Tag Archives: St. Peter’s Anglican Church Tallahassee

What Is the Gospel?


Dear Readers,

For your Lenten meditation, I offer a clear, concise, yet deeply theological sermon on “What Is the Gospel?” by Fr. Eric Dudley.

Coram Deo,




Fr. Eric Dudley is a native of South Carolina, has been married to Belinda for twenty-five years, and together they have three children: Katharine, Christopher, and Margaret.

Fr. Dudley received his B.A. from Wofford College in South Carolina, an M.Div. from Vanderbilt University, an S.T.M. from Yale University, and is in the process of a D.Min. from the University of the South.

Having served parishes in upstate South Carolina for nine years, he came to Florida in 1995 as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church.  In October of 2005, Fr. Dudley left the Episcopal Church to create St. Peter’s Anglican Church.

Fr. Dudley enjoys reading (especially Church history, biographies, and the novels of Trollope, Maugham, and P. D. James), gardening, biking, playing cards, and time with his family.

Leave a comment

Filed under Interpretation of Scripture, Lent, Passiontide, theology and doxology

Exploring the Gospel of John: 16


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Note:  This entry completes the series.  There are no notes for the remainder of the Gospel of John.

“Farewell . . . For Now” (IV)

John 16:4b-33

  1.  16:4b-15:

This section returns to two previous themes:  Jesus’ return to the Father (13:1) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27).  The phrase, “these things,” of 16:4b, seems to refer to the warning about persecution and about the role of the Spirit. “This hour” brings an imperative to instruct the disciples.  Jesus acknowledges the impact that “this hour” has had on the disciples; sorrow fills them  (16:6).  Yet, he also reminds them that it is to their advantage that he is going away:  His departure is not a tragic accident but is part of the plan of God.  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for the disciples and promises that they will be with him (14:1-4).  He tells them that his work of revealing the Father will continue in them (14:12-14) and that he and the Father will come to dwell with them (14:15-21).

Jesus now makes very explicit the fact that the coming of the Spirit will be another fruit of his “departure.” (Note 14:18.)   In the references to the Holy Spirit thus far, it is clear that the Spirit will enable the disciples to carry on Jesus’ witness.  As the Greek name for the Holy Spirit, paraklatos, suggests, however, the nature of this witness is both positive and negative.   Just as Jesus’ witness has had an accusatory dimension, so will that of the paraklatos.  Because of the Holy Spirit, the witness of the disciples will have a prosecuting dimension:  They will be pointing out what is wrong with the world.  The language here is juridical in nature.  The Spirit will secure convictions against the world on three counts:

First, the Spirit will convict the world sin — the sin of unbelief.

Second, the Spirit will convict the world for the wrong judgment it made about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will make it clear that the world’s verdict on Jesus was wrong and that God has reversed the verdict.

Third, the Spirit will convict the world because He will convict the ruler of the world.  (Note 12:31 and 16:11.)  The witness of the Spirit results in a reversal of values and undermines the world’s basic assumptions.  But this witness of the Spirit, against the world, is ultimately for the world, as the Spirit-nourished witness of the disciples anticipates the final judgment.

16:12-15 returns to the theme of the Spirit’s work.   Because the disciples cannot receive all that Jesus wishes to impart to them, the Spirit will come to “guide you into all the truth” (16:13).  Here, the word “truth” is not an idea or a set of ideas but is Jesus himself (14:6).  Like Jesus, the Spirit will not speak on his own authority but on that of the Father and, just as Jesus has glorified the Father, so the Spirit will glorify Jesus.   Once again, it is clear that the Spirit does not impart random and independent revelations but gives to the disciples what Jesus has given to him (16:15).

(2) 16: 16-24:

This section continues the theme that emphasizes Jesus’ going away as a good thing but without reference to the Holy Spirit.   Jesus’ going to the Father (16:17) means that his disciples will not see him for a time but then, later, they will see him.  The disciples will see him after the resurrection and this will have a decisive effect upon them.  It is clear that the disciples themselves have not grasped this important point (16:17).  Having failed to grasp this point, they are also unable to understand the promise that Jesus leaves with them:  “your sorrow will turn into joy” (16:20).  The resurrection will bring about a great reversal.  The metaphor in 16:21 is important and Isaiah 26:16-21; 66:7-17 provides the metaphor:  It describes the travail of Israel which, when Israel passes through it, leads to salvation.  In contrast to the present moment, there will come a time, after the resurrection, in which the burden of the lack of understanding of the disciples will lift (16:23):  They will understand the reversal that God has brought about and what it means for Jesus to return to the Father.   And because of their intimate relationship with Jesus, the Father will grant to the disciples his assistance, in carrying on Jesus’ witness (16:23).

(3) 16:25-33:

16:25  probably refers back to texts like 14:25-26 and, thus, to the work of the Spirit.   After the passing of  “this hour,” the Spirit will interpret for the disciples what has happened and what these events mean.  A summary of this interpretation follows, in 16:26-28:  The clear implication is that this Gospel is the fruit of the interpretive work of the Spirit:  It was imperative  for the Spirit to undertake this work before the writing of this text.  (Note 20:31.)  The understanding to come stands in stark contrast with current incomprehension, as 16:29-30 expresses.  As Jesus’ question in 16:31 implies, the disciples do not yet really believe and will manifest this unbelief, when they scatter and  when they “will leave me alone.”  In fleeing from arrest, in abandoning Jesus, the disciples do not show that they have lost their faith — for they do not yet actually possess it:  This faith comes later.  Even in his state of abandonment, however, Jesus is not alone, “for the Father is with me” (16:32).  The final statement of this whole discourse in 16:33 summarizes the whole in that, ironically, Jesus’ departure will be the foundation of the disciples’ peace — a peace that is not merely a subjective feeling.  It is precisely Jesus’ victory, his return to the Father, which establishes the victory of God.  The disciples, through the Spirit, will know that Jesus has overcome the world and this reality will be the foundation of an eschatological peace — a peace that will be present, even in the midst of persecution.

Questions for Reflection

(1) In what ways does the Holy Spirit bear witness to Jesus today? How do we discern this witness?

(2) In what ways does Jesus’ victory over the world give us peace? What are some ways in which we can live more fully into this peace?

Leave a comment

Filed under discipleship, Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John, theology and doxology

Exploring the Gospel of John: 15


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Farewell . . . For Now (III)

John 15:1-27

(1) 15:1-17:

(a) 15:1-11:

Jesus identifies himself as the vine and the Father as the vinedresser.  This identification draws upon an important image from the Old Testament:  the image of Israel as God’s vineyard or God’s vine (Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Psalm 80:8-19; Jeremiah 2:21; 6:9; 8:13; 12.10).  Identifying Israel as the vineyard or vine automatically identifies God as the vineyard owner or the one who cultivates the vines.  By so identifying himself, Jesus makes it clear that he is the true representative of Israel.  This identification also means that it is Jesus who establishes the connection between the vine’s branches (Jesus’ disciples) and the vinedresser (God).

15:2 introduces two important themes, with respect to God’s relation to his people:

The first theme is judgment upon the vine branches that bear no fruit: fruitfulness is clearly a criterion of God’s judgment, in that God expects his people to bear fruit.

The second follows on the first:  God not only removes the unfruitful branches but he also prunes the fruitful branches to make them even more fruitful; the importance of fruitfulness is again emphasized.  “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (15:3).  The theme of being clean first appeared in 13:10, where Jesus pronounces that the disciples are clean (with the exception of Judas).  What Jesus seems to mean is that his teaching has cleansed the disciples and has placed them in a relationship with him, so as to enable them to bear fruit.  There is no question here of the disciples having some kind of “independence” from Jesus, as if their cleansing was a one-time event, which then enabled them to do things on their own.  The language of “abiding” completely undercuts all thought of independence and demands fruitfulness.  “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (15:4)

What the language offers here is something of an equation, which offends modern ears:  complete dependence upon Jesus = fruitfulness.  It is important to notice that the vine / vinedresser imagery is a perfect way of restating the theme of Chapter 14:  that Jesus’ work of bearing witness to the Father will continue in the disciples.  The “work” of the vine is carried out in its branches, the bearing of “fruit” (grapes).  Lest there be any doubt about this, we have the blunt admonition that “apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).  The theme of judgment on unfruitful branches, first hinted at in 15:2, returns in a way that is unmistakable, in 15:6.  This imagery, too, has its source in the Old Testament (note particularly Ezekiel 15).

15:7 returns to the theme of prayer, which 14.3 first introduced, but makes more clear the link between obedience and answered prayer:  “If you abide in me . . .” clearly refers to obedience to Jesus’ teaching, as 15.10 makes clear.   Note the balance between “keeping my commandments” and “abiding in my love” and Jesus’ keeping of his Father’s commandments and abiding in his Father’s love.  The point is that if Jesus had not been obedient to the Father’s mission and had, finally, avoided the cross, there would be no grounds to say that the Son loves the Father.   Likewise, obedience to the Son is the emblem of abiding in his love.  The mission of the disciples and the mission of Jesus parallel each other, in that the fruitfulness of the disciples’ mission glorifies the Father, just as the fruitfulness of Jesus’ mission does the same thing (15:8).  But this obedience and fruitfulness is not a joyless burden — because Jesus will bring to the disciples the same love that he has from his Father (15:9).  It is precisely by “abiding” in the vine that the disciples will experience a joy that is “full” (15:11).

(b) 15:12-17:

15:12 essentially repeats 13:34.  Once again, the readers understand that central characteristic of the Church is the willingness of Jesus’ followers to embody the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.  Their love is rooted in his.  The richness of Jesus’ love, mentioned in 15:13, is explicated in 15:15.  While Jesus is their superior, he has made the disciples into his friends; they are no longer simply servants who follow instructions simply because they come from the superior.  Rather than simply following instructions, the disciples are to know what Jesus’ intentions are.  Jesus has not kept aside some “secret knowledge” for himself that he is keeping from the disciples but “all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (15:15).  15:16 emphasizes the experience of Israel:  that it is God who calls the disciples; it is God’s prior action which creates Israel and then the Church, neither of which is a volunteer organization.  While God calls the disciples to bear fruit, their fruit bearing is dependant upon their continuing relationship to Jesus and upon the fact that it is his intention and purpose: what is involved here is more than human religiosity and effectiveness.

(2) 15:18-16:4:

The “world” which hates Jesus is not simply everything around us.  John uses “world” (kosmos) in a very strict sense to mean “those structures and orders of creation that are opposed to God.”   Another sign of the disciples’ conformity to Jesus’ mission (in addition to self sacrificial love) is the response of the world’s hatred.  The theme of calling re-emerges here (see 15:16):  “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (15:19).  Notice that this calls for a shift in thinking.  When they experience the ill-will of the world, the disciples are not to wonder about their “effectiveness” but to be aware that this is a sign of their conformity to Jesus’ mission.  The disciples must live in a situation in which the response to their word is just as mixed as the response to Jesus’ word.  The disciples (10:20) should expect both persecution and obedience. The disciples will face opposition but they will not take it personally, since they will face opposition for the very same reason that Jesus faced opposition: “because they do not know him who sent me.” (15:20)

Because the disciples carry on Jesus’ mission, with Jesus in their midst, the rejection of them is a rejection of the one who sent them:  “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me” (13:20).  The same principle applies to rejection: “Whoever hates me hates my Father also” (15:23).  15:24 represents the negative aspect of Jesus’ ministry.  He has come primarily to do the Father’s works but for those who reject what he does, judgment has occurred because to reject the one sent by the Father is to reject the Father and, thus, to hate him.  Jesus’ witness makes sin impossible to cover up or ignore.

The phrase “they hated me without cause” (15:25) is from the Greek version of Psalms 35:19 and 69:4.  The purpose of this citation is to show that the rejection of Jesus is part of the will of the Father, though this in no way diminishes the culpability of those who reject him.  We should not view the human rejection of Jesus as indicating the divine rejection of Jesus — only that such a rejection by Israel was foreseen.

In 15:26-27, we return to the theme of the Holy Spirit, already mentioned in 14:15-17, 25-26.  Once again, the Spirit is connected to the witness of the Church.  In accord with Deuteronomy 17:6, which requires two witnesses to establish something, there will be two witnesses to Jesus: the disciples and the Spirit.  It is the Spirit who enables the Church to bear a fruitful witness, even with the hatred of the world directed against it.

The final sub-section of this section, 16:1-4, makes it clear why the disciples are being told all this.  This discourse is aimed at preparing the disciples so that, in the fact of persecution and hostility, they will not fall away into apostasy.

Questions for Reflection

(1)  Are Christians persecuted in any way in our culture?  Have you ever had to deal with persecution?

(2)  In what ways can we manifest joy, even in the midst of difficulty?

Leave a comment

Filed under discipleship, Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John, theology and doxology

What Is the Eucharist?



Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013

At St. Peter’s Anglican Church Tallahassee:
The penitential service of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, February 13, and encompasses the forty days before Easter [March 31.]

Ash Wednesday Services with the Imposition of Ashes will be held at 12:10 and 7:00 pm on the 13th.  There will be no Wednesday night dinner or classes that evening.

 Dear Readers: 

Here is a Lenten meditation, in the form of a sermon, by the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty.

This sermon is a concise yet deeply theological reflection on the meaning of the Last Supper and the Eucharist.

Click here: “What Is the Eucharist?”  to listen to the sermon.

Or, click here:  


Coram Deo,


The text is Luke 22.14-23: [English Standard Version]

14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him.

15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 

16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 

17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 

18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 

19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

 21 But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 

22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”

23 And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.


The Rev. Dr. Michael Petty
St. Peter’s Anglican Church [www.saint-peters.net]
Fr. Michael Petty is a native of West Virginia and grew up in Houston.  He was educated at Austin College (B.A.) and Vanderbilt University (M.Div., M.A., Ph.D.)
During his over twenty years of ordained ministry, he has served a large suburban congregation, a campus ministry at a medical school, and a hospital chaplaincy.
He has served as Associate Rector for Adult Education,  since St. Peter’s was founded in 2005.
In addition to pastoral ministry, Fr. Petty has served as an adjunct faculty member at the Perkins School of Theology (Southern Methodist University), Nashotah House Theological Seminary and the Center for Biblical Studies in Tallahassee.
He is the author of  A Faith That Loves the Earth: The Ecological Theology of Karl Rahner, published by the University Press of America.
He is married to Sara Clausen and they have a son, Graham.

Leave a comment

Filed under Communion, Eucharist, Lent, Liturgy, theology and doxology

Exploring the Gospel of John: 2


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church


John 2:1-12

A Wedding, As Sign and Glory

1. In John 1:43-51, Nathanael is amazed at Jesus’ knowledge of him:  knowledge that he interprets to be supernatural (1:49).  Jesus tells him,  “You will see greater things than these” (1:50) [and it appears that what happens here is intended.]

2. The time reference in 2:1 (“On the third day”) is a bit vague -–third day counting from when?  This could be a reference to Exodus 19:11, where God comes down on Mt. Sinai on “the third day” and reveals his glory.  In this Gospel, Jesus’ actions are often presented as being parallel to significant Old Testament events.  In light of 2:11, the connection with Exodus 19:11 seems to fit since, in Exodus 19, God reveals himself for the first time to his liberated people and, in 2.11, Jesus performs his first sign for his disciples.

3. The context of this first sign is important – a wedding.  The opportunity for the sign comes at a moment of crisis:  the wedding guests have exhausted the supply of wine.  Weddings were not simply private affairs but often involved an entire village and could last for several days.  Running out of wine would have exposed the groom to a loss of honor and this was a very serious matter, in a culture bound together by reciprocal obligations.   What for us might be a failure of planning would be, for this culture, a shaming of the guests, bringing dishonor upon the host.  This is no mere faux pax.

4. The text does not tell us why Jesus’ mother (this Gospel does not mention her name) brings this to the attention of Jesus.  Does she have some responsibility at the wedding or does she believe that he is capable of resolving the crisis?  Her instructions to the servants in 2:5 are open to either — or both — possibilities.  Certainly, her command shows her to be a model of belief – she trustfully places everything under her Son’s authority.

5. We are surprised at Jesus’ brusque response to Mary in 2:4.   It is not disrespectful but it is distancing and the phrase, “My hour has not yet come” explains the distance.  In this Gospel, Jesus’ “hour” is his glorification, which takes place in his Crucifixion and Resurrection (7:30; 8:20; 12:27-28; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1).   The point is that the heavenly Father dictates Jesus’ actions  — not human requests (not even the request of his mother).   As in the case of Lazarus’ illness and death in John 11, Jesus responds to situations but he responds in his own terms.  Mary’s instructions to the servants seem to indicate that she does not expect to control her Son.

6. Jesus says, in 2:4, that his “hour” has not yet come — yet in 2:7, he takes action to solve the wine dilemma.  Has something changed?  Has Jesus’ “hour” now come?  We should probably see Jesus’ actions, not as a delayed response to Mary’s request, but as a proleptic manifestation of his “hour”– here, the “hour” is prefigured.

7. The number and purpose of the water jars in 2:6 is significant:  Six is a number indicating insufficiency or incompleteness (thus, in Genesis 1, Creation takes place over seven days).  The jars hold water for the various rites of purification.  The fact that these jars are filled with water and then transformed into wine clearly carries with it both the notion of abundance and the notion of the transformation of the old.  Jesus will bring in abundance what the Jewish rites of purification now only hint at.  In the Old Testament, the abundance of wine (always associated with God’s goodness and generosity in Judaism) is associated with the Messianic time (Amos 9:13-14; Isaiah 25:6; Jeremiah 31:12: Joel 3:18).  This is a sign in advance of what Jesus “hour” will bring about, the abundant cleansing and restoration, which is the time of the Messiah, the pouring out of God’s generous gifts.   The theme of Jesus replacing various Jewish institutions and feasts is a significant one in this Gospel.  In 2:13-22, for example, we see how Jesus fulfills and replaces the Temple.  For John, Jesus gathers together all the various threads of Judaism into a unity and brings them to their fulfillment.

8.  One can read, on several levels, the response of the steward of the feast, to the miraculous wine in 2:10 (as one can read a great deal of this Gospel on several levels).  At one level, the text makes clear that Jesus had not only saved the bridegroom’s honor but has actually enhanced it.  The best wine is served at this wedding at a time when – how shall we say it? – the faculties of the guests are impaired. What generosity!  The best has come last!  On another level, this underscores the sequence of salvation:  The best has not come first (Moses) but has been saved for the end (Jesus).  Much of the Gospel of John is devoted to getting this sequence right.

9. The context of this sign is rich with symbolism -– a wedding.  The wedding is a favored image, describing Israel’s eschatological fulfillment.  One day, God will rejoice over Israel, as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride (Isaiah 62:4-5).  Jesus also uses the image of a wedding feast to depict the coming of the Messiah in Matthew 8:11, Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 22:16-18.  Note the same imagery in Revelation 19, where we find the wedding feast of the Lamb.

10. This was the first of Jesus’ signs.  This is this Gospel’s technical term for Jesus’ deeds.  Not coincidently, the Gospel uses the same Greek word as the  Septuagint uses in Exodus 4:8, to designate the three actions that God authorizes Moses to perform, to convince Israel of his role.  The purpose of these signs is authorize or confirm belief in Moses’ vocation.

11. Jesus will perform six other signs in this gospel (making a perfect series of seven).  But these signs do not compel belief on the part of those who witness them.  This becomes clear in John 11, after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  In John 11:45-53, some of the witnesses of this sign inform the authorities in Jerusalem.  Neither the witnesses nor the authorities appear to doubt what Jesus has done — but this only has the effect of moving them to plot Jesus’ death.  Signs apparently have three possible effects, all of which John portrays:   Signs can deepen belief (as they do here), they can be met with indifference or unbelief (as in 7:1-5), or they can arouse opposition.

12. Two texts from Luke provide some illumination to this passage.  In Luke 5:34, when asked why John’s disciples fast but his do not, Jesus says, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?”  The bridegroom at the eschatological wedding is the Messiah and can one be expected to fast, when God’s salvation is being realized, in one’s presence?   In Luke 5:36-39, Jesus tells a parable about how new wine cannot be poured into old wine skins.  While some will not recognize it (5:39), the new wine surpasses the old -– the best has been kept until the last.

13. The meaning of this incident is not hidden but is rather made explicit in 2:11:  “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.”   The glory of Jesus is the glory of the Incarnate Word (1:14), a glory now glimpsed by the abundant replacement of water for purification by eschatological wine.  In a real sense, Jesus not only fulfills Old Testament expectations but also surpasses them.

John 2:13-22

“The Temple of His Body”

1. “The Passover of the Jews” (2:13) is [intended] not as a snipe at “the Jews” but has the function of distancing the reader of the Gospel from Passover, a feast that this Gospel understands Jesus to have fulfilled (see 19:31-37).

2. This event is recorded in all four gospels (Mark 11:15-17; Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-46).  John is unique in placing this event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry rather than at the end, and his account is more detailed than those of the other three gospels.

3. One of our most significant decisions, with regard to this passage, is that of determining [toward] what Jesus’ actions in the Temple are aimed.  The presence of animals and birds in the Temple precincts was necessary, in order to fulfill the sacrifices appointed in Leviticus 1-8.   The presence of the money-changers was, likewise, necessary, in that the Temple precincts did not allow Roman coinage, which bore the image of the emperor, since the Jews understood it to violate the prohibition [against] making idols.  The money changers were a necessary presence, if Jews were to be able to buy sacrificial animals and to pay the Temple tax levied on all adult male Jews.  In light of these facts, it is difficult to see Jesus’ actions as aiming at a “cleansing of the Temple” from “commercial abuse.”

4. Jesus’ actions in the Temple appear to be “sign act,” a symbolic action familiar to the Old Testament prophets.  An example is Jeremiah 19 where, in order to announce God’s coming judgment on Israel, Jeremiah takes an earthenware jar and smashes it in public.  The smashing of the jar is a sign act, which promises what it enacts.  By interrupting the sale of sacrificial animals, Jesus is symbolically bringing the Temple’s existence to a halt and announcing its coming destruction/replacement.

5. What Jesus says in 2:16 echoes Zechariah 14:21:  “And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.”   In Zechariah 14, what is announced is a new order in which “the Lord will be king over all the earth” (14:9) and even Gentiles will go up to Jerusalem “to worship the King, the Lord of hosts” (14:17).  In this radically transformed situation, “every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts” (14:21).  The traders in the Temple will no longer be necessary — because God’s presence in Jerusalem will be such as to render everything holy and so inaugurate a new pattern of worship.  As becomes clear, Jesus’ Death and Resurrection establishes this new order of worship.

6. 2:17 informs us that the disciples “remembered” this connection  [to] Psalm 69:9.  The remembering here, as 2:22 makes clear, occurs after Jesus’ Resurrection.  This is to say that the Resurrection renders the memory of the disciples into a coherent whole:  in the light of the resurrection, their memory of Jesus’ actions took on a new significance.  Psalm 69:9 (which John converts from the past to the future tense) identifies Jesus, not merely as one who detested the Temple and its sacrifices, but as one who saw their replacement/fulfillment by a new temple and a new sacrifice.  It is zeal for God’s real temple that will cause his death.

7. In 2:18, “the Jews” (which refers to the chief priests who have charge of the Temple) demand a sign, which will show that Jesus is authorized to do what he has done.  2:20 indicates that “the Jews” understand Jesus to be making a literal claim about the Temple as a building.  This is part of a pattern, in which someone understands Jesus in a literal/worldly way and so misunderstands his meaning completely (see 3:1-15).  Jesus is not talking about the Temple as a building but rather a temple of an entirely different order:  the Temple of his Crucified and Risen Body.  The presence of God will no longer be found in the Temple for, as Zechariah 14 clearly sees, this presence will come in a new way.  The notion of Jesus’ Crucified and Risen Body as the Temple of God has a deep impact on New Testament writings (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:4-5).

8. We see an indication of what this theology looks like as Hebrews 8-9 develops it.  Here, Jesus recapitulates, fulfills, and transcends the core of Judaism as Temple, sacrifice, and priesthood.  The point to grasp, about both John and Hebrews, is that we can understand Jesus only within the matrix of the Old Testament narrative.  John and Hebrews understand that Jesus transcends the core of Judaism [Temple, sacrifice, and priesthood] not because they are Jewish but, rather, Jesus transcends them God intended them to have a provisional value (note especially Hebrews 9:23-28).

9. To say that Christ’s Risen Body replaces the Temple is to say several things:  Just as Israel understood the Temple to be the locus of God’s presence in the world (not in the sense that God was confined to it but that, by covenant, God caused his Name to dwell there), so now the body of the risen Christ becomes the locus of God’s presence.  This is why there is no ‘promised land’ in the new covenant:  God’s temple is now co-extensive with creation (note Revelation 21:22-27).  This notion of Christ as the new Temple also serves as the foundation of Christian holiness.  If the Christian life is life “in Christ,” this means that we live all of life within the Temple and that there is no sacred/secular distinction (note Romans 12:1-2).  Thinking along these lines causes a radical re-thinking of the significance of human life, as becomes clear in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

Leave a comment

Filed under Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John

Exploring the Gospel of John: 1


By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church


John 1:1-18

The Prologue to the Gospel

I.  What is a Gospel?

In including four gospels into the canon of Scripture, the Church made a significant decision:  that no one gospel [by itself] could be taken to provide an adequate portrait of Jesus.  One of the earliest Christian theologians, Irenaeus of Lyon, spoke not of four gospels but of a fourfold gospel, the one gospel presented by the fourfold witness of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The early Church was not at all embarrassed by the fact that the gospels were all slightly different.  The gospels seem to have followed the pattern of ancient biography, the purpose of which was not to present a complete account of the subject’s life, arranging details in chronological order, but to provide an account of the subject’s character and significance.  A major element in this effort was the portrayal of the subject’s death.  Note that John 1:19-12:50 is an account of Jesus’ public ministry, sketched in terms of significant events, and John 13:1-19:42 is an extended account of Jesus’ death.  For John, Jesus is revealed through the signs he performs in the first section and in the way he dies in the second section.  The Prologue to the gospel (1:1-18) is the interpretive key to the whole work.

II. John 1:1-5

1. While Mark begins his account of Jesus with his baptism and while Matthew and Luke begin their accounts with Jesus’ birth, John begins his account of Jesus with the very life of God before Creation.   The reason for this is that Jesus’ relationship to God is one of his primary themes.  The gospels are never concerned with simply providing information about Jesus but they are always concerned with Christologywith understanding who Jesus is as both a person and as one in whom God acts.

2. John’s gospel begins in the very same way that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) version of Genesis 1:1 begins.   A. Lincoln offers this translation of John 1:1:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was at God’s side, and what God was, the Word was.”   Right from the start, we are given what John considers to be the most important fact about the story of Jesus:  The story of Jesus did not begin in first century Palestine but actually had no beginning at all because he was eternally present with God.  This gospel is going to recount the intersection of time and eternity, human history and the eternal God.

3. “Word  in 1:1 is the English rendering of the Greek word “logos,” a very rich word.   As Word, logos is not simply a conveyor of information but has to do with self-expression.  The Word is God’s own self-expression. While God and his self-expression are distinct, they are not separable.  The basis of John’s Christology is that God expresses himself in the person [of] Jesus.

4.  Two things are in the background here:

One is the fact that, in Genesis 1, God, through speaking, creates realities into existence;  God’s speaking does not merely convey information but actually effects things.  Creation is a Word-formed reality.

Another thing is the role of Wisdom in Proverbs 8, which also is before Creation and is with God.  For the Old Testament, Word (as in Psalm 33:6 and Isaiah 55:11) expresses God’s immanence in Creation, without compromising his transcendence. In Psalm 119: 93, 109, God’s life-giving Word and Wisdom can be identified with Torah, meaning that God’s Torah, given to Israel, was a source of both life and wisdom.  By speaking of Jesus as the Logos, John makes it clear that what is given in Jesus far surpasses what has been given in Torah.  It is not merely that Jesus simply fulfills Scripture (Torah) or completes it but that he surpasses it.

5. The point being made here is not that the Christian revelation is “better” that Judaism.  The purpose of John’s Gospel is not to compare two distinct “religions” called Judaism and Christianity, with a view to showing the superiority of Christianity but to make the case that faith in Jesus as the Word of God is the only true response to Israel’s God, open to both Jews and Gentiles.  Contrary to recent opinion, John is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Jewish.

6. The relation of the Logos to the created order is both simple and complex:  simple in the sense that “all things were made through him” (1:3) but complex in the sense that the human response to the Word is not uniform (as in 1:9-12).  Colossians 1:15-17 provides a helpful point of comparison:  This gets at the mystery of the person of Jesus, who is both a human being and God’s own self-expression, who gives form and sustenance to the created order.  On one hand, all of creation has a relationship to the Word through its very being; on the other hand, human beings are invited into a relationship to the Word in the person of Jesus through belief.   As 1:4 indicates, the Word is both the source of life (zôe) and light.  God creates through his [Word] and gives revelation through his Word.  Already, we have established the theology, which later Church Councils will have to work out:  that of how the Word is both identified with God and distinct from him.

III: John 1:6-8

1. We abruptly leave eternity to enter into the realm of time and history, so that the coming of the Word can be related to the witness of John (this gospel does not refer to John as “the Baptist”).  Notice that the work of John the forerunner (distinct from the author of the gospel) has its origin in God, as does the work of the Word.

2. Notice that in 1:7 that John “came as a witness, to bear witness.”   Here, we have two of the most important words in this gospel:  witness (marturàia) and bearing witness (marturein).   The noun form is used 14 times in this gospel and the verbal form occurs 33 times.   The purpose of John’s witness is clearly indicated in 1:7.

3. The meaning of witness and bearing witness have a strong meaning in this gospel.  What is envisioned is not simply oral testimony but the totality of one’s life.  It also has a forensic meaning, as in giving testimony in a court.

IV. John 1:9-14

 1. While John the forerunner was to bear witness to the light, Jesus is the light.  The point being made here is that the light Jesus brings is not simply some bit of “religious” knowledge, which is quite nice but which one could do very well without.  The enlightenment brought by the Word is the light of the Truth, the Truth about God, the Truth about human beings, and the Truth about the world.   The Word does not add a bit of religious varnish to a world that is already just fine but, rather, the Word enters into a dark and dying world into order to give light and life.

2. It is worth noting that enlightenment becomes a word for baptism within the New Testament (Ephesians 1:18; Hebrews 10:32) and the writings of the early Church fathers.

3. One type of response to this enlightenment is ironic in 1:10-11.  While the world came into being through the Word and is what it is because of him, it did not know him.  While the Word came to his own people, those most prepared for his coming, they did not recognize him.  This emphasizes the depth of the human predicament:  human beings no longer know who they really are nor do they understand the world for what it really is.

4. 1:12-13 shows another type of response, the response of John’s church.  The Word comes not merely to grant some type of generic enlightenment but to authorize the creation of a new people of God, a people who are children of God, by themselves being reborn.  Being a child of God is not simply a matter of birth (being born into the right people) but a matter of rebirth.   Just as the Word comes from God, so must the rebirth of God’s people.  Note that the problem with Jews, from the standpoint of this gospel, is not that they are Jews (this would be anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism) but the problem is that they have refused what the God of Israel wishes for them.

V. John 1:14-18

 1. In this section, we have the confession of John’s community about the Word.  It begins with the shocking affirmation that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (1:14).”   Here we are at the heart of the mystery of Christ who is God’s Word en-fleshed.   In order to begin to understand the mystery of Christ, we have to understand that he is the embodiment of God’s self-expression.  Notice that two seemingly different things come together here:  God’s self-expression and the created order.   In affirming the Incarnation (the en-fleshment of the Word), John affirms that God and creation are not simply opposites.

2. The Word “dwelt among us” (1:14).  This is related to the Old Testament notion of God dwelling among his people, particularly in the tabernacle or Temple (see especially Exodus 40).  It was this dwelling of God that made the Jerusalem Temple so important, in that it was a sacramental sign that God was present to his chosen people.  John holds that Jesus replaces the Temple as God’s place of dwelling.

3. As the new Tabernacle, Jesus the Incarnate Word also reveals God’s glory:  God’s splendor or radiance.  In Exodus 40, it is the glory of God that descends into the tabernacle and dwells.  Glory can also refer to God’s reputation — the weight of God’s name.  In John, it is precisely Jesus’ death [which] reveals the glory of God.  God is glorious, in revealing himself and, in his faithfulness, manifested in his action in Christ.

4. The glory of the Son is that of a Father’s only son (1:14).  In this culture, honor was tied to heredity and a person’s status was tied to that of his father.  The only son in a family had a place of unique honor.  The Son is affirmed to have a unique status because of his unique relationship to his unique Father.

5.  “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (1:16):  This statement is looking forward to v.17 and, thus, means that Christ adds to, completes, and surpasses the grace given in the Mosaic Covenant.   The point is not that Jesus and Moses are in competition and that we now have to choose sides nor that “good Jesus” has come to replace “bad Moses” but that what happens in Jesus encompasses Moses but [also] surpasses him.  This, of course, would be the dividing line between Judaism and Christianity.

6. 1:18 refers back to Exodus 33:12-34:9 and the well-known fact that Moses did not see God on Mt. Sinai.  According to Exodus 33:20, it is impossible for human beings to behold God.  And yet, this is precisely what the Son does, by virtue of his very being. The Son is “at the Father’s side”  (or “in the Father’s lap”) and so his vision of God is not an event but part of his very being.  Because the Son knows the Father intimately, he, and he alone, can make him known.  In the Son, we have real revelation, that is God making God known.


The Prologue to John helps us to get a proper sense of perspective, by placing both Jesus and the Church in the larger context of God’s relationship to his creation.  If Jesus is seen simply as a historical figure, questions about why he should be the only way to God immediately pop up and are finally impossible to answer.  When Jesus’ unique relationship with God is set aside, it becomes impossible to justify Christian faith in him other than on the basis of personal preference.  It is only when we make the connection between the historical figure of Jesus and the Son of God, the connection made by the Incarnation, that Jesus as God’s way to God becomes justifiable.

The Christian claim is both radically specific and cosmic at the same time:  It is radically specific in that it insists that God’s Word became Incarnate in a specific, historical person and that this was a unique event.  The salvation of the world does, in a sense, depend upon a Jewish prophet and upon the Israel that gave him birth.

This insistence that an equal opportunity for salvation does not present itself in Buddha or Mohamed is not the result of Christian “intolerance” or “exclusivism” but is the consequence of the way God has acted in his Son.  At the same time, we have to remember that Jesus is not simply a historical figure, knowledge of whom is only available in Scripture or the Church since, as the Word, he is the one through whom the world was created and is the one in whom it is sustained.

The witness of the Church plays an important role but this role presupposes Jesus’ relationship to the whole created order.  This means that the Gospel is not an “inside” story which Christians tell to themselves or a “religion” for those “who like that sort of thing.”  It is, rather, a matter of declaring to the world the truth about itself, a truth which it does not yet know and against which it often unknowingly reacts.  In light of the Prologue, we can see that much of the animus against Christianity is rooted in either the sting that it inflicts, by telling the truth, or the unfaithful way in which some Christians have carried out their task, either being slothful or overzealous.  We can and should do nothing about the former; we are duty-bound to correct the latter.

John 1:19-34

The Testimony of John the Baptist

John 1:19-28

 1.  The atmosphere in this scene anticipates the atmosphere that will surround the whole of Jesus’ public ministry:  that of hostility and interrogation.   John 1:19-34 is about John’s marturía or testimony, where this word has a forensic meaning.   “The Jews” have sent priests and Levites to investigate John’s ministry of baptism (1:25), since they are the experts in purity regulations and baptism had to do with purity.  “The Jews” is used by this gospel to designate a very specific group:  those Jewish officials who oppose Jesus.

2. John is asked about his identity (1:19).  Several things need to be kept in mind, in this respect:

First, we are told that John’s ministry took place in Bethany across the Jordan.  Bethany here is not the Bethany of Mary and Martha, near Jerusalem.  By placing himself across the Jordan, John was signaling some kind of Messianic activity, by suggesting that he was gathering people to be led by the Messiah, across the Jordan into the Promised Land, as Joshua had done but, in this case, what was being symbolized was the creation of a new Israel.

Second, there was no standard Jewish expectation of a Messiah in the first century.  Some Jews (the Sadducees) expected no Messiah at all while others (the Essenes) expected three:  a prophet, a priest and a king.

Third, baptizing Jews was an eschatological action, suggesting some final action on the part of God.

3.  John’s testimony begins with three denials:

(1)  John denies being the Messiah very firmly in 1:20.  “Christ” is simply the Greek version of the Hebrew “Messiah” and becomes the central designation for Jesus.

(2)  John denies being Elijah.  In 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah was taken up into heaven, without dying, and this created, with the help of Malachi 4:5, the popular expectation that Elijah would precede the Messiah.  This denial is in some tension with Mark (1:2) and Matthew (6:14), who do identify John with Elijah. For theological reasons, John pushes the Elijah theme aside, to focus on John solely as one who bears witness to Jesus.

(3)  John denies being the prophet. The prophet here is the one which Jewish interpretation took to be foretold in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, a prophet like Moses.

4.  John’s testimony is not simply one of denial.  In 1:23, he identifies himself with the voice of Isaiah 40:3.  John’s ministry is nothing like that suggested by his interrogators but something far more humble:  that of preparing Israel for God’s intervention.  But this leads to another question:  If John is not the Messiah, Elijah, or the prophet, why is he baptizing?   The question here is not simply one of motive but of authority.  The point of 1:26-27 is to show the subordination of John to Jesus.

The question of why John is baptizing is answered by making it clear that it is simply preliminary — that John is not even worthy to perform for the “one you do not know” (1:26) a function performed by a slave.  The preliminary and subordinate nature of John’s baptism is portrayed in Acts 19:1-6, where there is a distinct separation between “John’s baptism” and baptism “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

John 1:29-34

 1.   Having been rather tight-lipped about himself, John now has much to say about Jesus.  This, of course, fits the pattern of John as a figure who only makes sense in relation to Jesus and is not an independent object of attention (note 3:30).

2.  John’s positive testimony begins with the affirmation that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29).  What does this affirmation mean?  One possible meaning is that Jesus is being identified with the apocalyptic lamb portrayed in inter-testamental Jewish literature, where the lamb is a conquering figure who destroys evil.  This would certainly make sense in light of Revelation 7:17 and in light of John 3:8, where the Son reveals himself to destroy the works of the devil.  Clearly, John’s reference to “lamb” is not intended to designate Jesus as “mild.”

Another possibility is that John is referring to the Suffering Servant Song of Isaiah 52:13-53:12.  This figure’s suffering purifies many (53:6, 11-12) and is described as being like a lamb (53:7).

Another possibility is that John is thinking of the Passover lamb.  This makes sense, in that John alone tells us that Jesus was on the Cross, while the Passover lambs were being slaughtered (19:4).  Of course, all of these images could be intended, putting them into the service of describing Jesus’ definitive role in God’s salvation.

3.  1:30-33 again clearly subordinates John.  While Jesus follows John in the flow of temporal events, this in no way indicates theological priority because, in the sense made clear in 1:1, Jesus is John’s predecessor.  In 1:31-32, we return to the theme of John’s baptism and two important things are made clear:

First, John does not recognize Jesus, until Jesus’ baptism, and only does so because he is told by God to watch for a specific sign.  Notice that this gospel does not actually recount Jesus’ baptism by John but refers to it obliquely (the scene John mentions seems to be Jesus’ baptism, as recounted in Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, and Luke 3:21-22).   Also important to notice is that, in this gospel, the baptism of John is not actually described as being for repentance but rather for the purpose of revealing Jesus to Israel (1:31).

These two things are not in conflict, but by describing John’s baptism in this way, it is made clear that John’s activity has no validity apart from Jesus.

4. In 1:32-33, we are also given an important insight into Jesus’ relation to the Spirit.  In both verses, the Spirit descends upon Jesus and also remains on him.  This sets Jesus’ relation to the Spirit apart from those of other figures who were given the Spirit but upon whom the Spirit did not remain.   It is Jesus’ possession of the Spirit that gives his baptism its unique character (1:33) and enables Jesus to speak of sending the Spirit (16:7).  John 1:32-33 is intimately connected with John 20:22.

5. The scene ends with John summarizing his witness to Jesus:   Jesus is the Son of God.  As Psalm 2:7 indicates, referring to someone as “God’s son” does not necessarily imply that they are divine:  In the case of Psalm 2, the king of Israel is “God’s son.”  But, in light of what John has said about Jesus in 1:29-34, the term takes on a different meaning:  Jesus is the Lamb of God (in several senses), he precedes John in a theological / ontological sense, and he is the one upon whom the Spirit remains.  These affirmations fill out what is meant by “Son of God” in this gospel:  One whose actions are definitive, not simply because he acts on behalf of God (an important claim by itself) but because his actions are also the actions of God.  In this brief scene, we have a summary of this gospel’s Christology.


This account of John’s witness (which will be continued in 3:12-36) provides us with a model for our own witness.  John’s witness is powerful for several reasons:

First, John clearly shifts attention away from himself to Jesus.  His witness is his witness but he is not the principal subject but points beyond himself.

Second, John focuses on conveying a truthful and understandable account of who Jesus is.  The success of a witness depends less on the persuasive abilities of the witness than on the Truth it conveys.  John appears less concerned with getting people to “appreciate” him than with telling the truth he knows.

Third, John appears ready to be questioned and disputed (as he clearly is in 1:19-28) without being discouraged.  “Who Jesus is,” he realizes, is not obvious or a simple truth of common sense:  (If this were the case, no witnesses would be needed!).

Finally, John is able to realize that there is a witness that is greater than his own, a witness which makes his own witness fruitful and this is, of course, the witness of God himself to himself.   It is helpful to see the witness of John as manifesting the ideal balance of characteristics:  It is spirited but does not presume to pound the truth into someone’s mind.  It is convinced but realizes that success does not belong to it.  It is concerned to convey the truth but knows that this truth stands beyond itself.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Gospel of John, theology and doxology

The Pause That Refreshes

The Pause That Refreshes

Do you desperately need  “the pause that refreshes:”  a respite from our long, hot, humid season?

Please join me in a class that will be invigorating!    

Have you ever noticed the many references to refreshing WATER that the Gospel of John contains?

I invite you to join me to plumb the depths of this book!

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [SPAC] offers weekly Respite and Refreshment!

Below is a quick overview.  For details:  http://www.saint-peters.net.

Wednesday Evenings, beginning 09.12.12:

5.15 – 6.00 pm:  Catered Buffet Supper in the SPAC Fellowship Hall  [requires advance reservations]

6.15 – 7.30 pm:   Wednesday Evening Academy Adult Classes [requires advance reservation and fee for books]



About Margot’s Class:

“Coach Margot,” long-distance swimmer, invites you to join her Team, in a two-semester class:  John for Everyone:

We will cover Part One in the Fall Semester, 2012:  09.12.12 – 12.12.12

We will cover Part Two in the Spring Semester, beginning January 16, 2013.

The Rev. Doctor N. T. [Tom] Wright, Anglican bishop, theologian, and New Testament scholar, describes the Gospel of John as:

“. . . one of the great books in the literature of the world; and part of its greatness is the way it reveals its secrets not just to high-flown learning but to those who come to it with humility and hope.”

 Dr. N. T. “Tom” Wright

This is a class for everyone . . . . everyone, that is, who is ready to be a member of a “high-commitment”  Team!

Advance Requirements for the Team:

— Commit to diligence in homework “drills.

— Commit to faithful attendance and participation at the weekly “practice meets.”

— Register:  www.saint-peters.net or Reply below.

— Reserve your copy of the commentary:  www.saint-peters.net or Reply below.

Here is what the Team can expect, as we plunge into this invigorating study of the Gospel of John:

We will:
-Limber up our mental muscles, with “land-lubber” exercises . . .

-Learn how to sharpen our view of Scripture, through the “lens” of Faith, Reason, and Tradition . . .

-Gain confidence, stamina, and proficiency, in the shallow water and . . .

-Plunge into the deeper water.

Please join  The Team and  “go the distance!”  

Ready to “dive in?”  Questions?  Reply  below.

UPDATES:  Margot’s Class

Begins:   Wednesday, 09.12.12.

Location:  St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Tallahassee.

Open to:  Adult men and women.

Day & Time:  Wednesdays, 6.15 pm – 7.30 pm.  We will begin and end on time.

Source Text:  The Gospel of John, contained within the two books [the commentary].

Register:  Before 09.12.12:  Call  850.701.0664 or Reply below.

Fees:  There is no registration fee.

Books:  Fee for the two books is $28:  cash or check, payable to St. Peter’s Anglican Church.   You may purchase your books on 09.12.12.

Supper:  By the previous Monday, you must make or cancel your reservation for each Wednesday Supper:  Call  850.701.0664.  $6 for adults; $1 for college students.  Cash or check, made out to St. Peter’s Anglican Church.


1 Comment

Filed under The Gospel of John

“To Keep a True Lent”

Dear Readers,

Following the Ancient Church Calendar,  we are entering the final days of The Lenten Season.  Palm Sunday, two days away, is the beginning of Holy Week.

Holy Week includes three days:  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and The Great Easter Vigil [Saturday].  These three days comprise The Triduum and offer three Evening Worship Services:  we consider them to be one seamless observation.

For more information on Lent, Holy Week, and Worship Services between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday, see http://www.saint-peters.net.

It is not too late to observe Lent!  If the Lenten Season is new to you, as it is to me, I offer a poem for your reflection.

Coram Deo,


To Keep a True Lent

by Robert Herrick

 (baptized 24 August 1591 – buried 15 October 1674):  17th-century English poet

IS this a fast, to keep
The larder lean ?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep ?

Is it to quit the dish
Of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish ?

Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
Or show
A downcast look and sour ?

No ;  ‘tis a fast to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat,
And meat,
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
And hate ;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief-rent ;
To starve thy sin,
Not bin ;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Herrick, Robert. Works of Robert Herrick. vol II.
Alfred Pollard, ed.
London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1891. 240.


Filed under Lent

Not A Word


Dear Readers,

In my previous update, I mentioned the musical, “Funny Girl:”   The film version came out in 1968 and Stephen took me to go see it on one of our first dates.

When Barbra Streisand [as Fanny Brice] belted out her final, heart-breaking, plaintive song, “My Man,” at the end of the film, Stephen was transported, in his mind, to the stage musical, where he evidently thought he was a member of the audience at a live performance:  He broke into vigorous applaud, right there in the silence of the movie theatre.  This continued for several seconds, as I held my breath, watched him in amazement, and valiantly tried to conquer my giggles.  This was my first clue that I was dating a man who could be so “caught up in the moment” that he could forget everything else in the world around him.  In spite of my astonishment, I said not a word.

Pre-marriage, his mother told me this true story:  One summer day, Stephen was home from college and offered to shop for the week’s groceries for the family.  The routine at that particular grocery store involved  these Five Easy Steps:

1.  Pay for your groceries;

2.  Leave them in the shopping basket [in the care of a curbside clerk;]

3.  Find your vehicle;

4.  Drive to the curbside;

5.  Clerk will load up said groceries.

What could be easier?  

Well, when he arrived back home, his mother said, “Stephen, where are the groceries?!”  He evidently got distracted after Step Three.  So, he raced back to the store to reclaim his groceries.  If this incident was a warning,  I chose to ignore it and held my peace.

Ironically, several years elapsed before I realized that I had married the quintessential Absent-Minded Professor [AMP].  This explains why he is able to focus laser-sharp intensity and concentration on his work.  He is able, to an astonishing degree, to shut out superfluous distractions, like breakfast and lunch.

Some distractions, unfortunately, are less superfluous:  Although this has happened only once, he was working feverishly one morning, in his FSU office, when a student called from a nearby classroom and asked,  “Dr. Payne, are you going to show up to teach class today?”

And decades ago, when our children were small, Stephen was on car-pool duty when he became lost in thought, drove all the way to the university, parked, turned his head around, and found two confused preschoolers, peering back at him from the back seat.  He explained to them that he had taken a “short-cut”  to preschool and I think they even believed him.

While driving, in fact, he does some of his best thinking and he might divert the car toward his FSU office, on a Sunday morning, when we are supposed to be headed to church. However, I don’t say a word, reasoning that he doesn’t need a “front-seat/back-seat driver.”

There are, of course, several Sunday mornings that Stephen is able, quite on his own, to negotiate a straight trajectory toward church, a route that is less than two miles, from “door to door.”  Yet, he is, by no means, safe — even then — because his mind might begin to wander . . . at any minute . . .

For instance, there was the morning, during the Worship Service, when he mentally “checked out” during the Induction Ceremony of The Order of the Daughters of the Holy Cross. *

The ceremony continued for several minutes and concluded with an invitation for all the new Daughters of the Holy Cross to stand, come forward, and receive prayer, a blessing, and a Daughters of the Holy Cross sterling silver cross necklace.

At the familiar words, “We invite all those …. to stand,” Stephen came out of his stupor and his head popped up.  Perhaps he imagined that we were ALL being invited to stand, to witness a baptism or a marriage.

I said not a word but I surreptitiously and firmly grasped the elbow of his sleeve.  He struggled three times to free himself, so that he could rise to his feet.

Finally, on the third attempt, he surveyed his surroundings and decided, no doubt after some quick self-examination, that he would not volunteer to lead the procession that Sunday morning, with banner aloft, as the first [and only] male member of the St. Peter’s Anglican Church Order of the Daughters of the Holy Cross. 

Now, early in the morning on his FSU teaching days, we drive together to the FSU pool to swim laps.  After we park, I don’t say a word if he grabs his black professor attaché case instead of, say,  his black swim-gear bag, as he barrels toward the locker room.

And, only last week, I watched him race ahead of me toward the locker rooms, in preparation for swimming laps.  I was right behind him when I saw him reach for the door.  It was at that moment that I hissed, “Where are you going?!”  

Normally, you see, I don’t interfere with his circuitous wanderings but I was loath to read the headlines the next morning:  “Male University Professor Arrested for Entering Women’s Locker Room;  Wife Claims He Is Absent-Minded.”

However, if he rushes out the door in the morning to go to work and forgets his lunch, I just store it in the refrigerator and eat it at noon.   If he forgets his wallet, I pilfer some cash and go out to lunch.  If he forgets his cell phone, I ignore the insistent rings and let all the messages go to voice mail.

I come downstairs on a relaxed Saturday morning to join him for espresso.  We chat for a while and then I say, “I’m going back upstairs to get beautiful.” But he is already lost in his book and he is dull and slow to respond.  So, I repeat myself, a little louder, and he responds, perfunctorily:  “Uhh … yes … but … you already are beautiful!” or “Umm … oh … well … that won’t take very long!”

On other Saturday mornings, I watch, with veiled amusement, as roars out the door, to go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, on a frantic quest for home improvement supplies.  I know he will be back soon, to retrieve his wallet.  Sure, I could call him, to save him embarrassment at the check-out station, but he has also roared off without his cell-phone.

You remember, perhaps, that I am currently a subject in a Research Study at FSU.  The routine includes these Six Easy Steps:

1.  Report to the Faculty Parking Lot Gate;

2. Wait for the FSU students to open the Gate with an electronic “Clicker;”

3.  Proceed through the Gate and pause;

4.  Open car window and receive a [one-day] “Faculty Parking Sticker;”

5.  Display “Sticker” on dashboard;

6.  Park.

Well, last month, I had my own “Clicker”  and “clicked” myself through the Gate.  I paused and showed the student helpers my own “Sticker.”

Incredulous, the helpers asked: “How did you get your own Faculty ‘Clicker’ and ‘Sticker?’ ”  

I shrugged my shoulders and blithely replied, “I sleep with a professor!” and drove on past them . . .

. . . Which proves that there are some perks to marrying a professor, even an absent-minded one.

Coram Deo,


[Written by Margot Blair Payne, April 2011]

 * “The Order provides a community in which you can fulfill a lifetime vow to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  The Order’s four-fold vow consists of Prayer, Service, Study and Evangelism.”  [From the website.]


Filed under Absent-Minded Professor, Courtship & Engagement, Marriage & Wedding

Prayers & Heroines

I attended the Wednesday Noon Eucharist Service at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, which included portions of the “Ministration to the Sick,” from pages 453-461 of the Book of Common Prayer.  In the quiet before the service began, I read the “Prayers for the Sick,” pages 458-461.  I invite you to pray those prayers for me.  Within pages 453-457, there are Scripture Readings.  [I am sure you can Google the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 Version.]

Several of you who have contacted me are my heroines!  You are the women who have taken this path ahead of me and you have reached out to me in compassion and generosity of spirit.  I am trying very hard to keep all names and stories private but you know who you are and your words of comfort and reassurance give me strength!

My Tallahassee friend, Kim, came over last night.  She gave me permission to explain that, two years ago, she had a bilateral masectomy AND elected not to have reconstructive surgery.  She gave me wise counsel & encouragement, answered my many questions, and prayed with me.   Thank you, Kim, for ministering to me!

My cousin, Teresa Van Hoy, whom I have mentioned in this blog, [see below] sent me a text message last week, which reads:  “In answer to your question, I have never regretted not having reconstructive surgery.   I have always felt beautiful and you will, too.” 

As the surgery day approaches, I struggle to be brave so I must ask you to pray faithfully for me all weekend!

On Monday morning, I  report to the hospital at 7 AM and the procedure begins at 9 AM.

I have been meditating on the words of this hymn:

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise

In Light Inaccesible, Hid From Our Eyes,

Most Blessed, Most Glorious, The Ancient of Days

Almighty Victorious, Thy Great Name We Praise!



Filed under Breast Cancer, Prayer, Uncategorized