5/19/19 – Living Through the AIDS Crisis

Posted on : May 16th, 2019 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

In the next few Sundays, I’m going to focus on three experiences of resurrection that we as a congregation have experienced.  This is only the short list!  Because of time, I had to limit myself to three, so I tried to choose the most spiritually important ones that impacted our entire congregation and ministry.  The first is “Living Through the HIV/AIDS Crisis.” The second is “Marriage Equality.”  The third is “Leaving Behind Spiritual Abuse by coming into the UCC.”

This Sunday we’ll begin with “Living Through the HIV/ADIS Crisis.”  The only thing I can compare that experience with, is the experience of the Holocaust.  It was surreal. 

The human immune deficiency virus is on one hand, one of the most aggressive, lethal, destructive and ultra-fast multiplying viruses ever discovered.  On the other hand, it is so fragile that cheap, over-the-counter bleach kills it instantly.  I’ve never quite understood how something so fragile and unstable could be so damn destructive and lethal.  Once the virus got into the human blood stream it was uncontrollable.  Within a matter of months, it took down young, healthy, vibrant men.  So many gay men were dying that it seemed like no gay man would escape it.  For at least a decade, there was a death mentality that was pervasive in the entire lesbian and gay community.

But there were also some profoundly wonderful things that happened during that pandemic.  Communities of caring emerged everywhere.  People cared for each other in ways I have never since seen.  Lesbians, gay men and supportive allies all came together to care for those who were sick and dying.  The depth of caring that everyone experienced brought about an entire new definition of the meaning of “family.” 

In addition to the spiritual and physical needs of those who were affected and effected, a strong sense of activism emerged.  AIDS blew the doors off people’s closets.  Anger, rage and activism were everywhere.  Most political leaders were terrified of addressing this health crisis because it was primarily concentrated in the gay male community and was sexually transmitted.   Ronald Regan was president during the worst of the pandemic.  For seven of his eight years as President, he refused to even name the health crisis or speak the words “AIDS.”  His political agenda allowed HIV/AIDS to become a public health epidemic.  It turned out, that was one of his worst decision.  According to the World Health Organization, as of 2017, worldwide 76 million people have been infected with HIV and slightly over half of that number, 39 million have died.  In the U.S., 692,790 Americans have died of HIV-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic in 1982.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, something happened.  The death cycle stopped almost overnight.  Like the story of Lazarus in the bible, a dying community was raised back into the fullness of life.  This didn’t come about by accident.  This came about from the advocacy and work of an entire community, and later the entire country. 

Jump ahead to September of last year.  An unbelievably important breakthrough happened in HIV research.  HIV is a retrovirus.  A retrovirus is any of a group of RNA viruses which insert a DNA copy of their genome into the host cell in order to replicate. In other words, a retrovirus attacks and takes over a host cell, then inserts it’s lethal molecular structure so the host cell does the dirty work of the retrovirus.   Molecular biologists and medical researchers have been trying to crack the RNA/DNA code of HIV ever since it was discovered.   They constantly failed.  Last year, some researchers tried a new approach.  They crowdsourced the problem using Foldit, which is a video game platform.  The scientists set up a challenge for video gamers and gave them 3 weeks to break the code of HIV’s RNA.  Within 10 days, video-game players solved the molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years.  How’s that for a Resurrection experience?

But that’s not all.  Now that the “code” has been broken, scientists are experimenting with the possibility of genetically removing the lethal protein structure that destroys the human immune system and genetically inserting healthy genetic material into the retrovirus.  Why are they interested in this?  Because the HIV virus replicates so quickly.  What this potentially means is the virus that killed so many millions of people, may one day be genetically altered to heal or save people from other diseases! 

All of this helps us realize that Resurrection is not about dogma or religious myth.  It’s about the transforming power of God’s love that raises us from our many experiences of death, into life.  If you doubt it, just talk with any of us who lived through the HIV crisis and experience it.  Resurrection is real!

Lots more on Sunday!

Blessings,

Dan

 

John 11: 17-45

The Raising of Lazarus

Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Women of Faith had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house.  Martha said to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.  And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  Martha said to him, “I know that my brother will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; those who believe in me, though they die, shall live; and whoever lives and believe in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”  Martha said to Jesus, “Yes, I believe that you are the Christ, the anointed One of God.

When Martha had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  And when Mary heard it, she rose quickly and went to Jesus. 

When Jesus saw her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled; and said, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to Jesus, “Come and see.”  Jesus wept.  Those watching said to each other, “See how much he loved Lazarus!”

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb in which Lazarus was buried, had the stone taken away and cried into the tomb with a loud voice, “Lazarus, Come Out!”  And Lazarus came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go!”

 

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