Culture

Jesus enters a sexually charged space – and offers us a sacramental sexuality

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Many of my constituents act as if the intensity of the attention to sexuality brought upon the church by recent cultural eruptions is a bad thing. I get the impression that things would be better if the issue had never come up – or if it would just go away – either by accident like a passing fad or by force as we say louder the things we’ve always said.

Perhaps it goes without question that most of the church was underprepared to respond to the extent to which “traditional” postures toward sexuality have become and are becoming unwound. But do we assume, even implicitly, that it’s a bad thing that we are forced to look again at what our sexuality is all about?

If this phenomenon is actually a good thing, then how could it be? What might change about our posture toward sexuality if we saw this eruption, not as a problem to be fixed, but as an opportunity to re-situate sexuality as an embodied sign that points us deeper into God’s presence and life?

I am seeking this type of sexuality – one in which our posture affirms that, in Christ, sexuality can be an embodied sign of the meaning, essence, and fulfillment of all things.

 

At the well in Samaria in John 4, in a scene charged with multiple layers of sexual intrigue, the entire encounter turns on a question of where and how someone can find living water – the true source of life. As the conversation unfolds, we quickly realize that more is going on. Not only is Jesus present with the woman just as she is, he also gently leads her to the uncovering, naming, confessing of an ongoing reality of sexual scandal – most likely the woman’s most poignant source of shame.

Jesus enters the sexually charged and controversial space and invites the woman to see her complicated sexual situation as irreducible to the answer of the initial desire: “Sir, give me this water.” She might not yet know it, but the fulfillment of what this woman has sought sexually is not simply a proper marriage or commitment to chastity, but rather knowing Jesus as the true source of life.

If she has eyes to see and is willing to surrender to it, this woman’s complicated sexual situation, even in its brokenness, can become the context in which she learns how to worship in spirit in truth – a pathway through which living water flows.

I wonder how the way Jesus directs this woman’s desires, the way he is unapologetically present with her as the source of life, and the way he helps reveal that more is going on behind what is seen might be instructive for developing a more sacramental sexuality?

What if our conversation around sexuality was framed foremost by the possibility that, in Christ, our sexuality, especially in its brokenness, could once again become a revelation of God’s life – a means of grace? A sign that points to a deeper and truer word?

In other words, if our goal as Christians is to be on mission as witnesses to Christ as the true source of life and human flourishing, then we would be served by finding a new way to frame the convoluted question surrounding sexuality. We need to re-script this conversation.

To that end, I am seeking the Table as the main reference point for sexuality. More specifically, I am seeking a sexuality grounded in sacramental possibility – where the most basic theological/pastoral move is not about affirming proper sexual behavior (or chastening improper behavior), but rather seeking the fulfillment of our sexuality in Christ – seeking to “follow” all of our sexual complexities and desires through Christ by the Spirit toward communion with God.

 

When sexuality is grounded in sacramental possibility, several mutual reinforcing implications emerge to the surface that need further unfolding:

Recovering sexuality as a gift of God’s life.

If our main reference-point is the Table where we see that all things can once again become an avenue for communion with God, then our first instinct is to see our sexuality as a gift. This, to me, will require a shift – especially in those places where we are acutely aware of sexual brokenness, woundedness, and confusion – from the instinct to fix or suppress what we notice in ourselves or others.

In Christ, sexuality can become a site where we learn to receive God’s life.

If our sexuality, when offered by the Spirit unto God for sanctification, can once again be recovered as God’s gift of life, then our first and primary word regarding sexuality is yes, rather than no.

Yes, our sexuality is a sign of abundant life. Our sexuality is not the thing we must get around or get right in order to receive God’s life. Yes, these desires can become a sign and a means through which God’s life breaks forth when submitted unto God for sanctification. That yes affirms that our brokenness can become a blessing.

The first move is surrender

At the Table, our first move is not one of control, but surrender. We cannot presume to know what to do with what feels right or feels wrong or is deeply disappointing outside of mutual surrender to the transformative grace offered in Christ at the Table.

Coming out is a good thing

When we surrender at the Table, we are allowing ourselves to be seen. This is a good thing because sexuality is often the place where we most long to hide and cover – a place of deep shame. This is a place to affirm that we must come out of hiding in order to come to Jesus. We affirm that coming out of hiding – however that happens – is one step closer to being known. And being known, by God and one another, is the first and crucial step in knowledge of ourselves.

Finding the fulfillment of desire outside myself – in the source of life itself

At the Table, everything is redefined around the reality of God’s self-giving action in Christ. We learn that any true-self reference must come outside the subjective self. And if sexuality is a sign of God’s life, then it means at the heart of sexuality is not self-taking but self-giving. At the Table begins a redefinition of how I treat my sexuality in relation to others.

 

So, I am seeking a sexuality that teases out these possibilities. What else do you see is possible if our sexuality is foremost framed as a sacrament of God’s life?

[Photo by ekilby, CC via Flickr]

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