Living Baptismally, pt 14: To Die is Gain

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 20), 2020.

We prayed in our Psalm these words: “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; Your dominion endures throughout all ages.” And also these words we prayed: “The Lord preserves all those who love Him.” It is the Kingdom of God that baptized Christians seek, and are taught to seek; and it is in the Kingdom of Heaven that will behold the true face of Christ: face to face. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus directs us unmistakably in this regard: “See first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” And, He in effect goes on to direct, everything else important and necessary will be given to us as we need them. As the Upper Room Church, having been taught to see and find Jesus in the Scriptures—that is, taught to see and find Him in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets—they remembered Jesus directing them—their attention, their aspiration for their lives, their ultimate end—directing them toward the Kingdom of God. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, Jesus taught.

And remembering this bit of spiritual direction, when we encountered these verses in Psalm 145, the fire of love in their hearts undoubtedly grew. Jesus directed our hearts, minds, and bodies to seek the Kingdom of God, they thought to themselves perhaps, and the kingdom He is speaking of is an everlasting kingdom, ruled by Him throughout all ages, they thought to themselves perhaps; and, He preserves all those who love Him—so, their desire to love Him was catalyzed all the more. Because, as the simple logic shows, if we love Him, He will preserve us; and if He preserves us, we will be with Him in His Kingdom; and because His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, we will have everlasting life in Him, beholding His Face.

It is simple logic, but it is transformative logic. It was so transformative that it led Saint Paul to teach that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Such a haunting teaching, especially the last four words: “to die is gain.” But of course death in the Lord is gain. As our funeral liturgy proclaims at its beginning: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labors.” When we die in Christ, we begin to enter the seventh day, the day of rest, the Lord’s Sabbath, for we are always restless until we find our rest in God. In our physiological death, the end of the course of our mortal life, we begin to enter into God’s rest, begin to enter into the nearer presence of God, begin to enter into His kingdom—and of course this is gain. What else could it be but gain?

This has led many Christians to ask the very logical next question: why, then, should we live in this life? Why not enter into the nearer presence of God sooner rather than later? Why live in this world, if the next is gain? We see Paul wrestling with this question, and it is indeed a worthy question to wrestle with, and to do so is a sign of growing spiritual maturity. Where Paul comes down on this question is that it is all God’s will: it is all up to God. If to die is gain, yet if all is also in the hands of God, in the hands of Providence, then God wants him still to be in his mortal body, to do good in the world, which is to proclaim the Gospel that people progress in the joy of the faith. Our purpose as Christians really is to serve the lonely, because it is the Christian belief that all persons are lonely for the Gospel, and all persons desire to enter into the Kingdom of God. So God keeps us alive for this purpose, and He knows that each of us has it in us to be the Gospel in our homes, our neighborhoods, our workplaces.

And our loving Jesus, as recorded by Saint Matthew, affirms that there is no loss of the ultimate treasure if we, as it were, come late to the party. In His parable, Jesus tells of a vineyard where laborers are hired. The first laborers hired were the holy Martyrs of the Church—our first Saints, even John the Baptist and the deacon Stephen and others, including 11 of the 12 Apostles. They were the first into the vineyard. They have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat, and they did so for God, and also for us, on our behalf, that we could learn from the stories of their saintly lives: knowing that because their manner of life was worthy of the Gospel of Christ, and therefore was a manner of life worthy of entering into the Kingdom of God, we ought imitate the Martyrs and imitate the Saints.

And as we do so as baptized Christians, as we order our lives by the Gospel, to be the Gospel to others around us, we make ourselves available to God to be hired by Him: hired to enter into the kingdom of God in our death, we being at rest and God working through us completely unhindered because we are at rest. Entering into the Kingdom of God offers the same reward no matter the timing of it: a denarius, a silver coin, but a coin on which is the Face of Christ.

Living Baptismally, pt 13: On Sin and Forgiveness

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 19), 2020.

There can be no doubt that forgiveness is central to the Christian life. Plenty of passages of scripture show that—obviously our passage today from Matthew 18; but also in the only prayer taught by Jesus to His disciples (the Our Father) forgiveness is key; and even more so with the Eucharist, when in the Upper Room with the Twelve on the night when He voluntarily gave Himself up to be betrayed, He said, “Drink ye all of this; for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins.” Jesus gives us Himself in His Body and Blood, and His giving of Himself is for the remission of sins, the forgiveness of sins. Given that the Eucharist is the summit of Christian experience, and forgiveness of sins is central to its purpose according to Our loving Jesus, there can be no doubt that forgiveness is central to Christian life.

Saint Peter’s question to Jesus echoes this. He says, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” The practicalities of following in the footsteps of Jesus for Saint Peter and the disciples already we bound up in the seemingly unresolvable problem that sin abounds all around them. And that should no surprise us in the least, not if we pay attention to our daily human life, and know anything at all about the human condition. We live in a fallen world, and all of us sin against our sisters and against our brothers. And likewise, our brothers and sisters sin against us. But let us be clear about what the Church means by “sin.” We often might think, because wider society thinks this way, that the word “sin” is simply a Christian term for “wrong-doing,” and basically synonymous with it.

We see this demonstrated in what used to be called “sin taxes,” that is, taxes government would place upon the purchase of, say, cigarettes or alcohol—taxes on things society preferred people not so (at least publicly) and saw as wrong behavior. But the Christian meaning of sin has nothing to do with this. The Christian theology of sin begins in the recognition of the absolute necessity of the Cross to salvation. Or put more simply: sin in its primary sense is the condition of being in need of a Savior. Every human being is born in sin, because every human being is born in need of a Savior from the first breaths and cries of life. Adam and Eve were always in need of a Savior, therefore from their creation, and even the creation of Adam which preceded the creation of Even, Adam was never not in need of a Savior. Adam was born in sin, prior to any specific act of sin. Adam and Eve were in sin, in other words, before they choose to go against the will of God and eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Yet this specific act of sin, or occasion of sin—the choice to eat the forbidden fruit, and then the eating itself, for that is two sins, the choice and then the eating, with other sins to immediately follow—springs from the human condition of always, from birth, being in need of a Savior, being in need of Christ. It was because Adam and Eve were in need of a Savior—were in the condition of needing a Savior—that their act of sin occurred. And it is important to notice as well, that according to the economy of salvation which is God’s overall plan for His creation, through their act of sin, grace abounded, and they began on the hard road of living consciously within the condition of sin, the condition of needing a Savior. And, for themselves, we can reasonably speculate that they committed more acts of sin before they ran the full course of their mortal life—each and every time of committing an act of sin tied irrevocably into the prior reality of their sin, the condition of always needing a Savior. This is a condition that no one can avoid—we are never not in need of a Savior, and we can do nothing to escape that fact. All specific acts of sin by our brothers and sisters against us (and all acts of sin we commit against others) are anchored in the condition of sin we all find ourselves in, as Paul did at his conversion—prior to which he regarded himself blameless with respect to the law; after which and after being convicted by the Cross which is the glory of God, he regarded himself as the greatest of sinners, able to do good thing despite wanting to.

This is why forgiveness is central to Christian life; this is why forgiveness is central to Christ’s voluntary self-offering of Himself, His precious and holy Body and Blood, to us for the remission of sins. He gives us the heavenly reality of Himself to ever wake us up to the deepest reality of sin and the deeper reality of salvation only through Him. Knowing that we are filled with Him through the Eucharist, we are Him, for He is in our bodies. And our minds are transformed into the Gospel: that where sin abounds, which is everywhere and in all persons, grace abounds much, much more.

Living Baptismally, pt 12: Being a Living Sacrifice

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 18), 2020.

The previous two Sundays’ Gospel lections, being the dramatic telling of Saint Matthew’s of Peter’s confession of Christ’s full nature through heavenly grace given to him by the Father, which was followed immediately by Peter trying to put himself between Christ and the Cross, and thereby being called “Satan” just after being called the “rock” upon whom Jesus would build His Church—all within but a few verses—these lections being so central to the faith left little room to reflect upon the guidance given to us by Saint Paul the Apostle last Sunday, as we heard, in the Epistle to the Romans, the beginning of chapter twelve. Last Sunday, in the beginning of Romans twelve, we heard guidance from Saint Paul which began with the famous words, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” All told we heard last Sunday the first eight verses from Romans twelve, and today we hear the next batch of verses, from verse 9 through verses 21, which likewise continue valuable guidance to Christians, who, in the words of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, should be continually responding to the fact of our Baptism.

And it is likewise important specifically for us Anglicans to reflect upon Saint Paul’s guidance on being a living sacrifice, because this whole theology gets taken up in our Eucharistic Canon from its beginning in 1549 and the first Book of Common Prayer—words that Anglicans indeed treasure: “And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Thee.” It is hard, I think, not to be caught up in those words during the Eucharistic Canon, and even be confronted by them. “Am I prepared to truly offer myself, my soul and body, as a living sacrifice?” we might ask ourselves. “Am I truly signing on to this? Because it sounds like a real commitment” we might further wonder. And make no mistake, brothers and sisters, what Paul is directing, and what we as a Body are doing during the Eucharistic Canon, is a real commitment, and it has everything to do with being baptized. There can be no doubt about this. Receiving the nourishment of God’s grace for mature Christian living demands we offer and present our bodies unto God, just as the bread and wine are offered and presented on the Altar. We are offering our selves likewise on the Altar. Doing so is our response of cooperation with the grace given beforehand by God in baptism—for God always, always, acts first. Yet if we desire and yearn to grow in the faith—in Saint Paul’s language, if we want to move from mother’s milk to beefsteak, from liquid food to solid food, we have to respond to the grace gifted to us in Baptism, which grows into Michael Ramsey’s “continual response to the fact of our baptism.” And the primary way we do so is to take up Paul’s direction, indeed Paul’s spiritual direction, and desire to present our body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which, as Paul says, is our spiritual worship.

This is not one of the things we do as Christians. It is the thing we do, and everything else flows from it. Loving our neighbor, whether we think of it as serving the lonely or as anything else, only becomes Christian loving when what comes prior to it is offering and presenting our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice. To do so is simply to love God, as we hear in our Liturgy, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. That kind of loving is what living sacrifice means. And it is from that first offering, and only from and after it, that we can take up the second commandment, to love thy neighbor as thyself, as a truly Christian offering of our body to another through our love for them. There are plenty of people in this world who love and take care of others without first making this prior offering of self to God as a living sacrifice; and there is nothing wrong with that, nor should they cease doing so. But it must be clearly seen that despite outward appearances, their service is not properly named Christian service. It can be good, and helpful and consequential, but it is not Christian, and this is because Christian service to the world (the second commandment) derives its Christian identity by the prior offering of our heart, soul, and mind to God as a living sacrifice.

When we do that, and make it around which our lives are ordered, then not only is loving our neighbor Christian activity, but so is everything else we do—our day to day duties, raising our family, doing our mundane work, reading, walking, smelling the flowers: all of it is truly Christian activity when what comes before is our willing self-sacrifice to God, Who loved us long before we loved Him. Because when we love God, when we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him, in response He begins to transform our whole way of thinking and being. In Saint Paul’s words, we are no longer conformed to this world but allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewal of our mind. This is the transformation into the likeness of Christ that is the fundamental purpose of Christian religion. Being transformed, as Saint Paul’s directs, allows our love to be truly genuine, to love one another with brotherly affection. Because, as Christians, we regard all people as made in the image of Christ. When we practice hospitality as Christian, when we welcome another person no matter who they are or from where they originate, we are welcoming Christ Himself. When we rejoice with those who rejoice, we rejoice with Christ; when we weep with those who weep, we weep with Christ. And when we are confronted with evil, Saint Paul directs us to overcome evil with good—for this is precisely what Jesus Christ does on the Cross: the evil of the world forever blinded by the Cross’s transfiguring Light.

Living Baptismally, pt 11: Being Open to God’s Correction

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 17), 2020.

Last Sunday our Gospel passage from Saint Matthew was the first half of a momentous episode in Scripture. Today’s passage completes the moment. Recall that, after Our Lord’s second, more provocative question to the Twelve, “But who do you say that I am?”, and Peter’s proclamation that “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus responded to Peter: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father Who is in heaven.” And so as I observed last Sunday, it was not seeing Jesus—what He looked like, what He sounded like, what He said and taught, none of this—it was not seeing Jesus that gave Peter this deep insight into Jesus’s divinity, the insight that He is God. It was only a revelation from the Father, given to Peter from heaven that, at this for this moment, opened the eyes of Peter to reveal Christ transfigured in some sense so as to cause Peter to proclaim Him the Son of the living God.

All of which makes what comes next, the second half of this momentous episode, all the more intriguing. Because it was from this time that Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Note that it was from this time—and not before. In Saint Matthew’s version of the Gospel, the teaching to the Twelve by Jesus of the Passion that is necessary begins here—begins in the transfiguring revelation given to Peter from heaven, and the response by Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (words, as I said last Sunday, that are a summary of the whole Nicene Creed). Coming to some kind of sense of what the death of Jesus truly means is tied up into a sense of the divinity of Jesus, and even beginning to grapple with this Truth is itself a gift from the Almighty Father in heaven. Christian worship begins in this, what Jesus calls this rock.

But, Saint Peter did not like Our Lord’s teaching about the Passion. (And I added here his title “Saint” to remind us that Peter, in his error, is still a profound example to us about discipleship; more on that in a moment.) He did not like this teaching, and said, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.” Notice the words of Our Lord. Peter is not condemned because he said words “like Satan”; not condemned because his words could remind people of Satan”; what’s more, Jesus does not say, “Get behind me, person who is like Satan,” as if the problem is that Peter’s ideology is simply too close for comfort to that of Satan. No! Jesus clearly says, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter is not like Satan; here, he is Satan. The very man on whom, but a few verses prior, was proclaimed in no uncertain terms that the Church is to be built. What is going on here? Is this Jesus making a joke, an example of His divine sense of humor?

I do not think so. Jesus does have a divine sense of humor, and we always do well to remember that as we reflect on His words and actions that might trouble us or seem contrary to the nature of He Whose nature is love. But here, Jesus has for His Church fundamental doctrine. And that doctrine is seen when we remember that Peter, in objecting to Our Lord’s showing the Twelve that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things, and be killed, and on the third day be raised, Peter said “This shall never happen to you,” meaning Peter would not let it happen. In other words, Peter put himself between Our Lord and the Cross. And because of it, he was called Satan by Jesus. So who is Satan? Satan is anyone who gets between the Cross and Jesus. That’s who Satan is, that is, the primary characteristic of Satan, no matter the outward form Satan might take; the thing underneath the outward appearance is getting between Jesus and the Cross, or between us and the Cross—for the Cross is where Jesus is, and always has been the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

So how, then is Peter a profound example to us about discipleship? Peter is an example to us because despite his erroneous understanding, Peter remained an agent through whom Jesus extends His Incarnation in the world. Peter was vocal about his view, but he also left himself open to being corrected by Jesus, which Our Lord did over the course between this moment and the Upper Room when Peter’s leadership truly became the solid rock foundation of the Church at Pentecost. Having erroneous views is, therefore, not itself any kind of disqualification from membership in the Body of Christ. As disciples who are, in the words of Saint Paul, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling—grappling with the paradoxes of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ—we are allowed to get things wrong, as long as are not rigid in such views, but allow them to be corrected by the Holy Ghost as He sees fit, and in the way He sees fit. Peter went on to deny Jesus three times on the very night of His voluntary entering into His Passion. But, after the Resurrection, Peter allowed himself to be corrected by Our Lord in His glorious Body, saying three times to Peter: “Feed my sheep,” then “Tend My sheep,” and again “Feed My sheep”—three teachings to correct Peter’s three denials. It is in this way that Our Lord’s teaching and direction to us happens on the course of our life in Him, that He might graft in our hearts the love of His Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us, as He did Saint Peter, the fruit of good works.

Living Baptismally, pt 10: Living with God’s Revelation to us through Christ

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity (Proper 16), 2020.

The young Church that began in the Upper Room in Jerusalem after the Ascension of Jesus were people that knew Scripture (here of course I refer to what is called now the Old Testament). Within this first parish Church (with, as Saint Luke tells us, an average Sunday attendance of one hundred and twenty, souls, all of whom were apostles, both men and women alike), were people whose whole lives had been lived within the profoundly pervasive influence of religious life according to the Scriptures. Certainly not all or even many were Scripture experts—for being expert in the Sacred Page has always been a calling for a very few; important, but numerically small. I mean rather that the Upper Room apostles had heard the stories of Moses, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob their whole lives; and likewise their parents and relatives, and all of their parents and relatives, as far back as anyone knew, potentially thousands of years. God, through Moses, parted the Red Sea—“heard it, maybe a thousand times!” they might have said if asked. The flood of Noah and the ark, same thing. And so many others stories in Scripture. These stories made up their imagination, made up their way of life, made up how they understand reality. It is impossible to overstate the deep-rooted effects of these stories every which way.

Another of these stories was water out of the rock, another of the stories of Moses. The people of Israel, having escaped debilitating slavery by extraordinary actions by God culminating with the Red Sea event, were thirsty, murmured against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?” So, we are told, Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand the rod with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, that the people may drink.” And, we are told, Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah (which means “proof”) and Mer′ibah (which means “contention”, because of the faultfinding of the children of Israel, and because they put the Lord to the proof by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” It is a remarkable story, easy to remember, and inexhaustible for preaching and reflecting upon. And we see this reflected in the Psalms, which were the hymns of Jewish religion. Psalm 18 says, “My God, my rock in whom I put my trust.” God not only bring water out of the rock, but the rock is Him, and out of Him comes water. This is rich and formative of worldview. And that is precisely what happened century after century in Jewish religious life. And this formed the minds of the 120 Upper Room apostles like the story of the American revolution forms ours. Only much more so.

This is important to know as one considers the account of Saint Matthew of Jesus asking the disciples (and it appears here to be just the Twelve), “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?” They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Clear proof that these disciples knew Scripture!) Then then, masterfully, Jesus refines the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter famously responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter recognizes, for this moment at least, not the humanity of Jesus (for everyone saw that, obviously); rather, in this moment Peter recognizes the divinity of Jesus. He, Peter proclaims, is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the anointed and chosen one (spoken of throughout the Scriptures) and the Son of the living God (the Son of the God of Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, and all the prophets). In other words, Peter sees, at least enough to proclaim it, that in some sense, Jesus is the Rock. And if this is true, then it was Jesus speaking to Moses, Jesus commanding Moses to strike the Rock (which is Jesus), and water for the Jews coming out of Him. Truly, Peter can easily intimate, out of Jesus comes living water—He is the Messiah.

So Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father Who is in heaven.” It was not seeing Jesus—what He looked like, what He sounded like, what He said and taught, none of this—it was not seeing Jesus that gave Peter this deep insight. It was only a revelation from the Father, given to Peter. It was only an apocalypse (for apocalypse is what “revelation” translates) from heaven that, at this for this moment, opened the eyes of Peter to reveal Christ transfigured in some sense so as to cause Peter to proclaim Him the Son of the living God.

And so we easily proclaim with Paul, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways!” And then, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” And let us, brothers and sisters, in celebrating with Paul our God and His gloriously profound mystery revealed only through Jesus Christ, be likewise thankful. Because seeing Jesus in person during His life provided no advantage to the Twelve and the 120 apostles, and seeing as we share with them the stories they knew and told themselves and proclaimed to the Church, about the words and deeds of Jesus, they (the young Church) are our contemporaries, the communion of the Saints means that living relationship with them, and together we are learning how to emulate the words of Peter given Him only by grace: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God: learning how to emulate them, and day by day, how to order our lives by them. Learning, with Peter and the apostles, how to live with the glorious revelation given unto us.

Living Baptismally, pt 9: Sharing God’s Mercy with All

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Tenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 15), 2020.

The thing to immediately notice in our passage from Saint Matthew today is the tension evident between the disciples and Our Lord Jesus. “Send her away, for she is crying after us,” they implore Jesus. But Jesus does not send her away, but rather listens to her, talks with her, and eventually praise her great faith, so much so that we are left with the impression that it was her great faith that healed her daughter from the demon, indeed exorcised her of the demon. It is Our Lord’s behavior towards the Canaanite woman that indeed shut up the noisy disciples, which is consistent with the fact that this episode with the Canaanite woman is directly preceded by Our Lord verbally tussling with the scribes and Pharisees, who constantly accused Jesus of trespassing the Law, and constantly tried to trick Jesus into outward contradiction of the Law, so that they could put dents into the wide popularity that Jesus enjoyed throughout the twelve square miles of Palestine that Jesus visited during his public ministry. Noisy scribes and Pharisees, noisy disciples, hardened hearts abounding—Our Lord teaches us the value and necessity of withdrawing from the noise of life occasionally so as to be able through prayer to transcend it and rest in the Father Almighty, and then return to the fray as the tides of the water return to the hard rocks of the shore. For as Jesus spoke to the prophet Isaiah: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

It is trying to reach a kind of conversational prayer that is the way to understand the dialogue between Jesus and the Canaanite woman—a kind of mystagogical prayer that draws us deeper into the mystery of Christ. But that not self-evident in a plain reading of the text from Saint Matthew. After the disciples attempt unsuccessfully to command Jesus to send her away, He says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me. And He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answer, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” It sounds on a plain reading that Jesus is being unloving at first and exclusionary; but that violates basic doctrine about Jesus, that His very nature is love and that His Mission from the beginning is always to all peoples. How then to understand this properly?

In this dialogue with the Canaanite woman, it is not Our Lord who is being taught about compassion and love, but rather the disciples and their hardened hearts. Both of the seemingly inflammatory statements by Jesus—the first, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and the second, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”—reflect the very exclusionary attitude of the Jewish religion of Jesus’s day, as well as the centuries prior. The Jews had been looking for a political messiah to restore political power to them and allow them to complete the rebuilding of the Temple and thereby overthrow their occupiers, the Romans. The last thing they wanted was a Messiah for all peoples Whose very showing of divine power was to die on the tree of the Cross—and be a voluntary failure in the eyes of the world. But it was always the plan of Jesus to show the world what it means to be God by the way He died as a human being.

In other words, Jesus used this moment with the Canaanite woman to teach not her but the disciples words He had taught to Isaiah centuries before: “Foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the Name of the Lord, and to be His servants, every one who keeps the Sabbath, and does not profane it, and hold fast My covenant—these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer.”

Brother and sisters, our prayer serves all people. Let us consecrate ourselves to this Mission given to us in our Baptism, that the mercy of Our Lord may be experienced by all people in their daily life and work.

Baptismal Living, pt 8: Abiding in God’s Abundance

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 13), 2020.

It is always important when reflecting on the Gospel as recorded by Saint Matthew, as well as by Saint Mark, Saint Luke, and Saint John, that these authoritative accounts of Our Lord only began to be distributed some two, three, or four decades after the Day of Pentecost. Saint Paul’s epistles, which record his own apostolic preaching primarily about community life in and around the Cross and Sacraments, were written first, then the Gospel accounts. And what the four Gospel accounts capture are four traditions of apostolic preaching, less about sacramental community life, but about the words, deeds, and episodes in the of Jesus Christ. That is, we have the Matthew tradition, the Mark tradition, the Luke tradition, and the John tradition of those words, deeds, and episodes.

Very early on the Church decided, through guidance given by the Holy Spirit, that no fewer than these four accounts can give the full picture of Our Lord as He was preached by the Apostles. The four Gospel accounts, then, are apostolic preaching over several decades, always by the Light of the Cross, guided by the Holy Spirit, but also mediated by Scripture (what is called the Old Testament) and, it must be added, memory. For the early Church, starting in the Upper Room after the Ascension, the presence—the I Am-ness of Jesus—was made real and manifest through the prayerful process of scripturally mediated memory taught to the 120 Upper Room apostles by Our Lord Himself during that first Eastertide season. The threefold life of the Church that gestated in the Upper Room and was revealed on Pentecost is how the Church uses her scripturally mediated memory to be in communion with unfathomable mystery of God—adoring the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the Son.

It was an unfathomable mystery of the feeding of multitudes that the apostles preached about. All four evangelists recorded such an episode—therefore we can be sure that this miracle was a clear historical basis. What it looked like to be there—that is, if someone had a video camera to record the event—neither you, nor I, nor anyone in the Church can say, which is precisely Our Lord’s intent. Our only access to the episode is the description recorded by the evangelists, today by S. Matthew, and the tradition of apostolic preaching based upon the active ferment of scripturally mediated memory.

And the mystery of it all is not only God’s abundant grace in the moment of the miraculous feeding, but how at the same time Our Lord declares the harmony of this miracle with the mysteries of ancient times. For despite a constantly presumptuous and stiff neck that refused to obey God’s commandments, God was always ready to forgive, gracious and merciful to the children of Israel under Moses. Despite having committed great blasphemies, they were not forsaken in the wilderness—the Holy Spirit of Christ was always given them for instruction, manna from heaven was never withheld from their mouth, and water from rock was always given them for their thirst.

This is why Saint Paul so emphatically teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ—whether tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, or any peril, nothing can separate us from God’s ability to bestow His nourishing and sustaining grace. Despite our stubbornness, despite our stiff necks, despite our hardened hearts that so often forget God, distrust God, and fail to call upon His Holy Name in the adventures and ordinary days of our lives, and as a result fashion idols in place of Him, God is always willing to feed with the bread of angels those who turn to him with meek heart and due reverence to the maker of all things, visible and invisible. This speaks directly to reason why Sunday worship is a true obligation: without this worship, we are not fed by God, and as a result fashion idols in our life to replace that feeding, as important to our spiritual life as air is to our mortal life. We crave the heavenly bread, and when we turn to God,  God in His immense wisdom and love sees fit that all eat, and that all are well-filled.

Baptismal Living, part 7: Domestic Life in the Spirit

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Proper 12), 2020.

With the return starting next Sunday of eucharistic worship in the Mass with Holy Communion, the elements that make up the baptismal life of the Church will all be again in place for us. The elements of Christian life are fellowship in the apostles’ teaching and doctrine (which is our overall devotional life loving God and neighbor according to Scripture), the breaking of bread (which is the Mass with Eucharist), and the prayers (the daily liturgical praying of the Church). This is the Christian way of life revealed on the Day of Pentecost, empowered in all moments of the life by the Holy Spirit, as the way to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who is the promise of the Father. This threefold Regula (or Rule) is everything that is meant by Christian discipline, and it is the sure means for everything that is meant by Christian repentance, that is, turning to God.

While the Christian life obviously demands commitment, it is not in any way complicated. It is not the province only of those with intellectual gifts, or of certain personality or temperament. Rather it is an everyday life of discipline and repentance meant for all, available to all, and benefiting both all of the baptized, as well as, through the local worshipping community, the whole world. The Christian life is far more domestic, quiet, and even mundane than it is spectacular. It is picking up your Bible and Prayer Book and praying when no one is watching; it is tending responsibly to the Christian duties of life, when no one is watching; it is loving God in our neighbor when no one is watching, and even our neighbor is unaware.

It is in the unspectacular life of fully loving Jesus when no one is watching where Our Lord teaches the kingdom of heaven is often found. The mustard seed, growing into a mustard bush—not a very large bush, not beautiful or itself awe-inspiring; but just as in a small seed and small bush nonetheless a whole world can be found for those with patience and quieted mind, so as God’s glory can be found in the normal domestic life of tending our garden, keeping our homes, protecting our family life through prayer and humility before God.

And Our Lord teaches that the kingdom of heaven is as everyday unspectacular as leaven that is hid in flour. Flour by itself is lifeless and inedible, as we are without God’s grace. But just as a little leaven leavens the whole of the lump of flour so as to become delicious and enriching loaves of bread, so as God’s grace, being the heavenly reality of Christ’s sacred humanity, grace which teaches us how to pray and calls us ever closer to Him, this grace raises up our pitiful, sinful, unfulfilled lives that we might become the Sacrament of Christ’s heavenly bread for the world.

And Our Lord teaches that the kingdom of heaven is as treasure hidden in a field, and in which a man sells all he has and buys that field. The treasure is the daily bread of God’s Word in Scripture, and the field is the world. The man selling all he has signifies placing nothing in our lives before God, above God, or with greater priority than God. For when we do that over the course of our growth in the Spirit, which is the process of baptismal living called “sanctification,” the world is seen as full of grace, and we receive the world as in all ways made by God through His Eternal Word which is Christ. And while this may sound spectacular, extraordinary, and even mystical, such recognition of God’s grace permeating the whole of creation is captured so well and in such earthy terms in the hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful”—for all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. God’s endless grace fill all in all—and He does so in ways miraculously ordinary.

Brothers and sisters, the Psalmist as he often does captures all of this poignantly when he sings “When your word goes forth it gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” The baptized people of God are not asked to be anything but simple—people who fear God, and as a result live an uncomplicated, largely unspectacular domestic faith that knows the eyes of Our Lord are upon all who love Him, and that His grace is hidden everywhere in the world to seek, find, and treasure like the pearl of great price. We are people seeking light—light which can only be found through the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread, for it is only through the opening of the scriptures and the breaking of bread that the Christian God is revealed in Jesus Christ.

Baptismal Living, part 6: Shining like the Son

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 11), 2020.

Those attentive to our Gospel passage today may have noticed that Our Lord shifted the definition of the seed as compared with the Gospel passage we reflected upon last Sunday. In that passage, it is clear is that the seed is God’s eternal Word, indeed Christ the Word, in us. The seed of Christ the Word in us is powerful beyond measure. Christ the Word performs awesome things, moves mountains in His power, stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves of insecurity, anxiety, and desolation; Christ the Word makes the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy, and He visits the earth and waters it abundantly with His grace, endless grace for His river is full of grace.

In the passage we hear today, the good seed is defined by Our Lord as the sons of the kingdom. Christ the Word is now the man sowing good seed in His field—sowing good seed in the world—sowing sons of God in the world. Immediately let us hear this and see that God always puts us where we are for a reason—wherever we find ourselves in life, we are there as part of God’s plan, and that God intends His plan to be fulfilled through us. Being His seed, He desires that we grow up—that is, grow into deeper relationship with Him, grow more into spiritual maturity (for mature trees and bushes bear fruit, and those immature do not), and grow in spiritual height and width and breadth so that the weeds of the world—that is, the devil’s temptations in the world—become weaker from lack of nourishment, crowded out by God’s mature trees and bushes, which is us, being spiritual mature baptized persons.

This is why, in the words of the Apostle Paul, the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. All of creation needs the redemption of God, and God’s chosen vessels of redemption of creation are human beings who are baptized and take on the responsibility of sanctification by constantly seeking to cooperate with God’s grace. Christ said to the prophet Isaiah “Those who hold fast to Me shall possess the land and inherit My holy mountain.” Possessing the land means redeeming the world for God, and inheriting God’s holy mountain means living each day with reverence and holy fear that the eyes of Our Lord are always upon us. The world is unable to redeem itself—it is only human beings who are endowed with the capacities necessary for to be agents of God’s redemption in the world.

In our Psalm we asked God to keep watch over our lives, for we are faithful; asking Him to save us His servants who put our trust in Him. This really encapsulates our daily prayer, indeed it articulates why we pray at all. We also in the Psalm ask God to teach us His way, that we might walk in His truth; also asking Him to knit our hearts to Him that we may fear His Name. In these two verses is everything of what it means to live a baptismal life. In asking Him to keep watch over our lives, we abandon ourselves to God’s providence, acknowledging He, not you or me, is always in control. In pledging to be faithful, we promise that through thick and thin, we will flee to Him, talk with Him, and know that our lives are always in His hand. In asking Him to save us, we acknowledge that we can never save ourselves—that His grace is not optional but a necessity to true life. In asking Him to teach us that we might walk in His truth, we put ourselves with humility at the throne of His Wisdom, asking to be shown the Truth about ourselves so that the impediments that keep us from recognizing Him might be removed. And in asking God to knit our hearts to Him that we might fear His Name, we express our desire to live out the baptismal life: for in being knit to Him, we are incorporated into His Body, dwelling in He Who is the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. The fear of the Lord is always the beginning point for wisdom.

Brothers and sisters, for about the last month sunflowers have been in bloom in the gardens around us. These are glorious and grand flowers for the strength and beauty that each one radiates. Our loving Jesus intends that each one of us, in being transformed into His likeness, shines like the sun in the kingdom of Our Father—indeed, intends us to be Son-Flowers, that God’s economy of salvation, His redeeming of all creation, may be accomplished through us, through the baptized members of His Body, who knowing His great love towards us, radiate His wondrous things to the world.

Baptismal Living, part 5: God in Us

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 10), 2020.

We have been ruminating upon the teaching of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, that “The life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism.” And the reason it is a continual response, is because the mystery of Baptism is inexhaustible. Thinking about our baptism can never fail to take us into the heart of the faith—the heart of the mystery of Christ Himself, the mystery of His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. Because through Baptism, which unites us permanently with Christ—ingrafted into Him, incorporated into His Body—the events of His glorious life lived entirely on our behalf become the events of our life: that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. This is all part of the economy of salvation—that the life of Christ revealed to us through the life of the Church (fellowship with the apostolic doctrine, the breaking of bread, the daily prayer according to scripture) becomes the life we live. Jesus lived all the episodes captured in the books of the New Testament, and He spoke anonymously through the episodes captured in the books of the Old Testament) to bring our lives into His Life. Baptism is God’s seal and pledge to us, that being forever His, the more we cooperate with His grace offered freely to us, the more we will bear fruit thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold.

What Our Lord’s parable today, as captured by Saint Matthew, invites us to take seriously is what it means to be “good soil,” and what as a result we should do in our lives. Our Lord says to us that good soil is “he who hears the word and understands it.” What is clear is that the seed—which is God’s eternal Word, indeed Christ the Word, in us—is powerful beyond measure. Christ the Word performs awesome things, moves mountains in His power, stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of the waves of insecurity, anxiety, and desolation; Christ the Word makes the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy, and He visits the earth and waters it abundantly with His grace, endless grace for His river is full of grace.

How do we receive this divine seed? By putting to death selfishness, blindness of heart, pride, vainglory, hypocrisy, envy, hatred, malice, and all want of charity is how we become good soil. By giving over all inordinate and sinful affections, and resisting the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, is how we become good soil. From avoiding false doctrine, heresy, schism, hardness of heart, and contempt of God’s Word and commandment, is how we become good soil.

Or, in a word, we are good soil through our humility. Humility—knowing that it is God Who has made us, and not we ourselves. Humility—knowing that without God’s grace we can do no good thing of ourselves. Humility—knowing that the eyes of the Lord are always upon us, and upon the baptized all the more. Humility—that the same Spirit Who hovered over the fact of the primordial waters hovered over the waters in the font at our baptism. The basic facts about God and about humanity ought constantly catch us in our sinful ways and draw us back to humility before God—draw us back to humility before the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

Brothers and sisters, let us allow the fact that God’s Holy Spirit—God Himself, the gift Who proceeds from the Father sent by the Son—that God’s Spirit dwells in us throw us into humility, into peace, into restfulness. And let the restfulness of the fact of who we are calm the seas and storms of our emotions, our hearts, our minds. And let us recognize God alive in us, that He might lead us—for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And let us be humbled in knowing, according to the teaching of Saint Paul, that whenever we cry “Father!” such as in the prayer taught us by our Lord, the Our Father prayer, the Spirit Himself speaks through us, allowing us to say the Name Father, allowing us to the Name Jesus. As we pray to Our Father, day by day, we are crowned with goodness, and our paths made to overflow with plenty.