Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 24 November 2013 – Of Camelot and Kingdoms


Jesus Christ the King of the Universe – 24 November 2013 –  Of Camelot and Kingdoms

2 Samuel 5:1-3; Psalm 122:1-5; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43

Although he was not the first president to be assassinated while in office, John F. Kennedy’s death shocked the nation and the world. Was it because he set the stage for rethinking our nation’s role in global affairs? Was it the hope he gave to many people in the streets? Was it his charisma? While some historians argue his presidency produced nothing of lasting value the memory of JFK still has a grip on many Americans. Jacqueline Kennedy branded the White House “Camelot” to memorialize her celebrated family. Why? President Kennedy loved stories about heroes. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was his favorite story. 

What is it about kings or queens, real or make believe, good or bad ones, that captures our imagination? Today our church celebrates Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. For many Jesus of Nazareth set the stage for rethinking life on earth. Some contest that he was a failed king whose life was cut short by execution on a criminal’s cross. This morning’s gospel focuses on those who were present at Golgotha where three groups mocked Jesus: the curiosity seekers in the crowd, the Jewish leaders, and the robbers hanging by his side.

Those robbers were not thieves in the traditional sense. They are called social bandits by some scholars. Like Barabbas who was let go, these two were known “as heroes, champions, avengers, fighters for justice, leaders of liberation.” [1] People who were oppressed liked these two bandits. They had a lot in common with Jesus except that Jesus was labeled King of the Jews.

The one, later known as the good social bandit, apparently experiences a conversion while hanging along side Jesus. Instead of complaining he asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He did not say tomorrow or at the end of the world. He said today you will be with me.  Jesus is saying to the bandit that paradise is now. [2] One meaning for this phrase is this: We are companions with Jesus the Anointed One on an eternal journey, which will take us eventually to the full realization and experience of God’s kingdom. 

Along the way there are a series of transformations that we must go through. Those life changing experiences are opportunities to imagine the possibility of that which so often seems impossible. One might say it is to dream the impossible dreams! Safety for children in schools. Nutritional meals on every table. Gender and racial equality in all sectors of life. Employment for those who are willing to work. Better parenting, improved partnerships, respectful relationships in life. All of these are possibilities within our reach.

But why was Jesus called king? Some scholars refer to him as a “spirit person, teacher of wisdom, social prophet, movement founder” [3] The first reading gives us a clue. The elders at Hebron believed King David was the right man to shepherd and unite the people of Israel who were split in two tribes. Kings in the Old Testament symbolized God’s kingship, one that would end every injustice imaginable. In this context we Christians would later think of Jesus as the kind of king David was — in solidarity with the people, a good shepherd. [4] Jesus of Nazareth was not an imperialistic king, he was not an oppressive dictator, a power mongering ruler.

The second passage today helps us understand the king of the universe in another light. The Jesus who walked on earth is the image of an invisible God. This particular manifestation of the triune Godhead is also the Christ of the cosmos who had no beginning and has no end. As part of this creative process, we who are also made in the image of God (Genesis 1:22),  are living in an eternal process that has no beginning and no end.

Today’s biblical texts sound like they are about a compassionate shepherd who comes to be known as a king. They are also about transforming experiences, conversions, like the one that good robber had while hanging out there with Jesus. 

As this liturgical year comes to a close we transition from ordinary time to a time of waiting. Advent is a season of great expectations. What do we expect from the shepherd king Jesus of Nazareth? What do we expect from one another? 

Historian Norris Lacy wrote: “Camelot, located no where in particular, can be anywhere.”  [5] So also, we believe, the kingdom of God — that time and place where justice and peace will reign, where the lion and lamb sleep together — is right here, right now. 

_____

1 Hobsbawm, E. Bandits, in Crossan, JD. Jesus a Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco, Harper, 1989) 142

2 Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2000) 181-82

3 Borg, Marcus. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. (San Francisco: Harper, 1994) 30

4 Reginald H. Fuller. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today. The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 529-532.

5 “Camelot” In Norris J. Lacy (Ed.), The New Arthurian Encyclopedia, (New York: Garland, 1991) pp. 66–67.

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Homily – 17 November 2013 – Life In Between No More and Not Yet


33 Ordinary C – November 17, 2013 – Life in Between No More and Not Yet 

Malachi 3:19-20A, Psalm 98:5-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19

Does this gospel bother you? As we approach the end of our liturgical year the biblical texts focus on end times, the end of the world. When is that time? It is an eerie coincidence that these readings bring to mind the calamities occurring around the planet today.

The death toll from the Tacloban Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines could reach 10,000 people. Last week there were four earthquakes in Delhi, India … in just three hours! And a tropical storm in the Puntland region of Somalia killed 100 people.  Some say these natural disasters are acts of God, warnings that the end times are near. Others argue that the frequency of these catastrophes is caused by global warming. [1] No matter what we believe these calamities are opportunities to stop, to step back, to reflect. They can wake us up. 

This gospel was written as if Jesus were predicting bad omens on earth. In fact it was written after the time of Jesus. The Temple he referred to was already destroyed. It was not a prediction of horrific events as much as it was a commentary on what already happened. The wording is scary enough but not any less realistic than what is being experienced on this fragile planet right now. 

Columnist Conor Friedersdorf raised an interesting question last week. Given how predictable it is that there will be future natural disasters, he asked about preemptive measures. How we can lower death tolls and get help to survivors ahead of time rather than wait until after the disaster strikes. [2]

Forecasting and preparing for dire weather is one thing. What if we could predict the end of the world? Christianity is a religion that follows a linear historical path. We live in between the beginning and the end of creation. Flooding, droughts, hurricanes, firestorms, meteorites are some of the natural disasters we have to endure while we wait. 

However, there are other facets of life that we can control somewhat. If it seems almost impossible for us to stop wars, poverty and the purposeful abuse of humans, what can we do? Act with kindness toward others. Greet strangers stranded in the cold. Volunteer with institutions and organizations to serve people in need. Do not put off saying, “I love you.”

There are at least two ways to interpret this gospel. A traditional way is to say life as we know it must end before eternal life can begin. Jesus used the Temple as an example of how earthly things do not last forever. That great architectural symbol of religion and power was destroyed. Jesus said he would rise up again as a new temple. Our life in Christ is that hallowed place. We are temples of a holy spirit.

Another way to understand eternal life is to act as if we are already participating in it. In this sense we do not imagine the end of time as a catastrophic event but an ever evolving transformation of life. That is why we Christians are hopeful. And, with all people who act with faith and charity, we work hard to bring about some happiness in this life for ourselves and others. This task may take some time to achieve. In fact, it may take “forever!”

Our eucharistic liturgy is a foretaste of eternal happiness. Here in this place we imagine and celebrate life that is more just, where all people, created in the likeness of God, are treated as such. If we allow it to do so, this liturgy will have an effect on the way we think and behave in our lives.

So, these readings today are not so much about the end of time as much as they are about what we are doing while we wait. They are calling us to live in a Christian way — humbly, simply, peacefully. 

—-

1 http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/12/prri-rns-december-2012-survey/

2 Friedersdorf, Conor. “Is This the Best Humanity Can Do for the Philippines? in The Atlantic. November 11, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/11/is-this-the-best-humanity-can-do-for-the-philippines/281332/


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Homily – 10 November 2013 – Together in Faith We Can Do Anything


32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 10, 2013 – Together in Faith We Can Do Anything

2 Maccabees  7:1-2,9-14; Psalm 17:1,5-6, 8,15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Luke 20:27-38

Four or five movies currently showing are all about fear and survival. [1] Film critic Andrew Romano suggests they “resonate with what is happening in the real world … they remind us that the human spirit is strong and that we can triumph over adversity.” Hopefully Romano is right in these times when many are struggling to survive.

The typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms in recorded history, is taking tens of thousands of lives in the Philippines causing life threatening damage in six of the country’s islands. [Note: Many who worship at St. Vincent’s Parish come from the Philippines and have families there.]

Forty-million children and adults in the United States (16% of the population in New York State alone) are now struggling to put food on their tables because of the drastic cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP). 

Today’s first reading from the bible tells the ancient story of a mother and her seven sons who were martyred during the persecution of the Jews about 160 years BCE. It too is a story about suffering and survival. Last night marked the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, the beginning of the holocaust.

All of these events are reminders that the human spirit is constantly challenged from age to age because of injustices as well as the uncontrollable force of nature. We ask ourselves where is God in these events? Where are we?

As Christians we understand Jesus of Nazareth as the one who came with a lifesaving message of resistance and renewal. He preached not mere resuscitation after suffering and death but something entirely new. He promised resurrection — a mysterious transforming experience that would replace life as we know it. The Saducees, members of the upper social and economic class of Jews at that time, did not believe in the resurrection and challenged Jesus. 

Given these biblical and real life stories we can focus on what St. Vincent’s parish is doing to renew itself, to broaden its ministerial life and to help those who do live in fear, those who are struggling to survive. Maybe some of those people are right here with us this morning. We can concentrate on how this liturgical celebration unites us with the mission of Jesus of Nazareth. 

We seldom think of worship and works of justice as inseparable; that one activity is really incomplete without the other. Fifty years ago this coming December 4th the Vatican Two Ecumenical Council renewed our church. It’s very first document, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, promoted a reformed understanding of worship. 

In this parish we have started to mark this upcoming anniversary. St. Vincent’s on a Mission stressed our ongoing zeal for social action in the larger community. Soon we will inaugurate a renewal program for all liturgical ministries in our parish to help us see the connections between liturgy, hospitality and justice. And, as you know, we are now planning to renew our church building.

Churches like other houses of worship are metaphors for their congregations. They symbolize who we are, what we believe and how we practice our faith. They also shape the ways in which we worship. If our church is going through a renewal so will our worship be renewed. And, if our worship is renewed then our prayers, music, art and architecture also will be renewed.

Our new seating plan will help us appreciate that the sacraments, especially the eucharist, are not private acts. They are celebrations of the mystery of faith by the entire church with its clergy. In this setting no one person is more important than another.

The addition of new images of the saints, our spiritual ancestors, will remind us that we are part of a larger household of holy women and men. We pray to these sacred strangers for their presence, their spirit, their guidance every time we celebrate a sacrament.

The cross is a Christian symbol of the injustices in humanity. It is not something to gaze at as much as it is something for us to identify with, to embrace. We will relocate this tree of life more in our midst to be grasped and honored.

A new baptismal font located at our ceremonial entry will help us recall our initiation into the priesthood of Christ. It is where we welcome new members into our church; it is where we greet the bodies of deceased members.

And finally our existing altar table will be placed in the center of all of us. It is a symbol of Christ who is always in our midst. It is both an altar of sacrifice and a table of sustenance. United with Christ, we are nourished by the gifts we offer — bread, wine and ourselves — gifts that give us strength to survive, gifts that inspire us to serve others.

The main message of today’s gospel is that hope in the future depends not on wishful thinking or how we might imagine heaven to be. For God still speaks to us, encouraging us. Jesus continues to work among us. And, the holy Spirit counsels us as we struggle to survive the challenges that life presents to us.

Sometimes like Zacchaeus in last week’s gospel we have to find ways to rise above the tragedies and injustices that smudge the beauty of this world. We want to see clearly the bigger picture screen that frames our lives. It is a picture of God’s abundance, God’s sustenance, God’s justice and grace. 

Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a closer look at Jesus of Nazareth who represented hope and new possibilities for living. Because of Jesus Zacchaeus renewed his life and so can we. We can lift ourselves up and … we can help others rise up. In faith, sisters and brothers in Christ, together we can do anything!

1. “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Captain Phillips” and “All Is Lost”