Sermon preached by Brian Merritt at Renaissance Presbyterian Church
On March 4, next Friday, I will be celebrating 11 years of sobriety from alcohol and abuse of over the counter medication. I am not trying to get ahead of myself. The program that I am in is one day at a time. So, all that I have is this 24-hour period. Yet, I have been thinking a lot about the road to recovery. I have witnessed successes and those who are still suffering through their addictions. I am encouraged to think about where I have been and where I am now to remind myself of how it was.
I remember being an utter mess. I was unemployed and unemployable. My depression was so thick that I could barely raise myself from the haze of the previous night’s binges. In the evenings I waited until the house was asleep and then drink until I passed out, often on the cold Vermont slate tile floor. I thought I was so clever. I would deposit bottles in neighbor’s recycling bins and buy enormous jugs of Portuguese wine (with higher alcohol content) to “fool” those around me into to thinking that I didn’t have a problem.
When I got sick and tired of being sick and tired I was told by people who had been through it before that who had successfully staid sober where the ones who, after taking their last drink, did 90 meetings in 90 days.
I told my temporary sponsor that I was ready and embarked on a task that I did not fully comprehend in a state like Rhode Island. I not only lived in the smallest state, but also lived in the smallest town in the smallest state. So, this meant that there was a limited amount of meetings that convened every day in the state. I found myself journeying to every nook and corner of Rhode Island, at all hours of day and night. I trudged through knee high snow drifts to attend meetings at the local church basement.
It was that local meeting that caused my first problem as a new member of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was a meeting that met in the basement of the 18th Century Baptist church. Now this was no ordinary Baptist church in my mind, this was the Baptist church whose pulpit I had filled so many times. The people in this church were very special to me. At first I thought nothing of it. It was a meeting like all others. Yet, when I stood at the back door for it to be unlocked there was a familiar face with a moustache and beard to unlock the door.
One of the members of the church whom I talked with often was there. I thought, “Well, at least there is someone in the meeting I know.” Well, it became immediately apparent that he was merely the person with the key who opened the building and locked it when that evening’s AA group exited the building. On top of my fear at him seeing me, my terror rose when I realized he was sitting in the kitchen listening to the entire meeting. I went home shaken.
I would never be back. I called a friend in the program to relate my experience and he said something that absolutely shocked me. He told me that I had to go back to that meeting especially. That if I was interested in going to any length to get better that it was important for me to face my fear. That I must go to that meeting and realize that his listening had nothing to do with me getting better. If that person cared for me, then they would celebrate me getting help. So, I went back. It was worth it, and it is still worth it despite my fears.
That is what we believe here, new life. If we do not believe in that then there is really no reason for us to continue to meet together. This is the new self that the authors of Pauline texts exhort for us. The author of Colossians reminds us that it is this new self that makes us equal with one another. The author of Ephesians equates the old ways to death and the new ways to life. Intricately interwoven in the faith of following the one called Jesus Christ is the notion that there is the possibility that all things can become new.
This idea of change should come however with a warning label. That warning label should read: SIMPLE IS NOT EASY AND PAINLESS.
I believe that following Jesus is as simple as loving your neighbor as yourself. Yet, the practice of that simple axiom could take a lifetime to understand. More than that it will take understanding ourselves in ways that we have avoided so that we can show love. We may have to change the way we think, look or act consistently to be this person of faith, this new life.
Transformation is not impossible, but it will cost something (maybe everything). I was told to just stop drinking to be sober. Simple really, but not easy or painless. Hours of honesty where lies had always persisted were also needed to actually stop drinking.
It is no different with our transformation into the new people that we want to be in the world. It is as simple as love, but as hard and painful as admitting when we have wronged and are wrong. Still, it is worth the transformation, because it is a ripple that can move from us and into the entire world. It can give us hope that racism, sexism, homophobia, war, violence and greed can be changed into the new life of love.