It is wonderful to see you all here, to be gathered with you as you celebrate Founder’s Day, and sobriety and new life. It is a joy and an honor to share this day with you.
And I’d like to ask you to think for a moment about how it is that you came to be sitting in that pew, here in All Saints’ Church today. You might answer that someone at a meeting invited you,
or strongly suggested it to you; or maybe someone handed you one of those cards with the picture of the church on it and all the particulars of the service and you thought it sounded interesting or curious – at least enough to check it out.
Or maybe you were here last year, and you found this service a good way to gather with others to give thanks to God for strength and sanity and healing - and just plain fun!
All of that may be true, but there’s another, deeper reason why you are here today - and that is because someone, somewhere along the way, reached out a helping hand to you in your path to recovery.
In fact, I hope that there have been a good number of people who have helped you - whether as a sponsor, or a friend, or someone who was willing to share their strength and story at a meeting; but when it comes right down to it, we all are here today because someone, at some point took the trouble to tell us the truth about ourselves, about human nature and about the reality of God in such a way that we could hear and absorb it.
We are all here today because someone acted in faith to offer us hope.
A few minutes ago we heard a reading from the Letter of James in the New Testament:
“Someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead”
I want to make sure we get the right picture here.
When James says “faith without works is dead” he’s not talking about trying to buy your way into heaven, or earning brownie points with God, or trying to be a really, really good person so that God will think well enough of you to overlook your faults.
God doesn’t work that way; God loves us just as we are, just the way we come. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us anymore than he already does when we are at our very worst, nor love us any less than God does when we are at our best. God’s love and favor for us is a gift that we don’t earn or deserve – in the Church we call that “grace.” That’s what we have faith in, put our trust in, count on and give our hearts to: faith in God’s grace.
But when we put our faith in God, when we entrust God with our lives and draw close to him, we will naturally want to become more and more like him – not to try to be in charge of the universe, or be the Savior of the world – thank God there is a Savior, and that savior is not us!
So when we turn our lives over to our Higher Power and seek to live a spiritual path, then we are drawn to reflect the truth and goodness and self-giving love of God in our own lives. If our faith is alive and active it will be reflected in our desire to reach out in compassion and love to others; that’s what James means when he says that faith without works is dead.
This is not always an easy position to come to. There are lots of people in every Church and every religious tradition who come to a service for their own private reasons, for their own connection to God, their own spirituality, and then go away again, never looking beyond their own concerns, never asking God how they might help or befriend another person, or relive their suffering or sorrow or loneliness.
Now, there are certainly days and seasons in life when all you can manage to do is to drag yourself to church, put your butt in the pew, listen to the words from the pulpit or altar or Scripture reading, and maybe say some prayers, and hope that God will sustain you for the next week or day or hour – and to try to add anyone else into that equation just seems way too much to handle.
And I can imagine that the same might be true for some of you with attendance at AA meetings; has anyone here ever had that experience?
Good – welcome to the human race!
And guess what? You walk in the door of a meeting or worship and God meets you there – actually, God walked in the door with you, and he welcomes you and loves you; no doubt about it.
But the catch is…you can’t stay in that place of having your prayer and your meditation and your life be only about you. Sooner or later, if you are to grow and deepen spiritually, if you are to maintain your health and sobriety and (using the church word) salvation, you have to move beyond yourself in a generous and self-giving way, to help others find the peace and hope and wholeness that you yourself have found.
Each person does this in their own way; there is no cookie-cutter approach to service and compassion; there is only a deep and attentive listening to another person and to the Spirit of God speaking in and through both of you.
If you listen thoughtfully and prayerfully, God will show you how you can be of service to the person in need. You won’t be the only one who will help them, you probably will not be the most important or most memorable one, but your service will be valuable – even on a small level – and it will form a link in a chain of hope and strength. And at the end of the day, you’ll find your own faith strengthened, as well – maybe not in ways that you expected or imagined – but you will be blessed if you serve with an open mind and a humble heart. That is what James means when he says “faith without works is dead.”
So we are here today because someone, somewhere, reached out to us in loving concern to offer us hope and strength and salvation – in the Kingdom of God, and in AA in particular - a reaching out that stretches back seventy-seven years to Bill W. and Dr. Bob.
And so let our hearts be filled with gratitude for that chain of compassionate action, and let us pray and listen and act so that we may take our place as the next links in the chain, for the good of others and for the salvation of the world. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church, Millington, NJ
AA Gratitude Mass
June 15, 2012