By Fr. Bill Wigmore
(This sermon was delivered to a group recovering from alcohol and drug addiction.)
Well, Good evening – and if you’re just getting out of detox or new to recovery – let me be one of the first to welcome you back from the dead!
Some gospel stories have our names written all over ‘em!
Now I guess each of us has a favorite image of what recovery’s all about.
One of the images the Big Book uses is picturing us as men and
women drowning in the middle of some very rough sea.
And it says: recovery’s as if some fellow addicts come along in
a life-boat and they pluck us up from the icy waters
and save us from almost certain death.
And in another place, the Big Book says,
recovery’s like our being ship wrecked and washed ashore
on some strange desert island.
We need to work together & help one another if we hope to survive ourselves.
But an image of recovery that’s always been a favorite of mine,
is the one Bill Wilson used whenever he stepped in front of an AA group to tell his story.
And for some reason, it’s an image that never made its way into the Big Book –
it’s the image of the cave – and it’s an image that I think
goes along really well with tonight’s gospel.
See, back in the winter of 1934, Wilson’s alcoholism had him totally down and almost counted out.He’d been detoxed three times and each time he was released from the hospital, he relapsed – he just couldn’t stay sober.
His doctor had declared him “a hopeless alcoholic”
and told his wife to get herself prepared for the worst.
And so, when his newly sober friend Ebby came to call on him,
he found Bill sitting in his kitchen, severely depressed.
And who wouldn’t be!
Bill was down to the point where he was even contemplating
suicide – he was ready to choose Death over Life.
I’ve been there in my life and my guess is some of you have been there too.
And the Lazarus story reminds me of the way Wilson tried to
describe those feelings – what it was like inside him –
deep inside – where people never get to see.
Bill said his alcoholism was as if he was chained hand and foot
to the back-wall of some very long, dark cave;
and try as he might, he couldn’t break free.
He said he could still see his family and his friends
standing at the mouth of that cave;
and they were there calling to him and begging him to come
out – “come step out of your darkness and into the light” –
But he didn’t know how.
Bill said he wanted to stop drinking –
but every time he tried, he failed;
and each time he failed,
it seemed like he got pulled back still deeper into the bowels of
that long, dark cave.
And then Wilson said, when his friend Ebby visited him – he saw his first little ray of light. He knew he’d finally come face to face with another addict who’d
somehow managed to find his way out of his darkness.
An alcoholic whose problem was every bit as bad as his own.
A hopeless drunk who’d been every bit as trapped in another cave as he was in his.
And yet, there was Ebby! –
Sitting in front of him sober and free
–“Unbound” – to use the words of tonight’s gospel –
Bill said it was as if Ebby was reaching out his hand and ready to lead him out.
That visit from Ebby started Bill Wilson’s journey back from the dead.
Like Lazarus, and like many of us here tonight,
he was given the chance to choose Life –
Choose Life – and live it in what the Big Book calls:
the sunlight of the Spirit.
Now living life in the Sunlight of the Spirit is, I think,
a pretty good description of what John’s whole gospel is all about.
John’s gospel is sometimes called the mystical gospel –
and I’ve heard us alcoholics & addicts
sometimes described as the misfit-mystics of the world.
We’ve got more than our share
of writers, and poets, and artists among us.
(Of course, some of us are just bullshit artists –
but even there we can take that art to dazzling, new heights!)
And we addicts & alcoholics love to live life out on the edge––We crave excitement!
God, save us from boredom!
We want to keep those juices flowing inside cause that’s the closest we’ve come to feeling life!
I know I did my share of acid back in the 60’s –
and so I like a gospel that triggers some of that dopamine in my brain
and delivers some shock and awe! … John’s gospel can do that!
And of the four gospels the Church chose
to tell us the story of Jesus –
John’s is very different from the other three.
John’s gospel – isn’t trying just to tell us a story about Jesus.
John’s trying instead to tell us what Life feels like
when it’s really lived – lived with him at the center & not us –
when Jesus is present and with us –
and we feel him at the very core of our being.
And so John tells some stories that us alcoholics and addicts
can probably wrap our minds around
and that we ought to relate to pretty well:
Stories of wedding feasts – where they run out of wine –
but Jesus is there to make even better tasting wine out of water.
Most of us know the terror of running out of our supply.
John’s gospel wants us to imagine the joy of tapping into an endless supply
of something that feels even better than booze or drugs.
And John tells another story of a woman Jesus meets at a well –
a Samaritan woman who’s lower than scum in her own eyes
and in the eyes of everyone she knows –
And yet Jesus looks at her and sees her differently
from the way the whole world sees her.
And there at the well, he offers her what John calls: living water –
water from a well that springs not out of the ground,
but straight from God and runs through Jesus.
You’ve gotta be a mystic to grab the meaning of all that!
Jesus says: “Drink from this well and you’ll never thirst again.”
Not a bad deal for some of us who can get so god-awfully thirsty!
And then, if you were here last week,
you heard John tell us about Jesus giving sight to a man
who was blind from his birth.
But now, John says, this man knows Jesus in his heart.
And as he comes to know him, he’s brought out from his darkness.
He was blind – but now he sees.
And then in tonight’s story, we might say that
John tackles the big one.
Having Jesus with us in life is all well and good – but what about in death?
Can Jesus really be trusted to be there too?
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And so, maybe as a sort of grand finale to all the signs and miracle stories of Jesus,
John tells the story of Lazarus.
We hear that Jesus has a friend whom he loves –
a man named Lazarus who’s fallen sick.
His sisters are concerned about his illness,
so they send word to Jesus that he needs to come and he needs to help their brother.
(The message is clear: When Jesus is close-by these people feel safe; but when he’s away they’re afraid.)
And notice how Jesus doesn’t get too upset in the story
when he’s told that his friend is sick.
He doesn’t race off instantly and rush off to fix him.
Jesus isn’t co-dependent like Martha and Mary!
Jesus lives his life in the sunlight of the Spirit and he knows that deep down,
Lazarus is OK.
No matter what happens on the surface of his life, Lazarus is OK.
“This illness isn’t fatal,” Jesus says.
“Our friend Lazarus has just fallen asleep.”
So Jesus stays where he is – he “lingers” the story says – for two more days.
And then abruptly, Jesus says to his disciples, “Lazarus is dead.”
Now this can all sound a little confusing unless we understand
that John’s simply telling us where Jesus is at
in his own consciousness –
where Jesus lived his life – and where we need to live ours.
He lived it trusting completely in God.
Jesus understood and maybe he even helped write page 449 in the Big Book where it says –
“Acceptance is the answer to all my problems.
I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed
in the world as on what needs to be changed in me
(in my mind) and in my attitudes.”
Now one thing about Jesus we always need to be reminded of
is that he wasn’t some Holy Superman.
Jesus didn’t just drop out of heaven and “come down to earth
with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.” Jesus was human.
He lived a fully human life just like you and me –
The only difference was this – Jesus kept choosing Life –
No matter what happened to him, he chose Life.
And part of being human is to suffer and to grieve –
especially when we suffer the loss of a loved one.
And so John says: Jesus goes to where the body of Lazarus was put in the cave –
and there we hear John record what’s often called the shortest
and maybe the most beautiful sentence in the whole Bible –
Jesus weeps because Jesus feels deeply.
When the Spirit of God filled him,
Jesus didn’t become some detached new age philosopher.
He didn’t run around saying, “If you just get yourself spiritual enough
then all the painful stuff that’s happening around you won’t hurt.”
Sometimes life hurts.
Sometimes life is terrifying
and sometimes it seems like it’s all more than we can handle.
Then it’s good to remember that Jesus wept –
and there are times we need to weep too.
If you haven’t had yourself a good cry in a while –
you’re really missing out on something rich!
Jesus felt the death of his friend
just like you or I would feel the death of a loved one.
Jesus knows what our pains are like.
And because he does,
Jesus felt the pain of Bill Wilson’s alcoholism –
just like he feels the pain of each & every one of us here –
The crowd sees Jesus cry and they say, “Look at how much he loved him.”
But then they start to ask questions.
They try to make Jesus into the kind of redeemer they would be
if they were in his place.
So they ask, “He opened the eyes of the blind man, why
couldn’t he have kept this man from dying?
And so in his story – John obliges them.
Jesus lives his life so fully in God – so trusting in him –
that John says he can bring the sunlight of his spirit
to shine its light even in the darkness of the grave.
Jesus says, “Take away the stone.”
And then he shouts, “Lazarus, come out!”
St. Paul writes that there is no thing – absolutely no thing –
that can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ.
There’s no power on the earth, no power above the earth,
and no power below it that can ever separate us from God’s love in Christ.
Not even death. And that’s exactly the point of John’s story.
Now there’s one final thing to notice here – and then I’ll shut up.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t roll away the stone.
He asks the people who are there in that community to do that for him.
That’s their job –
The stone that’s blocking Lazarus won’t be rolled away without their help.
And when they do that – and when Lazarus does step out of the tomb –
then notice once again –
that Jesus doesn’t untie the burial cloths that are wrapped tightly around his body.
But yet again, he says to that community –
“You unbind him and set him free.”
For us alcoholics and addicts,
I really believe that God has entrusted into our hands
the power of Life and Death.
When we choose Life – we don’t just choose it for ourselves –
we choose it for all the suffering alcoholics/addicts
who are still locked in their caves and still bound to their addictions.
When we choose Life we’re given the power to bring that new Life in God
to all those who still suffer.
So whether your image of recovery is being plucked from the icy water –
or washed ashore on the beach or freed from a cave –
we need to remember this:
There are many more just like us who are trapped in their addictions
Many more who need us to come back for them and to say:
“Lazarus, come out! or Charlie, come out! or Maria, come out!
Come out! And let us lead you out of here –
and let us unbind you.
And this time: no more death!
This time: Choose Life! Life in recovery! Amen.
Copyright 2008 Bill Wigmore. Used by permission.