Alex Zuber, Harrisonburg, VA
Can you think of a time where you felt like no one heard or understood you? What did it feel like to be overlooked or even misrepresented? How did you try to be understood or be noticed?
In recent weeks, our country has been rocked once again by gun violence targeting the LGBTQIA+ community. On the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a lone gunman walked into Club Q—an LGBTQ friendly nightclub in Colorado Springs, CO—and opened fire, killing 5 people and wounding 17 more. The shooter was subdued by an army veteran and a trans woman who acted with incredible bravery, but not before Daniel Davis Ashton, Raymond Green, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, and Derrick Rump were added to the litany of those who have died at the hands of anti-LGBTQIA+ violence.
Like the devastating 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, this act of violence bears an extra measure of cruelty in that it happened at a club which has so often been a place of safety, refuge, and affirmation for a community that faces daily fear and rejection by family, friends, and strangers. Comfort, love, and community flourished in Club Q, where the patrons simply wanted to be seen, loved, and valued for who they were made to be. In this heinous act, a place of sanctuary was violated, and this act should serve as a wake up call to people of faith who have been a part of perpetuating anti-LGBTQIA+ bias for far too long.
As the voices of the LGBTQIA+ community have cried out from the wilderness of pain, sorrow, and fear over these last weeks, it asks the question of the church as a whole… are we truly listening?
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Matthew 3 bridges the gap between Matthew’s birth narrative of Jesus (which includes Christ’s genealogy, birth, visit from the Magi, flight to Egypt, and the death of the infants of Bethlehem) and the beginning Christ’s public ministry at his baptism. In this story we see God’s faithfulness through the generations, God’s assuring presence with Joseph, and God’s deliverance through Egypt (again!). In the midst of this we also see the cruelty of those with the most power. Furious that he cannot thwart the coming of a new king, Herod kills the children of Bethlehem. This is the climate into which John the Baptizer raises his voice in Matthew 3.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” John proclaims from the margins of society. Wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey, John is anything but mainstream and acceptable within Herod’s court. Heard but misunderstood, John is consigned to the fringe of society with his message of judgement against those who abuse and hope for those who are crushed.
Like the LGBTQIA+ community, John finds his place and people on the outside, building a movement where he finds others who are suffering under tyranny. He sternly rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees who come out to see him, calling them a brood of vipers and imploring them to bear fruit worthy of repentance. These leaders are part of a religious system that has created circles of insiders and outsiders. The kingdom of heaven which John proclaims has no such circles. The kingdom is a gift from God for all people, and John’s fiery words are meant to burn away all the bias and indifference that would allow these religious leaders to see anyone as an outsider to the gifts of God.
Perhaps the baptism of John can wash across the generations with a flood of justice. Perhaps the fire of Christ can burn away the institutional indifference and disdain which consigns our LGBTQIA+ siblings to a place on the margins. The way of the Lord which John proclaims is lived by Christ, who calls all people to his way of grace and peace. But in order to walk this way, we all must bear fruit worthy of repentance. This is a difficult lesson to hear, because the kingdom of heaven is deeply disruptive to the oppressors, and it is freedom and life to those who have been oppressed.
Advent is a time for waiting, a time when we practice giving space to hear and see the ways that God’s kingdom is moving around us. John the Baptizer asks of us, “What then will you do when you hear the voice of one crying out in the wilderness?” For the sake of those being crushed by injustice, for the sake of those who are told they have no place, for the sake of those who have heard that grace does not belong to them… I pray that the Church of Jesus Christ will answer as one, “We will prepare the way of the Lord!”
Stir up your power Lord Christ and come. Give us ears to hear the voices like John who cry out from the margins with a word of challenge and hope. Prepare in our hearts the way of your Son, that all may know the kingdom of heaven has come near, through Christ our Lord. Amen.