In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills.
Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say:
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
for ever and ever.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Picture the scenario. A nation is in conflict. It looks as if any day it might be invaded. It’s already lost a major land battle and had to retreat with its tail between its knees, and it’s desperately in need of a good leader of its air force to try and patrol its skies. So who are you going to put in charge of that air force?
Let me give you two choices. The first not the best communicator and indeed is given the nickname, ‘Stuffy’ by his men. He’s a military man who also believes in ghosts and fairies, and believes that fairies "are essential to the growth of plants and the welfare of the vegetable kingdom". He also believes in reincarnation and thinks he was a war leader in a previous life. That’s choice number one.
Choice number two is physically strong and very capable, nicknamed, ‘Powerhouse’ by his men. He’s intelligent and very stable with a military background. He’s not married, has no dependents and looks like a born leader. He warms everyone’s hearts by being able to say exactly the right kind of thing to make people give their best.
Your nation and its future may well depend on you making the right choice. So who would choose Stuffy, the man who believes in fairies and reincarnation, and that he’s already led battles but in a previous life? And who would choose Powerhouse?
Well the second man, Powerhouse, is a figure I’ve just made up. The first man describes Air Chief Marshal Hugh Caswall Tremenheere Dowding, the man whose leadership of the RAF during the Battle of Britain is widely believed to have saved us from invasion in 1940. And so, given that this year is the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain, I want us to think a little about what Dowding may teach us about our capabilities.
Let me give you a brief bit of history about Dowding. He was a Scot who had been born in 1882. He had a military education and served abroad in the first years of the twentieth century before joining the Royal Flying Corps and became a squadron commander.
However, and this is a key theme for us, he clashed with the head of the Royal Flying Corps because Dowding believed the pilots needed adequate rest whereas it was felt by the powers that be that they should carry on regardless of how exhausted they were. The result of sticking to what he believed in was that Dowding was sent back to England, safely away from where he could have any effect.
After the first world war Dowding joined the newly formed Royal Air Force. He became vice marshal in 1929 and then air marshal in 1934. This was the period when Dowding made his mark. He could see that war with the Nazis was becoming a probability and so he pushed hard for a modernisation programme.
The RAF’s slow biplanes would be no match for the Luftwaffe and so he drove through a programme of design and construction resulting in the Hurricanes and the Spitfires.
He also recognised the need for an integrated air defence system which resulted in the combined use of radar and spotters, those who filled in the gaps in radar’s knowledge simply by using binoculars.
He was due to retire in 1939 but with the advent of war he remained in post. Huge pressure was put on him to commit large numbers of the force to stop the Nazi advance through France but he refused, believing that the RAF would need to hold back the planes for Britain’s own air defence. Again he was proved correct despite having to hold his own even against Churchill himself.
When the Battle of Britain was fought in earnest he once again came under pressure from above, this time to fight the battle over the channel before the bombers were over British soil, and again he refused believing it would be too costly in pilot’s lives. Basically in the 1940s if you bailed out over the channel you had little chance of being rescued before you drowned, and experienced pilots were what Britain needed to hold on to. Airplanes they could build. Pilots were in shortage.
Over and over again, the man who became known as Stuffy, as a term of endearment by his pilots who recognised him as a somewhat fatherly man who would make good and steady decisions, would choose a course of action and hold tight to it despite the opposition. If he had not been so careful in his preparations, and so prudent in the use of his resources, and if he had not stood up to other leaders, then the outcome of the Battle of Britain could very well have been an invasion of the UK.
Dowding was an individual who refused to be broken down by a system. In this country we have always been proud of our eccentrics, the free-thinking individuals who make a huge difference by not going the way of the herd. Dowding was just such a man, and whilst we may question or even ridicule some of his personal beliefs, he was driven to greatness because he was a visionary who wouldn’t give up.
So what about you? What is the vision you have for your life? Do people mock you for being different from them? Great! Because that means you are willing to use the gifts God has given you even if it means going in an unproven direction, and if you are such a person then, although your life may not be all that easy, you will live a life that can make a radical difference to the lives of others.
Have you ever heard people give this kind of advice? When you are trying to decide what to do at a certain point in your life, and you are presented with a number of possible options, treat them like doors and push them all and see which door opens? It’s a common bit of advice, but I don’t think I agree with it. It’s far too easy.
It always insures you do the easy thing, not the difficult thing. What you need more than anything is wisdom to see what the right thing to do is; wisdom born by experience, listening and prayer, and then you push, push, push. Make that door open. Batter it down if you have to. That’s the hard way, and that’s the way Dowding lived out his life as a military man.
He really did have some very odd beliefs, but he was also a wise tactician. He looked for the right thing and ensured that that was what was done. If he had taken the route of just pushing on a few doors to see which one opened, then half of the Royal Air Force would have been wiped out in trying to hold on to France. Dowding could see what the right thing was and pushed for it and got the job done!!
And in this way Dowding followed, believe it or not, in the footsteps of Christ. Think about it for a moment. Imagine if Jesus had lived his life by pushing at doors and walking through the ones that opened. He would never have gone to the Cross, and he would never have stayed nailed to it. In fact he wouldn’t have got past the temptations.
You can almost hear the devil saying, ‘If you are the Son of God, then command these stones to become bread’, and Jesus saying, ‘Oo, that door’s opening, and I am a bit hungry. Yes, why not.’ Of course that wasn’t what he did. Jesus had spent time preparing for his life and ministry and he had a vision for what he was called to do, and he pushed doors open in order to accomplish what he was called to do.
For communities and churches to thrive we must have men, women and children who are filled with vision, with the Spirit of God, and who are willing to stand out from the crowd. That is what some of you are called to. You who are young are just setting out on life; don’t be afraid. A relationship with God is not about conforming to some boring existence; it is about God calling you into a life more exciting than you could have imagined.
And you who feel that perhaps you are a bit past changing, don’t ever forget that Dowding, the man largely responsible for winning us the Battle of Britain, was about to retire when circumstances pushed him back into the battle. Young or old, we are always capable of saying yes to God when he calls us to stand out and be different. Those who say yes to God can make a huge difference. Will that be you? How willing to push, push, push are you to accomplish what God calls you to do?
And especially on this day, we must remember that we are not here to celebrate a great battle, but to remember those who gave their all to bring a great battle to an end. And it may be that there are some here whose calling in this life will be to bring war and terror to an end, so that the prophecy in our Old Testament reading may come true, that one day our soldiers shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;
If that is you, then get a vision for it. Pray about it. Seek wise counsel from others. Don’t just push on doors and see which ones open. If God is calling you to a job, be like Dowding, or much better, be like Jesus, and batter the doors down so that God’s will may be done. Amen.