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SERMON of Sean Harrington:
Good Morning everybody.
Thank you very much, Gesa, for asking me to say something about sustainability and architecture to you it’s a great honour to be speaking to your church.
When we all think about sustainability we probably immediately think of global warming, solar panels, wind turbines and so on. We probably also have a slight sense of unease and unfortunately maybe even guilt, for some reason.
I would like to offer a positive view of what sustainability means to me, and how this has influenced the design of the new Lutherhaus.
Firstly there is no doubt that the climate is changing fast as a result of human activity, primarily the release of excessive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
We are also using up the earth’s raw materials at an unsustainable rate.
The population is increasing exponentially, eating up further resources and placing great demands on the food and water supplies. Those people in fast-developing countries like China and India cannot see why they shouldn’t strive for the same style of living as American’s or Europeans who could blame them? It’s only fair.
It’s worth remembering that if everyone in the world used the same resources (energy, food, water, raw materials) as an average American, we would need 4 planets to live on that’s obviously unsustainable.
So how can we rebalance things to ensure a sustainable future?
Fundamentally, our way of living must change.
We must become part of a balanced eco-system, not see the eco-system as something we just use.
One way is to think of this as a moral issue.
In other words, we have to change things because it’s the right thing to do… but that is a bit joyless, and we just feel guilty if we don’t do it.
We can introduce legislation to control our behaviour… but this is slow and mostly ineffective. Just look at the difficulty of getting international agreements between Governments.
We can scare ourselves into doing something by thinking the world may end… but that’s really miserable and depressing, and we might just give up.
I believe this crisis is a wonderful opportunity to get back in touch with nature, with each other and with ourselves to improve our lives and most importantly, to do it in a joyful, positive way. What we think and what we must do become the same. Change will only happen because we want to change. We must also embrace technology and invention, and not be too conservative.
What does this mean in practice?
Well, I travel to work everyday on my bicycle. The moral way of thinking about this is that it’s the correct thing to do. I do not use my car, or a bus, and therefore my carbon emissions are zero.
Actually, I cycle to work because I love cycling. It’s great fun. I love the speed and the curve going around a corner. It keeps me fit. I can stop easily and talk to people. Travelling by bicycle reconnects me with the world. I embrace the technology of the bicycle; it’s a wonderful machine beautifully designed, effective, lightweight, technologically advanced, and a product of human ingenuity.
It’s the same with buildings. You can think of them in moral and aesthetic terms at the same time. Both are meaningful, but the aesthetic is more joyful, and more appealing, and is therefore a better incentive for change.
A great deal of careful thought has gone into making a sustainable building for you [St. Finian’s], in terms of minimising energy and water consumption, using renewable materials, promoting biodiversity and making sure the building can have a long and useful building lifespan.
But all these things are also joyful and I hope will enrich your lives!
- I hope you will find the new building warm and comfortable.
- I hope you will enjoy the wonderful daylight in the main rooms and enjoy looking out to the garden.
- I hope you will enjoy the nice smell in the building because we have used natural materials and organic paints.
- I hope you will enjoy the butterflies and birds that are attracted to the green roof, and I hope Corinna and Joachim and their family will enjoy looking down onto the flowering sedum roof from their house.
- I hope you will enjoy easily going into the garden from the Lutherhaus through the big sliding glass doors, to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and even shelter under the wide canopy along the full length of the building when it is raining.
- I hope that you will enjoy the fact that your running costs will be low, because of the high levels of insulation and airtight construction.
- I hope you will enjoy the feel and the look of all the wood we will be using in the building all this comes from renewable forests.
- I hope you will enjoy being able to walk from the church to the Lutherhaus without going outside or having to put your coat on in the wintertime.
- I hope you find it easy to get to everywhere (including the roof), as this will help you maintain the building and give it a long life.
- I hope you find the inside adaptable, so you can use it for many different uses and therefore ensure its continued usefulness for hundreds of years.
- I hope you all will enjoy using the building, as this will bring you together and promote a great sense of belonging.
- I hope you will find this sustainable building enjoyable and beautiful, and I hope you will feel that it is yours.
SERMON of Dr. Gesa Thiessen:
Many thanks Sean for your upbeat and thoughtful words. It is a privilege for US to have you with us today and hear your reflections.
‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God.’ Martin Luther composed his hymn almost 500 years ago. It was to become the signature hymn of the Lutheran Church. Maybe it is not just the melody which is now so familiar to us. Maybe it is also that the image of God as a fortress really strikes us and impresses on us who God is.
All talk about God is, of course, metaphorical or analogical. With our limited human understanding we try to imagine who God is, and how this God works in our world. How does God become present to us, how does God reveal Godself? What is God like? Through history theologians have concerned themselves with these questions and poets, musicians, painters, architects, dramatists, and film makers have given expression to it.
God is a fortress, God is likened to a building, not any building but a fortress. This forcefully evokes a God who protects --- protection against enemies, protection in war, protection from the elements. It is remarkable indeed, and not altogether surprising, that it is this very image of God - God as a fortress - which would become such a pronounced metaphor for God in the most famous hymn of the Lutheran Church.
Of course, Luther did not invent this metaphor himself but took it from the Psalms in the Old Testament.
Psalm 18 reads:
The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Or Ps 31:
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,...
All buildings - be it a cottage, a villa, a fortress, a place of work, an apt. block, a hospital, a chapel, church, temple or cathedral - have one thing in common. They are places of shelter, places with which we simply cannot do without as human beings. We need food, clothes and shelter; they are fundamental to our lives. And so it does not surprise that the Psalmist David, or Luther, would choose the fortress as a powerful image of God. God is not an extra, God is fundamental to us. A fortress, more than any other building perhaps, gives that emphatic sense of protection. If God is love, as we believe, then that sense of God as protector, the one who provides refuge, a home, comfort, warmth and care, is well captured in the image of the divine fortress.
Similarly, in the sermon last month, based on Matth. 7, 24-29, we saw how Jesus is likened to a cornerstone. Again, interestingly, the image for Christ, and thus the image of God, is borrowed from the world of architecture. If the cornerstone, that is if the foundation of our lives and of our faith is not right, the whole building, our whole lives are built on sand. Christ is that very cornerstone, that foundation on and with which we are called to build our life.
St Paul tells us: For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. …Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?* If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
In Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, the focus is on us, the church. Again an image from architecture is used to describe not only who God is, but who we are: God’s temple, i.e. a people called to holiness. This means that we no longer simply go into a temple, or a church, to offer worship or to sacrifice, as was the custom in ancient Jerusalem. WE ourselves are the temple. Each member of Christ is asked to manifest that holiness through their whole lives, their whole way of being. Therefore, if we are the temple, something of the beauty of the kingdom of God is revealed through us and in us.
Finally then, St John in his apocalyptic prophetic visions in the Book of Revelation refers us to the new Jerusalem, the supremely beautiful city of God, that is - the home of God, our home. And this is one of architecture’s most basic aims the provision not just of any old shelter, but a beautiful home, a genuine place of belonging, of well-being, of wholeness, a joyful home which is truthful, good and beautiful. No doubt, as we heard, this is also Sean’s intention for the new extension of our Lutherhaus.
St John writes: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples.
© Lutheran Church in Ireland, Dr. Gesa Thiessen, Sean Harrington