Each year on December 1st people all over the world unite in solidarity to reaffirm our commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS. Since the identification of the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome in 1981 and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes it in 1985, we’ve lost many…but we’ve learned much. We’ve learned that HIV is not a disease that only affects gay white men as we originally suspected. We’ve learned from Arthur Ashe and Majic Johnson that no matter how much money or fame you have, you too can be victim to HIV and AIDS. We’ve also learned from Majic that with the right resources, a positive out and the advent of antiretroviral treatment in 1996, although infected, one might live a normal and healthy life. We’ve watched as this epidemic has reached critical levels in places like Africa and we’ve witnessed an epidemic brewing right here at home among people of color. June 5, 1981 AIDS was discovered, and 32 years later…..
34 million people worldwide are living with HIV; 1.7 million of which will succumb to AIDS and those vacancies will be filled with another 2.5 million newly infected individuals. My God! Our brothers and sisters in Sub Sahara Africa account for 22.5mil of all HIV cases globally, that’s 66% of the world’s epidemic, 1.8 million of the infected being children and 14 million children affected, finding themselves orphaned as many of their parents have been victims to this deadly disease. You see the problem in Africa is that they contain 10% of the world’s population, 20% of the world’s health burden, yet only 3% of the world’s health care providers. Dr. King once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” HIV and AIDS is a justice issue.
It’s an injustice right here at home on our soil that 1.8 mill of our compatriots are living with HIV, and 1 in 5 of them don’t even know they are infected. Men who have sex with men and injection drug users are most at risk accounting for nearly 50% and 17% of Americans living with HIV, respectively and although African Americans are only 14% of the U.S. population, we make up half of new cases as well as half of the people living with HIV. Yet another form of racial inequality I’d say. I’d say it’s a tragedy that AIDS is the leading cause of death of black women ages 25-34, due to factors such as poverty which black women overwhelmingly find themselves in as they attempt to hold down single parent households, sexually transmitted infections which black women contract more of, mass incarceration of black men where 1 in 3 of us will be imprisoned in our lifetime, and yes black men on the “down low” who have been closeted by a society that has yet to fully affirm them, forcing them to lead false yet more accepting lifestyles.
It’s these factors that we in public health refer to as the social determinants of health, in this case HIV. The World Health Organization defines it as the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status. HIV and AIDS is a Human Rights issue. A human issue. It’s the reason why 30 mill of the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide are in low/middle income countries. It’s also why those 16 million children who go hungry everyday right here in the U.S., not Africa or Central America, but in these mighty United States, it’s these kids who are more likely to be infected with HIV and AIDS than those who are food secure. Subsequently once infected, those who go hungry are less likely to benefit from treatment, because HIV medication is only as effective as the proper nutrition that accompanies it. It’s the 30 million people entering and existing prisons globally each year, with no mention of what took place on the inside….once they are outside. Did you share needles for drugs or tattoos?? Did you have sex with a man who could have possibly infected you with HIV, an infection you have unknowingly passed on to the wife that you’ve returned home too…It’s gender inequality and violence against women all over the world where women are being raped in some cases by their husbands who have many other wives…plenty of HIV to spread around. Gender inequality even in this country where women find their bodies at the mercy of the U.S. government. It’s discrimination. Discrimination against same gender-loving people, transgenders, sex workers, and injection drug users. Discrimination that has stigmatized these demographic of people so much so, that they are willing to die alone and in silence rather than live out loud and seek the proper care and treatment needed to sustain life for fear of being labeled a leper. It’s Stigma that you and I have perpetuated as people of faith…
HIV and AIDS is no longer just a medical condition my brothers and sisters. It’s a human rights issue. It’s an issue of justice. And that makes it an issue for people of faith. So if you’re one of those Christians who just can’t find it in themselves to get behind the HIV and AIDS movement because you don’t’ want to get your hands dirty…. Ohh you know what I’m talking about. We spend an entire month painting everything pink and we call it Breast Cancer awareness. Hands clean to save lives worth saving. We’ll even donate $10 to purchase mosquito nets saving millions of lives worth saving from Malaria. Hands clean. But nooo, not HIV and AIDS…not THAT disease, that affects THOSE people who might not be worth saving…those very same people Jesus dedicated his entire ministry too…the least of these…only for us to treat Jesus in the same way
Just look at Isaiah 53: verse 3,
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
Look at how they treated our Lord. How dare we treat another one of God’s children in the same way? And so if you are one of THOSE Christians whose faith gets in the way of allowing you to advocate for people living with HIV, have no fear I’ve got a solution for you. HIV and AIDS is a justice issue and although the bible might not say anything about HIV specifically it says plenty about justice. In fact the bible mentions justice 1,576 times in 1,379 separate verses. To put that in perspective that’s twice as many times as the words “love” or “heaven” are mentioned, and 7 times more often than the word “hell” is mentioned in the bible. So if you’re one of THOSE Christians who needed some biblical context, there it is. If you can’t justify fighting for HIV the medical condition, fight against HIV the justice issue, and join me in the healing process. Isaiah 53 says, “And by his wounds we are healed…” And I say the healing of HIV and AIDS cannot and will not begin without a faith response.
The UN says that 70% of the world’s population identifies with a faith community. Relative to HIV and AIDS, the World Health Organization estimates that 40% of Sub Sahara Africa’s HIV/AIDS treatment and care are provided by Christian hospitals and health centers. Catholic Auspices, alone, deliver 25% of the world’s HIV and AIDS services. So one could say the faith community is doing more than enough. However when the former Pontiff of 1 billion Catholics publicly says, “AIDS cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems,” how can people infected and affected by the virus truly have faith, in people of faith? To Pope Benedict the XVI’s credit, a year after making that statement he said, “In some cases where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection a condom can be a first step on the way to another more humane sexuality.” That’s the bright side. And maybe on an even brighter side, in only his first few months in the papacy, Pope Francis has been outspoken against the stigmatization of marginalized groups, particularly same gender loving people. Nonetheless the stench of stigma is on us. So it is not just good enough for the faith community to respond to the call to care for each other by making sure all are fed or to ensure that knowledge and profit don’t become a source of division and injustice but instead contribute to the equality and well-being of all, but rather we must first and foremost work to “do to others what we would have them do to us” and thereby acknowledge and embrace the human dignity of each and every person.
And so that leads me to ask a difficult question for people of faith: “Is it the “moral” thing to do to withhold information or resources that have the potential to protect or preserve an individual’s health and life because we don’t agree with their behavior?” I’ll ask that again: (repeat). Perhaps the answer is implicit in yet another question: How would Jesus respond? And that answer can be found in the word of God. Please turn your bibles to Mark 5:1-9.
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.
When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him.
This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain.
For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him.
Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him.
He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”
Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
So here we have a man living among the dead; A human being cut-off from the love and non-judgmental support of his family and community; A person created in God’s image living outside the community of faith; and it’s the COMMUNITY that often chained him hand and foot. My brothers and sisters in Christ, HIV/AIDS is the “Gerasene Demoniac” of the 21st Century. Individuals infected or affected by HIV are: People often living without the benefit of sustaining a relationship; Individuals who are often cut-off from the love and non-judgmental support of family and community; Men and women created in God’s image living outside the community of faith. You see it’s the church community that chains them hand and foot by failing to extend the unconditional, liberating love of Jesus. So what should be the faith community’s response in the fight against HIV and AIDS? I thought you’d never ask. You see we often come to church expecting to only be spiritually fed, but that’s not enough. This type of ministry requires that we as people of faith serve a full course meal. The church’s responsibility is to carry out its mandate to minister to individual’s physical health, mental health, family-social health AS WELL AS their spiritual health NEEDS. Just look how Jesus responded further down in Mark 5, verse 14…
… the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed (Jesus ministered to his physical health by clothing him and making him presentable), and in his right mind (Jesus has restored his sanity, ministering to his mental health). As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you (so here we have Jesus ministering to his family-social health because he understands that the best healing takes place in community).“ So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed (and so through the witness of Legion Jesus ministers to the spiritual health of an entire community).
And so The Churches Ministry Message According to 2nd Corinthians 5:18-19 is:
God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
So before I take my seat, I’ve got 3 messages that we as people of faith need to send to reconcile with people affected and infected by HIV and AIDS. Message 1: Illness is not a punishment, it’s an opportunity.
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
You know sometimes we have trials, in this case illness, to remind us that God is still God and God is still good. If everything always went as planned, all the time, we’d cease to feel the need for God, am I right about it? And so here, we have a man born into darkness not as a penalty for his sins; noo little does he know Jesus is already going to pay for those sins on the cross. It’s not a death sentence but rather an opportunity to praise God for his miracles. It’s an opportunity for us as Disciples of Christ to do the works of him. It’s an opportunity to shine our light into the darkness of HIV and AIDS whether someone was born with it or you contracted it another way, it doesn’t matter all that matters is that we get to 0 new infections and in order to do that we as people of faith must be a witness to the goodness of the Lord.
That’s message 1. Message 2: Your outlook affects your outcome.
Jesus Heals a Hemorrhaging Woman
A large crowd followed and pressed around Jesus. 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
So even after years and years of unsuccessful treatment, and depleted funds this woman STILL believed that if she could just touch the lord her outcome could be different. Do you know that your attitude…the way you think, can affect the way your body operates? Do you know that as goes the head so does the body follow? Mind over matter is not just a cliché especially when in some cases the mind has been able to convince the body that it was pregnant when it wasn’t. That’s right, it’s a condition called psuedocyesis or phantom pregnancy where a woman and sometimes even a man exhibits all of they symptoms of pregnancy, minus one important caveat…an actual fetus. You see doctors believe this manifests from an intense desire to want to get pregnant, so much so that mind tricks the body into believing it is when it isn’t. Nah this ain’t no hocus pocus y’all this is your outlook, affecting your outcome. It’s your actions being a direct manifestation of your thoughts. It’s why it’s so important for you and I as people of faith to plant seeds of hope and joy in the minds of people living with HIV because BELIEVING that you can overcome this disease is half the battle. Never mind what the doctors do or how well your medications work, if you don’t have FAITH that God can change your circumstance with just one touch, you don’t have much. Your outlook affects your outcome.
And the 3rd and final message: Restoration is possible when you’re filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
The Valley of Dry Bones
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”….
11 ….Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
My brothers and sisters in Christ we’ve got a long, long, way to go in the fight against HIV and AIDS, but we’ve come too far to turn back now. No matter how many lifesaving anti-retro-viral treatments are available, the healing of HIV and AIDS will only take place when we begin to treat people not only with medication, but also with the love of Jesus Christ. And so Saints, in recognition of this World AIDS Day Sunday, in honor of Advent Sunday, and in honor of the tireless fight for justice and equality for all…I charge you today, and I challenge you tomorrow …to be radically inclusive. I urge you Saints to be radically reconciling, but most of all, in the spirit of our Lord, the Holy Spirit…be radically loving, so WHOSOEVER…Whosoever…whosoever…believeth in him shall not perish but have life, and have life abundantly. AMEN.