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World AIDS Day
1 December 2000
This document is designed to suggest several possible texts and themes for sermons at the time of World AIDS Day. Please share with us your own examples.
Luke 18: 1- 8
Samuel 17: 17-51
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Luke 18: 1- 8
This passage introduces two different people: the powerful judge and the powerless widow
There are many stories in the Bible that contrast a seemingly powerless person with one whom appears to be very powerful. But in this story the widow is not really powerless for she possesses a strong will and a brave heart. She is not easily discouraged by a powerful opponent and she believes in her cause because she is fighting for justice.
Both these characteristics have to come together as well if we want to fight against the Goliath or our time -- HIV/AIDS.
As people of faith we believe that it is just to fight against discrimination, to fight for a just sharing of resources so that all people wherever they happen to live on this globe have the same access to prevention, care and treatment. This conviction should also give us the courage to stand up and persistently approach those who oppose just solutions, whether in the churches, the industry or the government.
Jesus told the parable of the powerful judge and the powerless widow because he wanted to teach his disciples an important lesson about God and about the persistence of prayer.
He said: if even an unjust judge will listen to persistent interventions, how much more will God listen to you.
This is true. I wonder how many people pray fervently day and night at this time because they mourn about loved ones who died and because they are asking God when all this suffering will end.
When we pray we are assured that God will listen. Are we not seeing signs that the tide might be finally turning, that churches are waking up, that global solidarity is increasing and that AIDS will finally be overcome?
We are not there yet, we have to continue to pray and to work hand in hand together with churches, other organizations and all people of good will.
Let us ask for God’s blessings for our future work.
(contributed by Dr. Christoph Benn, Germany)
The woman who was bleeding…and touched Jesus
You would probably not have noticed the woman in the crowd that day. Had you done so, you might later have remarked on her frailty. She seemed to you to be so very thin, with almost a shadow-like quality about her. You had the impression that perhaps she is ill.
Had you spoken to her she would have told you that she has in fact been ill for many years. She has gone to doctor after doctor. It is a disease of the blood, they say. She has spent all her money on what medications she can afford. But nothing has helped. She has come to realize that, for her, there is no cure.
The woman lives in the city now, although that is not where she is from nor where she grew up. When she became ill her family sent her away; thought it best that her children not live with her; even her neighbours and friends in the church turned their backs – literally -- to her.
She found the loneliness and isolation to be the hardest. Sometimes she thought it would be the pain in her heart, not the disease of her body that would finally kill her. How she longed to go home, back to her family, her children, her community and her church. But she knew that it was not possible.
She could not have told you what it was that made her notice the man in the crowd that day – his voice perhaps, or, a certain charisma – she knew only that she must be near him and began moving, pushing, elbowing her way through the crowd (most unlike her!) knowing only that she had to be near to him. She did not mean to reach out and touch his cloak, but when she did she knew: with this man she would be safe….feel safe…..become whole again, and without thinking and not even able to explain why, she reached out and touched his cloak.
“ Who touched me?” he asked.
Her lips said nothing and just as her heart opened its mouth to speak she heard other voices, male voices, filling the space :
“ It was nothing.”
“Just the push of the crowds.”
“We have work to do. Let ‘s keep moving.”
But again she heard his voice, “Who touched me?”
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And when he saw her he turned to her, his voice so kind, so gentle, speaking and listening only to her. “ My sister, what is it?”
He stopped and looked around, aware that something had happened. “Who touched me?” he asked. But his friends made light of it, insisting that in such a press of people he was mistaken. But he knew - someone had reached out to him, in fact had taken power from him by a touch. He looked around, and then he saw her, shaking with fear.
It was amazing. He was unlike any man that she had ever known. So attentive. So present. Within the crowd he made her feel as if he were there for her alone. He took time for her. He listened to her. His voice was so gentle, so kind: "My sister. What is it?" And after so many years of fear and silence she was able to tell him her story; to finally put words to the suffering and grief of herself, her family and her community and of her need for healing and wholeness, if not for a cure. Of the sense of safety and refuge that she felt with him.
It is a story that we can hardly comprehend – statistics that we hear but do not understand – a reality of such immensity and need that we need to break them down into names, communities, personal stories sewn into an immense quilt of aching grief and loss.
But we also cannot shy away from the numbers….
- over 40 million people in the world are living with HIV/AIDS
- over 1.5 million of them are children younger than 15 years.
- worldwide one in every 100 adults aged 15 to 49 is HIV infected.
- there are approximately 16,000 new infections every day, many of them teens.
- in South Africa it is estimated that by the year 2010 the life expectancy of adults will fall from 60 to 40 years because of the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Behind all of these statistics of course are the names and individual stories of women and men, youth and children, whose life situations, cultural practices, the silence of leaders and churches and the crushing reality of poverty make them vulnerable.
From Southern Africa:
It is the teenage girl whose marriage to an older infected man has been arranged and about which she has no choice (a practice now known as death by marriage) which will lead to the death of her husband, herself and their children.
It is her friend who due to peer pressure and cultural practices will have her first sexual experience by the time she is 12.
It is the elderly couple – grandparents and great-grandparents - themselves in failing health - whose adult children have all died or are ill, and who have the care of all their grandchildren and some of the AIDS orphans of the community who they cannot and will not send away
It is the land lying fallow because there is no one who is healthy enough to plant and till resulting in starvation and increased hardship for the community.
It is the husband who in an economic situation where there are few options and fewer choices has to leave home for weeks and months to seek work and returns infected.
It is the pastor who cannot remember the last time he held a Christian education class or baptized a baby that was not HIV positive…and whose ministry now consists of conducting funerals and consoling the grief-stricken.
It is the clinics and hospitals where there are no medicines, but now no health workers either because they are too ill to come to work, or have died.
It is the schools which sit empty because the teachers are ill.
It is the churches which refuse to discuss sexuality and human weakness and confuse a medical diagnosis with a moral judgment.
It is the fear of too many to tell their families, their friends, and especially their churches because they believe they will be judged, rejected and sent away.
It is the unwillingness to break the silence by pastors who conduct many funerals but still insist that no one in their parish is dying of HIV/AIDS.
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We, the church, are the body of Christ in the world. Is that what draws people – in need, suffering, dying of AIDS, somehow believing, somehow knowing that here they will find refuge, safety, understanding and, if not cure, then healing and wholeness?
We, the church, are the body of Christ is the world, and for years we have felt the tug on our cloak. We have known, We have looked up, We have asked, what was that?
But we are also the disciples, not looking and not seeing, so deep into our own fears of this disease that we say to ourselves, "It is nothing:" There is such a press of the crowd that we try to ignore and move on. We d not stop, or look and listen. We miss the opportunity to be the refuge and place of safety and hospitality that we are called to be.
Why must the church respond to AIDS? Because the church has AIDS.
This is true not only because in every congregation, in every community, there is a person, a family who are dealing with the grief of illness and treatment and in most of the world certain death.
It is also true, though, because more than any other issue or any other disease, the reality of HIV/AIDS calls us back to the very essence of what it means to be the church as the body of Christ in the world.
HIV/AIDS confronts society – and especially the church – with challenges which go straight to the very essence and life of the church, challenges which churches are not good at dealing with and on which the suffering of so many with AIDS now insists:
- and what are those challenges to the church?
The first is that in order to be the body of Christ in the world we must stop and turn when we feel the tug on our cloak. We must be ready to do as Jesus did, to listen to the story and provide a place of acceptance, of safety, of refuge, and of healing.
The second is that the church does not easily sit at the side of a person with AIDS because it means sitting at the side of so many issues with which the church is not comfortable, and around which the church has built many theological and moral defense mechanisms and phobias – phobias which distance the church from those who are most needy, most lonely, most desperate…those whose need to reach out and touch the cloak of Jesus is greatest.
And what are these areas around which the church has created almost impregnable defenses– which are so hard for us as people of God to talk about and deal with - and which keep the church from responding to the tug on the cloak of those who are most in need of Jesus compassion and grace?
- sexuality and especially youth sexuality
- the reality of prostitutes and homosexuality
- the sad and difficult lives and choices of those with drug dependencies,
- prejudices about immigrant and migrant populations
- and perhaps most centrally, prejudices about being present and active in non-religious and non-church spaces and places.
The draped red ribbon has become the universal symbol of solidarity for those suffering from HIV/AIDS and a sign of hope that the epidemic will one day be overcome. Hundreds of thousands of ribbons have been worn by people all over the world to keep the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its sufferers in the consciousness of the world.
To drape the AIDS ribbon around the cross eloquently reminds all who see it of the deep compassion of Jesus for all who suffer from HIV/AIDS. It is also a sign of the solidarity and commitment of the church to those who are affected by HIV/AIDS, their families and their communities.
The extent to which it is also a sign of the resurrection hope which we are promised and which we proclaim will depend upon the willingness of the church to be the body of Christ in the world, and to drape itself with the reality of AIDS as it is known in too many names and faces around the world..
We are the body of Christ in the world. The reality of HIV/AIDS tugs at our cloak. What will our response be? Will we as the disciples move on unwilling to stop and convincing ourselves it is just the press of the crowd?
Or will we turn, with utter compassion, not afraid look into the face of those who seek the church and say” My sister, my brother, my daughter, my son. What is it?”
(contributed by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Larson, based on the Buenos Aires Declaration)
Samuel 17: 17-51
David and Goliath
The story of David and Goliath, is not new to us. David on the battlefield with Goliath (I Samuel 17). Goliath the champion of the Philistines, a giant, armed to the teeth. The weight of his armour is about two hundred pounds (vv. 5-7). Imagine facing such a warrior, such an enemy. No wonder Saul and his people are frightened when Goliath shouts at them, bullies them and challenges them to come and fight him.
All are frightened but one young shepherd boy, David, who sizes up this pagan giant in light of God’s righteousness and power. How dare Goliath shake his fist in the face of God, because to David, when you insult God’s people, you insult God Himself. And David, full of confidence, because he had seen God’s power at work and his deliverance while tending his father’s sheep when these were attacked by a bear or a lion, volunteers to fight Goliath. That’s why he says: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt or defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26). David wonders why everyone is afraid of the giant as if God doesn’t hear his insults and care for His name. Goliath may be big in the eyes of the Israelites but surely not to God. David looks at the frightening and threatening situation through the Lord’s eyes and is able to see beyond appearances.
How does he prepare himself for the battle? Of course he needs a go ahead of the king. Saul thinks David is too young to fight a man like Goliath because unlike David, he has forgotten what it is like to fight in the Lord’s strength. Saul sees only a giant (like us we just see the millions of people dying or living with HIV/AIDS), while David sees only the Lord. And then Saul tries to clothe David with his war garments to make him an equal of Goliath. One would wonder why he didn’t wear them himself to fight their enemy? But they are too heavy for David; instead of helping him and offering protection, they would be a hindrance. He decides to take them off.
There are two opponents: one big man, fully armed, and the other a teenager with nothing but a stick, a sling and a few stones.
Just as we are battling AIDS, this is no sporting game. It is a war which has been going on for 40 days and Goliath is fully equipped to battle the children of Israel. Imagine his reaction when he sees a young boy walking towards him not even clothed and armed as a true soldier should be. His words express very well his feelings of the moment: “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks? Come to me, (I will show you!) and I will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field.’ (vv. 43-44).
How would you have felt were you in David’s shoes? I would have fled back to safety, but not David. He doesn’t let Goliath, his insults or his war equipment intimidate him. Listen to his reply, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you…so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands”. (vv.45-47). Wow! What a powerful testimony! I love his assurance. It comes from someone who has an intimate relationship with God.
We are facing an enormous giant today. HIV/AIDS is our Goliath. As Goliath was a real threat to Israel, so is AIDS to our world today. One Congolese singer said that AIDS has no colour - blacks die but also whites, and people of other colours. It has no age - children die of AIDS, and adults do too. Illiterate people in remote villages die but also university scholars, poor people and rich ones. To tell you the truth, when I look at the statistics of people dying of AIDS, or those who are HIV positive, I get discouraged. What can the church do? What can the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance do? What can even UNAIDS do?
Then I remember David and that the battle is the Lord’s not ours. Our part is to trust God and God's power as David did. He was not a superman, he just trusted God! Do we trust Him even when people are perishing around us? Because our God specialises in hopeless situations and in weaknesses.
David’s godly confidence and boldness enrages Goliath who expected David to shy or run away but instead runs to him, within range, loads his sling and throws the stone right between Goliath’s eyes. A perfect strike. He didn’t miss the target. What the Ecumenical Alliance needs, what the churches and UNAIDS need is to strategically plan our battle against this giant. We can’t do it in isolation, because facing alone giants is a frightening experience. We have to co-ordinate our efforts. Fighting HIV/AIDS is a lonely experience for anyone living with AIDS. However they need our support, our love and care. They too need to take their place in this battle with all the skills and knowledge that they have to offer. And together we have to trust God, for trusting God’s power is a peace-bringing experience
We can’t ignore it nor run away from it as millions do; closing our eyes or putting earplugs won’t send HIV/AIDS away. We have to learn how to face it head-on as many are already doing, not in our own strength but in faith and confidence, like David. And by the way, David didn’t face Goliath completely unarmed. He had a sling and knew how to use it. So, I trust that our plans of action, our resources and commitment are our weapons. And the Word of God is our best weapon.
(contributed by Ms. Julienne Munyaneza, Rwanda)