George Bernard Shaw wrote a play about Joan of Arc. In that play, as she is led away to be burnt at the stake she says these words: “I will go out now to the common people, and let the love in their eyes comfort me for the hate in yours. You will all be glad to see me burnt; but if I go through the fire I shall go through it to their hearts for ever and ever.”
Joan of Arc had a choice to make. She could have told her accusers that she had imagined it all, that God hadn’t spoken to her, that she was mad or ill. She could have denied what she believed to be true and perhaps she would have escaped her terrible fate.
The 4th of April is the anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, another man who had choices to make. He was a pastor living a fairly peaceful existence along with his family. He could have chosen, as many like him did, not to get involved in the struggles for equal rights for blacks. And after he began to speak out his family were threatened and he was told to stop for fear of his own life and that of his wife and children. No one could have condemned him if he had stopped right there. In fact many of his friends thought he was mad to continue, but that famous speech of his in 1968 told the world that his dream of freedom was not to be pushed aside or denied. He believed very strongly that God had spoken to him and that he was doing God’s will, just as it had happened with Joan of Arc, he could not deny nor could he ignore the voice of God.
They both made their choices and ultimately lost their lives at the hands of violent men. These were life and death choices and I am very sure that neither of these people was unafraid of what might come to them. Joan knew what her fate would be if she didn’t say what they wanted her to say and Martin Luther King had become very aware of the danger and the threats that surrounded him, and still he chose to speak up in public and ultimately died for his convictions.
Neither of these people has ever been forgotten.
Joan of Arc was eventually granted Sainthood by the Church, and Martin Luther King started a huge change in the nature of American society, a change that means that today the most powerful man in America is a black man. The story of the kind of bravery that people like Martin Luther King and Joan displayed in the decisions they took have been told to generations of children as an example for them all. Their decisions were based on faith and a belief that God had a job for them to do.
Every day we have choices to make. Our children are constantly being bombarded from a very early age with choices. When they are very young they find choices difficult to deal with. We have watched our grandchildren learning how to make choices as they grow. It’s a hard lesson when the choosing is done and they change their mind and realise it’s too late! It is desperately important to teach our children how to choose between a number of options and how to discern what is best to do in a given situation. At a relatively young age they may well be asked to make what could be life and death decisions. Nowadays the choices offered to our children are frightening ones and our sad statistics show us just how easy it can be to make the wrong choice.
Do I go along with my friends and take the drugs that they are offering me or do I go it alone and stay safe?
Do I get into a drinking culture just because everyone else is doing it or do I resist and end up being laughed at?
Do I sleep with my girlfriend or boyfriend just because they want me to or do I wait till I am ready and behave responsibly?
The High School last week had some special events and speakers coming along to talk to youngsters about health issues. They looked at sexual health and relationships, drug and alcohol use, eating disorders, domestic abuse and of course lots of positive things too: how to deal with stress, how to relax, not something that everyone is very good at. How to talk about problems and not bottle them up. How to make the right healthy choices in life. Almost every choice that we make will have consequences for us and for those around us. The person we choose to marry or live with, the friends we choose, the place we choose to live in, the jobs we choose to do. All of these things make a difference for good or for ill. How do you make your choices? Do you list the pros and cons of one action against another? Do you ask friends or family? Are there times when you need to ask the professionals: lawyers, counsellors, doctors, maybe even ministers! Sometimes we need informed advice and sometimes we just need someone to listen while we go through the process of deciding what to do ourselves.
But ultimately we are the only ones who can actually make the decision. No one can really take that step for us; we gather the information and guidance from others but we have to make the decision ourselves.
As Christians there ought to be another element though. Our first and final consultant, our counsellor in all of our decisions should be God. Decisions taken in and by prayer will be the ones that we can not only live with but also die with. God’s law indelibly written on our hearts and souls.
The prophet Jeremiah looked forward to a time when people did not need to literally carry God’s law around with them in little boxes; he looked forward to a time when God’s law would be written on all our hearts. We would know and love God so much that he would automatically be a part of our lives and thus a vital part of all our decisions. That could only happen through an amazing act of love. Even popular culture knows that love is the strongest emotion, that love can build bridges and change hearts and minds, can inspire poets and writers and painters, can stop wars and change whole cultures. These three things remain: faith, hope and love and the greatest of the three is love.
Jesus had to make his choice, the most difficult choice of all: to live as he had done as a man, or to die a death on the cross and bring salvation and freedom from sin to the whole world. To change the minds and hearts of a people for all time so that their chief motive in all things would be love and their destination would be to live forever with God in heaven. God spoke to Jesus in his anguish and he chose the right path. It was inconceivable that he might not have chosen the route to the cross and I can’t begin to think of our world if he had chosen differently. But even Jesus needed help to make that decision. Are we so arrogant to think that we don’t need God’s help in our life changing decisions?
Let us pray
Lord Jesus Christ
Present with us now
Speak to our hearts
And write your law within that we too might decide to travel with you
The road to eternal life.