Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily 15 January 2017 “What Are We Looking For?”


Second Sunday in Time A – 011517 – What Are We Looking For?

Click here for today’s biblical texts

john-bap-lamb-of-god-hugo-jaacobszAn altarpiece by the Netherland artist Hugo Jacobsz shows John the Baptizer standing in a crowd pointing to Jesus in the middle of another group. We can almost read John’s lips. “Hey, I am not the one you are seeking. Look over there. He’s the One you’re looking for  — the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.”

In this morning’s gospel John proclaims the servanthood of Jesus. After 30 years of silence, this everyday craftsman from Nazareth arrives to take away the “badness of the world” (Jean Grosjean). It is just the first part of the story. The next two verses read, “When the disciples heard him say this, they trailed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following him and asked, “What do you want?”

Lutheran theologian Audrey West noted that Jesus’ ministry did not begin with a command, do this or do that, but with a question “what do you want?” How do you and I answer that question? 

Why do we, week after week, gather to praise God whose son was born to take away all the sins of the world but has not? Why do we petition God in word and song to come to our rescue when, it seems, God is often silent? Why do we visit sick and home bound people? Why distribute food to hungry households? Why go to prisons to support incarcerated men and women?

We do so because God chose us to do so! The first reading from Isaiah is a vocational call to the Israelites who struggled to keep their trust in God while living under duress. They were being called by God to be servants to one another and all the nations! New Testament scholar Guerric DeBona interprets this invitation as a radically personal call to each one of us. We are summoned to “recognize Christ’s presence in our own baptism and in all creation.” [1]

John the baptizer restored hope to the tribes of Jacob when he introduced his cousin Jesus, as the lamb of God who would bring salvation to the entire world. The connection between Isaiah’s reference to Israel as a servant nation and John calling Jesus the lamb of God is helpful to us. 

The Aramaic word “talya” can be translated as boy, child, servant or lamb. When John refers to Jesus as a “lamb” of God, the Aramaic speakers of the early church could have heard “child of God” or “servant of God.” [2]

Many people are at work to take away the sins of the world today. Next Saturday (January 21, 2017) — the day after the presidential inauguration — there will be a march here in Albany to protest the “sins of the world” — any government agenda marked by oppression and hate.

(Note: the Women’s March on Washington also takes places on January 21, 2017.)

Other people have served as models for us. Today marks the birthdate of Martin Luther King Jr. Few would disagree that this Christian man embodied the suffering of his race; that he acted as a servant to them and others; that he risked his life to speak the truth in pursuit of justice for people of all religions, races and cultures. 

Our remembrance of King, like our memorial of Jesus’ life, his work and his own death, urges us not only to be mindful of the wrongs in our society but, as Psalm 40 reminds us today  “to announce the justice of God to a massive, widespread assembly of people.” *

Another model is John Lewis, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, who was at the side of King when he was assassinated, and is still a voice of conscience in the House of Representatives. Lewis, who continues to speak out passionately against racism and other crimes against humanity, once said, “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” What are we looking for? Strategies and actions for achieving reconciliation, justice and peace.

I know, it is one more task for us to consider amidst many other responsibilities. Although we cannot take action to oppose every injustice, we can give focus on at least one issue. What is important is that each of us does something to take away the sins of the world. We are called by God to do so.

  1.  DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2013, 154-157
  2.  Martens, John W. The Word on the Street. Year A (Collegeville: Liturgical Press) 2016, 65


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4 Advent – 18 December 2016 – And Joseph Said, “I Have a Dream”


4 Advent A 18 December 2016 — And Joseph Said “I have a dream!”

A long time ago, while teaching a religion class at Cardinal McCloskey high school (now Bishop Maginn HS, Albany, NY), I noticed some students looking out the window. It looked like they were daydreaming. Maybe they were thinking about school work or a ball game or the end of class. At first, I thought, how can I get them to listen to me? Then I recalled something I once read — if you do not have daydreams you will have no dreams to come true. [1]

Dreaming is a popular theme in literature, music, plays. We dream when we sleep and when we are awake. Studies suggest that dreams can play back for us what may have already happened. And, they can trigger our imaginations with ideas, help us wrestle with fears and anxieties. They also tap into our yearnings. For example, the 1943 song “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams” was written about a soldier stationed overseas during World War II.

In Matthew’s gospel Joseph had four dreams. We heard one this morning where an angel tells him it was OK to take Mary as his wife because she was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Imagine Joseph sitting on the edge of his bed thinking about this puzzling situation. Maybe he remembered something his parents told him or what he may have heard in the synagogue about the prophecies of Isaiah.

He could have thought maybe Mary’s baby is the one who will bring about justice. Maybe Jesus is the one for whom John the Baptist prepared the way. Maybe Jesus is the savior that Isaiah hoped for when the earthly kings he admonished failed to trust in God and, instead, built alliances with powerful nations.

Perhaps the evangelist Matthew and the apostle Paul also recalled the text from Isaiah and then said the same thing in their writings. The Rev. Beverly Bingle suggests that Matthew repeats Isaiah’s prophecy as if it were a 700-year old prediction of Jesus’s birth.

Time after time the Israelites waited for someone who would bring real peace and prosperity to them. Isaiah dreamt about such a leader. John the Baptist had a hunch that his cousin Jesus would be the One. A courageous Mary of Nazareth said yes to her surprising pregnancy and Joseph agreed to become her partner.

Time after time we, too, look for leaders to surface in our religions and in our governments. Take a moment to think of someone who had dreams and hopes for humanity. Dorothy Day dreamt of a time when all people would have jobs. Martin Luther King Jr dreamt of overcoming racism. Over 1.5 million children who are undocumented in our country are dreaming of the Dream Act becoming law.

There are organizations whose mission is prophetic, for example, the Parliament of World Religions. This group is committed to bridging religious, cultural, and ideological divides. The Parliament has issued this challenge: “Don’t distance yourself from the issues because they don’t touch you, or remove yourself from the challenge of making this world better because it seems like a futile effort.”

Other prophetic voices work to make dreams realities in our local communities. Family Promise of the Capital Region envisions a time when all families will have permanent housing and lasting independence. The Religion-Labor Coalition envisions a minimum wage and fair contracts for all workers. Our own food pantry along with other city-wide pantries and kitchens envisions a time when there is no more food insecurity.

We cannot all be prophets. But, like Joseph we often dream of what may be unimaginable. Like other prophets we, too, know that dreams come true with hard work and a little luck. We can sing and pray for peace and justice believing that God will come to the rescue and save us. But in order for God’s merciful and generous plan for humanity and all of creation to come true, God has summoned you and me to help out.

We do not hear much more about Joseph in the bible. He did not accompany Jesus on his missions like Mary did. Joseph did his part by adopting Jesus and helping him grow up. 

As daylight begins to lengthen it is a time for us to bring about the radiance of Christmas joy. It is the gift we give to one another — to take action to make dreams come true. Eleanor Roosevelt said it: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

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  1. I think it was Oscar Hammerstein who may have said this about dreams.