1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs …
You do not have to be an alcoholic (or compulsive gambler or sex addict) to recognize that the famous twelve steps of AA reflect the essentials of the human experience of redemption. It is all there: the profound awareness of need for rescue by another; the abandonment of self to God; the admission of one’s own responsibility for the moral harm of one’s behavior; commitment to prayer, reflection, and outreach to others. The fact that the twelve steps are a “we” statement in the past tense testifies that it is an expression of a community which shares the experience of the healing power of rescue from evil by a caring God. That makes it a kind of credo or confession of faith. More accurately, it is a proclamation of sacred history: Here’s how God has acted in our lives.
AA’s twelve steps can help us get to the heart of this Sunday’s readings. The passage from 2 Chronicles gives us the very last page of the Hebrew Bible, in the order of the Jewish canon. It is the work of a person we call the Chronicler, who writes a good hundred years after the return from the Babylonian exile, that is, around 400 BCE. Several generations of hindsight led to the need for an updating of the history contained in the books of Samuel and Kings. The remnant that had returned to Judah needed something to help them rally around the second Temple and refocus their lives. In today’s reading the Chronicler provides a “searching and fearless moral inventory” (we did not listen to the prophets) and reflects how their caring God has worked through Cyrus to rescue them from exile and “restore them to sanity”—bring them home.
The same sense of rescue by “a Power greater than ourselves” is spelled out powerfully in the passage from Ephesians. Like the twelve steps of AA, this passage is the celebration of a community who have “turned their will and lives over to the care of God as they have come to know him” in Christ Jesus. Since the power of the final verse can get lost when we hear it on the fly, let’s linger over it. Speaking of how this rescue in Jesus is a gift, grace, “not from works,” the author concludes, “For we are his handiwork created in Christ … ” And the word here rendered as “handiwork” is poiema.
That’s right, the word that gets into English as poem. We are God’s work of art—not simply in our complex nature as conscious beings but even in our actions, as the author proceeds to elaborate as he continues his thought: “ ... created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them [literally, that we should walk in them]” (Eph 2:10). In other words, even the good things we do—like taking steps beyond the chaos of alcoholism or sex addiction—are like shoes that God has prepared for us to walk in.
A person who carries the “John 3:16” sign near the TV cameras at so many ball games is doing good service by sending a few hundred viewers to that passage, part of this Sunday’s Gospel. It is another classic confession of Christian experience of divine rescue in Jesus. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” In the language of the Fourth Gospel, “eternal life” is not simply unending (posthumous) life. Zoeaionios—the (New) Eon Life—in this Gospel is the new life with God that one enters with Christian baptism/initiation.
So, at this midpoint of the Lenten journey, the readings conspire to remind us to focus on the goal, the renewal of our baptismal commitment as we celebrate how the Lover of the World has given his Son to rescue us from otherwise unmanageable lives.A generation ago, it was fashionable in some circles for some Christians to preach to one another that we should not be so dependent on God, that Christianity had “come of age,” that it was time to stand on our own two feet and take responsibility for our lives. There are some important half-truths in all that: the Christian faith does indeed call us to take initiative and to try to right what is wrong in the world. But the Chronicler, Paul, John, and thousands of recovering addicts remind us that a caring God has loved us first; the rest is walking in shoes divinely cobbled.