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12-Step Recovery Worship: Step 1

We began this service at the end of September. The next few blogs will share the readings and sermons from the first few steps. Join the discussion on Sunday afternoons at 4:00 pm.

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 4: 16-21

16 He [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.

A reading from Serenity: A Companion for 12-Step Recovery (1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 22)

Admitting powerlessness runs contrary to many of our cultural messages that say, “Be strong! Be the master of your own destiny! The admission of powerlessness also conflicts with the addictive message, because the addiction itself will tell us, “You have a high tolerance! Use more of me! You can handle it!”

Nevertheless, the central paradox of Step 1 is that the admission of complete defeat permits a life-transforming victory through recovery. The admission of powerlessness over an addiction actually becomes the foundation for the strength to eventually overcome the dependency.

A reading from Gerald May’s Addiction & Grace (1988, Harper One Publishers, p. 127)

Several times now I have said that our real hope lies in that no matter how oppressed we may be, we always retain some spark of capacity to choose. We can use the ember of freedom to choose: to risk ourselves in the goodness of God or to continue to strive for our own autonomy or to give in to the powers that oppress us. I am convinced that nothing whatsoever determines the choices we make at this primal level. Here, finally, the choices are totally up to us; we really are free.

Ironically, freedom becomes most pure when our addictions have so confused and defeated us that we sense no choice left at all. Here, where we feel absolutely powerless, we have the most real power. Nothing is left in us to force us to choose one way or another. Our choice, then, is a true act of faith. We may put our faith in ourselves or in our attachments or in God. It is that simple.

HOMILY by Pastor Melissa Lemons

12 Step Recovery Worship, Steps 1 & 2, Luke 4, September 23, 2018

Through the written word, and the spoken word, may we know your Living Word
Christ Jesus our Redeemer. Amen

This reading reminded me of a distinction between  “engaged surrender” and submission to God made by the writer Amina Wadud. She explained, “Submission is enforcement situated completely outside of the one who submits…engaged surrender emphasizes the requisite role of human agency. It is conscious recognition of choice and exercising that choice as an agent, not a puppet” (2006, p. 23).

Like acceptance, surrender need not be thought of as a passive or defensive action of the powerless or defeated. The term is often used in the context of warfare or other win-lose circumstances. Surrender from a spiritual point of view involves letting go of self-destructive behaviors as well as allowing oneself to be healed by a sovereign divine. People sometimes link surrender and submission. I have learned from writers like Amina Wadud (1999) the terms are not interchangeable and the choice carries many connotations about one’s value and options in relation to the divine. [According to Wadud,] the term Muslim  is usually translated “one who submits to God,” in English but it is better translated as engaged surrender. As humans gifted with free will, submission is not inevitable and the need to do so would have to be imposed by God. God does not demand that we admit we are powerless. God gives us the right to choose to acknowledge our limitations, our dependencies and to seek help.

Engaged surrender  acknowledges one’s will and the desire to follow God’s plan. It is an active process that requires self-examination and surrender of control and the illusion of control. This understanding of surrender maintains the dignity of the people who are suffering AND acknowledges God’s sovereignty and the gift of human will.

The two themes act in concert. The now classic prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, the Serenity Prayer summarizes the interrelationship of these two. Western culture focuses on control (Pargament, 2007). That’s why one of the most effective approaches to therapy, cognitive therapy helps clients  to “identify and control irrational and self-defeating thoughts,” and they also help clients identify those areas in life that one needs to accept (p. 11), those circumstances in which we need to surrender self-defeating thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Both processes require self-reflection and careful consideration of one’s options, abilities, affinities, and their opposites. For example, as a middle aged woman I face practical realities, such as physical limitations that I did not feel earlier in life. Accepting them and surrendering the desire for things to be otherwise helps me to find solutions that match my current abilities and roles. Simple examples like this one may accompany strong emotions for some individuals. Over time, and with practice, acceptance and surrender can be experienced as healing openings to new thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.

In this passage from Luke, Jesus, who many of us know as our personal God, our confidant and Savior, reads from the Prophet Isaiah about the kind of God he believed in. This higher Power in whom we place our trust brings good news to the poor—people struggling with financial difficulties and problems of the spirit. Our Lord calls us to proclaim release to captives—people captive to their need to control, captive to addiction, captive to the impossibility of perfection, and captive to the lies and manipulations that keep us enslaved to self-defeating thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Are you with me? This higher Power we will meet at the communion table is one who ask us to let the oppressed go free.  I tend to think of oppressed people as those much worse of than I am in terms of personal freedom, economic opportunity, access to justice, or someone being physically harmed. All of that is oppression and so is the kind that many of us experience on a daily basis. We are often oppressed by our own fears and the lies that others tell us. We are oppressed when we believe that we are not supposed to care of others who are suffering—all children of God from many walks of live and faith traditions, all the creatures of the earth who suffer from pollution or violence. We are oppressed when we believe our own lies or those told to us that say we cannot change or will not change to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Our higher Power, Christ the Lord gives us back our sight and frees us from all the visual impairments that prevent us from seeing the self about ourselves, our neighbors, and our God. We, no matter where we are on the path to recovery—using, relapsing, sober—are beloved of God and captives who can and will be set free.

We are set free every time to acknowledge our limitations and dependencies and use our power to choose God instead.

At a service for the installation of a new bishop in our neighboring synod, Southeastern Pennsylvania, Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia explained the meaning of messiah. Yes, it means the anointed one of God. The Hebrew also means to draw forth, to draw into the future. The Messiah is one anointed by God who calls us into a future that will set us free rather than a past that will hold us back.

Rom. 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Thanks be to God.


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