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Learn History’s Lessons… or Repeat History’s Mistakes

Hey, friends! Welcome back to the Sunday Sermon. I’m the Rev. Sare Liz Ansuzkiewicz and I’m glad to be back from hiatus! If you want to reference the bits of the bible I’m talking about in this sermon, you can find a link right here to the lectionary the Episcopal Church uses, and for those nerds in the know, it’s Proper 21, Year C, Track two. So, having said all of that, here’s the sermon I preached on September 25, 2022.

Click here to listen to the audio-only version of the sermon below.

We have another set of fascinating readings this Sunday, and I call them fascinating because they are very clear, and that doesn’t always happen in the Bible. 

We don’t need a whole lot of cultural context to understand Amos the Prophet’s words of warning: all you rich and indulgent people are going to be the first to be deported, when the next invader comes through, and it will be God’s Righteous Retribution On You; you’re bringing this on yourselves by not being generous and kind to those with less than you! 

And we don’t really need a lot of cultural context to explain to us that the desire for wealth and comfort can warp our sense of what is reasonable in our behavior, and that once we get to a place of financial stability – not talking about extreme wealth here, just enough for our needs and perhaps a comfortable margin for a rainy day – that stability can give us a sense a safety that is disproportionate. That is to say, we can imagine that because we have that financial stability, our responsibilities are done and over, that achieving financial stability is more important than other things God would have us pay attention to, like being kind and generous to others, for instance. And because we’re human, sometimes we blow things out of proportion, and sometimes, very occasionally, we imagine that if one thing is more important than something else, then… it is the only important thing. And in this example, we can let something important, like attaining, or maintaining financial stability become the only important thing. We can get a little single minded, and the author of 1 Timothy (probably not Paul, by the way, but a student of his writing in his name), wants us to not get so single-minded about money.

And then we have this reading from the Gospel of Luke, and really, we don’t need a whole lot of cultural context to understand this one either, this story Jesus is telling to the Pharisees, this story with its pointed ending that is directly about Jesus’ own resurrection. It’s a story about wealth, but also a story about people who’ve ‘got it all’ – access to the best resources, the best schools, the best teachers, the best philosophies, which would have included the Pharisees. And Jesus’s point is about those with wealth, but it’s mostly about those who’ve ‘got it all’. And his point is painfully clear:

God has already sent heaps and heaps of messengers throughout history and students of history have access to them. So reread what you’ve already read, see it with new eyes, and be changed people because of it. I’ve come for the people who couldn’t be students of history even if they wanted to. To those people, they don’t even need the resurrection of a dead person to be convinced; my teaching is enough. But to a student of history who is blind to history’s lessons, not even someone coming back from the dead will help.

So there we are.

Amos reminds us that God is not amused when we’re busy enjoying our wealth, and the fruits of our labor, but not helping other people.

Paul’s student who wrote the letters to Timothy reminds us that a single-minded focus on money, be it the desire to gain great wealth, or the belief the having enough money will make you safe from all trials, that this mindset will lead us down the garden path. The author reminds us that we still really need to focus on what God wants us to do in this world, despite out need to pay our bills in a timely manner.

And Jesus reminds us that actually… actually we already have everything we need to walk closely with God and be good people. It’s been given to us time and time again throughout history, and Jesus isn’t saying anything brand new. (He is perhaps embodying it more completely, and perhaps even most completely, but other people around the world before and after him have said very similar things.) But what he is reminding the Pharisees here is that it’s not enough to just think about it. It’s not enough to know, intellectually, what you’re meant to do. You also have to actually do it.

Amen.

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