Saturday, 14 September 2013

When a vision is needed: A talk for Battle of Britain Sunday 2013

Ezekiel 1

The Jewish rabbis taught that you must not preach on Ezekiel until you have preached for 20 years or more. I sadly qualify for that. 

A STRANGE VISION
It is a weird vision. 
We want to ask what Ezekiel was on. 
There is a famous book which said that this describes an encounter with ETs. 

But we don't need to go there. 
After all Da Vinci drew a helicopter and Jules Vernes described the submarine. 
Perhaps some genius somewhere is working on these wheels within wheels.

Ezekiel has a vision of 4 pairs of wheels in wheels. The wheels at first seem to be inanimate - glorified flying chariots which can move in any direction. But then we learn that their rims are surrounded with eyes, and that they have the spirit of the living creatures in them. 

It is a vision of the all seeing, utterly free and unrestricted living Spirit of God. And beside them are the 4 creatures with 4 faces who are the drivers of the wheels, but also one with the wheels. Later we are told they are Cherubim, divine worshippers and messengers. They too have complete freedom.

And above the wheels and cherubim there is an awesome crystal vault. And above the vault, a deep-blue throne. And seated on the throne is God. Not the white haired granddad of popular imagination, but One whose figure was like that of a man, but One of fire, surrounded by brilliant light and colour. 

It is a powerful vision. 
It had a significant impact on Ezekiel and transformed the rest of his life.
And it had an equally significant impact on his listeners. 
They were exiles in a foreign land, far from their home and the centre of their faith. They thought that God had abandoned them. They were defeated captives. They had no hope. They were as good as dead. 

But Ezekiel's vision gives them hope. 
God is awesome and beyond understanding
God is not tied to one place - He has complete freedom.
God sees. He has not abandoned his people.  
And – and this is of supreme significance - God speaks. He speaks both to and through Ezekiel. 

Ezekiel's vision meant that a defeated, crushed people were given hope. 

THE VISION OF CHURCHILL
I've been reading 'The Most Dangerous Enemy' by Stephen Bungay, about the Battle of Britain. He writes of the vision of Churchill

Bungay argues that the Battle of Britain did not need to be fought. There was a viable alternative following the defeat of France: peace with Germany. That was the policy favoured by Halifax, the foreign office and the establishment. It was the sensible policy. It would have probably meant that the empire could be kept intact, and it seemed to put Britain's own peace, prosperity and safety first. 

But Churchill was gripped by a vision that Nazism was a monstrous evil which had to be confronted and - and this is even more important – he was gripped by a vision that in the end, right will win, even if it meant in the process, the sacrifice of this nation. 

In a very significant speech Churchill says, 'We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight on the fields and in the streets, we shall fight on the hills; we shall never surrender' 

That is the part of the speech which we often recall. But he continues, and this part is of far more significance:

'and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.'

Yes, it was a political speech with one eye on our allies across the Atlantic. But Churchill was presenting a vision that even if this nation perished in the process, right would still ultimately win. It was that vision with which we went into the Battle of Britain and which brought us out on the other side.

THE CHRISTIAN VISION
As Christians we are people who are gripped by a vision: the vision shared by Ezekiel and of the book of Revelation. 

A vision of God who is beyond imagination: all present, all seeing, all holy and all powerful. 

But this God speaks, and he has made himself known to us – not in the wheels inside wheels and fire of Ezekiel – but in the man Jesus Christ, who lived 2000 years ago. He was the eternal Son of God, the presence of God, come to live among us - not in his transcendent radiant glory - but as one of us. He said that whoever saw him saw the eternal Father God; whoever listened to him listened to God; whoever received him (as their Lord and as their friend), received God. At the age of 33 he was crucified. But 3 days later he rose from the dead, and we believe that he is alive and reigning now. 

And though the battle is hard, and it does demand tremendous sacrifice: the relinquishing of the dream of absolute freedom as we place ourselves under the authority of our commanding office
And though the temptation to live for the things and experiences and glory of this world is overwhelming
And though it seems that God is redundant, mocked, his name used as a swear word, his churches are empty, his followers are - in many places - savagely persecuted, and the forces of aggressive secularism are overwhelming
And though it seems we are led thro' the valley of the shadow of death, on a road that leads to public crucifixion

YET the victory will in the end not be ours, but His.

His judgement will come (whatever happens in Syria, Assad will stand before him), his justice will triumph, his kingdom of right-ness and peace and fulfilment and joy and music and laughter and love will rise up over the shifting shadows of tyranny and imperialism. 

Today we give thanks to God for the victory given us in the Battle of Britain

It was not, as we sometimes want to believe, a miraculous victory, the triumph of plucky David over giant Goliath. It was planned. It was a battle Churchill wanted. If anyone could be accused of elitist amateurism it was the Luftwaffe. But at the same time victory was not inevitable. 

So we give thanks for and honour those who made it possible: 'the few'.  But the few were not just the men in the air. They include Dowding, the genius tactition. He ensured that fighter command had the focus, the flexibility and the information that it needed to defend these shores. They include the men of bomber command (whose role in the Battle of Britain is often forgotten) whose sorties across the channel to bomb the invasion fleet made a land invasion impossible; those who had the vision to design, commission and build the aircraft (they were apparently named after young ladies: Vicker's chairman had a daughter called Ann who he called 'a little spitfire' - and they gave that name to the plane); those who manned the radar stations, ops rooms and reconnaissance posts; those who maintained the planes so that they could continue to fly. And, of course, the men of fighter command and our allies, who flew them. 

But particularly we give thanks for the vision of Churchill: who saw the monstrosity of a regime which deified darwinianism and taught that because the strong will live and the weak will die, then the strong should live and the weak should die - and then presumed to declare who were 'the weak' of society: the mentally ill, gypsies, homosexuals, slavs and Jews. And he saw that such an evil had to be confronted even if it meant the supreme sacrifice not just for individuals but for this our nation. 

It was a massive gamble. The stakes could not have been higher. But he believed, at least publicly (who knows the hell he went through when the 'black dog' came?) that in the end, whatever it involved, RIGHT would win. 

EZEKIEL'S VISION OF ETERNAL REALITY
And Ezekiel, 2500 years earlier, speaking to a crushed defeated people, had such a vision – but not of a physical historical reality (because in human history what is RIGHT does not always win). He had a vision of ultimate eternal reality. 

You can dismiss him, mock him, treat him as irrelevant. You can even crucify him. But Ezekiel’s vision says that in the end God and God-stuff will win.

Pray that God will give you that vision of eternal reality. Pray that he will open your eyes. Only he can do it. Pray that he will help you see that other reality which is beyond our imagination: which is deeper and bigger and infinitely more powerful. 

And if you cannot see it – and only the few will see it this side of death - then may I suggest two things
1. Listen to Ezekiel who did see it. His vision is first of all not some code which needs to be interpreted - it is to be imagined and marvelled at. 
2. And come to Jesus Christ. He is that eternal fire who came to live among us. He lived. He died and he rose from the dead. And because he is alive we can put our trust in him, receive him, follow him, hold on to him – until that day when we do see it for yourself.

Without the vision of Churchill, and the Battle of Britain, we would – maybe even still now – be living a shadow existence beside a Nazi dominated Europe. 

And without the vision of Ezekiel we are destined to live in shadowlands. 
We may go up there but we will never really fly. 

It is the vision of eternal ultimate reality which opens us up to worship, transforms our lives and begins to release us to sacrifice ourselves in love – because we know that ultimately He who is right and pure and true will win.

To the God who is there and who is real, who is beyond our imagination and understanding, but who also became one of us, who is seated on the throne and has all power, who has absolute freedom, who sees all things in all places, who burns like fire and is surrounded by brilliant light, who is worshipped by angels - to Him be glory forever. 

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