 24 hours a day, there is a huge Marble arch over the altar when the Mass is celebrated. And on the arch is carved the Latin words, “O Admirable Commercium.” Which translated means “The Wonderful Exchange.” In a couple of words it explains what happens in church. Any Church … We offer our brokenness, and that power which is greater than ourselves returns it to us as wholeness. We offer our powerlessness over a substance, over our lives, over the situation in which we live. We offer our anger, heartbreak and denial. And our powerlessness is returned in the form of strength to have serenity and sobriety and peace.
I want to offer a disclaimer at this point. Just because we clergy are all dressed up and standing in front of you in this special service does not mean we have any better handle on spirituality or our own 12 step program than you do. In fact, Addiction Treatment Centers report that Clergy and Doctors are the hardest nuts to crack because they have so little reality about themselves. We are always focused on someone else. We are all Al-Anons at heart. It is said that when an Al-Anon dies, someone else’s life passes in front of their eyes. But we are talking about how little reality some clergy have. Present company excepted.
Have you heard the story of the clergy person who was assigned to a new Church in a distant town. He and his family got there and settled into their new home. He wrote a few post cards with change of address and then decided to go for a walk around his new neighborhood. Not far from his home he found a young boy playing in the front yard of a house and he said, “Excuse me son. Could you tell me how to find the post office?” The little guy said, “Sure, just go on down here three more blocks and turn right one block and you are there.” “Thanks,” said the Clergyman. Then he thought that he might as well begin his ministry. So he said to the little boy, “Son, do you go to Church?” “Naw,” he said, “My family don’t go to church.” “Well,” said the clergyman, “tell you what, if you will come to my Church on Sunday, I will show you how to get to heaven.” “No,” chuckled the little boy. “I don’t think so. You don’t even know where the Post office is.”
What we are trying to get at here is the exchanges we are invited to make in our relationship with our higher power, He calls us to exchange our addictions and obsessions for healing and forgiveness. The Healing and Forgiveness that your heart and mine thirst for.
When I was in California, a delightful young couple came to me to be married. We had a wonderful time and got them married and off on their honeymoon. During their honeymoon they were in one of the National Parks and decided to take a tour in an open tram driven through the park by the Rangers. While in the tram, a diseased tree split over them and fell on them, killing them both. The next week we were back in Church again with them, but this time to bury them. Both sets of parents were inconsolable.
When we were standing beside the open graves at the cemetery one of the mothers said to me, “God help me, but someone is going to pay for this.” They sued the park, the state government, and the Park Rangers. They searched for any way possible to get even for the pain they were experiencing. There was a rather large settlement. It did not seem to help. They gave most of it to their attorneys and the rest to charity.
Their question was: “What can we do about this overwhelming tragic loss?” But the real question is: How does one deal with great hurts that come our way? How do you deal with them.” We often say, Well, time takes care of everything. In time you will feel better. But these people did not. I would call on them over the years. Our conversations always ended the say way. The parents would say, “I know I need to forgive, but I can’t. I blame God. I blame the Park Service. I blame myself for not suggesting a different trip for them. I need to get on with things but how do I do that?”
It‘s the same question, even with smaller wounds: How can I forgive people who are unfaithful to me? How can I forgive people who gossip about me? People who desert me, people who turn their backs on me, who criticize me, who try to control me? A young wife came to me once and said, “My husband and I are always hurting each other. We were happy dating but now our marriage has made us miserable. It’s like a civil war. Our marriage is a battle ground.”
I am sure you have heard the story about a young girl who goes to the door of her home to answer the door bell. She opens the door and there stands a stranger. This gentleman says to little girl, “Hello there, You don’t know me. But I am your Uncle on your father’s side.” The little girl said, “Well, I’m happy to meet you, but,” she says, “you need to know that you are on the losing side.”
First, We need to remove God from any blame. It is not God’s purpose to cause a crises, or a tragedy. That would cause him to come off as an terrorizing tyrant. His idea of control and our idea of control are entirely different. He lets go of controlling us so we can be fully human. But we use our control to create a crisis. The idea that he tests us in this life is barbaric. He accompanies us and when we hurt, he hurts. Just look at the cross.
We were talking about forgiveness and healing for you and me. Let me tell you a an absolute truth about criticism, rumors, and unkind remarks aimed at you. Its none of your business. What another person thinks of me is none of my business. I am not going to obsess on it.
So what is forgiveness and healing all about. We say, “Well, I would forgive old so and so, but he is not sorry. The truth is he may never be sorry. We can’t control someone’s feelings about themselves. We have to think, I can control how I feel about you and I am going to get this business out of my head.” Here is the key to serenity through forgiveness. If you don’t hear anything else today, please hear this.
Forgiveness is not about the other person. God will forgive the other person whether you do or don’t when it is timely. Forgiveness is about you. It is about me. It is about a healing that must go on inside of you or me that allows us to view broken and messed up humanity in a sympathetic and compassionate way. That’s it.
I was in here one day, sitting by myself having a little meditation. Actually I was asking forgiveness for the 10,000th time for the mess I made as an active alcoholic. Most of my children don’t speak to me, because I left my previous marriage and did a "geographical" and moved much too far away to ever be with them during their formative years. So I’m sitting here being miserable because it is the only thing I can think of to do to pay for the crime. And I heard this voice in my head. Just whispers. “Tom, I love you. You’ve been guilty long enough, trust me. I was there when you couldn’t be.” And I stopped obsessing.
Forgiveness is a word that summarizes the healing that must happen to your soul and mine.
Obsessions are the land mines of any 12 step program
This is the last thing I want to say …
One summer I attended summer school at my seminary. The class was taught by a Buddhist Monk. He was from Vietnam and had survived that war and told us a rather moving story that came out of that war. There was a Vietnamese father and son who were trying to make their way during the war. Their home had been burned and the mother was killed. In order for the father to find work, he had to leave his young son with neighbors while he searched far and wide for work Finally he got settled and was working and then went back to the village where he left his son. But it had been bombed and was demolished. He went to his friend’s house and it was ashes. He was beside himself with self blame. Among the rubble he found some small bones and he knew they were his son’s. So he wrapped them in a white cloth and put them in a small pouch and carried them with him wherever he went all his life.
Many years passed and he heard a knock on his door. The old man said “Who’s there?” A voice said, “It is I. It is your son. I was kidnapped and finally let go. I have been looking for you all this time.” The old man yelled through the door. “You are a fake and a cruel person. My son is dead … leave me alone.” The son pounded on the door, but it was never answered. So the son finally left and was never united to the father, because the father insisted on holding onto the bones of the past. He would not exchange what is … for what could be.
We do get stuck and paralyzed by the bag of old bones we carry around with us. What’s in your bag of old bones? What’s in it? You might want to take a look right now. The bag is sitting on your lap or on the floor. You always have it with you. Look in it now. I will open mine. Aha, there is bone in there of remorse another of sorrow, another of regret and resentment. Do you want to get rid of them ? Bring your old bag of bones to the altar with you when you come for communion or a blessing. Your Higher power will exchange them for serenity and peace … If you can give them up. Give them up! Give them up! Give them up!
God has forgiven those who have hurt us. We can do no less for ourselves.