Friday, August 20, 2021

A sermon in honour of Ralph Hollins

Text: Luke 12.22-32

I count it an enormous honour to be asked to preach a Sermon at Ralph’s funeral – an honour which I promise I will not abuse by talking for too long!

I’ve been Rector of St Faith’s for about six and a half years, so I haven’t known Ralph for anything like the length of time all of you have known him.  What I have seen of him, in those six and something years was a man to whom Nature, in all its infinite diversity, called and called.  I’ve seen the meticulous recordings he made, in words and pictures, of the wildlife of this area – and especially the wildlife of our churchyard, here at St Faith’s. 

Indeed, Ralph was instrumental in achieving recognition for this patch of earth as a Site of Special Interest for Nature conservation.  It was Ralph who realised that since the soil of this churchyard had been undisturbed for about 150 years (since its closure to new burials). As a consequence, the undisturbed grass of the churchyard had had the chance to absorb myriads of wild seeds, blown by the wind.  It was Ralph’s careful recording of some 88 different species of native British wildlife which led directly to our decision to allow sections of the churchyard to grow wild, and for nature in all its glory to be allowed free reign in this corner of an urban landscape.

Thanks to Ralph, we and all churchyard visitors, have been able (in the words of the Gospel reading we just heard) to ‘consider the lilies’.  And in doing so, we have been reminded of the infinitely precious balance of nature which humankind does its level best to destroy at every turn.

Why do we do this?  Well, for profit, of course.  It is never the lumberjacks who become millionaires, it is the owners of the wood they cut down.  It is never the fishermen who buy themselves fancy yachts; it is the multi-national corporations who supply the factory ships.  It is not the humble sewerage worker at Budds Farm who benefits from the discharge of sewerage into Langstone Harbour – it is the owners, senior managers and shareholders of the water company.

And to each of them, and to anyone who would put profit above the planet, the words of Jesus Christ still ring truthfully today.  According to Jesus, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like the Lilies of the field – and yet Solomon did all he could, like rich men of every generation, to amass the wealth of the world around his bed.  He built an enormous palace, with tons of cedar-wood from Lebanon, and gold from the good soil. He filled it with treasure and camels and soldiers and wives. He built a great temple to what he considered the glory of God – forgetting that God’s glory is already magnificently displayed in the lilies of the field (let alone the mountains, the rivers, the forests and the seas). 

And what has happened to Solomon’s great palace?  What has happened to Solomon’s great temple?  Dust and distant memory: while the lillies of the field, the mountains and the rivers, continue to shout to all who would listen – here is the glory of God.

Solomon, the quintessential rich man, is a lesson to all rich men.  As Jesus says in another place to another rich man, ‘you fool’.  None of us can take the stuff of the planet with us beyond the door of death.  Collecting it, hoarding it and destroying the lilies for it, is simply not worth it.

Ralph, I think, understood this, and I bless him for it.  He was not a regular church-goer, but I believe he saw in the face of Nature something of the face of God.  He knew, without a doubt, that the wild world we have inherited shouts of the glory of God, in all its majesty, and in all its detail.   Ralph cherished these things – and his legacy to us is the challenge that we should cherish them too.



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