Living Baptismally, pt 16: “On Rendering to God”

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 24), 2020.

“Render therefore,” Our Lord Jesus teaches us, “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The meaning of this teaching, and how the meaning guides how we live as followers of Christ, is the subject of our eucharistic fellowship this day. We do well to begin this reflection by noting how the Pharisees are described by Saint Matthew as interpreting and responding to the teaching. For when they heard Our Lord’s teaching, they marveled; and they left Him and went away. They crossed swords, and Jesus was the victor.

Now, I am so often to point out how important awe and wonder are to the Christian life—how “fear” in the Scriptures usually means awe and wonder, so that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” means “awe and wonder in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”—I do that so often that I feel a responsibility to point out that this is not one of those moments. The marveling of the Pharisees is not them thrown into religious awe of the God Who is the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. Their marveling is rather the feeling of being bested in a duel of wits. They, S. Matthew reminds us, were trying to entangle Jesus in His talk, so that they would have grounds to arrest Him. Jesus did not give them any kind of incriminating testimony. What He said violated no Jewish law or religious custom, or sounded seditious towards the Romans. The Pharisees marveled that Jesus was able to outwit them once again.

But if that is all this episode means, then S. Matthew would not have included it in his account of the Gospel. All details included in Matthew’s account of the Gospel, along with that of Mark, Luke and John’s accounts of the Gospel, not to tell a biographical documentary of the life of Jesus, but rather to provide the food which if properly received reveals Jesus the Son of Mary as also the Son of God the Father Almighty. Being a sharp thinker that wins a dual of wits hardly shows this man to be raised up by God, having loosed the pains of death. Showing Himself to teach the virtue of paying your taxes says absolutely nothing about how God has made this Jesus, whom we crucify, both Lord and Christ. These are pedestrian interpretations. The words of Saint John in chapter 20 of his Gospel account speak for all the evangelists: “these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His Name.” It is for that purpose that Matthew tells us of Jesus saying, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”—that by eating this bread in prayer, Christ the eternal Word of God may be revealed to us in our very presence.

Saint Paul helps us to see past the pedestrian interpretations. This is not surprising because Paul is a great teacher of the Christian faith. Paul praises the church in Thessalonica by relaying to them the report he had heard from others about them, how they “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Whom He raised from the dead, Jesus Who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Paul here teaches nothing but what the Lord Jesus taught in His life, even about the coin with the face of Caesar. The Pharisees, who are described in the Gospel accounts as “lovers of money,” are made an example by Jesus to His disciples of idolaters. Looking at money with the eyes of the flesh makes us greedy and makes money into an idol. Looking at money with the eyes of Christ, on the other hand, reveals money has being made by God and therefore to be offered to God, despite whatever surface images may be on the money’s outward design.

All things are made by Christ; without Christ is not anything made. Christians know this as a pillar of the Faith. We know we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. We are to love Him with all we have, for all we have has been given to us by Him, without Whom we can do nothing that is good. We know our offerings to God are to be the offerings not of Cain (who merely offered some of his fruits and vegetables) but of Abel—the firstborn of our flock and of their fat; our offering is that of Saint Mary Magdalene expensive jar and still more expensive spikenard. And our offering is the offering of Saint Paul—for we offer and present unto God our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Christ—that we may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and being thereby in Him, may be Him to the world around us, carrying the peace of Christ and offering it to all we meet.

On Having the Eyes of Saint Joseph

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Second Sunday after Christmas, 2019.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, we are told by Saint Matthew. And then but a few verses later, again an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph, now in Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and yet again to decide specifically where to dwell. This means there have been at least four, and probably five, times that Saint Matthew tells us Joseph has had an angel visit him in a dream. Five angel visits, five angel messages—five, we can say, annunciations, just as Blessed Mary experienced her annunciation by the angel Gabriel. This to some may sound rather fanciful legend, the stuff of fantasy literature. But let us remember that at the heart of this part of the Gospel narrative is the infancy of a child. At the birth of any child, the whole family is thrown into a state of wonder and joy. This is especially so for the parents. Holding the baby, hearing the baby, smelling the baby, simply being with the baby—the meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas is rooted in this very reality that Christ is born. We spend twelve days savouring the simple fact that unto us a child is born—twelve days, savouring our savior. This Child, Who is in Himself the new Temple of Jerusalem. O come let us adore Him.

I have said before that for such an important person in the gospel narrative, there are so few words ascribed to Joseph. But we know more about him than we might realize. He has been visited by the angel Gabriel five times! So although we do not know what Joseph looked like, or how he spoke, or hardly anything about his life before he took Mary as his wife, except that he was a carpenter of some sort, or what happened to Joseph in the time after Jesus at age twelve was found in the Temple—he died at some point after that, obviously, probably of natural causes of old age—we do know he has been visited five times by an angel to reveal God’s will. So on an existential level, we know quite a bit about Joseph—that he was open to, and well aware of, the supernatural. He was open to, and well aware of, God in His transcendent dimension—open and aware of the invisible reality of God.

And not just open and aware of the invisible reality of God, but ordering his life around the invisible reality of God. He was making crucial life decisions based upon the invisible reality of God revealed to him by the angel. First, to accept the truth that his betrothed had conceived by divine hands—that she was of Child by the Holy Ghost; second, that he, Joseph, was to be a public witness and defender to this divine action—the divine ordering of salvation itself through the Church which is the Body of Jesus, rather than sending Mary away quietly for her protection; third, that he, Joseph, should take the child and His mother to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod, undoubtedly possessed by demons, and to wait there; and fourthly, to return to Israel, anf fifthly, eventually to dwell in Nazareth.

What then does all this say about Joseph? How do we interpret him, and his role in God’s plan for salvation through Christ? The first principle we should always use and start with is that we interpret scripture by scripture. Joseph led Mary and Jesus back from Egypt to Israel all by the guidance of God through the angel. Does this sound familiar? It should—it is what Moses did with Israel. Moses led Israel out of bondage to an evil ruler to the promised land of Israel, at all times led by God. And Saint Joseph recapitulates all of it. And if Joseph recapitulates Moses, then Mary and Jesus recapitulate the Ark of the Covenant (the container for God’s holy presence, which is symbolically Mary) and God’s holy presence itself in the cloud and voice (which is Christ). And unlike Israel who were constantly disobedient to God, constantly complaining to Moses, Mary and Jesus were fully obedient to God’s will expressed through Joseph, completely given over to following God’s will without delay. What’s more, just as Moses was able to glimpse the promised land with his own eyes but not reach it before dying, Joseph glimpsed salvation Himself—and was the guardian of the Promised Land-Made-Man in Jesus, for at least twelve years—the protector and dutiful guardian of the revelation of the divine ordering of the Church through Mary and through Jesus, the Son of God.

Saint Paul speaks of God giving us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. He speaks of having the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know the hope to which God has called us, and the immeasurable greatness of His power. This is all the spirit and the eyes and the knowledge of Saint Joseph. We know nothing about him except how he gave his life as a sacrifice to God and to be an instrument for God to accomplish salvation through Christ crucified and risen. By the intercession of Saint Joseph, may we do the same.

On Fear of the Lord and Our Prayer Life

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

“For behold, the day comes,” says God through the prophet Malachi, “burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn the up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” This revelation through Malachi makes clear what is at stake in our service to God. The Lord will come like fire, and the wrongdoers among the people of God will be burnt to ashes. Those who fear the Lord, however, will experience the fire as a healing sun. The stakes, in other words, are high. The historic and traditional Christian faith is not about “playing church.”

In all things and in all expressions and in all circumstances, the root of real faith is fear of the Lord. And here again, we must bear in mind that “fear of the Lord” means not fright, but awe before the majesty of the Lord the maker of all things visible and invisible. Fear of the Lord, then, is an attitude. It is a disposition that we do not have like we have a mood—moods come and go; we have a mood of lightness one moment, a mood of heaviness another, a mood of optimism, then a mood of pessimism. The fear of the Lord is nothing like that. The fear of the Lord must be as everyday to us as is the recognition that the sky is blue, that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, that dark follows day and day follows after night. So the fear of the Lord—awe at the majesty of God and His marvelous things, awe at His mercy and faithfulness, awe at His love for His creation, awe at the offering of Jesus for the world, awe at His suffering of death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone and thereby remove the sting of death for ever—the fear of the Lord is something so central to being a Christian that if it is something we do not thing that we have, we must ask God for His grace to give us this fear!

Brothers and sisters, let me emphasize that the primary means for asking for this grace to give us the fear of the Lord necessary for our salvation is the Liturgy—the daily prayer with the Offices or devotions in the Prayer Book in concert with the Mass are a system that was a revealed publicly on the Day of Pentecost with the Coming of the Holy Ghost. And the purpose of this system is entirely spiritual: to draw us into awe of God. Why is the Mass ordered the way it is? To draw us into awe of God. Why is daily prayer ordered in the Prayer Book the way it is? To draw us into awe of God. If these services, seen not as a collection of pious things to do but as a system or “regula” to work out our salvation, were not central to the Faith the Prayer Book would not have them at the front of the Book and Saint Luke would not have noted the revelation of them by God to the young Church on Pentecost.

Being faithful and mature Christians in our tradition means embracing the daily prayer and the Mass not as an obligation as much as an opportunity to again surrender ourselves to God, presenting to Our Lord our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Him—an opportunity for Him to take us into Him, and make us one Body with Him, that He—the maker of all things visible and invisible—may be one Body with us. And this is the seed that grows into true fear of the Lord. This is the seed that grows into a deeper ability to rest in God: for only in Him can our restlessness truly find rest. Our participation in the Liturgy is the seed that grows into the reliance upon God in all things: particularly reliance upon Him when the world tests us. We need to rely upon God in those moments, knowing that, as Our Lord Jesus taught His disciples, He will give us a mouth and wisdom. He will speak through our mouth.

The promises of Christ are high, indeed. They are high because the stakes are high. Without the fear of God implanted in our hearts, at His coming we will not be able to withstand the heat. But with it—the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing—that is, mercy—in its wings.

Homily: “On the Transfiguration of Jesus”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Last Sunday after The Epiphany, 2018. God’s glory has been revealed on the holy mountain. To Saint Peter, Saint James, and Saint John, the beloved Son of the Father was transfigured before them, His garments glistening, intensely white. Indeed He showed Himself forth as Light from Light. They thought it was the culmination of their lives on earth. They were in awe that this was the end time, that this was God’s final kingdom. “Exceedingly afraid” means filled with awe and wonder, filled with holy fear. “Master, it is well that we are here,” Peter said. They were not frightened, not incapacitated, nor struck mute: they were being stretched: stretched in their thinking, their perception, their entire reality, and they would never return to their former consciousness. When you encounter God, you can never return to who you used to be. Read more “Homily: “On the Transfiguration of Jesus””

Homily: “On the Angels”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, 2017.

The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels has historically in English tradition been an occasion for great celebration and revelry. Coming as it does in the heart of the harvest season, food always played a significant role in the popular piety surrounding this feast. This explains in part why the nickname for this feast in English tradition is “Michaelmas.” There is a play on words in there, because while “Michael” in this pronunciation refers of course to the Archangel Michael, or more traditionally, “Mick-aye-el,” it also refers to a now archaic word in the English language, “mickle,” which means “much” or “large amount.” There is no more efficient way to a person’s heart than through the stomach, and so the culinary plenitude associated with this feast, along with the linguistic playfulness of “mickle”-mas are two reasons why it has been disproportionately celebrated in English Christianity, particularly in the Medieval centuries. Is it any wonder, then, why God has guided us to our post-Mass celebration we today christen as the first annual “Tazewell Parish Pie-Luck”? Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals . . .” and pies both savory and sweet, I am sure the compilers of our Prayer Book thought to include.

We celebrate today the Holy Angels, who always serve and worship God in heaven, and help and defend us mortals here on earth. Read more “Homily: “On the Angels””