01/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

World AIDS Day: A Spiritual Approach

In the early 90s, the progress of the AIDS pandemic looked bleak worldwide. Oh, we knew what the disease was, how it spread, and had some theories on how to manage it, but overall the picture was less than appealing.

Imagine, in the face of the despair, a young pastor delivering a sermon to a principally gay, male congregation on the spirituality of HIV/AIDS.

Quite frankly, I don't remember what made me focus on AIDS for that sermon. Maybe it was near World AIDS Day, December 1st , or maybe I just had a realization about the disease.

I'd been asking lots of questions in my sermons of late. In that one, I asked some of these:

What if the word AIDS itself has significance?

What if the world's gay men made a spiritual commitment to help the rest of us learn a valuable lesson?

What if that lesson is that we must help one another?

What if we can no longer be immune to the needs of others?

What if those who are marginalized, rejected and hated are the wise ones?

When the words stopped at the end of the message, there was a distinct hush in the church. For a flicker, I was sure I had offended the wonderful beings in the room. Then one of the elders stood up, tears streaming down his face, and began to clap. It was the first standing ovation I ever got for a sermon.

The people I know who live successfully with HIV/AIDS have taken it as the cursed blessing that it is. Those who thrive have allowed HIV/AIDS to become a spiritual teacher to them. To a person, they all affirm the same sentiment: that AIDS is the best thing that ever happened to them.

So what is born out of a nearly thirty year old pandemic like this one?

Spiritual fruit. Exemplary lives. True service. Compassion.

Let us learn the lessons of HIV/AIDS, dear one. When we no longer need them, the virus will no longer have to exist to remind us of who we are.