“Biggest re-conceptualization of the church is that something has to get broken where we see ourselves as one with the people of the rest of the world and not distant. And so when we see pain and suffering we move into it.”–Bruce Marcey
Yesterday, my studies collided into a single thought. Things I had been contemplating from class and from textbooks came together in one awesome sermon at Warehouse242 called HIV/AIDs. In it Bruce Marcey, the senior pastor, challenged us to not only reach out to the HIV/AIDs population in Charlotte, but also realize that HIV/AIDs is amidst the congregation. Too often the church tries to blame and keep these people at arms length with an occasional pity-ministry; also we pretend that no one in the pew may have HIV/AIDs.
“People suffer with a debilitating disease that cause them to feel isolated, broken and lonely. And the church has stood back and done very little about it…”
However, there will be people in the pews suffering silently and desperately in need of the Gospel. At Warehouse242, they are offering to give AIDs testing to the community, not in an attempt to alienate and isolate those who are suffering, but for the church to acknowledge that there are people broken and suffering within the community and the church needs to learn how to respond.
Imagine AIDs testing being done at your church. What a radical idea. Think of First Presbyterian of _______ opening up the fellowship hall for CEOs and homeless, Soccer Moms and Prostitutes, Elderly and Teenagers sitting in the same chair to be tested. It is scandalous because it says that “those” people, who are in need of community and support, are us. And that this disease is not an outside problem, but one inside the church. The people suffering from this disease become an important part of the community—not because they become a pet-project, some program or agenda for the church, but because they are the Church.
“Imagine your life lived with taking drugs that are simply trying to hold [death] at bay. Imagine your life that if you have sexual contact with someone [you love] it could be a death sentence for them. Imagine your life that if most places you walk into a room and tell them you have HIV/AIDs they are going to take a step back at least internally. Imagine that life. What do we do amidst of that?”
This sermon resonated with my studies because it brought to life an interesting phrase I read the other day. Jon Sobrino called the poor a “quasi-sacrament:”
…the poor are a sort of sacrament of the presence of Christ…‘For the poor challenge the church constantly, summoning it to conversion.”
Reading this and coming to realize its validity helped me reconsider my biggest struggle with scripture.
I have always hated Jesus’ phrase, “The poor will always be with you.” It seemed to legitimize poverty and suggest that our efforts are fruitless. However, by viewing it through Sobrino’s lens, poverty is a necessary component of the life because it allows “a visible sign to represent an invisible reality.” People who are suffering through poverty or through HIV/AIDs, are not guilty (i.e. laziness or sexual promiscuity) that should leave them isolated and exclude from the church; rather they are as essential as bread, wine, and water.
It is through ordinary things that the presence of Jesus Christ makes them extraordinary. Maybe that is why Jesus says:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
To be a sacrament means that Jesus needed to order its institution. So rather than viewing HIV/AIDs as the result of sin, perhaps Jesus Christ has transformed it to show something extraordinary, himself.
A Sacramental HIV/AIDs view would say that it is through the brokenness of those suffering within the church that the whole community is visibly reminded—sidenote: HIV is not noticeable—of all of our brokenness. And, we are also visibly reminded that the Church is called to show the invisible reality that God graciously loves and liberates all who are oppressed. So rather than separating those with AIDs from the church, we should be embracing them as essential representations of God.
With a snow day, enjoy internet church and listen to this sermon: Justice: HIV/AIDs
To learn even more, check out the resources Warehouse 242 has identified for us:
What’s your AIDS IQ? Take the Quiz at: www.amfAR.org
Know, Prevent, Care, Cure: www.weallhaveaids.com
From the experts: www.ihv.org