The sad, sobering sermon of the DUI bishop in Maryland

The bishop was candid with the small flock at All Saint's Episcopal Church, just outside of Baltimore: She had a sobering sermon for them.

"There are things that happen in life that we can't control, that we didn't predict, that perhaps we don't welcome at all," said Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook of the Diocese of Maryland.

Believers must be prepared for the worst, including wrestling with bad habits that can lead to destruction, she said in a Nov. 9 sermon that was posted online.

"If we routinely drive 55 in a 30-mile-an-hour zone, we won't be able to stop on a dime if driving conditions get dangerous or if an animal or, God forbid, a human being should step out in front of us," said Cook. "Things happen suddenly, and we're either prepared in the moment or we're not, and we face the consequences.

"We can't go back. We can't do it over. In real life there are no instant replays."

This sermon was delivered weeks before the accident -- two days after Christmas -- in which police report that Cook's car veered into a wide bike lane and hit a 41-year-old father of two, sending the cyclist crashing onto her hood and windshield. A breath test after she returned to the crash scene, and after she had been taken to a police station, found a blood-alcohol level of 0.22. The legal limit in Maryland is 0.08.

The veteran priest and recently consecrated bishop has since been arrested and charged with criminal negligent manslaughter, using a texting device while driving, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death and three charges of drunken driving. Her bail was set at $2.5 million, in part because of a 2010 DUI incident in which she received probation and paid a $300 fine. She also faces national disciplinary proceedings, under the jurisdiction of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

This tragedy has left Episcopalians in pulpits and pews debating the contemporary relevance of St. Paul's words in I Timothy: "Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money."

In addition to being the Maryland diocese's first female bishop, consecrated last September, Cook is also the daughter of a prominent priest. She was raised in the historic rectory of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Baltimore and her father was nationally known for his work with alcoholism, while struggling with the disease himself.

Diocesan officials stressed that, before her election, Cook told them about the 2010 incident in which she was seen driving slowly at 2 a.m., with a shredded tire, on the side of a road. Police reported that there was vomit on her shirt and a bottle of wine, a fifth of whiskey, two baggies of marijuana and a smoking device in her car.

After the fatal 2014 accident, the Diocese of Maryland released a statement that said: "We cannot preach forgiveness without practicing forgiveness and offering people opportunity for redemption. ... We too are all filled with questions for which there are still no answers, and we are all filled with anger, bitterness, pain and tears." After background research, including a "psychological investigation," church leaders quietly concluded that the 2010 incident "should not bar her for consideration as a leader."

That was then. In the words of Cook's sermon, there are also times when people cannot hide from their own actions.

"My perception is that we live in the midst of a culture that doesn't like to hold us accountable for consequences, that somehow everybody gets a free pass all of the time," she said. "Well, we do -- in terms of God's love and forgiveness. But we don't in many other things that happen and it's up to us to be responsible."

Believers must prepare their hearts for severe trials, she concluded. They also must trust God and one another.

"If you are not ready in your heart, you will miss God when he comes. You will miss Love when she passes by. You may find that the door of hope is shut on you," said the bishop. "If we don't know how to love and trust in God in the small, daily events of our lives, we might be absolutely devastated when the really terrible things happen."