Psalm 105:1-11 & Luke 16:19-31
I ‘d like to start today with a confession. And that is . . . I was not brought up to consider remembering the past very seriously at all.
For a start, as I was growing up, my father did not discuss his childhood or his war years. In fact, it was only in later life (after I’d left home) he mentioned them really at all. And my mother . . . well she had whole periods of her life of which she didn’t want to be reminded. As a consequence, my home upbringing did not encourage the importance of remembering personal history at all.
Furthermore, when I got to high school, there was no real importance placed on broader history either. Indeed, in the second year of high school the school managed to get through three history teachers in one term—and five in the whole year. And even so, for half of the year history wasn’t taught at all. After that, the school abandoned the whole idea of teaching history, and as a consequence it was not on the curriculum for at least the rest of my high school days.
If anyone were to tell me, therefore, that they don’t like or are not interested in history, I can very well understand that. Nevertheless, over time, I have learnt how important history can be. Indeed, I particularly learnt that at theological college—in studying the bible—with the history of the Israelites, the birth of Christianity—and, as a consequence, the study of Church History. And, because of that, I went on to major in history at university too.
Despite my upbringing, then, and despite the fact that I can understand some people’s attitudes that history is dull, boring, and not relevant to modern society, I have come to learn the value of history. Because its principal value isn’t in remembering a series of dates. It’s about learning from the past. It’s about taking the positive and negative things that happened, and it’s about using that knowledge to mould a better life, and to provide a future which otherwise might not have been possible.
Having said that, however, what we remember is very important too. Because there are many things we can remember, and some things are just not important at all. And I’d like to illustrate that with a few things. And I’d like you to consider whether they are important to remember or not.
1. A Tray Full of Objects
And the first thing is a tray of objects.
Now when I was a child, my parents occasionally had parties. But they weren’t the kind of parties that I had when I reached my teenage years. Yes, there was booze but there was no loud music and dancing. And the kind of games they played were included the one with a tray of objects.
Now the idea of the game was that you were shown a tray, with all sorts of things on it. And you were then given a minute or two to memorise the objects on the tray. After which, the tray was removed, and you would have to write down everything that you remembered that was on it. And the idea was that the person who remembered the most number of objects correctly was given a small prize.
Now you’ll be pleased to know that I’m not going to ask you to do that today. However, I would like to ask is, ‘Was it really important to remember what was on the tray or not?’
The next thing I want you to think about is trivia. Because we have a number of game shows on TV that are based on Trivia. And quiz shows are on children’s television as well as adults. We also we have board games like Trivial Pursuit. And the idea is that you need to have a broad knowledge of things, in order to have any hope of answering the majority of the questions. Questions like: in what year was the song Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley released as a single? Was it 1955, 1956, 1957 or 1958? [Answer 1956].
So, again the question is, how important is it to remember lots of trivia? Is it life changing, or just interesting?
3. A Crime Scene
Now the third thing I want to mention, relates to a crime. And I want you to imagine that you are outside of a jewellers shop, when all of a sudden you see two people in balaclavas rushing out of the shop with what looks like a bag of booty. A car then comes screaming up to the kerb and the two people jump in. The car takes off and in no time has disappeared from the scene.
Now imagine you were there—that you saw those things. How important would it be to take note and remember what had happened? Because when the police arrive—and find you had seen a part of what had gone on, quite understandably, they’d want to ask you a few questions. They’d want to ask you to detail all that you saw.
So in this case how important is it to remember what you have witnessed? And how long do you need to remember the details?
And the last thing I want to ask you about relates to history. Now the recording of history comes in a number of forms. It can be local history books, documents dating back thousands of years—like the Epic of Gilgamesh—or even a Bible.
But how important is it to try to read, and remember, all of the contents of these books? How important would it be to read—and remember—everything that they said?
Well I guess, it would depend on what the book was about. For example, if I’d got a book on the history of egg cups—it might be interesting reading, but unless I was into making eggcups it might not be important to read and remember at all.
What we have in life than are a number of things that we can read, see, hear and experience. Some of the things are worth remembering and others which are not. The dilemma we face, then, is what should we remember, and what is not important at all.
Because, as we live life, there are many things that we see, read, and experience. Some, as we’ve seen, are important to remember. And others, we should feel free to let pass by.
Each of us has to learn, then, what is important to remember and what isn’t.
And from my perspective, knowing something about the history of a community—and knowing something about the history of a community of faith—would have to be at the top of the list.
After all, it can be very difficult to understand and communicate with people if you don’t know where they are coming from, and what makes them tick. And it’s equally true that it’s very difficult to know where you’re going if you don’t know from where you’ve come from either.
1. The Lessons of History
Of course, one of the things about the past is that some people find it so interesting that they want to learn more and more. They want to get into it deeper and deeper. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to remember the past. And it’s good to recognise what has been achieved. However, if history—if remembering the past—is left there, it can be a real problem.
Because part of the idea of remembering is not just about recalling what happened. It’s about putting the principles that we learn (from looking in the past) into practice. We need to learn from the successes and the mistakes of those who have gone before. And we need to put those lessons to good use.
2. A Modern-Day Problem
Unfortunately, one of the problems of modern life is that we live in a society which has a strong emphasis on the individual. Indeed, it’s more about what we want and deserve for ourselves, than it is about the community. As a consequence, we tend to be very poor when it comes to having a community attitude.
So unless we remember stories about the community working together, and unless we decide to apply the lesson of history for ourselves, then when the history of today—when it is written—will reflect a very negative time in the history of the world. Indeed, it will be one where people had become so wrapped in themselves, that any sense of community had been lost.
3. Being Part of the Religious Community
And the same is true regarding the religious community too.
Because in the Bible we have a series of stories and other documents which tells us of the blessings of God on his people. And side by side with those, are some of the many disasters that struck the people too. And most in this last category do not put God’s people in a very good light at all. Indeed, they often show people as having learnt to ignore God, who have stopped worshipping, or who continually find ‘more important’ things to do.
And as we read the bible—or hear the bible stories—we can think that that was a nice story, or that things weren’t too good back then.
But the real point about the bible, is not about what went on back in the past, it’s about what we do here and now. Indeed, it’s about not only whether we remember the stories, but whether we’re putting the lessons into practice.
Because, interestingly enough, the bible talks far more in terms of community than the individual. It talks about the need for faith in Jesus, yes. But flowing from on from that, it talks about our different God given talents and abilities. And it talks about the need to put those talents and abilities to good use, for the benefit of all.
Many times in the Bible, God calls his people to remember the past. Particularly, the times that he rescued and blessed his people, and the times they were supposed to have learnt from their mistakes. But in each case, what he asked his people to do, was not just to recall the story but to put the lessons into practice too. And that is perhaps the most important thing of all, regarding history and about the need to remember.
Because knowing where you’ve come from is one thing. But knowing where you are going is another thing altogether. Being part of a community, and knowing where it is heading is important. But being part of a community of faith, and knowing that it is headed, with God at its focus, is more important still.
D. CONCLUDING THOUGHT
In all of our lives, there will be things that we read, hear, and experience. Some of those things will be worth remembering, and other things will not be worth remembering at all. And part of the journey of life is the need to work out what is important to remember and what isn’t.
Now obviously, each of us has to consider what is worth remembering—and it will vary from one person to another. However, if there are two things that should be on top of everyone’s list, they should be: Some knowledge of the history of the community in which they live. In other words, where they come from, and what makes them tick. Because you cannot hope to understand or help people, or get involved with people, or lead people, or do anything really worthwhile, without knowing something about from where they come.
And most importantly: To know what and who we are supposed to be. In other words, where we are with our creator, what our purpose in life is, and how we are supposed to act.
Remembering things is very important. But we to take into account that remembering isn’t just about memorising the events of the past. Remembering is also about putting the lessons that we learn into practice.
And that should mean: Maintaining a community focus—despite today’s common emphasis on the importance of the individual. And, more important than that, is the need to put into practice what it means to be part of a community of faith.
Posted: 12th August 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
Psalm 105:1-11 & Luke 16:19-31