It has been growing- this message I am writing today. And this week, I have been bombarded by the Holy Spirit to finally preach it. Please pray for the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart as well as the hearts and spirits of those in addiction crisis.
In John 15:9-17, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Then he tells us there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life. A commandment to love and sacrifice for one another. 1st John tells us these (God’s) commandments are not burdensome. And this all makes me sad, guilty, and then angry. Sad because I do love my neighbor. But some of them cannot recieve that love. Guilty because I refuse to lay my life down to some neighbors. It would not help them. And then angry, because I am tired of the way addiction takes every good thing and leaves it in ruins. And Jesus is tired too.
Can you hear the exasperated “I LOVE you” in these passages? (Credit Rev Katy Stenta, link below)It’s like a parent who repeats 20 times before leaving, “no parties, no friends over, no going out.” These are words of love and guidance to live by while the guardian is out. Jesus understands he will not be with them, with us, in the corporeal sense much longer. But he does leave them with his Spirit in both commandment and presence.
These are important scriptures and I need you to read and hear them for their value. Then I need you to understand that there are new rules when addiction enters the picture. There are new boundaries and definitions that are life-giving even in the face of death and destruction that addiction leaves in it’s wake.
So hear me now. This sermon is about love in the face of addiction. Do not twist my words- because addiction has already twisted the promise and word of God and we must break free of that malicious lie. Addiction affects nearly every home in some way- it can take the form of gambling, food, sex, drugs, technology, cruelty, alcohol and more. Addiction cuts us off from life and relationship with each other and God. Most importantly, I need you to hear that addicts are God’s children. But addiction is NOT. Addiction is evil and life consuming. It does not give life- it takes it, by hook or by crook, it steals in pennies and pounds. Even so, we are called to love indiscriminately- to love our neighbor with tenacity, patience, generosity, and joy. The trick is learning what Love is and looks like in the face of addiction.
Last week I preached and begged you to just hear and receive that you are loved and created in love to be loved, to give love, to BE love in the world. But that first you must receive it. Pure and perfect, Love gives hope and help. It lifts us up in the dark places so that we can keep dancing- even in the dark. Yet as a person who has a loved one in the grip of addiction, I feel sad, guilty, and angry when I hear the love passages. Because the things I do don’t feel like love according to the world. But they are love according to God. And that is what I want you to hear today.
Our congregation is in crisis. Nearly half of the people of our regular worship attendance are living with or loving someone in active addiction crisis. We are called into community in our baptism and part of being community is bearing one another’s burdens. That is love. But it is also love to be transparent and real. It is love to throw off the ugly mantle and shackles of shame and share the burden of addiction with others so that we can be community together. But we have to start somewhere, so: I have a son who suffers from drug addiction. He is in VERY recent recovery. Every day I wonder if he is ok. Every day I wonder if addiction will take back over because this recovery is so new. Every time my phone rings from him I am afraid. Every day it doesn’t ring I am afraid. Every time. Addiction is part of my family life now and even though he is now in recovery, we are still in crisis and we covet your prayers.
The mysteries of scripture are profound and deep. The moment we think we understand them, they well up new ideas and applications. Love in scripture is one such topic that continues to garner new thought and application. Love is not just a feeling. It is not just an action. It is what flows from the Spirit, it is what life is created in and is nurtured by. And I feel sad because addiction steals and twists our feelings and actions of love. It turns the love of a parent or child that is not a burden according to 1st John, into guilt and mind games.
When we are told to give love freely, it means to love without expectation of anything in return. We can love our neighbor by bringing them meals and spending time with them, but when it comes to addiction, it is often given with the expectation, or at least hope, that they will get clean and sober. That isn’t the love we are called to give. We have to indiscriminately love our addicts with no expecation of healing or hope for the future. That is where it becomes commandment- because let me tell you, it is not easy to love someone who has stolen trust from you.
Giving without boundaries or consideration for the damage living without boundaries can cause is not love, it is enabling. Love is not enabling. Love is not guilt. It is not bruises or poverty. It is not trust in the face of truth that demands distrust. It is not spiritually decimating. Love is life giving. Anything else is a fake. Don’t fall for it. Love is Christ and life, not death and guilt. We can and should love our addicted people indiscriminately. Which means we cannot enable them. Stopping enabling is LOVE according to Jesus. He loved indiscriminately and he also told sinners to stop their ways and go forward into life and health.
I feel guilty. I said I will not lay my life down for some of my neighbors. I refer to the addicts in my life who are in active addiction crisis. Scripture tells us that love is to give freely of oneself. Addiction says that too. But addiction doesn’t value the sanctity of life. It consumes to death and then moves on. The Bible reminds us that life is precious, crafted by God and worthy of redemption and healing. It tells us to honor life, to nurture it and to protect it. It tells us to celebrate it and not to squander it. God gave the us boundaries to live within which honor life and guide us away from that which brings death, either here or eternally. To lay down your life is sacrifice. But sacrifice that does not bring life is worthless sacrifice. That is why Christ came to die for us. He understood meaningless sacrifice and gave us a way to stop it.
Addiction will take life and it does not feel guilt. That is how addiction works. It is an endless pit of lies to the addict’s spirit and body. Giving of ourselves freely to one in addiction is to literally give them death, not life. It is not life-giving and it is most certainly not love. It is called enabling. Enabling is giving in and being held hostage to the evil that is addiction. So no. I will not lay my life down for my addict. I love them too much. I will trust in the scripture that gives me healthy boundaries to live by- to nurture and care for that which is life-giving, not life-taking.
And I feel angry. Addiction has shitty boundaries. It doesn’t give a moment’s thought for ruining the joy of an ordination that was 13 years in the making. It doesn’t care for the heart of children who miss their mother and wonder why she won’t call. It doesn’t replace the stolen items in a grandparents house. And it sure doesn’t feel apologetic when a life is harmed or taken from drunk driving. I am angry that it is here among us and we must face it. I am angry that we cannot love freely and have to play mind games to figure out if our love is healthy or enabling. I am angry that one in the grip of addiction cannot see how they are perfectly beloved in Christ.
Wherever you are in the battle with addiction, Love is life. And it begins with Christ. Christ loved us indiscriminately. From women at the well on their 5th “husband” to adulterers, to the outcasts of society, he loved. He loved so much that he gave his life for us and gifted us the reminder and promise in communion and baptism. Through the Holy Spirit which he spilled out among us we are called to the renewing waters of baptism where we are born anew in his great love. Through the sacrament of bread and wine broken together we are nourished to love and live in community. Even community that faces addiction. Despite addiction. The key is doing it together, with each other, with Christ. Because in Christ, with Christ, through Christ, we are saved and given new life.
Given new life in Christ, we are called to share that life with others. We are called to sacrifice in ways that are life giving. We are called to love freely and in ways that always give LIFE. This is the love to which we are commanded. This is the love which we are given. Love that is life.
I am eternally grateful fur the enduring wisdom of many pastors out in the webs…today, I referenced Rev Katy Stenta’s blog in my sermon. Check out her post about exasperated and Easter love.