Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Easter Sunday Homily – 16 April 2017


Easter Sunday A – 16 April 2017 

Scroll down to read the homily for the April 15th Easter Vigil 

Click here for the Easter Sunday biblical texts

Henry Osawa Tanner_s “The Three Marys” (1910)

“The Three Mary’s” Henry Osawa Tanner 1910

Years ago some friends and I had the opportunity to march briefly with the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The women were protesting the disappearance of their husbands and children. Like Jesus of Nazareth many of those men were kidnapped, punished and executed for not aligning themselves with a government that denied people basic human rights. Fearful of retribution from the police, those mothers found strength in each other.

Today’s familiar gospel tells of another woman — Mary of Magdala. Unafraid of the Roman guards, she went to the cemetery to pay her respect at the tomb of Jesus. When she found the stone removed she ran to tell the other disciples who were in hiding and feeling guilty for abandoning Jesus. Along the way she met up with Jesus raised from the dead.

To learn what happened when Mary reached the disciples we turn to the less familiar Gospel of Mary of Magdala, written about the same time as the Gospel of Luke. According to that text Mary met the disciples and found them weeping and grieving. She comforted them with hugs and kisses and then told them what Jesus said to her.

She said Jesus did not dwell at all on his passion and death for the forgiveness of our sins. Rather, he said that the focus of his teachings is on the goodness of humanity. This comes as wonderful news for people who have been told they are hopeless and shameful as humans.  [1]

The disciples were taken back by her words and began doubting her credibility. Andrew was upset that Jesus spoke such words to a woman. Peter wondered why would Jesus say something to her and not to them. They began to argue among themselves missing the point of what Mary was trying to say to them.  [2]

In the face of rejection and humiliation and with the support of the disciple Levi, Mary of Magdala emerges as a strong, confident, loyal disciple of Christ. According to Karen King, the Gospel presents the most convincing argument for the legitimacy of women’s leadership. 

In reading this gospel of Mary of Magdala, I think of those marching mothers in Argentina, the families crying for the return of their daughters in Nigeria, and, all those who lead marches in this country protesting unstable governments and corrupt legal systems. 

Easter is not only about the one time raising of Jesus of Nazareth from death. By linking the human and divine in Christ, we discover that that mystery cannot be separated from his life time achievements or from whatever may happen in our future.  [3]

For you and me the resurrection points to our own evolving transformations and our deepest hopes. Seeking reconciliation, justice and peace is the undertaking of any group willing to identify with the ethical ideals taught by Jesus.

The second reading suggests we do this first by tossing out the old yeast that gives rise to greed, power and injustice. Then we become a fresh batch of dough desperately “kneaded” into nourishment for people who hunger for a chance to advance their lives in a troubled and increasingly unstable world. The sense of belonging to a larger source of energy is a good reason for belonging to a community like this one.

God continues to act in history. Today and throughout the Easter season, we affirm our place in God’s creative process. This God is not beyond our human experiences, out there somewhere. No. It is a good God who loves the human race and continues to walk with us right now.

__________

  1.  Tausig, Hal. A New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. (NY: Houghton,Mifflin Harcourt 2013, 217
  2.  King, Karen L. The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle.  Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2003)
  3.  Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014, 219-220)


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Easter Vigil Homily – 15 April 2017


Easter Vigil 15 April 2017 

Click here for the Easter Vigil biblical texts

Wolf-Rayet star WR-31a in Carina constltn copy

Wolf-Rayet Star, Carina Constellation

A few years ago I took my 9 year old great nephew to the Rose Center for Earth & Space in New York City. He was so excited to read the outline of the known history of the universe. Someplace along the way I asked him, “Jacob, what did God have to do with all of this?” He thought for a moment and said. “God? Oh. God comes along much, much later!”

Like most young people today my nephew would not be so impressed by a biblical explanation of how the world began or, in the words of Ilia Delio, that it was the finite loving outflow of an infinitely loving God. [1] Little wonder then that God, meaning the historic Jesus, comes along much, much later.

In fact, according to environmentalist Larry Rasmussen, if the entire history of the cosmos (about 14 billion years) were written in ten volumes, the earth would appear in volume eight. And, humans materialize only in the final two or three sentences of the very last book. “We are fossils in the making, afloat in God’s creation,” Rasmussen would say.

Human beings emerged out of a creative process that continues to evolve. It is not something outside ourselves. A faith that proclaims God as the progenitor of all creation also affirms that we are one with that divine Being and the cosmos. The story of salvation, summarized in our biblical texts this evening, conveys the ways in which people responded to God as they experienced God acting in their lives. 

For us, the traditional storyline is quite logical. God creates beauty. Humans deface beauty. Prophets imagine rehabilitation. God rescues humanity. Our role in this story is not only significant but urgent. With a broader cosmic perspective, we are better equipped to discover more reliable equations for repairing the world, particularly our environment and its inhabitants. Energy sources for all. Potable water. Bread for the world.

Jesus of Nazareth emerged out of the same evolutionary process as we did. His task was to model for us pathways whereby we can live our lives with goodness. In another text, the Gospel of Mary Magdala, Jesus does not dwell on his passion and death for the forgiveness of sin. Rather, he said the focus of his teachings is on the goodness of humanity. This comes as good news for people who have been told they are hopeless and shameful as humans. [2]

Easter is not only about the one time raising of Jesus of Nazareth from death. By linking the human and divine in Christ, we discover that that mystery cannot be separated from his life time achievements or from whatever may happen in our future.  [3] For you and me the resurrection points to our own evolving transformations and our deepest hopes.

Seeking reconciliation, justice and peace is the mission of a community that identifies with the ethical ideals taught by Jesus. Roger Haight interprets human cooperation with God’s act of creation as a way of experiencing God at work the history of humanity. [4]

It is a collaboration that includes the labors of Moses, Miriam, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, the prophets, Jesus of Nazareth — the characters in tonights readings. The story also includes you and me. This sense of being part of a larger source of energy (creation), a bigger story, leads to the importance of belonging to a community like this one.

Christopher Dean and Katria Foster, tonight you will become members of this faith community joining us in caring for creation and other human beings. The celebration of these sacraments affirm that God is already at work in your lives. 

Tonight, we, each of us, also affirm our place in God’s creative process, not as something beyond our human experiences, but united with a God who loves the human race and continues to walk with us.

__________

1. Delio, Ilia. Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness. (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2015)

2. Tausig, Hal. A New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts. (NY: Houghton,Mifflin Harcourt 2013, 217

3.  Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014, 219-220)

4. Knitter P and Haight R. Jesus & Buddha: Friends in Conversation. (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2015, 110-11)

 

 


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Homily – Palm Sunday of the Passion – 9 April 2017


Palm Sunday of the Passion A – April 9, 2017

Click here for today’s biblical texts

LDS Bible video, He is Risen.

LDS bible video “He is Risen”

Last Thursday evening some parishioners and I were in jail. We had not done anything wrong or even brave. The volunteers visit the Coxsackie Correctional Facility every Thursday to lead the prisoners in prayer and bible study. What we did that evening was timely but somewhat unusual. We performed a version of the Passion that used prison jargon or street talk. A dozen prisoners and some volunteers took part in the play. Biblical stories come alive when you see yourself in them.

At the end of the passion we asked a question.”Did you identify with any one character in the passion?” One prisoner said he felt like Judas because, as a criminal, he betrayed his wife and children. Another thought of himself as Peter because he often questioned his relationship with God. Yet another identified with Jesus because he felt he had an unfair trial. 

With whom in the story did you identify? With Peter who lied? With Judas who betrayed his good friends? With Mary who just could not understand why her son had to suffer so much? Or did you align yourself with the women who remained loyal to Jesus or Simon of Cyrene who lightened his burden.

Current scholarship teaches that Jesus died not so much to save us from sin but because of the sinfulness so prevalent in the world. Jesus was executed by the Romans because he was a threat to their power. For us, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus ushered in a new way of relating to God and to one another.

To repair this world requires community action. Our Jewish friends, who celebrate Passover tomorrow, call it Tikkun Olam. On Good Friday, we have an opportunity here in our parish to take a turn carrying the cross through the church. We took this cross off the wall and put it in our midst so we can claim its significance for each one of us. Salvation or the repair of the world is not something delivered to us. We have to work for it together. 

After that inspiring prison passion play I attended a conference in New York City on the political theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Today marks the 72nd anniversary of his death. The lectures focussed on the relationship of faith and good works and how the strength of both spiritual and temporal kingdoms can help us deal with urgent issues today.

Traditionally, we learned that only God can repair our fractured world, our broken relationships with one another and God. The expression used is “justification by faith or grace.” Recent Lutheran-Catholic dialogues, however, help us realize that faith without good work is incomplete. See James 2:14-26.

The Lutheran theologian Bonhoeffer, believed that all humanity is embraced by God and that any crime against humanity must be met with resistance. Authentic witness of the church today means taking action not just to protest but to resist whatever fuels war mongering, economic inequity, white supremacy, prejudice against strangers and climate injustice.

The eradication of sinfulness becomes a reality when we take action and that can be a messy task. New Testament scholar, Brigitte Kahl noted at the conference “the grace [of God] is costly when living for the other.” Bonhoeffer called it the cost of discipleship.

The Coxsackie prisoners often say how much they appreciate the prayer and bible study sessions led by our parishioners and others. Aware of their own sinfulness, their crimes, they have hope that God does not discriminate against them and still walks with them.

The story about the passion and death of Christ does not bring to an end the prisoners stories or ours. Next weekend we turn the page to Easter and the promises of new life. 

To hasten that day, Alan Boesak, anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, said it is time to turn our words into action. The time for pietistic talk, he said, is over.


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Homily – 2 April 2017 – Become One With God


Fifth Sunday of Lent A — April 2, 2017 – Become One With God

Click here for today’s biblical texts

These biblical stories are so vivid there is the strong temptation to imagine them as if they were true stories. We know that one of the purposes of scripture is to enlighten us about how God works in our lives. Parables and testimonies are helpful to us. However, all too often, we focus on the spectacular parts of a story (creation, the flood, the exodus, or miracles of Jesus) rather than trying to unwrap their deeper meanings. 

The first reading from Ezekiel is a good example. The cultural identity of God’s people was threatened by the severe unjust treatment by more powerful nations. Freedom from that oppression, Ezekiel wrote, will be like rising up out of a grave. Further, Ezekiel identified God as the one who would deliver the people out of captivity and into a new age.

What about Lazarus? Scholars continue to debate whether or not Lazarus was really dead or in a coma. No one really knows and it doesn’t really matter. Rev. Beverly Bingle remarks that the story is a statement of faith in ongoing transformation made possible by following the life of Christ. Scholar John Pilch puts it this way. The eternal life that Jesus gives his followers does not abolish death but rather transcends it.

For the past weeks we have been focusing on the miracle stories in the gospel of John purportedly to promote belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah. The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was an “aha” moment. When she became aware of who Jesus was she became a disciple. 

Similarly with the man born blind. That act of healing conveyed how living a life of faith and good work can bring about great rewards. So too, the story about Lazarus signals to us that death is a sign of a deeper awakening to the fullness of life, the “eternal life” that comes with Christian faith. 

I like to think that Jesus was giving Lazarus a second chance. Lazarus you cannot die yet. You have too much to do. Get up and get out there to take care of others. It was also a clear message to Lazarus’ sisters and friends that the promise of eternity comes after hard work.

In metaphorical terms, if the stories about the woman at the well and the one born blind are references to Jesus as the living water and the light of the world then this gospel refers to Jesus as a liberator from all that holds us captive.

What the scriptures ask us ultimately is to become one with God. This is hard to do if we keep imagining that God is out there somewhere, different from us; that God is pulling all the strings — forgiving us, pushing us, getting us out of hot water. 

To become one with God is a day to day commitment to practice compassion, to stand by those who are excluded from society, denied food, health care and living wages, abandoned by surrogates and peers, entrapped by power and greed. 

Jesus of Nazareth was the premier revelation of a God who desired to communicate with us. God cannot be apprehended by temptation, oppression, suffering and death. By becoming one with God we too can transcend death.

Christopher Dean is coming closer to his baptismal bath often described as dying and rising with Christ. Both Katria Foster, who is seeking full membership in our church, and Chris will celebrate the spirit of God that dwells within them and sustains all of us on our journeys. Together we dare to be witnesses of a God who cannot die.