XVI Pentecost

September 9, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

I am sure you have heard jokes such as these about Episcopalians – “How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?  Two – one to change the light bulb and one to mix the martini!”  “You know Episcopalians – wherever two or three are gathered, there’s a fifth!”

Yes, I have shared these jokes.  I have also been looked at in a funny manner when I order ice tea or ginger ale as my before dinner drink.  I am not the typical Episcopal Priest.

We have found this all funny.  Until a few years ago, when someone we knew – Heather Cook (the former Canon to the Ordinary for our Diocese, who became the Suffragan Bishop of Maryland) was involved in a drunk driving hit and run accident that killed someone.

It is certainly a shame that a tragic accident like this was the event which made us take a closer look at who we are and how we understand ourselves.  Yes, there have been Recovery Ministries in our Church. Yes, there have been people who made a point of making sure that there were non-alcoholic alternatives prominently shown at the pre-banquet time at our Diocesan Convention.

But it took something tragic to make us take a harder look in the mirror.  And sometimes what we see is not a good reflection of the Body of Christ. 

A few weeks ago, the clergy in the Diocese were sent an email asking us to take the time to talk about Recovery during the month of September.  As someone who does very little drinking of alcohol, and who has many sins but addiction is not one of them, I thought that what might be helpful for us today is to simply review the twelve steps of the twelve step program. 

What I found is that you do not need to have an addiction to benefit from the steps.  In fact, as the Bishop pointed out in his email, these twelve steps were highly influenced by an Episcopal Priest who was a spiritual advisor of Bill W. who wrote them.  So here are the steps, accompanied some reflection by me.  I will use the wording from Alcoholics Anonymous, but they are applicable to all addictions:

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.  Naming the problem is really the first step.

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.  This is the recognition that God is in charge our lives.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.  This certainly echoes the words we say at every baptism as we renew our baptismal covenant.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  This is an examination of conscience and is important for us to do, hopefully on a daily basis.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. This is a confession of our sins to God.

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Ultimately every person in Christ is called to give their lives to Him.

Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.  Isn’t this what we believe about the Cross – that Jesus removes our sins by dying for us?

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.  This takes it beyond our relationship with God and into our relationship with others.  This is also a part of the summary of the law and our baptismal covenant.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Seeking the forgiveness of others is important in our relationship with one another.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. As I said a moment ago, making a daily examination of conscience is important and will help to keep us on the “straight and narrow” path.

Step 11: 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 that out.  This strikes at the importance of our relationship with God in Christ.

Step 12: 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. This is really the heart of evangelism.

I hope that you have benefitted by hearing about the twelve steps.  I certainly believe that they reinforce the way in which we are to live as Christians, even though they do not purport to be Christian teaching.

We are known, sometimes, for our failings.  The jokes we make sometimes mask something that we need to take seriously.  I am grateful that there are these twelve steps to help those who are living with addiction.  They help reinforce that a life of faith is not done alone, but requires relationship with God and our neighbor.

As I say every during the Rite I Eucharists, “Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

And, may I add the twelve steps as well.  AMEN.