SCRIPTURE: Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21



In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!


Today’s news story is about Graduates of Teen Drug Court receive praise. It’s a story of recovery.

Two dozen teenagers graduated from a county’s Teen Drug Court. The Teen Drug Court is an intensive, nine-month program for teens who are on probation and having trouble staying clean and sober. It includes frequent appearances before teen peers in a court setting, random drug testing and group and family counseling. The program includes the Juvenile Court, District Attorney’s Public Defender’s Office, Health and Human Services Agency and law enforcement departments.

Listen to what one of the graduates of Teen Drug Court had to say: “When I first started out with the Teen Drug Court I saw no point. I kept going back to my old ways.” He kept getting locked up. But he said he finally realized, “I’m not going anywhere in my life. It meant a lot to me when I got off probation. I felt like a free person again. You get this feeling like wow I’m free.”

Good news finally! The New York Times’ slogan is “All the news that’s fit to print.” Today, we are in the fifth week of a sermon series entitled “Ripped from the Headlines” which is an attempt at relating major Christian doctrines to life today. It is obvious the news is not always uplifting, but it is life in our contemporary world, and our faith has something to say about life and to life.

So far, we have looked at four doctrines. Like good Methodists we started with grace, then the character of God, and third sin, last week we looked at freewill, or choices. Today we look at the doctrine of “Redemption” or as I am calling it “Recovery”. The news story today is certainly a recovery story.

Redemption means to give value to something. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, my mother, and later Andrea, her mother and grandmother, used to collect Royal (purple), Gold Bond and S&H Green stamps that were given by grocery stores. The stamp companies operated “Redemption Centers.” At these centers books of stamps were redeemed, or given value, in merchandise. Today grocery stores have stamps to redeem for dishes, pots and pans, and, silverware.

The church is a redemption center. We proclaim faith which gives value to our lives.

Our understanding of the value of Jesus’ death is that it has given value to our lives. Jesus died because he chose to remain faithful to God and faithful to humanity even to the point of death. In holding on to both God and us, Jesus overcame the separation between God and humanity and reunited us. This reunion, this new relationship in Christ, is what gives value to our lives.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, claimed the work of love didn’t end at reunion. Wesley spoke of “regeneration,” that our new relationship with God started us on a process of becoming a new person. We are becoming “a new creation” in the words of Paul to the church at Corinth.

From our reunion with God and our regeneration comes the possibility, by the grace of God, to grow more perfect in love, to go on to perfection. As Paul points out, not only are we made new, but then we make our relationships with others new and life giving. We have a ministry of reconciliation.

One of the classic redemption stories in western culture is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge undergoes a miraculous change of heart. His change was a process which eventuated in a reunion with those from whom he had become estranged, and he was moved to offer compassionate care to Tiny Tim.

There is one important aspect to remember here. Redemption, regeneration, or recovery does not happen overnight. There is no quick fix. When people collected trading stamps it took time to collect enough to redeem them for good merchandise. Good things take time.

I am using the word recovery today in a medical-psychological sense. Recovery, as in coming back from an addiction, is a way of regaining value in our lives. It is a good metaphor for our spiritual renewal too. Recovery takes time. Alcoholics Anonymous speaks of the need for 90 meetings in 90 days. It is their way of saying recovery takes intense, persistent, extensive work. The process does not end at 90 days; it goes on for a lifetime. So, does our spiritual recovery!

Psalm 51 is attributed to David. Tradition names it as his prayer for cleansing and pardon after his “Las Vegas weekend” experience with Bathsheba. David has done wrong. He not only has done wrong to Bathsheba and Uriah, but he has also sinned against God. His actions are an affront to God because the violate God’s order and the gift of life.

Our is a time of instant gratification and wanting everything on demand: fast food, fast phones, fast computers, on demand movies, and even on demand money from our ATM cards. Yet a careful reading of Psalm 51 indicates confession and renewal is a process that takes time. David pleads with God: teach me, purge me, wash me, create in me a clean heart, put a new and right spirit within me, restore me.

We know recovery from grief is a process which takes time. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross gave us a model for the stages of grief, denial, depression, bargaining, anger, and acceptance. It is not a linear progression.

Like grief, recovery is a form of overcoming loss and is a process. In recovery, the person must let go of the unhealthy way they have dealt with the world, as comfortable as it may have become. They must let go of how they have seen themselves and viewed the world.

This is hard because it is a gradual process. If one has been assaulted, lost a loved one, or is trying to recover, life is a process of shrinking the lows. There is no quick fix, and that is good. If we could instantly erase the lows of life we would cease to be wise.

Again, Paul, writing in our second lesson today, is speaking of God’s grace in our spiritual journey. It sounds instantaneous: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.” Yet we know Paul’s personal conversion, or recovery was not instantaneous.

Some folks speak of Paul’s Damascus road conversion as though he was blinded on the road, “Bam,” and he was changed. Others see his conversion as more gradual. It came as he received the grace-filled love of the disciple, Ananias, in Damascus. His conversion began when Paul felt the warm hands of Ananias on his eyes and he heard his faith-filled voice, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17)

In some people’s minds Paul then got on a ship and set sail on his mission voyages. Yet if we read Galatians 1 we see he had an extensive redemption, regeneration, recovery, wilderness experience. He went to Arabia, then back to Damascus. Three years passed, then he went to Jerusalem to spend fifteen days with Peter. Then after 14 years he went back to Jerusalem where he was finally accepted by the church and confirmed for the Gentile mission. Seventeen years is no quick conversion, no quick fix.

Our news story is about a county’s Teen Drug Court. It is a story of a process of nine months. It is no quick fix for teens who have trouble staying clean and sober. Again, hear the process of recovery or regeneration in the testimony of one of the program’s graduates: “I saw no point in it…I realized I wasn’t going anywhere with my life…I feel like a free person again…It’s worth it.”

This is good news. Lives are becoming whole again. It is the same with all recovery stories, including our spiritual recovery. It takes time. There is no quick fix, but it’s worth it. The grace of God initiates our movement and guides us along the way. We make choices along the way. There will be starts and stops and some backsliding, but it’s worth it.

All this is from God who reconciles us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

Thanks be to God.