Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily 9 July 2017 – Lighten Everyone’s Load


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – 9 July 2017 – Lighten Everyone’s Load

Click here for today’s biblical texts

Earlier this week I visited the Shaker Museum in New Lebanon to see a very small exhibit called “Break Every Yoke: Shakers, Gender Equality and Women’s Suffrage.” Given the gospel for today I was intrigued by what the Shakers meant by sharing the yoke. The members (two remain) hold that God is both male and female. They have always been cognizant of the impact that that belief has on the roles women played in spiritual and secular societies. 

I read part of an 1865 speech called “The Renovated Woman” by Antoinette Doolittle. She called for women to release themselves from the yoke around their necks. Here is what she wrote about women seventeen years after the First Woman’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY.

“Now we hear a trumpet voice sounding loud and clear calling her to come forth from the tomb wherein her best powers and capabilities have been buried and lain dormant for so long.” [1]

The gospel we just heard celebrates a knowledge of God that comes to us from Jesus Christ himself. This intelligence is rooted in Jesus’ understanding of his relationship with God. We can share in that relationship by responding to his comforting invitation, “come to me, the yoke is easy, the burden is light.” What makes subjugation, bondage, light for women and men today? Who can ease our worries and troubles? 

Jesus’ words echo the passage from Sirach 51:26 “take her yoke upon your neck; that your mind may receive her teaching. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her.” Scholars tell us Jesus is the incarnate voice of the wisdom of God. In this Old Testament passage wisdom is depicted with female pronouns.

We are thankful for whatever blessings we have in our lives. We also realize there are things that can weigh us down. Working our way through life we grow in our appreciation of the liberties we have in this nation, the support of close friends, our family members and the sustenance found in our faith based communities. Each of these relationships helps us overcome our fears by lightening our yokes and easing our burdens.

The word “yoke” can mean different things. It can be a heavy device placed on the neck of a defeated person. It can be a wooden frame placed over the shoulders of strong animals working together in the fields. A yoke can be a bad thing or, it can be a good thing. 

These scriptures help me realize how women and men, working together, pick us up, nourish us, encourage us. But, what will it take to free each other from all forms of oppression? How do we help release the gifts and talents we possess?

The poet and activist, Audre Lorde wrote directly to women, about the passion women feel in their bodies. In her words, “As we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like our only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.” [2]

As I read her essay I have a better appreciation for whatever cohorts of faith do to free people up so they can realize their full potential as children of God. We often speak about those who are hungry (like the 10,000 individuals served by our pantry so far this year), homeless people, or those oppressed because of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation.

Today’s biblical texts speak to us, using the comforting words of God’s wisdom, to help us see where there are yokes around our necks. When we share each other’s burdens we can ease our pain if not entirely set us free.

Jesus called us to live in a kingdom where there is peace, where the yoke is easy and the burden is diminished. This is our vocation as Christians — to lighten the load for everyone.

_______

 1. Antoinette Doolittle, “Renovated Woman” in Shakers and Shakeress, No 5. January 1875.

2. Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984) 58


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Homily – January 29, 2017 – What Do We Crow About?


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time A — 012917 — What Do We Crow About?

Click here for today’s biblical texts

hahn/cock

Hahn/Cock by Katharina Fritsch (2013) East Wing Gallery, Washington, DC

This weekend our Chinese friends celebrate a new year — the year of the Fiery Rooster! I don’t know much about roosters. The closest I came to one was when I was little and spent time on my grandparents’ farm. They had gardens and orchards, they grew acres of corn and hay and they raised dairy cows, horses, pigs and chickens.

I vividly remember playing by the chicken yard one day, fascinated by the behavior of an extra large bird. The single rooster proudly paraded around, pecking the chickens who strayed into his territory. He seemed to be quite cocky, as he protected the hens who were nesting.

In Chinese culture, the Rooster represents fidelity. People born in the year of the Rooster are dependable, kind-hearted, honest and strong. On the other side, they can also be arrogant, frequently promoting themselves beyond what is factual. 

When you comb the bible you find that roosters or hens are mentioned just a few times. In Proverbs 30 the king is described, in a positive way, as a strutting rooster, striding before his people, strong against the attacks of enemies, tearing down borders made of wattle. The most familiar New Testament reference to a cockerel is when Peter disowned Jesus three times.

The passage this morning, from one of the least known prophets, Zephaniah, we learn that God actually looks for humble people who will seek justice, who speak no lies and are not vain. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, is a bit more specific. God chooses people whose job it is to shame those who are arrogant, powerful and greedy. It is not OK to boast about oneself. It is OK to boast in the name of God. Why? Because the requirement of Christian-hood is to imitate the moral message of Jesus.

But, what is the strength of such moral authority when threatened by autocracy, wealth and power asks Russian-American journalist, Masha Gessen? Almost invariably, she writes, “moral authority seems to be encased in a frail body, perhaps because it takes years and decades, and risk and injury, to amass. Yet the words of certainty, spoken softly, pose a threat to power secured through the conventional means of force and title.”

Matthew’s interpretation of the sermon on the Mount is an example of Jesus’ “words of certainty.” The sermon is the first of five discourses given by Jesus very early in his ministry. Although his words are familiar to us we want to understand the beatitudes in today’s context. Let us listen to just a few interpretations written by the storyteller and visionary Jan Phillips. As we do, we remember that the word “blessed” in the Greek language means “recipient of a divine favor.”

Blessed be the earth and those who tend her, for she is the source and sustenance of our lives.

Blessed be the children who hunger for food, learning, and homes that are safe, for their future is shaped by our choices today.

Blessed be the refugees fleeing the violence of war and poverty, may they find shelter, peace, and work that sustains them.

Blessed be those who are calling for freedom, resisting oppression and risking their lives in the struggle for justice, they are the shapers of a brighter world.

Reginald Fuller suggests that Jesus’ sermon was addressed to those who left everything to follow him. The second half of the beatitudes is a call for action. That’s where we come in. But, there are few if any among us who can afford to do that today — detach ourselves from work, family life, school to spend our time protesting injustice. But, it is good when any one of us does something.

In a 1948 tragicomedy by the playwright August Wilson, called “Seven Guitars,” the recurring theme is an African American man’s struggles for his human rights in the face of personal and societal ills. In the play a rooster is a symbol of the man’s strength and identity. In one scene a neighbor complains that the rooster keeps waking him up early in the morning. The owner of the rooster said, that’s what roosters do! 

When the rights of human beings — citizens, immigrants, refugees — are threatened, we Christians hear that wake up call. What are our strengths, our words of certainty? What are we going to crow about?