Harrowing Of Hell
February 18, 2024

From Control to Connection: A Path to Authentic Life

The Rev. Lisa Ozaeta

To watch the sermon click here.

Today is the first Sunday in Lent.

Our reading is from the gospel of Mark where the narrative unfolds with the baptism of Jesus. After Jesus is baptized, God says, “You are my Son, with you I am well pleased.”

There is a part of me that wants the story to end there – at least for a bit. Like, let the world and Jesus bask in this statement. “This is my son, with you I am well pleased.”

Yet, immediately following this sacred declaration, Jesus embarks on a 40-day journey into the wilderness, encountering the trials of temptation.

Today, I want to talk about temptation. What comes to mind when I ask what tempts you? Do you start a list of things that nag at you or something big that you struggle with? Or is it a completely foreign concept that doesn’t make sense?

I grew up in a church where the word temptation was usually linked with fast living or rude behavior. It was a little like seeing God as Santa who knew if we had been good or bad and we better watch out.

Yet, what if the profound temptation lies in the illusion that we are the architects of our own destinies? What if the temptation is to think that we have control or that we are the product of our own goodness.

What do I mean by this? We are tempted to think that we are the master of our universe.

Study, make good grades, marry the right person, go to church, love God, know yourself, eat green things and your life will be good. Surely our life will unfold according to our drafted destiny.

And sure, There is an assurance in this. We have our checklist and we know that if we just stick to it. Life will go the way we want it to go.

We may even attribute our success to God, expressing gratitude and feeling blessed. #Blessed. But we wont let go of the checklist because deep down, we know that it is our meticulous managing of the world around us that is the source of and that which yields our goodness.

This belief system seems like it works until it doesnt. It doesn’t when…bad things happen. When we get sick or someone close to us gets sick. Someone dies. Or even more simply..we lose a friendship or have a broken relationship. It doesn’t work. Our control fails us.

There is a part of us that reacts to tragedy like we are a super detective. When we hear of a sudden death or terrible thing, we start to try and figure out why it happened.

Maybe she was Out too late. With the wrong kind of people. In the wrong part of town. Didn’t make good partner choices. etc. We instinctively do this because we are trying to make sure that this tragedy couldn’t happen to us. While we are careful to not victim-blame, at least not out loud. We want to make sure that we are immune from this terrible deviation from the plan. Yet, crises challenge our understanding of God, shake the foundations of our perceived formula for a good life. The truth is, despite our best efforts and wise decisions, the universe is not under our control.

One of my favorite books and I talk about it often is Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason and other lies I have loved. It is the story of how Kate, a theology professor at Duke, a new mom who had married her high school sweetheart was suddenly diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

Her research was on the prosperity gospel. While she was not an adherent of this theology, her life was filled with the message that if you do the right things and follow the right formula, you will be happy, wealthy and wise.

All of the sudden, it was clear that she was not the architect of her life and she was not in control. This is not what she wanted. And it was not good.

Kate’s story is a raw and emotional journey that asks questions we all face when our plans shatter into a million pieces.

She emerges with a message of hope – yes, you are not in control, and yes, bad things may happen. But that’s not the point. The point is that during times of unpredictability and hardship — joy, love, and connection can be found.

She encourages us to embrace the present moment and foster authentic connections with others and with God.  This knowing ourselves and knowing God, and allowing others to know us, is the fabric of connection to which we are called. This intricate web forms the gravitational pull of our lives, drawing us toward unity with both God and those around us.

So, we get it — things might happen in our lives that were not in our plan. But instead of living into the moment, which might be admitting to ourselves and others that we hate this moment…that we hate whatever has happened. and that it doesn’t feel like a blessing – we pretend. we create an acceptable outward response.

During hard times, and sometimes all of the time, we are tempted to play a character or an avatar for the world. We hear people say, She is handling it all so well. Or He is always so positive no matter what. Or the one that I always liked – man, she can do it all, work, motherhood, serve in the community. She must never get tired. These affirmations become our false identity, which, despite its outward allure, inevitably wears us out.

But – We dont have to pretend. We dont have to create a mask. Connection, joy, and love do not require that our circumstances be perfect. They also do not require us to appear as something that we are not. Be real. Be you. This is how you find true joy…which, if you remember my sermon from Advent – and you do right – joy comes from deep connection with others.When we live behind a mask, we obscure the genuine connection that we seek with God, ourselves, and others.

It is easy to see how tragedy, depression, and exhaustion breaks this illusion that we are in control, but I would argue thinking that we are the source of our own goodness doesn’t work even when it looks like it does.

Maybe we went to the right school, married the right person. got the right job, and have the required over-achieving kids. We have done the things. Our checkboxes have been ticked. and now we are living out our dreams, go to a beautiful church, and life is good. It is the kind of life that on a Saturday morning, we hold a hot cup of coffee in our hands and look into the distance and exhale. We say, ahhh. I did it.

This is the dream right?

So, maybe this seems like it is the dream until something goes wrong. But, I don’t think so. I think that even in that moment, it is still a tragic missing of the reality of our world. The self-assurance and self-reliance rob us of the lens that brings us to an authentic life in God.

When we think we have figured it all out or that we are the source of our own goodness, we can miss knowing God intimately, and recognizing that God is with us, among us, and entangled in our world.

Richard Rohr beautifully describes our existence as living in a Christ-soaked world. Therein lies the beautiful freedom – the freedom of relinquishing control and acknowledging God’s presence in every facet of our lives. I love this so much. I think it is such a hard lesson for us to understand. But it is worth learning.

How do we just be and know that God is. Whether our life is in shambles or a picture of perfection, God still is. And God is still the same in both of those circumstances and all of the places in between. Our temptation is to miss our true identity in this world and misunderstand who God is and how God has built us to live a life that imitates God – just as God is entangled in our world – we are made to live an entangled life.

Living an entangled life is an intentional journey where the threads of our existence intricately weave with the divine, creating a tapestry of deep connections.

This heightened awareness of God’s perpetual presence transcends the boundaries of joy, sorrow, success, or struggle, and it becomes a guiding force in all of our interactions. Authentic connections, free from superficial roles and masks, emerge as the cornerstone of an entangled life, fostering relationships built on honesty, vulnerability, and love.

One way to find this heightened awareness is the practice of Silence. I want to invite you to participate in the Lenten Practice of Silence. Each day we will spend 20 minutes in silence alone. On Sundays at 4.00, we will come together to talk about our experiences and learn from each other. It begins tonight.

Silence serves as a powerful practice for relinquishing control and immersing oneself in the interconnectedness of the world. In the absence of words and external distractions, silence provides a space to let go of the need to control every aspect of our lives.

Silence is a practical resistance against our grip of control and independence. It allows us to surrender to the present moment and attune ourselves to the subtle threads that bind us to the world around us.

In the practice of silence, we release the illusion of separateness and embrace the reality of our interdependence. It becomes a contemplative space where the boundaries between self and others blur, allowing us to recognize the shared essence that binds all living things and the reality of our interconnected existence.

I hope you will join me on this journey as we seek to find the world as it really is.