This morning I have been working on a couple of stories for worship at Belair later in May. One of them is also part of a series, '(In) Humanity', that I have been developing in recent years. (Watch this space for that one).
The stories I am sitting with today are stories of Elizabeth, an anabaptist in 16th century Holland, and Stephen, a leader in the first century church in Jerusalem. Both are now described as martyrs. What has struck me today, as it has not before, is that perhaps neither side of these two stories of persecution from folk on one side of a faith divide to folk on the other, is wholly in the right.
For example, in Stephen's story, he answers the (false) accusations of his heresy with a sermon recounting the story of Israel leading up to a calling to account of the Jewish leaders for the ways in which they have abandoned the spirit of the Torah inherited from Moses. That is what Jesus had noted, too (Luke tells such a story in chapter 11, Matthew in chapters 6 and 12, John in chapter 10, and there are other stories). But I see in the story that Jesus was not anti-Jew - actually, there are times when he appears anti-Samaritan or anti-Gentile (his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman as told by Mark), but he himself is for Israel, is always Jewish (he affirms the true spirit of Jewish law in stories such as his sermon in Matthew 5).
Christianity comes about because of a split within Judaism - those choosing to follow the Way of Jesus as God incarnate, and those choosing to continue to follow the way of Moses. God does not choose between the two, and I see Jesus himself as an affirmation of this. It's how we chose to organise ourselves in community, what stories led us into transforming and meaningful encounter with God after Jesus had lived and died and rose from death that shaped Judaism and Christianity (and the various splits within Christianity ever since…).
As we live in communities of faith, there is necessary work in laying borders and boundaries around ourselves, so that we know who we are. What concerns me is the way those boundaries are approached - too often with fear of the other, rather than love for the other, for neighbour. Such love Jesus demonstrated again and again (in parables like that of the 'good samaritan', which may in fact show Jesus as our neighbour), and this love is a feature of our knowledge of the God of Jews and Christians, who is compassionate and just.
Our fear of difference is, it seems to me, actually a fear of losing ourselves. Paradoxically, this fear actually causes us to lose ourselves, because we act, when acting out of fear, contrary to our calling to love with compassion and justice.
Love makes us vulnerable, it opens us up to the other, who may - who will - change us, so that we inevitably lose something of who or how we are. But if we trust the God we follow, stay true to the stories that shape us, we will not lose it all; we may, in fact, through love, become more fully us, more whole in our being.
Because across the boundaries from my community to yours, what I must see, if I am to be well and you are to be well (and I stay well by seeking your wellbeing), is another human. For all that separates and divides, our humanity connects and unites - or will, if we only have the courage to love.