Sunday Preaching: World AIDS Day 2017

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

Mark 1:40-43

A liturgy and Sermon integrated into one by Professor and Scholar of New Testament and Biblical Studies, Professor Revelation Velunta.

Professor Revelation was studied New Testament & Greek in Princeton Divinity School and was professor in Vanderbilt Divinity School, and is now teaching Biblical studies, , Intro to New Testament, Greek and Biblical Theology in Union Theological Seminary, the oldest ecumenical protestant seminary in the Philippines. He is also a certified public accountant and graduated Master of Divinity in UTS, Summa Cum Laude.

Millions of people today experience the plight of the leper in the Markan passage every single day. We call them People Living with HIV and AIDS. The healthy stays away from them. The healthy have stopped talking with them. The healthy have stopped interacting with them. They do not touch them anymore. They stand from afar and watch them die.

 

What is the difference between illness and disease? Disease is physical. Illness is social. We, the un-sick, create and name the illnesses that keep us safely distanced from the sick. We, the un-sick, create the borders that keep the sick away from us. We, the un-sick, have access to the funds and the medicines that can help the sick live longer lives. We, the un-sick, decide who is ill and who is not.

 

Many times, we, the un-sick, create the rules, the fences, the sanctions, the systems that make the sick sicker, the weak weaker, and the dying dead.

In the Markan passage, we find the story of a leper. A person very much like a person with HIV or AIDS. He is considered unclean. People are told to keep away from him. People are told not to speak to him. People are told not to touch him. Though alive, society considers him dead.

 

What is life without companionship? What is life without conversation? What is life without the warmth of a human touch?

God did not create people to be alone. In life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not supposed to be alone.

To celebrate Immanuel is to celebrate God-with-us. We are not alone. We shall never, ever, be alone. No one deserves to be alone. Yet, many among us, the leper of ages gone, the person with HIV or AIDS today, are alone.

 

To celebrate Immanuel is to follow Jesus, Love Incarnate.

In the Markan passage, we find the story of a leper. A person very much like a person with HIV or AIDS. He is considered unclean. People are told to keep away from him. People are told not to speak to him. People are told not to touch him. Though alive, society considers him dead.

Yet Jesus, Love Incarnate, came near him, spoke to him, and touched him. Jesus did what society told him not to do. In the companionship, in the conversation, in the warmth of a human touch, the walls the un-sick created to separate and to isolate the sick were torn down.

When does the healing start? Does it start with medicines or with technology? Does it start in hospitals or in churches? Does it start with prayer or with the much-needed deposit or all-important HMO card? When does the healing start?

Or do all healings start when we realize that we are each other’s keepers, that we are all God’s children and thus sister and brother to each other, and that one’s pain is everybody’s pain, and that one’s struggle is everybody’s struggle, and that one’s sickness is everybody’s sickness, and that one’s healing is everybody’s healing, and that one’s resurrection is everybody’s resurrection.

Going outside boxes is hard. Leaving our comfort zones; likewise. The magi took over two years, border-crossing, in search of a child, a complete stranger; a stranger they believed would liberate his people from oppression.  The Ancient Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years in their collective quest for land and liberty.

Crossing boundaries, discarding prejudices, tearing down walls, very, very hard. And very, very scary…

Who among us have ridden airplanes? Who among us have looked out the windows of those airplanes and seen the land masses below? What did you see? Did you see the lines, the borders that separated one nation from another? Did you see the markers that identified each country’s territory apart from another? Did you see the colors that differentiated one area from another, like in our maps?

The boxes we make, our comfort zones, our prejudices, the thick and high walls around us, our accurate maps, even that Apartheid Wall in Palestine, and the borders that separate us are all man-made. We put them up, which means we can tear them down!

In Mark 1, a leper and Jesus meet, the sick and the un-sick, the impure and the pure, the dead and the living, the un-Jew and the Jew. Society, culture, ideology, and religion put up three invisible walls that separated them: no one is supposed to go near lepers, no one is supposed to talk with them, more importantly, no one is supposed to touch them.

It is a sin to approach lepers. It is a sin to talk with them. More importantly, it is a grave sin to touch a leper.

In three short verses, Jesus and the leper defy those rules. Together, they sin big.

Complete strangers they come near. They talk. They touch. Complete strangers, they break down three walls of separation and create three circles of contact. And the healing of both begins.

And we are invited to do likewise, to be active participants in the quest for a just and lasting peace, to be agents of love and faith and hope in the healing of our world.

Most of us have much to be thankful for. Many just celebrated Thanksgiving.  God has been good to us through the communities that welcomes and cares for us. But thanksgiving unless shared and celebrated with those whose only hope is God is not really thanksgiving, it’s investing, waiting for returns.

To be thankful is to share, to take risks, to cross borders, to tear down walls and thus encounter the stranger. Scary? Yes. Hard? Yes. Dangerous? Yes.

But this is what the incarnation is all about. God crossing borders. God leaving heaven to be with us. God choosing to be one of us. God taking sides…

Thus, we are never, ever, alone. No one deserves to be alone.  NO ONE.  My friends, every moment of our lives we are challenged to cross borders, to tear down walls…one brick at a time… And beyond the walls…like the leper and Jesus, creating and nurturing circles that provide safe spaces where we can come together, where we can talk, where we can touch. Let us participate in the healing of the world and in our own healing. Let us, together, create circles of care.

When does our healing start? Does it start with medicines or with technology? Does it start in hospitals or in churches? Does it start with prayer or with the much-needed deposit or all-important HMO card? When does our healing start?

 

Our healing starts when we realize that we are each other’s keepers, that we are all God’s children and thus sister and brother to each other, and that each one’s pain is everybody’s pain, and that each one’s struggle is everybody’s struggle, and that each one’s sickness is everybody’s sickness, that each one’s healing is everybody’s healing, and that each one’s resurrection is everybody’s resurrection.

Like the leper and Jesus, today with People Living with HIV and AIDS, we are challenged to cross borders, to tear down walls, one brick at a time.

And beyond the walls, with People Living with HIV and AIDS we are called to create and nurture safe spaces where we can come together, where we can talk, where we can touch.

 

With open arms, open hearts, open minds, open doors—in our homes, in our places of worship, in our institutions, whenever and wherever—let us participate in the healing of the world and in our own healing. Let us, like the leper and Jesus, create circles of care.

AMEN


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