On Baptism as the Trinitarian Life of Adventure

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Trinity Sunday, 2020.

The celebration of the Church on Trinity Sunday is a celebration of the Word made flesh, and dwelling among us. Word is made flesh through the Cross and is made flesh in the Sacraments, that we might participate actively in the wholeness of God, which is the baptismal life. The baptismal life—life day by day—is a trinitarian life of adventure on the sea, on the waters in our ship of prayer, where amid the unpredictable waters of life, God finds us even as we call upon His Name.

Calling upon His Name is certainly something I have been doing over these last twelve weeks. And I will readily admit it has been a kind of plea for help. Our social lockdown has been a period the best we can say about is that it has been profoundly boring—day by day with little to do, although some of us were fortunate enough to be gainfully busy with our jobs, and some of us profoundly worried because of being in a high risk medical situation. And then, as if that mess was not plenty, onto to something like the world on fire, not so much because of peaceful protests and marches (which are a very American thing to do of course) but through destructive looting and violence that has set many cities around the world on fire, destroyed businesses large and small (ironically and tragically many being African-American businesses) to compound uncertainties we already faced because of pandemic.

Day by day, as the news got not getting decidedly better, but decidedly worse, I have wondered daily where is God in all this? Perhaps you have asked this question yourselves. Now, the Word of God is God Himself given to us for daily bread, and let it be known in no uncertain terms that the Word of God has been kept, treasured, and fed upon daily in our Parish without fail, either in All Souls’ Chapel, or in my home with my family in daily prayer, and I know in other homes in our parish. And yet, amid high anxiety and often horror of the happenings of the world, perhaps we have asked still: “Where is God in all this?”

We the Church have been like Elijah, who was told by God to “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And we are then told in the story in the First Book of the Kings, chapter 19, “behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” And then we are told that “when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Eli′jah?’”

It is an amazing, and amazingly odd, question for God to ask Elijah. What are you doing here? But let us ask ourselves: What are we doing here, brothers and sisters? The Apostle Paul prods us in the same way: “Examine yourselves,” he says, “to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” The realization that this is the case—that indeed Jesus Christ is in you, is in me, is in all the baptized ontologically, that is to say permanently, is a realization that comes to us as a still, small voice once the more spectacular fireworks of life fall away from present attention when confronted by the Word of God. And how are we confronted by the Word of God? Quiet prayer in our homes with Bible and Prayer Book is a very Anglican way to be confronted—and comforted—by the Word of God. In those moments, we are Elijah on the holy mountain, the world around in chaos, but swept up in God’s presence through it all.

And it is especially Anglican, which is to say patristic, to be confronted and comforted by the Word of God through the Psalms. I sent out at the beginning of the lockdown a passage about praying with the Psalm by Alcuin, something he wrote well over 1,000 years ago. If it has lasted this long to speak to us and teach us, it must have permanent value in it. Amongst his teaching on the Psalms are these: “In the Psalms may be found, if approached with an intent mind and a spiritual understanding, the Incarnation of the Lord the Word, His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension.” In the Psalms we find these, he teaches! He continues: “With an intent mind you may also discover a secret prayer that you could in no way devise for yourself. In the Psalms,” he continued, “you will find an intimate way of confessing your sins, and a sincere mode of pray for the divine mercy of the Lord.” The Psalms teach us how God speaks most tenderly to His children. And lastly, Alcuin wrote, “You may also perceive through them the hidden work of divine grace in everything that happens to you.”

Brothers and sisters, all of this is teaching we need to be mature Christians, and so our spiritual lives must be rooted in the Psalms, for they are the most reliable way to learn how to discern God’s presence in our lives. From the beginning, the early Church turned to the Psalms to make sense of the Cross and the Mission Jesus had given them upon His Ascension. When we pray the Psalms (both liturgically in Office and Mass, as well as personally, as many do such as when they are confused or grieving), we express our desire to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit promised to us by Saint Peter on Pentecost. And in receiving the Holy Spirit through the Psalms broken open, through all of Scripture broken open—by what? broken open by Christ Crucified and Him alone—we receive Christ because giving witness to Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

And in receiving Christ through the Holy Spirit, we likewise receive the Father, the primordial creator of all things seen and unseen, visible and invisible—because in so receiving Christ through the Holy Spirit, Jesus taught the Twelve in the Upper Room that Jesus is in the Father, and we in Jesus, and Jesus in us. Grappling with the arresting and profound fact is the test spoken of by Saint Paul, and it is what it means to truly embrace the baptismal life, a life plunged into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That know and order our lives by the fact that He is with us—through thick and thin, through the wind, and the rocks and the earthquake and the fire—that He is with us, always available to be heard through His still, small voice.

Brothers and sisters, a mind that has heard the still, small voice of the Blessed Trinity is like a person who finds a fully equipped ship at sea, and having gone aboard, it brings him from the sea of this world to the isle of the age to come.

On Speaking about God Present in Our Lives

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Trinity Sunday, 2019.

The episode we heard from the prophet Isaiah—”the call of the prophet to prophesy”—is part of the prayer I say silently just before I proclaim the Gospel passage of the day. The prayer is this: “Cleanse my heart and my lips, O Almighty God, who didst purge the lips of the prophet Isaiah with a live coal: and of thy gracious mercy, vouchsafe so to purify me, that I may worthily proclaim thy holy Gospel.” Isaiah’s experience was a profound one: he heard two angels singing to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” We sing this truth as well at the beginning of our Eucharistic Prayer. Just as we are taken to the source and summit of reality in the Eucharist, where the door opens to heaven, Isaiah had a mountaintop experience. And as when we approach the Light of Christ we see our shadows, Isaiah saw his. And he confessed his sins: that he had unclean lips, and therefore had become lost. One of the seraphim brought a live coal to his mouth, and thereby absolved Isaiah of his sin. And being made clean, he was able to respond to God’s call to go into the world and prophesy. “Here am I! Send me,” he said. And we Christians have savored his words for nearly two thousand years: words spoken six hundred years before the Incarnation of Jesus yet describe Jesus is wondrous detail.

On this Trinity Sunday, the final of the traditional eight days of Pentecost (also called the Octave of Pentecost) it is fitting to reflect on what it means to prophecy. It is fitting because being prophetic is something that Saint Peter preached about on the Day of Pentecost, and it is captured in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. Quoting from the prophet Joel, from whom we heard last Sunday on the Feast itself, Peter said these words: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yes, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Prophesying, then, is something that all will do—all who are caught up in the Spirit’s out-pouring. Prophesying is for everyone. It is not reserved for the few or the spiritually elite. Sons and daughters, young and old, menservants and maidservants—all shall prophesy. It is in fact a kind of command: “shall prophesy,” not “might prophesy.” I want us, then, to ask the immediate question: Are we prophesying in our parish?

This might sound like an odd question to ask, but it is not at all. Or at least, it should not be. The reason I say that is because Saint Paul taught the very same thing to the parish church in Corinith. In the fourteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote, “You can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” So as it was for Saint Peter, it is for Saint Paul: prophesying is for everyone. “But,” you may have in your mind right now, “I thought prophecy has to do with predicting the future, like Isaiah did.” But that is not right. It is true that Isaiah’s words predicted a great deal, but that is not what made what he did an act of prophesying. What made his words prophesying was simply that he, Isaiah, spoke about how God was present in his life. God is present in our lives in unique ways—for Isaiah, to describe God’s presence meant to describe the words God was telling him. We do not all need to be speaking like Isaiah literally to be prophesying. But we do need to imitate Isaiah at the deeper level: to speak to others about how God is present in our lives—that is what it means to prophesy, and that is what Saint Paul was teaching the Corinthian parish to do.

And why is it important to prophesy? For Saint Paul, when we hear another person talking about how God is present in their life, we are taught and encouraged by their words. Why? Because when we hear another person talking about how God is present in their life, God becomes present in our lives in the hearing. And as wonderful and nourishing as that it, there is still more for Saint Paul. He taught them that a parish church whose members are comfortable talking about how God is present in their particular lives, such a parish stands the best chance of growing numerically. And he states it plainly: if outsiders or unbelievers enter our church, if they hear the congregation as a whole, as well as individuals, prophesying—speaking genuinely and authentically about how God is present in their lives—the outsiders will be attracted to the community. In Saint Paul’s words, “secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” Because nothing in this world is more attractive than the presence of God, and He makes His presence known through the members of His Body—through us.

Brothers and sisters of the Parish of Tazewell Count, let us begin this season of Trinitytide with this petition to our loving and merciful God—that the Holy Ghost, Whose very nature is to guide us into all truth, will continue to teach us how to prophesy—that the Holy Ghost, Who always gives to those faithful to Christ the words to speak, continues to teach us how to speak about how God is present in our lives—how He was present in our distant past, how He was present in our life five years ago, how He was present in our life last week, and yesterday. For outsiders to visit us and come away from the experience by saying “God is really among you” is the highest compliment a parish church can receive. And I am sure I am not alone in saying that I want outsiders to say that about us.

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 the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2017, Year A.

Brothers and sisters, we have seen a great light, and on us and the whole Church has a great light shined. For to us a Child is born, to us a Son of God is given. He has been given for the salvation of all men, He has poured Himself out richly upon us. Think of what has been revealed to us through the Liturgy and the biblical revelation over the last two months: babes leapt in wombs, the mute and dumb sang joyously, souls have proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. Angels we have heard on high, shepherds and wise men have come to see the Child, and been shown the Child by His Mother, indeed the Mother of God, who bore God in her heart before she bore Him in her womb, a Mother of God who has felt and seen glory inexpressible. And the Holy Name of this Child has been revealed—Jesus, He who saves, He who loves, He who forgives, He around whom the stars and planets and moons arrange, He by whom lives are changed, journeys reordered, hearts opened.

All that has been revealed to us is wonder and awe. All that has been revealed cannot but soften the hardest of hearts, cannot but loosen the tightest of fears, cannot but open closed doors. And through these glorious seasons of Advent, Christmastide, and now into the season of Epiphany, what have we done but sing? What have we done but pray together in joy and hope? What have we done but reminisce of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, in our families, in our homes? What have we done but savor the holy? Read more “Homily: “On the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ””