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Lectionary reading from the Revised Common Lectionary, NRSV

John 14:1-14

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”

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Pastor’s note

Spaciousness and intimacy.

In our reading for today, Jesus speaks the consoling and gracious phrase “let not your hearts be troubled.” And why not? Because the universe has a lot more possibility, and a lot more room, than we may often imagine. In the House of God, there are endless houses, great houses, spaciousness for all. Where is this spaciousness, Thomas wants to know. Jesus answers that what you have sensed and known in me is the spaciousness, is the place of the House of God, that greater place. This healing, and sustenance, and compassion is the place of spaciousness. It does not end when I leave you. It is like many mansions in heaven. It does not end when any of what we can see now ends. This is now and always the place of “the Father”, the place of mothering God, the Word that was at the beginning, the light of the world, the river of life. It is the seed, foundation, hoped for future, healing, and repair of everything and everyone, now and always.

How do we see this wonder, this spirit of “the Father”, Philip wants to know. Jesus answers that you are seeing it all the time as we draw near to each other. Let those who can, take notice of it. It is right here among us. “The Father is in me; and I am in the Father.” And you are right here with me, seeing what all has been going on. Do you remember the mighty works, the turning of water to wine, the witness of the Samaritan woman at the well, feeding the 5000, walking on water, healing the man born blind, the raising up of the woman blamed for adultery, raising Lazarus, Mary’s anointing? Do you think all that is amazing? You will do greater works; you will experience greater wonders!

First of all, one might hope that at least one of the disciples, perhaps a lesser known one like Andrew, might have said something like: that raising of Lazarus was truly wonderful, but turning all that water into really good wine – now that’s a party. Right on, Jesus. But do you really think we’re going to do stuff like that?

Well, Jesus’ miracles, conversations, and social jiu-jitsu are iconic. And they are not literally repeated among us now. But we do have such life-giving miracles of love happening all the time.

One person’s skill and passion turns grapes into wine and can turn a party where there was only water into a party that has delicious wine (or juice, when that is better for anyone).

Another person addresses the homeless woman as the creature of true dignity and strength that she is and so a change begins.

Another person can really put out the cut fruit, pomegranate seeds, crackers, cheese, drinks, chips, until the feast expands ones imagination and even goes beyond it.

Another may not walk on water but their skill with art is breathtaking and defies the gravity of the ordinary.

Another helps the man born gay to see that he is truly wonderful and beloved.

Another shows a cell full of women in prison that they are like her grandchildren, un-casting blame, raising them up.

Has anyone overcome death? Has anyone loved all the way through, before, during, and after death and still carries on loving, understanding with deep spiritual intuition that the circle will be unbroken.

Has anyone recognized the Great Spirit in the hands and feet of another, and honored them, and walked with them, and shared the load and the glory?

These are all miracles that I know about in our small faith community of Beloved Community Mennonite Church

But “show us the Father” Philip says. And Jesus answers “Have I been with you all this time and you still don’t know me. Take a look around you. See what there is to see. Notice how the universe is expanding even as our hearts expand. There is such spaciousness, such intimacy among us right now. I am love and you are love and God is love. The the world in all time and space is full of miracles.”

Much love to you,

—Pastor Vern

Photo – sky above our house, last week

“My hope is built on nothing less than remdesivir and righteousness.” (Apologies to Edward Mote, “My hope is built on nothing less” – blue hymnal p. 343). The original, of course, is “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

What is my hope built on? I thrill to the news that there may be something, anything, that can stem the awful tide of COVID19. Why not? We want to live. We want our loved ones to live. We want humanity to live and thrive. We are all the children of God, after all. So hurray for remdesivir and anything else. There are apparently ten chemicals that are being focused on for research because they address the protein that COVID19 interacts with. More power to the researchers!

Why would I want “Jesus blood” instead of remdesivir or something, hopefully, far more effective that may come along. Dr. Fauci is the one who led the development of the drug cocktail that so effectively first targeted the seemingly unstoppable HIV plague. This was my first plague, so to speak. I remember, back in the late 80s, helping to care for, and then doing funerals for young men dying of AIDS. What a wonder to have medication for that horror. What a wonder it would be now.

That’s some tangible help. What’s so great about Jesus’ blood? There are problems. For one thing, there’s the huge problem of the violent atonement, as if God demanded the blood of God’s own child as the only cure for human sin. This is such a short circuit of theology about the cross and resurrection. It is awful, if nevertheless understandable, because of the theological short-hand that Paul uses over and over. If you’d like to read a couple of Mennonite authors who address the atonement, I’d suggest John Driver, The Atonement and J. Denny Weaver, The Non-violent Atonement. For a critically important feminist critique of violent atonement theology, see also: Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering and the Search for What Saves Us by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker.

Another problem with Jesus’ blood is that it tends to get used as a mark of exclusivism or superiority. If you “believe in Jesus” then you get to go to heaven and nobody else does. You get to be more right than everybody else. You get to declare theological victory over others, as if spirituality is some sort of ballgame or war.

But I think “Jesus’ blood” can be connected to a very different understanding. This is the deep spiritual sense that what life is about is not only our religions or science, our wills and efforts, our material and physical concerns and developments.

We encountered this last week in I Peter, where silver and gold are considered to be impermanent while trust in God is what is permanent, and the wholehearted love that is the expression of that trust.

“Jesus’ blood” can be an albeit strange shorthand for trusting in much deeper, more profound spiritual waters. As I’ve noted before, Cynthia Bourgeault writes in her book Mystical Hope thatwe may come to live inside a far greater hope, a hope that flows from our own unstoppable spiritual fountains, rather than from hope for good outcomes or success.

Bourgeault pays attention to the kind of experiences that we all have, experiences of joy and wonder that have little or nothing to do with “getting stuff” or succeeding or surviving. A quick mark of this would be the resource and power that’s there when someone looks at you with a great and genuine smile. Or when we laugh hard together. And of course when a friend or stranger shows us a kindness, like the woman who offered half her package of toilet paper to us at Costco several weeks ago. Or when we observe the life-force in a grandchild or any child, that life-coming-to-be that is ineffable, far more than we can express. Or when an elder or leader remembers something that rings the bell of wisdom so deeply that we wonder how we ever could have gotten on without hearing it: “[To stay true to yourself and to avoid burnout, “don’t try to give gifts that you don’t have to give;” “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that;” “Keep a little space in your heart for the improbable; you won’t regret.” Wisdom! (You may wish to look up who said each of these quotations.)

Most of all, it is a lived sense that my life, all that it has ever been or ever will be, and all lives, and all life, and all the matter and anti-matter in the grand starry universe, within time and beyond time, are all implicated together in a great conspiracy (in the sense of “breathing together”) of life, hope, wonder, and love, a co-luminosity of infinite beauty.

From this perspective, God help us, we may become more kind, more generous, more available to care for justice and equity for all peoples, more willing to be “in it” with everybody else, to suffer and rejoice with all who suffer and rejoice.

A spiritual grounding, such as “Jesus’ blood,” or we could just say “Jesus’ life” or “the Word that was in the beginning” or the “peace I leave with you” may all seem too ephemeral at first, compared to remdesivir and other practical resources that we all desperately want and need (food, water, housing). We by no means will lose sight of the practical. Going to the greater spiritual heart of things always means a greater capacity to attend to healing, justice, equity, new life. It’s just that, if we can let it be, we may attend to all these, and our lives, and our loves, from an inexhaustible fountain of compassionate love and hope that flows in the midst of all of us.

So my prayer is: “My hope is built on nothing less….”

1 Peter 1:17-23

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

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Pastor’s note

Here’s one paradox I’ve been noticing:

I both fear other people and feel deeply enlivened by other people. Marilyn’s and I ventured into Costco during senior hour a couple of weeks ago. Workers were not wearing masks! (I think they have to now.) All shoppers were, however, wearing masks, and being cautious. This was the over-60 and special needs crowd, trying to stay alive in the midst of COVID. But we edged past each other, watched each other for signals as to which direction someone would be turning or walking, which product they were moving toward, so that we could keep our distance. Everyone else is a threat! Who is a COVID carrier? Nobody knows! Maybe all of us!

At the same time, I noticed something very strange. I loved being with the other people. Life felt more “real” than just staying at home. And I don’t think it was because it restored a sense of the ordinary. A bunch of cautious seniors in masks was anything but ordinary. I think it was something more ineffable and powerful: I needed the presence of other people. It was like finally getting a drink of water. Just moving among others felt like resources flowing, felt like a strong sharing. Somewhere inside of that it was possibly just the sense of shared life. At home with all my abstractions, I begin to distort the “feel” of humanity. I needed a dose of real presence.

David Brooks, in his book The Social Animal, summarizes brain research that suggests that when we are physically with others, we are bathing not only in their viruses! We are bathing in millions of subtle and not-so-subtle signals we are taking in. I would say this is how we feel human. Our humanity is not something we can just feel by ourselves. We need each other.

It always seems to be paradoxical. When have we not been both a threat and a resource to each other? We kill each other and save each other. We neglect each other and give our lives for each other.

But what if we can shift toward love? The writer of our Bible passage from the letter “I Peter” says that the gift of Christ is “genuine mutual love,” and loving “one another deeply from the heart.” My sense is that the Christ-gift is to shift from threat to resource with each other, to learn a better way to let that grand ocean of the real presence of humanity be something that is for the sake of life, rather than death.

In other words, the Christ-gift is not to attempt to introduce something into humanity that is alien to humanity. Rather it is to release something that is constantly welling up among us, if only we can keep our prejudices and distortions and fear from blocking it. It is the “ah, that’s like a drink of water” feeling that we so easily get from being with others.

The gospel of John, that most mystical, philosophical, and cosmic gospel starts out “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And this “Word” is Christ. Here we have the sense that at the heart of all that is resides the seed and out-working of love. It is another way of saying, as Genesis does that in the beginning it was good. At the heart of things it was good and is good and will be good.

And here’s another paradox! This thing that matters most is invisible! I Peter says “Through Christ you have come to trust in God.” Not in perishable things like silver or gold! Perishable! But that’s what I want. More silver or gold. Good ol’ tangible silver and gold. God, on the other hand, is invisible. And yet that’s what is actually imperishable. Perhaps it is that with silver and gold there tends to be a hoarding of resources. And with God there is a sharing and multiplication of resources?

I could feel that power at Costco. It felt like underneath all those human feet with our viruses and vulnerabilities and uncertainty flowed a mighty river of shared humanity. What if in that shared humanity we could make that shift toward love? What happens every time we do?

Much love to you,

—Pastor Vern

Lectionary reading from the Revised Common Lectionary

John 20:19-31

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

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Pastor’s note

There are two key things I notice in this passage for the second Sunday of Easter.

First, there is an expression of peace in the midst of the worst of it all. At this juncture in our story, Jesus was executed by torture, at the hands of the imperial Roman army. And this was done with the consent and even collaboration of the religious leaders of the people. And one of the very friends of Jesus betrayed him to the authorities. So now Jesus’ friends gather, but it is behind locked doors, because they fear their own leaders.

Grief, uncertainty, and raw fear of menacing power threaten to overcome them. Into the middle of this debilitating maelstrom, the resurrected Jesus shows up and says “Peace be with you.”

Second, it is physical. Not ordinary physical, for sure. Jesus just shows up in a locked house. And his closest friends don’t recognize him immediately. First he must show them the scars to demonstrate who he is. Then they rejoice. Except Thomas takes a bit more time to get to the rejoicing. It’s all a bit much, all a bit sudden. He needs to touch, have a moment to process confirmation.

I think I might be with Thomas here. For a dead teacher/rabbi to show up in a locked room, even if I recognized him, might not immediately move me to rejoicing.

But there it is. Peace. And peace in a way that’s physically real. Not imaginary peace, or peace where you just squint your eyes together and try to make it seem real.

I am currently reading a wonderful book by Cynthia Bourgeault called Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God.” Her key point is that this “mystical hope” is not the same as hope that is focused on outcomes. She quotes the small prophetic book Habakkuk which says:

Though the fig tree does not bud

and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails

and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen

and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the LORD,

I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to go on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

She notes that in this passage, hope is not based on a good outcome. There is no good outcome in the text. There is only a rejoicing that is discovered even in the midst of the worst hard time.

She notes that this is brought home even more acutely in the book of Job, where Job’s life is comprehensively dumped over and scattered. And it is in the midst of this that he says the words which have now been immortalized in Handel’s Messiah, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” (Job 19)

And it is the root of what Jesus talks about with the woman at the well, when he says:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

It is hope that wells up from within, not dependent on success, approval, or survival. Rather it is hope that is an expression of the foundational “mercy” which is at the heart of all creation. She speaks of this mercy as the connective tissue or the “luminous web” (quoting Barbara Brown Taylor) of all reality. The purpose of Bourgeault’s book is to help understand how to let this mercy flow through us so that our hope is grounded in the heart of the divine.

In her book, she makes the same two observations as I made with our story of Jesus:

First, this hope is for us even when times are the hardest (Even as Jesus wishes his friends “peace” in their locked home.)

Second, this hope is not something we must imagine, but that flows into us with real psychological impact. We feel it filling our bodies. It is physical. (Even as Jesus appears in his mysterious body which is both recognizable and not recognizable.”)

This book feels extraordinarily relevant to me right now. I feel fear, for self and others. I want to hide behind a locked door. Times seem unimaginably strange. And I need whatever the goodness is to come to me physically. I don’t want just an idea. I want to be filled by existential warmth. I want confirmation, like Thomas. I want it to be real.

Much more needs to be said. What exactly are we talking about? How does this happen? I will probably share more insights from Bourgeault’s book as I go along. But this is what she talks about. She’s not just winging an idea out into the universe. She’s describing a reality she has experienced, lived, and witnessed in others. She calls it not the idea of hope but “the body of hope.”

I wish this reality for each one of us. May we be those who find the “living water” within, and the peace of Christ, in the locked rooms of our fears.

Much love to you,

—Pastor Vern

Well, sadly, there will be few children waving palm branches for the adult service before going to their Sunday School classes. The traditions are off. Danger is in the air. Change is on the wind. What is becoming? What is to become of us?

If you’re like me, occasionally, coming through the tinnitus and other daily sounds, I hear the dry scrape of mortality, like dry bones shifting in the wind of the Mojave desert, a sharp-eyed raven standing by to croak “nevermore.”

Or is the message “evermore?” Ravens are notoriously playful and smart, perhaps making you listen for the “what is.” Maybe it’s both. Nevermore to the way things were. Evermore, to the way things are going to be. And what lies on the path and out into the probabilities and possibilities of the future. My heart teaches me that it is love, love to the edge of the universe (which is possibly a quantum curve, making the edge home and making home the edge), love somewhere among the enemy and misbehaving, love being offered for those who have perceivers to perceive with.

Jesus, playful like the raven, I think, puts a donkey in the middle of a performance art piece where he rides “triumphant” into the city, but without a warhorse or sword. And yet there’s talk of “Son of David” and “highest heaven,” which would make any ruler worry a bit, especially if the crowds get big enough. I can hear the rulers from the music of Jesus Christ Superstar singing, in their startling low voices, the refrain: “He is dangerous.”

Jesus hangs out in the neighborhood of danger and love, life and death, power and powerlessness. He is a living paradox, rejecting political revolution and political cooperation, choosing neither quietness nor populist declaiming. What guides him is that God, his “Father”, is going to love everybody somehow. But that takes some loosening of entrenched power and detangling of twisted systems.

So you get a donkey, and some shouts, tables overturned, but quietness in the garden. And then the big paradox – death and life.

My paradox, in these days of COVID, is the vibrating uncertainty that I feel, the sense that there could be anything around the corner. And knowing that I have it so much better than so many. And still feeling scared. And not wanting to be scared, wanting to be courageous in the face of the challenge. And feeling so much love.

A few days ago we went to “senior hour” at Costco (I would have rather gone to happy hour at Ned Kelly’s). There was a woman who had TP in her cart. Marilyn asked her where she got it, and she said that at first there had been a pallet of TP but that it disappeared quickly. Then, a miracle. The woman circled back around a few moments later, and asked us if we needed TP. She said she would be happy to buy it and then share half of it with us in the parking lot. That was lovely. We did not need it that badly, but very much thanked her.

This, I would say, is the voice of God’s love. This is the burning bush, the brightness of assertive compassion in the middle of all the surreal strangeness. That is the voice that opens up the universe and makes again and again the possibility of life. This is the kind of story that sparkles in the corner of the eye of Jesus as he hops onto his “mighty donkey” for a little ride into Jerusalem.

As for my fear, I tell myself others have it worse. And they do. And yet I don’t know how bad I will have it in this moment. David Kessler, grief expert who did lots of work with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, says this: “We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.” (https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief)

And when we are not victims, but rather paradoxical people of love, then we may discover more capacity to carry love into the world. In this way, the need for justice, among other things, gets better addressed.

As we move into holy week, the week leading up to Good Friday and Easter, we may then consider that final paradox in the story of Jesus: He is unwilling to stop loving, stop working, even with the threat of death. But he cries out to God, saying he’d rather not die! (Let this cup pass from me.) But again he surrenders to God, to the heart of love in the universe. And that’s where Easter comes from.

So I’d say, go ahead and feel your fear, grief, sadness. Let the soft animal of your body feel what it feels, to paraphrase Mary Oliver. (from her poem “Wild Geese”). And then go from there into whatever the path holds. The end of this next week is not Good Friday but rather Easter. So may it be, again and again, into all time and all space. And here with us.

“Oh hear the word of the Lord….” Can’t you hear the song? “Them bones, them bones are gonna… walk around….”

Here’s a. link for a version of “Dry Bones”: https://youtu.be/mVoPG9HtYF8

This most vivid of Biblical stories/images is glorious and compelling. The people have been reduced to a valley of dry bones, a picture perhaps echoing the ancient report from the battlefield of Megiddo, a battle between Egypt and Canaan that is also called “Armageddon.” All the valley is full of dry bones. Can these bones live? “Lord, you know,” says the prophet.

It is a place of no hope. And the place of no hope now, in divine paradox, becomes the very place of hope, the heart of new life. Now the bones clack together. Now connective tissue, skin, and finally, most wonderfully gathering from the four winds, comes breath.

Mmm-mm. Breath from the four winds. That’s life! In a time of ventilator-scarcity fear, from whence will come our breath? Perhaps the four winds are what we experience if we all work together, all stretch out in compassion and loving cooperation. There’s a web-based initiative to help invent “hacked” ventilators or “battlefield” ventilators – creative solutions to help quickly multiply supply to meet the need.

The Bible loves a good divine paradox: the widow whose empty oil jar never runs out, the dry sky that starts to rain, going ahead and getting yourself thrown into the lions’ den, saviors born to single teenagers, oppressive Roman centurions as paragons of faith. And then of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This latter paradox leads me to the latest astronomical wonder: that black holes may actually gather and bend light in such a way that the whole universe can be glimpsed in successive photon rings (if I have it correctly). The all-engulfing all-destroying black hole is also the place of universal light! The hill of death by Roman torture/execution becomes the occasion of the garden of new life, the place where Jesus says “Mary” who then becomes an incomparable “witness to my Lord.”

I can tell that I don’t fully believe it, because I find myself still giving in to fear and even selfishness. But what if, in the love of God, there is no place free of this paradox – that the very places of loss and death, the places we fear the most, can be fountains of life, can be the sources of the great river of life that flows through the city of God. In the love of God. In that divine love that may teach our hearts.

Can these bones live? Teach my heart, O Lord.

One of the most alarming developments in political and social processes is the failure of leaders and citizens to refuse the herd mentality. There is a deep human instinct to glom together into an undifferentiated mass, whether for the sake of security or comfort or political/social advantage.

How difficult it is for us to be well-differentiated, especially when the going gets tough. I think this is at least part of what Jesus was addressing when he talked about being salt and light. How may we allow our faith to be a source of courage for brave living in the midst of it all?

Some steps that we can see Jesus taking for the sake of differentiation:

1) Coming to terms with self – 40 days in the wilderness, quiet time on the mountain or in the garden. Jesus separates when possible to do a gut-check or heart-check.

2) Nurturing and attending to allies and friendships – Jesus makes deliberate and attentive moves for the sake of strong relationships. The twelve apostles are one thing, but also Chloe, Susanna, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and others – this becomes his strong web of community. He ultimately says, despite his status as a celebrated teacher (“rabbi”) , “I no longer call you servants (or slaves) but friends.”

3) Jesus “brushes his teeth” with regular actions to enact and demonstrate what love looks like in many different situations. This activity of regular practice reinforces and builds a new character in community and society, a new incarnation.

Rabbi Ed Friedman in his work with family systems underlines how we get emotionally lost in “triangles.” The most basic form of the triangle is “you and I against x.” Or “you and I making our relationship depend on x.” This function appears in all friendships, all marriages, all clubs and political parties and societies. “Our marriage is all about the kids.” “I wish we could all work together like we did in WWII.”

Friedman notes that it is a powerful move of differentiation to be “in the triangle but not of the triangle.” This means that we will be in these relationships, seeking collaboration and agreement. But we will also have the capacity to say “Here’s what I think or see or am going to do at this time, by the best insight I have for now.” Or even “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Such differentiation can feel almost physically painful. It pulls us away from the comfortable connective tissue of “going along to get along.”

And most challenging of all, differentiation does not mean sheer separation. We still work to stay with or work with the relationships that matter to us (“as far as it depends upon us,” as Paul says.). Differentiation neither cuts off nor stays stuck together. Differentiation seeks resiliency, flexibility, negotiation, collaboration, more than simple battle with the enemy or simple agreement with friends.

One can see some of this hard work in the One who talks about salt and light, in the way he struggles with friends, students, and disciples, while also going the extra mile to love them, and also to both love and challenge strangers and enemies.

To take on this practice of differentiation is a form of spiritual maturity. It is something we always need, like good food. May there be salt and light among us.

—Pastor Vern