Call to Worship
Gather in dear ones. We are about to embark on a journey of faith. We need faith for this journey – for there is nothing else to hang on to. Over these next weeks through April, May and June, we will be walking through the twelve steps familiar to Alcoholics Anonymous. We will see how they apply to our lives, to the human condition addressed by the gospel of Jesus, with a little input from the Hebrew prophets and the letters of the early church. We will be leaning heavily on a book by Franciscan priest and educator, Richard Rohr, called “Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps.” Welcome to the journey.
Prayer of Opening: O Holy One, you who were embodied in the vulnerability of Jesus, be with us in our vulnerability we pray. Bless our gathering, our listening, our questioning, our seeking, our speaking and our discovering. Lead us into an unclenched and open time with you, so that we find we will not fall and shatter like old glass, but drift gently into the warm embrace of your radiant love. We pray in the name of our brother, Jesus. Amen.
Powerlessness April 10th 2016
with reference to Romans 7:15, 18 and Acts chapter 9
Last night, as I was settling in to do the final revamp of the sermon, my computer decided to play `What-fresh-hell-is-this?’ on me. I couldn’t find things in their usual predicable places. I couldn’t find them at all. I was pressing buttons to no avail. I had that growing feeling that I was completely inept and I would have to ask some 10 year old child to come and fix my damn computer! I was beginning to panic and was well past the `Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain’ stage. Well, at least I could open the sermon document. And at the top of the page it said: Powerlessness
Alcoholics Anonymous: Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over (our addiction) that our lives had become unmanageable.
Bingo! Gotcha! Fortunately – I laughed.
Anyone here like feeling powerless? (I don’t think so!) We don’t like feeling powerless when something is `done to us,’ and we usually can’t bear the thought of being powerless over our own actions or thought processes.
But the premise of Richard Rohr’s book, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps is that we are all addicts; that human beings are addictive by nature. He writes “addiction is a modern name and honest description for what the biblical tradition called “sin” and medieval Christians called `passions’ or `attachments’.
The first step to recovery is to admit it. We admitted we were powerless over (our addiction) that our lives had become unmanageable.
Well, who wants to admit that! We scorn addicts in our society, (well unless they are workaholics, in which case we praise them, and make their life even crazier.) If you’re an addict, that means you’re not in control, you’re weak and flawed and probably wreaking havoc in other peoples’ lives too. We just want to be good little Christians, so don’t even go bothering us with this kind of talk!
But Richard Rohr won’t leave us alone. He claims that “stinking thinking” is the universal addiction. Again he writes, “…we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything, our own defenses, and most especially, our patterned way of thinking, or how we process our reality. By definition, you can never see or handle what you are addicted to. It is always hidden and disguises as something else.
The scripture from the book of Acts is a perfect case in point. Here we have Saul who seems to have all the power in the world, and of course, the best of intentions. He is going to clean up that radical fringe group known as `people of the Way’, those who are taking about some rabble rouser named Jesus who was crucified and allegedly brought back to life, by God. You can’t have people saying crazy thing like that. So Saul is out for the kill. He gets arrest warrants from the Chief Priest and he’s on his way to Damascus to round up any of these Jesus freaks – men and women. He’s got the heavy artillery of the political/religious authority, and he knows how to use it.
Ha! But he hasn’t met Jesus. A blinding flash of light leaves him fallen to the ground (oh, how the mighty have fallen) and he hears a voice. ”Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me? Why are you persecuting me?” Saul’s going on to Damascus all right, but not in the same way, and not for the same purpose he thought. The voice is revealed as Jesus. And Saul is left trembling with his confounded companions who have to take him by the hand and lead him, because he is blind – and remains so for 3 days. He is powerless. He who had everything now has nothing. He, who relied on his position of power, now has to totally rely on friends and worse yet – strangers, the very strangers he wanted to arrest.
And he has to rely on this new voice that is messing up his perfectly orderly, legally and religiously trained head.
I think it would be fair to say that his life has become unmanageable. His addictive way of thinking has made him hit bottom, and now he has to look up (even if he can’t see).
Sometime later, even as a recovering `stinking thinking’ man, Saul, now Paul laments in his letter to the congregation in Rome, “I cannot understand my own behaviour. I fail to carry out the very things I want to do, and find myself doing the very things I hate…”
Powerless – Paul feels powerless. For me, even the word powerless causes me to brace rather than bend. To me, powerlessness feels like helplessness, and my ego does not like that one bit. But again, from Richard, “It is the imperial ego that has to go, and only powerlessness can do the job correctly.”
So powerlessness is good? I’m so confused! I think it’s like watching a fly smash repeatedly into a window because she can’t believe, with its lovely transparency that it is not air, and it will not let her through. Now, you could just whack the fly and put it out of its misery (which would sort of wreak the metaphor), or you could say Fly – stop! You are only hurting yourself. Here, over here, there is another exit, but it will only open one step at a time.
But the steps are strange and counter intuitive, and definitely counter culture. Jesus and the 12 steps say: We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it way to keep it.
Yesterday afternoon in the Thrift Shop – and oh it was good to be back there – I heard a man tell his grandson that the movie they put in their cart was so old – it had come out when he was a teenager. The movie? Jesus Christ Superstar, one of my all-time favourites. At one point in the movie, Jesus says to a wildly enthusiastic Simon the Zealot: “You don’t understand what power is. My poor Jerusalem, to conquer death, you only have to die.”
Admitting powerlessness and letting go is not in anybody’s program for happiness, and yet theologian Thomas Merton says, All mature spirituality, in one sense or another, is about letting go and unlearning.
“…Many teachers of the Twelve Steps have said, the first Step is probably the hardest, and most denied, and the most avoided. So the whole process never takes off! No one likes to die to who they think they are. “
But as the Easter hymn says, “In our end is our beginning…” and so I encourage you to come back next week, and discover together, that once we make the scary admission of powerlessness, we can (come) to believe that a Power greater than ourselves (can) restore us to sanity. The good news is, we already believe in that Power.