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.