Let Go and Let God
It’s so good to be back. I have to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for all the prayers and support I’ve been showered with in this past month. Your compassion and grace lifted my spirits each day while in treatment and I owe you all a debt of gratitude for encouraging me along my journey.
I’ve been asked, “What happened?” In other words, what is your story? I won’t bore you with the ugly details but let me share this with you. There are no alcoholics in my family. I don’t believe that this disease for me is genetic although I recognize that for the majority of addicts of any kind, genetics plays a critical role. I rarely drank at all before 40. When I did drink, I drank too much because I was a self-defined lightweight, so I stayed away from any alcohol except for special occasions. But all my life, I struggled with an eating disorder. I was anorexic as a youth and then gained a lot of weight in the years following. 12 years ago, I had gastric bypass surgery. I lost about 100 pounds and swore that the surgery saved my life. And in fact, in many ways it did. I no longer struggle with food and eat in a way that is healthy for my mind, body and spirit.
However, two years after the surgery, we moved to Oregon, right in the heart of wine country and I was introduced to the wonderful culture of wine tasting and appreciation. It was not known then, that 7 – 10% of patients who have gastric bypass develop the disease of alcoholism. If I had known that, I would have stayed away from all forms of alcohol. But the medical community did not yet have that data. So that’s how it all started.
I learned a tremendous amount about the disease of addiction while in treatment. I learned that it’s a progressive illness, it only gets worse and worse. I learned that there is a part of my brain that has been altered, and I will never again be able to drink without the severe consequences of returning right back into the depths of my disease. I learned that the rest of my brain will indeed return back to it’s full functionality – God willing. But most importantly, I learned that there is no medical cure, only a form of remission. And that remission is possible through the constant, on-going practice of giving my entire self over to the care of God on a day-to-day or even moment-to-moment basis.
On Tuesday, I began my practice of studying this week’s scripture for this sermon. I quickly realized that the reading from 1st Peter was addressed to persecuted Christians, but all I could see through my new “Recovery lens” was a reminder to those who struggle with any kind of evil, in my case the evil of addiction. So today, I’d like to be a tad self-indulgent, and share with you how this scripture speaks specifically to me. I want to reassure you, that although this new life in recovery will continue to shape how I interpret scripture, I will not allow that lens to be so self-indulgent in the future. I’m here for you. I’m here to share the Good news of Jesus Christ with all those who come to this church. I’m here to speak to your circumstances, but today, I choose to speak from my own personal situation.
1st Peter begins,
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
First, I heard that I am beloved. How grateful I am that God continues to love me and he understands indeed that something strange was indeed happening to me. A disease was creeping into my life that I could not understand nor could I control.
He then goes on to say…
But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
I don’t think I was sharing so much in Christ’s suffering, but Christ was most definitely sharing in my suffering. On that Good Friday, when I was convicted, I understood the burden of our brokenness that Jesus took upon himself. I physically felt Christ’s presence sharing my pain. In the depths of my despair, I felt him carry me. I have no doubt that this memory brings me to a place where I can shout for joy for clearly I am not alone in my despair.
1st Peter continues with:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves; keep alert.
As I learn to implement the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous into my life, I am learning the value of humility, not to another human, but humility under the mighty hand of God. I cannot stay sober on my own. No amount of effort could keep me from picking up another drink. It is only by humbly handing my will over to the care of God that I can be free from addiction. I’ve learned to cast all my anxieties, all my fears, all my shame, on God. I trust that God will gladly relieve me from that which binds me. Why? Because Peter reminds me, he cares for me, he loves me, I am his child. And then I am sternly reminded KEEP ALERT, for complacency and over-confidence will be my downfall if I let my guard down. For me, that means my participation in AA will be life-long. Working my program of recovery must always come first. My recovery comes before my family, it comes before my ministry, it comes before everything else on this earth. Remember the directions from every flight attendant on every flight you’ve ever taken? Please put your own oxygen mask on first BEFORE helping another. If I’m not right in my recovery, I can be no good to anyone, including God.
Peter then reminds us:
Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.
For me, in my personal circumstance, this devil that roars like a lion is the evil of addiction. Any kind of addiction, not just alcohol but drugs, food, gambling, sex, shopping, you name it – addiction in my book is a form of evil. And indeed it is incessantly on the prowl seeking someone to devour. And there are 17 million other alcoholics in this country, not to mention the millions of others addicted to various things, who are my brothers and sisters undergoing the same kinds of suffering. Step 12 in AA is all about trying to carry this message to other alcoholics. Somehow, and I don’t know how yet, but I know that the Holy Spirit is pushing me into a new ministry regarding addiction. Whether it’s simply building a labyrinth here on our grounds dedicated to all those who still suffer from this illness, or having a special worship service for those recovering, I simply don’t know where the Holy Spirit will lead me, or us in the months and years to come; but, I have learned that staying open to God’s will for my life is the most important thing I do every day I live.
And finally, Peter closes this lectionary reading with these wise words.
And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power for ever and ever.
I hear a promise in these words. I have suffered for long enough. I trust that God’s grace will continue to restore me to a fullness of life that I have never before experienced. It is to God, who is all powerful that I give my life to today.
Now, all that being said, here’s one way that I’m going to be different because of this experience. As you’re all aware, I only wear my robe on high holy days like Christmas eve and Easter Sunday. I’ve often said that it’s because I want my congregation to see me as just one of them, not special in any way. I’ve jokingly confessed, I’m just another bozo on the bus. But the truth is that whenever I wear my robe I feel like I’m dressing up for Halloween. It feels unnatural to me to dress as a minister. After some intense therapy with the Spiritual director at treatment, I realized that the truth is, I don’t wear my robe because I feel unworthy to the call. Particularly because I had this deep secret regarding my own brokenness while preaching every week that God saves us from ourselves. And yet, because I could not be saved from my own demons, I felt like a fraud. That has been my greatest shame.
But today, I realize, despite my brokenness, despite the fact that I’m far from perfect and despite the truth that I struggle every day with God, I have been consecrated by the board of ordained ministry and by Bishop Hoshibata himself. It’s taken me many years to fully claim this title, but today I will own this responsibility. The responsibility of remaining transparent in my journey and the responsibility of helping you be as honest with yourself as you possibly can so that you too can journey toward the heart of God.
So not only will I claim the role of minister, (put on robe) I also acknowledge that like a yoke that an ox wears so that his master can give him direction in the fields, I too will wear my own yoke – it’s called a stole and it symbolizes that I give myself to God, to steer me in the direction of His will and not my own. (put on my stole).
I have been placed by the Holy Spirit in this church to be your spiritual leader. I take on that challenge knowing that I don’t have all the answers, knowing that I am broken just like you, knowing that we are all on this journey together. I pray that my own experiences will lead me to greater understanding and increased compassion. I pray that together we will all come to know our Lord better with each and every day we live. Amen.