Eatin’ Fish with Jesus
By Fr. Bill Wigmore
(This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)
Well once again welcome – how’s everyone doing tonight?
You know, shortly before I got into recovery, I had some psychological testing done.
Psych testing wasn’t my idea, of course, but the people around me could see that things weren’t exactly right with me on the outside, and they wanted to know what was going on – on the inside.
Now, most of us addicts work real hard at building up our defenses and putting on a good front – and we generally don’t like it when people start poking around inside our psyches.
(Of course, we don’t mind Fr. Mike doin’ that—- cause we all know he’s even crazier than we are!) But like that Big Book reading says: We are loners – a people who ordinarily do not mix.
So I went through the motions and I spent several hours with this psychologist answering his questions, and taking all sorts of tests – including interpreting a bunch of inkblots that looked to me like they were just loaded with dirty pictures.
Now later on I learned those dirty pictures were all in my mind and what they’d shown me was simply ink blotted on a page – I didn’t understand projection and I wasn’t too “treatment-wise” back then.
If they ever try that on me again, I’m gonna be better prepared!
But one of the tests I know I flunked.
And the psychologist made a big deal of my failure when he wrote up his findings.
He’d asked me to draw a house… and then a tree… and finally a person.
Now, after seeing all those dirty pictures I knew my tree was bound to turn into a phallic symbol of some sort, but it wasn’t my tree that land me in trouble – it was my house that did me in!
I drew a cute little cottage nestled in the woods – even had some smoke coming out of the chimney.
I thought that was a nice homey sort of touch that’d maybe earn me some psychological brownie points – (we addicts are a manipulative bunch!)
But where I screwed up was this: I failed to draw a knob on my front door.
And so what the shrink said in his report was:
“I’m afraid we don’t have much of a chance of ever getting inside and reaching Bill.”
I hadn’t put a doorknob outside so people could never get in to touch the real me.
“We are a people who ordinarily do not mix”–
Maybe we mix on the outside –
Maybe we can be the life of the party on the outside –
But on the inside, most of us addicts are loners –
Most of us addicts find it hard or next to impossible to mix on the intimate level.
Like so many of us, I’d been hurt badly as a kid and I was gonna make damn sure it didn’t ever happen again.
Now when I read the shrink’s final report I wound up feeling even more hopeless than before – cause now they were on to my tricks!
But by then, the booze and the drugs had gotten me into more trouble and pretty soon the rest of my world collapsed around me. I landed in treatment – again! – and by this time: I didn’t even own a door –never mind the doorknob.
But when I came to AA – thank God – I got into a program that’s tailor made for people like me. I met a sponsor – a man named Floyd – and Floyd could see how bad I was hurting and still I couldn’t reach out –
He said, “Just keep coming back and let us love you until you can learn to love yourself.”
I’ve been doing that going on 34 years – And I think it’s actually starting to work!
Now I love the image that tonight’s Big Book reading starts off with.
An image of all of us addicts being like the passengers on some great liner that had sunk far out in the ocean.
And there we were floating in that cold water for hours, maybe for days – maybe some of us for years.
But then, it says, we get rescued –
Help comes along and we all get picked up out of that water –
It says we’re rescued together – and that rescue creates a bond among us – a bond that runs really deep.
That bond lasts and I believe it even deepens over time.
When I hear another man or woman say,
“My name’s so & so and I’m an alcoholic or I’m an addict” –
I know they too have spent their time in that water –
They were there: floating, and freezing, and waiting.
I already know much of their story – at some level or other – they were hopeless just like me and badly in need of a miracle.
I told Floyd that the shrink thought I was hopeless – and Floyd shot back, “Well you probably are hopeless, Kid; but today you’re in luck! –
See, you landed yourself in a miracle program and there’s hope here even for the likes of you!”
(Floyd never built me up without first knocking some of my false pride down!)
And I guess all of this brings us to tonight’s gospel story.
It’s another resurrection story and we hear several of them in the weeks that come right after Easter.
Tonight, we find a bunch of hopeless followers of Jesus floating together – they’re scared and hiding behind their own locked doors.
Jesus has died – and they’ve lost all their faith – these guys only floated for a few days and they were ready to give up on their dreams and give up their faith and go back to Galilee and try to forget the whole thing.
Now I’m not a literalist and I don’t believe the writer of this gospel or the writers of the Big Book meant for all their stories to be taken literally either.
See my drinking never really landed me in the ocean –
And there never really was a ship that came along –
But I know exactly the feeling that those Big Book writers are talking about –
And in this gospel, Luke tells us a story of how those frightened followers of Jesus were feeling after he died and how it was they came to find their own lost faith.
So he says: All of a sudden, there’s Jesus and he’s standing in the room with them.
They know that he’s dead – they saw him die on the cross – but now – here he is –
And what does he do to prove that it’s really him? –
He says “come here and take a good look at my wounds.”
And I think that line is really significant.
He doesn’t perform a miracle or do any sort of magic for these guys.
He does the same thing that we do when we come through those doors into recovery – we show one another our wounds – and that’s how were recognized!
Resurrection stories may be hard for some of the earth people to believe.
But for us alcoholics & addicts who’ve already been declared hopeless and written off for being as good as dead – well, we specialize in resurrections!
We see dead people coming back to life every day of the week and twice on Sundays!
But these disciples were new at all this – so they say:
Maybe we’re seeing a ghost!
Now Luke wants both us and them to know that this Jesus he’s telling ‘em about is no ghost.
This Jesus is real – This Jesus is as real to them now as he was before – and now he’s with them again – but “with them” in a whole new way.
So Jesus says, “Have you got anything to eat around here?”
And one of them looks around and comes up with some grilled fish – and maybe a plate of fries – and he gives it to him –
and he eats it –
and this is to say: “Listen guys, trust me!
I’m with you every bit as much as before –
I’m with you in all the everyday things you’ll ever do –
In eating fish and in finding a job
In getting sober and in not picking up
You’re not alone any more – not now – and not ever again!”
Then the reading says: Jesus opened their minds so they came to understand the scriptures – They came to find in their scriptures stories that made sense out of what had happened – Stories that made sense of their pain
They found stories in Isaiah the Prophet and hidden in the old Psalms
Stories of a suffering servant – a man hated and scorned by the people
A man who took on the sins of his people like a scapegoat
One who had to suffer and die –
and in those stories they saw their friend.
Death wasn’t the end for Jesus.
While Jesus may have been rejected & abandoned by all, he was never rejected or abandoned by God.
Here he is – a risen Jesus – alive, and eating fish, and talking to old friends – just like before.
Most of the men and women in AA who were there to fish me out of the water – they’re long dead.
All of them died sober – and almost all of them told me the same message we heard tonight –
They said: now you go and you do the same for some other poor alcoholic or addict you find floating along side your boat.
There’s a bond among us – a really deep bond that comes from our shared suffering.
And after we dry off or dry out, we too need to go back and look for some meaning and purpose in our own pain, and in our own failures, and in our own suffering.
Most of us start off this thing just as confused, and sacred, and dejected as these guys did in this story.
But, in time, just as with them, if we keep coming back: our minds will be opened.
In time, we’ll look back on our lives and say: You know, that’s the way it had to happen – and all of that pain and all of that suffering – I think it was all necessary for me to get to where I am today.
Most of us don’t arrive here either a day too soon or a day to late.
It takes what it takes!
Jesus says: “all the people will be called upon to have a change of heart .”
That’s what I believe recovery is all about – each one of us having a change of heart.
Opening our hearts – letting Jesus, and letting other people come into our hearts.
Hearts that were alone – hidden behind closed and locked doors.
You know that shrink years ago was probably right –
I probably was damaged beyond repair –
And in all his bag of psychological tricks,
he wasn’t ever gonna be able to find a doorknob that would open me up and let him walk through my defenses.
But I’m here to tell you that my old sponsor St. Floyd was also right.
And he was more right than the shrink.
See I was blessed and so are you cause we’ve all landed in a miracle program.
And in this Program doorknobs grow on the inside –
Some of us grow them quickly and some of us slowly –
but the Book says, “they always materialize if we’ll work for them.”
Don’t leave before the miracle happens –
and in this neighborhood – it’s even safe sometimes to leave your door unlocked.
Copyright 2006 Bill Wigmore. Used by permission.