In our church building an AA group meets every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at noon. The inspiration that started AA was surely of God, for the 12 steps succinctly express the path of spiritual transformation on which Jesus calls us. In the next couple of days I want to highlight some of the wisdom from AA for the spiritual journey, and also reflect upon Jesus’ perplexing parable of the the prodigal son and elder brother. (Luke 15)
People who have entered into AA have taken a path similar to that of the prodigal son. The prodigal awakens one day to discover himself destitute, far from home. He recognizes he has made a mess of his life, and is helpless to fix it. Humbled, he reaches out for help. In doing so, he discovers a grace he didn’t know existed.
Similarly, people who enter AA and commit the “program” usually do so because they have hit “rock bottom.” Acknowledgomg their powerlessness in the face of their addiction, they discover a higher power that seeks to assist them on their quest for sobriety and serenity.
The elder brother, in contrast has never left home. He has done his job. He hasn’t crashed and burned. At the end of the story, however, he lives in a prison of his making. There is a party going on to which his loving Father invites him, but he refuses the invitation. His pride is cutting him off from grace.
Many of us in the church find ourselves more readily identifying with the elder brother. We haven’t hit rock bottom; our lives are respectable, even commendable. Perhaps we are tempted to look down on those about us who have stumbled in some obvious way. And yet we often find that in the routine living of our lives we are strangers to grace and joy.
What can we learn from the folks at AA?
Christianity doesn’t assume that we human beings are naturally inclined to walk with God. It assumes, rather, that we are intent on walking on our own, without God. We want to call the shots; we assume the world is, or at least should be revolving around ourselves. This self-involvement can be very subtle; we can appear on the outside (as did the elder brother) like we are devoted to doing the Father’s will. But we ourselves are at the center of our lives; not God. Our life is consumed with maintaining control, and anxious or angry whenever our sense of control is threatened.
AA invites the alcoholic into a very intentional process of giving the center back to God. It isn’t done once and for all. It is a daily, ongoing process. Without a crisis of hitting rock bottom, how might those of us who identify with the elder brother engage this daily process of transformation as well?
Loving God, our true home, we confess to you the range of ways we have wandered from your presence, whether in willful rebellion, or subtle arrogance. Help us to learn what it means to return home to you not once, but continually. In Jesus name. Amen.