Homily: “On the Good Soil”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10, Year A), 2017.

In our Collect this morning, we petition God to receive the prayers of His people who call upon Him so that they may understand and know what they ought to do. It is a simple request, but we should not be deceived by its simplicity and think it a mundane sort of question. Rather, let us regard this petition as a noble inquiry, one we should always be making, even daily—after all, our Collect contains the two central questions of serious discipleship asked by the first disciples to Saint Peter on the Day of Pentecost. The first was, “What does this mean?” and the second was “What shall we do?”

We could do far worse than make for ourselves a habit of asking these two questions whenever we are in prayer, or reading the Bible, or reflecting on a sermon. Asking these two questions are part of our responsibility, our responsiveness, to God and His loving initiative of coming to us with His Word. The first Christians’ response to God’s initiative on Pentecost was to ask these two questions—What does it mean? What shall we do?—and so we can see that part of the Gospel pattern we are to perceive and make our own is to ourselves ask these questions when we are presented with, or caught by, God and the claim He makes on us and our lives. Read more “Homily: “On the Good Soil””

Homily: “On Resting in God”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Year A), 2017.

Today’s Lesson from the Book of Zechariah is a perfect example of the kind of Scripture the first Christians of the early Church would have used to understand who Jesus of Nazareth truly was. I have spoken previously about the practice of “mystagogy”—of being led into the mysteries of God, of revisiting our experiences to find in them a still greater depth and significance—and the prophet Zechariah provided the early Church, and provides us, with just that kind of opportunity. To do mystagogy is not merely to look at words on the biblical page, and not merely to think about a superficial reading, but rather mystagogy is to enter into the space evoked by the scriptural words. It is deep listening with all of our human faculties, listening for resonances with other parts of the Bible, with our Liturgy, and with our own experiences. Read more “Homily: “On Resting in God””

Homily: “On Bringing a Sword”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Year A), 2017.

Having celebrated and savored a remarkable sequence of events in the life of the holy Church—the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi and then the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist—we move into the Sundays of Ordinary time, or to use something of an invented turn of phrase, “Ordinarytide.” Up until Pentecost, the emphasis in the Church has been on the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, an emphasis that began back in the Sundays in Advent. We prayed for His coming, and over the course of roughly half a year, we experienced again His coming: His taking of human flesh, His blessing of sacred humanity, His breaking of Himself on the Cross, and His giving of Himself through the Sacraments and through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Now, over the course of the last several Sunday celebrations, the emphasis has shifted from the Incarnation of Jesus onto the Holy Trinity. Basically until Advent, we will be focusing on how the Church itself lives into the reality of the Holy Trinity, indeed we can say, how the Church itself has a trinitarian nature. The Church is the Body of Christ, Jesus is God, and God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: God is trinitarian, and so the Church is as well. This is to emphasize something very important to our daily lives as Christians in a fallen but redeemed world: the Church itself is not a social club, but a divine organism. It is a visible institution, made by and of Christ, and its essence is holiness. Read more “Homily: “On Bringing a Sword””

Homily: “On the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, 2017.

We heard these words in our second reading: “Before His coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” This is what Saint Paul tells us, as recorded by Saint Luke, the author of both the Gospel by His name and the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus was coming into the world—coming into relationship with the world (he already was in relationship because all things are made through Him, so we mean coming into relationship in the sense of being able to be recognized and to be available through sure and certain means); He was coming into relationship, and coming into the hearts of people. And before Him, ahead of Him, as the forerunner, was John, son of Elizabeth and Zachariah—indeed, a holy family the members of which the Church has long venerated as Saint Elizabeth, Saint Zachariah, and Saint John the Baptist, the nativity of whom we celebrated today.

Saint John is a major saint of the Church. He plays a major role in the economy of salvation—that is, how salvation actually works not as an idea or good-feeling sentiment, not as the theme of a social club, but as an actual reality that has happened, and is happening, and, God-willing, will continue to happen to actual people in actual lives. Saint John is the first person we meet in the Gospel of Mark, he is introduced at length in the Gospel of Matthew, he is prominent in the Gospel of Luke, and his ministry is raised to the status of a mystic in the Gospel of John. Read more “Homily: “On the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist””

Homily: “On Corpus Christi”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2017.

The Church has celebrated and experienced a dramatic turn of events over the last month. We celebrated the Ascension of Our Lord to the Right Hand of the Father. We prayed for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and indeed with the Coming of the Holy Spirit on Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost, God gave them to us in His abundance. We then celebrated the revelation of God as Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which orders our prayer life and worship. And today, we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, Latin for the Body of Christ; indeed, we celebrate, we reflect upon, and we adore the Eucharist. Read more “Homily: “On Corpus Christi””

Homily: “On the most blessed and holy Trinity”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on Trinity Sunday, 2017.

I have said previously and will say again in the future that the Collects of the Anglican tradition, including those in our 1979 Prayer Book, are a goldmine. They are a goldmine for both theology and prayer, and even moreso are a goldmine for the proper balance between theology and prayer that found in the language. It is because the Collects are so important that they are to be prayed not just on Sunday at Mass, but prayed, along with other Collects, every day of the week that begins on Sunday, particularly in the daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

It is not every Sunday that the Collect perfectly matches with the Readings. But on this a solemn day, the Feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, a Feast celebrated throughout the western Church within the Catholic tradition, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, the Collect of the Day is composed in relationship to the Readings. Let us hear again the Collect and then consider how it helps us understand the readings provided us by the Lectionary of the Church. Read more “Homily: “On the most blessed and holy Trinity””

Homily: “On Pentecost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Pentecost, 2017.

Although the Church in the West over the last century or two has not always treated this way, the Day of Pentecost is a celebration in the church year the theological importance of which is only surpassed by Holy Week culminating in Easter. Granted, its festivity usually comes in behind that of Christmas. Christmas even outpaces Easter Day in that regard. But just like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, Easter as a whole ends up taking the prize because whereas Christmas is twelve days, Easter has fifty.

The culmination of those Fifty Days is the Day of Pentecost, a day on which God taught, and teaches in the present tense, the hearts of His faithful people by sending to them the light of His Holy Spirit. Again it is worth bearing in mind that the biblical understanding of the word heart is much more than our emotions, but indeed refers to our entire being, the arena in which we encounter God—where He lives in us and where God speaks to us. Read more “Homily: “On Pentecost””

Homily: “On Keeping His Words”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Seventh Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

We find ourselves this morning within the in-between time—after the Ascension of Our Lord and before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, whom Jesus promised would come to teach us, guide us, and lead us into all truth. This is a time of prayer, and indeed our nine day period of prayer, our Novena for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, emulates what Mary and the disciples did during this time—devoting themselves with one accord to prayer. The picture of the first Christian community is given us by Luke: the community together in prayer, accompanied by Mary, waiting together in prayer for what God has promised them. Although there are many times throughout the liturgical year that we are aiming outward and explicitly focus on the relationship of the Church with the wider world, this time of Ascension, the final days of Eastertide, has us focused on Jesus and His relationship with His closest disciples, including His mother Mary.

Today in our Novena we petition the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of Understanding. Whereas yesterday’s petition of Wisdom asked God to make us aware of the mysteries of divine things, today’s prayer asks God to help us understand them, that we may be enlightened by the mysteries, and know and believe. We are asking God for the ability to discern how the divine mysteries are at work in the world, and see the world around us with the eyes of Christ. Would Christ look around at our world today and see the same things that we see? It is a question always worth asking, for it is a question that challenges us to allow ourselves to be stretched into seeing things beyond our normal pattern of perception. Teach us, O Holy Spirit, to see with Your eyes, that we might apply our heart unto wisdom in this life and be made worthy to attain to the vision glorious in the life to come. Read more “Homily: “On Keeping His Words””

Homily: “On Abiding in Him”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixth Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

I would like to draw our attention again to the Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. I would like to look at it again because by it we are expressing something very important to the Christian life, and we are asking Our Lord Jesus for something very important, particularly as we look forward on Thursday to the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus and the nine-days of prayer that follow on the Ascension, our Novena for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first line of the prayer begins: “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding.” In bringing God to mind, we bring to mind something about God that He has done for us, something about Him that lifts our hearts in praise for His love for us. What hope we express in these words, and these words call to mind our Gospel from last Sunday when we heard that Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house, a house with many rooms. Jesus knows this because of the love he shared with the Father, since before creation. His Father dwells in Him, and when we dwell in Jesus, Jesus dwells in Us, and through Him dwells the Father in our hearts. As we abide in Jesus, He abides in us. And when He abides in us, the Holy Trinity abides in us, the creator of all things, seen and unseen. The God of all creation dwells in our hearts, and continues His saving work through us. Of course these surpass our understanding, so Jesus teaches us with a commandment that we can understand and endlessly apply: “Abide in me.” If we abide in Him, and continue to actively grapple with what that means, God will work through us. Read more “Homily: “On Abiding in Him””

Homily: “On the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifth Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

Near the end of Saint John’s Gospel, in the last verse of the twentieth chapter, we learn that what was written in this book was included so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we may have life in His Name. And this applies to all four of the Gospels, and all of the Epistles—that is to say, the entirety of the New Testament, all twenty-seven books. In other words, the purpose, as Saint John states it, is the building up of faith in those who in some sense already possess an experience of God however that experience might be named. And so having that experience, we might be better able to understand it through patient reflection on the biblical books. The Bible supports our experience of the divine mysteries of God, feeds our experience of Jesus and His saving grace, and draws us deeper into the divine mysteries. The words of the New Testament are intended as logs to throw on a fire that is already lit in our hearts. Read more “Homily: “On the Way, the Truth, and the Life””