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.

On Stations of the Cross in our Lives

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

We have entered today into a contemplation of the mighty acts of God whereby our salvation comes: an experience that we will spend the next 68 days reflecting upon—the Paschal mystery, the mystery of Our Lord’s Passover from life to death, from death to resurrection, from resurrection to ascension, from ascension to the coming of His Holy Ghost, and from the Coming of the Holy Ghost finally to the Eucharist, the primary means of His presence among us today. The portion of the liturgical calendar over those 68 days is today, Palm Sunday, through the feast of Corpus Christi, always on a Thursday, this year on June 20. This is the mystery of God, and within His mystery—a mystery that is transcendent of time and space, transcendent of our categories of thought, transcendent as once for all time, a mystery that being transcendent of time and space, has no beginning or end, but is happening right now and in all moments—all moments of reality have within them the life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension, pentecostal and eucharistic truth of Christ—all of Christian reality being made sacramental by God’s actions—within this mystery of God is the mystery of the Church, and the mystery of prayer, and the mystery of our spiritual lives.

When we proclaimed at the beginning of our liturgy, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” we joined the angels—for this is always their song proclaimed to God as the thousands and ten thousands of them are gathered around the heavenly throne. “Holy, holy, holy,” the angels sing, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Our liturgy indeed is a divine liturgy of the angels.

And it all begins with Jesus, riding on a colt. It begins with the King of all creation—Who was King of all creation at all moments in His life, the King walking among His creatures, the Light through Whom all creatures are made, the Light among the darkness, shining in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not—the King riding not on a magnificent horse-drawn chariot bedazzled and bespeckled with gems and jewels befitting a secular king, but riding in His humility. He enters in humility into the City that had been the center of His human existence from the beginning, because to Jerusalem His parents brought Him every year at the Passover; He memorably stayed back one year when He was twelve, to teach us all that the sacred house of prayer—for Him, the Temple; for us the Parish church—is where the truth of the Father is made known to us through His Son.

“Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He taught Mary and Joseph, and through them, us. The mystery of this house, which is the mystery of the Church, is one in which we ask how we are a part of this house, indeed a member of this house, for as baptized people, we are members of His Body, the Church. And as Jesus entered as a horse, so too the beaten man in the parable of the Good Samaritan was brought to the inn on a horse—the wounds of the beaten man were physical and of the flesh: the wounds of Christ spiritual and of the soul, and soon to be physicaland of the flesh, as we. He knew He was entering into His death, by His Father’s will.

Saint Paul teaches us to have this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. This mystery—which is all fact—this mystery we are always to have in mind among ourselves; when Saint Paul exhorts the parish at Corinth to imitate him in being stewards of the mysteries of God, the Apostle exhorts us as well. Our identity together is not through friendship, kinship, shared hobbies, life pursuits or interest in sports teams. Our identity together is entirely rooted in this man Who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross—Who in utter humility reveals transcendent righteousness and our salvation.

Throughout Lent we have prayed the Stations of the Cross at both of our congregations, and many of us in our own homes. At each station Our Lord becomes poorer and poorer, debased and deformed at each station so that by the end, He is unrecognizable. And when Saint Mary Magdalene meets Him at the empty tomb, His unrecognizability is taken yet further: He looks not like Himself but like a gardener; and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus walk the whole way there not recognizing Jesus with them. Our Lord chose for His human likeness to be deformed and removed so that He could be found again after His resurrection—found in many ways, but especially so that He could be found in the poor, the abandoned, the suffering—found in people today who are suffering in loneliness, the worst human disease.

We made our Stations of the Cross, the fourteen of them around our church, not so that when we reach the fourteenth we would stop, but so that we would continue to make our stations of the cross in our lives. There are men and women and children in our county who today are suffering, and in their suffering, Jesus lives His passion. Each lonely person is a Station of the Cross, are we there? And people when they fall, because they stumble in their troubles, that is a station of the Cross—are we there, to help them pick up their cross as Simon of Cyrene was there? And the lonely people we see in our neighborhood—will we be the those who look and do not see? Let us look and see.

And as we make our Stations of the Cross, as Jesus taught His disciples they are to do—to love the least of His brethren—let us always have the joy we share at Jesus entering into Jerusalem—hosanna in the highest. All glory, laud and honor—this is our joy, for the joy that empowers of loving of the lonely is Jesus, and all we do, we do for Him. Because He did everything for us.

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 Saturday Sabbath”

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

We have asked in our Collect this week that our loving triune God put away from us all hurtful things and give us those things which are profitable for us. It is a fitting petition for us at this time, being as we are on the heels of Whitsunday and the Coming of the Holy Spirit, because it is precisely profitable things that we asked for in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit—both in the traditional expression of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and in our local expression, where we asked for gifts that include 3-5 new families at both churches, a vocation to the diaconate, and a game plan to meet the homebound and lonely outside of our church membership but within our geographic parish. In other words, this is a season for asking for profitable things from God. And we should never hold back from the Maker of all that is, seen and unseen, our desire for profitable things. For as Saint Luke records of Our Lord Jesus, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The reason why it is not only permissible but advisable for us to ask God for 3-5 new families at both churches, a vocation to the diaconate, the game plan to meet the lonely, and the rest of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is also captured by our Collect. For He who hears our prayers and know the secrets of our heart set in order all things both in heaven and earth by His never-failing providence. Our lives are always in His loving hands. Just as God has designed the laws of music so that beautiful and infinite harmonic combinations are possible, God has set the laws of creation so that the things of creation—“creatures” whether animate or inanimate—can participate in the activity of God (and this is really what the Ten Commandments are: laws of creation, laws of of creation in relationship with itself and with God) but even more so, be the means by which God’s will is known. God makes Himself known through creatures.

This is the principle of “mediation,” that creatures mediate, or are a medium for, God’s salvific grace. We do not worship creatures, of course—we only worship God, and we shall have no other gods before Him. But we do, and we should, not worship creatures, but venerate creatures. To venerate is to recognize the holiness of God’s presence in things. We do not worship Mary and the Saints, we venerate them because God is present in them in remarkable and even outrageous ways. In venerating Mary and the Saints, we worship God Who was present in their lives, their words and deeds, and present in their sorrows and challenges.

Despite what seems often advertised, Christianity is not an intellectual religion, but an incarnational religion, meaning in a body, in a creature. Christianity has rightly been called the most materialistic of religions because of the high value it places on the body and on all creatures. It is this fact that undergirds the entire sacramental system, whereby through ordinary means—bread, wine, water, oil, the laying-on of hands, vows exchanged—become saturated with extraordinary grace. And the general principle of sacramentality is derived from the Seven Sacraments: it is in God’s power to use anything created as a medium for His grace.

And because God speaks through creatures, our relationship with the created world—our relationship with creation, in short—takes on theological significance. If God’s voice seems silent or barely a whisper, if His presence seems obscured or even gone, the likely cause is disharmony with the local community, disharmony with the local society of people, animals, and land. It is not that their ideals must drive ours. Far from it! It is God’s ideals that we must follow, but we must be the agents for God’s ideals wherever we are. Holy and upright in trying to follow in the footsteps of God, we are also called to love our neighbor, which means meeting them where they are, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

The task of meeting people around us where they are—particularly where they are emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually—is the hard labor of God’s harvest. This is where the rubber meets the rad. How true are the words of Our loving Lord Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Meeting people around us where they are is filled with ebbs and flows, missteps, miscalculations, and above all it can simply be draining.

And it is for this reason that we not only have the Eucharist every Sunday for spiritual replenishment through the Blessed Sacrament, the Sacred Scriptures, and our fellowship, but also the Saturday Sabbath. The Saturday Sabbath is a tradition that has been obscured, weathered over, and even utterly forgotten in our day. Why it has been obscured or forgotten might have something to do with our general attitude towards creation itself—an attitude that too often seems to emphasize exploitation of creation rather than stewardship of creation. Yet for the Church today, a Church that finds itself still in the hands of our Loving Lord, and indeed challenged by Him to make stronger commitments to local mission, to local evangelization, the old tradition of the Saturday Sabbath is long due for a return.

Why do I say so? For two reasons. The first is that the Sabbath is the weekly occasion to remember and meditate upon God’s creation. It was on the seventh day that God rested from His work. And He blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it. On this day, God venerated His creation, venerated His creatures, saw in them their profound goodness. All creatures are very good in the eyes of God.

And this is what it means for Jesus to teach, “The sabbath was made for man.” God made the Sabbath—to use contemporary parlance, he “modeled” the Sabbath—so that in being a model, His children would follow in His behavior. It is God’s will that we find some meaningful time on Saturday to emulate Him: to meditate on God’s wondrous creation, to give thanks to God for His wondrous creation, to simply witness His mighty acts of creation. This is perhaps the simplest way to receive the gift of Holy Fear: to marvel at what God has made, and to do so on any way that inspires you: His acts mighty and broad, His acts small and local. The little flower that opens, each little bird that sings. The cold wind in the winter, the pleasant summer sun. He gave us eyes to see them, and it is most fitting to do so on the seventh day of creation each week: Saturday recapitulates all of creation, and God made Saturday for man: that we might revere Him and His actions.

Because—and this is the second reason for recovering Saturday Sabbath— doing so cultivates peace; the peace that springs from thankful recognition for what God has done for us, for His people, for all of creation; the peace that flows from the Eucharist into our hearts; the peace we need for right relationship with God; the peace we need for mission, because we are God’s agents of peace in Tazewell County—indeed, the peace of God that passes all understanding, that our hearts and mind might be kept in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ. God, ever grant us this peace. Amen.

Icon of the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Day of Pentecost, 2018.

In terms of centrality to the Christian experience, everything we do, indeed everything we are, revolves around Easter and the resurrection of Christ crucified. For if Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins, and all who have fallen asleep are truly perished out of existence. Without Easter, much of what we do would be better characterized not by “Let us pray,” but “Let us play.” The rite of baptism would be an ineffectual ceremony of water, the Eucharist would be an empty symbol of bread and water, and on and on. Read more “Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost””

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

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

We ask of our loving God in our Collect this week something extraordinary. We ask that He grant us so perfectly to know Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life. I say this is extraordinary for two reasons. One because the claim made herein about Jesus—He is the way (and there is no other); He is the truth (and there is no other), and He is the life (and there is no other). We need to have this clarity about our loving Lord Jesus—clarity about who exactly He is, and clarity about what His mission was in becoming Man in the Incarnation. Jesus is the definitive revelation of ultimate reality, and He chose to be born, to live, to minister, to die, and to rise again so that the whole world could join Him with the Father in eternal bliss.

And that is the second way that our Collect is extraordinary—the clear articulation of Hope. Read more “Homily: “On the Way, the Truth, and the Life””

On the Ministry of the Laity

[This essay by Father Dallman appeared in the May 2018 issue of The Spire, the newsletter of the Parish of Tazewell County.]

Saint Paul teaches in the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians that saints (the baptized) are to be equipped for work of ministry, for “building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” He also teaches elsewhere of the centrality of the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity to the Christian life.

The pressing question then becomes, within the context of Baptism, how do equipping the saints for ministry and the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity hang together as part of an overall “baptismal spirituality” or “baptismal life”? What is the shape or pattern? Read more “On the Ministry of the Laity”

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 Good Soil”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10, Year A), 2017.

In our Collect this morning, we petition God to receive the prayers of His people who call upon Him so that they may understand and know what they ought to do. It is a simple request, but we should not be deceived by its simplicity and think it a mundane sort of question. Rather, let us regard this petition as a noble inquiry, one we should always be making, even daily—after all, our Collect contains the two central questions of serious discipleship asked by the first disciples to Saint Peter on the Day of Pentecost. The first was, “What does this mean?” and the second was “What shall we do?”

We could do far worse than make for ourselves a habit of asking these two questions whenever we are in prayer, or reading the Bible, or reflecting on a sermon. Asking these two questions are part of our responsibility, our responsiveness, to God and His loving initiative of coming to us with His Word. The first Christians’ response to God’s initiative on Pentecost was to ask these two questions—What does it mean? What shall we do?—and so we can see that part of the Gospel pattern we are to perceive and make our own is to ourselves ask these questions when we are presented with, or caught by, God and the claim He makes on us and our lives. Read more “Homily: “On the Good Soil””

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””