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Thursday, 14 July 2016

Addicted to sin & selfishness

Here is my sermon from today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

If there was a common theme to the past weekend for me, it involved addiction. There were encounters at both churches with those who were influenced by their addictions, including an attempted theft and incidents of dealing. The lives and behaviour of those involved were clearly governed by their substance abuse making interaction with them difficult and meaning that they tended to reject the sources of support offered to them.

Then on Sunday, in the annual service celebrating the Arts organised by commission4mission, the art group of which I am part which will exhibit here in September, we heard poems, songs and stories for one of our artists, Anthony Hodgson, who has found release from his addictions through faith in Christ. As a result, his art explores the themes of addiction and release.

The effects of severe substance addictions are very clear and can be seen around us daily. It can be easy for those of us who are not in that situation to condemn those who are and to believe that we are not affected by addictions ourselves.

However, that is not what scripture says about our situation. Scripture regularly, as in our Epistle today (Romans 6. 19 - 23), uses the imagery of addiction about our sinfulness as human beings. We see it here in the references to our having been slaves to sin. Essentially, what is being claimed is that we are addicted to selfishness and independence. Until we turn to Christ, we are separated from God because our lives are turned in on ourselves; oriented around our needs, wants and wishes. In our day and time this is a reality which has been used as the basis for our consumerist culture, where we are continually persuaded to buy stuff we don't actually need in order to assuage our sense of inadequacy and boost our sense of ego. Those who manage large or unsustainable levels of personal debt will readily acknowledge the overwhelming nature of the pressures which cause us to spend, spend, spend.

As with any addiction, it is vital that we reach a point in our lives where we acknowledge that we are actually powerless in the grip of powerful forces which control us - slaves to sin, as we have acknowledged that St Paul expresses it - and need to recognise that we need outside help. That, of course, is where God comes into the picture, as it is only when we can look outside ourselves that our addiction to selfishness can begin to be broken.

Looking to God firstly addresses the insecurities and fears which underpin our focus on protecting and benefiting ourselves. God's unconditional love means that we can be sure that we are loved absolutely and can therefore look outside ourselves, our fears and anxieties. Looking to God also involves acknowledging the claim that others have on our lives and gives us a frame of reference beyond ourselves. Jesus speaks of this in terms of love for God, for neighbours and for ourselves.

Our reality, whether this is visibly apparent or hidden, is that each of us is gripped by forces beyond our control and that it is only as we become open to God and others that the addiction to selfishness can be managed and mitigated.

Alcoholics Anonymous teaches its users that they are always recovering alcoholics. Christianity teaches that we are all recovering sinners. Just as those who go to AA have a 12 step programme which enables them to be a recovering alcoholic rather than an alcoholic, I wonder whether we have the equivalent in place to deal with our own personal addictions. The 12 steps of AA are actually as relevant to all other addictions as they are to alcoholism. The starting point is to admit that we have been powerless in relation to our actions and that our lives had become unmanageable. Then to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity and to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.


The Verve - The Drugs Don't Work.

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