Jesus said to the messengers sent by John the Baptist, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. Blind people are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People who have leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can now hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news. God will bless everyone who doesn’t reject me because of what I do.” – Luke 7:22-23 (CEV)
In July of 1999, I attended the 22nd General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in Providence, Rhode Island. It was my first experience of attending the national gathering of the UCC and for me it was transformative. I remember the first time I walked into the conference hall. I was speechless as I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by some 3,000-plus people from all over the United States who shared my beliefs about faith, church and life. It was exhilarating.
However, my most moving experience was on the third day of the Synod. I arrived at the hall and people wearing rainbow ribbons were handing out signs and asking people to stand at the entry doors to the conference hall. I took a sign and found a place at a door. It read, “The body of Christ is still living with AIDS.” As people walked past the signs they nodded and thanked us. It was a sobering and humbling experience. And the truth is, the body of Christ is still living with AIDS, a disease that has killed approximately 35 million people since the pandemic began. While many advances have been made in medicine and in the treatment of those who are infected with HIV, the disease is still infecting people all over the world, and the infection rates of young gay men have been increasing in recent years.
In the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist asks his followers to go to Jesus, the Rabbi of Nazareth, to inquire if he is the one or if they are to wait for another. And Jesus responds saying that he is healing people and that “God will bless everyone who doesn’t reject me because of what I do.” It seems to me that the vision of God for creation is that we, who seek to be faithful followers of Jesus, are to do as he did. We are to help heal the sick. On this World AIDS Day, in the year of our Lord, 2016, let us never forget those who have died and those who are, even now, living with HIV. Let us further commit to being healers and helpers for all who suffer from this life-changing, life-taking disease until it is no more.
Holy One, bless our brothers and sisters who have died of AIDS and who now dwell with you eternally. Bless our sisters and brothers who are living with HIV today that they may find healing and health. And bless us as we seek to be part of the cure until it is no more. Amen.