On World Aids Day I am honored to gather with a community of people concerned about this killer disease. We gather in vigil to remember the many who have died of the disease. We gather to hear their stories, the stories of family members and then I have the great joy of speaking about why the church cares about this issue.
Many conversations about this disease are full of myth and misunderstanding. In many of our communities, persons with HIV/AIDS have to live in darkness for fear of prejudice, hatred, and discrimination. I would venture to say that many HIV/AIDS patients are treated like the lepers of today.
Jesus constantly healed those that he encountered. This healing of body, mind, and spirit restored these persons into their community, allowing them to live a full life once more. He then called his disciples to be about such healing everywhere that they went. This healing, this salvation, became the incarnate mark of God’s kingdom present, and a foreshadowing of its future consummation.
It is appropriate that we gather for World Aids Day at the beginning of the Christian season of Advent. This season marks the church’s recognition that something is not right in the world, that we need Jesus to come once more and establish his kingdom of Justice, Peace and love once and for all. The signs are all around us, poverty, prejudice and disease rule many parts of our world and our nation. These are the things that Christ came for!
As we gather today we recognize the pain, grief, and brokenness that this illness causes in our world, our communities and our families. Added to the effects of the illness is the continual prejudice and misinformed attitudes that those afflicted with this disease and their families experience everyday.
Today the church gathers to say, no more. We will not be participants in misinformation, prejudice and hatred. We will not stand by and fail to call our community to faithful proclamation and active engagement with those that are continually marginalized by this disease. We must support measures in local, national and international communities that will slow down the progression of the disease and must resist efforts that perpetuate this illness under the guise of “faithful” Christian response.
Our founder John Wesley believed that there was “no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.” He practiced this way of life by visiting the sick and the imprisoned, preaching to the common people in the fields, and calling for better working conditions. All of these were ways to practice holiness in the transformation of his world. It is fitting that United Methodists, as heirs of John Wesley, join ecumenical partners, government agencies, and community organizations in raising awareness about this killer disease.
May the church become a place where people affected with HIV/AIDS can find comfort, support, acceptance, and compassion. We will open our doors by hosting vigils, clinics, and test sites. We will educate our people about the disease and continue to advocate at the local, state and national level for more research funding and aid to countries where the disease has become a pandemic. Most importantly we will refuse to spread prejudice & misinformation about the disease and those afflicted by it.
On this first week of Advent, let’s listen carefully to the stories told on this important day. We’ll hear stories of brokenness, chaos, pain, of justice needed, and righteousness withheld. These stories remind us that the world needs a savior, so let us join together to continue the healing, reconciling, & redemptive ministry of Jesus in our communities and in our world!