Grace Interrupting

Pastor Joe Skogmo
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN
Pentecost 17 | 10.06.2019 | 2nd Timothy 1:1-14

Do you ever get stuck in a cycle of thought that something in your life or about your life isn’t enough?—feelings of lack, incompleteness, guilt, or shame? Do you ever get stuck in the feeling that there should be more ‘something’ in or about your life?

I do – often. Often I feel like there could be more this, more that, Often I feel like I should be better, feel better, do better. And I’m not talking self-motivation-I-should-better, I’m talking about beating ourselves up and existential dread. I think that cycle of thinking is in each of us, some more than others.

But we all do have these feelings, and I think these feelings drive us to all sorts of wacky behaviors…because we’re a ‘fix it’ species. When we have feelings of lack, void, or failure we try to cure (or avoid) those feelings. Either consciously or subconsciously these feelings drive us to pursue more money, to self-medicate, to seek more possessions, more accomplishments, more nights out, more nights in, a better body, nicer clothes, and whiter teeth. Either consciously or subconsciously these feelings drive us to gobble up self-help books, food, oils, crystals, astrology, or any new thing. We do all this in an attempt to find the magic bullet to complete the incompletion in our lives.

Now, we suffer from these feelings of lack for all sorts of reasons, but it is also our very nature to feel this way. This is has been confirmed by psychology, theology, and biology: by Sigmund Freud, Adam and Eve, and science.

Freud said that the very separation from our mother immediately caused fundamental feelings of lack and incompletion, sending us into a lifelong struggle to fill an impossible void.[1] The Adam and Eve story reveals that we always want a little bit more – we can be given a whole garden of near-perfection and we still can’t handle not having it all. And, of course, our biology is wired to always be seeking to consume the next thing in order to ensure survival.

So, feelings of lack and incompletion?—we’re born into that reality.

And that makes life hard enough, but then there are also the voices of our culture. Whether it’s an iPhone commercial or a blog on how to parent, we’re bombarded by a world that tells us we’re not quite cool, strong, smart, motherly, fatherly, cultured, political, religious, or pretty enough!

To summarize all that, I want to read something I heard from the comedian and addictions expert, Russell Brand:

“We live with a biochemistry that stimulates fear and desire in order that we may survive. [We] need fear: ‘Get on your…toes, watch yourselves out on them plains!’ [We] need desire…get out there and hunt and procreate!”

So we’re already in constant stress because of the way we’re wired!

Then Russell adds: …and we “live in a culture that continually [exploits our] fear and desire in order to make [us] better consumer[s].”[2]

So this is our nature within, and the world out there doubles down. We’re up against a lot my friends!

So, of course, we all keep seeking, reading, buying, saving, trying, and consuming in an insatiable, never-fully-gratifying pursuit of being made to feel like we’re enough…No wonder we seek more things, more projects, more self-help books, more regimens, and more magic bullets to fulfil us. And the times we actually get what we seek!…those things still end up leaving us not fully complete, and we enter right back in the cycle.

So, what the heck to do we do!? What finally can interrupt this cycle or cool it down?

Grace.

Grace is the interrupter. Grace is finally that which says, ‘Don’t think about what you aren’t – trust in what you are.’

That’s where the author of 2nd Timothy goes—Grace. The author of 2nd Timothy wanted his readers to remember who God says they are despite all that they face.

So, let’s try something. I’ll read a common statement of anxiety, and then we’ll let a grace-filled line from Timothy interrupt it:

I feel empty and worthless. I wish I could be like them. I wish I could be like those people who have it all together. I fear I’m not…

6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you… 7 …God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love… (Timothy [vv. 6-7])

I wish I had a more prestigious job. I wish I was smarter and more talented. I have no purpose, no respectable…

9 [God] saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and GRACE. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began… (v. 9)

I don’t feel like I am accomplished enough. I don’t feel like I’m successful enough. I wish I was more…

11 I suffer as I do, but…I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust… (v. 11):

I wish I was better. I wish I was not me. I wish I would stop making so many mistakes. I wish I could erase…

13 Hold to…the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (v. 13)

I heard a lecture by a philosopher once where a member of the audience asked this question:

“I have…read [all these self-help] books and I and my friends keep having the same conversation and nothing is changing. How do we do something about [ourselves]? How does it hit home, finally?”

The philosopher responded:

“I don’t want to simplify it too much, but grace…Grace is the acceptance that you are accepted…take it to heart.”

Take grace to heart. As Luther put it: “Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace.”[3] Although not one of our texts today, Jesus says this all over the gospel of John: “Abide,” exist, “in my love” (John 15:9).

Our nature within and our world out there say that if we don’t consume enough or produce enough, we’re not enough. The Gospel of Jesus says, NO—you are accepted, heirs of salvation with spirits of power and love, called with holy callings, given purpose and grace since before the ages began (2 Timothy 1:6-13).

Don’t let anyone, including yourself, ever tell you differently. The pressures of life mount and we will try to check all the boxes and complete all the tasks and hopelessly try to be perfect and look pretty doing it. But grace reminds us that it is not the “quantity” of what you do that will save you or finally prove you complete; rather, it is the “quality” of the love of God that does.[4] As Luther also put it: “The law says, ‘do this’ and it is never done. Grace says ‘Believe in this’…everything is already done.”[5]

So I am pleading with you to let that sink in: with spirits of power and love, with God’s purpose and grace, “None of us need carry the shame anymore. None of us need live in a pain-based identity anymore.”[6]  To quote Timothy one more time, it is “6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you…” You do not belong to your fear. You belong to God. Accept that you are accepted, release the things you think you need or need to perfect, and let grace interrupt you. Amen.

     [1] Stephen A. Mitchell and Margaret J. Black, Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1995/2016), 190 (cf. 13, 36, 43, 88).

     [2] Excuse the vulgarity or…embrace its honesty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK083EvyiMI.

     [3] Martin Luther, “Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans,” in Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans and Concerning Christian Liberty (Oxford: Benediction Classics, 2010), 5-6.

     [4] Joy J. Moore, “Podcast #683 – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost,” Sermon Brainwave, Workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1181.

     [5] LW 31:41 (Heidelberg Disputation).

     [6] Excuse the vulgarity or…embrace its honesty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK083EvyiMI.

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