Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Sexuality as a Gift on the Path to Righteousness
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How many of us in the LGBTQ+ community have had the disordered-ness of our sexuality thrown at us from pulpits, preachers, and even family members over the years? However, today’s reflection offers another view. Sexuality as divinely offered gift that helps us make our unique way on the paths of right relationship that Love has set before us. Neither a cross nor a mistake, our (all) sexuality is rather a gift given in love and by Love that calls us to act, as it did for Abram and Sarai in today’s first reading. This charism, along with all the others we have been given, promises us the hope of transformation and growth as we seek – with God’s guidance – to walk in the world as our authentic, beloved selves.
March 13, 2022: Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14
Philippians 3:17 – 4.1
Sexuality as a Gift on the Path to Righteousness
A reflection by Jon Schum
Each year on the second Sunday of Lent we hear a narrative about Abram. In year A there is the story of Abram’s call; in year B Abram is tested as he is asked to sacrifice his son. And in year C, this year, God’s covenant with Abram is enacted and sealed. Unfortunately, Sarai is left out of these accounts. We are left to surmise what she witnessed and thought. Note: both Abram’s and Sarai’s names are later changed to Abraham and Sarah in chapter 17.
The primeval history of Genesis ends with chapter 11 and there begins the ancestor narratives in Genesis 12-50. The stories of Abraham and Sarah (12-25) mark the historical beginning of God entering directly into the lives of our spiritual ancestors. Many years ago in my college Old Testament course, the Jesuit instructor introduced the concept of “covenant.” It enkindled a kind of spiritual awakening in me, realizing that God, no longer an abstraction, is intimately involved in my life.
Imagine Sarah and Abraham in the remote and arid desert gazing upward. “Look up and count the stars if you can! As many as that, you shall have for descendants.” Abraham wonders, “how shall this come about?” And then proceeds, however strange to our senses, a mysterious ritual/sacrifice in which a covenant is literally and symbolically “cut.” Believing that God was worthy of trust, Abraham follows instructions and gathers and lays out traditional sacrificial animals, splitting them in two. Although he neither burns nor consumes them, he protects them from birds of prey. As he falls into a trance, in a “deep and terrifying darkness,” God, as a flaming torch, passes between the slaughtered animals, completing the pact.
The covenant is sealed: Abraham will worship and obey the One God, no easy task in a polytheistic religious world. In turn, God will bless Abraham and Sarah lavishly with a fertile land and countless descendants. Their story evolves from being landless nomads to its completion as the two are buried in a tomb they own in land they possess. It is the story of promises fulfilled.
The gospel readings for the second Sundays of Lent are the three synoptic versions of the transfiguration of Jesus. Today’s account, from the gospel of Luke, situates the transfiguration eight days after Jesus’ first prediction of his passion and death. Shortly after the Transfiguration Jesus was “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (9:51).
The Transfiguration is replete with theological representations which place Jesus clearly in Tradition, within a unique mission and in intimate relationship with Abba-God. Jesus’ mission is interpreted through Moses and Elijah, who symbolize the Torah and the Prophets. The event takes place on a mountain, recalling Moses’ and Elijah’s encounters with God. The cloud is a classic symbol of divine transcendence.
What is unique about the Lucan narrative is the intention and the image of Jesus going up on the mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying “his faced changed in appearance and the clothes he wore became dazzlingly white.” Jesus’ radiant appearance emanates from the total and profound intimacy with Abba-God in prayer. Jesus, transformed and in dialogue with Moses and Elijah, embodies the fundamental truth of who Jesus is. No other event other than the resurrection would compare to this.
As Moses and Elijah take leave, Peter awkwardly offers lodging to extend their stay, but as he speaks a cloud comes over them with the command, “This is my Chosen One, listen to him,” echoing the baptism of Jesus. For the three disciples, this mystical experience is overpowering. The Jesus they knew as teacher and companion is revealed to be the exalted and Anointed One of God. The disciples reported this event to no one at that time. Later, after witnessing the events to come in Jerusalem, they would understand. No longer silent, they would courageously proclaim the Risen Jesus as the Christ.
The Letter to the Philippians is one of the “captivity epistles,” written by Paul from prison. Paul’s affection for the Philippi community is evident in this letter, along with a profound joy and an urge to rejoice – even as he contends with the spread of false and deceptive teachings in the community and faces the possibility of execution.
While the gospels are centered on the historical Jesus’ life and ministry, the Pauline letters are more Christ-centered (Christological). Both didactic and exhortatory, letters such as Philippians, return to a frequent theme, that of our sharing in the redemptive mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. And so we are reminded in today’s reading that our true citizenship is in heaven, in which “our Savior Christ Jesus will give a new form to this lowly body of ours.” We are urged “to stand firm in Christ Jesus.”
Abraham and Sarah placed their trust in a faithful God. The Hebrew word for this is ‘āman, which is the root word for our affirming amen. Their faith is credited as righteousness (15:6), which is to walk the path of God in right relationship. Abraham’s intention to live by God’s promise places Abraham and Sarah in right relationship with God. To “stand firm in Christ Jesus” is a righteous act as well: it is to walk the path of Jesus in right relationship. The Transfiguration event places Jesus in right relationship as the Anointed One of Abba-God and the fulfillment of prophetic witness through sacred history – and we are called to listen!
Righteousness is often construed as simply living the pious life according to moral principles. But in a broader biblical context it is following the correct path, the way of God. I believe righteousness is striving to be the authentic, true, beloved self who is formed in the image of God. To be so, and to do so, leads to right relationship with God, with the earth, with the kinsperson and the stranger. To me, the clearest description of a righteous life is that simple verse in the prophet Micah (6.8): “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
LGBTQ+ persons of faith understand what it means to discern and follow this path. We have had to seek and walk the righteous way individually and communally, under the shadow of moral and religious judgment, and without institutional support and guidance. We joyfully welcome others as they join us. We celebrate our unions and affirm the integrity of our love. We stand for a righteousness that is consistently upheld by the prophets and in the gospels as the willingness to care for the most vulnerable. It is not a virtue to be worn like a badge (self-righteousness), but a charism to move us outward into the world. Lent affords us the moment to reset and make aright our relationships. God is for us every step of the way, and we are never far from Easter and its promise.
Jon Schum and his husband Ron Lacro are longtime Dignity Boston members. Jon has served on its board and liturgy committee and is one of the chapter's ordained presiders. For many years he supervised and provided arts-based therapeutic programming for an elder services agency in Boston. He is currently a co-facilitator of the Aging with Dignity caucus.