Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture


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Homily – 5 February 2017 “Put Me in the Game!”


Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time A — 020517 — “Put Me in the Game!”

Click here for today’s biblical texts

A few nights ago in a basketball game the underdog team was losing by 20 points. Yet, it did not give up and, incredibly, found a way to win. How do athletes acquire a desire for victory, motivation to practice, confidence to compete against the odds? Does it depend on raw talent, teamwork, gutsy instincts, inspiring coaches?

Tonight’s Super Bowl game will be full of hype, political advertisements, coaching strategies and a strong desire on the part of both teams to win. It is a metaphorical reminder of the innate drive that all humans have to survive and win no matter what it takes.

Have you ever wondered if Jesus of Nazareth was athletic? We know he walked a lot but did he work out or play any sports? In every film, painting and sculpture he looks fit and trim. And, who motivated him to preach like he did, to compete against the opposition and to dream of human rights? Maybe his mother Mary was his coach. We know she was a no nonsense woman determined to speak her mind in opposing unbridled power and selfish wealth.

In today’s gospel Jesus continues the great sermon on the mount, a pep talk to his team. You are the salt of the earth! The light to the world! Get out there and play hard. Show the opposition that you are the good news that will win out against all odds. The speech was a call for teamwork similar to what we heard in the oracle from Third Isaiah concerning the ethical and religious behavior of the Israelite community. [1] Do not turn your backs on your own! Protect them. Share your food. Shelter the homeless. Your light shall erase the fears of the night.

Jesus looked for the same accountability in his followers. This gospel stresses the conduct of his teammates. He did not challenge them to become the light and the salt. You ARE the light and the salt, he told them. He encouraged them to believe in themselves and that they could succeed in their mission.

Scripture scholar Barbara Reid reminds us “Salt in the ancient world was used for seasoning, preservation, purification and judgment.” Reid also points out that Cicero (Cataline 4.6) described Rome as a “light to the whole world.” Jesus challenged that political boast. It is “not the imperial domination system but [Jesus’] beatitudinal way of life, carried forth by his disciples, that is the light of the world.” [2]

The Falcons and the Patriots tonight are ready, practice is over, the playbook is memorized. All they have to do is compete to the best of their abilities with each player making contributions.

Jesus’ game plan focused on a vision for establishing the kin-dom of God on earth. In each encounter he used a play option to resist attacks by oppressors but he could not do it alone. He needed his teammates to help win the game. Blockers to protect him. Runners and receivers to reach the ultimate goal line.

Professor Karoline Lewis (Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN) wrote that this Gospel asks each of us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, to speak and act when anyone at all loses her way. The Gospel urges us to not to stand on the sidelines but to move into the fray, into the global arena.

Athletes work hard to succeed in their sport. For Christians, taking action to resist whatever or whomever opposes human rights is the cost of our discipleship. 

___________

  1. DeBona, Guerric. Between the Ambo and the Altar: Biblical Preaching and the Roman Missal Year A. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2013), 166
  2.  Reid, Barbara. Parables for Preachers: Year A. (Collegevile: Liturgical Press, 2001), 48 and 53

 

 


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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?

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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?


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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