“Differentiated Unity” 06/15/2014 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Psalm 139

When I was growing up, my Father had a t-shirt that that I loved. The t-shirt said “He who dies with the most toy’s wins.” I loved that t-shirt because I found it rather funny to think of my dad having toys, but even more so I loved that t-shirt because I loved the idea that the purpose of life, what we are to be about, is having fun. To win, that t-shirt said to me, is to be the one who has the most fun! Not a bad motto for life.

Now that t-shirt must have been a favorite of my Dad’s as well for he seemed to have it for a very long time, and as I got older my love for that t-shirt was replaced by annoyance of it. That well-worn t-shirt came to represent for me all that was wrong with our consumer culture that does its best to convince us that the purpose of life, what we are to be about, is the accumulation of stuff. And that living life well, winning as it were, is about being able to earn more and more money so that one can buy more and more things.

While that t-shirt is not around any longer, having finally succumbed to the rag bag, its message persists. We continue to live in a culture that insists that more is the doorway to a successful life.

And maybe that message works for some people. Maybe some people do find deep joy and the contentment of a well led life in being able to acquire the latest this and that. But I suspect that is not the case for most. I think that the reason the volume on the messaging to consumer more and more is being turned up louder and louder these days, is to try to distract us from a growing suspicion that something is wrong — That unbridled consumerism is destroying the planet, and that that our insatiable hunger for something more ends up making us feel more empty than ever.

So if the purpose our living is not about consumerism and self-gratification, than what is it? What would you say is the purpose of your life, what it is you are all about? If you could make a t-shirt with your life motto on it what would it say?


If we are to model our lives on the one who came to show us the way to live, one way of answering that question would be to ask what does Jesus tell us about the purpose of our lives? And it turns out, of course, that Jesus has a lot to say about this. Over and over again, in word and action Jesus tells us that what we are to do, what the purpose of our lives is love. We are to love.


Now how many of us when we hear that life’s purpose is love cannot help but feel just a tinge of let down? Really let’s be honest about it. Saying that the purpose of our life is love can feel a bit dissatisfying. Love as a life goal feels a bit amorphous, hard to grasp, perhaps even kind of sentimental or fluffy. Are to fill our hearts with charitable impulses and move through our day with a rosy kind of optimism — doing good with good cheer? You know that hymn, “they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” That’s us. People should be able to look at us and see love, but what kind of love is this, that Jesus tells us we are to live? What does that kind of love look like? How are we to go about living this kind of love?


I would like to suggest that far from charitable impulses or sentimental fluffiness, this kind of love is truly a full body work out and is perhaps the most demanding and yet the most rewarding thing we will ever do in our lives. For this kind of love, this God love asks two very challenging things of us. It asks that we first come home to ourselves and that second we come home our place within creation. It is when we accept who we are completely and honor that and take up our God-give place in harmony with all creation, when we stand in that place of individual differentiation as a unique and wonderful child of God and embrace our unity together that we participate in the love of God that is the very energy of creation itself.

It is this harmony and balance of differentiation and unity that is the deep truth of the creation story and it is the Eden that we are called to inhabit within our hearts even now. In the beginning God separated, differentiated the swirling mass of chaos and energy into land and sea, sky and earth, day and night, and creatures of every type flying and creeping creatures in an amazing array. And we, humans were set down in the midst of it all. You and I, wonderfully and fearfully made like every other living creature on this planet were placed within this of this rich and wonderful, textured web of being, wholly differentiated and wholly apart of creation.

Differentiation and unity is also the deep truth of the Trinity. While it may be really hard for us to wrap our minds around the idea of the Trinity when we think of it as a noun, as a representation of what God looks like. But if we think of the Trinity more like a verb, as a representation of what God is doing then I think it becomes a bit more clear. For the Trinity suggests that within God there is dance, a flow of movement and energy that is holding God’s very self in relationship and in unity.

Are we not then to do the same?


I think we are, yet to do so can be hard.

It can be hard to fully honor who we are as unique and wonderful and to fully honor our place as a part of all that is.

Instead of dwelling in that sweet spot of balance and harmony we get thrown off. We tend to think too much or too little of ourselves and too much or too little of those around us.

Either we carry deep seated shame – the feeling like we are not enough, flawed in our deepest core, spending much of our energy worrying that our worthlessness will be discovered. And in this woundedness of shame those around us seem so overly competent and together so much better and beyond us, so we hide or keep our distance.

Or we tend too much in the other direction and walk around with an ego that borders on narcissism, thinking it is all about us and that others really ought to think as much about us as we do.

Both ways of being in are distortions of who we are to be and how we are to live.

What would it feel like to just accept the you that lives in your skin? The me that lives in mine? What would it feel like to simply be who we are, God’s dear children right along with all our imperfections? If we were actually able to just be who God created us to be, can you imagine how the world would look without the distortions of shame or narcissism?

What would it be like to see each other not as rivals or judges, but instead as treasured companions? What would it feel like to see the full moon rising and call her sister? What would finally break loose and be free if we could greet the grasshopper that lands in our open hand, as we would a dear friend?

Jesus tells us that the purpose of our lives, what we are to do is to love. When we can be in this balance and harmony, balance within ourselves and harmony with the world around us, when we can stand in that sweet spot of differentiated unity, what I have experienced is that love happens. The love Jesus asks of us does not originate with us, it is a part of the origin of all things and flows powerfully through all that is. When we stand as no more and no less than who God created us to be and take up our place among the family of all things, to borrow a phrase from poet Mary Oliver, this love that is God, this powerful healing, generative, life giving, world healing force flows in and through us.

And what is it like to participate in love in this way? It is the song the psalmist sings. It is to be filled with awe and delight. To be caught up in this current of Love to know a joy that no number of toys could ever buy.


I asked Tom Vawter, if he would choose a poem to send us out with this summer. A poem that would speak to this balance and harmony, this differentiated unity that is the dooway to life lived in love. He chose The summer’s day by Mary Oliver and it is perfect. Hear now her words.

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

As we go out into this summer, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? What will you discover to be the purpose of your living? Will you take time to discover how you too are wonderfully and fearfully made? Will you take time to discover your part in the family of all things? Will release yourself into the current of love that is so very present. Will you love? Thanks be to God. Amen