Sermon preached at Evensong on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (19 August 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

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12:00pm Doors open for sightseeing
12:30pm Eucharist
4:00pm Last entry for sightseeing
5:00pm Evening Prayer
5:30pm Cathedral closes

Sermon preached at Evensong on the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (19 August 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor

The Canon Pastor considers of our world as 'holy ground' and how we might reflect this in our treatment of it. 

‘Let mutual love continue’ wrote the writer of the letter to the Hebrews.

‘Remove your sandals’, said God to Moses, ‘for the place on which you are standing is holy ground’.

An art installation whose impact has never left me consists of a collection of shoes, paired with stories from Christians all around the world. 

Called ‘Holy Ground’ its’ by the artist Paul Hobbs, who says this:

“The stories are short statements about what it means for each person to believe in Christ in their particular situation. Among those represented are: a thief, a refugee, the despised, the rejected – people who Jesus specially sought out – as well as those who have known great opportunity, wealth and success. There are those who are beautiful, those struggling to make a living and raise a family, those who are disabled, those who have known great loss and tragedy, and those asking the deep questions of life. Some contributors are persecuted and despised for their faith. Several need to be anonymous due to the lack of religious freedom in their lands. For some the idea of giving up their shoes for this project seemed amusing and culturally odd. For others it was costly to give their only pair of shoes in exchange for another. All have encountered the living God, arriving at a place of holy ground.”

When I first saw the installation I was moved by the very ordinariness of the worn footwear and the way in which these everyday items captured the literal imprint of their former owners, moulding themselves to their wearer’s uniqueness and capturing the realities of their everyday journeying.

To be entrusted with their stories of encounter with the same God who had spoken to Moses millennia earlier. To view something as intimate as their shoes, truly seemed to be Holy Ground: a reminder that we each stand, sit, walk, kneel, crawl, lie, on common ground. This mutuality underscored by the fact that we each walk our life journeys on this our shared home – this earth our literal common ground. About which, let me share some dazzling truths with you:

Our earth is thought to be 4.54 billion years old – formed at the same time as our other dancing partners in this solar system. Our planet, circles its star, the sun, at a rate of 67,000 miles per hour. Depending where on its surface we are, we could be spinning at just over 1,000 miles per hour as the earth itself rotates.

Coral reefs, communities of connected organisms, are the largest living structures on earth – some are visible from space. Wild dolphins call to each other by name. The Antarctic ice cap contains some 70% of the globe’s fresh water. Did I mention that wild dolphins call to each other by name?

Is this not holy ground?

The poetic telling of the story of the beginning, found in Genesis evokes an image of God taking some of this ground to make humanity, breathing life into the dust and calling it very good! Inviting us to tend to the earth in mutual love. 

Therefore we human beings have unrivalled responsibilities towards one another and to the rest of creation. 

So how are we doing, caring for this holy ground entrusted to us for mutual love?

Let’s take those breath-taking coral reefs as just one example. 

It will be no surprise to hear that scientific evidence indicates that the Earth's atmosphere and oceans are warming, and that these changes are primarily due to greenhouse gases arising from human activities.

As temperatures rise, mass coral bleaching events and infectious disease outbreaks amongst the organisms which build corals are becoming more frequent.

Reefs are also highly vulnerable to the rising acidity of the oceans. Skeleton formation of the coral organisms, slows and weakens as waters become more acidic.

What is more, climate change will affect coral reef ecosystems through sea level rise, changes to the frequency and intensity of tropical storms, and altered ocean circulation patterns. When combined, all of these dramatically and adversely affect the delicate ecosystems of coral.

More than 30% of the world's coral reefs died over the past several decades, and over 75% of surviving reefs are projected to die by 2050. In regions like the Caribbean, over 80% have already died. 

But does this really matter? Here is why it might…

Healthy coral ecosystems are a source of food and food security hundreds of millions of people; they protect coastlines from storms and erosion by reducing wave energy by an average 97%; provide habitat, spawning and nursery grounds for economically important fish species; provide jobs and income to local economies from fishing, recreation, and tourism; and are a source of new medicines – even now coral reef organisms are being used in treatments for diseases like cancer and HIV. Isn’t that amazing? 

Surely this is holy ground – and common ground too – for the impact of environmental degradation is always disproportionately felt by the poorest and most vulnerable. 

Taking off our shoes places us in a vulnerable, intimate and respectful attitude towards our Creator and places us in a position of mutual love towards our human neighbour, the other creatures who share this planet with us and even the earth itself. We have no other physical home – if our relationship to this planet which birthed and sustains us is not based in mutual love then the future is bleak. 

But it need not be the case, if we grasp that this beautiful and exuberant planet is holy ground; common ground.  Astronaut Loren Acton said:

“Looking towards the blackness of space, sprinkled with the glory of lights, I saw majesty but no welcome. Below was a welcoming planet. There contained in the thin, moving, incredibly fragile shell of the biosphere is everything that is dear to you, all human drama and comedy. That’s where life is, that’s where all the good stuff is.” 

This hospitable, beautiful, complex world, so much of which is still beyond our range of knowledge, about which we are still learning. Of which God said; ‘It is good”. This holy ground.