Sunday, October 13, 2013

Seeking and Finding (10/13/13)

Seeking and Finding
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

October 13, 2013

Selections from the Gospel of Thomas

Jesus said,
"Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. And after they have reigned they will rest." (2)

Jesus said,
"One who seeks will find, and for one who knocks it will be opened."  (94)

Jesus said,
"The Father's kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, 'I love you more than the ninety-nine.'" (107)

He saw a Samaritan carrying a lamb and going to Judea. He said to his disciples, "He is surrounding the lamb."

They said to him,
"So that he may kill it and eat it."

He said to them,
"He will not eat it while it is alive, but only after he has killed it and it has become a carcass."

They said, "Otherwise he can't do it."

He said to them,
"So also with you, seek for yourselves a place for rest, or you might become a carcass and be eaten." (60)

Jesus said,
"The Father's kingdom is like a merchant who had a supply of merchandise and found a pearl. That merchant was prudent; he sold the merchandise and bought the single pearl for himself.  So also with you, seek his treasure that is unfailing, that is enduring, where no moth comes to eat and no worm destroys." (76)

Jesus said,
"Why have you come out to the countryside? To see a reed shaken by the wind? And to see a person dressed in soft clothes, like your rulers and your powerful ones? They are dressed in soft clothes, and they cannot understand truth." (78)

Jesus said,
"Seek and you will find.  In the past, however, I did not tell you the things about which you asked me then. Now I am willing to tell them, but you are not seeking them." (92)

His disciples said, "Show us the place where you are, for we must seek it."

 He said to them,
"Anyone here with two ears had better listen! There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world. If it does not shine, it is dark." (24)

We are spending the season of Autumn with the Gospel of Thomas.  Next weekend we are honored to welcome Milton Moreland of Rhodes College in Memphis and Ruben Dupertuis of Trinity University to Elizabethton for a weekend seminar on the Gospel of Thomas. 

As I am preparing these sermons on Thomas I am learning a great deal about this text and I am discovering that I am intrigued by the wisdom of this text.   I am finding myself challenged by what it says.    Perhaps as Jesus says in saying two, “disturbed” by it.  

To prepare these series of sermons, I took the sayings and divided them under ten themes.   This is not because there are ten particular themes in Thomas.  It is because I needed to preach ten sermons.    The divisions are not clean.   I did this without any guides.   These were themes I saw.   

These themes are:

Who is Jesus?
Revealing the Hidden
Seeking and Finding (the theme for today)
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!

These themes are not cleanly divided.  They spill into each other.  For example, the human condition, who are you, and disciples in the kingdom are all quite close.   As I continue to explore this amazing text I am finding that there are many other choices I could make regarding themes.   But it is a start.

I am seeking to find meaning in this text.  

Seeking to find.

That is today’s theme.  The sayings I chose for today either have the word “seek” in it or are obviously about seeking.    We are familiar with the following saying in both Luke and Matthew, the wording in both gospels is identical:

Ask—it’ll be given to you; seek—you’ll find; knock—it’ll be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives; everyone who seeks finds; and for the one who knocks it is opened. 

Saying 94 in Thomas is a shortened form of that saying: 

 Jesus said,
"One who seeks will find, and for one who knocks it will be opened."  (94)

Then we have saying two in Thomas.  This is the anchor text for this theme of seeking and finding.  

Jesus said,
"Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. And after they have reigned they will rest." (2)

Matthew and Luke end with the finding, the receiving and the opening.   Thomas takes it further.   Keep seeking until you find.  But when you find, the quest doesn’t end.   Once you find, then it gets interesting.    Jesus makes this statement of great confidence:  ask, seek, knock.  This effort will not go unrewarded.  Thomas takes this statement further and tells us what happens.    

The first thing you discover when you find is that what you have found is disturbing.   It isn’t all rainbows and unicorns and spiritual bliss.   It disrupts.  We have a story about how things are supposed to be and who we are and what makes sense then we get curious.  Or perhaps we aren’t curious.  Maybe we stumble on to something.   We find something that shakes our world.   

I remember learning the history of the American West and the treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government and by European settlers.  The truth was a lot different than what I grew up with watching television westerns.   It was disturbing and it still is.   Being confronted by our legacy of slavery and the ongoing injustice regarding race is disturbing.   It was disturbing to learn about our various environmental crises and what the future might hold for industrial civilization.  It was disturbing to learn the actions of our militarized empire around the world and of the inequality of which American consumers bear at least some responsibility.   In regards to religion it was disturbing to learn about the vastness of our universe and of our evolutionary history and realize that the biblical story was far, far smaller.   It was disturbing to learn about different religions and cultures that relativized my own.  

There is a great deal of effort by the status quo in religion and culture to silence the disturbance.   Much money is spent to deny what we are finding.   This is certainly true in the field of religion.   The creationist movement to deny evolution is a most obvious response to the angst of being disturbed by reality.   The denial of climate change or the rewriting of American history to show that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery or that the Indians really like it on the reservation or that everything the U.S. does is good and moral around the globe or that there is ample oil in North Dakota for all our energy needs is all part of the cover up and the denial of what we are finding to be true. 

The wisdom of Thomas is that disturbance is part of the quest.  When you find more truth about yourself or your world you will be disturbed.   Don’t cover it up. Don’t retreat.  Don’t go backward.   Don’t deny.  Hang in there, says Thomas.  Go through it.   Because disturbance is a path to wonder.    Only when we allow ourselves to be disturbed, broken, and emptied out can we be open to honest possibility.   Only when we are honest that we have wounds, can we begin the process of allowing those wounds to heal.     

It was disturbing to me when I first discovered holes in the Bible, that it wasn’t the inerrant Word of God that contained the cosmic story.   It was disturbing when I found that my understanding of God was too small for reality.   As I live with that disturbance, and the disturbance isn’t really over, I find myself in wonder and I marvel at the amazing universe of which I am a part.   I find that I marvel at the Bible much more when I read it as my ancestors’ own quest for meaning.    I marvel at the Sacredness of Earth and of the Universe.  I marvel that I am (and so are you) the eyes, ears, voice, and consciousness of Earth and the Universe.    This is an amazing time to be alive.   Amidst all of the disturbances, wow, I get to observe it, live it, participate in it, and tell its story.  

A couple of weeks ago I showed the youth a film about astronauts who tell of their experience in spaceand how that changed them.   The film has beautiful images of Earth from orbit and from the moon.  For the astronauts it was a profound spiritual experience. Disorienting.  Disturbing.

One astronaut who was aboard the space shuttle said that whenever they had free time they would just sit at the window and watch in silent wonder Earth turn below. It is the most amazing show ever.   She said when we look up from Earth’s surface and see the blue sky it looks like it goes forever.    The vastness of the blue.  But from orbit you see a thin layer just over the surface of Earth.  That thin layer is the atmosphere.  That thin layer is all that protects Earth and every living thing from the harshness of space in which nothing can live. 

Earth is a spaceship, an oasis of life in the midst of a vast, vast space desert.     They could see from space the impact of humanity on this fragile home.    They could see, for instance, the deforestation.  How both amazing and awe-inspiring on one hand and how fragile on the other is our beautiful home.

I asked the youth to calculate for me what year it will be when they are my age, 52.   They figured that out and it will be around the middle of the century, around 2050.   I asked them to imagine what life will be like in 2050.   It will be a world beyond oil.   However we manage our way through the peak and decline of oil production and consumption we will be by 2050 beyond it as well as beyond many other forms of fossil fuel energy that provide for us life as we know it. 

I wanted to impress upon them that they will participate in some of the most significant changes humans have ever known.     They will find creativity beyond what they know they have.  They will observe and chronicle and participate in the most amazing transitions humans will make.   Talk about an adventure.    We are in it, too.  We have already begun.  This is an amazing time to be alive.  If we are at all bored, we are definitely not paying attention.  

Disturbing?  Yes!  Marvel?  Yes!

Now, next step.  

“When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and reign over all.”

This does not mean we get to be boss over everybody.   Look at me, I am enlightened, I get to reign over you.   No, not that.    It is the exact opposite of that. We recognize how interconnected we are to one another and to all living things. We are not separate but intimately connected.   We are the ecosystem of Earth for example.  We are Earthlings.  We are nature.   Even larger than that, our bodies are made up of atoms that come from exploding stars.   We are in time and in space the universe itself.    We arise from it, the primordial light.  We are the light of the universe. 

Interestingly, on Spaceship Earth in 2013 we are the storytellers of Earth and of all Earthlings.   We are One With All That Is.  In the words of Jean-Yves Leloup, “ We are OneWith That Which Reigns Over All.”    As we recognize our unity with Being itself, we are a part of that which reigns or which is.  

The path is that we seek and find.  We move beyond the false sense of who we are.  We learn some truths.   As we learn them we are disturbed by what we find, by the separateness and the alienation.  We are disturbed by the disconnect and by the pain it causes.   Through it we marvel at what is larger both without and within.  The truth is more amazing than the falsehood.   We discover that we are united not divided at our very core, we realize we are one with what is, then the final realization is repose.   We rest.  

This does not mean we take a nap.   The image is Sabbath.  On the seventh day, God rested, says the biblical story.   God didn’t stop reigning or being.   God rests perfectly.  The rest, the peace that passes understanding as Jesus elsewhere said, the presence of stillness and silence, is who we are.  It is the “light within a person of light” as Jesus says in saying 24.   The rest is not sleeping, it is the exact opposite, it is fully awake.  It is not tossed and turned by our thoughts and desires, it is the repose of perfect light that is repose.   It is rest within oneself.   We have those thoughts and desires, but they are not us.   From the light, from the peace, we live life, and if we choose, respond to thoughts and desires.

All of the stuff, the peak oil, the militarization, empire, the government shutdown, and all the worries of everyday life are there.  But they do not destroy us because we come to them from the repose, from the light that is the light of Being itself.   That is the meaning of the beautiful refrain, “It is well with my soul.”   The world is not at all well, but at the deepest level we are well and it is well because we are one in light.   We can thus be light in the world.  We can actually do some good, rather than engage in anxious worrying and panic, because we are repose, light, being. 

That is the journey Thomas invites us to take.     

I spent all my time on saying two.   The seeking, finding, disturbing, marveling, reigning, and resting is a way to see the other seeking and finding passages.  

I do want to say something about the big sheep.   

In Matthew and in Luke we find the parable Jesus told about the shepherd who had a 100 sheep.  One wanders off and the shepherd leaves the other 99 and finds the one.  After the sheep is found there is more rejoicing over it than over the 99 who didn’t get lost.  

The version in Thomas is slightly different.   There are also 100 sheep.  One is lost.  The one that is lost is the biggest.  When the shepherd finds it, he says to the big sheep, “I love you more than the 99.”   This theme has a parallel with another passage in Thomas that I didn’t include in this collection of the fisherman who catches a net full of small fish.  But among them he finds a large fish, keeps it, and throws the small fish back.    Another parallel is the merchant who has lots of merchandise.  But he finds a pearl and sells all his merchandise for the pearl.  

Large sheep.  Large fish.  Pearl.   What is Thomas saying? 

Seeking and finding is an act of discernment.    The big sheep, big fish, and pearl represent that which is worth keeping.  When you find it, don’t lose it.  Keep it over the rest.   Life is filled with things that clamor for our attention.  They aren’t necessarily bad things.  They may be good things.  But they are small things.  In your seeking, in your quest for that which is meaningful, in your quest for truth, for light, for repose, be able to discern and make decisions about what is important and what you will keep.    Don’t let the stuff of life fill up your life so that you miss what you really are seeking. 

In saying 60, the Samaritan is carrying a sheep.  He is going to kill it and eat it.  But he can’t eat it until he kills it, until it becomes a carcass.  Jesus says find your repose before you are carcass and will be eaten.    

In all of these parables in Thomas that use various images, they do seem to say something similar.  Seek repose.  Seek the light.   Find yourself amidst all of the rest.   Don’t get eaten by life’s cares and hassles and competing images for your soul or your center.   

You may read this in a different way, of course, but for me I find these parables and images of seeking and finding to be invitations to find yourself.  This is not ego-driven.   This is Being driven.             

I find this message of Thomas personally helpful because I get anxious about all kinds of things.   I worry over things small and large and I feel regret or guilt about the past and anxiety about the future.  My hunch is that I am not alone in that.  There are moments, that I recall who I am, that I get a glimpse of a bigger picture.   That picture is one of peace, repose, and light.   I am that.  So are you.   The light that is Christ is the light that is you. 

Let it be well with your soul. 


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