Beauty and the Beast: A Sermon on Addiction
“But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.”- Genesis 50:19-21
Won’t you pray with me?
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight for you and you alone are our strong rock and our redeemer. And may I speak in the name of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jake was a giant of a figure in life. I only met him once in my life but from the stories I have heard from my fiancée’s best friend, Jenn, Jake’s sister, I realize he lived life brilliantly. He was a character, always looking for the next adventure, and full of the excitement that any 20-something should have in the prime of their existence. But Jake had a dark reality that crippled him. Jake was an addict. Jake was a victim of the heroin and opioid epidemic that has our country in its grip. And so today I want to preach on addiction, and the process we must all take to face these realities that our nation is grappling with. But first, let us turn our hearts and minds to Scripture.
Today we hear words from Genesis, the first book of the Torah. This story of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers after years of absence and after a tortuous reality that Joseph faced because of his brothers we see the climax of the story. Joseph, now second in command in Pharaoh’s court has the opportunity to take justice for his situation. He could have ordered his brothers killed for their acts against him earlier in the book. They threw him in a pit and wanted him killed. They lied to their father Jacob and broke his heart. They sold him into slavery. It would be easy for us to lash out in an inhospitable and awful way if we were in Joseph’s situation. It would be easy for us to take revenge because revenge is sweet and it is what all of us secretly want in life. But Joseph, the exemplar of forgiveness and redemption says this: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as God is doing today.”
Though I never got to know Jake in this life I have gotten to know Jenn pretty well. She is my fiancée Stephanie’s best friend and Jenn changed the course and trajectory of her life’s vocation after her brother Jake’s death from an overdose. Friends I cannot begin to imagine the pain of losing someone to addiction. If you’re like me you would probably cower in the corner and not take the covers off your head in the morning. But Jenn, this Joseph figure has taken a horrific situation and is making it beautiful. She has taken the tortuous reality that has would have certainly given her permission to be bitter, but instead she enrolled at Appalachian State in the addiction counseling master’s program to change the course of other people’s lives so that they will not face the same reality that Jake did.
I could tell you all the statistics, I could tell you that our president promised on the campaign trail to make this situation right and has yet to propose budget measures to combat the epidemic. But what I want to propose to you today is we need to be more like Joseph, we need to be more like Jenn. We need to combat the heroin and opioid as a church for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ. This is not a political issue, this is an issue of facing up to the reality we face and say “You may be great but we will make good on our word to reach out to those who have no hope.”
I must stress here that the church cannot do this by ourselves. We cannot possibly address the epidemic by ourselves… But we can begin the conversation. Joseph knew the pain that could be caused by shying away from the pain of the past. Jenn did too. We all must face the pain of addiction and say that it was intended for evil but God is a big God. A God who can take a horrific situation and make it beautiful. That being said, God needs us to act as well. We must begin to stand up and speak out in the name of God against addiction. We must encourage people to get the help they need. We must encourage people who have lost loved ones to addiction and remind them there is hope.
I don’t claim to have the answers as to why Jake isn’t here today. I can’t speak to this social crisis as a person who has all the answers, none of us can. But if anything, I know that there is hope in the reality that God can take Jake’s sister after the hell she witnessed and shape her into a person who will care for others. If that isn’t redemption, I don’t know what redemption is.
You see redemption is this faithful reality that God will make things right. We may be angry, we may be frustrated or confused as to why addiction is even a word in our vocabulary… But this much is true: On that last day God will redeem even addiction fully and completely. God has embraced Jake in those loving arms and welcomed him home as a child who had faced hardship, and though he did not win in this life God redeemed even his addiction.
I’m starting to think that someone like Jake who was a victim is someone for whom God has special affinity for. God does not do this to us or make us addicts, that’s preposterous and not a God we want anything to do with. But God also knows the road Jake walked, because I am sure that Jesus would have been in the same crowd with the addicts and the desperate in this world if he were here today. Jesus died a horrific death and in that moment Jesus experienced the full range of humanity so that there is no place that Jesus could not go to reach us, and that means even in the needle Jesus knows the pain and absence of good in those moments. But Jesus also doesn’t leave us there. Jesus takes and makes new what people ruin with the needle. In the resurrection that we Christians hold fast to, Jake’s track marks are like Jesus’ wounds, they have been glorified in redeeming grace.
What’s the good news here? God does the same with Jake as God does with anyone who dies of an overdose. God brings close, and God redeems. Or as Genesis says, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as God is doing today.” Addiction intended to harm Jake and Jenn Kline, and though it took Jake, it can now be intended for good and redemption as Jenn makes her vocational livelihood fighting addiction and its aftermath.
I once heard that addiction could be known as “beauty and the beast” the idea that in addiction an addict can be gloriously themselves in one moment, and beastly in the next. It just so happens that the number one movie in America right now is the live-action remake of the Disney tale as old as time Beauty and the Beast. I want to lean today into the reality on which the movie is based: a curse. The movie is based on a curse of a prince’s arrogant and inhospitable actions. Because of this, the enchantress places a curse on the prince; he will remain a beast until he learns to love.
I think we will never face addiction as a church until we learn to love. We will never break the cycle and curse of heroin and opioid addiction until we lean into Christ and encourage our friends, families, brothers, and sisters to acknowledge the reality, seek help, and see it through to the end of the story. We must be hospitable and not make excuses. What is so raw and real about the epidemic is that it knows no race or class, no religion or creed. That being said, we have to view Jake and countless others who suffer from addiction, wherever they come from, as beautiful people who just needed and need help. We may not always win the battles but I believe we can win the war of addiction. Because what can we not do when we put our prayers and resources toward an issue? What can the church not accomplish if we work together to acknowledge addiction for what it is and then begin to pick up the pieces? These realities are hard, difficult, and sometimes impossible to face. But just as Joseph turned into the reality of forgiving and redeeming his brothers, may we do the same.
I think the beautiful part of the story for Christians in the 21st century is we know what happened with Joseph. The Israelite people that Joseph saved that day became a great nation and brought forth from it the Messiah, the hope and savior of the world. And though I don’t know the end of Jenn’s story, I do know this: God will redeem this situation and bring forth from it people who faced down addiction and were made well. Because that is how this works. Pain exists, and sorrow may last for the night… But joy, that joy that takes addicts and makes their stories beautiful, will come in the morning. May we work, may we pray, and may we fight for the glory of redemption from addiction. All glory honor and power be to the one who was, who is, and who is to come. Amen.
 Howell, James C.