|Posted by chesterlanducc on March 11, 2017 at 7:35 PM|
(Sorry for posting this sermon late this week--with power outages it was busy week).
This morning we hear the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness after Jesus spends 40 days fasting and praying following his baptism by John the Baptist.
Interstingly, the word Satan in the Hebrew scriptures originally was the title given to someone who was an adversary of God or an adversary of the people of God. So as Jesus prepares for his ministry he seeks to get a handle on his physical desires by fasting and spending time by himself in the wilderness, and as part of this journey he encounters Satan, he encounters an adversary of God which tempts him to put himself at the center rather than God at the center.
Jesus’ story of temptation is universal. We all are tempted at different times, if not all the time—we all journey in the wilderness—whatever that might mean for each of us at different times in our lives. Often times when we are hurting, stressed, depressed, or lonely, instead of confronting the issue at hand, instead of seeking healing and wholeness, instead of seeking support from others, we might try to fix the brokenness on our own, we might try to fill the void with food, or alcohol, or work, or unhealthy relationships, or sex, or whatever it is that seems to distract us and fill our emptiness for a time.
On our Lenten journey I am seeking to learn more about social justice issues and as I prepared to reflect on today’s scripture I wanted to learn more about A.A. I knew that Community Church has an active A.A. group that meets in our Church building each week, so I asked one of our members about how A.A. got started in this Church. I learned that two of our members who have now passed on, started this group with the support of Rev. Eleanor Allen in the 1980s and for some time we had two A.A. groups that met at Community Church.
I also looked up the history of A.A as a national movement. Some of you know the history, but for those of you who were like me and didn’t, “A.A. had its beginnings in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, as the outcome of a meeting between two men, Bill, a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob, an Akron surgeon. Both had been alcoholics. Prior to that time, Bill and Dr. Bob had each been in contact with the Oxford Group, a mostly nonalcoholic fellowship that emphasized universal spiritual values in daily living. In that period, the Oxford Groups in America were headed by a noted Episcopal clergyman.
Under this spiritual influence, and with the help of an old-time friend, Bill had gotten sober and had then maintained his recovery by working with other alcoholics. Meanwhile, Dr. Bob’s Oxford Group membership at Akron had not helped him enough to achieve sobriety. When Dr. Bob and Bill finally met, the effect on the doctor was immediate. This time, he found himself face to face with a fellow sufferer who had made good on his efforts to become sober.
Bill emphasized that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions and body. This all-important fact he had learned from Dr. William D. Silkworth of Towns Hospital in New York, where Bill had often been a patient. Though a physician, Dr. Bob had not known alcoholism to be a disease. Responding to Bill’s convincing ideas, he soon got sober, never to drink again. The founding spark of A.A. had been struck.”
“Both men immediately set to work with alcoholics at Akron’s City Hospital, where one patient quickly achieved complete sobriety. Though the name Alcoholics Anonymous had not yet been coined, these three men actually made up the nucleus of the first A.A. group. In the fall of 1935, a second group of alcoholics slowly took shape in New York. A third appeared at Cleveland in 1939. It had taken over four years to produce 100 sober alcoholics in the three founding groups.
Early in 1939, the Fellowship published its basic textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous. The text, written by Bill, explained A.A.’s philosophy and methods, the core of which was the now well-known Twelve Steps of recovery. The book was also reinforced by case histories of some thirty recovered members.
From this point, A.A.’s development was rapid. Also in 1939, the Cleveland Plain Dealer carried a series of articles about A.A., supported by warm editorials. The Cleveland group of only twenty members was deluged by countless pleas for help. Alcoholics sober only a few weeks were set to work on brand-new cases. This was a new departure, and the results were fantastic. A few months later, Cleveland’s membership had expanded to 500. For the first time, it was shown that sobriety could be mass-produced.” And so the story goes on until A.A. reached members in our congregation some thirty years ago.
I bring up A.A. today not to singly out alcohol or drug addiction as any worse than any other temptation or addiction, but as a positive and powerful example of the power we have as human beings when we choose to support each other in our struggles.
Sometimes we think of the Church and faith in narrow terms. I like to think that anyone who meets in this building is part of our broader faith community, the children and families in Community Pre-school that rent out our ground floor, those interested in Trans-gender issues who come to True Selves meetings each month, as well as all the members of A.A. who gather here each week.
As the minister of this faith community I am not responsible for these other groups, but I am in relationship with them and I have found myself being transformed by them as I have gotten to learn about them and engage with them.
For me at least, this is a nice reminder that during Lent we seek to find ways to put others at the center, rather than ourselves. In Lent we remember and pray for all those like Dr. Bob and Bill and perhaps ourselves who struggle at times in our lives with temptations and addictions which lead to brokenness. We seek to be in relationship with others because it is through relating to and being present with others that we help each other to deal with the brokenness, the sadness and the emptiness we may sometimes feel in our lives. We lean on each other—we share our struggles and our grief and our pain together. That is the Lenten journey.
Today, I sense the journey Jesus took into the wilderness and the temptations he faced and I understand how many, if not all of us, face such moments in our lives at one time or another when we too journey in what feels like wilderness, and where we too often face temptations. And today, I learn from the story of Dr. Bob and Bill and A.A., and I learn from the stories shared with me of our past members who had the courage to start an A.A. group in this faith community—I learn that we don’t have to journey in the wilderness alone. We can journey together. Community Church is a place where we come to journey together.
Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen