Living Baptismally, pt 17: On Christian Stewardship

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 25), 2020.

In reflecting in our parish today on the theme of Christian stewardship in the sense of nurturing, as in Saint Paul’s phrase “like a nurse taking care of her children.” I am drawn to two passages from our lessons today. The first that I am drawn to is the summary of the Law recorded by Saint Matthew, and the second is from Saint Paul’s first Epistle to the church at Thessalonica when he wrote, “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.” It is important that we understand stewardship rooted in the holy Scriptures, whether these passages or others—that our understanding of stewardship is indeed fed by the Scriptures, nourished by the Scriptures because Christ as revealed by the scriptures opened to us is our daily Bread. All of which is to say that while our theme today is two words—Christian stewardship—the most important of them is the first: “Christian.” Christian stewardship rightly understood is not merely one form of stewardship among many, one way of offering of which there are other alternatives more or less equal to one another, offering to the Church as one choice but there are others. We give to our local schools, or causes within the school; we give to local charitable organizations; we give to the local scout organizations—giving to the Church we might often think of as one such giving among many, but that is not what Christian stewardship means, that is not what Christian nurturing means, and our scripture passages help to reveal that to us.

The first is what the Church has come to call the “Summary of the Law.” A Pharisee asks Our Lord, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Although Saint Matthew tells us this is a question to test Jesus, it also reflects a real debate among the Pharisees as to which of the many, many commandments found in the Law is the most important. Some scholars have counted over 600 commandments recorded in the books of the Old Testament, and the debate as to which was the most important was carried on within Jewish life and especially in the preaching of the rabbis; and there was no clear sense as to which is most important. The answer of Our Lord Jesus was clear and decisive: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus adds, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

This teaches us about Christian stewardship because it emphasizes the first word: “Christian.” Our stewardship, our nurturing, is Christian because it is always rooted in this Summary of the Law. It is always rooted in loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind. It is rooted in offering our selves to God, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Him. Our aspiration as Christians is always to give to God our selves in their entirety; to give ourselves to God totally, wholly, and completely; and growing in our ability to give our selves to God as a living sacrifice is precisely what the baptismal life is, and how it is understood. This is why Christian stewardship is not merely giving to one cause (the parish) among many. Christian stewardship is our baptism lived out, and is defined by the doctrine of baptism, such as when Saint Paul wrote to the church in Rome: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” And so Christian stewardship is tied up the offering of our selves to God that only comes from our baptism into Christ’s death—so that we might be united with Christ in His resurrection, and no longer being enslaved to sin, we are able to freely offer ourselves to God, and to God in our neighbor.

This is what Saint Paul is getting at when he speaks of sharing of our own selves to others, and his image of doing that is perfect: as a nurse taking care of her children, that is, as a mother. Christian stewardship is a mothering activity, whether done by male or female. As a great voice of the church has taught, Saint Gregory the Great, whoever begets the love of the Lord in the heart of the neighbor, engages in this very motherly, nurturing activity spoken of by Saint Paul. That is, whoever nurtures, supports, and helps grow the love of God in the heart of another person, that is, our neighbor, is being a nurturing mother of the love of God, like Saint Paul and his fellow apostles. Christian stewardship, then, is being a mother—not only with a motherly voice of love, but with a motherly giving of oneself totally and completely to God, and to God of whom all human beings are made in the image. The time, talent, and treasure we tithe to the Church is nothing more than being a mother who loves, nurtures, and supports her children. Christian stewardship is as we sing during Christmastide: “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”

On Being the Tax Collector

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

Let us be clear—to fast twice a week and to give tithes of all that we get are not at all bad things. In this season when we reflect on stewardship and reflect on our giving of ourselves to the Church in terms of our time, our talent, and our treasure, fasting is a good and holy practice, for it supports the deepening of prayer: prayer and fasting together is one of the primary ways we give our time to Church, and tithing (that is to say, giving 10% of our earnings to the Church) is the primary way of offering our treasure to the Church. The Pharisee is held up as the example of what not to do in prayer. That is clear: yet let us not regard necessarily the activities he lists as in and of themselves negative examples as well. For that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

So, then, what is the bathwater? Saint Luke makes it clear that the bath water is the tendency we have to trust in ourselves and despise others. That is, to think we are uniquely held in God’s favor—to think “I, I am special”—and at the same time to be judgmental towards others as a result of our personal specialness. The bathwater is this whole attitude. This attitude moves God lower that He is. Rather than exalting God, this attitude exalts the self. Every one, Our Lord says, who exalts himself will be humbled. Every one who exalts himself will have a hard and difficult road. And not only individuals, but perhaps moreso parish communities. Saint Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians demonstrate this unrelentingly. Because the church at Corinith is not living in humble recognition of the Cross, is not living in humble embodiment of the gift of baptism, is not living in humble holy fear of the Sacraments—because they are not being stewards of God’s holy mysteries, the Sacraments including the Sacrament of the Cross—things are not going well for their parish, their parish is not healthy, their parish is not growing. Saint Paul’s whole teaching in the two epistles to the Corinthians can be understood as him trying to teach them to be more like the tax collector, and stop acting like the showy Pharisee.

What does it mean to be more like the tax collector? It begins in the recognition heard in Jeremiah, the words: “Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name.” Righteousness means right-relationship, and these words from Jeremiah express right relationship. God is in the midst of us. God, the maker of all things, maker of heaven and earth, maker of all things visible and invisible, is in the midst of us. And the baptismal and eucharistic mystery is that He is in our bodies, and our bodies are in Him. Our baptized bodies are God’s temples. He is closer to us than our own breath. God is always watching us, God knows our thoughts, God knows our desires, God already knows our faults and sins. He sees us when we are sleeping; He knows when we are awake; He knows when we’ve been bad or good. He is in the midst of us.

And we are called by His Name. We are called to Him; He calls us into existence, and desires to call us continually into His love. He, through the work especially of the heavenly host of angels including our guardian angel, guides us, protects us, forms our conscience. Indeed He allows us to screw up; He allows us to fall so that in falling, we are reminded that we must turn to God to properly stand up and walk again in newness of life.

And why? Because He is God, and He is a jealous God Who craves our trust in Him. Happy are they who put their trust in the Lord, we recited. And it is the biblical faith to entirely trust God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind. Because in the words of the epistle to the Hebrews, He upholds the universe by his word of power. And by His word only do we enjoy His mercy. By His word only are we healed.

Homily: “On Stewardship”

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

One of the primary themes of Saint Mark’s gospel is creation. It is Mark’s argument that Jesus of Nazareth initiates a new creation, and is Himself the new creation: that the new creation is embodied in Him. We see this in even in the first words of Mark’s Gospel. Those first words are: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,”  and scholars have shown that this was an intentional move by Mark to immediately bring to mind the Book of Genesis, which starts in the same way. Last Sunday we heard the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking about divorce in the time of Moses, and Our Lord began His response by saying, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” And at the end of Mark’s Gospel, Mark describes the women at the empty tomb as full of astonishment. That is a translation of a Greek word, the root of which is our word “ecstasy,” and it is the same word that the writer of Genesis used to describe Adam when God fashioned Eve from his rib, and Abraham when God was making a covenant with him, both moments of new creation. Read more “Homily: “On Stewardship””

Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 3”

Offered by the Rev. Matthew C. Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 27, Year C).

Today is Stewardship Sunday. This is the day each year when we reflect on what it means to be a steward. A steward is someone who looks after something, protects something. Specific to us, we reflect on what it means to look after this church, and what it means to protect this church. By “church,” we mean certainly the physical structures, care of the buildings, the roof, the furnace, the organ, the windows; we also mean care of the people who worship here; and we also mean protecting and caring for the culture in this church, the “feel” of being here that we often do not notice because it is so obvious, the sense of life, the sense of sacred in this space, the sense of holiness and the active, burning and real presence of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

No mature or even semi-mature person needs to be told that the care and protection of a church’s physical structures, the people, and sacrality requires an ongoing financial commitment on the part of the members of that church. Later this week you will receive in the mail pledge cards that ask you to tell the treasurer of the church the amount of your pledge for next year, so that the treasurer, along with the Vestry, can make an intelligent budget for our church in the two thousand seventeenth year after the birth of Our Lord.

It is said, of course that we give to the church not only treasure, but also time and talent. This is true, but there is more to it than that. Read more “Homily: “Religion and the Theological Virtues, part 3””