This is my sermon from July 3 (in Ft. Bragg):

Paul talks in our reading from Romans this morning about not being able to do the good that he wants to do, but doing evil he doesn’t want to do instead.  I’ve been thinking, since last week, about what it might mean to turn my life over to God and let Jesus live in me.  And I’m thinking, really, that these are just two sides of the same coin.  On my own, I always fall short and miss the target.  But when Jesus lives in me, suddenly that’s changed.

Some of you may be more familiar with the twelve step version:  admitting your life is out of your control and turning your life over to your higher power.  This isn’t an exact match.  But since the twelve step model is a version of the reconciliation of a penitent, written by an Episcopal Priest, I’m thinking there is probably more overlap than you might think.

And I’m finding another correspondence in the introduction of the Rule of St. Benedict, which I’ve been pondering off and on now for years.  The idea here is that God calls to us, wherever we are in our lives, and that NOW is the moment to listen and take our own life seriously enough to offer it to God.  Not, mind you, that our own efforts will ever bring us to God.  But if we do our work in obedience, somehow God is able to work in our lives.  Which sounds a lot like working the steps to me.

But it all comes down to God’s Grace working in our lives.  Which is a free gift.  Yet, as Bonhoeffer reminds us, it’s not a cheap gift.  Our relationship with God demands our all, just as our relationships with our spouses, or our parents or our children, demand our all.  The love in all these relationships demands our all, but comes to us as an unearned gift that fundamentally changes our lives.

It’s a gift.  But it’s not magic.  It’s free.  But it demands our whole life.  Learning to love someone takes everything we have and changes us.

I came across an excerpt from The Way of a Pilgrim which might be illustrative:

The pilgrim talks about sitting down at a table with an officer who told him how he started off as a good officer until he “started drinking.”  And things went from bad to worse until his drinking “became an illness.”  He was unable to do his duty — all his efforts at self control “were of no avail.”  He was broken down to private.

One day as he was brooding in the barracks, a monk came by to beg for alms for the church.  The monk asked him why he was “so downcast.”  And he explained what was happening.

The monk told him that his brother had once had the same problem.  His brother’s spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and “strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink.”  He was encouraged to read a second or even a third chapter if necessary to reach the point where he no longer desired a drink.  His brother did this.  And eventually he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages.  That was fifteen years earlier.

The officer complained that neither his efforts at self control nor medical aid could keep him sober — how could “your Gospel” help!  But the next day, the monk brought him a copy of the Gospels.  He tried to turn it down, because it was in Church Slavonic (probably, for us, a lot like reading Elizabethan English) and the language was hard to understand.  But the monk told him that “at the beginning [he was to be] concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding would come later.”

Well, he took the book, but “placed [it] in [his] trunk with [his] other belongings and forgot about it.”

“Sometime later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of [him].  He “opened [his] trunk to get some money and run to the tavern.  But [he] saw the copy of the Gospels before [he] got to the money … opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything.”

Remembering the monks words, and still wanting a drink, he “read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible.”  Then, while he was reading a third chapter, “the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for [him] to leave the barracks.”

In the morning, his first thought was to get a drink.  But he decided to read another chapter, to see what would happen.  He “read it and did not go.”  Again he wanted a drink.  But he started reading and felt better.  And so it went.  By the time he’d finished reading all four Gospels, “the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely.”His life changed.  He rose in the ranks and became a commander.  He married and raised a family.

That was twenty years before he met the pilgrim and shared this story.

This is not, mind you, the twelve step model.  It’s not a process for the reconciliation of a penitent.  But I think you can see the similarities.  Without even knowing what he was doing, he began to actively turn his life over to God.  At every moment when his life was flying out of control, he turned to God.  His life changed.  His knowledge deepened.  There was a relationship that changed his life.

But it wasn’t magic.  It was a gift.  But it wasn’t easy.  He still had to do his part.

I’m pretty well convinced that the bulk of what we have to confess, the bulk of what needs change and healing in our lives, falls into recognizable patterns — much like the patterns of addiction.  Under stress, particularly, we fall into these patterns of behavior and our lives fly out of our control.

Benedict talks about about our taking hold of what he calls our “bad thoughts” while they are still young — before they can do too much damage — and “dashing them on [the rock of] Christ.”  That sounds like catching these patterns when they start to take hold and turning them over to Jesus.

It’s not magic.  But many of us have probably found that there is something about being in love with another person that allows our lives to change in wonderful and unexpected ways.  And there is something about being in love with God that allows God to work in our lives and help them change in wonderful and unexpected and seemingly miraculous ways.

I’m thinking that’s at least part of what it means to turn my life over to Jesus so that it is no longer I that live, but Jesus who lives in me.  Alone, we cannot do the good we intend to do.  But living actively in the love of God, suddenly anything is possible.

Or as Jesus says in this morning’s gospel:  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

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