There aren’t many of my sermons that I remember but having preached well over 1,000 times, that’s not a surprise.
I do recall the one I preached the Sunday after the National Lottery was launched in November 1994. The phrase used to sell it was, ‘It could be you!’ The whole country had become fixated with a sense of fatalism and in my sermon, I challenged this.
At the heart of Christianity is the idea that human beings have freewill. This freedom is central to our engagement with God. We respond to him, not because we are forced to do so, but with the same dynamic he engages with us, which is of love. Freewill brings responsibilities and a recognition that we don’t always make the right choice. But Christianity holds it is better to have the choice and fully know love than to have no choice and be like a robot.
I preached about choice and how God holds multiple futures in his mind. It is like a journey. We might have a route and then decide on alternatives rather than remaining on the intended path. (Now a days sat navs encourage one route, but can adapt and anticipate an infinite set of alternatives.).
Our having freewill, and it being part of God’s plan for us, is complicated but frees us from a fatalistic approach to life. The old wartime adage of ‘the bullet with your name on it’ does not actually apply.
I preached all of this and at the door someone commented, “lovely sermon couldn’t agree more. Shame about Jason dying, but when your number comes up, you have to go.” At this one moment I realised I had failed.
Friday is the ides of March. Julius Caesar is told to beware this date. On it a group including Brutus killed him. It all resonates with being “wrote in the stars.” Friday the 13th and other dates have similar fatalistic dynamics attached to them.
With such dates I hold both to our freedom and to Minnie Haskins’ words quoted by George VI in his Christmas broadcast in 1939, “put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
Let’s not be fatalistic about the ides of March or any other date in March for that matter. Let us trust God and know he will respond to whatever choices are made. He will love and guide us in response to our situations.