Has anyone been lonely, especially these last two years when we have been so socially isolated? Or lonely, feeling out of step with family and friends? Because you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. .
Loneliness has long been recognized as being bad for a person’s mental health, but research is now showing it can also be physically harmful. “We know now it not only affects their quality of life, but the length of it too,” says Ami Rokach, a psychologist at Toronto’s York University who has studied loneliness for more than 30 years. Beyond causing heightened rates of depression, anxiety and irritability, loneliness is now being associated with potentially life-shortening health issues such as higher blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Some experts have gone as far as to argue that being lonely for a prolonged period is more harmful to a person’s health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/national-dealing-with-loneliness-1.4828017
For LGBTQ+ people, which includes transgender and non-binary people, loneliness and the accompanying health risks are even higher. Today, we are marking PIE Day, a day to express our PUBLIC, INTENTIONAL, and EXPLICIT support for those who identify as LGBTQ+. Why is this necessary you say and how does it connect with our faith and with everything else that is going on in the world you ask? I hope I make the connections for you! First of all, let’s listen to scripture, it’s from the gospel of Mark in the 9th chapter.
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
Let’s tackle the first part of that reading… “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” That could just as easily say, “Jesus, we saw someone who wasn’t doing things exactly as we think they should be done and we think you should stop them, because we think our way is better.” Notice that that John didn’t say, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following you!” No, John says, because they weren’t following us. I think it’s an important distinction. So much of what has caused divisions in the church are the rules that we have put in place around the ministry that Jesus offered. Not Jesus.
Because every time we try and keep people from Jesus, Jesus just draws the circle wider to include them. For a long time, the church, not just the United Church and still many churches and religious institutions believe that LGBTQ+ people have no place next to Jesus. Or if they have a place next to Jesus, it is only to come to him for healing of their ‘illness.’ We know that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. Each person holds a spark of the divine image.
And nobody, no follower of Jesus should prevent another follower of Jesus from being part of a community that can support, sustain and strengthen one another through all the challenges of life. That includes the challenges of loneliness. In a world where we have the capability of being connected 24/7 and many of us have difficulty turning off our devices, there is an epidemic of loneliness.
The wonder of the first Christian communities that formed after Jesus’ death and resurrection is NOT that they were made up of high-ranking officials and leaders. It was that ALL were welcome, and all were loved. EVERYONE, absolutely EVERYONE had a place at the table. In a society in which your place in it was governed by your family, occupation, ethnicity, gender, the early Christian communities were places of equality.
Listen to these words from the book of Acts, in the second chapter: 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[j] to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[k] and ate their food with glad and generous[l] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
All who believed, not just some! Let’s link back to Mark’s reading and Jesus’ response to John:
“Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.“
Have you ever been thirsty? Thirsty, with no water in sight? Thirsty with no possibility of water? Probably most of us haven’t been in that position. But in the world that Jesus lived, a desert world, a cup of water could be the difference between life and death. Three days is how long we can live without water. Jesus always used the ordinary materials of life to illustrate important concepts. A cup of water. The difference between life and death to a person experiencing dehydration.
What is the cup of water that we can offer to those who experience the dehydration of exclusion, loneliness, marginalization, simply because of who they are and who they might love? Doesn’t the world need more love? No matter what?
What is the cup of water we can offer to a hurting world? We can make sure that this place is always safe space. We can make sure that this is a place of acceptance and inclusion, even if we don’t understand why a person is non-binary or if we don’t even know what that means! We can be PUBLIC, INTENTIONAL and EXPLICIT about our actions and words.
We set these actions against the backdrop of the invasion of Ukraine. An unprovoked invasion, where more than 2 million people have fled as refugees into neighbouring countries and there are wonderful stories of the generosity and kindness taking place.
There is also another layer to the story, Poland and Hungary, the two countries where most of the refugees have wound up, are not LGBTQ friendly. I hadn’t thought of that of the additional danger or lack of access to services that a LGBTQ refugee might face simply because of their identity and who they love. There are people and organizations who are giving cups of water:
Polish advocacy groups like the Campaign Against Homophobia and Lambda Warsaw have organized databases where refugees can be matched with LGBTQ-friendly homes.
A cup of water…
Lambda Warsaw has received a $30,000 grant from the global nonprofit All Out to rent a flat specifically for housing LGBTQ refugees.
A cup of cold water…
Others are working on their own, like Polish activist Amanda Waliszewska. has been organizing accommodations and spreading awareness of resources in Poland for LGBTQ and BIPOC refugees via social media. She’s even offered up her childhood home as a place for people to stay, Waliszewska tells TIME, since she knows her neighbors were tolerant of her own queer identity.
A cup of cold water…
In Hungary, the advocacy group Transvanilla Transgender Association has been arranging accommodations, transportation, and food for trans and gender expansive people who make it into the country. https://time.com/6156672/lgbtq-ukraine-refugees-russia/
A cup of cold water…
When I made a donation to Ukraine relief work, I didn’t even think of the extra trauma or danger LGBTQ+ people might be in, and so the next donation I make will be to one of the organizations I just mentioned.
We can be PUBLIC, INTENTIONAL, and EXPLICIT about offering a cup of water to those who are lonely, isolated and at greater risk because of who they are and who they love. We do it because Jesus would.
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.
Mark 9: 38-42
March 12, 2022 – SMUC