751 Alameda de
las Pulgas
Belmont, CA 94002
(650) 593-4547
E-mail: belmontucc

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at 10:30 a.m.

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Progressive Christianity
United Church of Christ
Northern California Nevada   Conference of the UCC


Recent Sermons

Wisdom the Works, Part I
First You Weep
Steps One, Two, and Three

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
February 21, 2016

We have three 12 step meetings that use our fireplace room each week. At least two of them are usually packed every week. There is an epidemic of substance abuse and addiction in our world. All of us know someone who has struggled with alcohol or drug addiction. The situation comedy “Mom” that deals with addiction showed a PSA this Thursday after a poignant story of one young addict dying of an overdose even as her friends were trying to help her recover. The Surgeon General, flanked by two cast members, reminded us that 120 people die every day from addiction. 120, every day!

But we tend to think of addiction in very narrow terms. Those folks downstairs have real problems. We all think we’re doing pretty well upstairs.
But we live in an addictive culture in an addictive world. On a grand scale our society is addicted to oil, to consumerism (we call it shop therapy), to competition for success. The current presidential candidates reveal our addiction to fear, to judgement, to what Richard Rohr and anonymous programs call “stinkin’ thinkin’”! We can feel superior to all that noise and bombast but…

The outer world tends to reflect what is going on inside us. Last week we looked at Jesus’ journey into the wilderness. The temptations he faced can be translated in many ways. They are as relevant today as when Luke first defined them. Our egos want us to feel secure, and powerful, with as little effort as possible. Giving in to those temptations guarantee we will be unable to develop deep and meaningful conversations or relationships. They prevent us from building the beloved community Jesus so longs for us to experience.

This week our lectionary takes us to the center of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus turns his eyes toward his beloved Jerusalem. He longs to see all people gathered there in peace and compassion. He wants to draw all humanity together under his wing but he knows what the future holds – he faces reality with his eyes wide open.

And Paul is as honest as we would ever hope to be when he admits that he fails to do what he wants to do, that on his own he can do nothing. Even Jesus, in John’s Gospel, admits that apart from God he can do nothing.

The powerlessness of the human condition, to control just about anything, is the hardest thing for us to admit, or come to terms with. But when we can admit that we are powerless over people, events, our own emotions, the past, the future, and even our own thoughts, we can take the first step towards healing and wholeness.

As Thomas Merton has said, “All mature spirituality, in one way or another, is about letting go and unlearning!” But most of us would rather cling to old attempts at control, try the same path over and over again, falling into the same hole (what some would call the very definition of insanity), rather than admit we are powerless, that our lives have become unmanageable!

I have studied scripture and spiritual things since I was 10 years old. I was ahead of the game when I finally entered seminary at 42. But I didn’t learn how to live the life I wanted to live or to follow the teachings of Jesus with any real understanding or progress until I found my way into AlAnon some 30 plus years ago. I was raised by alcoholic parents and married a drug addict. When I first went into therapy as my life was falling apart, separate intake workers said I looked like I was going to die. I looked older then than I do now. The 12 Steps Program saved my life.

But most of you probably haven’t experienced the life threatening consequences of addiction so clearly as I did. You may never reach a bottom that demands that you change. Sadly, many of us now are like that proverbial frog plopped in a pot of water that is gradually coming to a boil. By the time we figure out something needs to change, it is too late. Life is near the end, or a dream like a thriving community of faith is no more!

W. H. Auden, in “Apropos of Many Things,” put it this way:
“We would rather be ruined than changed.
“We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die.”

Jesus would challenge us to dare to take up our cross and follow him (not worship him) but be transformed by daring to die to our ego’s way of doing everything.
The temptation we most easily understand is the desire for power, but Jesus rejects that choice in favor of admitting we are powerless. Humility is the beginning of wisdom. It is a hard choice.

Then we can begin the work of coming to believe in a power greater than ourselves that can restore us to sanity.

Finding a God big enough to depend on is sadly not always the work of the church. Too often it has lifted up belief systems that are offered as a substitute for a living faith. It has been said that “Religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people who have been there!”

B. It isn’t easy to find a God that you can trust to nurture you, embrace you, body, mind and spirit, that can actually bring you fully to life. It takes work to heal those parts of ourselves that have been beaten up by our religions.  For some of us that requires letting go of the images we have of God.

The challenge is to find the presence of the sacred that resides within you and around you, that brings you peace, that allows you to be at one with the moment. Let me repeat this…

The father who embraced the Prodigal Son may be a comfort to you; or the mother hen Jesus lifts up in today’s reading. A power great enough to restore you to sanity, to wholeness, to the courage to face your demons, your ego, your denial…Keep searching until you think you might have found it…

Then make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of that God, as you understand that God. Don’t waste too much time trying to define God. Don’t argue over the right name for God. Religion got bogged down in definitions in the 4th C. with Constantine who demanded neat belief systems to be agreed upon.

Jesus called God “Abba” which means Daddy. You can call God Mother, or source or presence or the unnamable one, or anything that works for you. The important thing is to make a decision. Once you have admitted you need help, but not just a bit of guidance now and then, not just foxhole spirituality just when things are tough. Letting go and letting God means 100% acceptance that you need a Higher Power to get through the day.

Total acceptance, is the beginning of change. It breaks through our denial and allows God to lift us out of that boiling water in time to see our lives, our relationships, our patterns with clarity. This is the transformative moment when you can begin to discover God’s perspective, purpose and guidance for your life. The decision may be hard to make. It may not be done once and forever. It may need to be made a thousand times over. Our Christian tradition would call this the beginning of transformation. The 12 steps programs would call it the third step on the road to recovery.

I had an opportunity this week to apply all this to my own life journey. I made a mistake with a friend that hurt her. There was no way to take it back. I was powerless to change the past. I apologized but it didn’t change things. I wanted desperately to fix it but I remembered that I needed to put this into God’s hands. I can trust God to heal this relationship and help me think before I speak in the future. God isn’t done with me yet!

But this is only the beginning. As we admit our powerlessness, find a power great enough to restore us to sanity, and turn our will and our lives over to the care of that God of our own understanding, we begin to find the strength to say no to unhealthy situations, to stand in our integrity, to let go of patterns that are self-destructive, to discover ways to build beloved community, to get out of our own way, listen well to others, break free from the boxes that say we can’t change, that everything must remain the same. There is so much possibility in these first three steps. And there are nine more! We’ve only just begun!