On the Prodigal Son and Love

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 2019.

The parable of the prodigal son is the third of four parables told by our Master, our Lord Jesus. The occasion for his teaching with these parable was the fact that tax collectors and other sinners were drawing closer and closer to Jesus so that they could hear Him. Christ’s message is an infectious one—His teaching is magnetic; even His presence draws people in who are walking in darkness because He is the true light, which lighteth every person who comes into the world. It is only by our intimacy with Jesus that we are able by grace to cut through our delusions and gain true self-knowledge.

Because tax collectors and other sinners were drawn to Jesus, Saint Luke tells us that Pharisees and the scribes murmured. And not only did they murmur (which in and of itself can be sinful, because of the harm it can cause within the Christian community), but we know what they said: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus was ruffling the feathers of proper society of His day; He was breaking social conventions—He was hanging out with the “wrong people,” those people. That He was receiving them means Jesus was truly present to them, listening to them, honoring their dignity (because they were made also in His likeness, He was honoring, we must remember, His presence in them), and seeking to serve them—because Jesus came not to be served but to serve. That He ate with them indicates to us true and complete fellowship—to eat with others means companionship and total welcome. Fundamental to the attractiveness Jesus exudes is His hospitality.

That Jesus was so lavish in His giving of Himself in love was the teaching He wanted to impart to His disciples. Each of the four parables teaches about love—the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, the parable of the prodigal son, and the parable of the dishonest steward: all about love. But this is most dramatically brought out by the parable of the prodigal son.

The father in the parable is so eager to love his son gone astray that when the son even was at a distance, the father came to Him. He ran and embraced him and kissed him. He did not scold him, or harbor a grudge against him, or make the son jump through some hoop before sharing his love. He just loved him and ordered a feast with the fatted calf be held in honor of his return. Let us run to the lonely in our homes and neighborhoods and workplaces; run to them and embrace and kiss them with our presence, our attention, our selfless care.

The prodigal son is also an example of love, we must also see. He too is also eager to love, but his ability to love selflessly is buried under his sin and shame at having wasted the gift that he was given. Instead of using the gift he was given for the glory of God, he used it toward idolatry. And so his love for his father is first expressed as a selfish love for himself, so that he could live at least at the level of his father’s hired servants. His father does not care—and indeed our heavenly Father does not care either: God can work with any kind of desire for Him, even if it is first expressed as selfish desire—and slowly turn a selfish heart into a selfless heart. Whatever kind of contrition we might have, bring it to God; give it all to Him.

And other son, he is jealous. He loves his father out of pure duty—but pure duty is not enough. We must love for the joy of loving. The other son must learn joy by the grace of God, and perhaps the father’s extravagance towards the first son is intended also as a lesson to the second son—much like Jesus’s extravagance towards tax collectors and sinners was a lesson in loving intended not only for them, but for His disciples watching Him, that they would learn how to love.

Mother Teresa taught the world that this is what Jesus came to do: to teach us how to love. In order to love others in the example of Jesus, and that example is described in the Bible, and as that example is replicated in the lives of the Saints—in order to love we must realize how profoundly we ourselves are loved by God. Our lives are always in His hands—and is daily, ongoing love for us goes as deep as keeping us in existence moment to moment, breath by breath. He loves us like a mother loves her son—like Mary loves Jesus. No matter how often we have sinned, we turn to God and we are loved by Him—He receives us and eats with us: so much so that He gives Himself to us as the true bread which giveth life to the world.

And in knowing how much we are loved, we are able to love others with the joy that we are loved by Jesus. And so let us again imitate the father in the parable, who is the image of God’s love for us: let us run to the lonely men, women, and children among us in Tazewell County. Let us bring out best selves to them: and make merry and be glad.

Homily: “On Seeking His Face”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Second Sunday in Lent, 2019.

We ask of our loving and glorious God in our Collect this week something quite appropriate to this season of penitence: We ask Him to be gracious to all who have gone astray from His ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast fast to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of His Word, Jesus Christ His Son. We are asking for God’s action in them, in us. We are asking for God to act first, and He always does. It is God who decides when a person can bear the weight of self-awareness of their sins. There are times in our life, even long stretches, when we are unable to bear the weight of self-awareness, of truth, of the reality of what we have done contrary to God’s will. Perhaps knowing it was wrong at the time, but in the subsequent flux and turning of life, have forgotten, or repressed our wrong actions, our wrong deeds, whether done or not done, said or unsaid. This is perhaps why those in the occupation of psychologist might never be unemployed.

Of course, God knows when we are ready. Our Collect is not trying to persuade Him to do something—to bring them again with penitent hearts back to Jesus, which means giving them penitent hearts in the first place, which means making them aware of their sins—we are not trying to persuade God to do something He would otherwise be inclined not to do. God always wants repentance, and He is always working and battling in our hearts for our hearts—the heart is the depth of one’s being, where a person decides for or against God. The heart is where the good angels of God battle against the fallen angels of Satan for our attention, for our obedience, for our devotion.

It is not attempts at persuasion, then, but rather our telling Him we are ready for our sins to be revealed—that our community, our Parish is ready for them to be revealed. For implicit in this Collect is the claim that our Parish life—our total life around the Cross through daily Prayer, Eucharist, and devotion to God’s creatures according to the sacred humanity of Christ revealed in Scripture, the threefold Regula or threefold pattern of total Christian life—our Parish life itself is ready to bear the burden of the knowledge of sins committed by individuals or by groups small or large within us.

This is where the story of the paralytic brought to Jesus by four men by lowering him through the roof takes on profound significance. It was not the faith of the paralytic that Jesus saw as much as the faith of the four men—this faith Jesus saw (belief acted out) and seeing the faith of the four men, Jesus healed the sins of the paralytic. Through the faith—the belief in God acted out through our corporate prayer life according to Regula—of our Parish, God heals the sins of those unable of their own to come to Jesus. Prayer, real prayer, is that powerful. The prayer life of our Parish has the real potential, if it is strong and regular enough, to show faithfulness to God such as to heal the sins of people unable of themselves to come to Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, we are able to proclaim to God that we are ready to bear the burdens of the weight of self-knowledge of any sins we have committed—that is to say, proclaim the Collect authentically—not only because we are increasingly regular in our daily prayer, our reverence for the Eucharist, and our participation in the sacred humanity of Christ, but because, like Peter, James, and John after the Transfiguration—like Moses after receiving the Ten Commandments—we are filled with the light of Christ Who revealed His glorious nature in the Transfiguration that the verse of the psalm “The Lord is my light and my salvation” became very real. That the truth of the verse, “You, Lord, speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, Lord, will I seek” are direct instructions from our Master as to how to act, what to do.

Yes, because we are so close to the Light, our shadows become clearly delineated, even in haunting, and unsettling ways. But we are also close to the Light! Let us be strong and made stronger in our self-awareness, in our vulnerability, in our bleeding, in our abandonment of the needs for security, for approval, for control—strong and made stronger, not by our own efforts, but by the Lord Who holds His children in His hands and dresses our wounds, pouring His healing oil upon our wounds—and in so doing, showing us His beautiful and tender face—His face of goodness, love, and strength beyond measure.

Homily: “On Temptations in Lent”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The First Sunday in Lent, 2019.

I ended my sermon for Ash Wednesday with these words: “We enter Lent much like Peter, John, and James walked down the mountain after the Transfiguration—overwhelmed in such a way that provides clarity necessary for proper repentance.” The Church has entered Lent in dust and ashes, not as a sign intended to make us unnecessarily sorrowful or weak; not to force us to focus inordinately on our mortality—rather as a sign of our creatureliness in the face of a Creator Who is both tremendous and mysterious in His power—wholly other from us yet walking, talking, and dwelling among us—His nature being that of boundless love Who guides all things with His hands and causes the dawn to know its place and gave the clouds their garments, Who possesses us that we will be agents of His boundless love, and proclaim through our words and deeds God’s heavenly peace—that frees the captives and ennobles the poor and downtrodden—a heavenly peace that shines from the glorious cross and which transforms ordinary reality into sacramental reality—a universal message for all people that is captured in the simple yet radiant image of Mother and Son: because God chose to reveal Himself to the world in the arms of Mary.

This and so much more makes for the overwhelming way God manifests His glory. And the Church has taught, because it was revealed by God directly, that her members need to be overwhelmed by the mysterious tremendousness of God—not once, or twice, but constantly, all the time, even every day, and multiple times a day if possible. Because being overwhelmed by God is what called holy fear, and time and time again we find in the Scriptures the teaching that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And therefore it is the beginning also of repentance, and it is necessary for a holy Lent.

A good way to think about Lent—not the only way but a good way—is that it is like the walking down from the mountain that Peter, James, and John did with Jesus after the Transfiguration. It did not take them forty days to reach the bottom; maybe it took them forty minutes. But even as an analogy, why is this period of time a good way to think about Lent? It is because their shadows had been revealed in crisp detail, because that is what happens when we are close to the Light. Too often we think we have to struggle to find our shadows, digging tirelessly through our mind, our memories, to uncover our hidden sins—the Transfiguration story sets things properly: put ourselves close to Jesus, close to His Word, as close as we can to the Cross—and then in humility, abandon ourselves at His feet, that through our surrender, we listen. God will reveal to us our sins as we are able to bear the load of them upon our shoulders. God will handle that: our job is to sit at His feet like Mary Magdalene and listen.

It is a very curious thing that despite what must have been an astonishing experience beyond words—Jesus brighter than the sun with Moses and Elijah on His right and left—the Evangelists do not give us any details of the reactions of Peter, James, and John after the experience. It is another instance of what I have called “holy silence” by the evangelists where we would think detail would be abundant. How did these three disciples process this experience? We get an important clue from Saint Mark, and we see it when James and John ask to be on Christ’s right and left in His glory—ask, that is, to be just like Moses and Elijah were. It seems like a desirable place to be, and it is an understandable, and frankly admirable, thing to request of Jesus—and Jesus, far from admonishing them, simply says that such a request is not for Him to grant, but the Father. And perhaps Peter and John, after the Coming of the Holy Ghost later, winsomely chuckled about their request, admirable as it was for the time: because after all who ended up being on Christ’s right and left but the two robbers crucified with Jesus.

In an understandable way, nonetheless James and John (and we might presume Peter as well) did succumb to a temptation—such as Jesus was faced with in the wilderness when the Devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to Him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory . . . If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours.” It is the temptation to prideful ambition with a dash of Envy thrown in, based fundamentally on a very human need for approval. And Jesus, in answering the Devil’s temptation, gives us the remedy whenever we might face such temptation to authority and power: the Scripture “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.” We are to allow ourselves to be prostrate at the foot of the Cross as our service to God, and wait for Him to speak with us and tell us what to do. God in His Providence has all things in His hand, including a plan for us, and it is in His interest to make known to us His plan for our lives: our job is to come to Him in humility, surrender, and openness so that we can listen and learn how God approves of us, loves us, cares for us.

We are told by Saint Luke that the Devil addressed Jesus as “the Son of God.” Biblical scholars tell us that the term “Son of God,” despite how it rings in our ears, did not ring in the ears of the early Church the same way—it would have meant not the Second Person of the Trinity but rather the official representative of the historic faith of Israel—the significance of which might be startling: the Devil probably did not know quite who Jesus was. He addressed Our Lord by saying, “If you are the Son of God” something like “If you are a Prophet like Moses and Elijah and Isaiah.” Jesus, therefore, chose to go into the wilderness so that He could use the experience to teach more effectively His disciples the key aspects of overcoming the primary temptations in mature Christian life: the temptation to need security (the first temptation: magic for food in the stones turned to bread), to need approval (the second temptation: adulation by all), and to need control (the third temptation: commanding the angels to save Him from His fall).

In our lives, we face these temptations in every day ways, and in serious Christian life, they are heightened: the need for security, the need for approval, the need for control. But it is by meditating only on God’s holy words in Scripture that we can overcome these temptations. Because when we meditate on God’s holy words, we find Jesus. And when we find Jesus, we again realize that His boundless light is closer to us than our own breath.

Homily: “On Transfiguration and Fire”

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

In the book of the Bible called the Epistle to the Hebrews comes the memorable description: “Our God is a consuming fire.” The writer echoes the Book of Deuteronomy, which teaches that “The Lord your God is a devouring fire.” Fire of course is one of the elemental things. For ancient society fire was absolutely essential for survival not only for its heat but for its transformational power over food. Modern society, without needing fire itself all the time, replicates the effects of fire in our homes, in our buildings; many industries are built around the power of fire to produce goods. And so the transformational heat of fire remains as essential today to our society as it was in ancient societies.

There is something element also in the experience of fire. For those who have them, a fireplace can be a treasured location in the home where memories linger. And those who like to camp in the outdoors often order their day around the building of the camp fire—not only for cooking but for that campfire experience particularly after the sun goes down. I remember such a fire that would have been twenty-eight years ago—it was a bonfire at my high school during my senior year, during homecoming week. It was in the back areas of the school’s property, out where we had football practice. I had driven alone to the school, and arrived well after dark arrived. I was in high school, as I said, which meant I was perpetually tired and I do recall being rather drowsy on the drive to school. As I walked from my parents’ car in the parking lot back towards where the fire was, I remember how large it was, even from a distance. There were already many students, and presumably adults, gathered near and around the huge flames. I probably spoke with a number of fellow students and fellow football players, but I do not remember anything specific of what was said (although I have the sense that unrequited high school romance played a part). But that is irrelevant—the experience is seared into my imagination as one of the highlights of high school—something both of reality and of dream. Its presence in my memory and in my imagination cannot be shaken.

Jesus took with Him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became dazzling white. This is the final lesson of how Jesus manifested His glory that we have before we begin the season of Lent. For the Jewish religion, Moses had been the living icon of the God alive in Israel’s life. Moses had after all spoken with God, not only on the mountain but all throughout the years in the wilderness. And because of it the skin of his face shone, and the people were afraid to come near him. Only when he veiled his face could he speak with them, guide them, and keep peace and the right worship of God among them according to the two tables of testimony in his hand, the ten commandments—which also can be translated the ten words—of God.

Jesus, dazzling white, talking with Moses and Elijah, now shows Himself—manifests Himself as brighter than all the stars and sun—as the true expression of God alive. Jesus is the true icon, or image, of the Father. Jesus taught His disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” And Peter and James and John were not only seeing the Father, but they heard His voice. For a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” Listen to Him—because not only was Jesus speaking at that moment with Moses and Elijah, but it was always Him speaking with them during their lives, for Jesus is in Himself the expression of the Father; the Father’s Eternal Word. It was Jesus speaking with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was Jesus speaking—anonymously to be sure—also with Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Isaiah, and the rest. Jesus in His preexistence, His eternal divinity that was from before time.

And it is an existence fully revealed when we too see Jesus in our hearts as in prayer—Jesus, in His being at this moment, in prayer for us, for His Church, for all His creatures. Jesus, glorified at the Right Hand of the Father in heaven, with His wounds incurred on our behalf and for our sins and the sins of all people past, present and future—in prayer. In perfect relationship with the maker of all things visible and invisible—a relationship of perfect prayer. Perfect obedience, perfect listening, perfect harmony.

When we adore Jesus in prayer, He becomes dazzling white, His very being which is love becomes manifest to us as an all-consuming, all-devouring love. And so let us, as we behold by faith the light of His countenance, enter Lent strengthened to bear our cross—strengthened by our intimate closeness to very Love Himself—confront our own shadows that can only be clearly revealed when we are close to the Light. And in confronting our shadows, may we be strengthened to bear the cross of them—knowing that whatever our shadows may be, the more honest we are about them, the yet closer to God we become, and our lives are ever-more possessed by His love, and we are ever-protected by His loving hands.

Homily: “On Mary Magdalene and the Theology of Woman”

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

On this Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene, traditionally one of the most beloved Saints in English/Anglican Christianity, three words come to mind. Those three words are peace, strength and courage. Peace, strength and courage are what we ask God in the Collect after Communion to grant us so that we can love and serve Him with gladness and singleness of heart. Jesus teaches us that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. And that we are to love our neighbor as our self. And so we ask to be sent into the world in peace with strength and courage, knowing that for us, the baptized who have been nourished with the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, God sends His grace because He knows that to love Him and our neighbor, to be agents of heavenly peace in our world, requires divinely given strength and courage.

Peace born of strength and courage describes Judith perfectly. Read more “Homily: “On Mary Magdalene and the Theology of Woman””

Homily: “From Whom All Good Proceeds”

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

Meditating on our eucharistic Collects is always a good and holy spiritual practice. I invite you all to find time during each week, even each day, to set aside a period of prayer to savor the Collect of the Day that is assigned for not only the Sunday but the whole week long, Sunday through Saturday. These Collects are the same, year after year. They are theological, yet presented in an accessible way that summarizes the Bible, and puts us into a right relationship with God. Being well composed, the Collects remind us of the importance of dignity in our prayer life, of the value of the right words in the right order. Read more “Homily: “From Whom All Good Proceeds””

Homily: “On Abiding in His Love”

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

Jesus taught that if we keep His word, that we will abide in the love between Him and the Father. As mysterious as that may sound, Jesus appears to have intended that to be accomplished through relatively simple means. The means that the disciples were given amounts to what is called the “Rule of the Church” (or Regula): the Eucharist, their daily prayer life flowing out of their Jewish tradition, and fellowship of service toward each other reflecting on their experiences of Jesus in the light of the Sacred Scriptures—all to find the way to do a new thing: abide in the love of God through Christ crucified. Read more “Homily: “On Abiding in His Love””

Homily: “On the Passion of Jesus”

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

We have asked in our Collect the help of our loving Lord that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts whereby He has given us life and immortality. And we do in fact have a need this help. We are asking for something more than merely hearing. To hear is to process something conveyed audibly as information. But we already know the information of today. Jesus entered Jerusalem at the Passover with great fanfare, and during the week instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and he was betrayed and by the end of the week, he was dead. That is the bare information of the last week of the life of Jesus, yet Holy Week is the time to go beyond the information, beyond the bare account, beyond the story we all know well—beyond into a contemplation of these mighty acts. To contemplate is to behold, to observe in depth. To contemplate is to make our hearts an open place of witness and of watching. After the Maundy Thursday Mass, everyone is invited to watch at the Altar of Repose with Jesus as He is in the Garden of Gethsemane—watching, observing, beholding in depth: contemplating the mighty act of love that is Jesus and what He has given us in the Eucharist. In that moment and in all moments during Holy Week, we are invited to contemplate joy that comes from pain; glory that comes from crucifixion; resurrection that comes from death. Read more “Homily: “On the Passion of Jesus””

Homily: “On Seeking Our Mother”

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

In Anglican and Roman Catholic tradition, the Fourth Sunday in Lent has a characteristic unique from the other Sundays in Lent. Coming roughly in the middle of the season of Lent, seen as the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter, this Sunday has taken on a characteristic of being a kind of intermission or half-time. In England, today is known in popular piety as Mothering Sunday, and indeed this is where the secular holiday of Mother’s Day originates. In England, people would travel back home to the parish church of their youth, their “mother church.” The day has other names: “Refreshment Sunday,” “Mid-Lent-Sunday,” “Rose Sunday.” It was also the only Sunday in Lent when the Sacrament of Matrimony was allowed to be celebrated. Food is involved, with a variety of cakes and buns often baked for this occasion. Mothers themselves were honored with presents, such as small bouquets of early spring flowers. In this season wherein we give a certain emphasis on the Ten Commandments, Mothering Sunday becomes something of a robust enactment of the commandment to honor thy mother—because to genuinely believe is to not only to say what we believe but to act it out.

This sense of refreshment shows up, in a way, in our Gospel reading. Read more “Homily: “On Seeking Our Mother””

Homily: “On Trusting God”

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

We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. No matter how much we try to control of the world around us—the things and the people in our orbit—none of it will bring salvation. No matter how much we try to control the world inside us—the emotions, thoughts, and desires in our heart—none of that controlling will bring salvation. Our Collect pours ice-water over any kind of pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality. It rejects entirely any idea that we can earn grace. We are entirely dependent upon God for everything. Read more “Homily: “On Trusting God””