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.

Homily: “On Christ Ascended to the Father”

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

Our focus throughout the season of Easter has been upon our participation in the resurrection of Christ. We have sought to reflect upon the words of our liturgy—“that He may dwell in us, and we in Him”—so that these words become meaningful words. After all, Saint Paul teaches that we are to understand our selves—our deepest identities, our most real identities—as united with Him in a death like His, that likewise we are united with Him in a resurrection like His. Our identity is a “resurrection identity.” The resurrected and glorious Body of Jesus dwells in us, and we dwell in His Body resurrected and ascended to the Right Hand of the Father. And because we dwell in Christ, and He is with the Father—we dwell in this very moment with the Father Almighty, the maker of all things, seen and unseen, and have since our baptism. This is the message of our gospel today: “Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.” The power that made all of creation not only made us, but indeed works through us.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for “body” is “soma.” And “soma” in the New Testament, including in the letters of Saint Paul, primarily means “a way of being,” or “a way of existing.” In order to teach the Church—the Church of the men and women apostles as well as the Church of today—about our participation in His Body, Our Lord Jesus progressively revealed the nature of His resurrected Body—that is, the nature of His resurrected “way of being”—over the course of the forty days after Saint Mary Magdalene first recognized Him on Easter morning. Jesus in His resurrected and glorious Body is first unrecognizable as compared with his mortal body. His voice is unrecognizable until He speaks our name; His face unseen until He breaks open bread to the two disciples in Emmaus; His abundance is not received until our own efforts to help ourselves are spent. He is not perceived without burning inward desire to see Him, a true need to have Him, and He will not be recognized unless one yearns for peace that passes all understanding.

Over the course of the forty days, He revealed Himself in His resurrected Body—His resurrected “way of being”—quite intentionally and perfectly. Why? It was so that in recognizing His “way of being,” He could be imitated, and being imitated by the Church, He—His Body of love, peace, and redemption—then could be shared with the world. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed” He spoke to Saint Thomas after showing him His wounds. Through our prayer and obedience, Jesus forms us to be able to be His Face in the world—that when the world sees our faces, they see Jesus; all so that the Love Jesus shows us, we then show to others.

Homily: “On Receiving Christ Resurrected”

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

I have had one occasion when a teacher of mine has become a true friend. In all such occasions, the relationship (if we had much of one at all, and of course sometimes we do not, and that is perfectly fine) never moved beyond teacher and student. With many teachers I have had a cordiality, a certain friendliness. But we, with one exception, did not become true friends. And by “true friend,” I mean that in the traditional sense: friendship not of utility (what you do when you both happen to be in the same place for a stretch of time), not of pleasure (based on shared emotions that come but pass away), but of friendship based on deep love for each other, each seeking to bring out the best in the other. This is a selfless kind of friendship, and yet it is also the kind of friendship where you may go long stretches of time between conversations, years even, and yet the moment you both talk again, the bond between the two immediately returns, along with the selflessness.

The what is called the “farewell discourse” of Jesus captured by Saint John in chapters fourteen through seventeen of his Gospel, from which our gospel passage today is extracted, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” This is not friendship of utility or pleasure. His friendship to us is of the most profound kind, so profound as to pass our understanding and exceed our desire. He always has our best in mind, He always sees us for our best selves. He sees us even for our heavenly selves; for although we have not yet passed through our chronological existence of time and space, Jesus sees us beyond our time and space selves. And like a true friend would do and give anything to help his or her true friend in time of need, Jesus would do anything to help us toward salvation—and indeed He has, by taking our flesh and giving of Himself on the Cross, to redeem humanity and justify us to be able to receive forgiveness as much as our repentant selves might need to be forgiven.

The recognition of the presence of Jesus in His resurrected and glorified Body was a progressive recognition. Although Jesus is always presence, and we can go nowhere to escape the presence and eyes of God, the purpose of His life and death was not to make Himself present (which He always was, is, and will be) but available—that is, able to be recognized. And being recognized, thereby received. An analogy with the natural world might be helpful: trees and plants need nitrogen in the soil. But pouring liquid nitrogen near a bush will do nothing for its growth, despite the necessity of nitrogen. Nitrogen given to the bush, if it is going to be helpful, is presented in a way that it can be received, through the fertilizer formula. God’s presence is everywhere and in all places, but like a bush, to receive His presence through recognizing it demands careful preparation on the part of the Gardener.

Jesus is our Gardener, as He was to Mary Magdalene, and His life and death on the Cross is the preparation for His friends to be able to receive Him after His death. For three years, He taught them so that they could recognize the invisible: recognize His words; recognize His gestures; recognize the marks of His presence and the great works of His holy Being. The prophet Joel speaks of recognizing God through the wilderness being green, the tree bearing fruit, the fig tree and vine giving full yield—through the early and late rain, and through receiving back what is lost. Our first hymn today, a favorite of many of us, especially us of British descent, speaks of recognizing Him through the little flower that opens, each little bird that sings. He gave us eyes to see them for the greatness of God’s actions through their very being, their existence.

This is the sacramental principle of creation. The lush wilderness, the yielding trees, the rains, the flowers and birds, and all the rest of God’s creatures—because He made them and all things are His creatures. They are visible signs of grace perceived inwardly and spiritually—that is to say, received inwardly and spiritually. And the same holds for the voice that calls our name, the stranger who meets us to discuss God, the woundedness people allow us to see, and the miraculous abundance, whether 153 fish or the birth of a child, we enjoy not of ourselves but from a mysterious source, which of course is God.

The recognition of the early Church in the days after the mighty Resurrection but before the glorious Ascension were days when the Church was gaining new eyes—the eyes of faith—eyes that allowed them to perceive Jesus in His resurrected and glorious Body, and begin to be able to see Him—that is perceive Him with the eyes of faith—everywhere and in all places. That fact came firmly with the Ascension—the purpose of the Ascension is to teach His presence is no longer strictly local, but in some sense both local and universal at the same time. But let us see that for Him to dwell in us, and we in Him takes eyes of faith, and a heart that keeps the words of Christ, pondering them like Mary pondered. Let us see that to become not present—because He is always present—but recognizable was the task Jesus had in the days after His resurrection. And let us see as well that Our Lord accomplished His task, because the early Church, first confused and perplexed, because full of joy, became full of grace, because like Mary always was, and did so only through the grace of her Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Homily: “On the Desolating Sacrilege”

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

There are times in parish life when our sense of living it is fairly simple and straightforward: love God, love neighbor through the threefold pattern of daily Offices, Masses on Sundays and holy days, and devotion to the Sacred Humanity flowing from our Baptism. This is Saint Luke’s account, stemming from the Upper Room, a kind of proto-parish. Yet there are times as well in parish life when our sense of living it is the opposite of all that: complicated, confusing and full of uncertainty—often through divisions within a parish, factions, in-fighting, and the like. This is Saint Paul’s account of the church at Corinth, which we can see also as a proto-parish. Parish life is both simple and complicated. Read more “Homily: “On the Desolating Sacrilege””

Homily: “On Loving the Name of Jesus”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17, Year A), 2017.

We have asked this day in our Collect for God, the author and giver of all good things, to graft in our hearts the love of His Name, to increase in us true religion, to nourish us with His goodness, and to bring forth the fruit of good works. If one had to find a single prayer that summarizes the Christian faith and our total life in it, this Collect would be it. It is also a very old prayer. It goes back at least to the eighth century, making it at least one thousand, three hundred years old. But that is only when the prayer was written down, so it is probably much older than that. It lived in England as one of the Collects of the Day (although earlier in the liturgical calendar than our use) before the English Reformation, and it lived on in the first Book of Common Prayer, and in Prayer Books ever since, including those of the American church. I point this out so as to invite you to reflect on the fact that in our praying of it this morning, we are doing something very ancient, indeed, with words well seasoned with the sweat and devotion of untold numbers of souls. Read more “Homily: “On Loving the Name of Jesus””

Homily: “On the Canaanite Woman”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15, Year A), 2017.

We have asked God in our Collect to give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of His redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of His most holy life. The entire petition is a fitting one for today, as we are beginning today a long, mostly uninterrupted period of Sundays which focuses on the life of the Church as we savor the life of Jesus Christ and how His life, and acts, and words provide fruits for the Church’s Mission in the world and teach us how to follow daily in the blessed steps of His most holy life. Let us hear as well in our request to God an echo of our request to Him that begins every Mass—that we may delight in His will and walk in His ways. The journey of the Christian life is a journey in which we learn how to walk. Read more “Homily: “On the Canaanite Woman””

Homily: “On Resting in God”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9, Year A), 2017.

Today’s Lesson from the Book of Zechariah is a perfect example of the kind of Scripture the first Christians of the early Church would have used to understand who Jesus of Nazareth truly was. I have spoken previously about the practice of “mystagogy”—of being led into the mysteries of God, of revisiting our experiences to find in them a still greater depth and significance—and the prophet Zechariah provided the early Church, and provides us, with just that kind of opportunity. To do mystagogy is not merely to look at words on the biblical page, and not merely to think about a superficial reading, but rather mystagogy is to enter into the space evoked by the scriptural words. It is deep listening with all of our human faculties, listening for resonances with other parts of the Bible, with our Liturgy, and with our own experiences. Read more “Homily: “On Resting in God””

Homily: “On Keeping His Words”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Seventh Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

We find ourselves this morning within the in-between time—after the Ascension of Our Lord and before the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, whom Jesus promised would come to teach us, guide us, and lead us into all truth. This is a time of prayer, and indeed our nine day period of prayer, our Novena for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, emulates what Mary and the disciples did during this time—devoting themselves with one accord to prayer. The picture of the first Christian community is given us by Luke: the community together in prayer, accompanied by Mary, waiting together in prayer for what God has promised them. Although there are many times throughout the liturgical year that we are aiming outward and explicitly focus on the relationship of the Church with the wider world, this time of Ascension, the final days of Eastertide, has us focused on Jesus and His relationship with His closest disciples, including His mother Mary.

Today in our Novena we petition the Holy Spirit to give us the gift of Understanding. Whereas yesterday’s petition of Wisdom asked God to make us aware of the mysteries of divine things, today’s prayer asks God to help us understand them, that we may be enlightened by the mysteries, and know and believe. We are asking God for the ability to discern how the divine mysteries are at work in the world, and see the world around us with the eyes of Christ. Would Christ look around at our world today and see the same things that we see? It is a question always worth asking, for it is a question that challenges us to allow ourselves to be stretched into seeing things beyond our normal pattern of perception. Teach us, O Holy Spirit, to see with Your eyes, that we might apply our heart unto wisdom in this life and be made worthy to attain to the vision glorious in the life to come. Read more “Homily: “On Keeping His Words””

Homily: “On Abiding in Him”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixth Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

I would like to draw our attention again to the Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Easter. I would like to look at it again because by it we are expressing something very important to the Christian life, and we are asking Our Lord Jesus for something very important, particularly as we look forward on Thursday to the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus and the nine-days of prayer that follow on the Ascension, our Novena for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first line of the prayer begins: “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding.” In bringing God to mind, we bring to mind something about God that He has done for us, something about Him that lifts our hearts in praise for His love for us. What hope we express in these words, and these words call to mind our Gospel from last Sunday when we heard that Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house, a house with many rooms. Jesus knows this because of the love he shared with the Father, since before creation. His Father dwells in Him, and when we dwell in Jesus, Jesus dwells in Us, and through Him dwells the Father in our hearts. As we abide in Jesus, He abides in us. And when He abides in us, the Holy Trinity abides in us, the creator of all things, seen and unseen. The God of all creation dwells in our hearts, and continues His saving work through us. Of course these surpass our understanding, so Jesus teaches us with a commandment that we can understand and endlessly apply: “Abide in me.” If we abide in Him, and continue to actively grapple with what that means, God will work through us. Read more “Homily: “On Abiding in Him””

Homily: “On the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fifth Sunday Easter, Year A, 2017.

Near the end of Saint John’s Gospel, in the last verse of the twentieth chapter, we learn that what was written in this book was included so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we may have life in His Name. And this applies to all four of the Gospels, and all of the Epistles—that is to say, the entirety of the New Testament, all twenty-seven books. In other words, the purpose, as Saint John states it, is the building up of faith in those who in some sense already possess an experience of God however that experience might be named. And so having that experience, we might be better able to understand it through patient reflection on the biblical books. The Bible supports our experience of the divine mysteries of God, feeds our experience of Jesus and His saving grace, and draws us deeper into the divine mysteries. The words of the New Testament are intended as logs to throw on a fire that is already lit in our hearts. Read more “Homily: “On the Way, the Truth, and the Life””