Faith: Always Personal…Never Private
‘…You are the Light of the World…’ (Matthew 5, 15).
We often speak of following in another’s footsteps. Today, Nathalie is doing just that. In making a public declaration of faith she is doing what countless others have done across the centuries. What the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews describes as ‘a great cloud of witnesses.’ Nathalie, you are to be encouraged in knowing that you are not alone in this. You are following in the footsteps of all those who have gone before you. Moreover, you are walking alongside those who today share with you that same faith, that same commitment to Christ and to His Church. You are not alone in this. You will never be alone in this. But whilst you are following in the footsteps of others, whilst you walk alongside other like-minded sisters and brothers in Christ, you have to wear your own shoes. No two pairs of shoes are the same; they may be sold as the same size, same design, but once worn, shoes mould themselves to the wearer’s peculiar shaped feet. Only you can wear the shoes you are wearing. Jesus said, ‘if anyone would come after me let them take up their cross daily and follow me.’
The problem for us all, humanly speaking, is that ‘personal’ has become synonymous with ‘private’ – e.g. we are encouraged to separate out our personal lives from our professional lives – which may work for certain people, in certain professions but it doesn’t work every time. Indeed, there are certain ‘professions’ that demand that one concedes that it is not possible to retain a private persona and continue in the role. If only to reassure the public at large it can be necessary that certain people in certain positions realise that the whole of their way of life be subject to public scrutiny. It ‘goes with the territory’ as we say. But that is not just true for certain professions; it goes beyond that. Living the Christian life is to commit to living a life that is always open to public scrutiny. And of course, that can be relatively straightforward in a society such as ours, a society that ‘pretends’ that it is fairly tolerant of differing views and opinions – the reality for many is of course very different - but not so in other cultures. Is not the most poignant episode in the Gospels that which finds Peter waiting in the courtyard of the High Priest’s House while Jesus is being questioned inside. Three times Peter was asked whether or not he was a follower of Jesus; three times Peter denied that he ever knew him. And as the cock crowed at the breaking of the day, it dawned on Peter just what he had done. So quick to confess that Jesus was the ‘Son of the living God’ at Caeserea Phillippi, when amongst friends, so quick to deny Him when in the midst of His enemies. Tomorrow, Nathalie will go to school. She may be asked what she did yesterday; there is only one answer to that question. And what is true for Nathalie is true for all of us who profess faith in Christ.
Peter himself wrote in his 1stLetter, ‘Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.’ Nathalie, I’m sure that you have already realised two significant inter related facts – feet grow, and shoes wear out. As you go through life you will need to change your shoes regularly. So, it will be as far as your faith is concerned. As life unfolds before you, and as its many and varied experiences impact upon you, some of which will be of your choosing but many of which will be consequent upon the choices made by others, your understanding of what your faith means to you and for you will change. You will find yourself wondering, questioning, even doubting. You will change, but what faith teaches us is this: we change but God does not change. ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.’ ‘God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.’ In the light of which, Nathalie, and all of us, individually and together, it is required of us that we do all that we can, through all that we say and all that we do, to see to it that those with whom we share our lives can see in each one of us that the Christian life is the only way of life worth living.