On Church, Weirdos and the Jesus Sutras

February 4, 2018

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Mark 1:29-39

On Thursday night, Brian and I went to this drag show called Weirdo over on Santa Fe. It was a contest where the drag queens try and one up each other in doing the weirdest acts possible. And let me tell you, the show definitely lived up to its name. I felt like I was back in San Francisco. But the thing that was actually the weirdest part of the show was that the queen hosting it, out of nowhere, gets up and gives a sermon in the middle of the show. Like a real sermon. I mean, She didn’t call it that, nor do I think many of the other folks watching would have called it a sermon. She didn’t mention God or Jesus, but nonetheless what I heard was a sermon. What I heard was pure Gospel. I heard her tell the story of how a year ago she was at the end of her rope. She had just been dumped by the love of her life and she hated her body, felt like she didn’t fit in anywhere and that when she looked around, she was worried that more and more it seems like there’s less and less room for folks who don’t fit in. But then I heard her talk about how deep down from this secret place in her heart she knew she was loved and she knew that others needed to hear that they are loved, and so she started this show called Weirdo so that everyone would have a place to belong. And as I listened to her preach, I was like, hey, this sounds a lot like church, a lot like House. This sounds a lot like Jesus. Which got me to thinking about how often I fall into the trap of thinking that God speaks in the language of the Church, rather than the language of God. I thought about how I slip into believing that God’s language is some highly specialized dialect, like Elizabethan English or something – The Lood be with you. And that in order to hear the voice of God, we have to have a finely tuned ear, trained for years in the Scriptures and in the Liturgy. And yet, here I was in a dingy bar, surrounded by many of the weirest drag queens I have ever seen, and what i was hearing was without a doubt Gospel. And if the applause and the tears were any indication, then the whole bar recognized it as Gospel too. God was freeing people, right there. And if I’m honest, I must admit that this is usually how God speaks to me. Outside the walls of the Church. In the language of my daily life. Because this is the language I understand best. It’s the language I speak without even trying. And it’s because I understand it without even trying that God is able to reveal that God has come to me, that it’s in God’s nature to make God’s self known. It’s not for me to learn a new, specialized language so that I can somehow understand God. God will make God’s self known.  

 

Which is what we hear in today’s Gospel. Jesus and the disciples leave the synagogue  and go out into the world. Out into the daily life of the people. Which is where the majority of Jesus’ ministry happens,  and not in the synagogue. The synagogue, much like the Church, was the special place where the special people went to listen to God’s special language. But Jesus’ turns this upside down and goes out into the world and says that there are no special people or special places or special language of God. God is everywhere and makes Godself understood to all people.  And so Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes to Simon and Andrew’s house and there he speaks in a language that everyone can understand, the language of the heart. He simply takes their mother by the hand, raises her up and heals her. He doesn’t preach her a sermon or chant a prayer or perform an elaborate healing ritual. Jesus uses a simple, direct and universal language that she understands, and that everyone understands. Which is why I imagine that the gospel says, “The whole city was gathered around the door.” Because everyone understood. The whole city gathered because they knew what it meant for a religious teacher like Jesus, a rabbi, to touch a woman. Especially, a sick, elderly woman. That was a language they could understand. Because Jesus spoke the language of the drag queen and the laughing child, and not the language of the Nashville Statement or of Immgiration policy or any other language meant to shut people out. The simple, direct language of Jesus’ touch told them everything they needed to know about God. It told them that the old world was dead and a new day was dawning where they no longer had to fear that God was only speaking to certain people. God was speaking to the whole world and was telling them they were beloved.

 

And because Jesus spoke to the people in a language they could understand, it’s not a surprise that the disciples tell Jesus that, “Everyone is looking for you.” This week I kept coming back to those words, “Everyone is looking for you.” Everyone is looking for Jesus. And I remembered how, when I was a little boy, I would argue with my mother about whether or not it was possible for everyone to hear the Gospel. I’d be like, well, what about the people who were born before Jesus? What about the Native Americans? What about people who are alive today, but were traumatized by the Church or their country was bombed by a Christian nation? I just didn’t understand how we could expect everyone to hear the Gospel when we we are not all starting off from the same place.

 

But as I sat in that weird drag show on Thursday and listened to that drag queen preach, all of a sudden it was so clear. This God really is speaking to all of us and in a language we can understand. That God is not limited by the language of the Church, or of theology or even the language of the Bible. For sure, God uses things like scripture and the liturgy. That’s why we’re all here. But God is not limited to these ways of speaking. Instead, God, in her infinite wisdom and creativity, is constantly pushing beyond the boundaries that we establish and is moving on ahead of us, preaching love in ways the whole world can understand. Through drag queens, and laughing babies, through a kind word from a stranger and the splendor of a blood moon.

 

I remember the first time I walked into St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. And one of the first things I saw was what appeared to be a large stone tablet in Chinese. I found out that it was a rubbing of stone monument called the Xi’an Stele. And it contains some of what are called the Jesus Sutras. Which are retellings of the gospel from 7th century China, but using the metaphors from Toaism, rather than Judaism and Christianity. In one of the most beautiful parts of these Jesus Sutras, you can hear the writer wrestling with the question of how God speaks to us. Did God limit her gospel to Israel and the Roman Empire, or is God finding other ways to reach us? The sutra says, “Nobody has seen God. Nobody has the ability to see God. Truly, God is like the wind. Who can see the wind? God is not still but moves on the earth at all times. He is in everything and everywhere. Humanity lives only because it is filled with God’s life-giving breath. Peace comes only when you can rest secure in your own place, when you heart and mind rest in God. Day in, day out there you exist in contentment, open to where you may be led. God leads the believer to that place of contentment and great bliss.”

 

Reading these words changed my faith forever. It convicted me of how often I try and limit how God shows up and that God really is like the wind. That God is everywhere and is always moving. And that God is always speaking in a language we can understand. Because God desperately wants us to know that we all belong to God and that everything that separates us from God is but an illusion. And that there is nothing we have to do to get close to God, because God has come close to us. Amen.

The “Jesus Sutras” I refer to are found below:

Inscription of the Monument of the Church of the East at Xian

 

By 635 East Syrian Christian monks, often erroneously referred to as “Nestorians,” had reached Ch’ang-an, China, the capital of the T’ang dynasty. An account of the mission of the Syrian monk Alopen (or Alouben), the favorable reception of the emperor, and the varied responses to Christianity by a succession of T’ang emperors is recorded on a remarkable stone monument erected in 781 and inscribed primarily in Chinese characters. Detailing the spread of Christianity as well as the struggles Christians faced over a 150-year period in early medieval China, the full inscription is reproduced here.

 

Part One

 

[Across the top of the monument:]

1The Record of the Transmission of the Religion of Light of the West in China

 

2The Minister of the Administration of Monasteries bestows the Purple Robe to Yeli, the Chief Priest of the Monastery.

 

[At the bottom of the monument:]

3The erection of this monument is supervised by the monk Gongdong [with] monk Lingbao.

 

[At top upper right:]

4Monument commemorating the transmission of the Religion of Light in China

 

[At middle right:]

5Related by the monk Jingjing of the Da Qin Monastery

 

Part Two

 

1In the beginning was the natural constant, the true stillness of the Origin, and the primordial void of the Most High. 2Then, the spirit of the void emerged as the Most High Lord, moving in mysterious ways to enlighten the holy ones. 3He is Joshua, my True Lord of the Void, who embodies the three subtle and wondrous bodies, and who was condemned to the cross so that the people of the four directions can be saved.

 

4He beat up the primordial winds and the two vapors were created. 5He differentiated the gray emptiness and opened up the sky and the earth. 6He set the sun and moon on their course and day and night came into being. 7He crafted the myriad things and created the first people. 8He gave to them the original nature of goodness and appointed them as the guardians of all creation. 9Their minds were empty; they were content; and their hearts were simple and innocent. 10Originally they had no desire, but under the influence of Satan, they abandoned their pure and simple goodness for the glitter and the gold. 11Falling into the trap of death and lies, they became embroiled in the three hundred and sixty-five forms of sin. 12In doing so, they have woven the web of retribution and have bound themselves inside it. 13Some believe in the material origin of things; some have sunk into chaotic ways; some think that they can receive blessings simply by reciting prayers; and some have abandoned kindness for treachery. 14Despite their intelligence and their passionate pleas, they have got nowhere. 15Forced into the everturning wheel of fire, they are burned and obliterated. 16Having lost their way for eons, they can no longer return.

 

17Therefore, my Lord Ye Su, the One emanating in three subtle bodies, hid his true power, became a human, and came on behalf of the Lord of Heaven to preach the good teachings. 18A virgin gave birth to the sacred in a dwelling in the Da Qin Empire. 19The message was given to the Persians who saw and followed the bright light to offer Him gifts. 20The twenty-four holy ones have given us the teachings, and heaven has decreed that the new religion of the “Three-In-One Purity that cannot be spoken of” should be proclaimed. 21These teachings can restore goodness to sincere believers, deliver those living within the boundaries of the eight territories, refine the dust and transform it into truth, reveal the gate of the three constants, lead us to life, and destroy death. 22The Religion of Light teachings are like the resplendent sun: they have the power to dissolve the dark realm and destroy evil forever.

 

23He set afloat the raft of salvation and compassion so that we can use it to ascend to the palace of light and be united with the spirit. 24He carried out the work of deliverance, and when the task was completed, He ascended to immortality in broad daylight. 25He left twenty-seven books of scriptures to inspire our spirit; He revealed the workings of the Origin; and He gave to us the method of purification by water.

 

26Borne on gentle winds and brilliant clouds of purity, the white seal carves the words, gathering the four radiances to be united with the void. 27The sound of wood striking propagates the voice of virtue and benevolence:

 

28“The Eastern-facing Rites can give you the path of life. 29Those who choose to grow beards, shave their heads, travel on the open roads, renounce desire, have neither male nor female slaves, see all people as equal, and do not hoard material goods, are followers of My rites of purification.”

 

30We use abstinence to subdue thoughts of desire; and we use stillness to build our foundation. 31At seven we gather for service to pray for the salvation of all. 32Every seven days we have an audience with heaven. 33We purify our hearts and return to the simple and natural way of the truth. 34This truth cannot be named but its function surpasses all expectations. 35When forced to give it a name we call it the Religion of Light. 36As it is with the Way, that which is sacred is not sacred unless it is highly sacred, and that which is the Way is not the Way unless it is the Great Way.

 

Part Three

 

1The sacred doctrine that has brought light to the world came here during the reign of the Emperor Taizong. 2The glorious teachings were carried by Aluoben, a man of high virtue from the Da Qin Empire. 3He came on azure clouds bearing the true scriptures, and after a long and arduous journey, arrived in Chang-an during the ninth year of Zhenguan. 4The emperor sent his minister Fang Xuanling to greet him at the western suburb. 5The visitor was welcomed into the palace where he was asked to translate his scriptures. 6When the emperor heard the teachings, he realized deeply that they spoke the truth. 7He therefore asked that these teachings be taught, and in the seventh month in the autumn of the twelfth year of Zhenguan, he issued a decree:

 

8“The Way does not have a common name and the sacred does not have a common form. 9Proclaim the teachings everywhere for the salvation of the people. 10Aluoben, the man of great virtue from the Da Qin Empire, came from a far land and arrived at the capital to present the teachings and images of his religion. 11His message is mysterious and wonderful beyond our understanding. 12The teachings tell us about the origin of things and how they were created and nourished. 13The message is lucid and clear; the teachings will benefit all; and they should be practiced throughout the land.”

 

14On the street named Yining in the capital, the Da Qin Monastery was erected for twenty-one Religion of Light monks. 15Through His great virtue and His ascension to the blue skies in the west, the fight of the Way and the Religion of Light spirit has reached the Great Tang. 16On the eastern gate of the monastery is an imperial declaration penned by the Emperor: “Reveal the splendor and brightness of heaven; glorify the Religion of Light saints; and let the benevolent teachings illuminate this realm of existence.”

 

17According to the maps of the western territories and the records of the Han and Wei histories, the southern part of the Da Qin Empire touches the coral seas. 18Northward it stretches toward the Mountains of the Many Treasures. 19Westward it overlooks the flowering woods of paradise. 20Eastward it extends to lands where the wind never stops and the rivers are few. 21From there came cotton-filling to make warm clothing, frankincense, shining pearls, and bright gemstones. 22In that land there are no thieves. 23People are happy and healthy. 24Only the Religion of Light teachings are practiced, and nothing other than virtue is promoted. 25The buildings are large and spacious, and the country is rich in culture and learning.

 

26The Emperor Gaozong praised his ancestor for recognizing the value of the true teachings and decreed the building of Religion of Light Monasteries in many provinces. 27He conferred on Alouben the title “Lord Protector of the Great Teachings.” 28The teaching spread to the ten directions and the country prospered. 29Monasteries were built in hundreds of cities and many people received blessings from the Religion of Light Church.

 

30In the following years, the Buddhist teachers from the eastern district spread vicious rumors and gathered a group of dishonorable people in the western suburb to slander [the Religion of Light Church]. 31The chief priest, the Honorable Lo-hsieh, brought out the golden religious objects, and the high monks defended the wondrous doctrine. 32Thus, a disaster was averted.

 

33The pious Emperor Xuanzong ordered five princes from the dukedom of Ning to supervise the building of a church where the doctrine could be taught to more people in simple and straightforward ways. 34Within a short time, many people were converted.

 

35In the early years of Tianbao, the emperor ordered General Gao Lishi to attend the consecration of the Acts of the Five Saints Church. 36He also sent gifts of one hundred bolts of satin and a commemorative tapestry. 37On the tapestry was embroidered: “The Dragon may be far away, but the bow and sword can reach the corners of the sun to bring light and celestial music to the three realms.” 38From the Da Qin Empire came the monk Jiehe, who observed changes in the stars and gazed at the sun in an audience with the Lord. 39The emperor also asked the Honorable Jiehe, Lexie, Bulun, and seventeen other monks to perform a high ceremony of prayer and offering at the Celebration Hall. 40At the Tiandi Monastery there is a plaque written by the emperor. 41Decorated with sparkling jade and suspended from a high rafter, it floats like a many-colored cloud from heaven. 42On it is written:

 

43“As great as the Southern Mountains, as grand as the largest lakes, and as deep as the Eastern Seas, the Way can accomplish anything, and what it accomplishes must be described. 44There is nothing that the holy ones cannot achieve, and what they have achieved will always be recorded.”

 

45The enlightened Emperor Suzong established Religion of Light Monasteries in Ling-wu and four other provinces. 46He supported charitable works and celebrated the great festivals. 47Thus he was blessed, and his reign was prosperous.

 

48The scholar and military Emperor Daizong continued to promote the Sacred Way and follow the principles of wu-wei. 49On the morning of the Holy Birthday, he offered incense and honored the Religion of Light Christians with an imperial declaration. 50It read: “Due to your wonderful and meritorious works, many people have found salvation. 51Because the sacred took on human form, the poisons of the world can be stopped.”

 

52During the years of Jianzhong [of the Emperor Dezong], my pious emperor issued eight edicts and drove away the darkness. 53He opened the nine realms and renewed the life of the Religion of Light Church.

 

54To penetrate the mysteries, to bless with a good conscience, to be great and yet empty, to return to stillness and be forgiving, to be compassionate and to deliver all people, to do good deeds and help people reach the other shore—these are the great benefits of our path of cultivation. 55To calm people in stormy times, to help them understand the nature of things, to maintain purity, to nourish all things, to respect all life, and to answer the needs of those whose beliefs come from the heart—these are the services the Religion of Light Church can offer.

 

56The Minister of Religious Affairs and the Assistant Provincial Governor of the tribute kingdoms bestowed the purple robe on the monk Yishi in the Examination Room on behalf of the emperor. 57In a harmonious and benevolent way, this monk dedicated his life to spreading the teachings from the capital to the heart of the country. 58His skill was impeccable and his learning was without peer. 59In the beginning he befriended the Governor. 60Later, he made himself known in the community of scribes. 61Finally, he got Duke Guo of Hanyang to introduce the rites of abstinence in the tribute kingdoms.

 

62When the Emperor Suzong saw that his father was bedridden and unable to walk, he vowed that he would continue the policy of his ancestor. 63He sent messages to his ministers and ordered them to distribute his wealth generously, and to send gifts of cloth and gold [to the Religion of Light]. 64He offered to renovate the older monasteries, rebuild the churches, and redecorate the halls and chambers. 65He also asked the Luminous Religion Church to follow the principles of virtue and benevolence. 66Every year, he invited the monks of the four monasteries to plan their charitable activities together with him. 67He bid them to feed the crippled, give clothing to those suffering from cold, heal the sick, and bury the dead. 68His devotion was so great that he asked a white-robed Religion of Light priest to write a plaque to glorify the luminous doctrine. 69The text reads:

 

70“The True Lord of the Primordial Void, in absolute stillness and constant naturalness, crafted and nourished all things. 71He raised the earth and established the sky. 72He took on human form and His compassion was limitless. 73The sun rises; darkness is banished; and we are witnesses to the true wonder.”

 

74Throughout the reigns of the emperors there were records documenting the history of the Religion of Light Church [in China]. 75They tell us that the Religion of Light teachings were brought into the Tang Empire, that the scriptures were translated, and that monasteries were built. 76These teachings are like a raft, carrying salvation, blessings, and goodwill to the people of my country.

 

77Following the footsteps of his ancestors, the Emperor Gaozong built beautiful monasteries and churches throughout the land. 78The True Way was proclaimed and the title “Lord Protector of the Great Teachings” was conferred. 79The people were happy and there was prosperity everywhere.

 

80The Emperor Xuanzong promoted the sacred doctrine even further. 81He followed the true teachings, penned declarations to endorse them, and issued imperial decrees to support them. 82In simple and glorious words, he praised the deeds [of the Religion of Light] and deemed them worthy of celebration.

 

83The Emperor Suzong revived the Way of Heaven and observed the holy days. 84Within one night, the fair winds swept away the impurities that have corrupted the palace. 85The dust was cleared and the country was made whole again.

 

86The Emperor Daizong was filial and virtuous. 87His piety was as great as heaven and earth. 88He opened the imperial treasury and gave gifts of precious materials and jasmine incense. 89To those who were virtuous, he rewarded them with gemstones that were as bright as the full moon.

 

90The reigning Emperor of Jianzhang [the Emperor Dezong] believed in the enlightened teachings. 91During his time, the military and the generals kept peace in the four corners of land and the scholar officials were honest and upright. 92He encouraged everyone to examine the nature of things with the hidden mirror. 93People in the six directions were enlightened, and the hundred unruly tribes were brought under jurisdiction.

 

Part Four

 

1This doctrine is great and its workings are powerful and mysterious. 2If forced to describe it, I would call them the work of the Three-in-one Lord. 3All this humble servant has done is to record on the monument what has happened and to glorify the Primordial Lord.

 

4Erected in the second year of Jianzhang of the Great Tang, accompanied by the proper ceremonial music and rites, in the seventh month, on a day when the bright sun illuminated the forest. 5Attended by Chief Priest Ningshu and the followers of the Religion of Light teachings from the East. 6The calligrapher is the former military adviser of the Dai Province, the Honorable Imperial Appointee Lu Xiuyan.

 

Chinese Christian Sutras

 

Resembling Buddhist sutras in style, several Chinese Christian treatises have been found that attest to early medieval missionary activity in China. The Sutra of Jesus Christ has been dated as early as 638 and may originate with Alopen’s original mission. Using terms like “Lord of the Universe” for Christ and “Cool Wind” for the Holy Spirit, it retells the message of the gospel in language that would have been more accessible to a Buddhist and Taoist audience. Composed ca. 720, the First Liturgical Sutra, with its prayer to the “Jade-faced One,” illustrates the adaptation of Christian liturgy to the Chinese context.

 

The Fourth Sutra: The Sutra of Jesus Christ

 

Chapter One

 

1At this time the messiah taught the laws of God, of Yahweh. 2He said: There are many different views as to the real meaning of the Sutras, and on where God is, and what God is, and how God was revealed.

 

3The Messiah was orbited by the Buddhas and arhats [disciples of the Buddha who have attained semidivine status]. 4Looking down he saw the suffering of all that is born, and so he began to teach.

 

5Nobody has seen God. 6Nobody has the ability to see God. 7Truly, God is like the wind. 8Who can see the wind? 9God is not still but moves on the earth at all times. 10He is in everything and everywhere. 11Humanity lives only because it is filled with God’s life-giving breath. 12Peace comes only when you can rest secure in your own place, when your heart and mind rest in God. 13Day in, day out there you exist in contentment, open to where you may be led. 14God leads the believer to that place of contentment and great bliss.

 

15All great teachers such as the Buddhas are moved by this Wind and there is nowhere in the world where this Wind does not reach and move. 16God’s Palace is in this place of peace and happiness yet he knows the suffering and actions of the whole world.

 

17Everyone in the world knows how the Wind blows. 18We can hear it but not see its shadow. 19Nobody knows what it really looks like, whether it is pleasing to look upon or not, nor whether it is yellow, white, or even blue. 20Nobody knows where the Wind dwells.

 

21God’s sacred spirit force allows him to be in one place, but where it is nobody knows, or how to get there. 22God is beyond the cycle of death and birth, beyond being called male or female. 23God made both Heaven and Earth. 24God’s sacred spirit force has never been fully manifested. 25This power can grant longevity and lead to immortality.

 

26When people are afraid they call upon Buddha’s name. 27Many folk are sadly ignorant. 28God is a sacred spirit force. 29God is always beside the believer. 30There are the Sutras. 31People say they know who God is but they do not. 32It is in Buddha’s nature to bestow grace, and with this grace comes also a deep, clear understanding that lifts us above folly. 33This way anybody can attain Heaven, even if he is not a scholar. 34The sacred spirit power of God works in everybody, bringing all to fullness. 35All existence is an act of grace, every physical form is created, God has brought everything into being. 36Everything is born, dies, and decays, returning into the earth and continued suffering.

 

Chapter Two

 

1All that has life, know in your hearts that this is so and by grace understand how to do that which is good. 2Everything that is born must die. 3Everything that lives exists only because the Winds give it life. 4When it is time for life to end, the Winds depart from the body. 5A person’s heart and mind are not their own, but are created by the Winds. 6The Winds’ departure is a time of great distress, but nobody can see the Winds at that time. 7Nobody can see them because they have no form, no color, not red or green or any other. 8The Winds of Life are invisible. 9The path is unknown. 10Similarly, people want to know where God is. 11The path is unknown, and so it is impossible to see God.

 

12Only the virtuous can enter into the presence of God, can see God. 13It is not possible for everyone to see God. 14Those who are blessed and fortunate can feel God close by, but those who do evil will remain sunk in evil. 15People must first understand that God cannot be seen, and never has been seen. 16So the question arises: How can anyone practice the correct way to be blessed? 17If they avoid the Way of Earth, of Hell, they can attain the Way of Heaven. 18However, even if they do attain the Way of Heaven, it is still easy for them to sink into the Way of Evil again.

 

19If what they do does not show wisdom, then they are not following the Way of Heaven. All that lives, regard this grace well. 20There is a great, a very great, distance between Heaven and Earth. 21Some lives are shaped by evil. 22Those who put their souls into serving the nation receive much wealth as a reward, but those who live wicked lives, not doing what is ordered by the Power of Heaven, will never achieve success or a good post. 23Instead they will be exiled, to die in ignominy. Is this not the Power of Heaven? 24All such evil stems from the first beings, and the disobedience in the fruitful garden. 25All that lives is affected by the karma of previous lives. 26God suffered terrible woes so that all should be freed from karma, for nobody is beyond the reach of this Buddha principle. 27Those who do good will be blessed and fortunate, but those who do evil will suffer.

 

Chapter Three

 

1Foolish people make wooden statues of camels, cows, horses, and so on. 2They may make them seem very lifelike and worship them, but this does not really bring them to life. 3If you can understand all this, then understand the process of karma’s cause and effect. 4This is a gift unique to human beings. 5In today’s world there are so many who create images of people, of scholars and gurus. 6They think this makes them like God, but they cannot give life to their creations. 7They really are confused! 8They make gold, silver, or bronze statues of spirits, then venerate them. 9They even make wooden statues of the spirits, people, and animals. 10But no matter how much the human statue looks like a human, or the horse statue like a horse, or the cow statue like a cow, or the donkey statue like a donkey, they cannot walk, they cannot speak, they cannot eat or drink. 11They have no real flesh, or skin, or organs, or bones. 12Even though these statues cannot talk, everybody today wants to talk to them. 13If you eat something, you should know by its taste and smell whether it is good or bad.

 

14Only somebody who truly worships God can teach the Sutras and expound the texts. 15Someone who fears punishment does what is right, and tells others to do likewise. 16God loves such a one, and they are known as one who follows God’s Law. 17However, somebody who knows in their heart the right way to follow, but does not do good and encourages others not to do good, is unacceptable to God. 18Such people are trapped by luxuries and illusions, too preoccupied with appearances, too attracted to life’s pleasures, and they are following the wrong path. 19Such people will end up in the hands of King Yama, God of Judgment and Rebirth. 20But even those who accept the teachings of God, who often say “I obey God,” who teach others to obey God, should fear God. 21Be watchful every day of slipping. 22Remember all life depends on God. 23Everybody should seek the right relationship by resolving their bad actions. 24Life and death are controlled by the sacred spirit, and everyone should fear God.

 

25This fear is like the fear of the Emperor. 26The Emperor is who he is because of his previous lives which have led to his being placed in this fortunate position. 27He is chosen by God, so cannot call himself God, because he has been appointed by God to do what is expected. 28This is why the people obey the Emperor, and this is right and proper. 29Everyone should obey the Commands. 30If anybody disobeys then they are punished. 31Wise people understand this and teach others to act likewise. 32Those are the people who live by the Precepts. 33If you do not fear God, even if you live by the Law of the Buddha, you will not be saved. 34Indeed, you will be counted among the traitors.

 

35The third aspect is to fear your parents. 36You should honor your parents just as you honor God and the Emperor. 37If you honor the Emperor and not your parents then God will not bless you with good fortune.

 

Chapter Four

 

1Of these three aspects, the first and most important is to honor God. 2The second is to honor the Emperor. 3The third is to honor your parents. 4The whole of Heaven and Earth follows this way. 5Everything follows this way of respecting parents; throughout the world everything owes its existence to parents. 6The sacred spirits have ordained that the Emperor is born as the Emperor. 7We should fear God, the Sacred One, and the Emperor. 8Also, fear your parents and do good. 9If you understand the Law and Precepts, do not disobey, but instead teach all people true religion. 10Buddha creates Buddha’s own bitterness and suffering. 11Heaven and Earth have been made to show clearly the causes of creation. 12The Emperor should be the embodiment of enlightenment. 13He does what is naturally right to do. 14The first covenant of God is that anything that exists and does evil will be punished, especially if they do not respect the elderly.

 

15The second covenant is to honor and care for elderly parents. 16Those who do this will be true followers of Heaven’s Way.

 

17The third covenant is to acknowledge we have been brought into existence through our parents. 18Nothing exists without parents.

 

19The fourth covenant is that anybody who understands the precepts should know to be kind and considerate to everything, and to do no evil to anything that lives.

 

20The fifth covenant is that any living being should not only not take the life of another living being, but should also teach others to do likewise.

 

21The sixth covenant is that nobody should commit adultery, or persuade anyone else to do so.

 

22The seventh covenant is not to steal.

 

23The eighth covenant is that nobody should covet a living man’s wife, or his lands, or his palace, or his servants.

 

24The ninth covenant is not to let your envy of somebody’s good wife, or son, or house or gold, lead you to bear false witness against them.

 

25The tenth covenant is to offer to God only that which is yours to give.

 

26But there is much more than this.

 

27Do not bully those weaker than you. 28Do not despise those more powerful than you. 29If someone is hungry, even if he is your enemy, care for him, forgive and forget. 30If someone is hardworking, help and support him. 31Clothe the naked. 32Do not abuse or try to deceive your workers, especially if you have no real work for them. 33To do so, and thus fail to pay them, brings suffering to their families. 34If you see someone abusing their workers like this, know that the sacred spirit will severely punish them.

 

35If a poor person begs for money, give generously. 36If you have no money, have the courtesy to explain why you can give only a little help. 37If someone is seriously ill or handicapped do not mock, because this is the result of karma and not to be ridiculed. 38Do not laugh at poor people in rags and tatters. 39Do not obtain anything by deception or force. If someone is arrested tell only the truth. 40Never try to use false means to achieve anything. 41If someone who is alone, or a widow, or orphan, brings a complaint against anyone, their quest for justice should not be hindered. 42Do not boast or brag. 43Do not cause dissent and strife by picking quarrels, arguments, or fights, and do not side with one party against another.

 

44Someone who has power and authority should not abuse it to make things go his way, so do not use your influence with authority to win a case. 45Keep quiet. 46Those who follow the precepts should be charitable and humble. 47Turn away from evil to good. 48Doing good will save you from tribulation, so do good to all. 49Those that do so, and follow the covenants, are those who know the precepts. 50If while studying the Sutras you come to believe, then you have received the precepts.

 

51If you study, but do not believe, then you have not received the precepts. 52All rests ultimately with God. 53Our saintly ancestors, both great and small, will stand before us and judge us in the end. 54The first thing is to obey God. 55God protects all that lives; everything that lives does so as a result of this. 56It is forbidden to take a life even for a sacrifice, for these teachings forbid taking any life. 57All sacrifice and slaying of the lamb is to be offered for the sacred spirits’ blessing and forgiveness. 58If any living being does not follow this, does not do good or sets out to do evil in secret, God will track them down. 59God will not look with compassion on such behavior, but God does look with compassion on those who turn away from rejecting God and doing evi1. 60God responded by coming to promote good deeds and replace the former law.

 

Chapter Five

 

1So God caused the Cool Breeze to come upon a chosen young woman called Mo Yan, who had no husband, and she became pregnant. 2The whole world saw this, and understood what God had wrought. 3The power of God is such that it can create a bodily spirit and lead to the clear, pure path of compassion. 4Mo Yan gave birth to a boy and called him Ye Su, who is the Messiah and whose father is the Cool Breeze. 5Some people claimed they could not understand how this was possible, and said that if the Cool Breeze had made Mo Yan conceive, then such a child must have been created at the bottom of the world.

 

6If the Emperor sends a command, all loyal citizens must obey it. 7God looks down in compassion from Heaven, and controls everything in Heaven and Earth. 8When Ye Su the Messiah was born, the whole world saw a bright mystery in the Heavens. 9Everybody saw from their homes a star as big as a wagon wheel. 10This mysterious light shone over the place where God was to be found, for at this time the One was born in the city of Wen-li-shih-ken [Jerusalem] in the orchard of But Lam [Bethlehem]. 11After five years had passed the Messiah began to talk. 12He did many miraculous and good things while teaching the Law. 13When he was twelve he assumed the Holy Word and began teaching.

 

14He came to a place of running water called Shu-Nan [Jordan] so that he might be given a name. 15Thus he came to one called the Brother who dwelt in the wilderness and who, from his birth, had never eaten meat or drunk wine, but instead lived on vegetables and honey gathered from the wilderness.

 

16At that time many people came to the Messiah, bringing gifts, and worshiped him. 17These people were deeply troubled. 18The Messiah went to them, bringing the precepts. 19When he emerged from the waters the Cool Breeze visited him from Heaven and a voice proclaimed “This is my son, obey him.”

 

20The Messiah showed everyone that the way of God is the way of Heaven. 21He spoke the words of the sacred spirit, telling people to renounce evil and talking about doing good. 22This began when he was twelve and he preached until he was thirty-two. 23He found people who were living evil lives and brought them back to the way of goodness, the True Way. 24He instructed his followers, especially his twelve disciples, and traveled the land teaching and healing. 25Those departed from this world were restored to life. 26The blind were able to see. 27The crippled and sick were restored and able to walk. 28Those troubled by ghosts had them cast out. 29Some of the sick were healed simply by asking, others by holding on to his gown—but all were healed.

 

30Those who do evil, and do not recognize the True Way or the words teaching of God’s religion, as well as the unclean ones, can never be truly saved, not today or even in this generation. 31The scholars, fearing the Messiah, attacked and denounced him, but the people believed his holy teachings, so he could not be taken.

 

32The evil ones schemed together, pretending to be speakers of truth and purity. 33They tried to slander him, but could not trap him, so they went to the great king Pilate, wanting him to kill the Messiah. 34The Messiah ignored all this and continued teaching the people about true religion and how to do good. 35He became famous.

 

36When he was thirty-two the evil men came before the great king Pilate and were able to state their case, saying that the Messiah must die. 37The great king said that he would not kill him, as there seemed to be no clear case against him. 38The seekers of evil in this affair argued that he must die, because otherwise what would become of us?

 

39The great king Pilate ordered water brought and washed his hands showing the evil ones he washed his hands clean of the case. 40The evil ones continued to press their case until he had no option but to kill the Messiah.

 

41The Messiah gave up his body to the wicked ones for the sake of all living beings. 42Through this the whole world knows that all life is as precarious as a candle flame. 43In his compassion he gave up his life.

 

44The evil ones brought the Messiah to a place set apart, and after washing his hair led him to the place of execution called Chi-Chu [Golgotha]. 45They hung him high upon a wooden scaffold, with two criminals, one on either side of him. 46He hung there for five hours. 47That was on the sixth cleansing, vegetarian day. 48Early that morning there was bright sunlight, but as the sun went West, darkness came over the world, the earth quaked, the mountains trembled, the tombs opened and the dead walked. 49Those who saw this believed that he was who he said he was. 50How can anyone not believe? 51Those who take these words to heart are true disciples of the Messiah. 52As a result…[here the text breaks off]. …

 

The First Liturgical Sutra: Taking Refuge in the Trinity

 

1Da Qin/Syrian Christian liturgy of taking Refuge in the Three

 

2All reverence to the Great Holy Compassionate Father of All Things—Allaha!

 

3Priest: Oh radiant Jade-faced One Exalted as the sun and moon Your virtues are greater than those Of all the Holy Ones and Dharma Lords—

 

4Congregation: The laws of Compassion save us all!

 

5Echoing through the world like a tolling golden bell….

 

6Priest: Great Holy Law Giver You bring us back to our original nature. 7And the souls that are saved are countless: Divine compassion lifts them up from the dust Redeeming them from the saddened realm of ghosts

 

8Congregation: The hundred Ways bring us clarity and kindhearted mercy….

 

9Priest: Now I draw close to our Holy Compassionate Father The One who creates salvation— See the angelic spirits crossing the Ocean of Dharma!

 

10We know to practice peace in our hearts through You.

 

11This whole gathering unites in singing to You, Honored One:

 

12All: The Great Law is now the Heavenly Wheel Of returning—to You.

 

13Worship the Dharma Kings. Begin with the Sutra of Dharma King John. Then continue with the Sutra of the Psalms and the Path of Grace Sutra.

 

14On the 2nd day in the 5th month of Hai Yun [720], Su Yun of the Da Qin Religion of Light in the Great Holy Oneness of the Dharma, a monk of the Da Qin monastery at Shachou [Qansu], wrote this faithfully for the faithful.

 

SOURCE: A. Mingana, ed. and tr., Woodbrooke Studies, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Heffer, 1928), 60-73, 77-84, 87-90. SOURCE: “The Stone Sutra,” tr. Martin Palmer et al., in Martin Palmer, The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (New York: Ballantine, 2001), 224-32. Copyright © 2001 by Martin Palmer. Used by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. SOURCE: “The Fourth Sutra: The Sutra of Jesus Christ” and “The First Liturgical Sutra: Taking Refuge in the Trinity,” tr. Martin Palmer et al., in Martin Palmer, The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity (New York: Ballantine, 2001), 159-68, 180-81. Copyright © 2001 by Martin Palmer. Used by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

 

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