World AIDS Day seems destined to be a time when we call attention to our failures in the face of the greatest public health crisis ever.
I read recently that around the world three million people die from AIDS every year. That’s an average of 5.7 every minute of every day of the year. That statistic is mind-boggling! Many in the church world don’t want to have much, if anything, to do with this disease or those who suffer from it. In fact, there are some in the religious world who give thanks and glory to God for this disease which is claiming lives in every part of the world. As a believer, how am I to react to those I come in contact who have this disease? Am I to blame them for their condition and refuse to offer a hand until they acknowledge their reprobate life style as being the cause of their current condition? I can hear some of you saying right now how ignorant that sounds, and yet, there are people out there who, in the name of God, really wrestle with this type of question.
I think first it is important to recognize that God isn’t punishing people with a disease. That part is easily provable. In the Gospel of John, chapter 9, we are given an illustration that should remove any doubt about God doling out disease as punishment for perceived sin. As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his parents that caused him to be blind?” “Neither,” answered Jesus, “it was no sin, either of this man or of his parents. Rather it was to let God’s work show forth in him.”
When Eve ate of the “forbidden fruit” and convinced Adam to do so as well, the world entered into a “fallen” state, meaning that bad things now happen. We don’t live in a perfect world and as such, we will deal with destruction, disease and death raining down on the good and the bad alike. That’s the world we live in!
So, how do believers, people of faith, respond then to the greatest public health crisis our world faces? I believe we are to be healers, just like the illustration of Jesus in John. We don’t need to be quibbling about the why, when, what, and where of this disease, rather, we need to be showing love, compassion and healing. It saddens me a great deal when I hear stories of men and women who have been diagnosed with this disease and have lost the love and support of their family. They’ve run out of money and are basically left to die…alone! I want to scream…“where is the body of believers who are to be the healing hands of Christ?” Of course, I don’t need to ask where they are, I know! They are too busy trying to condemning gay people for their sex acts to realize that their God given ministry to help and heal is being forgotten. I read today a line written by the Rev. A. Stephen Pieters, who in 1994 said,
“When Christians reach out and touch those with HIV or AIDS, they can transform suffering into a living example of God’s love.”
Well duh!! Isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing as believers?
My grandfather was a old-time itinerant evangelist in the South. He and my grandmother traveled all over singing and preaching in country churches. As a kid, I would sometimes get to travel with them, and I well remember hearing that deep voice as he would share the love of God to people hungry to hear it. Often, he and my grandmother would sing,
“let me touch him, let me touch Jesus, so that others may know and be blessed.”
That’s what we are supposed to be doing, touching God for our fellow man. Christ said that what we’ve done to the least, we’ve in effect done to him. People who have been diagnosed with this disease have been handed a death sentence in many cases. Shouldn’t we be wrapping them up in love and compassion without playing the “blame-game” that traditionally goes on in the church world?
Several years ago, I read of a mega-church here in Southern California that sponsored a work-shop for 1,500 ministers on how to deal with HIV/AIDS here in America. Kay Warren, whose husband Rick is Senior Pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California, said when recently interviewed,
“the evangelical church has pretty much had fingers in our ears, hands over our eyes and mouths shut completely, we’re not comfortable talking about sex in general and certainly not comfortable about talking about homosexuality — and you can’t talk about HIV without talking about both of those things.”
In the year prior to sponsoring this conference, Kay had been diagnosed with cancer and, during all the stuff she went through, had opportunity to become closely acquainted with several people dealing with HIV/AIDS. It changed her perspective and this conference on what the church’s response should be grew out of those relationships.
Today, as we focus on this disease that still has no cure, I thought of the words of Rick Warren who said
“the gospels repeatedly showed that Jesus loved, touched and cared for lepers – the diseased outcasts of his day. Today’s ‘lepers’ are those with HIV/AIDS.”
As believers, we are to be God’s hands and feet on earth! It’s time for the church to quit trying to blame God and gays for this disease and start following the example of Christ! Loving, touching and caring for those who need it most! And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.’ – Matthew 25:35-40 (The Message)