This is Our Desert, This is Our Promised Land

This morning I was honored to be asked to give the invocation at the 11th Annual CLUE-LA Giants of Justice Breakfast. These are my remarks.

This week in the Jewish cycle of Bible reading, we are in between Leviticus and Numbers. This past Shabbat, we finished the book of Leviticus, and in two days we will start the book of Numbers. The name of the book of Leviticus in Hebrew, according to the Rabbinic tradition is Va-yikra, literally “and God called.” Leviticus is a book of Divine calling—the Tabernacle is built, the rules for the sacrifices are set, the law is spelled out. Toward the end of the book, God replays the scene on the top of Mt. Sinai. In Leviticus 25 we read:

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them…

So… what was it that was spoken on the top of the mountain? We’re all thinking of the Ten Commandments now. However, Leviticus tells us something else: God spoke of justice. First you must declare a Sabbatical year. A year when the land lies fallow and all debts are forgiven. Next support for the poor, and finally justice for the resident alien, the undocumented immigrant.
Then God gets around to banishing idols. First, however, is justice. If you are not paying your workers properly, taking care of the poor and the immigrants, then idolatry is only the least of your problems since you know not what the God who took you out of Egypt, out of the House of bondage, is all about.
This Shabbat, this Saturday we move into Numbers. The Hebrew name for Numbers is Bamidbar—“in the desert.” Whereas Leviticus was the theory, the seminar on sacrificial ritual and economic justice, Numbers/“in the desert” is the challenge to take that learning, that rootedness in the faith and the tradition and go out into the desert and create the Promised Land.
There is a Yiddish socialist saying: Every place can be Egypt, every place can be the Promised Land.
The work of CLUE-LA is the work of moving from Vayikra to Bamidbar. The hard work of taking our faiths and going into the desert of our city and organizing for economic justice, for immigrant rights, for good union jobs. We do it by walking with workers and dreamers, by learning from workers and dreamers, by slowly converting this desert city into a promised land.
Let us pray. Oh Merciful One, God of Grace and Love, this morning as we honor Laphonza Butler, Soledad Garcia, Anthony Ng, Senior Deacon Guy Wauthy for their tremendous achievements, help us all to remember that we are all partners with You in creating this world, and that the work of creation is not complete until the work of justice is done. Please give our hands the cunning, our hearts the compassion, our minds the wisdom to do this holy work. And let us say Amen.

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