Today’s post is from guest contributor Laurel Marshall Potter. Laurel is a Ph.D. candidate in Systematic and Comparative Theology at Boston College, with interests including decolonial thought and praxis and Latin American liberation theologies. Laurel worships and researches in collaboration with marginal ecclesial communities in El Salvador, where she lived and worked for several years.
Today’s liturgical readings for the First Sunday of Lent can be found here.
I recently had an opportunity to hear from parents of LGBTQ+ children and adults about their strained relationship with the church. It was a gift to be welcomed into this space on equal footing. I am not a parent, and my godchildren and other kids I know are not yet old enough to express their sexual orientation or gender identity in those terms.
Sometimes, those of us on the younger side of the generational divide imagine that we have to tread lightly around our elders, but it was not the case with this group. I was struck by the faith of these parents, of their decisiveness and clarity on choosing their kids without relinquishing their church. They did not tiptoe–they shouted, they lamented, they demanded that our church practice the inclusion and love it sometimes preaches. It takes an incredible amount of faith and hope to speak so clearly and prophetically to power. Shielded by my Zoom rectangle, I removed my shoes as we tread this holy ground together.
Today’s first lectionary reading from the book of Deuteronomy reads a bit like a liturgical handbook. Moses instructs his people how to offer sacrifices: Give the priest the basket with the offering, and after he sets it on the table, read a particular ritual text. How many times have we seen a similar exchange at Mass, how often have we gone through the motions, zoned out during our Eucharistic prayer, letting the familiar words and affirmations wash over us. This happens to me all the time. There is so much to think about these days.
But Moses is describing a liturgy that does not yet exist. While giving these instructions, Moses and the Hebrew people are still in the desert, years after escaping Egypt, waiting to arrive to the land overflowing with milk and honey that God has promised. Moses ensures the people that they will arrive, that they will grow food again. “And when you get there,” says Moses, “remember the One who fulfills promises. Offer your first fruits. This is what God wants for you.” Moses was a hopeful man, faithful and true, though he died before the people arrived. He never saw the promised land, but his prophetic hope got his people there.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, too, finds himself in the desert, on retreat, discerning. Jesus grew up learning about how God liberated his ancestors from slavery in Egypt, how God promised them their own land, and how God makes good on promises. But that was then. This is now. In Jesus’ world, the Roman Empire terrorizes its subjects into submission by crucifying dissidents. So many people are marginalized in Jesus’s society: women and other gender-diverse peoples, the disabled, the poor. Violence threatens to erupt, fizzling and crackling along colonial borders and among zealous revolutionaries. So when temptation to lose faith and tear it all down by the power of worldly justice and miraculous superpowers is on the table, it’s difficult not to accept. “Show them,” evil whispers. “Make it all end, today.”
But Jesus resists. Even though Jesus didn’t live through liberation from Egypt, he remembers the stories. He knows that one does not live on bread alone, that only God is worthy of worship, that there are no tests that prove this–other than the testimony and the teachings of his own people.
Both Moses and Jesus believe in the future that God promises for God’s people. They both decide to dream with God—ridiculous dreams. A land overflowing with milk and honey in the desert. A world where nobody is left injured on the side of the road. A society where the strangers, the sick, and the elderly are cared for. This is unreasonable, supernatural stuff. We can hardly conceive it.
And yet. Moses, nearing death, is already telling people how to offer the first fruits of a land he will never see. Jesus is tortured and killed, unsure if his friends will carry on his message. Their testimony is so powerful that it is the source of our own faith, all these centuries later.
God is not done dreaming for Creation. In the face of all our world’s struggles that feel so overwhelming and so hopeless, God promises that we will have peace.
We especially affirm that God dreams of full life for all LGBTQ+ people, from childhood through old age, and that God promises to give us and our families consolation, as to all those whose lives do not fit into the world of death-dealing empire. It is a ridiculous claim, and it is our faith.
Let’s dream, as Moses did, of that reality we may never see, but that will exist for our children, and our children’s children:
Of a world free from LGBTQ+ hate crimes
Of a world where queer children are loved, accepted and celebrated. Where they are empowered to learn through sport, art, and education and are able to receive appropriate mental and physical healthcare.
Of a world where families do not have to hide our struggles and growing pains and can be supported by our communities.
Of a world where sexuality is accepted as an integral part of human life, where we are taught the truth about our good desires and can live fully in our bodies.
Of a world where parents and children are reconciled.
Of a world where people of all genders can freely and safely discover and express ourselves.
Let us trust, as Jesus did, that this promise is worth betting our lives on. Accompanied by the Holy Spirit, we live into our own queer futures; we live into God’s own dream for God’s people.
—Laurel Marshall Potter, March 6, 2022