Harrowing Of Hell
July 9, 2023

Decisions that Define: The Way of Gentleness and Humility

Lisa Ozaeta

To watch the sermon click here.

Good Morning. My name is Lisa Ozaeta. I am the Associate Rector here at Epiphany. This fall, we are going to start a Read the Bible in a Year project with Kate Wesch, a former Associate Rector, who now serves a church in Connecticut. It will be a great opportunity to explore the overarching themes of the Bible. We will have an opportunity to learn about all the Bible characters and their stories.

Did you know that there are 66 books in the Bible with 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. There are 4 Gospels that tell us about the life of Jesus. Those 4 Gospels contain almost 4000 verses. In all of those Books, Chapters, and verses, there is only one verse where Jesus mentions his heart.

That verse is in today’s Gospel. Jesus says, “my heart is gentle and lowly.”

Over the last couple of months, Doyt has talked about the ontological nature of being human. We have explored the soul, the heart, and our physical being. I want to continue that discussion today focusing on the heart using our Gospel reading and the heart of Jesus as a guide.

Before we dig into the heart…

A quick reminder about the soul … The Soul is the part of us that comes from God. It is the part of us that belongs to God. We cannot transform the soul. We can’t do do anything to it via human effort. It is God’s.

And as Christians, we are called to see the soul in others recognizing that we are all the same. We may be from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, race or culture, but we all are a part of the royal priesthood. We all have the imago dei that is the image of God in each of us.

While we can not change or impact our soul, the heart is different. The heart is the home of human freedom. It is the place of decision. It is the place of creativity. The heart chooses how to respond to ideas and emotions. It is often called the will or the spirit. The goal of the heart is character, and its response is love.

As Christians, our goal is to have a heart like Jesus. The heart is where our freedom resides. We have the opportunity to decide to follow God’s preference for us in each moment or to follow our own desires and self-interest. It is important to note that Jesus had this same freedom. Yet, each time Jesus faced a decision, he choose God’s preference. His heart was congruent with his soul. His decisions reflected the reality of his soul – the imago dei. Our task is to conform our heart to the heart of Jesus so that our decisions will reflect the imago dei in us.

And today he tells us the nature of his heart. It is gentle and lowly.

Let’s start with lowly. This word refers to humility. Not as a quality of being, but as a destination. This word actually means to be thrust downward. Jesus describes his heart…his act of decision …as being moved to a lowly place. This is the incarnation.

Let me explain. The incarnation is the transcendent God who created all things including the cosmos and time and love…the God who is above heaven and earth emptying himself and coming to live among us to teach us how to love and to show us his heart. Jesus was thrust into humanity to be among us.

I love thinking about the God who created Mount Rainer and the Puget Sound. But, I can’t understand how to imitate that God. But, by God living among us as Jesus through the incarnation-, I am able to see what love in action looks like. In this passage, the lowly heart means that Jesus is accessible.

What we see Jesus claim in his words about his heart, we see him prove with his actions time and time again. Let me tell you one of the ways Jesus does that and how we can follow his example in our lives too. Jesus sees sin and suffering in the world and his deepest impulse is to move towards sin and suffering and not away from it. Jesus was among the people. He spent time with them. He touched them, he healed them, he loved them.

The heart of Jesus was not content to remain separated from those he loved. He was in the world with the problems. To have a heart like Jesus, we must also make decisions that puts us among the world with its problems. The lowly heart is to accompany someone else, to go with them, if you will, in their sin and suffering, without judgment, as Jesus did with us.  That is to practice, if not reflect, the lowly heart of Jesus.

The second word that Jesus uses to describe his heart is gentle. This is the same word that is used to describe Jesus when he was entering Jerusalem on a donkey.He was riding towards his inevitable death…and he is described as gentle.

This does not mean weak or soft. Instead, this word gentle means stillness in chaos or a confidence in strength.

This was illustrated very clearly to me in a recent discussion. I just returned from a trip to the Philippines to visit family. Our days were filled with food, family, and stories. At one lunch, the stories turned to the People Power Revolution of 1986.

To give a little background, the Philippines had been under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos for 20 years with 14 of those years with the country under Martial Law. One of the main opposition leaders, Ninoy Aquino had been imprisoned for 7 years under Marcos and then effectively exiled to the US.

In the early 1980s Marco’s health was failing and the situation in the Philippines was getting worse. Aquino decided that he would return to the Philippines and attempt to convince Marcos to step down and allow for a free election. Marcos warned Aquino not to return.

Despite those warnings Aquino’s plane landed at the Manila airport on August 21, 1983. As he started to walk down the steps of the plane to begin the fight for his country, He was shot and killed and fell dead on the tarmac.

The country was stunned, and the fires of revolution sparked. There were calls for Marcos to step down. He refused. The unrest grew. There were rumors of a coup to try and remove Marcos. Facing continued pressure, in December 1985 Marcos declared that there would be an election in 60 days. Aquino’s widow agreed to run as a substitute for her husband. The votes came in and both Marcos and Aquino claimed victory.

The country was at a stalemate and in chaos. The time for revolution was now. The People Revolution had begun. Two million Filipinos poured into a 14 mile street called EDSA in the city center. These protestors included doctors, lawyers, street vendors, teachers, nuns, and priests. The people were demanding fair elections and the removal of Marcos. Many of my family members were among those people.

While telling this story, my Tita Gina said that the more people that joined the protest the more that hope grew. As the hope of the people increased so did the desperation of Marcos. He sent tanks in to cut off both ends of the street and to trap the people. The order was given to disperse the people by any means necessary.

The tanks started to roll in to block off the ends of Edsa. My aunt tells of looking for the best escape route so that she would not be rolled over by the tanks or hit by flying bullets. Fear gripped the crowd realizing the likely inevitable bloodshed. However, at the front of the crowd, 100 yards from the rolling tanks, two nuns got on their knees to pray.

In the midst of this chaos, they chose stillness. They had a quiet confidence of strength. Sister Ocariza is quoted saying that as she stared down the barrel of the howitzer canon, all she could think was don’t kill these people who I love.

People followed the lead of the two nuns and got on their knees. People did not run away. The reporters and camera men who had been standing on the side of the street, dropped their cameras and notebooks and ran towards the tanks to try and push them back and prevent the crushing of the nuns.

As the nuns prayed on their knees with the people behind them, the tanks slowed and then stopped. Everybody waited for the next move. The crowd was silent. Slowly, the hatch opened and the soldiers climbed off the tanks and joined the nuns in prayer.

Over the sounds of prayers, my aunt said that they heard a fleet of helicopters approaching. As the black hawk helicopter reached the center of Edsa, Cornel Honasan leaned out the window and swung a huge white flag. It was over.

These nuns had led this crowd with their gentle and lowly hearts.

Gentleness and humbleness are not qualities that we have. They are qualities we earn by the decisions we make.

The decision is to put love above self-interest. The nuns were able to choose to be present with the people and have still confidence in the midst of chaos because they made a decision to act in love for the people trapped on EDSA.

We make these same decisions each day. We may not be heroes ending a revolution. But we find ourselves in our own chaos. We find ourselves in the chaos of our busy lives, working, trying to build our careers and dreams, tending to our friends. raising families, managing our small children, adult children, or our parents. Life doesn’t slow down. The national discourse can only be described as chaotic. We, through our heart, make decisions each day about how we will show up in that chaos.

As I think about the decisions that I make, I know that I want to be present with people during the times that feel hard. I want to show up and be approachable. I hope to be someone that people know that they can talk to and trust. I want to be a source of stillness in chaos and have a strength of confidence in my God no matter what is happening.

These things won’t happen by accident. We build our muscles to make these decisions through the Spiritual Exercises like the exercise of reading the Bible we are stepping into as a community this fall. It is training. This is our spiritual gym. We spend the time training ourselves so that when the time comes, we can make the decision that reflects the imago dei in us and in others.

The moment the tanks were rolling down Edsa was not the first time that the nuns chose love for the people over their own self-interest. They had trained themselves for that moment without knowing it. That training was by daily making decisions that chose love. Over time, formed by their practices, they made the decision to get on their knees in front of the tank. It was the most natural, inevitable thing to do. It was not a hard decision. It was an expression of the habits of their hearts; lowly and gentle, the inevitable response to the heart of Jesus shown to and then given to them.

May it be so with us as well.