Third Week of Easter: Released

April 14, 2024

Week 3: Released

Scriptures: John 20: 19-23; Psalm 121; Nehemiah 9: 9-15

CBS News in Minnesota tells us the story of Ron Williams.  Ron was an addict and alcoholic for years. He spent time in and out of prison, lived under a bridge with a bed and a bedside table and a lamp – because his mind was so messed up he thought he needed a lamp under a bridge!  He went through multiple court-ordered rehabilitation programs, and each valley of his addiction was lower and more pronounced. After his third prison sentence, Williams had had enough and checked into theMinnesota Adult and Teen Challenge” rehabilitation program on his own volition. There, he finally found lasting recovery from his addictions. When he went into the program this final time, it wasn’t court-ordered. He wasn’t trying to do it for anyone else but himself. He described the experience as a hole that was being filled. And when he graduated in 2007, he stuck around to be a recovery coach.”

Ron knew intimately what the people coming for help were going through, and he eventually became more of a chaplain than a coach. After his work shift as a coach ended, he would stick around and end up chatting with people there for an hour or longer. Ron has been released from his addiction for more than 18 years, and since then he has restored broken relationships with his children and his siblings.


Ron quotes Scripture as he tells his story.  He says, “Paul describes himself as “the worst of sinners”. Well, Paul hadn’t met me!” . From 1 Timothy 1:15-16.  “This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and Im the biggest sinner of all. But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So Im an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life.

The resurrection story we hear from Scripture sees the disciples in the grip of fear, locked in an upper room and afraid of anything that might appear to be good news. They’re afraid to believe the testimony of Mary Magdalene who has been to the grave and seen it empty – who has heard an angel’s voice telling her that Jesus is risen.   Or maybe they did believe her, but were unable to respond to the good news because they were still locked up by fear. 


Fear is a powerful reality on the journey of recovery.  You can be so terrified that you will fall off of the bandwagon that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, keeping your imagination from ever embracing the possibility that you are more than your addiction. Fear of dealing with reality undulled by medication, fear of losing one’s friends and having to find new ones – so many fears.


A dear friend of mine who’d been in recovery for about a year decided to go  back to school, after many years of working in the high school system as a music educator and educational assistant for severely challenged teens. He is a gifted individual, but he didn’t have a degree to back up his natural gifts. He went to university to get a degree in education. It was going really well; then, the fear came on. He was doing so well that he feared that it couldn’t last.  His negative voices told him something would happen, people would realize he was not as smart as he seemed, and he’d bomb his projects and fail his exams. Soon he was drinking himself to sleep every night to drown the voices – and of course, his courses suffered and he went from an A average to pulling out of every course because he was failing.  That’s how sneaky fear is in the life of an addict.


The folks who know what that is like, such as Ron Willians, can be  a valuable voice of reassurance on the journey! Jesus’ words of peace’ to the disciples when he first sees them after his resurrection mean a whole lot more to us when we consider that he faced the horrifying death of crucifixion and overcame it. It is after this appearance of Jesus that we see the disciples leaving the locked room to be by the sea of Tiberias. The external circumstances hadn’t changed – their lives were still potentially in danger – but Jesus had given them the courage and the peace to step back out into the world. The section of a prayer by Reinhold Niehbuhr that has become known as the Serenity Prayer brings release from control we do not have into the peace of empowerment and discernment: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”


Some people dislike spiritual paths to recovery because they feel that they disempower people. There are other paths one can take if so inclined. Yet the prayer so often said by folks in 12 step programs specifically names claiming responsibility for those things that we can change.  One thing about recovering addicts I can tell you for sure is, if they’re really on the recovery path, they won’t let you make excuses for your addictions.  They’ll accept that there are reasons – they know those reasons intimately – but they won’t let you get away without doing everything you can to keep your feet on the path of recovery.  It’s the stuff you can’t do, the stuff that scares you, the stuff over which you feel totally powerless – that’s where you lean on God, you lean on your support network, you lean on your church.  And if those folks aren’t there for you – you still have God. Our help comes from God, who made all that is.


I did a little search on the internet for stories about addiction recovery, and there are so many great stories about people who have reached sobriety and are helping others do the same! I read stories of former meth addicts in Manitoba who were helping other addicts; young adults in Sudbury who were supporting teens; and probably everyone of us knows someone who has made that journey and is supporting others on their journey.


We live in one of the most addicted cultures in the world, and none of us are immune from its influence.  Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, crystal meth, opioids, food, video games, cellphones, shopping, gambling – even seemingly benign addictions like reading or exercising or working.  All of us have those tendencies, and all of us have had things we wanted to change in our lives because they weren’t really good for us, our relationships, or our society. We’re a society that is brilliant at self-medicating to escape from our realities; ironic, in what is one of the most privileged societies in the world.  But we’ve discovered that there is something about our societies that is sick, and we are infected by that ailment.  We have created societies that isolate, that build barriers, that separate families, that feed anxiety, stress and depression.


So let’s look at our world and our own lives through the lens of faith.  Let’s learn the lessons of what created just societies in times past and what creates injustice now. What builds equality and equity and what creates a “me first” mentality.  What feeds fear, greed, seeking meaning where there is none, chasing the latest thing, hiding from who we really are?


Nehemiah offers caution to the people of Jerusalem in telling HIS story of Jerusalem’s fall and recovery – a  caution that they do not repeat the same behaviors that led to exile in the first place: abandoning the life they believed God was calling them to live. He reminds them of the way God has made for them in the past, even when they thought there WAS no way!


Sharing warnings from wisdom gained in hindsight can be a gift from those who have been released from addiction to those still in the midst of it. There is a knowledge gained through suffering. Ron, serving as a recovery coach, could speak directly to the experiences of those he was helping because he knew in his own body what it was like. And he knew the common mistakes one can make as a recovering addict, for even when you are released from the acute symptoms of addiction, you can still fall off the bandwagon.


Just as Nehemiah and Ezra fought to rebuild Jerusalem after exile, people like Ron strive to help people rebuild their lives in the aftermath of addiction. Their life experience, both the hardship and the release from it, is incredibly valuable. When the story of resurrected life – life that has been released from whatever bondage has been restricting it – is shared, more release is possible. Let us be part of a chain-reaction of release! May it be so. Amen.


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