(This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)
Well good evening once again and welcome – how’s everyone doing tonight?
Step Five says, “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being –
the exact nature of our wrongs.”
My first time in the program, I gotta tell you, that step scared me!
There were some things I had done
and a few things that I had left undone
that I fully intended to take with me to the grave.
Nobody was ever gonna get to know all of me.
And so after I left treatment that first time, you know what happened:
The rain fell, and the floods came
and when somebody popped open a can of beer –
the wind from that can was so strong that it blew me
over and I said,
“Don’t mind if I have one too!”
My foundation was definitely of the sandy variety;
and in less than three months I was drunk
and dragged out to sea – once again.
But a year and half later – when I finally washed ashore –
and this time a lot further downstream than the first,
I was fortunate enough to receive a second chance.
This time I knew my foundation needed to be a whole lot stronger than before.
So when the time came to face that searching and fearless moral inventory –
I finally did it.
I put it all down on paper
and then, one Saturday morning, I sat in front of my sponsor still scared –
but this time, willing to spill all of the beans.
Floyd said some things to me that day that I’ve never forgotten.
Before we began, he said that he was there with me
because the step required another human being to be present;
and since the rest of the human race couldn’t all make it,
he was going to be sitting in on their behalf.
He joked and he put me at ease.
Then he said it was important for me to know that
he wasn’t there to forgive me –
That part, he said, would come from God and maybe from
some of the people I’d harmed.
But he was there to accept me –
because when it had come his time to do this very same thing,
another man in the program had been there to accept him –
and so he came to listen.
And then after all the secrets and the shame and the tears came
pouring out of me,
Floyd looked at me and said:
“Bill, welcome to the human race!” Welcome home! –
I don’t believe I ever in my life felt
more at home in my own skin than I did that day.
A huge weight had been lifted off my soul.
Another human being knew me – knew all of me! –
He knew the good, the bad and the ugly! –
And that other human being had accepted me just as I was –
No worse – or no better than himself.
Just another “ONE OF!”
There are no dues or fees for membership in this program –
all it costs us is everything we’ve got.
Now I bring that story up tonight because I think that’s what most of us experience
when we’re finally willing to do an honest Step Five.
But tonight’s gospel reminds us of still another part of that Step –
And it’s a part that probably doesn’t get near the attention from most of us
that it deserves.
You see, the Step also says we admitted these very same things to our innermost-selves and to God too.
Now in tonight’s gospel story, Matthew paints an imaginary scene
where Jesus is welcoming his followers into what he calls “the kingdom of heaven.”
The other gospel writers always refer to it as “the kingdom of God;”
or an ever better translation:
they’re being welcomed to “the reign of God”
welcomed to living under “the rule of God”–
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The kingdom of God isn’t so much a place that we go to after we die –
The kingdom is much more a relationship –
a conscious connection with God that we’re invited to experience right here and now.
Jesus knew it well – he entered the kingdom and he lived in it –
It was the consciousness in which he lived, and moved, and had his being –
Now he wants his followers to enter into that very same consciousness too –
In describing his relationship with God,
I think Jesus would definitely agree with what the Big Book tells us –
that God is either everything to us – or else, he is nothing.
For Jesus – God was everything.
Jesus allowed God to be the ruler and the Father and the King of his heart –
And now he says to his followers:
“Listen-up, cause I’ve got some really good news to tell you –
The God and the Father and the King that I’ve gotten to know so well –
He’s 100% for us –
He’s not against you or me at all – not in the least.
But here’s the thing!
He wants to get to know you – so you too can become his sons and daughters –
And he wants to come and make his home in you –
in your heart and in your consciousness –
so he can become your God and Father too.
For Jesus, living in the kingdom of God meant living on the most intimate terms <
with no one less than the Creator & LORD of the whole Universe.
And if, as a human being, that thought of doing the same blows your mind – <
Jesus meant for his words to do exactly that.
Now as drunks and addicts, <
for us to try and get a better handle on this scene from tonight’s gospel
we might imagine the words and the message being played out <
with a bunch of 12 Steppers who are meeting their Creator
and expecting to be handed their just reward.
And first one up is Bobby the Booze Hound with no fewer than 25 years in AA –
He’s healed the sick and he’s raised the dead from detox –
He’s gone on 12 step calls at 4 in the morning
and he’s given himself completely to this simple program.
In the eyes of everyone, including himself, he’d be considered a real winner.
Yet Jesus says, “Sorry Bobby—you can’t come in – Why?
Because: I don’t know you.”
And there standing next to Bobby is Josie, the Joyous Junkie –
And she’s got 20 years clean-time in NA –
She rides her Harley to meetings seven nights a week
And she’s hauled hundreds of junkies right along with her –
She’s truly helped save the lives of thousands –
But yet she too hears the very same message.
“Sorry Josie – you can’t come in – Why?
Because, I don’t know you.”
Now if we look at this story as an “end of life deal” –
then it hardly feels fair at all.
See, these guys in the story, Jesus says, have done some really terrific things –
These are really good & deserving people –
But yet Jesus says: they’re not Kingdom people!–
They haven’t changed their consciousness yet.
They still don’t yet know what it’s like to have God as their Father,
or God as their Friend, or even, as some of the saints experienced,
God as their Lover –
In short, they still don’t know what it’s like to be really intimate with God –
to spill their guts to him, to do their 5th Step with him and then, <
to enter into conscious contact with him –
just like our 11th Step invites us all to do.
This gospel isn’t about getting our selves into heaven –
It’s about opening ourselves up to what the Big Book calls
the Fourth dimension of God’s Reality –
It’s a Reality & a Presence that’s right here & now –
It’s a consciousness waiting to come alive <
inside the heart and mind of each and every one of us here.
Jesus says that’s what God wants from us – He wants all of us!
He doesn’t just want our holy-self — He wants our whole self! –
He wants the good, the bad <
and maybe most especially what we believe to be the ugly & the unacceptable parts hiding inside us.
Turn that over to him and watch what he does with it!
Bring him our character defects, our shortcomings, our sins
Bring ‘em to him in the morning, and at night, and throughout the day.
Bring them to him like a small child would bring a hurt or a fear to her Mommy or Daddy.
Bring them so he can do what only he can do –
Love us, and forgive us and transform us –
God alone can change our consciousness
because God alone can overcome our deepest fears.
That’s why he gets to be God
and that’s why we always wind up with our house collapsed on top of us <
whenever we try to do it by ourselves.
When Bill Wilson was washed ashore into detox for the fourth time –
he’d finally had enough ego-stuffing knocked out of him that he turned to God <
and asked him to reveal himself to him.
It was now or never.
That’s when Bill had his famous spiritual awakening.
He says, the room lit up with a great white light
and then he suddenly felt himself standing in the presence of his Creator.
For the first time in his life: God felt real and close
and Bill felt himself living in his presence.
Wilson knew immediately that he’d found the long sought–after
solution to his alcohol problem – he’d found God –
Not a distant and abstract sort of God –
But a God as close and as present as if he were standing
right next to him.
And with that personal experience of his Creator’s love and
presence in his heart, Bill’s life was never the same
and he never drank again.
As alcoholics & addicts,
we all have a special interest in finding & maintaining that union with God
that Bill Wilson experienced –
because without it – the Big Book tells us –
we probably won’t stay sober.
And so Jesus asks: Who is it that gets into God’s kingdom?
Is it the ones who do all sorts of good works?
Is it the ones who tell prophesies, and cast out demons, and perform miracles?
Good works are nice – telling prophesies and doing miracles are really fine –
But that doesn’t get us into God’s kingdom –
What gets us in is knowing God and letting God come to know us too.
Bill Wilson wrote in that first reading
that if we build our life linking ourselves to God
through self-examination, meditation, and prayer
then we would have an unshakeable foundation for life.
But like Jesus says if we’ve built our house on sand:
then the winds will blow and the floods will come and that house
and us along with it are gonna be washed away.
Maybe when they find us down stream
they’ll discover a little “crack” in our foundation! Pardon the pun!
But if we do this thing right –
if we get ourselves rightly related to God
where he is our perfect strength and we are not
then the winds can blow and the rains can come
and all sorts of problems and tragedies can beat against us –
and we will not fall and our house will stand firm.
The fella who wrote tonight’s Psalm sounds like he might well have been one of us.
“You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day…
A thousand may relapse and fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand; but it will not come near you.
Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High
your dwelling place, he will give his angels & his sponsors
charge over you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up, and get you to a meeting,
and teach you to pray, lest you dash your foot against a stone, … or a bottle … or even against a giant rock of cocaine.”
If you want to build a house that’ll stand –
then getting to know the Carpenter who knows how
to build ‘em – is a really good place to start.Amen.