Sermon: The Third Step

The Third Step
Romans 8:35-39
RUMC Oct. 11, 2015

            On January 20, 2010, I took my son, Jeff, to a Municipal Court in Springfield.  When the judge asked me to step forward and stand with him, I suddenly realized he was not only in an orange jump suit but also in chains.  I had just spent all night with him because he called me to say that he felt like running away.  Part of my goal that night was to keep him focused on how much worse it would be if he ran away and how much more severe his punishment would be when he was caught.  The other thing I helped Jeff with was to make the decision of what to keep, when he faced the inevitable jail sentence of four months and the fact that he would have to give up his apartment.  Eventually, we cleared it all out, gave away his piano, his furniture and half of his books.  It was a long night with Jeff before he went to court and there were times I didn’t know what to say but eventually there was a feeling that God surrounded us with his reassurance and I felt enveloped by God.

Jeff’s time in jail would not be his first incarceration.  Every three months during 2009 he spent two days in a detoxification unit.  In the summer, he spent spent two weeks locked up in Central Massachusetts when the State Police tried to teach him better living and driving behavior.  Then in December, he spent a month in a locked rehab facility near Brockton, Mass. trying to be taught the wisdom of staying sober.  None of it worked.

He was told by his lawyer that if he pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated (which they call a DWI) that he would spend a brief time in a state prison and then would spend the rest of his sentence in the County Jail in Springfield that was set aside for alcohol related crimes. This was known as the Howard Street Jail.  When we visited Jeff In the State Prison, there was a plastic barrier between us and we had to use telephones to talk to each other.  When we visited him in the County Jail, we sat around a card table and talked freely.  This jail had programs for parents.  It had work release programs and it had recovering alcoholics serving as many of their teachers and mentors.

I always felt it was the quality of this program that inspired Jeff to change his ways and stay sober for the last 5 years and nine months—almost 6 years! The first day of a recovering alcoholics sobriety is called his anniversary date; and every year on that date there is a celebration in his favorite Alcoholics Anonymous meeting—called AA for short.   However, it was not the program at the jail that helped Jeff want to stay sober but it was something else.  Eventually it came out what the real reasons were for his ability to stay sober.

The first one was that he said he did not like the person he had become, (and isn’t that a way to describe repentance.)   He did not like the person he had become and he wanted to change.

The second thing he said was that he believed that God took the desire to drink away from him.  And that meant gratitude to God and that God got the credit.  This connection with God became the foundation of his faith; and to this day, when some situations become tough, he will turn it over to God.

When Jeff got out of jail, he started to go to at least five or six AA meetings a week.  They met in the morning, noon or night and for him it meant sometimes, there were two meetings in one day.  This reinforces sobriety. There are lists of AA meetings for every day of the year in every corner of every state and in countries around the world.  He also got a sponsor who was someone to meet with every week and talk about his life and the twelve steps of AA that he had to follow to stay sober.

The twelve steps are decisions or actions which an alcoholic must take in order to stay sober.  Four of them mention one’s relationship with God and one with a higher Power.  This reminds me of how much God is referred to in the average AA meeting.  It is almost like being in church! There are also a number of personal admissions, beliefs, and practices that are spelled out in a few short sentences.   I have found them helpful as guides to my own personal life.  As well as in a book of short daily readings called Courage to Change, which I read every day.

As Jeff had gotten further along in his recovery, he began driving other alcoholics to meetings, including those in jail who are given a special release and put under Jeff’s care to go to a meeting and then come back to jail.

Eventually, Jeff was asked to give a talk at various meetings, where he would describe how bad his life used to be before sobriety and what had helped him to stay sober.  He was asked to speak at the Jail he was once in, and he was asked to speak at several of the detox centers he had to dry out in.  I have been proud of him for doing all of that and have thanked God continuously for this miracle in his life.  It could have turned out differently and his life would have been a disaster.  In the past year he has begun to sponsor other men who are struggling with sobriety, meeting with them once a week to help them keep sober.

Several years ago, Jeff invited Judie and me to spend a couple of days at the summer cottage on the cape that he rented.  One morning, I was in the kitchen and looked over to the next room and saw Jeff kneeling to pray.  I was stunned.  I had never seen him pray since he was a little kid and said goodnight prayers in bed at home.  He is now 49 years old.

When Jeff was still drinking, my daughter in law who was in nurses training had found out about Al-Anon and suggested it might help me. I had known about Al-Anon before but never thought it was meant for me. However, by going to Al-Anon for seven years I have begun to embrace what is sometimes called Twelve-Step Spirituality.  What is Al-Anon?  It is a group of people who meet together every week because someone has touched their lives who is an alcoholic.  I have been meeting Tuesday nights for seven years at the Wesleyan Church in Ellington with a core group of 6-8 people and many others who come in and out of the program.

I continue to find support and inspiration there as I see how others succeed and fail in coping with their alcoholic loved ones.  There are defeats and there are victories. Sometimes victories come by setting boundaries for their own behavior and sometimes by simply refusing to let the drinker’s actions spoil their own life.

These twelve steps are the same steps that Alcoholics Anonymous uses as well as other self-help organizations, like the Narcotics Anonymous group that meets in our church every Thursday night, which abides by the same principles.

For me, it is the third step which has been the most helpful.  It says:

“We made the decision to turn our will and our lives
over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

That’s all there is:  One step, one sentence.  This morning I will tell you what I believe that decision to turn my life over is and what I believe it isn’t. It is not a once-and-for-all-decision and it is not a “life changing decision.”  It is a decision that I make two or three times a week.  It is an awareness decision.  In the midst of getting bogged down, it clears the air.   Instead of getting hung up in my thinking and feeling, it feels like my burdens are lifted.  It doesn’t last a long time but often it jump-starts me into positive thinking or action.  It reminds me that God is with me.

It is something I say to myself because God has made it very clear that He is a caring God. God cares for each one of us and God wants us to want his caring.

For several years, I didn’t like this step because I thought of it as a demand by a judgmental God who wanted me to turn my life over and do everything I thought he wanted or else.  In all honesty I couldn’t say yes to that. I couldn’t make a promise to be perfect.

Finally,  I realized that turning my life over meant that I was asking for God’s help, that I would not only believe in God’s love and caring but that I was willing to trust in his caring.

It is not as easy as it sounds because I have been brought up on the principal that each of us is responsible to do the best that we can individually.  Sometimes, it seems that asking God for help is the easy way out. It has seemed irresponsible.

            What really happens when I make the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God?

  • It takes the pressure off being alone with all the demands and worries of life.
  • It is like taking time out to get a better look at what is facing me.
  • It is like when one who is afraid of making a mistake, is given the assurance that it is all right to make a mistake and then learn from it.
  • I think it is asking for support from God—sometimes finding it, and sometimes not finding it, at that moment.

This is the meaning of today’s scripture.  It is saying that when we are willing to admit that God listens to us, nothing can stop God from accepting and connecting with us:

  • Nothing in our past or our future can separate us from God.
  • No tragedy or catastrophe in our lives or our world can separate us from God.
  • No fear, no enemy, no sickness, and no evil can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Not only has my son been an inspiration to me but by pushing me into Al-Anon, I have benefitted a lot inwardly and it has helped me grow closer to God.

-Reverend Stan Culy