Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tell Me What I Am Like (9/29/13)

Tell Me What I Am Like
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

September 29, 2013

Jesus said,
“I have cast fire upon the world,
and look, I’m guarding it until it blazes.”  (10)

Jesus said,
"Whoever is near me is near the fire, and whoever is far from me is far from the realm."  (82)

Jesus said,
"Look to the living one as long as you live,
otherwise you might die and then try to see the living one,
and you will be unable to see."  (59)

Jesus said,
"I am the light that is over all things.
I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.
Split a piece of wood; I am there.
Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."  (77)

Jesus said,
"Come to me,
for my yoke is comfortable and my lordship is gentle,
and you will find rest for yourselves."  (90)

Jesus said, "No prophet is welcome on his home turf; doctors don't cure those who know them."  (31)


They said to him, "Tell us who you are so that we may believe in you."

He said to them, "You examine the face of heaven and earth, but you have not come to know the one who is in your presence, and you do not know how to examine the present moment." (91)


Jesus said, "I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see, for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart from the world empty.

But meanwhile they are drunk. When they shake off their wine, then they will change their ways."  (28)


A [person said] to him, "Tell my brothers to divide my father's possessions with me."

He said to the person, "Mister, who made me a divider?"

He turned to his disciples and said to them, "I'm not a divider, am I?" (72)


Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to something and tell me what I am like."

Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a just messenger."

Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher."

Thomas said to him, "Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like."

Jesus said, "I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended."

And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, "What did Jesus say to you?"

Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you." (13)


Jesus said, "Two will recline on a couch; one will die, one will live."

Salome said, "Who are you mister? You have climbed onto my couch and eaten from my table as if you are from someone."

Jesus said to her, "I am the one who comes from what is whole. I was granted from the things of my Father."

"I am your disciple."

"For this reason I say, if one is whole, one will be filled with light, but if one is divided, one will be filled with darkness." (61)


His disciples said, "When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?"

Jesus said, "When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid." (37)


Jesus said, "Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war.

For there will be five in a house: there'll be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, and they will stand alone."  (16)


Jesus said, "I will destroy this house, and no one will be able to build it." (71)


Jesus said, "When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your faces and worship. That one is your Father." (15)


His disciples said to him, "Who are you to say these things to us?"

"You don't understand who I am from what I say to you.

Rather, you have become like the Judeans, for they love the tree but hate its fruit, or they love the fruit but hate the tree." (43)


Jesus said, "Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one." (30)


Jesus said,
"Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me;
I myself shall become that person,
and the hidden things will be revealed to him."  (108)

I am excited to begin today this series of sermons on The Gospel of Thomas.

I have preached on sayings from this gospel before but I have never devoted a series of sermons to this text nor have I preached on the whole of the text.   By the time we are finished, by the arrival of Winter Solstice, we will have heard all 114 sayings, and some more than once, in worship.   

I will offer what information I know about Thomas, which isn’t a whole lot.   Because this text does not have a 2000 year history of interpretation attached to it, and because it is not in the Bible let alone the worship lectionary, I am far less familiar with it than I am with the gospels that are in the traditional New Testament.    I am learning with you. 

Of course, I am thrilled that we have two Fellows of the Jesus Seminar coming toElizabethton,October 18th and 19th to offer their ideas about Thomas.   If you listen today at 2 pm to WETS you will get a preview.  I spoke with both of them onReligion For Life.    Having them with us will be a fun part of all of this, too.

My hope that this won’t simply be an academic exercise.    I hope that we might be open to the possibility that we might experience what the author of Thomas wanted the hearers to experience, or not experience.    What was that? 

Saying one:
Jesus said, “Whoever finds the meaning of these sayings will not experience death.”
Now, you might ask, “What does that mean?  Not experience death?”

Once you ask that question, “What does that mean?” you have been sucked in and you are now on the quest.  You are now a seeker of wisdom and now you will have to hear the whole thing and struggle with its interpretation.  You are hooked. 

A little background about The Gospel of Thomas.   The Gospel of Thomas was unknown until 1945 when it was discovered by a peasant by the name of Muhammad Ali near Nag Hammadi, Egypt.    Muhammad Ali was a teenager and he was looking for dung to burn for heating and cooking.  He discovered clay jars in a cave.   In these jars were ancient texts that dated back to the 4th century.   He was illiterate.  He had no idea what he had found.   

Eventually these texts made their way into scholarly hands.  They were written in Coptic, but were likely translated from Greek.   They were hidden in these jars in a cave near a monastery in Egypt.  Why?  It is likely that they were hidden so that they wouldn’t be destroyed.   

In the year 367, Bishop Athanasius sent an Easter letter.  In it, he gave a list of the 27 books that are in the canon, the New Testament.   He spoke strongly against other what he called “heretical” writings.  He wrote:
They have fabricated books which they call books of tables, in which they shew stars, to which they give the names of Saints. And therein of a truth they have inflicted on themselves a double reproach: those who have written such books, because they have perfected themselves in a lying and contemptible science; and as to the ignorant and simple, they have led them astray by evil thoughts concerning the right faith established in all truth and upright in the presence of God.
In that atmosphere in which one particular version of Christianity, so-called orthodox (literally “straight-thinking”) Christianity, had become blessed by the Roman Empire, other forms of Christianity needed to go into hiding.   It is likely that it is in response to this change of circumstance that The Gospel of Thomas and other texts, 52 of them altogether, were hidden for us to find 1600 years later. 

It is an exciting find.   Only recently, have these texts been made available for popular readers.    Do a Google search for The Gospel of Thomas and you will find the text easily on the internet.   It has been included in A New New Testament. The Jesus Seminar called the Gospel of Thomas the fifth gospel, showing that it is an important source in the quest for the historical Jesus.    It is also an important text for the reconstruction of early Christianity.

It is a text contemporary with the canonical gospels.  In other words, some of it at least is as early and perhaps earlier than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.   Some of it is possibly later than these other gospels.     Thomas, like the other gospels, contain both sayings that may go back to the historical person of Jesus as well as theological framing and interpretation of Jesus.    It is all mixed together.

Scholars for the past 200 years have attempted to distinguish the historical person from interpretation and legend.  It is neither easy nor an exact science.   There are many different opinions and, of course, much resistance from church authorities and true believers who wish for their view of Jesus to be privileged. 

This quest is not without juicy conflict.    That itself echoes a saying found in Thomas and placed on the lips of Jesus:
“Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war. 
For there will be five in a house:  there’ll be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, and they will stand alone.” (16)
My hunch is that if any of you have ever argued religion with your family members you may find in many cases that conflict is the norm.    Our 2000 year history of Christianity is also one of fire, sword, and war.   Whether or not this saying goes back to the historical Jesus or not, it has certainly proved itself to be true.

The point is that at least parts of the Gospel of Thomas are not late.   It is closer to the historical Jesus than the Gospel of John, for example.    

The second point is that Thomas as it interprets Jesus, interprets him in a way that is both similar and quite different from that found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.   

As we look at Thomas we will look at two things all the time, one is to what extent do the sayings echo the historical person and secondly, how does Thomas interpret Jesus?    That double way of looking both through the text at the historical person and looking at the text as later interpretation is a procedure for the canonical gospels as well as Thomas.    
All the gospel writers “framed” Jesus. 

There is a third thing.   I don’t want to lose this in what could quickly become just an academic discussion.  To what extent does this text speak to us?   In what sense is this ancient wisdom also wisdom for me?   Am I open to that?   Those questions invite an opening of self.  

I think Thomas is especially of interest to 21st century seekers.    Jesus in Thomas won’t save you from your sins, but he will invite you to discover who you are and to find what is important.   Saying 70:
Jesus said:  “When you give birth to the one within you, that one will save you.  If you do not have that one within you, that one will kill you.”  (70)
The Gospel of Thomas consists of 114 sayings of Jesus.    It has no story.   Jesus performs no miracles.  There is no story of his birth, death or resurrection.  He heals no one.   He casts out no demons.   All he does is say stuff.     

Some of the things that he says, about half of the things he says, we have heard him say somewhere in one of the other gospels.   He may say these things a bit differently, but about half of the material has a parallel with sayings in the other gospels.   The other half is different altogether.   

I could have divided up the 114 sermons over ten sermons and plowed through them in order.   I thought it might be easier to approach it thematically.   Similar patterns repeat.    Before consulting any guides or commentaries I went through the sayings and put them in categories. 

Today is “Who Is Jesus?”  What does Jesus say about himself? 

Here are the other themes:
Revealing the hidden
Seeking and Finding
Parables of the Kingdom
The Human Condition
Who Are You?
Disciples in the Kingdom
The Beginning Is Coming
Ethics of the Kingdom
Congratulations!  You Get it!

Those are the themes I discovered and under each theme, I placed the sayings that seem to correspond to that particular theme.  Some sayings we will hear more than once.   There could be many other ways to organize it as well.   I think the joy of this is to look at these sayings again and again from different angles.  You wrestle with them like you might wrestle with a Zen koan.  

Today’s theme is, “Who is Jesus?”  What does Jesus say about himself in theGospel of Thomas

When Jesus makes a self-referential statement, it likely does not go back to Jesus.   For example, in John’s gospel, Jesus is reported to have said, “Before Abraham was, I am!”  or “I am the good shepherd” or “I am the true vine.”  What person would say stuff like that?  No one.   Those are theological elaborations created by the admirers of the person to make the person larger than life.   All four gospels do that, so does Thomas.    All the gospels shape him, that is frame him in different ways.  How does Thomas do it?

One of the key texts is this one:
Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to something and tell me what I am like."

Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a just messenger."

Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher."

Thomas said to him, "Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like."

Jesus said, "I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended."

And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, "What did Jesus say to you?"

Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you." (13)
In other words, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”  
For Thomas, no one can describe Jesus and none of those other groups who claim to know who Jesus is, know either.   For Thomas, wisdom is not really about Jesus, it is about “drinking from the bubbling stream.”   It is about admitting like the character Thomas does, that you don’t know anything.  Because only then can you be open to receiving.  

Of course, when the character Thomas goes back to his disciples who represent in the author Thomas’s mind, a simpler form of Christianity, Thomas the character realizes that what he has learned is threatening to these others.     It will sound blasphemous, hence the threat of stoning.   This is dangerous stuff.    Do you really want to know?   Do you really want to know what astronomers are finding out about our universe or what biologists are finding out about our evolutionary development?  Do you really want to know what scholars are finding out about our sacred texts?  It will disturb you, upset you, and challenge your notions of security and comfort.   You will want to stone the messenger then your sense of meaning and purpose will be devoured.    The author of Thomas is asking, “Do you really want to go on this quest, dear reader?”    You may decide, “No, I really don’t want to ask.  I like my faith the way it is.  It serves me as it is, thank you.” 

That is a good answer.   The Gospel of Thomas is not for everyone.  That is why it didn’t make it into the Bible.  It was too wide open.   It allowed too much freedom for the individual to interpret.   For Thomas, liberation and the search is more important than comfort.   It is active rather than passive.   It is not simply believing and accepting that Jesus is our savior, for example, it is wrestling and struggling with Jesus who is a challenging mystery.      

What else does Jesus say about himself in The Gospel of Thomas?  Here is one for the pantheists among us.  This goes well with the song that Beverly sang that was written by Peter Mayer, “Holy Now.”   
Jesus said,
“I am the light that is over all things.  I am all:  from me all came forth, and to me all attained.  Split a piece of wood; I am there.  Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”  (77)
I love that one.  It isn’t the historical Jesus.   The author of the gospel put these words on the lips of Jesus.    Thomas is saying not only is Jesus bigger than life, Jesus is life.  Jesus is the sacred.  Where do you find the sacred?   Is it in the temple?  Sure.  It is in the communion wafer?  OK.  Is it in the sacred text?  Yes.  Is it in the lovely hymn?  Uh huh.  

But, the sacred doesn’t end there.   If you walk through this life with awareness, you will see the sacred everywhere.   The institution with its clergy, dogmas, and rituals are pointers to the sacred, but they by no means have the corner on God.   You can find God under a rock if you have awareness, if you have “drunk from the bubbling stream.”   While you work splitting wood, that itself can be holy if you are awake while you do it.   

What else does Thomas say about Jesus?
They said to him, "Tell us who you are so that we may believe in you."

He said to them, "You examine the face of heaven and earth, but you have not come to know the one who is in your presence, and you do not know how to examine the present moment." (91)
In the Gospel of Thomas, questions about Jesus turn back to the seeker.      It is as if he is saying, “Don’t ask about me.  Ask about yourself.”    Jesus does not want belief.   Belief is for the other team.   Jesus demands that you examine your life.    

Here is another one…
Jesus said, "I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see, for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to depart from the world empty.

But meanwhile they are drunk. When they shake off their wine, then they will change their ways."  (28)
Here is Thomas’ view of Jesus and the human condition.   The image of drunkenness describes us.   Like the Dr. Hook song, I got stoned and I missed it. It is a great song written by Shel Silverstein.   The last verse goes like this…
Now I ain't makin' no excuses for the many things I uses
Just to sweeten my relationships and brighten up my day
But when my earthly race is over and I'm ready for the clover
And they ask me how my life has been I guess I'll have to say
I was stoned and I missed it
I was stoned and I missed it
I was stoned and it rolled right by…
For the Gospel of Thomas, that is the human condition. 

We do this and we do that and the other thing without any recognition until it is far too late that what we did we didn’t even care about.    We don’t see the sacred nature of our relationships, or the amazing fact that we exist at all.  We spend our money on that which is not bread.   We have blown through this amazing gift which is life without regarding it as a gift.   Meanwhile, we are so stoned that we don’t even know we are burning up the planet. 

The message from Jesus is, “Sober up.  Wake up!”    Mary Oliver captures this spirit in that wonderful poem, “The Summer Day.”  The last couplet is the invitation:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Take that question seriously, says Mary Oliver.   That is probably as good an interpretation of The Gospel of Thomas as any.   

Now you might say that is all pretty negative.   Jesus calling all of us a bunch of drunks.  But it wouldn’t be helpful to hear it only as judgment.  It is an invitation.   It is an invitation to self-reflection.   More than that, it is an invitation to give yourself permission to do something “wild and precious” as Mary Oliver said, with your “wild and precious life.”

Those who have ears let them hear.

Final saying to look at today:
Jesus said,
“Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me;
I myself shall become that person,
and the hidden things will be revealed to him.” (108)
This saying, number 108, near the end of the collection goes back to number 13 near the beginning and picks up the metaphor of drinking, not drunken drinking, but drinking from the “bubbling stream” that is Jesus.    

Thomas the character drank from it.   This gospel says that you can, too.   It is an invitation to live a sacred life.   If you are hearing these words, then it isn’t too late. Lift up a stone today and find Jesus.    Split a piece of wood and you’ll see him.     Or as Mary Oliver wrote:
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Wealth of the Light (9/22/13)

The Wealth of the Light
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

September 22, 2013

The Secret Revelation to John
3:12-12; 4:5, 37-38; 5:11-20; 7:1-6, 12

Do not be faint-hearted!
I am the one who dwells with you always.
I am the Father.
I am the Mother.
I am the Son….  

[The Father]
It is the Spirit.  It is not appropriate to think about It as god or that It is something similar.  For It surpasses divinity….  It is the eternity who gives eternalness, the light who gives light, the life who gives life, the blessed one who gives blessedness, the understanding which gives understanding, the ever good one who gives good, the one who does good—not such that It possesses but such that It gives—the mercy which gives mercy, the grace which gives grace.

[The Mother]
In every way It perceived Its own image, seeing it in the pure light-water which surrounds It.  And Its thinking became a thing.  She appeared.  She stood in Its presence in the brilliance of the light; she is the power which is before the All.  It is she who appeared, she who is the perfect Providence-Pronoia of the All, the light, the likeness of the light, the image of the Invisible, she who is the perfect power, Barbelo, the perfect eternal generation of the glory.

[The Son]
Barbelo gazed intently into It, the pure light.  She turned herself toward It.  She gave birth to a spark of blessed light, but it was not equal to her in greatness.  This is the Only-begotten who appeared from the Father, the divine Autogenes, the firstborn son of the All of the Spirit of pure light….  He stood in Its presence, glorying the invisible Spirit and the perfect Pronoia, from whom he had appeared.

Secret Revelation of John 25:1-6; 26:21-33
Therefore I, the perfect Providence-Pronoia of the All, changed into my seed.  For I existed from the first, traveling on every road.  For I am the wealth of the light.  I am the remembrance of the fullness.  I traveled into the vastness of the dark, and I persevered until I entered the midst of the prison….And I entered the midst of their prison, which is the prison of the body.

And I said, ‘Whoever hears, arise from lethargic sleep!’

And he wept, shedding tears; heavy tears he wiped from himself.  And he said, ‘Who is it who calls my name and form where does this hope come to me who am dwelling in the fetters of the prison?’

And I said, ‘I am the Providence-Pronoia of the pure light; I am the thought of the virginal Spirit, the one who raises you to the place of honor.  Arise and remember that you are the one who has heard, and follow your root, which is I, the compassionate.  Fortify yourself against the angels of poverty and the demons of chaos and all those who ensnare you, and be watchful of the lethargic sleep and the garment of the inside of Hades.’

And I raised him up and sealed him with the light of the water with five seals so that death would not have power over him from this day on.

Today I finish the series of sermons on new texts included in A New New Testament:   A Bible for the 21st Century Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts.    Next week I begin another series of sermons on one of those new texts, The Gospel of Thomas.    In less than a month, on October 18th and 19th we will be hosting a Jesus Seminar on the Road.   Milton Moreland and Ruben Dupertuis  will be visiting with us to provide lectures and workshops on the Gospel of Thomas.    They will be able to correct all my heresies regarding Thomas.  They will also be on Religion For Life beginning this Thursday on WETS.   

So far we have explored, just whetted our appetites really, several documents in A New New Testament.  They include…

Two texts for which I didn’t devote sermons but used in liturgy are The Prayer of the Apostle Paul and and an ancient Prayer of Thanksgiving.    Today we will dabble into the mysteries of The Secret Revelation of John.  

A bit of background about this text.    It was discovered in the 19th century and is part of the Berlin Codex along with the Gospel of Mary.  It was also among the Nag Hammadi collection discovered in 1945.   I talked about those collections in previous sermons. 

Three different copies with significant differences among the texts were found at Nag Hammadi.   That suggests that A Secret Revelation of John was widely read and used in the early centuries of Christianity.  It was written before 180 at least. We know that because Irenaeus, who was later recognized as a church Father condemned A Secret Revelation of John as heresy.    Before these modern discoveries we only had parts of this text, the parts quoted by those condemning it.   Irenaeus quotes A Secret Revelation of John 29 times.   Irenaeus had other texts on his radar as well.   Of the lot of them, he wrote:

"an indescribable number of secret and illegitimate writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish people, who are ignorant of the true scriptures."

Regardless of whether or not we might agree with him, what Irenaeus shows is that early Christianity was diverse and vibrant with many different visions at times competing with one another, at other times complementing one another, and each adding its voice to the chorus.  Now, thanks to these modern discoveries and thanks to scholars and interested lay people who have demanded to know these ancient texts, these voices that have been long silenced are again finding an audience.   Thanks to A New New Testament some of these voices are alongside familiar voices so we can get a sense of the breadth and depth of early Christianity.  

The effects of all of this might be to enhance 21st century seekers, whether these seekers are within Christianity, on the edges, or outside of it.   Questions of what it means to be human, and in particular, what it means to be human amidst forces that dehumanize, are raised for us as we interact with these texts.   I want to emphasize that this is not simply an academic or an historical exercise.  As the subtitle of A New New Testament implies, this Bible for the 21st century is an attempt to speak to us.   We are interacting with it and with each other. 

What is The Secret Revelation of John?  The Secret Revelation of John is not to be confused with The Revelation to John that has been in the traditional New Testament canon.   This is the book with the seven bowls of wrath and the mark of the beast and the four horsemen and all of the symbols that have had quite a run in the past two millennia.   It is not an easy read.   The Secret Revelation of John is not an easy read either.   I needed some guidance following the logic of the text and trying to keep the names straight.   It is helpful, necessary really, to have a guide.  I recommend Karen King’s The Secret Revelation of John.  Also, even though I haven’t read it, I have heard another helpful guide is by Stevan Davies, The Secret Book of John.        

The Secret Revelation of John is a mythological creation story.  It tells us who we are, how we came to be the way we are, and how we are becoming who we will become. 

The story begins with the Apostle John, the brother of James.  John and James are the sons of Zebedee in the four gospels.  According to the tradition they along with Peter accompanied Jesus to the mountain where he was transfigured before them.  John is an inner circle apostle.   There is a whole tradition of “John” theology that includes the Gospel of John and the letters of JohnRevelation of John in the traditional New Testament and this Secret Book of John.   That doesn’t mean the guy John actually wrote any of this or experienced any of this, but he, like many figures of importance is used to gain authority for other authors.    In ancient times, tradition, not innovation is important.   If you are writing a text, you want to make sure it connects with what has gone before you.   One way to do that is to have one of the apostles as either a character or the author.    This counts for documents both within and without the traditional New Testament.

John goes up to the temple and he is confronted by a Pharisee named Arimanios.  Arimanios asks him where his teacher is.  John tells him that he has “returned to place from which he came.”  Arimanios tells John that his teacher deceived him and filled him lies. 

John is grieved.   He begins to doubt who the Savior was and who his father was. He realizes there are things he doesn’t know.  As he thinking and grieving,

“the heavens opened, and the whole creation below the heaven was illuminated with light below heaven.  And the whole world quaked.” 3:1-3

A figure appears to John and changes shape, from a child to an old man to other various forms and all is filled with light.  The voice said,

“John, why are you doubting and fearful?  For you are not a stranger to this likeness.  Do not be faint-hearted!  I am the one who dwells with you always.  I am the Father. I am the Mother.  I am the Son.”  3:9-12

There is an early version of the Trinity.   Then Christ says to John,

“Lift up your face to me and listen.  Receive the things that I will tell you today so that you yourself will them to your fellow spirits who are from the immovable generation of the perfect Human.”  3:17-18

Christ proceeds to tell John of the nature of the Father or Spirit with quite poetic language.   Father/Spirit is one that cannot be named, not God “for It surpasses divinity.”  

When “It perceived Its own image in the light-water that surrounds It, Its thinking became a thing.”  She, the Mother appeared.   The Mother is called Pronoia or Providence.  She is also known as Barbelo.   She is the image of the invisible.  She is the primal Thought.  She is the primal Human.  She is 

“the triple begotten one, the androgynous eternal generation which does not grow old…”   

The whole thrust of this language is beyond the beyond.   Then Barbelo, the Mother, the Providence-Pronoia “gazes intently into It, the pure light.”  In so doing, she gives birth 

“to a spark of blessed light... the divine Autogenes, the firstborn son of All of the Spirit of pure light.”  7:1-6

This is the Son or Christ.   This Christ creates everything.   Will and Thought and Life, Grace,  Understanding, Perception, and Prudence.    These are beings, and there are many of them.   They have genealogies and male/female pairs.   One of the creations is the “true perfect Human, the primal revelation, Adam.”   This is not the garden of Eden, Adam.   That comes later.  The perfect Human, Adam, is “up there” as part of this whole divine thing.

There is much much more.  I am condensing this down.  One of the Eternal Generations, as part of this Christ creation, who is important for our story, is Wisdom-Sophia.    This is where the story gets interesting.  Wisdom-Sophia wants to express herself.    So she “thought a thought.”   She didn’t think her thought without consulting first with Father/Spirit or in consultation with her male partner.   Her thought gives birth so to speak to this being.   This being is imperfect, ugly in fact.   She casts him away outside of the view of the immortals.  She gives him a throne and names him Yaldabaoth.   He is the Chief Ruler. 

Here is the bottom line.  Yaldabaoth is the god of Genesis in the Old Testament.   He creates all kinds of beings and eventually the world.   He says “I am a jealous God  without me there is nothing.”   This is of course not true.  He is a basically a low-level bureaucrat.  He is the guy who has his own little office that he thinks is his kingdom and he is paranoid and he bosses people around.   He thinks he is important.  You might know someone like that.   That is how The Secret Revelation of John portrays the god of Genesis.    

If you are finding this disturbing or offensive, we need to step back and look at the time in which The Secret Revelation of John is being written.    This is a couple of centuries before the Nicene Creed and Constantine and the narrowing down of Christian theology.   There are lively debates around Jesus and how he will be shaped in relation to the Jewish heritage.   These and other authors and perhaps even you have wondered if the god of the Old Testament is all there is to God.   You can imagine reading these stories of the god of Genesis doing rather small-minded, arbitrary, punitive, and violent things.   These early Christians say God has to be better than that.   So they take these stories of Genesis and elaborate and re-interpret them.  They aren’t alone in doing that.   The literature of the time is filled with rewrites and filling in the holes in the plot of Genesis and so forth. 

Back to our story.  Wisdom-Sophia realizes that she has created a monster and repents.    The immortals come up with a plan.  They say to Wisdom-Sophia, “The Human exists and the Child of the Human.”  Yaldabaoth and his minions overhear this but they don’t know where it comes from.  They look at the pattern of the image in the water and say,

“Let us create a human in the image of God and with the likeness.”

They create the human being but the being cannot move.  They cannot awaken it. So the Father/Spirit uses this opportunity.  He sends Christ to tell Yaldabaoth to breathe into the being.  He does and the human becomes alive.   But the spirit he blew into the human is the power of his Mother.   In doing this, the Mother-power is extracted out of Yaldabaoth and now the human is superior to Yaldabaoth and his minions.    

Yaldabaoth and his minions are upset that the human is superior to them so they imprison him in flesh.   But the light is in him.   Yaldabaoth tries various tricks to contain the human and extract the light so he puts the human to sleep, but all this does is create Eve and enlighten the human.   The plot is too complex to recite here.   The point is that every action by Yaldabaoth to contain, control, even violently kill through the flood, is countered by the Divine Power.   

The bottom line is that everyone has the divine light within them.  The powers, Yaldaobaoth and his minions are always at work trying to make human beings forget who they are.  They do this through gold and silver, through lust, and every kind of temptation.   As human beings succumb to the temptations they become duller.   “Their hearts closed,” says the text.  

Enter Christ, the wealth of light.  Providence-Pronoia enters this world and wakes us up from sleep.   The Pure Light calls us to

“Arise and remember that you are the one who has heard, and follow your root, which is I, the compassionate.”  26:28-29

Thus the human struggle and the hope.   John after receiving this revelation relates these things to his fellow disciples and to all of us who will listen.

One could say this is crazy metaphysical speculation.   OK, but then again, what theology isn’t?  Some is your kind of crazy, some is my kind of crazy and some isn’t.   I invite you to withhold a judgment on that and ask what is a possible takeaway from A Secret Revelation of John as well as some of these other texts?    

Here is one thing I take away immediately.   The Secret Revelation of John is a critique of the powers of this world.   This was written in a time in which the Roman Empire was God.   It said it was God.   Its Imperial theology was everywhere.   Remember, from the perspective of The Secret Revelation of John, Yaldabaoth is the creator of all those Roman gods, too.    This book is a critique of all gods and all powers in the known world.   All are puny bureaucrats in light of the Divine Light that glows in each human being.   It is a critique of Rome’s arrogance and all earthly powers.    

The struggle the humans have in A Secret Revelation of John is to discern among all the voices, whose voice is the voice of the light.  It is deceptive, because the powers use half-truths and use divine images but distort them.    What is the voice of compassion, of true light, of goodness?  What is the right thing to do, the correct attitude to have, the just way to be in the world?

How do we evaluate the voices who tell us they have the answers?   It is almost parody because it is so obvious, but a quote from the Project for A New American Century is in order.  Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Bill Kristol are all part of this.   Here is their statement:

The Project for the New American Century is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to a few fundamental propositions: that American leadership is good both for America and for the world; and that such leadership requires military strength, diplomatic energy and commitment to moral principle.

Is that the voice of Father, Mother, Son, the Light or is it the voice of Yaldabaoth?   There is a purity of  raw arrogance in that statement from "The Project for A New American Century."    But that statement is one of many arrogant and false voices.     Messages from advertising, economic theory, political theory, all come at us.  They tell us who we are and what we need to do.

Who are we?   Are we defined by a certain kind of militant patriotism, by a political party, by consumption?   Is the goal of education to get a job, to be a cog in the marketplace?   Who are you and what will you do?  According to A Secret Revelation of John, the task is to develop discernment so that we can follow the root, the core of who we are…that is compassion.    To become a Human Being, not a cog in some power’s machine.

In A Secret Revelation of John there is no violence on behalf of the Divine realm, the one above Yaldabaoth.  All violence comes from Yaldabaoth and his minions.  There is no myth of redemptive violence for A Secret Gospel of John.   Salvation comes not from dominating others or from revenge, but from knowing who we are and by nurturing the light within.    

This is far more than metaphysical speculation.  A Secret Revelation of Johnprovides a second-century mythical framework for ethical action.    

When you hear that you that you are weak or powerless or idealistic or wrong or a heretic or bad or a cog or hopelessly violent, you can join the voice of this hopeful text and

“Arise, and remember that you are the one who has heard…”