Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


Homily – 27 January 2013 – What Does God Want Us To Do?

Ordinary 3C – January 27, 2013 -What Does God Want Us To Do?

Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19:8-10, 15; 1Corinthians 12:12-30 or 12:12-14,27; and, Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21 

What does God want us to do? That was the theme for this year’s Week of Church Unity, which ended this past Friday. It is a huge question isn’t it. There are enough things to think about when it comes to what others want us to do without worrying about what God wants.

So why is this theme important at a time when we pray for Christian unity? The Catholic ecumenical movement formally began in our time with the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council. During the past fifty years there has been an ever growing understanding and appreciation of other religions. Success stories include many dialogues on doctrinal issues, joint statements on scripture, baptism and ministry and collaboration on social justice issues. A good example is happening this coming Tuesday. The Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS is sponsoring an interfaith rally on the capitol steps at Noon to lobby for an increase in the minimum wage.

However, are Christian churches any further along in really becoming more united? Today there are signs that the ecumenical movement is waning. It could be set back by a new enthusiasm on the part of religions (like ours) to overemphasize their denominational identity and how they differ from other Christian churches. Other areas that constrict unity are those dealing with bio-ethics and socio-ethics. Christian churches are not of one mind on issues like stem cell research, same sex marriage, reproductive rights and gun control.

Is it possible to strive for unity among all baptized Christians when there is still so much diversity? The second reading today provides us with much to think about in this regard. Paul is writing to the Gentiles living in Corinth. They were a diverse group made up of rich and poor people. Paul is responding to concerns that the congregation was divided over issues like appropriate Christian conduct and the marginalization of disadvantaged members. “Specifically Paul is critical of those who boast that they possess special religious wisdom or knowledge.” Some claimed to have spiritual gifts that gave them higher spiritual status than others.  Others felt they were already “reigning” with God. [1]

Paul uses the human body as a metaphor for the church and to illustrate that unity and diversity are not incompatible. Paul stresses the importance of diversity and thus the interdependence of the body’s members upon each other.  Each member of the body has a role to play which is indispensable. [2] That’s a reference to you and me.

The ecumenical movement began with an eagerness to share the gifts of different Christian churches with one another. This enthusiasm also prompted religions to take a look at themselves with an eye to interior reformation. Interdependence among Christian communions has not been fully realized because of the differences that continue to divide us. Academics see these tensions as opportunities for further research and dialogue. In the meantime the ecumenical movement among Christians as well as relationships with other faiths will move forward as long as prophetic voices continue to challenge assumptions and help all of us see organized religions in a whole new light.

In today’s gospel from Luke we heard about Jesus teaching in the temple to the amazement of the elders. Like Isaiah Jesus was announcing, to all who would listen, that he is taking his place in history as a prophetic voice — preaching, healing and delivering the oppressed to freedom. We will hear the rest of this story in next week’s section about how the same elders did not like what they heard. They became angry with Jesus and tried to run him out of town. [3]

There are prophetic voices in all religions today. They are the men and women who challenge us to imagine the possibilities for the future; to set aside the pessimism of the past. Not all of them are recognized. In our church for example the voices of Jon Sobrino, Elizabeth Johnson, Tony Flannery, Roger Haight, Roy Bourgeois, Margaret Farley and Ivone Gebara have been met with suspicion and penalty. The voices of these faith-filled members of the Church, like all other members, require dialogue and self-examination.

We live in an age when it is no longer possible or advantageous for one religion to dominate everyone’s thinking. It is a time, however, when we can learn from the faith, the teachings and the good work of other traditions without forsaking our own. Thus, the diversity of religious practice and doctrine today is healthy. Religious institutions like ours can continue to dialog amongst ourselves and with others. We can study, do good work and pray together. We can also serve as advocates for human rights, peace and justice for all. That is where our common bond lies and it may be just what God is asking us to do.


1 Furnish, Victor Paul in Attridge, H. (Ed.) The HarperCollins Study Bible Revised Edition (San Francisco: Harper) 2006, p. 1949

2 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 447-450

3 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2000) 54



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Homily – 20 January 2013 – So Help Me God

Ordinary 2 – January 20, 2013 – So Help Me God

Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 96:1-3, 1-10; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; John 2:1-11

Why three bibles? As you have probably heard today President Barack Obama will be sworn in privately using Michelle Obama’s family bible. Tomorrow in the public inaugural event he will take the oath of office using the traveling bible of Martin Luther King Jr. and the one used by Abraham Lincoln when he began his second term. Why three when there is only one word of God. Because the bibles also contain the stories and memories of the families.

The use of the bible or any reference to God is not required by the Constitution. The expression “so help me God” was first used by Chester Arthur in 1881. The connection is all too obvious. The bible is full of stories about God helping human beings.

There are some things we simply cannot do by ourselves. No amount of military, moral or monetary might can help us get out of all of our troubling situations. And when we or other humans can’t get something done it we usually turn to some other source, some other power. We might even say, “So help me God.”

Take today’s gospel for example. Now isn’t this one of those stories we love to hear? Who cannot help but wonder “how did he do that?” “How can I learn to do that?” However, Jesus seemed annoyed and even sassy in this story. He calls his mother “woman!” He didn’t want to be bothered and told her he is not ready to do this kind of work.

In the Mediterranean culture boys were raised mostly by their mothers. In this story Jesus was probably a young adult, finding his own identity, anxious to assert his independence. Maybe Jesus was embarrassed in front of his young disciples who most likely were wondering how he would handle the situation. Maybe Jesus said, “So help me God!”

This gospel was was written for Jews who lived long after Jesus. They were afraid of confessing their faith in Jesus in public for fear of being tossed out of their synagogue. Not a conversion speech it a pep talk to encourage the Jews, the first Christians, to be courageous in their faith. The miracle in the story represents Jesus’ mission to reveal the beauty in all creation; to save it from what is evil.

There are times when you and I just don’t want to do what someone asks us to do. When a street person begs for money and we are in a hurry? When a close friend or member of the family asks a favor and we are too busy? Maybe there are times when we get embarrassed because we are being asked to do something we are not quite sure how to do. Sometimes reaching out to help others involves taking risks, exploring new paths. Jesus took many chances to do what he believed his father in heaven was asking him to do. His mission was to liberate all people from the burdens of oppression, sickness and even death. Who can carry out such a mission without some help?

Consider Martin Luther King Jr. in our own time. He had a dream that all peoples could be free. He believed his dream. Once while in prison he wrote to his wife Coretta, “I have the faith to believe that this excessive suffering that is now coming to our family will in some little way make Atlanta a better city, Georgia a better state and America a better country. Just how, I do not yet know. But I have faith to believe it will.”  [1] Martin Luther King Jr. was dreaming about turning water into wine.

Today’s second reading challenges you and me to work some miracles in our lives and the lives of others. The first reading  from Isaiah said do not be silent, do not be quiet. The psalm called for proclaiming marvelous deeds to all the nations.  The letter to the Corinthians describes Christians as people with many diverse gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracle working, prophecy and discernment to name a few. We each cannot take on all these roles. We have to find what gift is ours and then use it for the common good.

The litany of tasks is long. I invite to you join in the response – So help me God!

How are we using our gifts to bring peace to captives, to stop violence against women and children, to feed those who are hungry? So help me God! So house those who have no place to sleep, to voice our concern for minorities, immigrants, unfair labor practices and the unemployed. So help me God! How do we respect our planet and all human beings? How do we advocate for fairness in our own churches and in our country? So help me God!

Martin Luther King’s convictions informed the leadership of the American Civil Rights Movement. Many activists like Medgar Evers followed in his footsteps at great risk. Evers was murdered by a white supremacist in 1963. Tomorrow his wife, Myrlie Evers-Williams, will give the invocation at the presidential inauguration. She is the first non-ordained woman to do so. When asked about praying in public she said “I have never been shy in mentioning my relationship with what I call God, a Spirit … there have been times when I have called on him or her in public. I believe that there is a supreme being that sees us through. [2]

This is a holiday weekend of transitions and memories when all of us together might think about crying out loud, “So help us God.”


1 Martin Luther King Jr, October 26, 1960, Georgia State Prison, Reidsville, GA

2 Interview with Adelle M. Banks, Religious News Service posted 1/15/13 on Huff Post Religion