Vicar's Message

Sermon preached by the Rev'd Fr. Donald L. Turner, Vicar, St. Peter's-at-the-Light Episcopal Church, Barnegat Light, New Jersey, March 18, 2018 (Lent 5 - Year B).


St. John 12: 21-33

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

In my previous parish there was a pretty little girl, about four years old, flowing blond hair, beautiful blue eyes, who insisted on calling me "Father Turnip." Her parents thought that was inappropriate, but I delighted in it. That was a special thing between me and her. Furthermore, what they didn't know was that her perky greetings reminded me of the Reverend Andrew Turnipseed, a United Methodist pastor who died in 2002 at the age of 91. I was happy that this little girl brought him to my mind every time she said "Hello" to "Father Turnip."

At the time I met Andrew he was pastor of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Niagara Falls. I was a student at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York, living at that time 50 miles away from Rochester in a crossroads of a place where there were two little churches, one service station, one diner, and one run down grocery store that had been boarded up ten years before my arrival. Pembroke, New York is hardly the garden spot of the east! There was no stop light at the one and only cross road in the village, and the speed limit through the village was 55 mph. Three and half miles away was the village of Corfu. There is only one church in that village proper, the Presbyterian Church, and it was there that I heard Andrew preach. That was in 1963, so he was 52 years old. He was one of the most compelling preachers I have ever heard.

Andrew Turnipseed was invited to preach there on the occasion of an ecumenical Lenten service. It was a Sunday evening in March, plenty of snow on the ground and quite cold, but it was not snowing. Didn't matter if it was. In that part of the world in winter snow is more prevalent than sunshine. Didn't matter, because Andrew's powerful preaching warmed the body as well as the heart.

Andrew Turnipseed preached on the text that is our Gospel for today. His sermon ignited my commitment once again to the spirit of Richard Baxter, who was ordained in the Church of England in the 17th century, but perceived of himself as somewhere theologically between the Conformists of that Church and the Puritans within it. Imprisoned for a time for his somewhat Non-conformist views, it was then he once observed that "I preached as never sure to preach again, as a dying man to dying men." That should be the motto, I think, of every preacher. And Andrew Turnipseed preached like that.

Jesus is a "dead man walking" who says to the crowd around him, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He is referring to his death, which he knows will come by crucifixion, a most painful manner of execution. The person dies by asphyxiation. The weakening legs of the person nailed to a cross are ultimately not able to support the torso, and the weight crushes the lungs. Knowing what is ahead of him, Jesus will pray to the Father, "Father, let this cup pass from me." He is in the flesh. He is human. He knows pain like you and I. So he appeals to God, just as you and I would. Nevertheless, he seems to know that he will be lifted upon a cross for the salvation of all people. It is God's will he seeks, not his own.

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He is first lifted up from the water of baptism, and the people around him hear a sound from heaven. We know it was God's voice proclaiming, "This is my Son, my Beloved, listen to him!" Are we listening? And what does he say now? "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." My friends, he is hanging upon Calvary's cross. His arms are open wide. They are opened to gather us, to embrace us. He will grasp those of us who believe in him. He will feed us his Body and Blood. By his Body and Blood we will be nourished unto everlasting life.

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." Once the Devil lifted Jesus up in a vision. He has Jesus standing on the roof of the temple, high above a huge throng of people. The Devil says to him, "Now jump from this roof. You know what the Scriptures say: 'He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,' and 'On their hands they will bear your up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" (Luke 4: 9b-11; cf. Psalm 91: 11-12; Deut. 6: 16.) The Devil is saying to Jesus that surely the people will acclaim him as the Holy One of God if they see this spectacular feat of him jumping off the roof and floating gently down as if he has an invisible parachute.

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." Yes, he will be lifted up, and he will be taken down from the cross, broken in death and sealed in a tomb. And in that moment you and I will be drawn to him into eternity, our sins taken down into death with him nevermore to be for us our doom and destruction.

"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." Once again, before being treated like a common criminal and lifted high upon a cross, he will be lifted up. He will ascend a high mountain - probably 9,000 foot Mount Herman, near Caesarea Philippi - and there he will be revealed in the glory that he once shared with the Father before all time. We are reminded that he who will soon be lifted up into the shame of the cross, will be vindicated, and you and I who are members of his body by faith in him, will likewise share his eternal glory.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Copies of Fr. Turner's sermons are available each Sunday on the table in the rear of the Nave. He advises that it is not e specially helpful to follow the text as printed since he preaches from memory of the manuscript and therefore departs  from it with extemporaneous remarks - especially if he thinks of a good joke! The sermons are not lengthy. The Vicar had a professor of homiletics who often said, "If you can't strike oil in ten minutes, quit boring!"