I was walking through Claygate Common a month ago when a jogger approached me. He was about the same age as me, but looked disgustingly healthy. Once I'd got over my feelings of insecurity and jealousy, I thought to myself, "I know him. I think I played rugby with him." But, as often happens, he'd long gone by the time I'd got through all this thinking.
My children hate the fact that I, more often than not, act on such thoughts. It provides moments of mortal embarrassment, as dad addresses a total stranger in the street with a set of questions about their past, trying to find out if his life has ever intersected with theirs.
My most painful moment doing this (without any of my kids, fortunately for them!) was on a train to Carlisle. After 20 minutes internally pondering the "Do I know you?" question, I addressed the woman opposite me. Her lips said, "No. She wasn't the sister of a friend of mine." Her face said, "Stalker! Get away from me!"
I admit that I might have been noticeably sweaty at the time, it was a hot day. But I was well intentioned.
This morning I was back on Claygate Common again and there he was approaching me. Potential former rugby playing mate jogger man. So at the point of greatest proximity (he'd just turned down another track) I called out what seemed a perfectly normal greeting to me, "Did you used to play rugby in the late 1980's early 1990's?"
To which he replied, "More like late 1990's."
So I said, "You used to play on the flank."
Jogger man answered, "Yes at Rosslyn Park."
We shook hands and exchanged names and yes, we had indeed played together in the late 80's early 90's at Rosslyn Park. He asked me what I did. "Man of the cloth then!" as he said.
I ask him what he did. He runs a sports management company. He manages the Brownlee brothers, the Olympic triathletes. Which explains why he looked infinitely less offensive in lycra leggings than I would. A few pleasantries later we went on our ways. He more rapidly than me. I was wearing jeans after all.
It got me thinking about how extraordinarily unique we are. How no two faces are the same. Even identical twins having marked differences. So that 26 years later someone still has the same open face and warm smile that made you think they were a good bloke.
Individuality is both prized by our culture and destroyed by it. We simultaneously champion the rights of each person to be an individual and behave as they want. Whilst we restrict individual freedom more and more with government legislation. More than that as individuals we are all monitored through our web preferences and then fed advertising and offers according to our groups and types. We are all different but dress the same and have the same attitudes!
Jesus claimed an extraordinary thing about his relationship with his people. He said that not only did they know him personally, but that he knows them individually. Talking about himself in John's gospel he says...
"...He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." (John 10:3-4)
Christians are not just a type of person or a group that adheres of a particular set of beliefs. They are people who are individually known by the God: Father, Son and Spirit. Called by name into relationship with him. Loved personally.
Later in the same passage Jesus reassures his followers:
"27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand."
This personal relationship means that Jesus calls us individually and promises us that he will personally take us to enjoy life forever with him. The picture of nestling safely in the hands of Jesus is one that I have found incredibly encouraging when struggling with difficulty and doubt.
We are not just individuals in the way that we are created. But we are individually known and loved by God. He will never forget your face or let go of your life!