Tag Archives: Pentecost

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. Continue reading

Homily: “On Pentecost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Pentecost, 2017.

Although the Church in the West over the last century or two has not always treated this way, the Day of Pentecost is a celebration in the church year the theological importance of which is only surpassed by Holy Week culminating in Easter. Granted, its festivity usually comes in behind that of Christmas. Christmas even outpaces Easter Day in that regard. But just like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, Easter as a whole ends up taking the prize because whereas Christmas is twelve days, Easter has fifty.

The culmination of those Fifty Days is the Day of Pentecost, a day on which God taught, and teaches in the present tense, the hearts of His faithful people by sending to them the light of His Holy Spirit. Again it is worth bearing in mind that the biblical understanding of the word heart is much more than our emotions, but indeed refers to our entire being, the arena in which we encounter God—where He lives in us and where God speaks to us. Continue reading

Homily: “Religion and Formation, Part 1”

Offered for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 18, Year C)

Sometime this past week, Fall happened. I believe it was Tuesday morning as I recall, just before the service of Morning Prayer at All Souls’ Chapel in Pekin. The temperature dropped; perhaps — and I am guessing and have not looked this up — the barometric pressure shifted. In any case, the signs of Autumn are all around: it is Labor Day weekend, schools have been filled with children for several weeks, the outdoor swimming pools are closed for the year, major league baseball teams have called up their best prospects from the minor leagues, the Marigold Festival kicks off this week, my own family is starting to plan for apple-picking in local orchards—and, well, you all could probably add your own “signs of Autumn.”

From my role, constantly looking at this Parish as a whole from a pastoral perspective, one of the changes that Autumn brings is the gathering and regathering of groups of parishioners for formation classes. It is exciting to me, personally, that this is happening at both at Saint Paul’s church and All Saints’ church. It is exciting because it is through adult formation experiences that we can strengthen bonds in our parish family, ask questions that can lead down new creative paths, and reinforce personal bonds with each other as well as with Jesus Christ.

As I have told many of you, I was blessed in my previous parish with the invitation to lead adult formation classes for four years. This not only forced me to bring down to earth what can be the rarefied air of seminary studies — formation really is where the rubber meets the road—but also it was an opportunity to learn how to listen to God and how He can speak to us, beckon us, entice us—and to do so in the usually quiet times within a small group of adults. One of the many insights I took away from that experience of being a parish catechist is that the riches of the Christian faith are inexhaustible. It is a great blessing to us today to have two thousand years of recorded reflections by devout Christian men and women at our disposal, even at our fingertips.

Because the role of adult formation is so crucial to survival of the Church today—including, I strongly believe, the survival of this Parish—I will not only speak this morning about Formation, but I will do so next Sunday as well—something of a two-part Sermon series. Yet in both cases, I will ground whatever I have to say in the appointed Lessons from Holy Scripture. And so, in that Spirit, what do we hear this morning that calls us to reflect upon the importance of formation? We hear it in Jeremiah:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

God wants to form us. And who would not want to be clay in the hands of God? God has made the most beautiful and stunning things we have seen—he is the architect of everything in the universe—such beauty, to paraphrase our Psalm, “too wonderful for us; it is so high that we cannot attain to it.” God’s nature is Love. God can only form us into more and more loving creatures. It is he that makes us, and not we ourselves. So may we consent to be like clay in the hands of our loving God!

We also hear about formation from Paul in his Epistle to Philemon:

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

Formation is the process by which we continue the journey to have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Without formation, we have only a partial understanding, if even that. Note as well how for Paul, formation happens in the context of sharing faith in the community. Formation does not happen in isolation. Individuals cannot form themselves. Community is essential.

I often base my thinking about Christian life on what happened on the Day of Pentecost. As I have recounted many times, everything fundamental we can say about Parish life can be derived from the response of the People to the Coming of the Holy Spirit. Saint Luke tells us they continued in “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Formation relates to all three dimensions of the prayer life, but it is part of that first one: “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” Our faith in all its dimensions traces from the apostles’ and what they taught of their experience with Jesus, and that experience is only communicated in community that meets also to break bread and for prayer. Formation, then, is not an option, but necessary. And it is also Prayer. Again from our Psalm: “How deep I find your thoughts, O God! how great is the sum of them!” True formation is not learning the right answers on a test, but being thrown into prayer, thrown into wonder and awe.

Finally in our Gospel, formation is one way to interpret the entire passage. We must hate our family members not in the way we feel about them—we are to love our family members—but we are to see Jesus as more important even than the mother and father we love, the brothers and sisters we adore, the spouse to whom we are devoted. If we do not choose to love God and make him our first priority, even above our family, we cannot be his disciple, Jesus is saying. And yet in order to choose Jesus, our choice must be an informed one. All the best choices we make in life usually come from being educated about the choice we face—whether building a tower, fighting a war, or choosing the food we eat, clothes we wear, the company we keep, or where we spend what money we might have. And formation teaches us about Jesus so we know about Him that we are choosing. Without formation, the choice we think we might be making about Jesus may not in fact be about Jesus at all.

Formation is the opportunity we give the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the other people gathered, through whatever it is that is being studied, whether a text from the Bible or something else. Formation can be a crucible that forges our character in the shape God intends it to be. The concluding line from our Gospel reads, “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” That is not “give up” in the sense of give away, but rather in the sense of “offering it up” to God—to place everything we have on the Altar and allow God to reveal their purpose. Our Collect begins, “Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts.” May we all give our hearts to God, day in and day out. And may He give them back to us formed like clay in His hands in an ever-deeper understanding of Him, so that we may truly carry his cross into our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods as disciples of Jesus—always thanking God because we are marvelously made.

Cover image “Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles” by Duccio di Buoninsegna is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

Homily: “Living with Marian Awe”

Delivered 19 April 2015 at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

Today continues our Eastertide mystagogy, which this year at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, focuses on the Baptismal Covenant, renewed by all of us at the Great Vigil of Easter. We considered last Sunday the important statement of our faith called the Apostles’ Creed. In the words, “I believe in,” first and foremost we are affirming our relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. For the Christian life has as its fundamental basis our desire to be in obedient relationship with the Holy Trinity, and for the Holy Trinity to be in saving relationship with us. Our saying of the Apostles’ Creed may seem like intellectual assent, but in fact it is all about relationship.

Today, we pass from the Apostles’ Creed to the first of the baptismal affirmations. The celebrant asks all of us: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” And we respond by saying, “I will, with God’s help.” Now, there is a great deal to be said about this threefold affirmation, as well. I suppose that it might seem like a rather mundane affirmation to make. “Of course we affirm all that. That is obviously what we do as Christians, just as a matter of course.” And if we consider this affirmation in the plain sense of its words, that is true. For we do gather in sacramental fellowship to break eucharistic bread in the Mass, we hear and reflect upon the apostles’ teaching in the Bible, and we pray throughout the liturgy and sometimes elsewhere. Yet just as an iceberg shows only a portion of its true size above the water, the vast majority of its mass below and unseen, this affirmation has much to it beneath a mere surface analysis, and looking for depth is precisely the role of mystagogy, a term whose etymology shows it means a leading or guiding into mystery.

Now, this first affirmation has the outward form of a promise. The words, “I will, with God’s help,” have that ring, and to call it a promise is not wrong. But what does it mean to make such a promise on the event of our Lord and Savior’s holy Resurrection? Such is no ordinary evening in the Church, and so this promise is no ordinary promise, but takes on a special character that must be looked at with care and spiritual reflection. And, again, the importance of relationship comes to bear. We affirm our relationship with the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, with the breaking of bread, and with the prayers. And so even though we may from time to time not fulfill to the letter this affirmation, we who participate as best we can in the Catholic Church of Christ are never out of relationship with this affirmation in any total sense.

Thus it is better to say, we embrace the apostle’s teaching and fellowship; the breaking of bread, and the prayers. To call this an “embrace” acknowledges the fluctuation that routinely happens in the Christian life, day to day, and week to week—much as we embrace our closest friend or our spouse, knowing at times we will be emotionally, even spatially, distant and apart, but never totally out of relationship despite fluctuations in intensity.

But what is it, in this threefold affirmation, that we in fact are embracing? Well, we need to know that this affirmation is taken directly and without alteration from the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, verse 42. You recall that this chapter is Saint Luke’s description of the beginning of the Christian Church at the Pentecost event. And so we are drawn to, as it were, hold in mind today also the Solemnity of Pentecost, just over a month away. The mystery of this baptismal affirmation has embedded within it something of the energy, and the explosion, of the Holy Spirit coming down, becoming known, lighting afire the hearts and minds and tongues of the gathered apostles, other disciples, and Blessed Mary the holy Mother of our Lord. And then Saint Peter preached, “These men are not drunk.” Rather, prophesy has been fulfilled, wonders made manifest and available, the moon turned to blood—we note that just two weeks ago, we saw just this kind of lunar eclipse, called a “blood moon.” And the Holy Spirit was poured out by God upon all flesh as a universal opportunity of grace for all. This Jesus, whom we crucified, God has raised up. And like the first Christians, of this we too are witnesses.

Now in his description of this tangible manifesting of the Holy Spirit in a way that demands nothing short of awe, holy fear, and even confusion, Saint Luke I think discloses to us the parallel between Mary and the first Christians. For just as Our Lady at the Annunciation experienced in overpassing awe the presence of the Holy Spirit, so were the apostles and the first Christians overpassed by the Spirit at Pentecost—and so, at the Easter Vigil, were we. By similar analogy, just as Blessed Mary, at the Presentation of our Lord at the Temple, was pierced through the soul by the words of Simeon, so, Saint Luke tells us in Acts, were the first Christians “cut to the heart” by the Pentecost event and the preaching of Saint Peter—and so, cut to the heart are we invited to be.

We should recall here that in biblical language, the heart is not the seat of emotions, but rather is the seat of the will. The biblical “heart” is by no means unemotional, but it has to do with our choices, our doing and pattern of behavior. We still have this meaning in everyday language when we speak of a person having “lost heart” in the doing of some activity. And so for the first Christians to be cut to the heart means they were confronted, and refashioned, with a new set of choices, a new way of life, a new normal of living together and of praying that brought to fulfillment the religion of their forefathers, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of David.

The question asked by the Church as a new body to Saint Peter and all the apostles was, “What shall we do?” This is a question not of belief, not of doctrine, but a pragmatic question of behavior (“pragmatic” deriving from a Greek word meaning “to do”). Saint Peter’s answer was, also, pragmatic: “Repent, and be baptized.” This, too, accords with our experience at the Easter Vigil and throughout the Christian life. “Repent”—that is, turn to God, lift up your heart, your pattern of behavior, to the divine. “Be baptized”—yes, be baptized if you are not already, but for those that are, even more “be a baptized person,” claim and own the unmerited gift given to you by God when you were incorporated into His Body. Appropriate who you are amid God’s presence here in our reality of time and space, with us and in us, and we in Him. Be whom God calls, elects, predestines, you to be.

It is precisely here, where the rubber meets the road, that the meaning of first affirmation of the baptismal covenant for us begins to become vivid. This affirmation is how we repent and claim our baptism. For us to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers, we embrace what the first Christians did as a body in their very first moments. We affirm our relationship with the Church at its birth. And we affirm our relationship with Mary, for this affirmation but elaborates upon her response to the angel Gabriel: she said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” We say, “I will, with God’s help.”

And so it is no surprise that Christian tradition has come to call this threefold affirmation the core pattern, or Rule of the Church: Regula for short. The Regula involves the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” or Devotion, meaning personal devotional ministry unique to each of us as individuals and as local parish families: how we share in and live out community life and serve the world around us guided by the Holy Spirit immanent and near, so doing in accord with the biblical revelation. It involves “the breaking of bread” of course called the Mass, which is the source and summit of our sacramental life and itself models catholic imagination and eucharistic worldview, for in taking Christ into our bodies we share in his loving, intimate view of creation. And it involves “the prayers,” or the Divine Office, the official, that is authoritative, set-prayer of the threefold Church based upon, and elaborating upon, the Our Father prayer given by Christ to his disciples as a means to address the Father through Jesus.

Regula, then, is the response as a Body to God’s presence and activity. Regula is how we live with Marian awe into the mystery of the Resurrection and the activity of the Holy Spirit. Regula is how we put into practice the faith of the Apostles’ Creed. It is how we enact the relationship with God in whom only can we find true rest. Regula is the repeatable aspect of baptism.

One final point is that the Divine Office may seem too much of a daily commitment. Here, the counsel of the Church is to commit to reciting the Our Father at least once a day, or better yet singing it, which brings forth our worshiping parish family to wherever we may be. And not just our parish family, but the whole Church. Through this prayer, we join as a active body—that is, Christians in the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, with the Saints, and with the Holy Angels in Heaven, all who sing the Our Father. Although we are not to become Angels, we are to become angel-like, insofar as we do what they do: unceasing praise to God Almighty at the foot of His transcendent Throne.

What a glorious, unitive Vision of God that must be! The Italian poet Dante, in his allegory the Divine Comedy, wrote that the sound of the angels’ hymn of praise is like the laughter of the universe. Not as in response to a joke, but as in Marian awe, the joyful response to the ineffable glory of creation redeemed. May we open ourselves in cooperation with God’s grace to embrace more fully the Rule of the Church, the threefold Regula, which arranges the doctrine of the Trinity for prayer; and in so doing, may we hear more and more the laughter of the universe, and ourselves live with Marian awe into, and as, Christ’s crucified joy. Amen.