World Communion: Love Without Borders

a sermon preached at Independent Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, AL – September 27, 2009

Good morning. I want to thank Rev. Conrad Sharps and the Focus of Faith Committee for the invitation and thank you all for having me here today. Rev. Conrad is now leading the most important committee of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, the presidential search committee. I am learning to admire Rev Conrad more as I see the wise way he is leading our school in this new search. I also want to thank Paul Ramjue, for such a good work during this process before my arrival and for my stay in Birmingham. Last night I had a great time with some of you, thank you for your hospitality. I learned quickly about the rivalry between Alabama and Alburn and I had people telling me to go for Alabama that I would be safe. However, I will be unashamedly political here and say that I haven’t decided between the two yet.

What a honor to be here! While listening and reading about this church and I had to catch my breath since you are doing so much for the Glory of God. May God keep your eyes opened to the world! I look forward to break bread with you this evening at the Agape meal.  PAUSE

Very soon we will celebrate the World Communion Day and this morning, I want us to consider briefly, the worship space as a global space, a place of encounters, a place where we develop an ethic of responsibility, of caring for the world, and an ethic of deep commitment to one another, near and far.

Everything we do in this space demonstrates who we are and how God look like. In all we do here we are defining world views, setting moral values, agreeing with certain political perspectives, defining the borders of our faith, of our identities, of our relations, and even of laws, the global market and the global order.

Also, this place reflects and at the same time reshapes our homes and our culture. How can eat together here if our culture teaches us to eat alone at fast foods? How do we share our food and become each other’s keepers if we learn that we should provide only for ourselves? How should we love without borders when there are real walls built throughout the south border of this country? How can we create community when our culture tells us that it is the individual that matters? How do we encounter one another here when we are so divided?

How do we encounter God here when our understandings of God are so different?  How can we welcome the stranger if our daily news report about immigrants taken our jobs and bringing diseases? // Our worship space is all intertwined and interrelated with the world we live in.

It is here at this liturgical space that we encounter the world, sometimes an unrecognizable world, more often than not an unfair and confusing world, and always an interconnected world. It is around the baptismal font and the Eucharistic table that we not only meet but also confront the world, as we renegotiate our lives, our faith and our beliefs and discover what the love of God is all about and how we can love without borders. What we do here and with whom we do things here show clearly who we are, what practices of mercy we sustain, what acts of justice we foster and what spiritual guidance we cherish. As Bruce Williams, an African American pastor in Louisville said once: “It is not we who go to church to see what God is doing but instead, it is God who goes to church to see what WE are doing!” // God is indeed searching for worshipers in spirit and in truth. Are we the ones?

Today’s passage about the Samaritan woman and Jesus is well known to all of us. This story is a powerful encounter that shakes some of the social, political and religious conventions of that time.  We all know well that the Jews had problems with the Samaritans and vice versa.

As Gail O’Day says, “The breach between Samaritans and Jews derived from the Assyrian occupation of northern Palestine in 721 B.C.E. (2 Kings 17), The Samaritans built a shrine on Mount Gerizin and claimed that this shrine, not Jerusalem temple, was the center of cultic life.

Jewish troops destroyed the shrine on Mount Gerizin in 128 B.C.E., and the rift between the two groups continued into Jesus’ day.”[1] We see here that for Samaritans and Jews, the question of the worship space was central to their faith, so much so that the location of the worship blurred important themes such as nation identity, religious orthodoxy, political recognition, ethnic affirmation, and of course the pursue to be faithful to God.

However, this unnamed woman engages Jesus in a theological discussion and asks him about the right place for worship. Jesus’ first answer keeps the wall of separation between the Jews and the Samaritans when he says:

“You worship what you do not know and we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Jesus is associating true worship with a proper knowledge of God that can only be found in a particular people, the Jews…

However, as the conversation continues, Jesus ends up breaking down these walls and offers a new space of worship, a space neither here nor there but elsewhere. A place neither for Samaritans nor for Jews only but for anyone who want to become a true worshiper of God, who will worship God in spirit and truth.” (23)

How shall we understand that? PAUSE I believe that it is our job as Christians to do the theological and liturgical work of figuring out what it means to worship God in spirit and truth and how we become such true worshipers of God, here and elsewhere.

One could say that to be true worshipers of God one has to adore Christ in the inner space of our hearts, that it is there, in the most intimate part of our being that God lives and should be worshipped. To which I say Yes! Yes!

However, any worship gesture that moves our hearts also depends on our bodies, whether we have food to eat, whether we are wounded by a bomb in a war, whether our beloved ones are going through difficult times, whether we have access to health systems and so on…

Worshipful gestures of our hearts are marked by the ways we live our lives. It depends on where we live, and how we live. Worshipful gestures of our hearts are deeply rooted in the way we use our money, with whom we are committed to, and with the hospitality we offer both in our homes and in our churches.

But you might say to me: Claudio, the grace of God comes to us in any situation, circumstance or territory. We do not depend on any given material aspects of our lives to receive God’s grace… And here I would say Yes………. but also NO.

It is true that the grace of God works on God’s logic, which is a logic unknown to us. However, the grace of God also moves through human and concrete channels that we, as Christians are supposed to create to allow the grace of God to flow.  The grace of God gains the shape of our faith communities and the encounters we have through our lives.

But if you are not convinced that the liturgical space is connected with everything else that happens in our lives and the world…

* Ask where our black ancestors in this country were allowed to sit in Christian churches and we will learn that it was the slaves who used to sit in the balcony of the white churches, far from the white people and from the power.  Then you tell me if race does not matter for the true worshiper in spirit and truth when we encounter with God and one another?

* Or ask about how the globalizion of the world market allows only a few people around the world to hold most of the world’s money. For instance, ask how much Bill Gates has in his checking account and then discover that he has more money than several countries together around the world. Then tell me that Bill Gates worships God in the same way as a community of dispossessed people in the slums of Africa or Latin America or Asia.

Then tell me that economic inequity and class differences do not matter for the true worshiper who worships God in spirit and in truth when we encounter with God and one another?

* Or ask about the borders between Mexico and US, its shameful walls…  and how the US immigration office, LA MIGRA, is treating immigrants in this country and how this border is portrayed in most liturgical spaces by a huge silence in our sermons, our sacraments and our prayers. Go live in a non-documented community with people who are usually underpaid, but who keep the food costs of this country lower than it should be, and then you tell me that the food we eat at our very Eucharistic table has nothing to do with the faith of the true worshiper of God in spirit and truth when we encounter with God and one another?

Jesus said that God searches for true worshipers. Where are they? Who are they?  Are you a true worshiper of God in spirit and in truth?

How can we worship God truly when we are still fighting over the proper place to adore God? The truth, brothers and sisters, is neither on the left nor in the right, neither at the Mount Gerizin nor at the Jerusalem temple, neither here nor there, but always elsewhere, always elsewhere.

This place, elsewhere, is when we have to wrestle with our differences: sex, race, ethnicities, theologies, liturgical practices…. And we need grace for our encounters… but the question lingers: How can we become worshipers of God in spirit and in truth in a messy global community? To answer this question is necessary to worship God with those who are different from us and then try to figure that out what it means to be a true worshiper of God in the midst of several differences.

We are responsible for each other,  brothers and sisters. And if I am responsible for my brother’s story and my sister’s destiny, I can neither throw you away nor give up on you.  We are called without ceasing to gather together to worship God. For as we honor God, we also honor one another. I honor you and you honor me.

Here, at this place, a global space, a familiar and strange place, a two way road, a crossroad, a bridge, a desert, a cliff, a shelter, a gathering moment around the well… here we look for Christ, for an encounter with God!  And to expand our love to the point of loving without borders. That is a Sysiphus task, brothers and sisters, one that will never end. But the demand is always before us: to celebrate God’s communion as if we are celebrating with the entire world and loving without borders. How so? Only by practicing with strangers we will learn.

It is here/there, in this chartered and unchartered territory, with familiar and strange faces, that we are called to encounter God and each other, not  IN SPITE of our differences but BECAUSE of our differences.[2]

Here, in this sometimes dangerous territory, we must create a liturgy of responsibility to welcome our neighbor and construct a new and possible world.


Every time we worship we are called to be a true worshiper of God.  The Bible text today tells us a story of an encounter.  Nancy Pereira Cardoso, a Biblicist and theologian from Brazil tells us some things about this encounter. She says:

“Two strangers: he and she. They were not supposed to meet each other. There was no common space, a reason or a why. The point of encounter: a well. And they have different thirsts. She was a woman. He was a man.

He a Jew, even if from Galilee. She a Samaritan. He, a passer by, she a resident. But at that moment, they were both vulnerable in the presence of each other. And it is this identity that facilitates the encounter: to be vulnerable. She and he. He is passing through a non-place, alone, in a strange land. She is familiar with her territory.  A territory is also made of relations.  They are both so alone that the social and relational markers of that territory are suspended. A man and a woman meet each other at the well. At that moment, water was also relation. They have an itinerary: from life to theology… God with us. Neither here nor there but somewhere in between where we are, which is the best place for adoration.

And then the moment for commitment: I give you my cup and I call my people; I introduce my friends to you and I kiss your cup; I recognize you and I call you mine. We offer ourselves to one another, an offering that creates the territory where we worship God. True community.”[3]

Here we are, together in this chapel today. I bring my shoe shine box from when I was 9 years old, my story, and offer my life to you! You bring your craft, your need and you offer your life to me; You tell me about yourself, we share food, we drink together, we speak in tongues and we call upon God’s name together and in Jesus’ name we worship God and learn to share life and this space.

Here, at this global liturgical space, always celebrating the Eucharist AS WORLD COMMUNION that we learn how to love without borders in and around borders, that we open ourselves to encounter with strangers, that we feed each other, and realize that we are in charge or writing each other’s stories, that we are responsible for the world and for each other’s destinies. [4]

And I believe that what the poet Paul Celam says can become the beginning of our ethics of responsibility at this liturgical space:

“The world is gone and I must carry you”

May God bless us all.

[1] Gail R. O’Day, The Word Disclosed. Preaching the Gospel of John (Chalice Press: St Louis Missouri, 2002), 34-35. As for Jean K. Kim, in her book “Woman and Nation, An intercontextual Reading of the Gospel of John from a Postcolonial Feminist Perspective,” she says that “Both Jews and Samaritans were determined to keep alive their father’s way of life and customs, and quarreled with each other on the issue of the sanctity of their respective temples.”(p.95)

[2].  The French philosopher Derrida said that: Only infinite being can reduce the difference in presence.  In that sense, the name of God, at least as it is pronounced within classical rationalism, is the name of indifference…We must not therefore speak of a “theological prejudice,” functioning sporadically when it is a question of the plenitude of the logos; the logos as the sublimation of the trace is theological.  (OG, 104/71)OG:  De la grammatologie (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1967); Of Grammatology, corrected edition, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

[3] Nancy Pereira Cardoso. Two Strangers and a Place. January 2008. Not Published.

[4] Encounterings at the Well – John 4:1-30 – Montreat Conference Center – 07/17/09 – Cláudio Carvalhaes

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