Pastoral Prayer: Gracious God, for those of us that think we have no one, for those of us who have bonded with destructive habits, for those of us whose religious practices betray Jesus, remind us that by your mercy and grace we have a family, we have a new craving, and we have a story to recount for you have made us alive in Christ, who is our resurrection. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
1 Peter 2:1-10
Johann Hari wrote, Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. Recounting his work he wrote,
I had quite personal reasons to set out for these answers. [what was really driving the drug war]. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.
Does addiction feel like home to you?
If we limit the objects to which we may become addicted, like drugs, gambling or tobacco, we may find Hari’s work curious but not terribly relevant to our way of life. But, if we expand the forms addiction takes, that is, those habits that seem hard to die among us, even for we Christians, never mind answering if we feel at home, we may realize we never left home when it comes to addiction.
The very vocabulary we use to address our collective ills, like war on drugs, war on poverty, even war on the coronavirus, reveals a root of violence that at the very least lays under the surface. Put drugs to death. Put poverty to death. Put coronavirus to death. Put racism to death. These are fine slogans as far as slogans go. But, if we were really interested in getting at the source of what holds us captive we must do more than declare war.
We can no longer think only of us as disconnected individuals. We must see ourselves collectively and together. Until we do, then drugs will always be viewed as an individual problem. Until then poverty will always be understood as an individual matter. Until then getting a virus will be a matter of individual responsibility. Until then racism will always be someone else’s problem. But none of these experiences are only individual matters. They are our’s, on all of us. They reflect humanity’s problems, uur problems. We are all Ahmaud Arbery. And, we are all the McMicheals.
But, it’s not what you think.
That was Hari’s discovery. All the time he was looking for the answer to what is it about drugs that drive the drug war. How is it a drug gets its hooks in a person. He happened on to something different. It wasn’t what he thought. It wasn’t the drugs themselves he learned. Instead, it was the lack of bonding, a lack of connection.
Given the absence of bonding with what is healthy and hope-filled, people will bond with something in an effort to fill the need to connect.
It was that “Aha!” moment, that pushed Hari in another direction. He wrote,
So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.
Peter insists that Christians,
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy and all slander.
Each of these habits on their own are destructive to relationships of all kinds. They are bond inhibitors. They are de-connectors. They leave us isolated, angry and everyone’s an enemy to be defeated.
Peter must have known that those Christians to whom he wrote that were suffering social ostracism could easily fall back into old habits that felt like self-defense. Would they counter evil with evil? Should they, should we do so, we would even be more isolated and poisonously so.
Johann Hari’s years long, thousands of miles search for answers to the war on drugs describes a discovery as he interacted with Peter Cohen,
Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find – the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe . . . A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.
Recall that Peter spent the first part of his letter, what we refer to as chapter 1, pointing out how God had met them, even us, in Christ Jesus. Neck deep in our own attempts to defend against the onslaught of evil all around, wary of the deceit that betrayed sincerity, and the envy of others that oddly propells us to ruin the reputation of those we often long to emulate, Peter points to the pure gift of God – a new bond, a new connection.
Pure gift as distinct from gift with ties. Gift that comes with an indebtedness to return the favor. Gift that leaves us feeling inadequate because we could never return the gesture with a gift as valuable.
Pure gift as in it really is a gift. As in gift that has your name on it and is not a gift that requires assembly. Pure gift as in you don’t have to add to the gift to make it valuable. Pure gift as in a gift that forever changes who we are and will become.
Pure gift as in not watered down. Pure.
It is the gift of God’s mercy and grace that changes the human landscape. Such a gift re-orients us away from bond breaking, connection killing habits. Tasting the gift, the pure gift, creates a new craving Peter reminds. This pure gift re-shapes our relationship with others, with each other,
you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
But, it’s not what you think.
That Peter is writing to exiles, those not feeling at home in a world run by malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander, does not mean that the pure gift that re-orients our relationships will remove suffering. The forces, the powers, that fuel bond breaking, connection killing habits have rejected Jesus’ way of love. Those early, even new Christians, certainly feel the rejection and isolation. For Peter the gift did give them new bonds, new connections with each other. However, those new bonds, those new connections came through The One who was rejected. Peter is prompted by his pastoral calling he received from The One he had rejected three times. For in his restoration he received a mission, Feed My Sheep. Here he feeds the suffering Christians in Asia Minor a recounting of their own story, a story that could well be all our story. It is my story. I could be your story. He encouraged Jesus’ sheep,
Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
If those exiles felt rejected for their faith in Jesus, Peter helped connect their experience with The One who was rejected and has become for us, for all, the bond building, connection creating, shame ending, Living stone.
For Peter, it has been the Resurrection that he highlights for his encounter with the resurrected Jesus brought him confirmation that though he had rejected Jesus, Jesus had not rejected him. For those of you yet to trust in God through Jesus, the Christ, know that though you reject Jesus, he has not rejected you. We all have stumbled over Jesus on our way to build our own temples. But, in the course of life, not one of our stones will be left on another. For what Jesus is up to is making dead stones live.
It’s not what you think.
Once we have been met by God in Jesus Christ, the pure gift of God’s grace and mercy, doesn’t just make us alive. We are redescribed.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
It is the Living Word of God, the Stone that was rejected, that re-describes us. We are no longer bond-less, connection less,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Johann Hari was met by a truth discovered among the very sort of people Jesus met along his journey,
The writer George Monbiot has called this “the age of loneliness.” We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.
But this new evidence isn’t just a challenge to us politically. It doesn’t just force us to change our minds. It forces us to change our hearts.
And, that is often not what we think. But, it is what we find when we recount the might acts, the grand story of God, both found in Scripture and in our own stories of being met by God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. Hari nears the end of his article that recaps his work. One last time we hit our theme, it’s not what you think. He writes,
Loving an addict is really hard. When I looked at the addicts I love, it was always tempting to follow the tough love advice doled out by reality shows likeIntervention— tell the addict to shape up, or cut them off. Their message is that an addict who won’t stop should be shunned. It’s the logic of the drug war, imported into our private lives. But in fact, I learned, that will only deepen their addiction — and you may lose them altogether. I came home determined to tie the addicts in my life closer to me than ever — to let them know I love them unconditionally, whether they stop, or whether they can’t.
And here we retell the story of The One rejected whose resurrection makes us alive to one another bearing witness to God’s unconditioned love for us and for all.
I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here. You may listen or watch here.