By Rev. Chris Jorgensen
September 26, 2021
Video of entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/1133349900523294
Scripture: Psalm 69: 1-3; 13-18
Okay, I need your help as this sermon starts. It’s going to be like a play, and you all have a line. I’m going to say a sentence, and your job is to respond, “Hi, Chris!”
“My name is Chris, and I am a broken and flawed human.”
Now this scene might ring a bell. I’m not sure how many movies I’ve seen that have dramatized a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, but they often include that iconic line. The newcomer says their name. “My name is So-and-So, and I am an alcoholic.” All the people present respond with affirmation and welcome. “Hi, So-and-So!”
I know some of you attend AA or other 12-step meetings. I am not a member of AA, but I know a number of folks who are. I will tell you that I love twelve-steppers. At times, I have found myself really drawn to people who are AA members.
One of those people was Glen. That’s his real name. He gave me to permission to use it. Glen was (and still is) the leader of an AA group from the VA. Last summer, they came here to church looking for a place they could meet in person since the VA was still locked down.
I immediately felt an affinity with Glen because he was an earnest guy, kind, polite, and he kind of looks like my brother. He expressed appreciation for the church, and the Holy Spirit nudged me to give him a copy of a Richard Rohr book about the spirituality of the twelve steps. The next week, he gave me a copy of The Big Book, the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous (show book).
This week, as I struggled with how to preach about asking God for deliverance or freedom in our lives, I finally picked it up and read it. I was blown away. Here in this book was a story and a program of almost exactly how I understand the deliverance or freedom of God to work. Here in this book was a path that encountered God as what I would call “Christ the Liberator.” Suddenly, I began to understand why I found myself drawn to and inspired by twelve-steppers. People in AA understand that their very lives depend on God. As the Big Book puts it, “Faith did for us what we could not do for ourselves.” (p. 70-71).
Step One in the Twelve Step program is this: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” (p. 59). People around the world have found that the thing to which they are powerless over might vary greatly. For some people, it is alcohol. But there are twelve-step programs for all sorts of things that hold power over us. There is Workaholics Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous (to help hoarders), Overeaters Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous. One AA member interviewed by the BBC joked “I think there’s a fellowship for every particular human condition.”
Today’s scripture reading gives us a glimpse of what it feels like when our lives have become unmanageable.
The Psalmist writes:
1 …the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
When one can admit that they are stuck in the mire, that their lives have become unmanageable, we move to the second step:
We “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” And the third: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him” (p. 59).
I think this language of “God as we understood Him” is very interesting. Sometimes twelve-steppers talk about this as a “Higher Power.” There is no orthodoxy here. There is no one idea of God that the Big Book puts forth. It is intentionally broad. This does not have the be a Christian God. But it must be someone or some spirit who is bigger than us, who holds a power we don’t hold. This is someone or something who can unseat us as the center of the universe.
At Step Three, we might say a prayer that turns over our will to God. The Big Book gives this as an example: “God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and do with me as thou wilt. Relieve me of my bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy way of life.”
Again, these exact words are not at all necessary. The wording is “quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation” (p. 63).
Turning to our Psalm, we might very well use the words of the Psalmist:
“Save me, O God
14 rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Draw near to me, redeem me,
set me free.”
God freeing us is actually just the start. We are only here on Step 3. The next steps call us to ruthless honesty about our own responsibility to right what has gone wrong in our lives. Step 4 is “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” How many of you think that sounds like something easy or fun? Nope. This is hard work. God saves us, and we work alongside God starting by taking responsibility for those things that are in our control. I often reassure you and me and all of us of our belovedness in the sight of God, no matter what. This is why – because we have to be able to be honest about our flaws and brokenness and struggle. I think we can only do that if we trust that we are loved and we belong no matter what.
Now, the Big Book explains how resentment often is often the thing that covers up our own flaws. When we are resentful, we look at the actions of other people, right? We look at this person or that person, and we get angry because they are not acting in the way we want them to. If they would just straighten up and fly right, then we would be fine.
That’s how we distract ourselves from taking responsibility of what we can control. We cannot control other people. That’s why in Step 4, we make sure to identify all of our anger and resentment. When we do so, we find that people who make us resentful are the ones that threaten “our self-esteem, our pocketbooks, our ambitions, or our personal relationships.”
I will share a personal witness here. When I went into therapy, miserable about the state of my life, twelve years ago, I had lots of complaints about how the people around me were not acting like they should. I had a lot of resentment. When I shared that with my therapist (granted this took months, probably almost a year), I eventually uncovered the truth that the resentments were just a symptom.
They were keeping me from seeing how I was mired and drowning in perfectionism and worries about what people thought about me. That had caused me to act in all kinds of ways that I was not proud of. But until I stopped thinking about how other people wronged me, I couldn’t take responsibility for what I could do to change my life. Being ruthlessly honest about my flaws and failures was painful, and it was a path to freedom from them.
That is the ultimate purpose of Step 4: to name our flaws so that they no longer have power over us. The Big Book advises us to take a moral inventory just like we’d take an inventory of items in the garage sale we just had. The only purpose is to “disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret.”
Step 5 requires us to admit these things to God, ourselves, and another human being. My therapist was that person for me, but in the twelve steps, it could be a friend, a sponsor, a partner, anyone.
Step 6 says “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” (p. 59).
Step 7 is when, like the song says, we “lay it down.” “We humbly asked [God] to remove our shortcomings” (p. 59).
Step 8 is about making amends. We make a list of the people we have hurt and become willing “to make amends to them all.”
Step 9 is to actually do that: to make direct amends to people we have hurt; however, it warns us not to do so if it would injure them or others.
Steps 1 through 9 are kind of the whole initial transformation process. We admit our lives have become unmanageable. We believe that God can transform us. We are ruthlessly honest about our flaws and shortcomings. We ask God to fix us, and then we make amends to those we have hurt.
Once that initial process has occurred, Step 10 is about living in that freedom of truth and liberation every day. We “continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” Step 11 is how one continues to rely on God and not oneself for this hard work and for the freedom to ONLY do God’s will and not our own. “We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry it out” (p.59).
Finally, Step 12 is really important. Does anyone here know what Step 12 is? “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Step 12 is about letting go of ego. It’s about working the steps not so we have exactly what we want, but so we do what God wants…and that is for us to help others to be freed from drowning in the same way we were. My friend Glen showed me a gorgeous example of this when he responded to my email this week. He said to me, “If there is anything about my story that could possibly help another person, please feel free to share it. If after the sermon somebody needs help or advice, feel free to give them my contact information.” So I offer that to you.
Glen wrote further, “Leaving this place better than when we came into it is of paramount importance.” That’s Glen living out Step 12 right there.
As I told you, I am not an alcoholic. I am not a twelve-stepper on purpose, but I think maybe I have been without knowing there was a book for it.
You see I’m here doing my Step 12. I’ve been liberated by God who made it possible for me to see, name, and overcome my brokenness. I rely on God to help me do my best every day to be honest and take responsibility for my actions. Like the Big Book gives me permission to do, I don’t do this perfectly. It says, “No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints…We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”
God knows I am not perfect. I never will be, and I don’t need to be.
My name is Chris, and I am a broken and flawed human and a beloved and redeemed child of God.
And you are too.
Thanks be to God.
Source: Alcoholics anonymous big book (4th ed.). (2002). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services.