On Trusting the Lord and Doing Good

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2019.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Our Lord’s response to them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed” tells us these apostles had little or no active faith, at least at this point in the narrative from Saint Luke. They were certainly filled with an active and robust faith after the event of Our Lord’s Pascal Mystery—His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension—so much so that from the first day of the Church, the Coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost and the nature of Prayer was revealed—one of the dimensions of Christian Prayer from the first was holding steadfastly to the apostles teaching and fellowship, along with breaking bread and daily Office services. So knowing that the apostles were, by the end, so robust in their faith that they offered their lives to Christ, embodying Saint Paul’s teaching of being a living sacrifice—offering their souls and bodies, an example so strong that it entered into our liturgy at the Altar—we can give clear witness and our open, loving hearts to not the end of the story of the apostles’ and their journey into faith, but here in the middle—when their faith was smaller than the small seed of the mustard bush.

How does our Lord respond to this situation? He certainly does not sugar-coat His message—“If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed (not even the whole seed, but a portion of it), you could say to this sycamine tree (which is a kind of mulberry bush), ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Quite a teaching! He believes in them, despite their little faith. He knows they are capable of great and wondrous things through His grace, despite their little faith at present. So his teaching is direct, yet filled with love and hope. There is in the teaching a seed of empowerment that would germinate after Pentecost when the apostolic Church remembered these and other teachings of Jesus, and saw them in the full light of the revelation of Christ.

And why, at this moment in the narrative, are they of little faith? We are not told directly, but the strong hint is that they were feeling deflated, and unable to live up to the high calling of following in the example of Jesus, unable to be as forgiving to others as Jesus would have them be. This is because directly preceding our Lesson is the teaching by Jesus that “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” It is to that high calling that the apostles cry out, “Increase our faith!” And who can blame them?

Later in our Lesson Jesus teaches them, in effect the words of our Psalm: they need to put their trust in the Lord and do good—they need to be more humble and be able to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” And while the Christian life that seeks to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways is rich and varied—for Our Lord came not to be served, but to serve; and furthermore Jesus will later teach to these same disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends”—nonetheless within this rich and varied life of discipleship, there is a place for being a good soldier. There is a place for simply doing what we are told. There is a place for carrying our the orders of our Mission General, Jesus of Nazareth.

Brothers and sisters, Our Lord is teaching us that we will know Him in our humility. He is teaching us that we will know Him as we forgive those who trespass against us—indeed that when we forgive the sins of others, we will know forgiveness of our sins. We will know the relief of the removal of separation between ourselves and God’s mercy and peace. It takes faith to forgive trespasses against us. And yet, the more we forgive, the Church teaches us, the more our faith grows.

Homily: “On Eating His Flesh and Drinking His Blood”

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

Although a number of people know this quite well, I have found that it is not universally known that one of the mandatory steps within the process of being ordained to the Priesthood is to spent a significant amount of time in an internship as a hospital chaplain. In my case, I spent twenty weeks in four hospitals in suburban Chicago, near Hinsdale, La Grange, and other towns. Although you hear clerics often bemoan the experience, and I heard some priests share horror stories as to why their experiences in their estimation were unhelpful towards parish ministry, priests I trusted, including our Bishop, assured me that hospital chaplaincy was for them revelatory and deeply, and permanently, meaningful.

And I must say, it was for me as well. It was never easy, and often unpredictable. My very first overnight duty on-call saw me assist an experienced chaplain whom I was shadowing as we ministered to a large family of over 25 relatives who that night suffered the loss of one of their family members to a kind of brain hemorrhage that, tragically, was inoperable. Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool and having to learn how to swim. Over the twenty weeks, in not only hospital patients and their families, but in the hospital staff, nurses, doctors, and my fellow chaplains, I witnessed so many instances of loss, of tragedy, of suffering and confusion, but also I witnessed joy, love, faith, and remarkable examples of God active in people’s lives, holding them up by His grace. Examples abounded of true sacrifice, and examples abounded of hopeful life.

The highest example of both sacrifice and life are what Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives us. His example to us, being a human example that stretches into the divine, is so profound that it is well past our ability to grasp it completely and finally. This is why we are drawn to continually revisit the accounts of His life given to us by the Evangelists—that by hearing them, by which we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them through their many senses of interpretation, we are drawn deeper into the mystery of Him, which along the way reveals the mystery of ourselves.

“Truly, truly,” Jesus says to us, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” This was a teaching, a hard saying, that really weeded out the true disciples from the larger group of Jesus followers. We are told that upon hearing this, many drew back and no longer went about with him. Some of us, even today, might flinch at the image, at both its physicality and its bluntness. Jesus, often winsome and generous in His public ministry, was none the less never above teaching in a direct and even aggressive way. Being poked awake from a cozy, care-free, bourgeois discipleship is a lesson disciples then, and now, constantly need.

And yet the Church, in remembering the words of Jesus, and taking them to heart in prayer in the years and decades after the Ascension of Christ, began to discern within the hard sayings of Jesus—including the teaching about the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood—wisdom that echoed profoundly in the Scriptures. We hear an example in our passage from the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom, who we learn in the Scriptures was God’s first creation, and who from the beginning of her creation rejoiced daily in God’s activities, invites the simple, meaning those people, like Nathaniel, who are without guile but also yet to some extent naive about life, to into her house: “Come,” she says, “eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” The term “bread” here is a general reference and would include the meat of the beast spoken of as recently slaughtered. And so to connect this to Jesus, the Church saw in His teaching a connection to the long biblical tradition of hospitality—to eat His flesh and drink His blood at least involved an invitation to intimacy with Him.

We see this in the Eucharist, when we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, an event that itself rings on several levels of meaning and signification. Our nourishment is towards eternal life, and so to eat the consecrated bread is to receive into our souls He that is our life—to receive His sacrifice on the Cross, just as the beast was sacrificed in the house of Wisdom, although Christ’s sacrifice was self-offered once but for all time. And to drink the consecrated wine is to receive Christ’s life, because blood in ancient days was always considered the source of life in animals. And so to drink His blood is to receive that life which is triumphant over death and united to God in heaven. Indeed James and John were correct: they could and did drink from the cup from which Jesus Himself drank, and even pleaded on the night before He died that His Father might take away. If this is all a hard teaching for us, we can trust it was a harder teaching for Jesus Himself to accept, and yet fully accept He did.

Our Collect captures all this when we pray to Almighty God, Who has given His only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life. Let us know that as we celebrate and receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life, we are opening ourselves to receive Wisdom, and be received by her. When allow ourselves to participate fully and completely in the Eucharist, we become part of God’s redemptive stream, a river of wisdom, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. Kneeling before the heavenly throne, let us be still, and know in the Eucharist is God.

Homily: “On the Binding of Isaac”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on The Second Sunday in Lent, 2018.

Even though the Sundays during the season of Lent are not part of the season properly understood, which means that we are given refreshment from any fasting or particular ascetical disciplines we might be following—these Sundays are in Lent, but not of Lent—nonetheless these Sundays certainly take on a Lenten character. This happens through the various displays of the liturgical color of purple, the color of expectancy, the suppression of liturgical proclamations of the Gloria and Alleluia, as well as the prayers and appointed lections from the Sacred Scriptures.

Yet the Eucharist takes us out of time, up on the holy mountain, alongside Saints Peter, James and John as they, and as we, witness Jesus transfigured, the Eucharist glistening with a love intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach further; on the mountain with Moses and Elijah on the right and on the left of Jesus, because the divinity of Jesus cannot be seen without the lenses of the Law and the Prophets, without the Old Testament. Read more “Homily: “On the Binding of Isaac””

Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the  Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, the Apostle, 2018.

That through the preaching of Saint Paul the Apostle, God has caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world—there can be no doubt. Roughly one quarter of the books of the New Testament were written by Paul, and it is likely that all of the letters were completed before the first Gospel was written, the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Then, he travelled around the known world preaching and teaching, exhorting and inviting—that all should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance. In a very clear way, Saint Paul imitated Saint John the Baptist. Read more “Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle””

Homily: “On the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ”


Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 2017.

“For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.” The words of the wise men, transformed and expanded into the hymn, “We three kings of Orient are,” words proclaimed around our world this evening and tomorrow, and therefore savored by Christian communities the world over—these words are our words as well. For as the wise men were guided by the star which came to rest where the Child was, so have we been guided by the Light of lights that shines in our hearts, a Light that comes to rest as the Incarnate Word that overshadows our souls, enlightens our spirit, and Who by faith we conceive in our hearts and bear in our minds. It is Christ who brings us together, because through Him have we been made and remade, to celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Epiphany—that is, manifestation or showing forth—of Our Lord Jesus Christ, showing forth to all nations of the world. There are four dimensions of our celebration this evening of this mystery—four dimensions and then a fifth, which is its invitation to us. Read more “Homily: “On the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ””

Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, 2017.

Today we remember and in some sense experience ourselves the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle. And while everything we do in our liturgical life is always in solidarity with our fellow Christians in the Catholic and Anglican traditions, and of course those whose life is ordered by the Episcopal Church, today we have particular bonds of affection with those churches whose patron is Saint Paul. He is the patron of this Holy House, this church in Pekin, Illinois. Within our diocese we celebrate with the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Springfield, Saint Paul’s Church in Carlinville, and Saint Paul’s Church in Alton. And of course we feel an affection with churches outside of the Anglican tradition also named for this apostle, such as Saint Paul United Church of Christ in Pekin, and Saint Paul Lutheran and Saint Paul Baptist in Peoria. Thousands of churches around the planet owe their patronage to Saint Paul the Apostle. And indeed we pray that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to God Almighty by following his holy teaching.

It is quite fitting to reflect on Paul’s conversion in this season after Christmas and Epiphany. It is fitting because in Paul’s conversion we have strong echoes of the mystical experiences of Blessed Mary, Saint Joseph, the shepherds in Bethlehem, the Magi from the East, and Saint John the Baptist. In these instances were profound experiences of revelation. In these experiences was glory unspeakable, glory beyond words. In these experiences God’s revelation provided new direction, provided guidance, provided a deeper level of truth about God and a deeper level of truth about the purpose of the lives of each of these people—truth, direction and purpose revealed to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds watching their fields by night, to the Magi and to Saint John. An encounter with God always changes the direction of our life, and always shows to us something about our self either unknown or denied, and continues to lead us to the very purpose for our creation. Read more “Homily: “On the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle””