Once we have realized that we are powerless and that our lives have become unmanageable, once we have surrendered our lives to that greater Love, who is God, once we have made a courageous and searching moral inventory and then admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs, once we became entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character, and once we humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings then we move on to Step 8.
Step 8 is another step on the spiritual path toward reconciliation, to have relationships restored.
Let me mention in passing that Step 9 is related to Step 8 and it is helpful to glance at Step 9. Step 9 is we made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
We will talk about Step 9 in two weeks. Step 9, as I will talk about it is really about the practical realities of this reconciling step. Step 9 recognizes that there are multiple potential difficulties and prudence is required that I look forward to talking about then. These are all the “Yes, but…” considerations that give us appropriate pause. So I will dwell on these caveats then.
This morning I am more interested in the deep truths, the foundational cosmic realities that are at play here that form the ideal into which the Spirit is leading and transforming us.
It’s worth keeping in mind this morning where the big story of the cosmos is heading. St. Paul tells us that the trajectory of the big cosmic story is heading toward all things being united, becoming one, in Christ. All divisions overcome. The restoration of cosmic wholeness. That’s where the story is going.
But that’s clearly not where our Bible story this morning starts out.
As the story this morning begins we find the disciples behind closed and they are locked doors. They are afraid.
The disciples were imprisoned in their fear of those who crucified Jesus and in despair over their failure to stay with him to the end. They were confused about the events and circumstances of that morning around the empty tomb. In their faithlessness in abandoning him they felt like accomplices to those who put him to death, and powerless now to take any action to move ahead. They are, in a sense, paralyzed with shame and fear. I can well believe that the bonds among them in that room are frayed.
But we read this morning that now into that dark and scary place the very light of the risen Christ arrives.
And while the disciples might well have expected a scolding or a rebuke, or even punishment or retaliation from Jesus, instead Jesus’ first words to them are “Peace.” They do not need to cower back in fear or confusion about how they let him down, they are not to deny that the crucifixion happened – after all Jesus shows them his wounds.
He blows on them the power of the Holy Spirit, restores the life that God first breathed into our father Adam and our mother Eve at the creation, and gives them a very clear mission.
They are to become that community of believers who begin in their lives the transformation of the world.
They are to overthrow the powers of death, blaming, exclusion, and retaliatory violence, and replace it with the forgiveness and power of divine love.
Welcome, forgiveness, repentance, and reconciliation are to be the bywords of the resurrection reality of the way of life they are to weave together.
This story shows us why Easter matters, why the resurrection matters. Because it is the second chance God offers the world to receive the Prince of Peace. When we crucified Jesus, we didn’t put an end to God’s life and love. The resurrection is the second chance the world has to receive the Prince of Peace. Not only that, but it demonstrates God’s power of love and forgiveness is greater than the power of the sin and death that were behind his crucifixion. Happening on the first day of the week it represents a new creation, a new beginning for humanity in this small group who will live and embody the love and grace of god in real life. Not as a theory or an abstract principle, but to start a new way of life according to Jesus’ teachings all along about how God calls us to generosity, compassion, mercy, and humble, mutual love.
It is this very episode of the Easter story that reveals the power of the resurrection that stands behind Step 8. Forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation are some of the clearest articulations of the grand and glorious Love Story that the cosmos is living out.
The 12 step program and gospel are clearly in touch with the ways in which the world can go wrong, the way we can hurt ourselves and one another. The 12 step program and the Gospel pay attention to the fears and failures and the attachments and ambitions and addictions that cut us off from the deepest longings of our hearts and that hurt our relationships with others.
Yet there is hope for healing and wholeness and reconciliation as the doors are unlocked and the divine breath of the spirit blows our hearts open. Once we have paid deep and careful and courageous attention to how things are with us. Once we have been honest about the diagnosis of our weakness and fragility, once we have fearlessly diagnosed our illness of addiction and ego attachment, we are in a position to take the steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation.
It’s true that forgiveness and reconciliation and grace can appear to the cynical as simply whitewashing wrongdoing. But that’s not what we have in mind here.
Richard Rohr says this as he expands on the spiritual wisdom of Step 8:
“Amazing grace” is not a way to avoid honest human relationships , but to redo them – but now gracefully – for the liberation of both sides. Nothing just goes away in the spiritual world; all must be reconciled and accounted for.
We are not talking about cheap grace here. This is not painless. As Rohr goes on to say:
You learn to salve the wounds of others by knowing and remembering how much it hurts to hurt. Often this memory comes from the realization of your past smallness and immaturity, your selfishness, your false victimhood, and your cruel victimization of others. It is often painful to recall or admit, yet this is also the grace of lamenting and grieving over how we have hurt others…
Our families, friends and enemies are not as kind or as patient as God. The need a clear accounting to be free and go ahead with their lives. Often they just need to talk it through, hear our understanding, and maybe our sincere apology. Usually they need to offer their understanding of the situation and how it hurt them. neither side needs to accuse of defend, but just state the facts as we remember them, and be open to hear what the other needed, heard, or felt.
It is at just those points – in these conversations – that Christ enters the room. And unlocks the room.
I am aware that this portrait of open and compassionate sharing from the heart does not always come to life in our experience. And sometimes having such conversations can seem next to impossible. When we take up Step 9 we will consider some of these difficulties.
Some relationships are abusive and they require particular strategies. Some people are unrepentant or predators, and that raises particular concerns. Sometimes hurts or betrayals are so deep that reconciliation or even any communication seems impossible. People who are actively in the throes of addiction pose particular dilemmas. Sometimes people we have harmed have cut us off and will not receive our communications. These kinds of situations will be on our radar when we talk about Step 9.
For now let’s return to the reality God dreams for this world in which we live.
And so I invite you to imagine a world without locks.
This is a world of trust. A world of compassion in which we cooperate for one another’s restoration and healing. That is the cosmic reality Christ is calling forth.
Forgiving and being forgiven is unlocking love into the universe. It thaws, unfreezes relationships and communities. Cultivating this capacity is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus and begin the world again in the freedom of the resurrection.
To unlock love is to rejoice in God’s light. To unlock that light is our healing and leads to peace in our hearts, and wholeness in our relationships.
When we don’t forgive and when we do not seek the forgiveness of others we lock ourselves away in fear and isolation. We may think that these locks keep us safe, but in reality they become prisons. We have locked ourselves in as much as we have locked others out.