The purpose of this memorial service is to: remember the victims of AIDS, to reassure those who are HIV+ or living with AIDS that they’re not alone, and to recognize the need to respond to this global crisis that too often evades our attention and consciences. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “AIDS is a plague of Biblical proportions.”
Currently, December 1, 2010 – 33 million live with HIV. Half of worldwide infections are young people 25 and under. One of 20 adults are infected. There is one new infection every 15 seconds; in the same 15 seconds AIDS claims another life. By 2020, 12% of Africa’s workforce could die of AIDS (58 million people). And let’s not forget the collateral victims of AIDS in Africa: 20 million orphans.
I believe a Biblical crisis requires a Biblical solution. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, ANYONE can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again” (John 3:16-17). This passage depicts the love and mercy God possesses for His people. Unfortunately, the Church hasn’t always responded the way Christ would. We’ve made mistakes.
According to recent surveys by World Vision, less than 3% of Christians actually care about the effects of AIDS while 52% said they were unwilling to do anything about it. Too often we’ve had the attitude “if you have AIDS, you probably deserve it.” In the Church’s zeal to defend moral values, we’ve “judgmentally withheld our compassion.” As AIDS has claimed 25 million lives since the 80’s, we did nothing but label it the “gay disease.” World Vision President Rich Stearns refers to this apathy and indifference as “the hole in our gospel.” We’ve forgotten that our faith is all about the love and patience God has shown each of us. He’s benevolent towards us so we can be benevolent towards others. Despite our differences and disagreements we can still show mutual respect and preserve individual dignity.
God demonstrated the heart we are to have when He gave His Son who was the Incarnation and embodiment of 4 very important things:
Matthew 5:7 talks about the blessing that is bestowed upon those who are merciful. This is defined as help to the afflicted and those seeking aid, or kindness towards the hurting. In the Greek, its literal translation is to “get inside another person’s skin.” It is not just sympathy or feeling sorry but the ability to identify with another’s perspective: to see what they see and feel what they feel. It’s when we can relate to pain so deeply that we’re compelled to act. “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace an joy finally for you too” – Frederick Buechner, American theologian. This is the virtual message of Christmas: God Himself stepping into our world, seeing life from our perspective, and responding to our need.
Observing the historical context of the Gospel, we see that the Jewish nation experienced the darkness of oppression under Roman rule; in a society where people were alienated, ostracized, and cast out. Jesus talked about true rest, ending strife and conflict; and about offering comfort and even freedom from guilt and rejection.
The theme of this year’s World AIDS day is “Universal Access and Human Rights.” Jesus stood for that. He opposed caste systems, classes, and entitlement. Jesus was counter-cultural…that’s why He was hated. He broke down walls of sexism – (woman at the well), walls of racism (Samaritans, the Jews hated rivals, and the Roman Centurion’s servant who enabled their captivity). He even broken down barriers erected by religious leaders, the main ones responsible for condemning people and complicating their paths to God. Jesus didn’t avoid those whom society deemed unclean, unworthy, and unmarketable. To the contrary, he embraced those society forgot, overlooked, ignored, rejected, and feared. I’m not an expert in ancient Greek or Hebrew, but I know Jesus didn’t come to hate but to heal, not to forsake but to forgive, not to punish but to pardon, not to drive away but to draw near, not to leave but to love. He gave universal access to everyone.
Christ’s advent is literally God reaching out His Hand to touch, to make contact with His creation. He was willing to connect with the “untouchable and the unclean.” Another significance of this day is the 55th anniversary of Rosa Parks taking a courageous stand and rising up as a voice for the voiceless and to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. Her efforts won freedom for many. That is essentially the fulfillment of Christ’s time on planet Earth.
Put it all together, these 4 words spell HOPE. If we put His example into practice, it fills the hole of the Gospel and demonstrates the HOPE of the Gospel. It is a hope extended to those facing the challenges of AIDS: don’t give up. Christ gives us a reason to pursue tomorrow and dream of a world without AIDS.
The challenge is extended to the Church: Don’t concentrate on being God’s mouth, but His hands and His feet. His feet took Him places where no one else would go, to walk side by side with the marginalized. His hands reached across the divide to heal and restore. And it was these hands and feet that would be pierced because of His love for people.