Year C Proper 15 Luke 12
Fire Falling from Heaven
I suspect his first century audience understood that imagery more readily than we do. We have only a passing acquaintance with the power of fire. We see flames in the fireplace. We worry about children holding candles on Christmas Eve. We read of an occasional forest fire and hear the siren of a racing fire truck. Our fire departments are so competent that an accidental fire death makes the national news.
Ancient people had a more intimate knowledge of fire. Their only nighttime illumination came from the flames of oil lamps. The smoke of the cooking fire on the kitchen floor constantly irritated and reddened their eyes. Everyone's fingers were callused from working household fires. Their arms and hands bore the scars from burns. Early in childhood they learned that food tasted better cooked, that flames tempered metal tools, and that the kiln's heat hardened pottery. People also knew firsthand the danger of uncontrolled fire. Homes regularly burned to the ground by an overturned lamp or a carelessly maintained kitchen fire. Well into the nineteenth century, devastating fires shaped communities. In fact, fire spurred on the next urban renewal. So, how was Jesus using the image of fire in this Gospel? This Gospel recalls an ancient belief of fire as the manifestation of God. Jesus is reminding us of the radical nature of his ministry and is demanding we step up to the plate.
- Fire as a Manifestation of God.
- The Radical Gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Catching Fire for Christ.
Every generation has its own language of "cool" from "everything's jake" to the "cat's pajamas" to "bees knees" to "groovy," "fat," "sweet" and now "ridiculous." But even though a flash-in-the-pan pop song proclaimed "It's Hip to Be Square," no one has ever really aspired to being rectangular with equal sides until Nickelodeon made it "ridiculous" (now synonymous with "cool").
But SpongeBob SquarePants wasn't the first to make "square" mean something special.
Somewhere in the time period between 500-1100 in Italy, being "square" became a sign of greatness. In the fourth century "halos" first made their appearance on frescoes, mosaics, and paintings. Halos are shining ovals shimmering over the heads of celebrated religious figures. Often halos were back-lit, giving those wearing them a special spiritual sheen. But however presented, halos were incorporated into the relatively new branch of artistic creation we now call "Christian art."
Round halos signified the presence of God's glory. They depicted the anointing of the Triune God and testified to the saintliness of the haloed individual. Artists found that a halo was an easy way to point out who was important in a large crowd scene. Viewers of these paintings and mosaics could quickly figure out who to focus on, and who were background figures. Not surprisingly, emperors, kings, and people perched at the top of the economic and religious food chain began to demand that they too be given halo-power.
Of course, there was one other benefit the round nimbus called a halo provided. In statuary art, halos were sometimes added as a kind of protective roof over the head. In other words, the halo protected the enshrined celebrity from the ever-threatening rain of bird droppings!
But the "halo effect" reached forward. Instead of commemorating gods or goddesses, great rulers or the holiest figures in Christian history, artists found a way to honor and glorify those who were still living at the time their artwork was produced.
Instead of a round halo, living men and women of great holiness and honor were depicted with a square halo behind their head. For example, in 820 Pope Paschal I (pope from 817 to 824) was painted with a strange-looking frame behind his head. He received the honor of a square halo. In early medieval art the square halo is found behind the head of popes and soon-to-be saints, people who were still living and whose lives radiated holiness and faithfulness with such power that it was evident to all those who met them and witnessed their work.
Every one of you here this morning has round halo people and square halo people...