Homily: “On Love Itself as Understanding”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Our Collect today invites our prayer to a profound truth, despite its wording being rather commonplace, and even cliche. It begins with these words: “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor.” What this reflects is the fact that knowledge and love are all the same—that, for Christians, love itself is understanding (William of St Thierry, Exposition on the Song of Songs, 57.) What we do, our actions, our behavior, our prayer, must, if it is going to be Christian action, Christian behavior, Christian prayer, live out our beliefs. Our words that profess what we believe throughout the Liturgy of the Church, whether in Mass or daily Offices, have to find expression in our bodily actions—concretely, actually, and palpably. For us, taught by Jesus Christ and learning within the fellowship of the Church, knowledge and love are all the same: Love itself is understanding. Read more “Homily: “On Love Itself as Understanding””

Homily: “On the Final Judgment”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Christ the King (Proper 29, Year A), 2017.

We celebrate today the Feast of Christ the King, of Him who has put all things in subjection under His feet. Our King of kings and Lord of lords desires to bring His most gracious rule to the hearts of all people. In order for that to happen, the eternal Son of God took the human flesh of His mother, Blessed Mary, and over the course of His earthly life taught people what it means to pray. And in teaching people how to pray, He taught them how to act. And in teaching people how to act, He taught them how to love. And in teaching people how to love, He created the conditions in which His gracious rule comes to the hearts of all people, for the King of Creation always comes to us in love.

He came to us in love so that in love we would go out to others, bringing His love with us in our hearts, that it would touch the hearts of all people we meet. And then, when separation from Him inevitably creeps in, He taught us to return to Him to be replenished through the Scriptures and especially through the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood—so that filled with Him we can again fill others with His love, and in Christ be made alive.

To call Jesus “King” is to recognize and affirm that He is the leader of a new kind of humanity. Jesus Himself was new, and His actions never before seen, and so His followers are to continue and perpetuate a new way of being human, indeed a fulfillment of what it means to be human, to be truly alive. Throughout the course of human history prior to the Incarnation, to be human meant living under the constraints of ancestral line, family line, and tribal line. If you were not born with the right ancestors, or into the right family or tribe, you were shunned and were not allowed to participate in regular society, and therefore you were not allowed to live to your highest potentials. Jesus is the King of a new kind of humanity; His kingdom is based rather on hearing the word of God and keeping it, doing it, and pondering it in our hearts.

This is a universal invitation extended to all creatures. For us to proclaim the Gospel, to love Him and serve Him with gladness and singleness of heart, to bear witness to Him in word and deed, means that we extend this invitation to others, an invitation to the banquet of love hosted by the King of kings and Lord of lords. And so we are to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the crippled, strengthen the weak. We are to feed people with justice, because Christ works through us to do the feeding. We are to teach the world righteousness by being ourselves righteous. To do so, we are to exhibit the saintly qualities Jesus taught in His sermon on the mount: we are to be poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungering for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, seeking peace, and creative amid obstacles.

It is remembering these qualities that Jesus demands of us that has led the Church in see the deepest meaning of our Gospel lesson, often called simply, “The Judgement.” We often think that the instructions to feed the hungry, replenish the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned are instructions given by Jesus to His disciples. Disciples are expected to do these things, and there is no better contemporary example of that than Saint Theresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Yet the instruction of Jesus is not here to His disciples, but to the Gentiles outside the inner circles. The “least of these my brethren” refers to Christians, not merely anyone in need. Elsewhere in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, “least” and “little” refer to vulnerable members of the Christian community (those who are poor in spirit, meek, and the rest of the saintly attributes).

And so Jesus is teaching the criteria by which non-Christians (which at the time also meant non-Jews) could enter the kingdom of heaven. It is through their good works, based on how they, non-Christians, treat the members of the Christian community. They will be rewarded for their good deeds and works done to strangers and needy people.

Christians also will be rewarded for our good works and deeds. Yet let us see that if this teaching is extended to non-Christians, the teaching for us is all the more fundamental and basic. Mission, then, is not an optional aspect of Christian life. Mission is not something some Christian communities or persons do, but not others. If even non-Christians are taught the good works and deeds of feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned, then to be Christian in the authentic and original sense is to do such things as easily and as naturally as we breathe, eat, and feel.

Homily: “On the Parable of the Talents”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 28, Year A), 2017.

Last Sunday we heard the Parable of the Ten Maidens, and today we hear about the Parable of the Talents. Our eyes are being directed toward the coming of the Lord, the Christian term for which is a Greek word, Parousia. This is the end and fulfillment of the whole history of salvation. What Saint Matthew in his Gospel intends with these parables is not that we should evade the present, but rather, to help us to live fully in the light of the completion of the history of salvation. We do not know when the end will come, but that it will is essential to ancient, Catholic faith, as we confess in our Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

Indeed, the Lord will come. Read more “Homily: “On the Parable of the Talents””

Homily: “On Serving God in Others”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18, Year A), 2017.

Let us hear words from the Book of Proverbs: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor.” Those words from the end of chapter 3 form the basis for our Collect this week. It is an ancient Collect, dating at least from the 7th century. Through the workings of translations over the centuries, that proverb shows up in our Collect as, “As you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.”

This also shows up in the Epistle of James as a succinct and useful summary: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The proud have closed themselves off from God—God does not love them any less, but the proud have opposed themselves to God in their self-centeredness. We cannot be self-centered if we hope to enjoy God’s grace, and be led by grace in our lives. This is why we ask in our Collect for God to give us the ability to trust in Him with all our hearts—trusting in Him in a way that leaves nothing out; trusting in Him in a way whereby we give ourselves, our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor. Read more “Homily: “On Serving God in Others””

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: “Advent and Expectation”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday of Advent 2016, Year A.

In this first week of Advent, the sense of expectation grows. Although the weather outside can often be frightful, nonetheless this is for the most part a season of warmth, for Christmas and all its wonderful remembrances is just around the corner. We are expecting a visit from Jesus—a particular kind of visit, where he visits us in His humility, as the long proclaimed and hoped for Messiah, as a child. Imagine the feelings, two thousand years ago, of Blessed Mary, now in her eighth month of pregnancy—how she was pondering the real meaning of the words announced to her by the Angel Gabriel: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Pondering, and feeling this baby, the Son of God, in all the glory of the eighth month of pregnancy.

And there is a second visit that we expect, but expect in a different way. That is the visit of Christ in His Second Coming in the Last Day—His coming in glory. In this visit he comes to judge both the living and the dead.

And yet in our Collect, we ask God to give us the grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. And so we expect a third coming of Christ—a coming in our hearts—to cast darkness out of our hearts, that the armor of light might shield our hearts. For with our hearts filled with this coming of Jesus, our hearts filled with light and protected with light, all of which comes from God, we are filled with Hope, and we may by His grace rise to the life immortal.

Read more “Homily: “Advent and Expectation””

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 4”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Christ the King, the Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 29, Year C).

I will conclude today with my series of sermons on the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It was four Sundays ago that I began in on this area of Christian religion. Recall part of our Collect from that Day: “Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command.” Well, we do not properly pray if we say words that we do not grasp and have a decent handle on as far as their meaning. And what understanding we might have already of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity can always be renewed and deepened; it is the very nature of Christianity that we continually revisit and in so doing, re-experience, the terms and principles we use to attempt to grasp the revelation about ultimate reality—God—that is in Jesus Christ, and in Him definitively.

I have said that the theological virtues are habits. In so saying, it should become clear that in considering what Faith is, what Hope is, and what Charity is, we are not merely looking at their everyday meaning in wider society, but the particular depth and richness that the Church has found in them over the course of its two thousand year investigation. We are talking about patterns of repeated behavior—not merely ideas, much more than inward, emotional feelings, but actually what we do in our lives. Now it is often the case that there can be differences or disjunction between what we think, what we feel, and what we do. That there may be inconsistencies is to be expected, as part of the journey. The working out and making our own of the Christian revelation—given to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, and living and breathing within His Church and offered to us through His Sacraments—is a process. It is movement, a movement that involves our rational faculty, our emotional faculty, as well as our behavior.

Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 4””

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 3”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 27, Year C).

Today is Stewardship Sunday. This is the day each year when we reflect on what it means to be a steward. A steward is someone who looks after something, protects something. Specific to us, we reflect on what it means to look after this church, and what it means to protect this church. By “church,” we mean certainly the physical structures, care of the buildings, the roof, the furnace, the organ, the windows; we also mean care of the people who worship here; and we also mean protecting and caring for the culture in this church, the “feel” of being here that we often do not notice because it is so obvious, the sense of life, the sense of sacred in this space, the sense of holiness and the active, burning and real presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

No mature or even semi-mature person needs to be told that the care and protection of a church’s physical structures, the people, and sacrality requires an ongoing financial commitment on the part of the members of that church. Later this week you will receive in the mail pledge cards that ask you to tell the treasurer of the church the amount of your pledge for next year, so that the treasurer, along with the Vestry, can make an intelligent budget for our church in the two thousand seventeenth year after the birth of Our Lord.

It is said, of course that we give to the church not only treasure, but also time and talent. This is true, but there is more to it than that. Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 3””

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 2”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of All Saints.

I said previously that I would be exploring the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity as a kind of running theme over the course of several sermons. Recall that I said that these three virtues are potentials in every human being, gifts given us when we were knit by God in our mother’s womb, and that the cultivation of these virtues through religious practice makes us not like the Pharisee who exalts himself, but like the tax collector, who humbles himself and can only say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

It is also true that cultivation of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity makes us more like the Saints of the Church. It is very helpful, I think, to recall that the Saints, and not intellectual biblical theologians, are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture. The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. The Saints are those of the baptized who have lived out their membership in Christ most fully. Doing that, making that journey, living out our membership in Christ to the fullest extent possible, is really what the Bible is for. The purpose of Holy Scripture is to help us love Jesus more and more; when we contemplate Holy Scripture, we allow the Holy Spirit to throw logs on the fire in our heart. Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 2””

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 1”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 25, Year C).

We should not be too hard on the Pharisee. I say that for two reasons. The first is that although the Pharisee is claiming for himself a high standard of pious observance, and while liturgical evidence from that era does suggest that the Pharisee is acting above and beyond the norm, his fasting, his tithing, and even his comparison between himself and the tax collector is not that far beyond the pale, for that religious context.

The second reason why we should not be too hard on the Pharisee is that if we are hard on the Pharisee, if we regard him too strongly, too rigorously as an undesirable example of loving God, if we decide we are not like this Pharisee, then we are replicating the error ourselves that Jesus invites us to avoid. In too strongly and too rigorously condemning the Pharisee, we do to the Pharisee exactly what the Pharisee did to the tax collector. It is a bit of a trap laid for the too pious among us, and we must avoid it. Remember, God has a wicked sense of humor.
Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 1””