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””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part two”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

As I spoke last Sunday, there are seven sayings by Jesus from the Cross in the four books by the evangelists. These seven sayings are also called “the Seven Last Words,” and each of these, individually and as a group, have been the subject of much reflection, speculation, and prayer over the course of the nearly two-thousand-year history of the Christian Church.

If we recall the image of Jesus Christ given to us by Jesus Himself—that He is the true Vine—then these Seven Last Words can be thought of as seven “leaves” of the Vine. We can carry the image still further when we remember that a vine, such as grow grapes, are fastened to a structure, even a wooden structure, both so that the vine develops properly and so that its leaves provide shade to the fruits, to the grapes. Indeed our Jesus, the true Vine, was fastened to the wood of the cross, and Christians have been finding shade under His leaves, His Last Words, ever since, even as we are in this season of Lent.

The second of His Last Words was recorded by Saint Luke in the twenty-third chapter of his Gospel. Jesus was crucified with two criminals, one on His right and one on His left. When one of the criminals confessed his faith in Christ and asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Can we imagine the shelter this provided the criminal? Can we fathom how this quenched the criminal’s thirst? As I imagine this moment, I see Jesus looking directly at the criminal—looking at him with the most loving, comforting, and penetrating eyes—Jesus’ eyes looking directly at the criminal, so directly as to be felt deep in the soul. Jesus would have had to turn His head, stretch His neck, something like would have caused Him still more pain. Jesus looked with His divine eyes revealing His divine heart—a heart that has loved this criminal already, and so promptly responds with a tremendous promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Not you might be with me; not, “You will be with me if . . .” Nor is it that the criminal will be with the angels, or with other souls—undoubtedly the case, but the promise by Jesus is that in Paradise the most immediate presence will be that of Jesus Himself. Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part two””

Homily: “Religion and Disobedience”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 20, Year C).

In this story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, what kind of narrative is this? Not a narrative of events that actually happened, in the sense that there was a particular beggar to whom our Lord was referring. If there was such a beggar—and I should add, there may have been, for there is no way to prove or disprove the historicity of this beggar based on the account given to us by Saint Luke—if there was such a beggar, that is not the primary point of Our Lord’s teaching. This is not a history lecture by our divine professor.

“The narrative is a representative narrative: a narrative of what is constantly occurring under the form of a typical incident; a typical narrative of what is again and again happening — God’s judgments come on men and women for their sin.” [1] We see this all throughout the Old Testament. A classic example is the story of Adam and Eve, who because of their sin (their choices that separated them from God’s will) receive judgment. We see this dramatically in the account of the Great Flood, also from Genesis. A whole society makes choices that separate themselves from God. “Again and again teachers of righteousness are sent to warn of coming judgment and a ridiculed by a world which goes on buying and selling, using and wasting, feasting and drinking, bullying and oppressing, till the flood of God’s judgment breaks out and overwhelms them.” [1] We are back to the need to understand the role that analogy plays in interpreting Holy Scripture. We are not Adam and Eve, we are not the people that perished in the Great Flood — but we can act like them in the choices we make. Read more “Homily: “Religion and Disobedience””