Homily: “On the Lord Possessing Us”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Fifth Sunday after The Epiphany, 2019.

Through this season that began with The Epiphany and has continued in the Sundays afterward has been revealed the dimensions of the Light of Christ. This is the most obviously didactic portion of our liturgical calendar. It is almost as if each Sunday provides a lesson about how Jesus is the Light, and what it means to understand Him as the Light.  We have been seeing the Light from different sides as it were, and learning about its nature.

At the Epiphany (something like our first “lesson”), the Christ Child was revealed to be a God presented to us by Mary (through her we meet Him), and that He is a universal God, for Gentile and Jew alike—and a God who changes the direction of our lives when we truly encounter Him, because the Magi departed to their own country by another way than they had come. At His Baptism (our “second” lesson) was revealed the public nature of His ministry as well as the essence of God as being Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Through our “third” lesson at the wedding in Cana was revealed a God who works in partnership with His mother, Mary who intercedes on our behalf, and a God whose actions are sacramental: He works with outward and visible signs such as ordinary water and transforms them so as to be vehicles of His inward and spiritual grace. The “fourth” lesson, the conversion of the Apostle Saint Paul, we learned that He manifests Himself as Christ Crucified and Resurrected: in His glorious Body but ever on His cross, that from it may be procured innumerable benefits—and so there become the sense that within the Light that shines gloriously is Christ gloriously on His cross, to convict us and to change the direction of our lives because of it.

And then in the “fifth” lesson, in the synagogue, when Jesus preached on Isaiah’s words about serving the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” Christ revealed another fundamental aspect of Himself: that He is not a political, conquering military hero but of the prophetic strand of Jewish religion, indeed the Suffering Servant and Messiah of the Remnant.

So the Light, brother and sisters, has grown ever brighter. The Light we expected would come in Advent came as a delicate and vulnerable Child to the joy of the world, and that Light has grown brighter and brighter—not merely so that we cannot miss it, but that this Light will draw us ever closer to it, as Peter, James, and John were drawn close to the transfiguring Light of Jesus on the mountain.

What, then, of the Light is revealed to us today? Jesus was teaching the people from a boat—bringing to their minds the image of the Noah’s ark, indeed that He is the ark of salvation, and His words calm the turbulent waters, bring peace to the crisis of the storms of our lives, that our anxieties can rest in His presence and know a great calm.

And in teaching from the boat, He told Saint Peter to put out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. He did this from His divine sense of humor (for He surely knew they had caught no fish the night before), and from His wisdom, for the laws and workings of nature are not abstract and cold but are controlled by God, made by God, and made by God from His love—all the laws and creatures of the world are made aware to us that we may recognize God’s glory in them.

The key aspect is that it is not Jesus who caught the fish, but Peter and James and John (the same three who witnessed the transfiguring Light of Jesus on the mountain). But they were shown a sign—in other words they saw the Light in a particularly penetrating way that convicted them and drew them yet closer to the Light. And it worked: Peter being astonished was driven to humility (perhaps overly so), to contrition, and to adoration of God. He was like Gideon, who heard God say to him, “Peace be to you.” They were moved to adoration, to worship.

And thenceforth, God moved them. In the verses after our first lesson, we learn that God’s spirit took possession of Gideon as he went forth into battle. And He took possession of Peter and the other Apostles, to lead them into becoming fishers of men. We often think of “possession” in negative, evil terms: so and so person is “possessed by the devil,” and the like. But possession has a quite positive aspect as well: we are possessed by God, and there is no greater sense of our being possessed than our baptism, when our bodies become one with His Body. What we must do is recognize that we are possessed by God, and allow our lives to be ordered by this fact.

This is why, brothers and sisters, we face the cross. We come to the Cross naked and honest about our dependence upon God, and our sinful ways despite our desire to love God, love neighbor, and do His will. And on the Cross we meet Jesus, Himself naked and honest, nailed to the Cross out of love for us—that we can hear His words of peace that passeth all understanding, and be possessed by His spirit to have His grace empowering all our works, as He empowered Gideon, as He empowered Peter and the Apostles. We face the Cross so as to be sent from the Cross so possessed by His heavenly peace that we can bring that peace to the lonely among us in Tazewell County, that they can be healed by His peace.

Homily: “From Darkness to Light”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2018.

It is a genuine pleasure to be with you all this evening on the great feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christmas is a time so full of grace and love in so many ways, a time with friends and family, a time for singing hymns and carols. The heart of Christmas beats full and alive, and every year the heartbeat of Christmas—tonight, over the next twelve days, and even on through the winter—makes us glad indeed that the joy has indeed come to the world—and as was proclaimed at the beginning of Mass: the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man. Hail Mary, full of grace, indeed. And hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace.

The feast of Christmas finds us this year, as it does every year, trying to walk in the footsteps of Our Lord, Him always being our helper. Indeed the Christian journey as a whole is a path of peace led by Jesus Christ from our world all the way to heaven. And yet in some sense, we the baptized are already there, having been grafted at baptism into His Body, and His Body being at the Right Hand of the Father. Already there, and also not yet there.

Our walking as Christ’s followers in the Parish of Tazewell County and our two church congregations has been, if I may boldly say, quickened by God’s providence, His leading hand over the last year. And that has happened in at least three ways. The first is that we have been led into a liturgical celebration that is unapologetically traditional in orientation and style. We have embarked on a devout experiment with traditional orientation, with both the Priest and the People facing the same direction—the Cross, so that at every liturgy we ask God to allow us at the foot of the Cross, to be taught by Him as He taught Blessed Mary, Saint John the beloved disciple, and others. And our devout experiment involves the use of sacred English within what younger Episcopalians call “Rite I” and what the more seasoned among us call 1928 Prayer Book. The words indeed are rich.

Why we have done so leads into the second way our footsteps have quickened. The ministerial leadership of this Parish—what we call our Parish Council, made currently of 18 members of our Parish—has discerned a clear missionary purpose for our Parish, and this Christmas finds us knee-deep in developing its shape and implementation. That purpose is simply stated: God is calling us in our Parish to serve the lonely among the wider communities of Tazewell County. And we have been inspired by the teaching of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who said that the wealthy countries of our world, despite their material wealth, not only have poverty in their countries, but in her estimation, they have a deeper poverty than anything she found in Calcutta. It is not a poverty with respect to not having money. Rather it is a poverty with respect to loneliness, and not having love. And so I ask you all for your prayers for our Parish ministers, and indeed our whole Parish—that all of us may seek and serve Christ in the lonely around us. We began to face the Cross during our Mass so that we would be emboldened to face Jesus on His cross in the hearts of the lonely people in Tazewell County. That they would know Christian love.

The third way our footsteps have been quickened is through our walking in the season of Advent through the primary themes of Advent: death, judgement, hell, and heaven, what are called the Four Last Things. Thank God for the Light of Christ among us during our walk, as we indeed were a people walking through darkness. Reflecting on death and hell in particular brings us to the knife-edge of our choices, and whether in even our mundane choices in life, as well as how we choose to be in relationship with others, how we choose to act and speak, we are doing so for the glory of God, or for selfish gratification.

And yet, we are a people who walked in darkness but have seen a great light. To us a child is born; to us a Son is given. God has known us from our mother’s womb, knit us together and covered us with His clothing as He did for Adam and Eve. Our lives have always been in His hands, and despite the disobedience of His people, time and time and time again, He has called us into covenant with Him. We have walked through the darkness of Advent so that our actions are not works of darkness but works of light.

And even more so: we have walked through the darkness of Advent so that having cleared our hearts and made room for His coming, we would be able to find the God who appeared as a Child—a child as small, as vulnerable, as helpless as any child, yet whose whole life was lived for us, and whose first cries for His mother’s breast struck mortal fear among the fallen armies of Satan from one end of the earth to the other. And we walked in the darkness so that dismounting from the high horse of our enlightened reason, our false certainties, our intellectual pride, our selfishness, we might truly find God in Mary’s Child—find Him, like the Shepherds; sing of Him, like the angels; and offer our lives to Him, as His disciples. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous. And may we in these days of Christmas give thanks to His holy Name.

Homily: “On Simon, Jude, and the Theology of Man”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, 2018.

Simon and Jude were apostles and martyrs to Persia, the lands of modern-day Iran. Simon’s symbol is a book with a fish upon it, symbolizing a fisher of men through the power of the Gospel. Jude’s symbol is a ship with full sails, symbolizing an avid spreader of the Gospel over great distances. Besides that we know next to nothing about them, which in itself is a curious fact that I think has significance about which I will speak at the end.

Our Collect captures what is most important about them: that they were faithful and zealous in their mission. And we ask today their intercession that we may with ardent devotion make known to others in Tazewell County the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Parish Council is discerning and developing a missionary plan to serve the lonely in Tazewell County, and having examples in our mind can inspire us and our efforts.

“Apostle” and “Martyr” are terms we often hear, but perhaps their fullest significance does not always come across. Read more “Homily: “On Simon, Jude, and the Theology of Man””

Homily: “On Failure in Mission”

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

Failure is part of the every day situation of our lives. Every person experiences failure on a regular basis, sometimes every day. There are things we want to do, things we want to accomplish. There are ways we want to act, things we want to say, ways we want to be known and accepted. We feel that we need these things, we might even feel called to them, and have been preparing for them for some time. Our hopes and dreams may have been deeply embedded in these desires, even financial livelihood or personal accomplishment.

And yet, we fail. Read more “Homily: “On Failure in Mission””

Homily: “On Witnessing the Light”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B), 2017.

Stir up your power, O Lord—our Collect begins—and with great might come among us. As a bread maker, I find a particular poignancy to those words “Stir up.” When I am preparing to make bread—and this is something that takes about 24 hours as I make bread the old fashioned way—the first thing I do is take yeast culture that lives in our refrigerator, which is called “the mother,” and with a wooden spoon, stir it up. This brings oxygen into the mother, waking it up a little bit. Immediately there is an aroma of yeasty goodness, which is the primary sign that mother is healthy. Now, God is always active, is always awake, so the analogy falls apart pretty quickly. Yet Jesus is the Bread of Life, with a divine power to come among a mother with bountiful grace to transform water, flour, and salt into delicious sourdough loaves—and many more wondrous miracles—so this analogy is not wholly off the mark. This, at least, is the witness of your local sourdough baker.

In the wonders of His love, and in creating new heavens and new earth through the Incarnation of His Son, that there may be rejoicing in Jerusalem, which restores the fortunes of Zion, there was a man sent from God, whose name was John. Read more “Homily: “On Witnessing the Light””

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 the Saints and Mission”

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

As the Adult Study Classes began early last month our close examination of the Gospel according to Saint Mark, I invited the classes to an exercise in which we name significant things we would lose of the Christian life if the only Gospel account of Jesus Christ that came down to us was from Mark; in other words, if Matthew, Luke and John, and for that matter the rest of the New Testament books, did not exist, only the account recorded by Mark. I was not the least bit surprised to see that each class caught on quickly to what we would lose in that scenario. The first response in each case was—we would lose Christmas, because Mark begins his gospel not with the infancy of Jesus but with his mature ministry. Quickly were named many of the rest: knowledge of Blessed Mary, important parables such as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. If we only had Mark’s Gospel, we also would not have the Sermon on the Mount, and so we would not have the Beatitudes that we hear in our Gospel lesson on this Feast of All Saints.

The Saints and the Beatitudes go hand in hand. And if we did not have the Beatitudes, then the Church would have a far less clear and defined understanding of the qualities Jesus expects His saints to have. To be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake—these are all qualities of being a disciple at it highest level. They have to do with being humble, sympathetic, sensitive, finding joy in humility, craving progress toward union with God, compassionate, constant in religion, prudent in search of harmony with others, and possessing the fortitude to endure suffering in a creative way. The Saints of the Church have in myriad ways attained these characteristics by the grace of God. And in the myriad ways they have done so, and through their unique personalities and gifts, they teach us how to be better disciples, because they are model Christians. Read more “Homily: “On the Saints and Mission””

Homily: “On the Vineyard”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22, Year A), 2017.

We have asked God in our Collect this week to give us His mercy and forgiveness. Because forgiveness in the Christian sense happens only through the presence of Jesus Christ, in effect we are asking God to increase the presence of Jesus in our hearts, in our lives, and in our Mission. It is only through the presence of Jesus that we can be Christian, at all. The men and woman of the New Testament we call apostles and disciples only received that mission and ministry because God came down from heaven and walked among them, sharing meals, teaching and answering questions, pushing and stretching them beyond their comfort level.

Indeed, we only have a Church because by His presence among the people, the people are formed by Him. The shape of what we do as Christians is Jesus Christ. God became man so that His Church would be realized and take the shape of Him in what He did Himself in His earthly life. Christian mission is the continuation of what Jesus instituted and initiated. Mission understood any other way may do some good in the world, but it will not endure because it is not of the shape of Christ, or more specifically, of the shape of the Eucharist. Read more “Homily: “On the Vineyard””

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””