Not if we belong to God in both life and in death, border conference preacher says
February 18, 2020
We fear so many things, the Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes told worshipers during the recent celebration of 35 years of ministry by Presbyterian Border Region Outreach.
Carvalhaes, who’s from Brazil and is associate professor of worship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, was preaching at the Lirio de los Valles Church in Agua Prieta, just across the U.S. southern border from Douglas, Arizona. The conference, attended by about 150 people, was called “Responding to an Exodus: Gospel Hospitality and Empire.”
“We have arrived!” Carvalhaes said jubilantly at the outset of his sermon, his arms outstretched. “We have arrived where so many of us fear. We fear the distance (from home) and we fear the people who need us the most. Our politics and our economic structures cast a heavy blanket on all of us. I wonder if we are losing that sensibility that life can be lived without fear — with courage and boldness — by resting in God’s place fully.”
“If we belong to God in life and in death,” he said, “what do we have to fear?”
Carvalhaes then paused to “bless the memory” of nine members of the LeBaron family, killed nearby in November.
“We came here to see how love can break the chain of fears, because when we’re together we can face anything,” Carvalhaes said. “In the name of love, we say, ‘O death, where is thy sting?’”
Conference participants came “to show lovingkindness and to pray — and we came to receive a blessing, too,” he said. “We have come to celebrate Frontera de Cristo (one of five border ministries), this ministry that has been casting out fear for 35 years.”
“Our crusade,” he said, “is not to conquer anyone — just our own fears.”
Those in attendance came from “el norte,” he said, “with privileges and choices. We came because we can, but our brothers and sisters don’t have those privileges. They deserve the same — or we shouldn’t have any privileges.”
“We don’t have the urgency by which the people from the south live,” Carvalhaes said. “It is the urgency of breathing, the urgency of finding a place of solace. They live like the Christians in the first century lived.”
Carvalhaes identified what he called “the craziness of the gospel: There is no wall, no preservation of nation states. What has to be preserved is the people … If you are not with the immigrants, you are on the side of the Pharaoh. We have come to change our own narratives and beliefs, our own faith — to say to people here, ‘You are mine.’”
He urged worshipers to look through and beyond the border wall, which now divides about one-third of the 1,954-mile-long border between Mexico and the United States.
“Our Mexican brothers and sisters are warriors of love and resistance,” he said. “They see the face of evil every day and they say, ‘God, have mercy on us.’”
In Mexican culture, people are known “for celebrating death very vividly. That’s why they’re so alive,” he said. “We say, ‘People don’t die. They pass away.’ Here they celebrate life.”
He tasked worshipers with developing an alternative narrative to the wall — and to “discover that you too are immigrants. Remember who was the Pharaoh of your ancestors’ time so you could be here today witnessing to the love of God.”
Toward the end of his sermon, Carvalhaes had volunteers push over a pair of decorative walls near the pulpit. He got excited at the sight.
“Are you ready?” he asked worshipers, his voice rising. “Are you fearful? Let God create a new world for all of us!”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian Border Region Outreach Conference
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
O God, when the world’s needs seem to overwhelm our ability to help, let us remember that you ask us to give what we have, not what we do not have. By your Spirit, we can do more than we ever dreamed. Give us faith to trust your Word and obey your commands through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.