Recovering Believers 2nd Easter
Psalm 133 April 11, 2021 John 20:19-31
Back in 1935, a man suffering from alcoholism was told that there was no medical cure—and then he was encouraged to find a spiritual means to sobriety. He sought out others who might be able to help—and Alcoholics Anonymous was born! Using a 12-step program, AA helps people face their situation with honesty, integrity, as well as mutual encouragement and support. It has spawned thousands of chapters, as well as a host of groups that use the same basic structure to cope with a variety of problems. (Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc.) At AA, you introduce yourself with your first name and a statement of your situation: “I’m Pat, and I’m an alcoholic.” Through AA, millions of people have found sobriety, community, AND a connection with “a higher power.” (They wanted to keep God kind of generic in order to welcome folks from any religious persuasion—or NO religious persuasion.) AA is a life-changing community!
30 years ago, another “step-wise program” was designed and implemented to specifically help Christians with their Habits, Hurts, and Hang-ups. It’s called Celebrate Recovery, and people introduce themselves with, “Hi, I’m Pat, and I’m a believer who struggles with _____ (name of habit, hurt, hang-up.)” At Celebrate Recovery, a person’s identity is expressed in one’s Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—rather than one’s particular addiction. (In other words, instead of saying, “I’m an alcoholic,” one would say “I’m a believer.”) Another aspect that differentiates it from AA is that Jesus is acknowledged as the Higher Power. And while this area is more specific than traditional AA, the focus for CR is actually more broad. Its purpose is to address Habits, Hurts, and Hang-ups of any kind.
You see, Christians used to look at folks with addictions and say, “Those people.” Now, we look at ourselves and say, “I have habits, hurts, and hang-ups that I could use some help with!” Truly, all believers are recovering from something, and we can let go of all that “holier than thou” nonsense and reach out to one another! (We don’t have to keep up the appearance of having it all together.) This is so liberating!
Our Scripture readings for today can be seen as God’s plan for a group recovery program! In John’s Gospel, we read about Disciples who are full of fear and skepticism regarding being empowered and sent out to do Christ’s work. And in our Psalm, we celebrate the wonder that God uses others to bless us—and uses us to bless others! Friends, as we see ourselves as Believers who are in Recovery, we will see that God is indeed employing the wounded to be the healers. Let’s take a look.
Together in Unity (Psalm 133)
In order to focus on unity, we have to think in terms of harmony rather than unison. Harmony requires teamwork, where everyone does something slightly different, but when it is all put together, we have a thing of beauty!
There are other Christian bodies who do their best to make certain that all their members are “people like us.” But, you know what? The very best soil has a variety of elements in it. If we see the church as a place where people can grow, we need a variety of people. “Variety is the spice of life,” we sometimes say, and life without spice is pretty bland. “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.”
Now, the next phrase is pretty odd to our ears. “It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard.” This is found in many places in the Old Testament, and described as a blessing. It is a symbol of abundance. And, let’s face it—these folks had no showers, no deodorant. A pleasant-smelling oil would cover many odors.
Unity also covers a lot of odors. When we focus on our common values and purpose, laying all our differences aside, the natural squabbles within the community evaporate in our common effort. An epic example of this is found in movies that have an “alien invasion.” The people of earth put aside their differences and unite to defeat the outside forces! (Having a common purpose promotes unity.)
The Psalmist declares that, in unity, the Lord blesses us with life forevermore—with community.
From Dysfunction to Function (John, Ch. 20)
John begins this story with the Disciples hiding in FEAR. The door is locked. Then, suddenly, Jesus is standing among them, saying “Peace be with you.” (I think this was to counteract the fear!) He showed them his hands and his side, and they rejoiced! Then he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. (He gave them a common purpose.) Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
Then John interjected a brief vignette about Thomas, who did not happen to be with them on that occasion. Thomas said, “I will NOT believe until I see and touch the marks in his hands and his side!” He was passionate in his grief, which was not going to be easily set aside without valid proofs. But, when Jesus came another day, and showed him his marks, Thomas recovered from his grief and proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”
Then John relays a special message for the believers who would be reading his words many years down the road. He tells us that Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have come to believe.” Friends, you and I belong in that category! We read the testimony of scripture that many saw the resurrected Christ. We are among those who have NOT seen, and yet have come to believe!
Community and Wholeness
And how do most of us come to be believers? We are part of a faith community, and we experience God’s love in that community. In a very real sense, you and I are part of a community of recovery:
- Recovering from sin and death;
- Recovering from all the struggles we have with our hurts, our habits, and our hang-ups;
- Experiencing transformation through the power of the Resurrected Christ.
Friends, I believe that it is God’s plan that we all be in a “group recovery program.” God built us to live and grow in community with others. Going it alone has never worked.
That’s why God calls us 1. to welcome the stranger, and 2. to walk alongside those who need help. And, as difficult as it sometimes is, you and I need 3. to ASK FOR HELP from our community. We were never meant to go it alone, but to be a part of a wonderful community of Recovering Believers!
I want to finish today by focusing on the parting comment John made at the end of his gospel. It explains his rationale for writing down his memories of what Jesus had said and done. He says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
And, here we are, many generations later, experiencing that life together in Christ!