January 28, 2024
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
I am grateful and thankful, God, for people, places, and things and especially for the freedom to worship with you and share my views openly. Also, my friend, Jose is willing to join me today in sharing his spiritual story increasing my gratitude even more.
In the moments ahead we plan to share some of the reasons it makes sense for the AA community and Seekers community to support each other. At the same time, I admit that we are still asking a lot of questions.
Since the day I stepped into this building, my vision has been to see the programs of twelve step recovery united with the Seekers Church Community. Gradually, lovingly, I have seen this happen over a period of approximately thirteen years. The messages from both groups are often parallel in purpose, though it’s important to understand that Alcoholics Anonymous is not allied with any religion. When the 12 steps refer to God, it is always qualified by “as we understood God.” Certainly, recovery from alcoholism doesn’t depend on any particular set of beliefs.
In the twelve step program of AA the practical or invitational goal is to achieve sobriety. A number of the steps have very practical suggestions for doing this. Step four and five, for example, goes like this:
1. We make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Countless formats have been created for this purpose.
2. We admit to God, ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
3. Then, it explains on page 75 of the AA Big Book, “After completing this process for the first time, we retreat to a quiet place for one hour. We review our work. We have demonstrated willingness and are now ready to say,
4. “My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad.”
Is this the same as devoting one’s life to God, to living a Godly life? Love your neighbor as yourself.
But alcoholics who are recovering with success come to realize the ultimate goal of the AA program is to achieve a spiritual awakening. The pinnacle or final step of the program, Step Twelve expresses the outcome that is desired.
I quote: “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.” Alcoholics Anonymous P.60
-a spiritual awakening, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly
-we carry this message to alcoholics
-we practice these principles in all our affairs
So I ask myself, “How can these two communities – Seekers and AA – come together to support and serve each other? How are these two approaches to spirituality, to finding God, similar?” In Alcoholics Anonymous alcohol has often been referred to as the “demon that possessed my soul.” Alcohol is only a symptom. In order to be free of the demon we must surrender to God – again, God as we understand God, whatever that may be — allowing God to possess our souls.
In my experience it is our stories that bind us together. The readings from the lectionary today provide a setting of shared stories, stories which are similar to those in the Big Book of AA.
–Deuteronomy. The people were encouraged to listen.
–The Psalms invite us to praise the Lord
–Corinthians says: “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the Church.”
–Finally in Mark, Jesus is recognized as the “Holy One of God,” who could cast out demons.
I am routinely inspired by the stories I hear in the AA meetings. I am inspired also by the stories I hear at Seekers. I hear stories during gathering time, in the spoken prayers, in the sermons and the experiences that are shared at the end of worship. The stories from both sides all add to my desire to continue living a spirit-filled life.
Surprisingly I find peace of mind in both environments, yet I am consumed with endless questions.
-AA offers recovery. Christianity offers salvation. Is there a difference?
-Can the Christian community offer a similar sense of belonging as the AA community provides?
-Can a worship service offer the same hope as an AA meeting?
-Why do so many Alcoholics relapse into the same misery?
-Why will someone go to an AA meeting seven times or more in a week but avoid attending church one or two hours a week?
-What is the goal of our worship services?
-What is the goal of AA meetings? If it is to keep people sober why do many return to drinking?
-Why doesn’t salvation banish our addictions?
-Is an addiction to work, to overeating, to exercise, to shopping, to busy-ness any different than the addictions found to set off people in twelve step programs? Are we all addicts to some degree?
Well, we didn’t come today with answers to these questions.
Step Three from Alcoholics Anonymous says: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Jose and I have been walking together on this spiritual journey for about three years. What we have in common is our desire to keep our spiritual awakenings fresh and real. It is noted that spiritual changes come sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. I quote from the Big Book: “The terms ‘spiritual experience’ and ‘spiritual awakening’ are used many times in this book which, upon careful reading, shows that the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms.” Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 567.
Jose is going to share briefly how this personality change has taken place in his life so far. We come from very different backgrounds. Regardless, still, after three years, we are bound together by the simple question we each ask each morning, “My creator, what is your will for me today?”
My name is Jose. I’m an alcoholic. I want to thank Will and Theresa for inviting me and you guys for having me. This is the first time I’m doing this in a setting like this. So I apologize. If I don’t do a good job. This is also the first time I’ve been in a church in a long time. I’ll go back to how I got here. As a kid, I grew up with a single parent, and I didn’t have a father. My mom had 2 jobs. and the religion she gave me was some watered down religion. She gave me what was given from her mother, and that’s what she had, you know.
I really felt like an outsider in the seventies. There was not a lot of Spanish people here, or from any other country for that matter, you know, so I never felt like I fit in and I took the easy way out. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and started drinking very young and didn’t pursue an education. I guess I did what most people do. Since I didn’t have a real religious knowing, I didn’t go any farther into that scene, looking out for what my purpose was. Instead, I I drank my life away for 30 something years, you know, and life was good at 1 point. I got married. I’ve been married 38 years, and have two kids. I have a wonderful daughter and a son who is almost 40. So life was good at one point. but eventually I’d made alcohol my God! And that’s the way it went, 24 HA day.
So when I came here I was pretty much faithless and hopeless, and and by the grace of God I started coming around and hanging out with you guys. I knew it worked for you and I had a feeling that it might just work for me into my life. It was more than just quiting, drinking. It was my life, my behavior, my dishonesty, my selfishness, and all this character defects that define me. That was my way of coping with life. That was my reality, you know. So I had to look for something different.
God, Will, my friend is a very special man. I was able to take suggestions and start the process of becoming somebody else.
I have loved everything that I’ve heard here today. It’s only by his Grace that I’m here. I’m glad to see some familiar faces who have also been part of my journey. Today my life is different, you know. I believe I have a God. I believe he’s within me. I believe he is within all of us and all around us. I have a lot of gratitude today. I believe that I didn’t get here by mistake. I love my life today, and I love the life that I had also, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t live that life.
It’s my story, and that’s the best part that I have to share with the newcomer. You know. That’s how I got here and that’s what makes me a better person today, to be open minded. And I’m so proud that for the first time I can look in the mirror and I start to see an adult 55 years old. And that’s okay. I’m proud of him. All I do is show up. I ask for help, for guidance and care for people. As for suggestions, I take advice. you know. But most of all, you know, I have gratitude for everything that’s happened in my life, for everything that I am for everything that’s been given to me. Yeah, my life is not perfect today but compared to what it used to be. I just feel it’s amazing. Yeah from where I’ve been and who I am to be teachable, to never stop learning, you know, to just enjoy every day. Every day’s a different day. Every day is a new world, you know. I’ve never been here before. That’s how I see it today. You know how I used to hate life.
It was all the same every day after day after day, when I was drinking. you know, today I’m present to make decisions, to take part in my own recovery, to be there for the people that I love, to be there for the people that need me, and to ask for help. I’m just so blessed and have such a grateful heart for eating the god’s presence in my life today, and I think that’s the most amazing thing for me, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the people in the groups, for people in the rooms that I can reach out to and hear their stories and see how I can relate to them.
I go to 10-14 AA meetings a week because that’s how I identify with people, that is how I identify with Will, who I can tell my life story. I can share my struggles and my victories.
I’ve loved everything I heard today and I will close with this. I want to think Will for being a part of my life for the last 3 years, and his wife for being a good friend of my family. I wouldn’t be here without them. for helping me grow as a human being, as a person, as a father, as a husband and as a friend. I am so lucky. Also I am grateful for my daughter. She’s is still there supporting me and my wife for never giving up on me. Thanks and oh, my goodness, thank you! Jose.
The answers to life challenges unfold in twelve step rooms of recovery as well as in churches and in other spirit filled places. Examples at Seekers include the School for Christian Growth, mentoring and service groups. At the more personal level mission groups have provided intimate and safe place to share one’s life story in search of call and belonging.
Lets walk together creating worship and community experiences that will bring people together where they might find a place of spiritual belonging in which they can tell their stories.
I would like to close with a AA Big Book quote from one church going man who became willing. “More important, I came to believe that I cannot do this alone. From childhood, despite the love I experienced, I had never let people, even those closest to me, inside my life. All my life I had lived the deepest of lies, not sharing with anyone my true thoughts and feelings. I thought I had a direct line to God, and I built a wall of distrust around myself. In AA, I faced the pervasive ‘we’ of the Twelve Steps and gradually realized that I can separate and protect my sobriety from outside hazards only in as much as I rely on the sober experience of other AA members and share their journey through the steps to recovery.” Alcoholics Anonymous p. 450