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, January 14, 2018 (Second Sunday After the Epiphany - Year B).


St. John 1: 43-51

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

"Can anything good come out of Kentucky?" If you grew up in Indiana in the years that I did the hapless folks from Kentucky would have been the brunt of jokes. Perhaps they still are. Years later, when I was living in Ohio I learned that people from West Virginia were looked down upon. Could that have been, I wonder today, because a number of people from West Virginia migrated to our part of Ohio to take menial jobs in our factories and institutions? Not unlike the prejudice we have today toward Latin Americans who have migrated to the "land of promise." When we lived on the west coast of Florida I constantly heard complaints about the bad drivers from Ontario. "Can anything good come out of Ontario?" And folks, I think that New Jersey gets a bum rap!

Well, something like these prejudices is evident in the verbal exchange between Philip and Nathaniel. Philip says to Nathanael, "Come see a man about whom Moses and the prophets wrote. I think he is the Messiah! He is Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth." Nazareth must have been a little podunk junction of a place. Nate replies, "Come on Phil! You can do better than that! Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" And Philip might have observed, had it come to his mind, that Moses and the prophets point out that the Messiah is to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth. I think this is why, in the accounts of Jesus' birth in both Matthew's and Luke's Gospels, they tell of him being born in Bethlehem.

One morning I got up, looked outside and discovered that one of the large, cylindrical birds feeders I had just filled with five pounds of seed was not hanging on the tree. It was nowhere in sight. I went outside to get a better perspective on what might have happened, and there it was in the neighbor's yard some forty feet away lying on its side, the top popped open and half the bird seed gone. Candy couldn't believe it, either, and seemed to doubt my story, so I said, "Come and see for yourself!" How many times have you said that to someone who doubted your perception of something? So Philip says to a disparaging Nathanael, "Come and see for yourself, buddy!"

By the way, a footnote, just in case you're interested. I convinced myself that a squirrel could not have dragged that heavy bird feeder off, so I set a trap that night. The next morning I found the biggest, meanest raccoon in the trap! I put him in the truck, drove across the Bay, turned up Hilliard Boulevard off Bay Avenue, and let him [or her] out at the place that Louise Hannold - some of you knew her, she operated the Hannold Restaurant a little further up Bay Avenue for 70 years! - I let the raccoon out at the place Louise called "the library." It was, if you remember, an adult bookstore!

If I am to be judged some day for leading a poor raccoon into a life of sin, so be it! Philip, on the other hand, received his reward in leading Nathanael to Jesus. My friends, by virtue of our baptism you and I are ordained to share the Good News of God's saving grace through Jesus Christ with others whom we know need to "come and see" for themselves. All we have to do is tell our story of our relationship to Christ and his Church. God's grace in you will enable you to share your story with compelling love and power. I can assure you that if you are sincere in telling it you will be convincing. Your friend or family member will realize that he or she has a decision to make. You have given them an invitation. Will they come with you or not to your beloved church, where they can hear more of the Story, and participate in it with a community of faithful people?

Look what happens to Nathanael. He, perhaps reluctantly, gets up from under the fig tree (by the way, Jewish rabbis often sat under fig trees to study the Torah), and he trudges along with Philip, perhaps feeling put upon. That will change when he meets Jesus. He will make his confession faith: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Wow! Imagine bringing your friend to this church and their experience, their encounter with the living God is so overwhelming that they want to be baptized right now into the Body of Christ! Yes, on that moment's notice you and I would gather around that font and baptize your friend or family member in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Wouldn't that be exciting?

Jesus has called you. You are Philip! You, an evangelist!

It's probably only of interest to serious Bible students to learn that the final verse of this narrative is a detached saying. A number of different explanations have been offered to explain why it's there and what it means. None of them, quite frankly, is satisfactory, not even to most scholars. But, it's there. It is rather poignant, even to the point of being somewhat startling, so we'll try to make some sense of it without betraying our intellectual integrity.

Jesus says to Nathanael, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." That is a promise to Nathanael, who comes to Jesus and affirms that Jesus is the Son of the living God. I submit to you that this is a promise to you and me who are faithful in our response to Jesus. And I think that what this means is that you and I now see the glory of God in the link between heaven and earth in the person of Jesus. That is not something to be taken lightly. In effect, this is what you and I celebrate every Sunday. For you and me, the link between heaven and earth is made visible each Lord's Day in the Sacrament of the Altar.

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!"