The story of Elizabeth survives through a letter she wrote to her daughter; my version of her story takes her words and adds minimal narration around them, telling the story of the consequences of fear of difference, and the courage she found through her love for and faith in God.
This morning with the Upper Clyde Parish Church congregation I told this story, one of those in the series (in)humanity, in conversation with the story of Jesus' prayer for his disciples in the Gospel of John (ch. 17). I won't post the story – its telling is strictly oral, and live, for now; here, however, is the conversation with the biblical story.
The psalm and the Gospel story today talk of two ways – in the Hebrew Bible it is often expressed as the way of the righteous, or the way of wickedness. Through Christian tradition, it is often expressed as the way of Christ and the way of the world.
Life is not always quite so simple. Thinking in this way often juxtaposes one faith tradition against another. As we heard in the story of Elizabeth just now, such dogged adherence to strict ‘us and them’, ‘good and bad’ dualism event puts groups within the same faith tradition against each other.
What if expressed this sentiment another way? What if we spoke of two ways of love and fear? It is the thrust of a poem by contemporary Australian poet / artist / prophet Michael Leunig – two motivations, two outcomes – love and fear. Sister Julienne makes the same observation in an episode of Call the Midwife. In the first letter of John, which has been the epistle in the lectionary these recent weeks, again, this observation is made. There, God is Love, the love that casts out, that leaves no room for, fear.
As we hear Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, what if we listened for love and fear – perhaps we hear him pray that while his friends and followers remain in the world, they would remember to look for God, for love, and to live according to that promise, motivation, emotion, gift, not according to fear.
Fear is everywhere. It often appears easier than love. For love is risky. Love is costly. Last week in John’s story Jesus told his disciples of the greatest love – to lose your life for your friends. For those you love. And God asks us to love each other. humans. life other than human. God. For God is present in all that lives. lay down your life, your comfort; lay down your fear. and love.
I finished with another piece from the (in)humanity series, 'At Peace. Ode to St Magnus of Orkney', about a man who prayed for peace with his words and his life. This, too, is a story only told orally, only live, just now, so invite me to come and tell stories where you gather with others. I've been invited back to Upper Clyde Parish Church to tell more stories with the Guild in September. The diary is filling up, and I am thrilled to be sharing stories here in Scotland.