When we all get to heaven


Sermon, July 29, 2016, prepared for HIV & Theology, taught at Pacific School of Religion by Rev. Jim Mitulski and Rev. Dr. Donald Messer.

(Please overlook me walking out of the frame of my own sermon!)


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Goddess, and may they be credible in the presence of a generation of dead gay men and all whose lives have been killed by, infected with, or affected by HIV/AIDS and the indifference of your church.[1]

Amen.

 

 

 

When we all…get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be.

When we all…see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.

 

Their voices, cry out to us. Some in a hoarse whisper, some in agonizing pain, some in anger

I feel invisible.

They act like I am not clean.

I am isolated and alone.

I am disposable.

No one will touch me.

LOOK. AT. ME.  See me.

As we have spent these past 2 weeks immersed in the theology HIV/AIDS, I come to you today convinced that the church has not only spent too long trying to identify the sinners in all of this but it has come up with the wrong answer.

It is not homosexuality or drug use or sex work that is to blame for HIV/AIDS any more than gays, drug users, or sex workers are sinners.

The one afflicted with disease is the church and the church is mired in its own sin.

For far too long, the church has prayed a prayer similar to one we read about in Luke:

Oh God, I thank you that I am not like other people: sodomites, junkies, prostitutes, or, heaven forbid, even like this poor African child whose affliction is the product of sin. [They brought it on themselves,…] And besides, I bring canned goods to the food pantry; I give money to several charities.[2]

The church is sick. It’s been sick for a long time.

How do I know?

The blemish of opportunistic sins plague our sick church. Look around: poverty, homelessness, hunger, people struggling with physical and mental illness with no access to healthcare, look at the body of Wilhemenia’s daughter Toni—these, these are the visible Kaposi’s Sarcoma on the face of the church.

But that’s not all! Other symptoms are less noticeable or go unseen: indifference, disregard, righteous indignation, or the gap in our budgets between what we spend on our buildings and what we spend on caring for the poor….

These are the very symptoms of sickness in the church. And as such, the church is every bit as responsible for the death and destruction of HIV/AIDS as is the virus itself.

And a virus cannot spread without a willing host.

So as we’ve discussed HIV/AIDS these past 2 weeks, what have we learned?

Maybe what we’ve learned can be applied to the Church.

Ok, we’ve learned that prevention is key. We talk about the importance of testing and that knowing one’s status is a key to prevention.

So I ask:

When will the church get tested? 

When will the church test its behaviors and actions against the very words of Jesus?

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Let the little children come to me.

Let the one without sin cast the first stone.

When will we prick our finger or swab the inside of our cheek and then sit…and wait….wait while we contemplate our behavior to find out if our actions square up with what Jesus said.

I know: I’ve been there. Like Jon—it’s easier to not know or to pretend or to ignore it or decide to do nothing about it.

Reluctant to find out if I am

Reluctant to find out what if I’m not and what that means about my behavior going forward.

But the church cannot do anything about it if it doesn’t first know its status.

Adherence.

We talk about the importance of someone who is infected to have access to the right meds to remain adherent to them to prolong their lives and to prevent exposure…

>>sidenote: How do we expect people to be adherent to something they can’t afford, they don’t have the means to access because they live in an undeveloped country or because underemployment, stigma, and discrimination … but that’s a whole ‘nother sermon.

I’ll tell you: we have the prescription and the bill has already been paid.

But the church is not adherent to the words of Jesus Christ, the one it claims to follow:

Everything, he says, is defined by the extent to which you love God and love your neighbor.

We have God’s steadfast love, in abundance, but are we adherent to it???

This lack of adherence—we know what it’s done

  • Non-compliant to our regimen, the church has turned away from emaciated gay men and drug users and sex workers and poor people and brown and black bodies ravaged by disease and whose spirits are crushed by our callous disregard for their humanity.
  • The church has not only refused to bury them and preside over their funerals, it has failed to give life-saving resources that could have kept them from getting sick in the first place, all the while stigmatizing them and refusing to care for their souls while they’re alive!
  • We refuse to look into the eyes of the children orphaned because the virus claimed their parents.
  • A lack of adherence has caused the church to be so weak that it cannot advocate for the basic human dignity of women who exist in such sheer subordination that they cannot protect themselves! So weak that it will not call out the behaviors of men who hide behind the cloak of patriarchy while they pass on the disease to others.

And worst of all, our non-adherence has allowed this disease of hate to spread around the world where bodies of those who die from AIDS are double-bagged and then burned, women and men are kicked out of their homes, left to die alone, where children are becoming heads of household.

You see, the sickness of the church has caused let go of people with HIV/AIDS because our theology has told us they got where they are because of sin.

Theologian Henry Knight points out this contradiction: “We do not let go of suffering victims in order to affirm what our theology tells us. Rather, suffering humans summon us to demand even more from our theological traditions.”[3]

The church is sick, indeed. Non-adherence to the message of Jesus is why. 

The rest

We’ve talked a lot about safe-sex and condoms in this class. About protease inhibitors, about ARVs, about PrEP….

The Bible tells us to keep vigilant watch over our hearts [because] that’s where life starts. (Prov: 4:23 NRSV) And Jesus references this, I think: “what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart.”

So here’s what I want to know.

  • Where is the exhortation in the church to practice safe religion?
  • Where, exactly, are the free condoms to shield the church from the infection of indifference?
  • Or the protease inhibitors to block the reproduction of hate and indifference and unlove in our hearts?
  • Where are the anti-retrovirals that impede religious-based shame and guilt and stigmatization that is killing people’s bodies and killing their spirits?
  • Where are the microbicides to coat the lining of the heart that make it resistant to insidious false doctrine and messages of hate that break apart the DNA of love that is inside our very souls?

And finally— where is the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for the church? 

My friends, the church already has it!

The scripture, in Revelation, says John saw a vision of Jesus

clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God (Rev 19:13)

Now I don’t know that John was actually talking about them being dipped in blood … or if that’s the only way he could describe the saturation and the color.

But I do know that the Word was God and the Word was with God and that the Word became flesh and made dwelling among us. And that the Word was executed for his message of radical inclusion and anti-Empire on a cross of hate and that the Word bled to make a point that there’s POWER IN THE BLOOD OF JESUS, power to both heal and to save.

And I believe …  That word—that Jesus—is our condom, our protease inhibitors, our ARVs, our PEP, our PrEP, our transfusion and the cure for both HIV/AIDS and the indifference that plagues the church.

 

When we all get to heaven? When we all get to heaven?

 

I love the scene at the end of the movie Long-Time Companion …

 My friends—heaven is right now.

And the experience of heaven is only limited by us.

  • Heaven is when we give a cup of water or a condom or a clean syringe to someone overlooked or ignored.
  • Heaven is when we persistently knock on the door of every person with power to demand justice for all people and not quit knocking until we get it.
  • Heaven is when we stop building soaring towers and monuments to ourselves and use that money to develop microbicides and put PrEP in the hands of every woman and man in Africa and South Carolina at no cost.

I pray for a cure for HIV/AIDS.

But I also pray for a cure for hate. For indifference.

For there to be heaven now, we have to get adherent with the Word of God.

We have to remind each other to stay true to our regimen of love.

 

When we ALL get to heaven.

When we ALL get to heaven.

When we **ALL** get to heaven.

 

            What a day of rejoicing it will be

 

Heal your church, oh God, and may we be accountable to the claims of being God’s people and the claims of[4]

David Kirby

Ryan White

Olivia

Toni

Dayschel

And every one of your creation who has walked or is walking with HIV/AIDS.

Then, maybe then, we can sing and shout the victory.

 

May it be so.

Amen and Ashe

Previous:
The Sin of the Status Quo

 

 


[1] Adapted from Henry Knight’s prayer he himself adapted from Psalm 19 and a statement of his colleague, Orthodox rabbi Irving Greenberg (page 4).

[2] Paraphrase of Luke 19:11-12

[3] Henry F. Knight, Celebrating Holy Week in a Post-Holocaust World (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 9.

[4] Knight, 19.

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