“Hi, I’m Paul, and I’m an alcoholic.” All of us at last Sunday night’s Gathering responded, “Hi Paul” – not because we are fellow alcoholics (although some may be the anonymous kind), but because that was how we have observed that this is done.
Paul told us about the changes that are happening in his life, thanks to Jesus and through the tool of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) 12 Steps. We were grateful that he let us in on his journey, and as he talked, we were quietly reminded of our own shortcomings and secret failings. He told us about making a “fearless and searching moral inventory” and then sharing all of that with “one other person.” He spoke of making amends to people he had hurt. It all sounded very much like the way Christians ought to live. And in response, we all supported him and thanked him for having the courage to share his experience.
Paying attention to your life takes courage and discipline and help. Moving away from destructive choices and toward healthy ones is challenging. The heart of AA’s first three steps is turning one’s mess over to God and letting him manage it. God is the one who changes lives. His call is mostly a “from and to” kind of call. He calls us from some negative, destructive, hurtful things, and to those things that make each of us look more like him. God is not nearly as concerned about what we are leaving as he is about what we are moving toward. He calls us into a church, or gathering of Christ-followers, both so we may receive help and that we can be a help for the journey.
The church supports the life-change process, but it is not simply a recovery group.
The Bible calls us saints, not sinners. In fact, to some degree, we are both. We fail, but we are not defined by our failures. When we turn away from a wrong choice, Jesus forgives us and pulls us forward. We are defined by who Jesus says we are—by our calling to love, to bring hope, to help the hurting, and to share the gift of life we have found in God. Stopping destructive behavior is helpful and even life giving, but it is still only a necessary means to enable a larger calling. Stopping is not an end in itself.
The church is not anonymous. In fact, the amazing thing about the church is that the love it gives is not blind. We are known and loved by God and we are to be known and loved by one another. The point is not to confess our failings to a stranger, but to share them with one another. It is not a stranger who sees and forgives, but it is our friends and family members who see us and allow us to live in forgiveness of our failings and walk in the hope of who we are called to be.
As we listened with admiration while Paul demonstrated his candor, courage and a commitment to help get The Gathering launched, all of us learned a valuable lesson: We are more than the sum of our past mistakes. We are more because of Jesus.
And that is all I have to say about that … for now.