Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – The Body and Blood of Christ – 22 June 2014 – It is Our Mystery


The Body and Blood of Christ A – June 22, 2014 – It is Our Mystery

Deuteronomy 8:2-3,14b-16a; Psalm 147:12-15,19-20; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; John 6:51-58

Can you imagine our liturgy being led by people who are hungry and homeless … ministering as greeters, readers, singers and musicians, homilists and presiders?  What prayers and songs would be used? What would holy communion look like? 

Union Theological Seminary in New York City cosponsors a program called  the Poverty Initiative. The movement, whose mission is to build up a social movement to end poverty, is led by the very people who live in poverty. At one of the seminary’s daily liturgies people who live on the streets of New York wrote the prayers, led the worship and gave the sermon. For the people who were there it looked different, it felt different, it smelled different. It was different.

The late Bill Gaffney, who was a long time parishioner and deacon here, once said during a staff meeting back in the mid-1970s, we will never come to fully understand what liturgy is until we invite people living in poverty out there in the streets to come in here to worship with us.

Today is the celebration of the body and blood of Christ. The feast grew out of the eucharistic devotions of the 9th to 12th centuries while communion by the faithful was declining. Looking at the sacred host was more important than sharing it. What does the holy eucharist mean for us today? 

Because we believe the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ how does this liturgy change us?  If ordinary bread and wine can be transformed into the body and blood of Christ why can’t we?

The passage from Deuteronomy recalls how God sustained the tired, hungry and homeless Israelites with water from rocks and manna from heaven. [1] 

 Later, Christians would come to believe that God would continue to sustain them through Christ Jesus and a holy Spirit. Table fellowship would be key.

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul interprets what happened during Jesus’s last meals with his friends. Modeled after Greco-Roman banquets, the meals in Paul’s churches ritualized social bonding. He emphasized the power of the meal to break down boundaries, to create community solidarity. [2] For Paul the eucharistic meal binds one not only to Christ but also to one’s neighbors. [3]  “In the great sacrament of the altar they [we] are joined to Christ Jesus and one another.” [4]

Why do we who live in 48 zip codes come here to worship? The usual answers are hospitality, preaching and music. What if we also said we worship here because it draws us deeper into the life of Christ and the work of this faith community? What if worshiping here inspired all of us to improve our lives, to pay attention to the needs of others, to be with people who are hungry and homeless, to eradicate injustices on earth? 

Today we close this worship center so it can be transformed. Our new space will strongly emphasize our solidarity, our unity in anticipation of a new heaven and new earth. [5] 

 How? All of us will be gathered around the altar table in a circle. Like our tables at home around which families, friends, guests gather, we gather around this altar. It may look like an ordinary table but what happens here is not. It is extravagant and rich with meaning for you and me.

Here in this place this altar symbolizes Christ as the center of our lives. We reverence and respect this ritual table even when it not used for liturgy. We use incense and sacred oil to bless it. We bow to it, we kiss it, we dress it with a table cloth as if to vest the high priest of the eucharist who is Jesus Christ. We set it with candles, plates and cups, real bread and good wine. 

Our enhanced worship environment will help us further understand that we are not spectators at Mass but that we all celebrate this eucharist together with our priests. St. Augustine said it a long time ago. It is our mystery.

The sign on our church says “This Church is a work in progress.” We are not finished yet. The journey began with our ancestors in the desert and continues with us today. At the end of this liturgy some of our members will carry this holy table into our temporary worship space and we will follow. This symbol of Christ will continue to be the altar table from which we are nourished on our journeys.

Over the next few months, while our church is being transformed we can ask, how are we being transformed? Where we pray shapes our prayer. How we pray shapes the way we live.

___

1 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Liturgical Press, 1984) Revised Edition. 112-115.

2 Smith, Dennis and Taussig, H.  Many Tables: The Eucharist in the New Testament and Liturgy Today. (Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001) 69

3 Fuller, Westbrook. Ibid.

4 This Holy and Living Sacrifice: Norms for the Celebration and Reception of Communion under Both Kinds in The Dioceses of the United States of America, Proposed Revision June, 2001. No. 5

5 Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2000) 171-172 in Rausch, Thomas. Eschatology, Liturgy and Christology (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2012) 136


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Homily for Trinity Sunday – 15 June 2014 – Belief and Non-belief


Trinity Sunday A June 15, 2014 – Belief and Non-belief

Exodus 34:4b-6,8-9; Daniel 3:52-56; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 3:16-18

Sixty years ago yesterday, Flag Day (June 14, 1954), the words “one nation under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance by a joint resolution of Congress. While there still are diverse opinions about the existence of God and the roles God plays in human affairs, now as then, a majority of Americans today say they believe in God. 

On the other hand, there have been a growing number of atheists in this country like the late Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) who are certain there is no God. Their writings and others have sparked a national conversation between religious and scientific world views. 

As you know today is Trinity Sunday. The temptation each year is to try to explain in simple terms how there are three persons in one God — creator, redeemer and sanctifier. However, the bigger task for us, it seems to me, is to figure out how we come to believe that God is at work in our everyday lives. 

In his book, The Belief Instinct, evolutionary psychologist Jesse Bering asks: Is there really a God who cares for you? Why are you here? What will happen to you after you die? Bering presses further. Are God, souls and destiny simply a set of seductive cognitive illusions? In other words, did God, if you believe in a God, design our minds … to believe in a God? [1]

The word trinity or triune God is not explicitly found in the bible. However, the scriptures do contain clues and references to the ways God is revealed and functions in our lives. God’s creative process is not done.

In the first text today, from the Book of Exodus, Moses and God seem to be enjoying each other’s company even as they argue back and forth. God is present to Moses in a cloud, on holy ground, in a burning bush, anytime, anywhere. This God of all creation keeps the covenant even though the people created by God do not. Scholars say this mysterious presence of God, shadowing us and our every move, is God self-communicating, God bursting forth in every nook and cranny of creation. 

God cannot be contained by space, time or gender. Jesus called God his father and often implied that they were so close they acted as one. Many of us call God father or mother knowing fully well God has no gender. It is a way of relating to God — like relating to a father or mother in real life.

What about Jesus of Nazareth? How did he come to be called God? Christians believe Jesus identified with the creator God. We remember Jesus as the revelation of God. This Mediterranean Jew Jesus is the human expression of the creator God’s out pouring or self-emptying which is still going on. The birth of Jesus reveals the cosmic eternal dimension of Christ which, for Christians, encompasses all of humanity, all animal life, the whole environment and the multiple universes. This eternal Christ has no beginning and no ending. It is Christ in evolution. [2]

How do we experience this God in our lives? At the beginning of our liturgies we hear “may the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of a compassionate God and the communion of a holy spirit always be with you.” The Jesus of history is the creative breath of the Spirit God. This is why we call him Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, the messiah. 

This same Spirit unites believers into a cohort to bring forth the kin-dom of God on earth. In this sense we are part of the ongoing, unfolding of Christ. Like the universes our lives are not static. We are living beings in a constant process of transformation. Nothing stays the same with God. Moses asked God to overlook those people who were stiff necked. We cannot be stiff necked if we believe God is with us. Christians today need to be anything but stiff necked if we are to make a difference in the world. 

We say that our worship, our liturgy, rehearses us for living beyond the walls of this church. If the God we worship with Christ and in the Spirit continues to function in our lives and if this Godhead is still being revealed to us in different ways then we who believe in God cannot be comfortable with the way things have been. For us to believe how the God of all ages continues to be present to us today requires an openness on our part to challenge religious assumptions and learn how to bridge the gaps between tradition and vision.

But belief in a mysterious triune Godhead is not that simple no matter how we try to understand or explain it. G. K. Chesterton once prayed to God, “I believe, help my disbelief.” (Mark 9:24) In one of her recent blogs parishioner Amy Biancolli wrote about struggle as a form of belief. In Amy’s words, “My faith cannot be pegged on whether this actually happened or that actually didn’t. Our brains are too limited, too small, too confined by this pressing and solid world, to grasp the things that span beyond it.” She continues, “A major element of belief, is the belief in my own cramped capacity for belief. I am incapable of true belief and that’s the basis for my belief.” [3]

The triune God is indeed a mystery until that time in our lives when somehow, somewhere, something happens that cannot be understood in human terms, grasped by intelligence, proven by science, or triggered by emotion. Some will say that is God at work – constantly creating, saving and sanctifying. 

Alice Walker’s Shug said it this way. “The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. It? I ast. Yeah, It. God ain’t a he or a she, but a It. But what do it look like? I ast. Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be happy to feel that, you’ve found It.” [4]

Or, as playwright Ntozake Shange put it, “I found God in myself and loved her fiercely.”  [5]

_____

 

1 Bering, Jesse. The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life (New York: Norton) 2011, 8 ff.

 

2 See Delio, Ilia. Christ in Evolution. (Maryknoll: Orbis) 2010

 

3 Biancolli, Amy. “Struggle as a Form of Belief” in Albany Times Union (May 8, 2014) http://www.timesunion.com/living/article/Amy-Biancolli-Struggle-as-a-form-of-belief-5463707.php> Amy is a member of this faith community.

 

4 Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. (NY: Harcourt) 1982

 

5 Shange,Ntozake. For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf . (NY: Scribner) 1975

 

 

 

 


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Homily – 8 June 2014 – Pentecost and Liberation


Pentecost A – June 8, 2014 – Pentecost and Liberation

Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:24,29-31,34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

The first twenty minutes in the film ‘Saving Private Ryan” are acclaimed as the most accurate depictions of war shown in a movie. The casualties suffered in the invasion of Normandy (Operation Overlord) are enough to teach us that war is not the way to solve humanity’s problems.

Still one must pause with gratitude, seventy years later, for the thousands who courageously gave their lives to liberate people they did not know from the evils of Nazism. In declaring June 6th a national remembrance day President Barack Obama remarked, “the patriots who, through their courage and sacrifice changed the course of an entire century … gave new hope to the world.”  [1]

 On this Pentecost Sunday we remember and celebrate some of our Christian ancestors who, in a certain way, also changed history. It was not like a horrific war but what happened in that tiny room in Jerusalem signaled a new wave of hopes and promises that over two billion Christians around the world still cling to.

We know little about those followers of Jesus who gathered that day. The bible says they were all Jewish, about 120 of them. They were anticipating the arrival of a new spirit but did not know when or where. They were confused and terrified just like the young soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy. The Jews, most likely, were in Jerusalem either for business or the Festival of Shavu’ot. That holy day which was celebrated just this past week, occurs exactly fifty days after Passover. As you know the word Pentecost means fifty days. 

The connection between Passover and Shavu’ot is important to Jews. For them the liberation experienced in the Exodus is complemented by the reception of the Torah, the word of God that announces the spiritual redemption of Jews. The Jews who were present that Pentecost day must have been wondering was the Mediterranean Jew from Nazareth the one who would bring salvation or not.

We often think of Pentecost in terms of the fiery tongues, the howling winds and diverse languages spoken. Fire in scripture refers to the presence of God. What we know about the wind is that it is a feminine Hebrew word. The multiple languages spoken symbolized the unity that could be experienced by people around the world when motivated by the same spirit. Could it be that Pope Francis will stir up that kind of peaceful Spirit when praying with Mahmoud Abbas and Simon Perez today?

The key word for Christians on Pentecost of course is Spirit – a holy Spirit that liberates us from the oppression of others. How do we experience this Spirit who can free us from whatever holds us back? Is it something given to us … or are we born with it? And, what do we do with her once we realize we have the Spirit.

You have heard us say that worship here in church is a rehearsal for the way we live out there, beyond these walls. Each of us has gifts and vocations that enable us to share the gifts we have. How we worship helps parents and guardians care for their children. It inspires spouses, partners and members of religious communities to strive for healthy relationships. It provides foundations for teachers and care givers as they offer hope and possibilities to those they serve. It encourages outreach in our food pantry, prison ministry, hospital visitations and our Sister parish in Panama. All of our liturgical ministries exercised during this liturgy are practice sessions for what to do when we leave here. 

The early church survived for close to three hundred years as a persecuted group held in suspicion by society. Those pioneer Christians persevered with little power and property. They survived because they kept together and watched out for one another. They used whatever resources they had to grow and eventually flourish into a church, a people of God, that continues to grow worldwide today.

The success of the invasion of Normandy did not depend on any one soldier, troop, General or ally. It was a team effort that made it possible in the face of all obstacles. The success of our church does not depend on any one minister or ministry. It is not reliant on any one ordained or lay person. The church is a union of baptized persons working together in the vineyard.

The actions of the Jews present for Pentecost and the soldiers who stormed Normandy were turning points in history of religion and world events respectively. As we commemorate and think about these events this week what is our role in helping to turn things around? How are we using our gifts of a holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth?

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1 Greg Keller and Lori Hinnant “Veterans, world leaders honour D-Day’s fallen, 70 years after pivotal invasion of Normandy” in The Globe and Mail June 6, 2014