David B. Weber, June 23, 2013
Step 3: “We Made a Decision to Turn Our Will and Our Lives Over to The Care of God, As We Understood God”
To briefly review where have been and where we are:
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over our dependencies – that our lives had become unmanageable.
That’s the most difficult step. That’s the step where we have to lay aside our pride which has gotten us nowhere, our self-lies which have blown up in our face, and our illusions of being able fix ourselves by trying harder. This is the time, the moment of surrender.
Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
One of my favorite biblical scenes is in John 4, where Jesus meets the outcast, lonely woman at the well. He talks to her, with respect, with insight, and, maybe for the first time in her life, love. Inside of an hour, she is running back to town to tell her fellow villagers about who she has met- “Could he be the Messiah?” she proclaims to everyone who will listen. All she knows about the stranger at the well is that he listened, he told about herself, and about himself. He called himself the Living Water. But what she heard was enough. She had come to believe there was someone, someone with a Power greater than hers who could restore her to sanity- could give her life meaning.
She was ready to follow a Messiah, even without know where he might be going. She was ready, in effect, for what we call Step 3:
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives
over to the care of God as we understood God.
These are important words as they were developed and refined by Bill W. and Dr. Bob. They are words which bother many people in evangelical churches who know the power of the Twelve Step program but who also believe a person in need must understand God exactly as they understand God. So they define God as, in their various 12 Step programs, as Jesus Christ.
It may surprise and disappoint, but I don’t go along with this. The woman at the well had met a man, who claimed to be the Messiah. More importantly, though, she had met a man who listened, in love, without hitting on her, judging her, or comparing her. She had met a man who accepted her as she was.
I’ve told you before about our friend many years ago in South Dakota. Etta was 64-65 at the time we first knew her. Her leathery brown face was deeply etched in the lines of a difficult life, a life lived at a time in the 20th century when Indian children were taken from their parents, and sent to boarding school where various church organizations would try to turn them into white children. A process which never worked, by the way, but did succeed in turning tens of thousands of young Native Americans into sad, lonely, frustrated adults who found their solace in alcohol. That was Etta’s story, too, and she lived for years in Chicago, drinking heavily, having children, until she returned to the reservation and met an older Indian man.
John was an older man much like the man at the well, who listened and loved and gave her the hope of a greater power. A greater power who Etta would come to know as Jesus, yes. But John’s Jesus was a very different Jesus than the one she had learned about as a child who wanted her to have short hair, speak only in English, separated her from her brothers, and made her wear hard shoes.
A quick editorial: The Church as an institution often seems to be preoccupied with self-promoting itself and defending its own particular sets of centuries- old doctrinal statements. Contrast them with Jesus’ preoccupation: in almost everything he did, or said, and modeled Jesus was about “healing the sick.” He went to those who were physically sick, spiritually sick, emotionally sick, or culturally sick, and said, in so many ways, “Get up, pick up your mat, and follow me.”
As the writer and thinker Richard Rohr says, religion too often seems more concerned about the container than the contents! It was that way then and is too often that way now. Jesus’ metaphor for his approach to religion, perhaps ironically, was an alcoholic one, Mark 2:22: “New wine needs a new wineskin.”
Twelve Step programs are about God’s healing of the sick, not with old wineskins, but with new wine of true transformation. The new wine of Jesus has nothing, nothing, nothing to do with hard shoes, short hair, judgment, threats of hell, English only, or religion that separates. It is about renewal, respect, acceptance, and love. It is about transformation. And that transformation can begin to happen even before you know the agent of transformation’s name.
Etta didn’t preach, she never preached. She acted. Constantly, daily, wherever she was. One incident came to symbolize for me everything I loved about Etta, and- coincidentally- much of what I know now about Jesus. Again, I repeat myself, but it’s a worthwhile image and it’s kind of gross but if you take this sstory home and remember it, it’s a true gospel of Jesus story and I’ll consider this message to have been successful.
I was at her house and her daughter, also alcoholic daughter was there. Annie answered the phoned and said words I can’t say here and handed the phone to her mother. Etta listened, and said “I’ll be there,” then said to me, “Let’s go.”
We got in the car and she told me that her nephew had been found unconscious, drunk in a ditch, but nobody’s car was running to take him to the Indian hospital, so could she come get him. When we got to him, about five snow-covered miles away, we found him lying along a long, snow-covered driveway, and with some women who were there wrestled him into her car. Ten minutes later, halfway to town, he began throwing up in the back seat. “Make sure he’s on his side,” Etta told me, then also told me to light a cigarette so it wouldn’t stink in the car so badly.
We got him to the hospital, unloaded him, and went back to her house where my car was, and I helped her clean up the mess. How did I come to love Etta in all of this and learn something about Jesus before I even knew I was learning about Jesus? Etta never said a single cross word about Tommy, her nephew, and she had done this for him before, a number of times. She never griped, cursed, fussed, or complained. She hadn’t looked for excuses, and she didn’t speak a syllable of judgment. She respected, loved, and concerned herself only with acts of “healing the sick.”
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives
over to the care of God as we understood God.
That’s why those words are so important. In a time in history when Jesus has been so terribly misrepresented by politicians who claim to have him on their consulting staff, and when TV preachers give their private jets biblical names, it is not hard, not hard at all to understand why so many people hesitate to call upon the name above all names.
How many little boys have heard the words of a preacher, “Bad, bad, bad!” so often and grow up deciding they really have been tattooed in their soul with the words they now proudly display on their knuckles, “Born to raise hell.”
How many little girls have had their learned trust in God violated by a “man of God” and later learn to dull the ever-present nightmare with chemicals, or live half-lives of incessantly remembered but unexpressed pain and shame.
Nobody makes a decision to turn their will or their life over to the care of a God who they know is getting ready to tar and feather them and ride them out of town on a rail. That’s impossible. That would, in fact, be stupid.
Twelve Step programs are not about the moral worthiness game or mere heroic willpower. They are about hope. Hope reached for, hope grabbed after, hope sought in places where there is only a glimmer of it present.
None of us are ready when we have hit the bottom of whatever bottom we hit. But there does come a time when the God within, the Kingdom of God already in us, as Jesus called it, enables us to reach out, however tentatively, because we are out of anything else to do.
55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
The prophets, like Isaiah, had begun to proclaim the reality of God in a way that Jesus then was able to bring into full clarity. God was not a God that had to be bartered with; this was not a quid pro quo God- you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Come to this God, Isaiah was saying, and you can have all God has to give without any money! All you have to is accept it!
Jesus said it was this basic (Matthew 7:7) : “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
You might be the nephew in the back seat of your Aunt’s car. It’s free!
You might be sitting on the hard bed at the County Jail for the first time in your life. It’s free! Just ask!
You might be at your wit’s end with a job search and at the bottom of your checking account. It’s free! Search..you’ll find it. It was never hidden.
You might be lost, confused, ready to give up. Knock! Knock until your hand hurts and then come to realize the door was never locked in the first place.
You might be overwhelmed with shame, afraid to say anything to anyone. Or doing an inventory of bottles hidden there and there and there. You might have those hurtful, foul old words echoing inside of you that tell how bad you are, how fallen you are, how unworthy, behind, low, or incapable you are.
Or you may know somebody like that..we all do. I’m going to tell you something- something else- that might sound blasphemous. Don’t feel compelled to tell them about Jesus. Not yet. Tell them about the kindness of your aunt, or your friend, or a teacher you had in high school. Tell them the hope you discovered when you read a particular novel- Grapes of Wrath is a good one, or To Kill a Mockingbird. (Classics are called classics for a reason.)
Or tell them about Etta. Etta doesn’t belong to me, or Robbie.. she belongs, as do all people like her, to the world, to the kingdom of God. The story of Etta is still alive even though she no longer is. The gospel of Jesus is also the gospel of Etta!
The point is to make a decision ourselves, or help others to make a decision, to turn our lives over to the God of hope, however we might know the God of hope at the moment we ask, seek, or knock.
I believe that Way, that path leads to Jesus, no matter how we begin. But I also want Jesus to be personal to you. I want you and others to know Jesus, and not merely to know about Jesus as I know Jesus.
When we finally throw in the towel of our pride and self-delusion- hope, real hope formed in the foundational love of God and the shared love of others- that hope can be glimpsed, then reached for, when we discover this hope that has been waiting for us all along.
God, Father, Abba..
There may be somebody here today, this day now, who has glimpsed and begun to reach. Help that person to feel us celebrate with her or him. Or some of us may have others in our hearts and minds who we care for, even as it seems they no longer care for themselves. We celebrate with those persons, too, the love that is waiting for them- your love. May they say ‘Yes’ to you God, as they know you. May we, in our actions toward them, be affirming of that love which awaits them.