Matthew 9:35 – 10:23
Rules for the Road
By Fr. Bill Wigmore
(This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)
On June the 10th, 1935, “God did a truly wondrous thing.”
Not too many in the world took notice when it happened;
cause it was an easy thing to miss.
The sky didn’t open up that day
and no booming voice was heard coming out of a cloud.
Even the principal players were probably unaware
of God’s hand reaching down and touching their lives.
But for the millions of sober alcoholics & addicts
now looking back on the events of that June day, God’s action was obvious.
A miracle happened in Akron, Ohio.
Two hopeless alcoholics did something that never should have happened:
They stayed sober.
God did for them together what neither one had been able to do for himself alone.
Bill Wilson was one of those men.
He’d had a spiritual awakening –
a brief encounter with the living God.
That experience changed him and kept him sober for a time.
But now he’s out there in Akron –
and he finds himself alone and wanting a drink –
The business deal that brought him to town had all gone sour.
Bill was depressed and his newfound sobriety’s in real danger of being lost.
For six months, Bill had tried carrying his recovery message
to dozens of drunks that he’d worked with.
Not one of them had responded!
But what Bill did notice was that even though THEY didn’t stay sober by listening to him –
HE had stayed sober by talking to them.
Just before leaving New York,
Bill had sat down with his detox-physician – Dr. Silkworth –
and he had told him all about his many failures.
The good doctor gave Bill a bit of advice
that he was now about to put into practice for the very first time.
The doctor said,
“For God’s sake, Bill, stop preaching to the alcoholics!
Don’t hit ‘em with the spiritual stuff right off the bat.
First tell ‘em about you.
Tell ‘em about your own drinking – about how you loved it.
Tell ‘em how it worked for you for a while –
How it made you feel better than anything you’d ever known before.
But then, tell ‘em how it turned on you.
Tell ‘em how bad things got both for you and for your family.
Tell ‘em how often you tried to quit –
and how you could go for a few weeks or sometimes a month –
and then tell ‘em how your un-manage-able mind
always talked you right back into taking that first drink
& starting the cycle all over again.
The old man finished up saying,
“Don’t preach to them, my boy; just tell them your story.
Dr. Bob was the first one to hear Bill tell his story that way.
There was no preaching on the day they met –
Just honest, gut level sharing.
One man who had been hopeless,
telling his story to another man who still was.
And that seems to be why God’s Voice
could be heard so loud and clear that day there in Akron.
Wilson later said he was speaking to Bob – using “the language of the heart.”
One alcoholic/addict talking honestly to another.
No preaching – just telling a fellow sufferer:
What it was like – what happened – and what it was like now.
Bob’s heart responded to that message –
because he heard his own story being told as he listened.
In tonight’s gospel, we hear words from another man
who knew & who spoke the language of the heart.
He wasn’t an alcoholic but he too knew the difference between darkness and light.
Jesus was a man just like you and me – but there was one really big difference –
He was a man who’d gone inside of himself farther & deeper
than anyone had ever gone either before or since –
And what he found within himself – was what the writers of the Big Book would later call – “the Great Reality” that dwells within us all –
He found God – the God who loved him –
He found the God who called him his very own son.
Jesus said that was some really good news –
and he wanted to carry that good news to the people he knew
who desperately needed to hear it.
So tonight, Jesus is sending 12 of his closest followers out to carry that same message.
The group he’d assembled hardly looked up to so important a task.
In fact, the guys in front of him were a pretty motley looking crew.
They were fishermen, laborers, and a hated tax-collector.
12 little nobody’s from a little nowhere town in Galilee –
But they each had one very important thing going for them –
And that one thing is what separated them from all the scholars, and all the holy men, and all the far more beautiful people from Jerusalem.
When Jesus called them – they came.
(Some things really haven’t changed very much in 2,000 years.)
So Jesus was entrusting his whole plan to these 12 guys –
And when somebody was said to have asked Jesus
“What if these guys blow it?
What’s the plan if these guys fail?
Surely you have a Plan B?” – they asked.
And Jesus supposedly said, “I don’t have another plan!”
(We might remember that when someone asks us to go on a 12th step call and we’ve had a long day and we just want to sit around and watch TV!) We are the plan!)
The reading says: Jesus looked out at the crowds he saw –
and he had compassion for them all.
They looked like sheep without a shepherd.
Sheep don’t make it alone for very long without a shepherd.
He wanted to help.
And it was always the weakest and the most vulnerable in the crowd
that Jesus was drawn to helping.
So he reached out to the sick and to the lepers –
To the untouchables and to the outcasts –
To the ones good-society had given up on and was getting ready to throw away.
Jesus said “They’re God’s children too – they’re as much a part of this deal as any!”
So he told the 12 to “Go carry the message to the lost ones first.”
And here Jesus sounds very much like Dr. Silkworth when he says:
“But don’t go preaching to ‘em, boys!
And don’t go telling them all sorts of holy stuff about God or about me.
That’s not what they need to hear. Not yet. Not now.
But go instead into their towns and go into the homes that welcome you
and first heal their diseases and ease some of their pains.
These sheep have wounds that first need to be tended to.
Heal them – Comfort them – Cast out their demons. Do that first.
Then whisper this gently in their ears: Say:
“The kingdom of God is close at hand… Today it’s come very close to your house.”
And they’re gonna know that’s true because the kingdom of
God will have touched them where they live.
You know, they say Texas sits in the heart of the Bible belt –
and if that’s true –
then you’d think the kingdom of God ought to be close at hand here too.
But is it? Take a quick look around!
Among all our 50 states:
Texas is dead last in helping its alcoholics & addicts.
Texas is at rock bottom when it comes to caring for its poor.
We’re last in just about every measure you can take of social action or social justice.
We’ve filled our prisons with the poor and the powerless
while our leaders mouth sweet sounding slogans about “leaving nobody behind.”
The kingdom that Jesus spoke about
wasn’t some fairyland located up there in the clouds.
The kingdom Jesus knew, & experienced, & spoke about –
he said it begins right here and now.
He said we enter that kingdom whenever we make God the ruler of our lives
and whenever we begin to act toward his other children
the way we would want them to act towards us.
So, tonight, Jesus gives his followers some rules for the road.
Tonight, he lays out a set of instructions on how to carry this message
to the ones who are waiting.
Jesus says: “Take along no gold, or silver, or copper coins in your belts.”
He says: Don’t make this thing all about money –
cause money will destroy my message quicker than anything.
We all know that Jesus was a healer and a miracle worker.
But scholars now tell us that Jesus wasn’t the only healer or the only miracle worker operating back there in Galilee.
There were other sages and other healers
practicing in the very same towns and villages.
But there was one thing that made Jesus hugely different from all the rest.
Jesus never tried to cash in on his gifts!
“You received the gift freely; now if you want to keep it” – he says: “Give it away!”
Jesus was an itinerant preacher – a healer who never settled down.
He was the Good Shepherd going out each day in search of lost sheep.
He went from town to town always searching –
Looking for the ones who were lost – and never waiting for the lost to come and find him.
Sometimes the poor get a little suspicious when someone shows up
saying they’ve got some good news for them.
They’ve heard that before – and they’ve been let down a lot.
And the same seems true of us alcoholics and addicts.
By nature, we seem to be a very suspicious lot.
Being con-artists ourselves, we’re always looking for the con
artist or the wolf that’s out there.
We’re looking to see if what’s being told to us isn’t all just a bunch of BS.
And I think it’s our illness that makes us think that way.
We may not yet have the heart of a dove –
but we usually arrive here with the minds of a serpent pretty well developed!
And so for us, trusting is rarely a strong suit!
My first sponsor was a guy named Floyd –
and Floyd taught me some of my earliest lessons in trusting.
He tracked me down and he carried the message to me
before I was even well enough to go looking for it myself.
Floyd picked me up for meetings when I didn’t want to go.
Floyd picked up the check for lunch when I didn’t have any money
and was too proud to ask.
Floyd invited me into his home when I was living down at the Salvation Army –
He believed in me when I still didn’t believe in myself at all.
And so, of course, in my alcoholic illness, I wondered:
“Now what’s this guy up to here? –
What’s in it for him? – Maybe he swings both ways!
Why’s he doing all this nice stuff for me?”
And so in a rare moment of honesty – I asked him:
“Hey Floyd, why are you doing all this good stuff for me?”
And without missing a beat he answered me in the language of the heart.
He said that when he was down –
when he was living his life on the bottom of the pile –
someone had come along and that someone had done the very same things for him.
He said: Now it was payback time.
Now he was just trying to pass on to me
what had been freely given to him.
And one of the things Floyd passed on to me
was that reading we heard a little earlier, called:
“Why We Were Chosen.”
That reading gave me some hope when hope inside me was pretty scarce.
That reading gave me some purpose
when I couldn’t seem to find any real purpose to my life at all.
That reading’s probably done the same
for thousands of other alcoholics & addicts over the years.
Nobody knows who wrote it;
but it sounds to me like it’s pure Jesus:
The reading says:
“In choosing the ones to carry the recovery message of God’s kingdom,
he didn’t go to the proud, to the mighty, to the famous or to the brilliant.
He went instead to the humble, to the sick, to the unfortunate.
He chose the drunks and the addicts,
‘the so-called weaklings of the world.’
“But God had a reason for choosing you and me.
And we need to hear it loud & clear when he says:
“We were chosen because we’re a group that’s already suffered.
We’re a group that’s already been down to the bottom.
And because we’ve felt like the outcasts of the world,
then we ought to be able to speak the language of the heart
to those other outcasts who are out there waiting to hear some good news.”
73 years ago this week, that language was first spoken by Bill Wilson
to a drunken doctor in Akron, Ohio.
If Bill had read tonight’s gospel before he went,
then he knew he didn’t have to worry about what it was he needed to say to him.
Jesus says: “What you are to say will be given to you at that time;
for it is not you who speak,
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
People are dying because they desperately need what we’ve been so freely given.
Go share your story – Share it in the language of the heart.
Just tell ‘em what it was like –
what happened – what it’s like now.
That’s really all we’ve got to share.
That’s the gold we need to carry.
And if the people hearing us have suffered – and if they’re ready –
then that day the kingdom may come to them too.
Copyright 2008 Bill Wigmore. Used by permission.