Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – Pentecost – 15 May 2016 – The Function of the Church


Pentecost iconPentecost Sunday C – 15 May 2016 – The Function of the Church

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Irish rock star Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) recently advocated for a faith filled with skepticism and a deep yearning for answers. He said the only way we can approach God is, if we’re honest, through metaphors and through symbols. So art becomes essential, not decorative, he said. 

In our religion we use words, movements, gestures, music, art and architecture to launch us into an experience of God and a concern for the needs of one another. Ordinary things like fire, bread, wine, water and oil help us embody the Creator Spirit still at work in the universe. Elizabeth Johnson believes that Spirit is “within and around the emerging, struggling, living, dying and renewing circle of life and the whole universe itself.” [1]

Today we begin a post-Easter trilogy of feasts (Pentecost, the Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of Christ). Thinking about what the musician Bono said — that all the arts are essential in our approach to God — I see architecture as an artistic framework for helping us grow more deeply in our relationships with God and each other.

The first century master builder Marcus Vitruvius Pollio described buildings as functional, stable and beautiful. I invite you today and the next two Sundays to imagine with me Pentecost as an example of a functional church, the Holy Trinity as an expression of a stable church and the feast of the body and blood of Christ as a reflection of a beautiful church.

Pentecost began as a Jewish feast also known as Shavuot. It still is a time when Jews gather to thank God for the fruits of the harvest, the giving of the Laws at Mt. Sinai and the establishment of Israel as God’s people. In the Christian context the celebration of Pentecost marks the establishment of the church, its foundation and its expansion. That early church was not intended to be an exclusive club but a supportive community for everyone regardless of what they looked like, what language they spoke or where they lived. 

In order to develop and survive, the first century church had to function efficiently and with tenacity. Today’s second reading reports that the founding members used one another’s skills, gifts and talents to advance the mission of Jesus. And, they were all given to drink of one Spirit. That same Spirit moves the church and makes each Christian a person, different from [one] another, but who also creates unity among everyone. (Pope Francis, May 19, 2016)

Scripture scholar John Kavanaugh reminds us that “The “catholic” dimension is holistic, organic, and integral. We come from a people whose encounter with Jesus Christ is inclusive and capacious.” [2] There is room for everyone in the church. When someone is denied the freedom to develop his or her gifts, the common good of the church will suffer. [3] 

The many different languages described in today’s texts suggest that all of our voices are very important in advocating for the unity, equality, justice and peace that Jesus dreamed of. Each of us is entrusted to bring that vision into reality — by loving God and our neighbors as ourselves. 

Pentecost is about a liberated future that God has promised. In the words of theologian Walter Brueggemann, “What a stunning vocation for the church, to stand free and hopeful in a world gone fearful … and to think, imagine, dream, vision a future that God will yet enact.” [4]

Today we celebrate our confidence that, with our help, the holy Spirit can eliminate boundaries that keep us from living freely and without fear. That holy Spirit, with our help, can tear down walls that separate us from one another and our dreams. 

That same Spirit has the strength to rebuild faith filled communities like ours to provide shelter, food and companionship for others who desperately need us. With that Spirit guiding us we can learn to function together as a church, a community that is constantly evolving as a witness of possibility, freedom and justice for each and every human being.


  1.  Johnson, Elizabeth. Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. ( NY: Continuum) 2008, 189.
  2.  Kavanaugh, John F. The Word Encountered: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996) 72-74.
  3.  Karban, Roger. “Holy Spirit, Always Causing Confusion.” The Evangelist. May 12, 2016, p.8
  4.  Florence, Anna Carter (Ed.) Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011) 115-16.

Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

5 thoughts on “Homily – Pentecost – 15 May 2016 – The Function of the Church

  1. Rereading this very inspiring and challenging homily after hearing it preached so firmly and confidently, I am touched once again as I am Sunday after Sunday, to let my heart be more open to the Spirit and be a sign of mercy in the small world of which I am a part. Thank you.


  2. This completes a perfect “Trinity” of homilies that I heard or read this Sunday, each with a different twist, but a powerful message portrayed beautifully in all the “metaphoric arts.” Thank you!


  3. Thank you for this affirmation of how important it is that art is celebrated within the context of the gifts of the Holy spirit in order to build up Christ’s Church. Sorry I missed this in person, but glad that I can read it afterwards.


  4. Hi Dick. Thanks for sharing your homily. I treasure reading your homilies, offering the opportunity to think about them, and the chance to get a sense of your thinking. I also treasure your commitment to education and your openness to feedback. I love Bono’s quote and the invitation to understand the value of art in our faith journeys. The middle of the text feels bit scholarly to me, though I really dig it. The last paragraph gets more pastoral, I think.


  5. Personally, I like a scholarly homily. People have been making art for about 20,000 years and music probably longer. They are vital to our system as human beings. Happy you quoted Bono.


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