Submitted by Jan on Tue, 01/03/2016 – 18:39
4th Sunday of Lent
Year C (2015-2016)
Verse: 9 – 12
I really couldn’t make up my mind which scripture to go with. The focus scripture: The prodigal son is so packed with grace and mercy from the father, for the son who has squandered everything…and the poor older son who was resentful. I think we can identify with both sons, as well as the parent. But for me, that story has been told over and over. It’s hard to tell the story from the perspective of dealing with HIV from a faith lens without passing judgment and/or stigma. It would almost be like (as far as the older brother is concerned) bordering on criminalization: which is a huge topic these days. The older brother would be one who probably would be satisfied with his brother sent off somewhere or sent packing by the father.
I was intrigued though by the reading from Joshua…something grabbed me about the rolling away of the reproach of Egypt. The place Gilgal has remained in the back of my head for many days. It’s a place we are still searching for today. Where is our Gilgal? When will the reproach of this disease be rolled away?
When I hear the name Joshua, my mind automatically begins to sing:
“Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho….
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho,
And the walls came tumbling down!”
We don’t often hear from the book of Joshua.
I wonder if it is because it is a historical book dealing with so many battles; the Israelites had to fight to get to the Promised Land: the land flowing with milk and honey; the land that Moses was not allowed to see, due to his disobedience to God. It seemed so unfair after Moses got them out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness for 40 years; putting up with all kind of craziness from God’s chosen elect (the Israelites)! God’s chosen had whined and complained and nothing was ever good enough for them. The final straw was when they wanted water and God told Moses to talk to the rock and get the water. Instead Moses, in his frustration, hit the rock. Moses did this two different times. The water flowed forth, but at what cost? Moses didn’t listen to God, and thus, was prevented from seeing the land of milk and honey. Moses died, and God chose Joshua to take his place.
I, like Joshua, can appreciate a good battle. I have often felt as if God has called me. Like Joshua, I trust God’s word. My battle gear is the written word. I trust God will lead me. Many of us, living with HIV are Chosen Ones. For whatever reason, we have been chosen to fight this battle of HIV/AIDS.
As the Israelites were crossing the Jordan, they were instructed to pick up 12 stones and place them in a circle on the land. These stones were to represent them coming up out of the Jordan and landing on dry land. They were placed in a circle and was a memorial of their journey, and God’s faithfulness. It would be a story to tell their children in times to come. Much like when Moses crossed the Sea of Reeds (The Red Sea). Joshua and his people would have their own story to pass down.
I can’t help but realize that we, who have been on this wilderness journey, have been on it for as long as the Israelites were, thousands of years ago. Their journey was 40 years in the wilderness. We are 35 years in. Perhaps our Promised Land is coming soon.
Oh, we have made our own crossings. We’ve crossed through the monstrous drugs of AZT and Fuzeon. We’ve crossed through different treatment plans, different drugs, different medical trials. We’ve had a glimpse of the Promised Land with our rising CD4 counts and our viral loads of undetectable statuses. We have a glimpse of the Promised Land of getting to zero, with PrEP; the medication which if taken properly prevents one from contracting HIV. These are glimpses of the Promised Land. But we have to fight for each glimpse we get.
Not too much later in the book of Joshua, as they conquered the land of Canaan, the Israelites were told to march around the city of Jericho blowing their horns ….they did this enough times and the walls came tumbling down!
We too must march and blow our horns (shout out) and make noise. We must be heard! We must complain and not become complacent with the way things are! The end of this disease is in sight. But we must push. Our battle is not among ourselves, but with the government and with the medical authorities. My battle has been within the faith community; holding the community accountable for stigma, lack of action on their part – but lots of ‘silent reaction’ to those who speak openly about the conditions within the church, especially among their own, living with the disease.
There are more than enough battles to go around: I spoke about one in the beginning of this article: criminalization of people living with HIV – putting them in jail, punishing them for someone else’s lack of accountability to their own bodies, we need loud voices and writers to ensure that medication is available to all, especially the marginalized, including but not limited to sex workers. We need harm reduction programs. My husband contracted HIV through a dirty needle. Using intravenous drugs is not condoned, but being healthy about it, until the person can get off the drug should be acceptable.
Like the Israelites who were God’s Chosen ones, who fueled by anger and frustration, murmured and complained and fussed at Moses and among themselves, they always seemed to get what they needed. They wanted bread, God sent them manna. They wanted water; God sent them water out of a rock. They wanted meat, God sent fowl. In the midst of their hardships and difficulties, God provided. I spoke earlier about the prodigal son and the older brother. It was a messy situation, but one that deserved a celebration –to the older brother’s chagrin. The father was just happy that his son returned home. The action of the father running out to greet the younger son was grace in action.
God was ecstatic with Joshua and the Israelites for following God’s directions, right down to stones. So ecstatic that they had crossed over the Jordan, that God “had rolled away the disgrace of Egypt”. The stones represented where their deliverance from slavery actually became real. God kept God’s promise then. God will keep God’s promise now.
And so it is with us. God’s promises are true. Make a loud noise! Sound the trumpets in Zion! Hold on! Keep on pushing! Our deliverance will be real!
Our Gilgal is coming soon.
Written by: Past Andrena Ingram, Pastor at St. Michael’s Germantown, Philadelphia; HIV advocate and longterm survivor.
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