Wednesday, 16 November 2011

World AIDS Day 2011; Sermon notes

Galatians 6:17 From now on let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
• The Christian faith is a ‘bodily’ faith – we believe that, in Jesus Christ, God took human flesh and became ‘body’. Our bodily experience is not therefore to be trivialised or neglected.

• This was shocking to many in the world of the New Testament – Creation and physical elements were seen as dirty. This was largely a consequence of the predominance of Greek philosophy, which held that the material world was of significantly less importance than the spiritual – an assumption Jesus challenged.

• Even worse – as Phil 2:7 puts it – Jesus took not the prestigious body of an emperor but ‘of a slave’.

• And the fate of this body – crucifixion – was the ultimate scandal for many in the ancient world.

• Jesus’ followers went on to express their unity by describing themselves as the ‘body of Christ’, whether slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female. This was shocking because it broke down social and religious barriers.

• In some ways we have become so anaesthetised to the phrase ‘the body of Christ’ that we fail to realise it is a powerful and shocking challenge.

• So the sentence ‘The Body of Christ has AIDS’ can serve as a sharp and powerful reminder of our unity with Christians who are living with HIV and AIDS. Perhaps their suffering can bring us all, as one body, closer to the cross.

• In Gal 6:17 the word translated as ‘marks’ is in Greek ‘stigmata’ – which is of course, the technical name for the wounds of Christ on the cross (wounds also visible in the hands of great saints such as Francis of Assisi).

• In turn, ‘stigmata’ is the plural of ‘stigma’, by which we mean ‘marks of shame’ or ‘our inability as humans to cope with one who is different than we are’ (Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, South Africa). Stigma is something frequently experienced by people living with HIV and AIDS.

• The reality is that our brothers and sisters are suffering due to the stigma and physical effects of HIV and AIDS. Through our connectedness in the Body of Christ we are invited to share in and respond to their suffering.

• Through sharing in this suffering we have an opportunity to discover something profound about the love of God. God does not remove us from suffering, but – according to Isaiah 43:1-5 – he brings us through suffering to a deeper experience of his presence.

• See the reflection of Donald Hilton below:
‘How is it, Lord?
Is it that humankind is really one;
Life interlocked, emotions joined, our sinewed nerves combined?
And have I touched the secret of the Cross
Where pain of all is carried by just one,
Lifts us all?
If so, then let it be,
And I will bear the pain,
And walk the way of Christ.’