This homily was preached at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square for the opening worship service for the Annual General Meeting of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility in Chicago, Illinois March 6 – March 10, 2011.
Actually, I didn’t know it was an honor to be hosting you when your colleague David Foster invited St. Luke’s to host this service. I just knew that I would happily do anything David asked me to do, and that if he was involved in your work, then I would be proud to be connected to you as well. And as I began to do a little bit of research on your organization, I was proven right.
Founded in the early 1970s as a faith-based response to apartheid in South Africa, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility has made a powerful dual witness to the faith traditions out of which it speaks and to the wider world in which we all live, and move and have our being. Your work provides the evidence of what Jim Wallis means when he says that “budgets are moral documents.” Where we spend our time and where we spend our money speak, particularly in an affluent nation such as ours, most powerfully to what we truly value and to what we are truly committed.
So, then it was my job to select texts for this evening’s service of evening prayer; and, being a good mainline Protestant, I went to the lectionary – in this case the daily lectionary – and saw that the texts appointed for this day come from Leviticus and First Peter, not books of the Bible that I often gravitate to in my preaching.
But, this is the wisdom of a lectionary – that it invites us to find wisdom outside our favorite sources and surprises us with evidence of God’s providence and justice where we might not always expect it.
So, this evening we hear from First Peter, the author of which was writing to the communities of Christians forming and gathering throughout Asia Minor in the first century after the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Many of the people in these communities had been Gentiles, so the practices of the followers of Jesus, rooted in the ethical vision of the prophets of Israel, were foreign and uncomfortable.
To these young, pluralistic assemblies of believers the author of this letter offers a word of encouragement as they practice a new set of values that run counter to the cultures in which they live. He says, “you have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.”
This seems unexpectedly relevant to the work you are gathered to do here in Chicago this week. In the context of a global market still reeling from the financial crises of the last five years; still struggling to come to grips with its addiction to oil; still convinced that the middle-class housing crisis is morally equivalent to the AIDS crisis in Africa or the clean water crisis faced by over a billion people around the globe; you are gathering to make a public witness to what matters, literally putting the church’s money where its mouth is.
Thank you so much for the work you are doing.
Whether you represent denominational pensions or socially-responsible investment funds, you – like Aaron and Moses – are teaching the church what an acceptable offering looks like.
I was, not surprisingly, a little unsure of what to make of the passage from the ninth chapter of Leviticus, as preoccupied as it is with goats and calves and lambs and oxen. As I studied the commentaries though I realized that it’s really only my modern ears that were getting distracted by all the animals and sacrifices. Listening to the text from its own point of view, I discovered that it was not so much about what is being offered, and more about who was making the offering.
The nation of Israel was used to being led by Moses, but here it is Aaron who is making the offering. So the text points out again and again that Aaron is acting with Moses’ blessing and by his authority. Moses summons Aaron and tells him what to offer. Moses gives Aaron the words to speak to the community. Moses instructs Aaron in how to make the offering, and once he has done all that Moses has taught him, the evidence of God’s favor comes as the offerings are consumed by holy fire, and the people cry out and fall on their faces, recognizing the presence of the Holy.
You are people shaped by faith. You have been led into holy wisdom in the temples and churches and mosques and ashrams to which you belong. You come here, to Chicago, to do holy work, God’s work; and you come here tonight, to worship, and to dedicate this time that lies ahead of you to the glory of God, to the one from whom all gifts flow, and to whom we offer back all that we are, and all that we have, as an expression of gratitude and thanksgiving.
Brothers and sisters, as you gather tonight to give thanks for the light of the day that has passed and to pray for the light that will illumine your conversations in the days ahead, never forget that you too have been called and commissioned. The days and the dollars that you offer to the divine are a good gift. Thanks be to God.