Last night I sat down to read our Presiding Bishop's address to the Church regarding World AIDS day. It gave me pause. On one level, I continue to give thanks to God that I am a member of a community in Christ that was one of the first to open hearts, minds and arms to people affected by AIDS. I am also mindful that this disease still carries a social stigma. Those afflicted, around the globe, are a diverse and ultimately representative sample of humanity...not of a particular population. We also are witness to the fact that eternal vigilance is our calling. This disease is with us, and each generation has an incumbent duty to preach acceptance of victim, prevention of spread and care of those affected and afflicted. There is not a country on earth, or a people unaffected, by this disease. It is with us, and the only crime I can see is a willingness on the part of some to turn away from those affected, those who bear a stigma that is more of an affliction to humanity than that disease itself.
As I say my prayers this morning, I remember and give thanks for the witness of faith and grace that people I have known personally with HIV and AIDS. That multitude continue to inform and open my life and ministry with an ongoing invitation to seek and serve Christ in all persons. To Joel, who in his witness as a member of a NY church taught me the Gospel witness of turning to the Church with expectation of mercy that provoked change in his parish and tore down walls of prejudice. To the seventy five year old grandmother, who as a victim of assault was murdered with a slow decline into disease that she bore with hope, forgiving her attacker because, "He is under the same fate as me." For Richard, classmate in seminary, who saw his ministry and art (he was a talented painter), challenged and abbreviated by his own diagnosis. His witness as a priest was too brief, but he continues to preach through all of us who knew and loved him. To the oncology patient during my chaplaincy training who was able to laugh, weep and flirt with all of us, even as his body went to pieces around his gentle soul. To some of my dearest friends, who continue to thrive with this diagnosis, referring to it with the words "conversion" and using it as a sign of life, not death. To the host of humanity, that continue to remind us that Christ's call to us is not to think of home and self first, but to look to those in need, those who are ravaged by disease, those who are orphaned or who grieve the loss of a loved one. We are blessed in so many ways, but chiefly in the opportunity to take this thing that live in our humanity and turn it into an opportunity to grow in wisdom, mercy, mutual love and hope for a time when the first thing we see in any other is a fellow human someone to love in the name of Jesus Christ...regardless of their state of health.
Remember the one you have loved who thrive, who survive, who are sick, who are dying, who have died...and all those you do not know and give thanks to God that we have a chance to learn, love and strive not just for a cure, but for the opportunity as well to grow closer together as humans united by the grace of God's love.