Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 28 May 2017 – In Between No More and Not Yet


EASTER 7A – 28 May 2017 – In Between No More and Not Yet

Click here for today’s biblical texts

Last Thursday the church celebrated the ascension of Christ into heaven. However, today, the seventh Sunday of Easter, we just heard a segment of the priestly prayer said by Jesus before his death, resurrection and ascension.

This quirk in our liturgical calendar prompts us to remember the departure of Christ from planet earth. At the same time we anticipate the celebration of the presence of the Spirit in the world Jesus left behind. In other words, you and I are in between no more and not yet.

The world was a dangerous place during the time of Jesus. Although he coached his disciples, teaching them everything he learned from his parents and his God, he worried that they would not be able to carry on without him. Would they give up in the face of life’s challenges? So Jesus prayed for them: “I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me.” He asked that God would keep them united; that they would be loyal to his teachings and that they would grow in holiness.  [1]

Jesus’ commission was not only to the disciples but to all those, through the ages, who would come to know and believe in his teachings. The continuation and hopeful completion of his works of mercy, blessings and goodness, involve all of us. How does Jesus’ prayer relate to us? How do we handle life’s pressures?

Our social climate is tenuous. Denis Johnson, a poet and novelist who wrote about people living on the fringes of society, died last week. One obituary said Johnson’s “America, past or present, is a troubled land, staggering from wretched excess and aching losses, a country where dreams have often slipped into out-and-out delusions and, people hunger for deliverance, if only in the person of a half-baked messiah.”

In a season when we would think that Christ’s resurrection, our graduations, baptisms, first communions and weddings would make us leap with joy, we cannot forget where we are in history. Nor can we overlook the significance of Jesus’ farewell prayer that calls us to holiness, unity and mission.

In this parish we frequently focus on our baptismal calling to work for justice. As a part of that vocation prayer is critical. In the passage from Luke-Acts we read that the disciples devoted their lives to prayer. We too are called to be united in our efforts, strong in prayer and faithful to doing good works.”  [2]

Psychologist Martin Seligman and journalist John Tierney write that human beings are not built to live in the moment but to contemplate the future. It is our foresight that created civilization and sustains society. While some research has suggested we are imprisoned by the past and the present, looking to the future is what makes us wise. Those studies suggest a purpose of the brain is to continually rewrite history. 

Our lives are constantly moving in between no more and not yet. What does this timeframe invite us to consider? We remember the past for moorings but we do not dwell there. We wrestle with the present to survive but we do not stay here. We look to the future to imagine possibilities where we find unending hope. As we prepare for Pentecost we contemplate how the Holy Spirit of Justice moves among us, stirring up in us lives of prayer and action. We may be in between no more and not yet but as spiritual visionaries, we are not afraid of tomorrow.

___________

  1. Perkins, Pheme. In the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall)1990, 978
  2.  Martens, John W. The Word on the Street. Year A (Collegevile: Liturgical Press) 2016, 53-54
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Homily – 14 May 2017 – Things of Heaven & Earth


Fifth Sunday of Easter A  – May 14, 2017 – Things of Heaven and Earth

Click here for today’s biblical texts

Fatima 051317

Thousands of pilgrims at Fátima this weekend!

This weekend Pope Francis is visiting Fátima, Portugal’s most renowned pilgrimage site. The pope will canonize Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the children who saw visions of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, 100 years ago.

Apparitions of Mary like the one at Fátima and others in Mexico, Ireland, France and Belgium, challenge the limitations of human thought. Consider what Hamlet said to Horatio after seeing a ghost: “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your (our) philosophy.” Hamlet (1.5.167-8)

Each Easter season our scriptures give us some idea of what may have happened to the followers of Christ after his post-resurrection appearances. They are stories of fear, disagreements, excitement, hope, skepticism and belief.

What is most curious is that, although Mary the Mother of Jesus is so highly regarded today as a model for facing problems of adversity and healing and even political strife, the bible does not tell us much about her presence or her contributions to these emerging communities after the resurrection of Christ.

What we do know about Mary is that she knew Jesus better than anyone else and after his death she had to confront loss, misunderstanding, isolation. You would think that early church leaders eagerly would have turned to her for her wisdom about what she had learned as the mother of Jesus and what he would do and say in various circumstances.

Spreading the gospel in the first century was not easy. Tensions existed because missionaries like Peter, Paul, Barnabas and others were evangelizing in places where there were diverse cultures. Just as in any community today the questions had to do with leadership, community power, political resistance, jealousy, fear and handling emergencies. Today’s first reading tells us the community was concerned about who would tend to hungry persons and those with few resources especially some widows?

To address this concern for people who were hungry the author of Luke-Acts wrote that seven reputable men were chosen to serve, a choice that was not arbitrary but acceptable to that community. Guerric DeBona, an expert in biblical and cultural studies, wrote that “consensus occurs when the community is gathered for consultation,” and that the “good order of the community allows for the word of God to move among the people.” [1]

Similar realities and diversities are present in our church today. As memberships in mainline religions continue to dwindle in some regions, the question for you and me is: how do we experience and sustain a modern day faith community? Our house has cracks in it that need attention otherwise the structure will collapse. 

Fixing the fissures, keeping the family together, requires teamwork, sharing the blame, telling the truth, seeking consensus and listening to different voices. Sometimes we will discover that clinging to the status quo is no longer sufficient and that new spiritual awakenings are important.

The second reading from Peter offers a blueprint for renewal and restoration. We are the living stones, the ministers chosen by God to be built into a spiritual house where we and others can find purpose, refuge and strength. [This is the kind of home where our children who share in holy communion with us for the first time today will find new life and nourishment.]

Jesus also used architecture to make a point. In his farewell address to his friends in that “Upper Room” he urged them not to be troubled. He said he was going home, to a very big house, and he would reserve a room for anyone willing to live justly and walk humbly. God’s house is so big there is room for everyone. No one is turned away.

Like a mother comforting her children Jesus’ words were reassuring to his followers. Our Lady of Fatima offered similar consolation in 1917 when she promised that prayer and good works would help end World War I. Her message still has merit today. At a candle light vigil Friday night in Fátima, the pope urged the pilgrims to “tear down all walls and cross every frontier … to make known God’s justice and peace.” This is something we can do together.


DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 130


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Homily 7 May 2017 “Open Wide the Gates!”


Fourth Sunday of Easter  – May 7, 2017 – Open Wide the Gates!

Click here for today’s biblical texts

A classmate of mine in the seminary has a son who is a border patrol officer in Arizona. His job is to keep Mexicans and other Latin Americans from crossing illegally into the United States. Fair enough. 

Human rights groups, however, are concerned about the way border crossers are detained while waiting for their cases to be reviewed. Other sources tell us that, since October 2000, more people have perished trying to enter this country than have died in the September 11 attacks and in Hurricane Katrina combined.

The biblical texts for today are familiar. They are about gateways, gardens, and gatekeepers. We’ve heard the comforting words of the psalmist often, in different contexts — God is a shepherd who protects us and provides verdant pastures and restful waters and, we have need of nothing else. But this promise cannot be true. There is plenty we want.

Consider the children, men and women in refugee camps worldwide trying to cross borders into more secure and fertile pastures. Hundreds of thousands are stuck in Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Jordan. These are not temporary settlements. The gates in these camps do not swing both ways. Too far away for you and me to be concerned?

As many of you know the fastest growing immigration detention system in the world is right here in the United States. It holds illegal immigrants caught trying to enter this country; asylum seekers escaping brutal regimes; anyone with or without a criminal record. Sometimes legal, permanent residents are detained on the suspicion of being here illegally. 

How would we talk with those confined in these camps and centers? How would we explain an absentee shepherd? The passage from Peter reminds us that the death of Jesus, the good shepherd, liberated all of us. But that theological aphorism does not seem to apply to everyone. How do we understand this promise in light of present global realities?

What locks the gates of opportunity for ourselves and others? Could it be power mongers who govern nation states? Could it be that the privatization of detention centers is a big business? Maybe what blocks us are our own cultural mindsets, our personal political leanings, our subjective fears of the stranger or ancient theological assumptions about who gets saved. Who gets into the sheepfold? Who is left out?

The gospel of John insists that the only way to have life more abundantly is to repent, get baptized and follow Jesus into the safety of the sheepfold. And then, what?  What happens after repentance and baptism? Tithing? Ministry? Charitable works? Is that it? How does the care of the divine shepherd reach oppressed people or those who have been shunned by their church? Where is the shepherd leading you and me?

Lutheran theologian Anna Carter Florence wonders if, unwittingly, the church itself is a boundary between the saved and the not- saved. She suggests that the sheep gate we heard about today merely marks the boundary between where we are in our lives and what we are to do next.  [1]

If Jesus is our liberator; if his life’s work is a model for us; if his cross is a symbol of injustice; if you and I are called to tackle the sinfulness symbolized by that cross then … you and I are bound by our baptism to open the gates that lead to pastures where all people can find food, shelter and the opportunity to grow in freedom.

Samuel Moyn, a religion and ethics writer for ABC, reminds us, historically societies world wide cultivated robust theories of governmental obligations toward individual rights, but also of individuals toward one another.” However, the problem today is that my right to be free from oppression does not always translate into my duty, my obligation to eradicate injustices so that others would not have to suffer.

Our religion and our nation are both founded on making it possible for all to live in freedom and without fear. We, as human beings, are called to be gatekeepers of heaven and earth; to open wide the doors of opportunity for ourselves, for others close to us and for all people on this earth. 

1. Florence, Anna Carter. Working Preacher Year A.  (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary 2016) 62


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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.