The international fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous began in 1935 when two men, Bill W., and Dr. Bob S., met in the home of a mutual friend in Akron, Ohio. Medical professionals, friends, family members, clergy and the men’s spouses all described Bill and Dr. Bob as “hopeless cases,” likely to die from alcoholism, a disease of the body, mind, and spirit. The key for Dr. Bob was that he found in Bill, and many other alcoholics he would encounter during the rest of days, a fellow traveler, someone who truly understood what it — alcoholism — was like. And Bill found in Dr. Bob, and countless alcoholics he would meet over the remainder of his life, someone whom he could help simply by sharing his own experience, strength, and hope.
The program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the many 12-step fellowships that have been created over the years are based on the principle that alcoholics and addicts stay clean and sober by reaching out to others and giving away what they have been given. It was through attraction, and not promotion, that the fellowship grew from two idealistic drunks to an organization with a presence in more than 180 countries around the globe.
In Sunday’s Gospel text, Jesus sends 72 disciples out into the world. It is, indeed, an unusually specific numeric reference. But, perhaps more important than the number 72 is the number two. The disciples were sent out to minister in pairs.
This is good news for sure. After all, it wasn’t going to be an easy life. Lambs among wolves…no money bag, no sandals or sack to carry anything of value with you. All that the disciples had was themselves, their faith in Jesus, and their ministry partner.
In the life of discipleship, the question is not what you need but who.
We don’t walk this journey alone. We need each other — for support, encouragement, a listening ear, perhaps even advice at times. We learn from the experience of others who have walked before us, and we share our own experience with those who walk with us.
In our current context, the harvest that is in need of reaping is the tremendous pain that so many carry around each day. Our opportunity, as followers of Jesus, is to go out into the world (from the comfort of our pews and our homes) and bring with us open hearts, listening ears, and a prayerful presence. With that presence, with those ears and with our hearts, we can harvest much that burdens our neighbors.
However, we will only be able to really help those who are hurting if we are authentic about the pain we carry ourselves. In sharing our own experiences of grief, mental illness, economic insecurity, addiction, strains on our families, and other challenges that cause us hurt, others can relate. And in relating, they are not only meeting us but meeting Jesus, who has sent us out ahead of him.
People who are hurting — all of us — need to know that the kingdom of God is at hand. That should not instill further fear and shame, but hope. For the kingdom of our God brings love, liberation, reconciliation, and resurrection. Too often, and for too long, we have failed to share such a hope-filled message. And now, more than ever, we need to get it right.
And in so doing, by going out into the world two-by-two, we can bring hope to that hurting, bruised and broken world. Along the way, we, too, will be helped, for just as one alcoholic helping another alcoholic keeps both sober, one hurting child of God helping another will keep both in the loving arms of their Creator. The laborers will grow, not through promotion, but through attraction, to the liberating, life-giving movement of discipleship we tend to call the church.
Copyright – Celebration Publications – July 2019