The first three steps culminate in our surrender to God. We admit that we are powerless and our lives are unmanageable. We come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can return us to sanity and so we turn our will over to God.
We surrender and allow the Spirit to lead us.
The next four steps focus on coming to understand what in us needs to be transformed and bringing that need for transformation into the light. We make a fearless and searching moral inventory and we are honest about that moral inventory with ourselves, with God and with another human being. In that honesty we discover that the truth about ourselves does not take us from the realm of love and acceptance. It restores us. We open our hearts to be transformed and ask God to transform us.
We invite the Spirit to transform us. Led and transformed by the Spirit.
Steps 8 and 9, with their focus on making amends, forgiveness, and reconciliation, pave the way for the creation or restoration of the compassionate community.
So you can see that the 12 Step spiritual path embodies in its steps the way to the compassionate community, led and transformed by the Spirit that we are called to be at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
Steps 10, 11, and 12 are the steps that allow us to maintain that posture of being a helpful part of this – or any – compassionate community led and transformed by the Spirit.
Let me emphasize once again that the 12 Step Program idea at first was the methodology that undergirded Alcoholics Anonymous, but its principles have been extended to addictions and co-dependencies of all sorts.
The healing that many of us desire is the letting go of thoughts, actions, words, and habits that hold us back from the life that we would prefer to be living. Sometimes the advantage that the alcoholic or the traditional addict has is that their addiction makes it impossible to live a recognizably normal life and so they “hit bottom,” and forced to realize that they must change. For those of us with less dramatic attachments or addictions, we may still be held back, but we manage to pass in the world as ok. There is no obvious day of reckoning that calls us to the freedom for which we were created, and so we are condemned to a lack of peace.
We live in fear of not enough, fear of less, of insecurity. And in that life, there is no peace. Fear takes the place of trust, and so fear crowds out love. And the peace/serenity we fundamentally desire eludes us.
That is, in essence, the life of addiction: the life of needing something that will not fulfill the needing, that ultimately drains our energy and consumes our life. It is living out of our ego (small self) and our ego’s attachments. This does not lead to peace.
Our Bible Reading for this morning is part of a long ‘farewell discourse’ of Jesus talking to his disciples in the upper room the evening before his crucifixion. He can tell that they are troubled and he seeks to speak words of peace to them. He wants them to know the way to God. Later in this passage Jesus promises his followers peace. He tells them that the way to God and the way to peace is the same way. And he is that way.
Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now we need to pause a moment here because this saying of Jesus has been understood in exclusivist terms. I have heard people cite this verse as a proof text that non-Christians cannot go to heaven. That is preposterous.
Here’s the real scoop on this verse: The early Christians were known as “the people of the way.” This referred to their peculiar way of life. They practiced forgiveness and non-retaliation. They had also been instructed by Jesus to eliminate rivalry in their relationships with one another. Their only rivalry was to be rivals in their practice of love for, and service to, one another.
This way of living together leads to truth. For in such a way of life, there is no attempt to manipulate the conversation. Neither is there manipulation of relationships within the community out of pride or defensiveness that obscures reality. Communities living such a life together liberate their members for a life of serenity and peace.
This way leads to the truth, and the truth leads to life, which is how we embody love, embody God into the world.
When rivalry or injury emerges, Jesus’ way is forgiveness and reconciliation. These are two of the practical dimensions of the command that Jesus gives his followers to love one another.
Following this way is following Jesus. Following Jesus leads us to God. Only this non-rivalrous, forgiving way of life leads to God.
Moreover the community of the way lives this way not only within itself, but seeks to extend this way of life in its members’ relations with neighbors. This way of life – in itself – is its proclamation. This way of life – in itself – is the invitation to others to participate in the way that Jesus proclaims in his life, death, and resurrection.
This is what it means to say that Jesus is the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father but by him. For as the Apostle John proclaims elsewhere, “God is love.” There is no WAY to love. LOVE is the way.
Now back to Step 10. Step 10 directs us to a “personal” inventory. It invites us to pay attention to what is going on in our lives. It invites me to pay attention to what I am doing, how I am feeling, how I am living, how I am reacting or responding to what others are doing, feeling and living.
Many of us are good at taking inventories. But the temptation is that we take another person’s inventory. And, of course, Jesus, had some wisdom about that: why do you pay attention to the splinter in your companion’s eye and ignore the log that is in your own?
As I’ve been emphasizing, a 12 Step Program is a spiritual path. A spiritual path is a set of practices that leads to freedom and serenity. These practices require that practitioners pay attention to the deeper realities of their lives in a systematic and disciplined way.
While it may seem obvious that it is important to pay attention to the deeper realities of our lives, the fact of the matter is that we are often reluctant to do so. Part of the reason is that for many of us, our day-to-day lives are so hectic, with so many competing demands, that we are overwhelmed by the urgent while the important is left to the wayside. This particular deeper reality is worth paying attention to in and of itself. To be conscious of how we are spending our time is an important first step in becoming free to live our lives with integrity and peace.
Sometimes our reluctance to pay attention to the deeper realities of our lives arises from our fear that we will not like what we discover. We can be afraid that the truth will make us uncomfortable – that the realities of our lives will not measure up to the ideals that we have set for ourselves. We may fear that being in touch with the realities of our lives will force us to challenging decisions or difficult conversations.
Richard Rohr, in his chapter in Breathing Under Water on Step 10 writes this:
Wisely, Step 10 does not emphasize a “moral” inventory, which becomes too self-absorbed and self-critical, but it speaks of a “personal inventory.” In other words, just watch yourself objectively, calmly, and compassionately. You will be able to do this from your new viewing platform and perspective as a grounded child of God… From this most positive and dignified position you can let go of and even easily “admit your wrongs.” You are being held so strongly and so deeply that you can stop holding onto, or defending, yourself. God forever sees and loves Christ in you; it is only we who doubt our divine identity as children of God.
I want to underline this: God forever sees and loves Christ in you.
God loves us passionately, constantly, and consistently. The Bible’s story is that we have been created in the image of God. God dwells within us and for God to turn away from us would be for God to turn away from God’s own self. No matter what else may be true about us. No matter where our story may have taken us; no matter whatever we have believed about ourselves; no matter what anyone may have told us about ourselves.
Richard Rohr goes on to say:
“We now have an implanted position and power whereby we can see ourselves calmly and dispassionately without endless digging, labeling, judging, or the rancor that we usually have toward our own imperfection. Don’t judge, just look can be our motto – and now with the very eyes of God.”
That will awaken consciousness and then things will usually take care of themselves, with even the least bit of honesty and courage… Evil always relies upon camouflage to have its way. Evil must get us to doubt our inherent dignity…. When we are standing in our inherent dignity, we can easily do Step 10, calmly taking “the personal inventory,” and then having the security to “promptly admit it when we are wrong.” People who know who they are find it the easiest to know who they aren’t.
Whenever we do anything stupid, cruel, evil, or destructive to ourselves or others, we are at that moment unconscious, and unconscious of our identity.
We are invited to be Christ’s presence in our lives and in the world. To do that we must be awake and aware. This is the place of peace. That place of peace is the goal, but it is also the way of peace. That way of peace allows us to have the perspective to be aware of how things really are. Rooted in that way of peace, we can see the truth/reality about ourselves and our relationships. That truth leads to life.
Life together as a compassionate community, led and transformed by the Spirit.