Sunday, October 25, 2009

Addiction is no Match for God

I found this story on the internet about a complete stranger named Bill:

“I remember waking up in the morning. My first thought would be ####, not again, not the fact that woke up with a headache and feeling sick, but the fact that I woke up at all, again. I knew that I was in for yet one more day of doing the same thing over again. I would then look at the ceiling and if there was ceiling above me that was a good sign if it looked familiar that was better sign because it meant that I made it home that would take a walk around my apartment. I would try to piece together the night before by scene were my clothes and up and whether rate kicked in the front door again. Wake up, work, get messed up, black out, pass out. That was my day each day every day.”

Addiction is a crippling reality for many people in our society, even for some in our Church, but it is not limited to drugs and alcohol. Some people are addicted to power, gambling, eating, shopping, the internet, video games, pornography, smoking, work, or even sex. These addictions in ways similar to drugs and alcohol create an environment where we sometimes feel out of control, like we are not controlling our own bodies. What we are addicted to becomes our only source of comfort in a world where stress combined with a feeling of loneliness and isolation can drive us into a life of depression and fear. But there is hope.

There is hope in this morning’s Gospel story about a man possessed by so many demons, that like someone with an addiction he often lost control of his own body. “There met Him a man from the city who had demons for a long time. And he wore no clothes, nor did he live in a house but in the tombs. For it [the demon] had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness.” (Luke 8.27,29) Doesn’t this sound just like Bill’s story? Haven’t we heard many stories about addicts who have lost their homes and walk the streets with little or no clothing because their addiction has driven them out into the wilderness?

St Cyril of Alexandria writes, “In great misery and nakedness, he wandered among the graves of the dead. He was in utter wretchedness, leading a disgraceful life.” (Commentary on Luke, Homily 44) St Cyril could just have easily been saying this about any person suffering with an addiction in our own city. And it’s not just addiction. He could be saying this about a variety of issues in our life. There are many things that sometimes take control over our lives. Even work, if we allow it, can take over our lives and force us to spend less time with our family and God than we would like. And that’s the point….IF we allow it.

“Now a herd of many swine was feeding there on the mountain. So they [demons] begged Him that He would permit them to enter them. And he permitted them.” (Luke 8.32) The demons had no power unless God allowed it. Listen to what happened to swine: “Then the demons went out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the lake and drowned.” (Luke 8.33) If God had allowed it the demons would have driven the man over the cliff too, but He didn’t allow it. God was protecting that man because He knew the man wanted to be saved.

The Gospel tells us the man met Jesus. He didn’t wait for Jesus to come heal him. Instead, he found enough courage and strength to drag his body to Jesus Christ so that he could be healed. The demons didn’t have enough power to stop him and they don’t have enough power to stop us. Demons only have as much power as we give them. If we want to be healed from our addictions of life or if we want to be freed from the slavery of life that keeps us away from our family and God, then we must find the courage and strength to come to God so He can heal us; and God will help us with that too. God has all the power in the world to do what He wants.

If He wanted, God could say (He could even just will it) to this Church, “Lights, go out, and they would.” If God desires something, nothing can stop Him but He doesn’t force us to come to Him. God has given us the greatest gift, the gift of freedom, so He will never force us to do anything against our will. He even allows us to use our freedom to turn away from Him. That is how much He loves us. And too many times we do use our freedom to walk away from God just like the crowd in this morning’s Gospel. “Then the whole multitude of the surrounding region of the Gadarenes asked Him to depart from them.” (Luke 8.37)

St Ambrose said, “People are the authors of their own tribulation. If someone did not live like swine, the devil would never receive power over him” (Expositions of the Gospel of Luke, 6.48-49) We can presume from this and from the Gospel that the man had allowed the demons to enter him in the past. It isn’t so hard to believe. There are many times, even today, that people play with evil. Even something that seems innocent like reading the coffee grounds after a cup of Greek coffee. Even when we pretend “just for fun” to read the future or speak with fortune tellers, we are inviting evil into our lives. Whenever we choose to allow demons into our lives then they can control us. As I said, the point is IF we allow them.

So we must not allow them. It is always easier to stay away from evil then to remove evil once we invite it into our lives. We must take time every day for prayer. We must fast and help the needy. Don’t forget the warning of Christ, “However, this kind does not out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17.21) There are certain evils in the world that can only be defeated with prayer and fasting. With prayer, fasting and almsgiving we can avoid evil in our lives.

But sometimes we make mistakes and get into habits that take control over our life. Do we want to be set free from the demons in our lives? Do want to get the control of our lives back? If we do, then we must find a way to drag ourselves to God and ask Him to save us. We can’t do it on our own and God won’t force us. We have to ask Him and then He will use His power to cast the demons out of our lives. If we have addictions in our lives like alcohol or drugs or work or any other habit that is controlling our lives, then all we have to do is find enough courage to come to the Church and ask God to help us. And He will. And if we have friends who need help, we can bring them too. God will help anyone who asks, “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3.23)

He will help us just as He helped the man in this morning’s Gospel. We have examples in our very own community how God has used His power to heal the sick and He will do it again. All we have to do is ask.

After Jesus healed the man He said, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” (Luke 8.39) This is exactly what Bill from our story is doing. Bill has been sober for sixteen years and runs a website to help people with addictions. God has done great things in our Community; the least we could do is go out and tell everyone what great things God has done for us, and then bring our friends who need help to the Church so they can ask God to make them better.

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