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Twelve Steps for Sinners

Hailey Malcolm

August 4, 2013
John 8:2-11

08-04-2013 Sermon Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

The word of The Lord.
Thanks be to God

             We see it all over the news: people begin drinking or doing drugs and they can’t stop. It’s heartbreaking. Just a few weeks ago, addiction became front and center in the entertainment news once again as fans of the hit show Glee mourned the loss of star Corey Monteith. Addiction is a sad fact of life, and it touches all of us in one way or another.

            Addiction is a difficult subject. It carries a heavy stigma, and many of us are uncomfortable discussing it. Unfortunately, that stigma can easily spill over into the Church, a place where addicts should be able to come and admit their problems and be nurtured in community so that they might be healed. That stigma is perpetuated by the fact that we never talk about it in the Church. And it is time for us to begin that conversation.

            Many of us fall into the trap of only discussing addiction using “they” language. As with any sensitive subject, it is easiest to breach by separating ourselves from it. We need to begin using “we” language so we can admit that none of us are immune or untouched by this problem. Using “they” language helps us ignore the problem. Pretending addiction does not exist is not helpful to anyone. Acknowledgment means dealing with all of the messy parts of a problem, including the ones that we play a part in whether we mean to or not. And that acknowledgement is the only place we can begin.

            If we can admit that the problem of addiction exists, then we can begin to be helpful. This is what many addiction help-groups use as a beginning to their program. The most common system has 12 steps in it. The first is for the person to admit that he or she has a problem. This can often be one of the most difficult steps to take. Our human nature is to think of a problem like addiction as something that only happens to other people, just like too often we think of car wrecks, lightning strikes, or skin cancer.

            Addiction is not only a physical dependence on something like drugs or alcohol. It can be a psychological or emotional dependence as well. We can be addicted to almost anything. In the past several years, psychologists and neuroscientists have warned against addiction to things like shopping, gambling, sex, television, relationships, technology, and even activities that seem healthy, like exercise. If the experts are correct in concluding that anything that releases chemicals into the brain that make us happy can become a psychological addiction, then every single one of us is at risk for falling into that dangerous pattern. But where do we find the line between something we enjoy and something we are addicted to?

            It’s not black and white. It is an issue clothed in more shades of gray than most, which makes it all the more difficult for us to approach. But if we step back and take a broader look at addiction, we can see that in its simplest form, it is one of the ways that humans everywhere try to fill our void of finitude. “You shall not have any other gods before me,” God told Moses, “You shall not worship false idols.” This is where addiction begins, with our desire to fill the void of human incompleteness that we all have. Instead of reaching for God, we try to depend on other things. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have at least a little bit of dependence on something in our lives, even if it seems trivial.

            Almost everyone I know, for instance, is dependent on caffeine to make it through a work day or a long night of writing papers followed by early classes in the morning. We don’t think of caffeine as such a big deal, but are we more dependent than we might think? At the very end of the spring semester, I wound up in the emergency room having heart palpitations. It sounds much more dramatic than it really was, and I was never in much danger, but they did tell me I needed to get some rest and give up caffeine. It was so much harder than I thought. When I am sleepy in the morning, my first thought is that I should drink some coffee. Now that I can’t do that, I realize what a crutch it was. I feel much better all-around without it, but I still crave morning coffee or a soda in the afternoon. But when I give in and cheat, I can tell that I am on edge and tense for the next several hours. I don’t need caffeine, but I reach for it anyway. Adam and Eve knew that they didn’t need the fruit from the one tree God asked them not to eat from, but they ate it anyway. We have all eaten it. Sin in itself is an addiction. We are human, finite, and unable to keep from sinning. We can’t stop on our own, no matter how hard we might try.

            But after we can admit that we have a problem, we can find help and give help to others. The 12 steps used in addiction help-groups work for other sins as well. The rest of the 12 steps involve admitting that only God can help us, asking for that help, and learning to see ourselves as the sinners we truly are. We can then admit exactly what we have done wrong and apologize to those we have hurt while being aware that we may continue to do the wrong thing. We pray that Christ may be able to use us exactly as we are, in spite of our human incompleteness. The very last step invites us to share the good news of the gospel, the news that God loves us, with all our fellow sinners, living in community and holding each other accountable for what we do.

            Even though addiction is a hard topic to discuss, we can say that we are all in the same boat: addicts, sinners, and all. The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that he does the things he does not want to do, and he does not do the things he wants to do. These words have incredible lasting power because every single human has felt that way at one point or another. No matter how hard we try, we can never be flawless. None of us are better than anyone else. We all succumb to our humanness.

            Jesus calls us into community to admit our shortcomings to each other. Jesus knew that no one in the crowd wanting to stone the woman who committed adultery would be able to if the prerequisite was being without sin. Not a single one of us is fit to judge another. Though we sin in different ways, we are all the same in the eyes of God. The amazing truth of the gospel is that Christ loved each and every one of us, in spite of all our faults, enough to give his life so that we might be able to live. If Christ could do that for each of us, we owe it to God to help one another.

            We are all members of the body of Christ and his Church. My hope is that one day, no one will be afraid to walk into a worship service, no matter what they may have done. No one should feel ashamed to be around Christians because of an addiction or anything else. When addiction groups meet and the members tell their stories, they begin by stating their name and admitting that they have a problem. This provides immediate common ground between the members of the group, forming a community in that space even if the exact same people are never together again. This is what Church should be. This is what we should have in mind when we share the Lord’s Supper with each other. We have to work to accept one another as Christ has accepted us. Without that acceptance, without that community, we can never hope to help each other.

            So my name is Hailey Malcolm, and I am a sinner.