Your Teachers Are All Around You
John 20:19-31, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Hello Community! Welcome to you who are both near and far for this worship service on the Second Sunday of Easter. Thank you for connecting this morning! Some of you know that I am gathering your responses for what is saving your life right now, and also I am collecting pictures of what you are doing to keep yourself busy, useful and hopeful. Some of you are making masks, some of you are sewing, some of you are writing letters and doing art. You can also take a worship selfie, which you can snap right now and send all of this to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I continue to feel so grateful for all of this technology that is allowing us to remain connected, but I hate that the best way for me to preach, is for all of you to be muted. It is not our tradition for the congregation to be silenced, so when we are able to return to our in-person worship, I hope you will bring your “Amens” and “Yeses” back with extra gusto.
As part of our Auction Fundraiser in December, the Men’s Group purchased the chance to select a sermon topic this year. I really love this tradition. Spense said that “since the early four gospels were allegedly authored by men, we felt it was time for a woman to author this new book, to share what would be “fifth gospel” that would reflect the needs of our current time.”
Today I am doing things a bit differently, going off the map and sharing the usual sacred texts for this Sunday, so you can see that alongside some special additions. So I am offering sort of like the Introduction and then a first part of a Gospel according to Nicole, but that also might require multiple sermons, so this is really just something like the introduction to one chapter. It was fun to be asked to explore this. I relish the art and craft of preaching and the creativity you have welcomed from me has been a gift, something that fuels me.Thank you.
Let us begin with some centering. We open our minds and hearts to this prayer from Psalm 19:14, God, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, wherever they are, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“Your teachers Are all around you.”
“All that you perceive, All that you experience, All that is given to you or taken from you, All that you love or hate, need or fear Will teach you-- If you will learn. God is your first and your last teacher.
God is your harshest teacher, subtle, demanding, learn or die.”
This means that whatever names we have for God, It is present in the unfolding of our experiences and It aims to guide us, if we are but open.... It isn’t about believing, it’s about surrendering to the flow. All that happens to us, is not of Divine design, and yet all that happens, all that we feel or don’t, can all be a lesson in the long arc.
This is liberating because it means that wisdom and counsel and insight and inspiration are to be found not in a distant deity, but in something that is active and among us here. It is within us as “inner knowing” in ways we might not ever fully understand. And therefore our spiritual journey isn’t about pleasing a God that is out there, it isn’t about ditching doubt, but welcoming mystery- listening and learning, loving and evolving, savoring and saving this life.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene speaks to this perspective with verses like this, “Be in harmony, if you are out of balance, take inspiration from manifestations of your true nature.” And verses like the one you heard, “All that is born, all that is created, all of the elements of nature are interwoven and united with each other…” These point to the idea that whatever names we have for God, It is present in the unfolding of our experiences and It aims to guide us, if we are but open. All of life is intricately woven and bound together.
At another point in Mary’s Gospel, Jesus, labeled only as The Teacher, says, “There is no sin. It is ‘us’ who make sin exist, when ‘we’ act according to the habits of ‘our’ corrupted nature; this is where sin lies…” Still another verse reads, “Be vigilant, and allow no one to mislead you by saying, Here it is or There it is, for it is within you that the Son of Man dwells. Go to him, for those who seek him, find him.” This tells us in a different way what Jesus said in the Synoptic Gospels, the Kin-dom of Heaven is at hand- it isn’t about bowing down, but opening up.
Some of you might be surprised to learn that there is such a thing as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The earliest writings credited to Mary Magdalene are a part of a group of other materials called the Gnostic gospels. Gnostic comes from the word gnosis, in Greek meaning “inner knowing” “self-acquaintance” or “self-knowledge.” Most of the writings in this genre were suppressed and were not included in the official Christian texts, that would become our Bible. It was in the year 325 that Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea and the group, likely all men, determined which books would be in, and which would be out. Of course any of the writings that were more mystical and metaphysical were not included- like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip and the Gospel of Mary. But in 1945 in a large clay jar in the desert at a place called Nag Hammadi in Egypt some fragments were found that meant these powerful pieces of our history and tradition could not be hidden forever. The previous incomplete texts, like parts of Mary’s Gospel found in 1896, could now be put with this new discovery, giving a fuller view to other threads of the Jesus movement, but also offering an entirely different slant to his teachings and his intentions.
In the Gospel of Phillip, we read this, “The Lord loved Mary more than all of the disciples, and often used to kiss her on the mouth. When the others saw how he loved Mary, they said, “Why do you love her more than you love us?” The Savior answered them in this way: “How can it be that I do not love you as much as I love her?”
This isn’t the only place that suggests Jesus and Mary had a love relationship, but here we learn that perhaps Jesus shared some of his teachings with her, that he didn’t with the others. Which is why at the end of one part of a parable in Mary’s Gospel, we read this, “Then Andrew began to speak and said to his brothers: “Tell me, what do you think of these things she has been telling us? As for me, I do not believe that the Teacher would speak like this. These ideas are too different from those we have known.” And Peter added: How is it possible that the Teacher talked in this manner with a woman about secrets of which we ourselves are ignorant? Must we change our customs, and listen to this woman? Did he really choose her and prefer her to us?” “Then Mary wept…and said…”Do you believe that this is just my own imagination that I invented this vision?”
I believe when we consider these other books, Christianity looks extremely different so here we go…
The Gospel According to Nicole
You might have been told and sold the idea that the pathway to the good life was something that it’s not.
The truth is not for everyone.
It brings both misery and freedom.
Start with curiosity. Far more possibilities will be created because certainty closes.
It’s a hard thing, an often ugly thing, to dare to see the truth, to see things as they truly are, to see the ugly parts of ourselves and the world and to love it anyway. Once the truth finds you, it clings.
Once the unveiling has started, your world and the whole world will never be the same again.
We thought we had to know something more than we do. The Mystery is itself a blessing, but rest assured, this is not just my own imagination. “Take inspiration from manifestations of your true nature.” You are worthy. Keep going.
Let us count down the days until it is no longer acceptable for money to be valued more than memories, for fresh mountain streams to mean more than streams of revenue.
Happiness cannot be found in a handbag. What is presented, is often a veneer. “Be vigilant, and allow no one to mislead you by saying, Here it is or There it is.” You are enough. All of the elements of nature are interwoven and united with each other. Yes you. You deserve love. Healthy love, intimate love, adventurous love, deep love- love that takes your breath away.
No need to get it or get it right. Sin is: when we refuse the teachers that come, when we ignore our interdependence, when we deny our impermanence, when we stop listening, learning, loving…
The truth is not for everyone.
The Kin-dom of Heaven is at hand- no need to bow down, instead open up- adapt, evolve, be born again.
Do not let life happen to you. Go out and turn to wonder. Wander your way to your truth. God has not decided anything but that God is Change and some of the “rest of what we need is within ourselves, in one another, and in our Destiny.”
Whatever names we have for God, It is present in the unfolding of our experiences and It aims to guide us, if we are but open.... It isn’t about believing, it’s about surrendering to the flow. All that happens to us, is not of Divine design, and yet all that happens, all that we feel or don’t, can all be a lesson in the long arc. Your teachers Are all around you. Learn or die. May it be so.