Homily: “On Serving God in Others”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18, Year A), 2017.

Let us hear words from the Book of Proverbs: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor.” Those words from the end of chapter 3 form the basis for our Collect this week. It is an ancient Collect, dating at least from the 7th century. Through the workings of translations over the centuries, that proverb shows up in our Collect as, “As you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy.”

This also shows up in the Epistle of James as a succinct and useful summary: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The proud have closed themselves off from God—God does not love them any less, but the proud have opposed themselves to God in their self-centeredness. We cannot be self-centered if we hope to enjoy God’s grace, and be led by grace in our lives. This is why we ask in our Collect for God to give us the ability to trust in Him with all our hearts—trusting in Him in a way that leaves nothing out; trusting in Him in a way whereby we give ourselves, our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor. Read more “Homily: “On Serving God in Others””

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 Forgiveness, part seven and conclusion”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Good Friday, Year A, 2017.

The seventh and last word to be uttered by our most loving Jesus from the Cross is, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The meaning is clear. But why did the Son  of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father, why did Jesus commend Himself publicly into the hands of His Father in this way, when He knew that He would nonetheless have received commendation had He not spoken as He did? Surely He who, only a little while before, had said, “The ruler of this world,” that is, Satan, “is coming. He has no power over me,” knew that His most holy spirit had already the Father’s commendation? Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part seven and conclusion””

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part six”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Maundy Thursday, Year A, 2017.

The sixth word of Our loving Lord Jesus Christ from the Cross come right on after the fifth word. Like the fifth, it was recorded by Saint John, so let us return to the moment we experienced on Palm Sunday. Again we are close to the very end of Jesus’s life on earth. He has been mocked, spat upon, tortured and crucified on the Cross. His garment torn, His Body emaciated—yet the loving words to His Mother and to John the Beloved Disciple have been uttered, along with the words, “I thirst,” that fifth words that reminds us that Jesus always thirsts for us. And then Saint John tells us in his Gospel these words: “When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” That is the sixth word of Jesus from the Cross: “It is finished.” For John, this is the final utterance, for as he tells us of Our loving Lord Jesus, then “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part six””

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: “On Forgiveness, part one”

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

Our Lord tells Nicodemus that “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Our Lord hung on the Cross, nailed to it, as the true Victim, as God’s love for us, that we might be saved by His love. It is for this reason that everything in the Church’s life and prayer revolves around the Cross, itself an inexhaustible source of grace. As is well known, Jesus spoke seven sentences from the cross as recorded in the Gospels. These seven sentences are called “The Seven Last Words of Jesus,” it is a common tradition to devote preaching and reflection to these Seven Last Words on Good Friday services. I will be doing so today and over the remaining Sundays in Lent, tying these Words into the appointed Gospel readings and the ongoing life within the Parish of Tazewell County.

The first word uttered by our most compassionate Jesus, as he hung on the cross, was, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” There can be no more dramatic demonstration of the centrality of forgiveness to the Christian life than this first word. Jesus is asking His Father to forgive the actions of His murderers, to overlook their deeds. Jesus knows that His Father always hears Him. He is saying: Look, Father, at the love of Thy Son, not their behavior. Through the Son’s plea, indeed through the Son Himself, those who were responsible for nailing Jesus to the Cross are made present to God the Father, and God the Father made present to them, through Jesus. Forgiveness has everything to do with presence—and particularly with the presence of Jesus.

That forgiveness is central to the Christian life is demonstrated by how it echoes throughout the Mass. By plainly reading of the words of the Mass, forgiveness shows up explicitly in four places, and it is worth noting them now. There is a fifth location where forgiveness is prominent, perhaps its most prominent moment, that is somewhat hidden and does not appear in the plain words of the liturgy, but is directly alluded to; this fifth location we will look at later in Lent.

The first instance of forgiveness is in the General confession of sin which begins the Mass. Amid our confession of sin—of separation from God—as a body, we petition God to “Have mercy on us and forgive us.” We ask this so that we might again delight in God’s will and again walk in God’s ways. We have lost something of Christ’s immediate presence, a presence that guides and leads us in our lives, a presence that directs us in our journey. And the Priest responds: “Almighty God have mercy on you and forgive you.” When we ask for forgiveness as a body through the means that the Church provides us, our separation is removed—God is most willing to do that, most willing to restore and renew His presence and availability to us.

The second instance where forgiveness shows up is in the Nicene Creed: “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” This Creed took final form in the fourth century through a council of Christian bishops east and west, and so it is seen as one of the most ecumenical fruits the Church has been given by God. Here forgiveness is seen in a different light than it was in the Confession. Here it is connected to baptism. Baptism is permanent; it can never be undone nor can it be re-done. Being baptized in some sense permanently removes a certain kind of separation from God, and likewise through baptism God is made more present in the person who is now incorporated into the Body of Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, that person’s own body now being a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The third instance of forgiveness in the Mass is during what is called the Words of Institution. Holding the prepared Chalice, the priest repeats the words of Our Lord: “This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness is intimately tied into the nature of the Eucharist, and at the heart of Holy Communion. By the consecrated Bread and Wine—the Precious Body and Precious Blood of Jesus—Jesus is really and actually present, palpably, tangibly and sacramentally—and this presence is for the forgiveness of sins. By the Eucharist, we are completely un-separated from God. This mystery requires our utmost reverence, our best prayer.

The fourth and final plain instance is in the Our Father prayer: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Note that we are agreeing to a contract, you might say. The contract that we enter into by our own free will is that God’s forgiveness of us is contingent upon our forgiving of others. Our forgiveness of others precedes, it comes first, says the contract. This is a condition that we place on ourselves. Yet we do so because we know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: it is all grace, it is all a gift from God. When we truly forgive another person, it is owing entirely to God’s presence in us, His action in our souls.

And so see Jesus on the Cross; hanging on it; nailed to it. He has been lifted up, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. And the first of His Seven Last Words is “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” What an example to us! By this example we are shown the kind of affection with which we ought to pray for our enemies. By this example we are shown the kind of affection with which we ought to pray for those that have wounded us, have hurt us, wounds and hurts that are still bleeding, as Jesus Himself bled on the Cross. Lay this Word  in the treasury of your heart, so that whenever your enemies rage against you, you may be able to utter this memorial of the good Jesus’ overflowing kindness. Hold his word up against the insults of enemies, as if it were a shield. If your Bridegroom can pray for his murderers, can you not also pray for your detractors?

Cover image “Crucifixion of Jesus” by Dionisius is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

Homily: “On Temptation”

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

The key moment in the episode in the Garden of Eden where Eve (and I think Adam as well) were with the serpent has do to with choice. What will Eve, speaking for Adam, choose? She starts out as God would have them be, repeating more or less perfectly the command God had given them: “You may freely eat of the every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Notice that God could have not created this tree in the first place. He could have put it somewhere else entirely. But God chose not to.

So let us see that in the nature of reality, in the very order of creation, and in such order whereby humans are actively listening to Him—for we can and should understand Adam and Eve as being called by God and in all situations save one obedient to Him—God in the nature of creation has knowingly placed objects that tempt us. He intentionally puts things in our lives that He knows full well the sign to “keep out” can be a trigger to “go towards.”

And think of all that tempts us. Yes, food, financial wealth, showy clothes, cars and houses—these are included of course. Celebrity, fame, attention—these are temptations. But being in control is also a temptation. Thinking we can lift ourselves up by our own bootstraps is a temptation. Or thinking other people can do that. Indifference to poverty is a temptation. Actually indifference itself is a temptation, for all things are interrelated as has been shown in several disciplines of science.

And there is the temptation to deny that we are hurt when we actually are wounded. I do not mean physically wounded or hurt such as when we are sick or our body is not working correctly, but rather emotionally and psychologically hurt and wounded from a person taking advantage of us. I am talking about an instance of being verbally abused, of being psychologically abused; being humiliated, laughed at, deeply embarrassed, exploited for some one else’s gain. And on and on, including the truly evil situations such as rape and molestation.

From the most tragic such as those to the comparatively less tragic but still incapacitating instances such as being humiliated—we are tempted at some point to acknowledge the wound, but not to acknowledge it fully. We get partway into the process of healing and then it starts to feel too difficult to continue to confront at its roots, so we are tempted to just say, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” We begin to “just live with it” before it has brought fully to the light of day. By living it with, I mean, trying to forget it.

Brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus Christ actively chose to confront the Devil in the wilderness so that we would always have confidence to do the same with our temptations. Christ declared war, sought out Satan, and laid a trap for him. Jesus, being God, and now fully knowing of His divinity—recall that the confrontation with the Devil in the wilderness happens just after Jesus emerged from the River Jordan hearing His Father and feeling the Holy Spirit anoint Him—fully knowing His divinity, He fought the Devil on our behalf. By His will, he choose a full-frontal attack in a cosmic campaign against temptation.

Christ has won the battle for us, in the wilderness. And because He won, He is our weapon, His are our arms, He is our power. However wounded we are when we confront our temptations—which can only be approached, understood, and healed in prayer—we must always win because Christ has already won.

We too must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We too must not tempt the Lord our God. And we too must worship the Lord our God and only Him shall we serve.  God knows we will be tempted, and will never stop being tempted. He wants us to know in our hearts and in our lives that the victory is already won—so that when we confront the depths of our wounds, we know our loving God wants nothing else but to give us the joy of His saving help again and sustain us with His bountiful spirit. Amen.

The cover image “Temptations of Christ” is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

Homily: “On Ash Wednesday”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on Ash Wednesday 2017.

Since September the three Adult Study Groups in our Parish have been reading the book The Process of Forgiveness by Father William Meninger, who is an American monk in the Cistercian order who is alive today and actively teaching. We have been slowly working out way through the book and how Father Meninger presents his thesis that forgiveness is a process, the important part of which is to begin by the help and grace of God.

In a lecture that one can find on the internet, Father Meninger is discussing forgiveness in front of a large group of people at a Roman Catholic parish in Texas. At the beginning of that lecture, he tells the following story, a true story that he had collected during his research for the book: Read more “Homily: “On Ash Wednesday””

Homily: “On Holiness”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany (the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time) Year A, 2017.

After today’s Mass, we break from our reading of the Sermon of the Mount as recorded by Saint Matthew. We have read four portions of this extended teaching, among the first words of Jesus. Lent this year begins later than most, yet not late enough to hear a final portion of the sermon, when Jesus teaches about the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field. There is also the teaching to seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, which is captured in the hymn we have been singing before the proclamation of the Gospel. So although we will not read this portion during Mass this year—for with Lent nine days away, the final Sunday before Lent is always devoted to the first of two readings of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the other being on the actual feast day of the Transfiguration during summer on August 6—through that hymn, we have been savoring at least an important aspect of it. The wonder of the liturgy is how many different ways we can experience the biblical revelation and indeed experience Jesus—through song, through all five of our senses, through prayer, all the ways we worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

That word, holiness, is a primary theme we can find in each of our three readings. In a memorable and often quoted statement from Saint Paul: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” God’s Spirit is His loving holiness, and it can dwell nowhere except in hallowed, sacred space. The People of God are His temple, for it is in the People of God, incorporated into Jesus through Baptism, that the Holy Spirit dwells in a particularly focused way. Although God is present in all creatures, because through Him were all things made, human beings, as far as we know, are the only of God’s visible creatures that can be His temple. That is because while all creatures rejoice in the splendor of God’s radiance, human beings are the only ones that do so out of our choice, because we have free will. We are the only created beings, as far as we can tell, that pray, that contemplate, that reflect on God and choose to follow Him.  Read more “Homily: “On Holiness””

Homily: “Religion and Evangelization”

Delivered at All Saints, Morton on the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 9, Year C)

As I prepared for this Liturgy, and particularly for this homily, I will admit that an image I could not quite shake was an acceptance speech at an awards ceremony, like the Academy Awards. Now, perhaps the younger people here may have no idea what I mean when I say “Academy Awards.” I suspect that is not altogether a bad thing, to be unfamiliar with this annual event. I have not watched this awards show in well over a decade, but who can forget the image of the announcement, “And the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor goes to . . .” and the surprise on the face of the winner, who proceeds to the stage, hugs all the people around him waits for the applause to end, and then breathlessly give an acceptance speech, thanking every person all the way back to childhood who helped that person win this award. A long list! And sometimes the orchestra started to play, cutting the speech off somewhere between thanking the third grade music teacher and that first agent which got that role of an invisible extra on a 30-second toothpaste TV ad.

So while I will not rattle off a list of names, and it could be lengthy, believe you me, I will simply say that I am truly grateful to be here with you all, and I, and my family, are grateful for your prayers, and for the many ways our move to this Parish of Tazewell County, and the Rectory in Pekin, has made us feel welcomed, loved and inspired. Read more “Homily: “Religion and Evangelization””