Harrowing Of Hell
January 7, 2024

Where is God?

The Rev. Lisa Ozaeta

To watch the sermon click here.

Good Morning.

Last night we celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. Doyt shared a little about where Epiphany is now and a vision for the future. If you were not able to attend, go and watch the video. We are planning some exciting things.

I love that we have the tradition of meeting each year on our eponymous feast to discuss the vision for our parish. The Feast of Epiphany is about revelation and celebrates the manifestation of God in Jesus. It seems appropriate that we look forward to how God will manifest in the life of our parish each year on this date.

As you know, in the Episcopal Church, Christmas is not a day. It is a season. It starts on December 25 and ends on January 6. The season of Christmas begins with the story of the birth of Jesus. The Christmas season ends with the story of the 3 kings following a star across the dessert to go and worship the Christ child, Jesus.

The Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Theophany on January 6. Theophany is just a fancy word for the manifestation of God. Today’s Gospel reading of Jesus baptism is a classic theophany because we hear the voice of God the creator acknowledge Jesus as the son and the Holy Spirit is represented by the dove that descends from heaven. So at the baptism, we have the manifestation of the full trinity.

The Bible has many examples of this kind of theophany. In our Read the Bible in the year program, we have made it to Isaiah so we have encountered many of these.

In Exodus, we see the burning bush. The bush was said to be on fire and not burn. The image was to show the presence of divinity. These kinds of images are repeated throughout the Old Testament.

There is the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day that was said to travel with the Hebrew people across the wilderness.

Elisha encountered God in the small still voice.

These are dramatic pictures of how people explain an encounter with God.

I am not sure if this helps us understand how we encounter God today.

I haven’t seen a burning bush. And I don’t want to see a pillar of fire.  Not only do I not want to see a pillar of fire coming down 34th street, these events seem unsatisfying because 1) they are terrifying and 2) they seem very distinct and separated by times when there is the manifestation of God and when there is not.  It seems like you would have to wait for that special moment when there would be a big manifestation.

It is tempting to think about theophany this way. Almost like we go through our life just living, working, raising families and doing the stuff of life. Then, when we sit in church, we are ready. It is like okay, ah, I am here…Show yourself. Or when something is going on in our life, we pray and say…show me you. Talk to me.

I picture it almost like there is a box that holds all of God’s glory and presence and then we ask enough or it is deemed that we need it enough, a hole bursts out of that box and we experience the presence or activity of God in our lives.

But God, will not be put in a box.

I don’t think that God is only revealed or divinity manifested only some times. There is a constant manifestation of God. It is God’s nature. God cant help but be manifested. God’s activity permeates the world…everywhere and all of the time.

You can not escape it.

You can miss it, but you can not escape it.

Manifestation is not so much a pillar of fire blazing in front of us as it is the oxygen in the air that surrounds us. We don’t think about the oxygen that we breathe, but we are surrounded from our first breath to our last.

Our human lungs don’t need to think about oxygen to experience the benefits. Our bodies are made so that if we aren’t getting enough oxygen, we will know it. It becomes an emergency that we can not ignore.

Similarly, we are surrounded by the manifestation of God. It is always there. If we aren’t getting enough, it also becomes an emergency, but unlike our lungs that scream at us, we are really good at ignoring the deprivation of God’s presence in our lives. But, when we miss the manifestation of God in the all and all of life, we are literally missing our life. That is the emergency, to actually miss the reality of the life we were set in.

My wife’s grandmother passed away a week ago. As I mourned the loss of Lola Norma, I could not help but stop and thin about the bigger questions in life. I think we do this when we lose someone. We think about our own mortality and ask questions like What is important to us? What are we afraid of not experiencing? What will make life well lived or an opportunity missed.

For me, the answer was really clear. I don’t want to miss the life that God wants me to experience. I don’t want to miss God’s manifestation in my life and around me. For me, this is what has the most significance. I don’t want to sleepwalk through life.

We fill our lives with things that numb us to the reality of God among us. We are busy, stressed, and distracted. We need to train our eyes so that we can see the truth of God communicating with us more often. We do this through embodied practices that help us recognize God’s image and allow us to enter into the depth of things. This is why we talk about the Spiritual Exercises so much. They are practices that people have used for over a 1000 years, well longer, to find a way to touch the sacred…a way to retrain our focus so that we see all the ways that God is around us. The Spiritual Exercises wake us up to the reality of God all around us.

I was talking to a friend about this message. I told her that I was going to talk about what happens when we open our eyes to the revelation of God in our lives. She said, that sounds wonderful. But to be honest, I am too tired for that.

I get it. It always feels like there is one more thing we have to do to be enough. But, It doesn’t have to be hard. This is not another grind culture exercise. In fact, it is the opposite. It is about finding ways to step into simplicity of slowing down and experiencing God.  This does not have to be a time-consuming thing (although sometimes that is the most wonderful gift we can give ourselves), it can be a simple as taking a day or half day retreat away from our obligations, technology, and noise and allow ourselves to be moved by the stillness of a landscape. A short 20 minutes in prayer speaking and listening to God can help change the way we look at our day.

I am a big fan of the Ignatian practice the Examen. I have mentioned it before. And fair warning, I will mention it again, because for me it is a transformative practice that is really pretty easy to incorporate. At the end of each day, I take some time to ask where I saw God show up in my day. I was talking to someone this week who mentioned that he does it differently. He does his examen in the morning. Rather than looking in reverse to identify where God showed up, he looks forward into the day and prays about where God might show up and asks that he will have eyes to see it and the presence to experience it. I love this.

There are lots of ways to open your eyes to how God manifests around you. Whether it is on a walk, through prayer, or maybe sitting at Evensong.

When we open ourselves to the experience of God in our lives, a few things happen.

  • Love: First, we are reminded of the truth. The truth is that the God who is the creator of the world who is bigger than our concepts of God, the great mystery, loves us… loves each of us individually. We are loved. We are made by God for living a life connected to God and connected to others. Being reminded of this gives us clarity.
  • Clarity: So the second thing, is that when we allow ourselves to experience God, It creates clarity for us. It is amazing how 20 minutes of connecting to God can clarify direction or add context to dilemmas in other parts of our lives. How many times are we on a walk, sitting in church, or lost in prayer and then we are hit by clarity for another area in our life. That is how God manifests. Our lives are not compartmentalized. There is no secular and sacred. It all bleeds together. When we seek and experience God in one part of our life, it will affect all of our interactions and experiences.
  • Community: Finally, a manifestation shared- when we see God manifested in our world and share it with someone else – it gives cause for others to share their manifestations causing three things to happen
  • we realize the commonality of how God manifests is similar for people creating shared reality,
  • community is built,
  • others start looking more actively for manifestations in their lives.

As we step into this new year, I encourage you to bless yourself and give yourself the gift to see God in your day and in your world. Share what you notice. Have conversations about it. See what happens. If you make this a habit, it will add vigor and happiness and joy to your New Year.