Six Degrees: A Homily and Prayer Litany for World AIDS Day

Post Author: Callista Isabelle

Who is my neighbor? Who is NOT my neighbor?

We live in a world in which we are just six handshakes away from anyone else. Chances are that you don’t personally know any Australian police officers, the Chancellor of Germany, or a member of the English Parliament. But! Maybe you know someone whose cousin studied abroad in Australia and had a run-in with the police. Or maybe you know a German professor here who knows someone who’s related to someone whose friend works for the German government. You get the idea. Basically, many believe that every person on the planet is separated from everyone else by a chain of about six people.

The idea of “six degrees of separation” was first proposed in 1967 by sociologist Stanley Milgram. He asked 96 randomly selected people around the country to send a piece of mail to an acquaintance, who would send the mail along to another acquaintance, and many of these letters reached Milgram’s “target” person in Boston… through an average of 6 people. Some sociologists question the validity of this study and the theory all together.

But whether or not you believe in the theory of six degrees of separation… and if you can suspend your own attempts to figure out how you connected to Kevin Bacon for a moment… there is no denying we live in a highly connected world.

What are the implications of these connections?

Who is my neighbor?” the lawyer challenges Jesus in the Gospel of Luke.

If I’m supposed to love my neighbor as myself, who is my neighbor?

And Jesus replies with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The neighbor is the one we’d prefer not to notice, the one considered unclean, the one on the other side of the road whom many pass by. This is your neighbor, Jesus says.

But let’s turn this question on its head:

With six degrees of separation, who is NOT my neighbor??

You may not personally know someone living with HIV/AIDS. But you probably know someone in these pews who does know someone living with AIDS. I’d venture a guess that the six degrees of separation would be an even lower number when it comes to this disease. AIDS is not as far away as it may seem. AIDS is affecting the lives of our neighbors, the life of the church, and the life of the world. Who is your neighbor?

“I give you a new commandment,” Jesus says, “that you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

There are monumental statistics and heart-wrenching stories of those living with AIDS. I struggle to find ways to show love to my neighbors. Churches struggle to find ways to respond as well. But there are a few beginning steps for us here this morning. Today we join our voices and simple actions with those of people around the globe on this World AIDS Day. You are invited to linger at the back of the Chapel before you depart and light a candle… in honor of someone you know or the unknown neighbors with HIV/AIDS here in Minnesota or the other side of the world.

This morning we also pray for Christ’s coming among us to bring healing and wholeness. We sing our prayers. Please turn the hymn “Come By Here, My Lord.” I will offer prayer petitions in between each stanza of this hymn. Please stand as you are able.


(music begins and continues throughout)

Gathered with neighbors near and far, we pray for those whose lives are touched by HIV and AIDS.

We pray for the millions of individuals living with HIV or AIDS on every continent, especially the quickly growing number of people living with AIDS in Africa. We pray for the more than 5,000 Minnesotans who are known to be living with HIV/AIDS, including those here in Nicollet County. We pray that these millions around the world would have companionship on this incredibly difficult journey. Give them peace, O God, and the courage to face this disease as it dramatically changes their lives.

We pray for your coming, O Christ, to bring wholeness and healing, as we sing:

Come by here, my Lord, come by here;
come by here, my Lord, come by here;
come by here, my Lord,
come by here;
O Lord, come by here.

We pray for those who care for people with HIV and AIDS: nurses, doctors, hospice and hospital chaplains, those who work with homeless AIDS patients, those who work with the orphaned children of AIDS patients, and scientists searching for a cure.

Give them strength and endurance, O God, for the work they are called to do, serving neighbors near and far, and loving them as Christ has taught us to love.

With all of these caregivers, we pray and sing:

Someone’s crying, Lord, come by here . . .

We pray for the churches of the world that struggle to respond to the AIDS pandemic. Help us to use our resources wisely and generously to serve our neighbors.

We pray that you would give people of faith bold and prophetic voices to speak on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced.

With Christians around the world, we pray and sing:

Someone’s praying, Lord, come by here . . .

When it seems that you are far away, O God, we pray for a sense of your presence.

When it seems that this pandemic is growing out of control, we pray for hope.

When it seems that we are far away from those who struggle with AIDS, show us the faces of our neighbors.

When it seems we are paralyzed and unable to act, O God, stir up in us courage.

We wait for your coming, O Christ, as we pray and sing:

Someone needs you, Lord, come by here . . . Amen.

Callista Isabelle is Associate University Chaplain at Yale University.

She writes: "December 1 is World AIDS Day, and this year’s theme is leadership. As clergy we have an opportunity to lead our communities into a conversation about the AIDS pandemic around the world and right here at home. I wrote this homily and the prayers that immediately follow for a chapel service at Gustavus Adolphus College on World AIDS Day 2005. Even if you’re not able to have a special service to mark World AIDS Day, I encourage you to consider how prayers, music, and preaching might help people understand that they are closer than 'six degrees' to HIV/AIDS. This year’s World AIDS Day falls just one day before the first Sunday in Advent. As we wait for the birth of Christ this season, we also wait with those living with HIV/AIDS for signs of hope."

Image by: Jon Tyson
Used with permission
2 replies
  1. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    My uncle, who died last year, was an Australian police officer. And one of my Dad’s favorite colleagues was a research professor in Germany (kind close to working for the government!). Know you’ve shook hands with me, who has shook hands with an Australian police officer and a German researcher. Circle complete!


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