[Texts: Ezekiel 2:1-7; Psalm 123; II Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-6]
The seventy-eighth triennial General Convention ended on Friday. Although the election of our new Presiding Bishop-elect was probably the most talked-about event that happened at Convention, it was certainly not the only important one. Bishops and deputies worked hard for ten days, voting on, amending, and passing legislation that affects everything from liturgy to finances to marriage equality to the structural aspects of Church governance.
Three of the countless resolutions that were passed are related to alcohol and alcoholism.
As I’m sure you are aware, in late December of last year, an incident occurred in which an Episcopal bishop was involved in a drunk driving accident that resulted in the death of a cyclist. The now-deposed bishop, Heather Cook, is presently awaiting trial on multiple criminal charges related to those events. As we hold our sister Heather tenderly in our prayers– as well as the family and loved ones of the victim– the Church has been forced to think soberly– pun very much intended– about how it responds to alcoholism and addiction, both in the clergy and in the laity, and about the Church’s relationship to alcohol and addiction as a whole.
Treatment for alcoholism– for any addiction, really– generally involves a twelve-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Do you know what the first step is in a twelve-step program?
“We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”
You can, of course, substitute drugs, shopping, sex, gambling, or any addiction in place of “alcohol”, whatever the case may be.
The very first step in recovery is often an uncomfortable one: you have to admit weakness. You have to admit that you are no longer in control of your life. You have to say, “I can’t do this myself! I need help!”
And, as an addict myself, let me just say: admitting that you’re not in control anymore really sucks.
Choosing to admit weakness isn’t just counter-intuitive. It’s counter-cultural.
We’re conditioned from a young age to try to be as self-sufficient as possible. As early as preschool, we’re praised for the things we’re able to do by ourselves– especially so when we can do them better than other people– and made to feel ashamed of asking for help. Although what’s commonly called “The American Dream”– that idea that anyone can become successful on his or her own in this country if he or she is willing to work hard enough– is wildly fallacious, it’s also firmly imprinted into our collective ethos as Americans. We equate needing help as a sign of failure. We treat weakness as a deadly sin, and strength and independence as virtues. It’s not safe to talk about weakness. It’s not socially acceptable to claim our problems.
But, for an addict in recovery, an admission of weakness is the first step to healing and wholeness. Naming and claiming the things over which we are powerless is necessary if we wish to someday be able to live a healthy life. That’s why, in every twelve-step meeting, every participant begins by naming aloud the nature of their addiction. We claim it as a part of our identity when we say “My name is ______ and I’m an addict.”
It is only in admitting our own powerlessness that any of us have any hope for wholeness.
And Alcoholics Anonymous didn’t invent that idea. It’s actually very biblical. St. Paul spoke to this in our reading from II Corinthians today. Check out verses nine and ten:
“…but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
“So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.” Sounds a lot like that first step, doesn’t it?
Remember last week, when we talked about the difference between fixing and healing? Do you remember what the difference was? People can fix things on our own. We have that ability– that power. When something needs to be fixed, whether it’s an air conditioner or a car muffler or the earthquake damage at the National Cathedral, humans can take care of that.
But when something needs to be healed– we talked about racism as an example of this– we can’t do it all on our own. We have to partner with God to do that work.
In other words, we’re powerless. It’s not in our control. We can– and must– take certain steps in order to partner with God, but ultimately, the power to completely heal the wounds of humanity is not ours.
Can we admit that weakness? Or, as St. Paul suggested, can we go as far as to boast in it?
Can we admit to our part in the sins that harm the Body of Christ?
Can we take that first step?
Can we admit that we are complicit in the systematic valuing of certain lives over others?
Can we admit that we are powerless over greed and corruption and unchecked capitalism, and that our economic and political systems have become unmanageable?
Can we admit that we participate in, and benefit from, systems that are oppressive and unjust?
Until we are willing to admit that we–corporately, as a nation, as a Church, as a species– are addicted to things that are harmful to ourselves and others– to oppression, to injustice, to war, to prejudice, to greed– and that we cannot overcome these things on our own, we have no hope of being healed of them. Until we name those things, we cannot begin to recover from them.
My name is Anna. I am a recovering self-injurer. I have struggled with this addiction for about twelve years, and I will have been in recovery two years this November. At the moment, I’ve been clean just over six weeks, by the grace of God.
If you learn nothing else from this scar-covered preacher, learn this: wounds can heal. It requires time, effort, and gentleness. It’s often uncomfortable and even painful. But wounds can heal. Wounds do heal.
But before we can begin to mend a wound, whether it’s a wound on our physical bodies or a wound on the Body of Christ– the Church, all of God’s people– we must acknowledge that it is there, and that we can’t heal it by ourselves.
We must admit that we are wounded.
We must admit that we are weak.
We must admit that we are dependent.
We must admit that we are powerless.
And then we must recognize that we are never alone, nor are we ever without hope, by the grace of the One whose strength is made perfect in our weakness.