Sermon, Girdwood Chapel 8/21/2016
Genesis 4: 1 - 15
1 John 3: 9 - 12
For those of you who may not know this about me; I have a brother. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and three kids. As you may have guessed, I am the pesky younger brother. My brother, I.V. is his name, is very successful and is well respected in the circles he is a part of. Some of those include business ventures and academic board of directors. It is safe to say that in most cases and places he finds himself, he is the one that folks are looking to for leadership, guidance, and important input. Well, I am the younger brother, right? So, I can’t let his success get to his head so it is my job to give him the occasional charlie horse as I walk through the kitchen or continuously bring up the time he had a perm in junior high. I simply cannot let him go through life with too high opinion of himself. Then he would start to believe it.
Also, if I let him think he was the best human being to walk the earth, then my folks might start to believe it. Well, we simply can have that! I mean, what about me? I have done lots of cool things too. I deserve just as much of their love and attention as he does. Sure, he went to Harvard and travels the world, but I wrote a book...I mean, he financed the majority of it...but, I wrote a book! Look at me! What about me?! Don’t look at my brother’s accomplishments and the good life he has led and all the wonderful things he has done. Look at me and my accomplishments and all the wonderful things I have done. Don’t give your love and attention to him. Give it to me.
That, my friends, is exaggerated for effect. But, it has its truth hidden within. Brothers and sisters fight for their parents attention and for their love. Maybe they feel like there is not enough love to go around. Maybe they feel like it is not okay to be loved equally and they want to be the favorite. Nonetheless, there is a condition that rears its ugly head when it comes time to seek parental approval, it is called “Sibling Rivalry.”
<<Let Us Pray>>
As many of you know and as we will see, the Bible is loaded with stories of sibling rivalry. It does not take us very long to get to the first such instance as we read Genesis 4 this morning. The first human offspring of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, two brothers, the children of the humans fashioned by the hand of God, are vying for the attention of God. Both offer gifts up to God, but God favors one over the other. Reacting out of hurtful pride, Cain gives Abel a little more than a charlie horse in the kitchen, he takes him out and murders him. In this act of sibling rivalry, in this act of treachery, the cycle of sin is continued from the story we discussed last week and even escalated to a possible point of no return. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Let’s examine the narrative from a few different viewpoints.
First, I would like to explore the narrative in its revelation of family relationships. This is truly the first family of civilization, right? So, it is our first insight of how a family interacts with one another. The relationship of Adam and Eve was discussed last week, as being “one flesh”. This week, a new level is added. It is part of that whole knowledge thing and can go in conjunction with the idea of the loss of innocence. For, when created, they were both naked but not ashamed. Now, we are being told that they know each other intimately. We can take this to mean that they felt desire for one another, put on some Barry White, and welcomed Cain into the world. There is this new idea of desire and intimacy that came with the loss of innocence. There is no mention of the painful childbirth that Eve endured, but very quickly, we are told the purpose of the two grown boys...to tend to the flocks and care for the fertile land.
There was a purpose to the family life and it was to work together in a world held together by agriculture. The oldest son is given the same task that God gave his father, to farm the fertile soil. The younger son, was given the more mundane job of being the shepherd. But, from these assignments we can see that the children were given chores that must be accomplished in order for the family to be a cohesive unit. To work together, to live together.
Most interestingly, we are given the inside look at the first Sibling Rivalry in recorded history. However, they are not looking for their parents’ attention, they are looking for God’s attention. Really, if you are still on speaking terms with your grandparent who just happens to be God, why not go for the attention of the almighty!? So, the boys take Grandpa a gift. Cain takes God some crops, while Abel presents the flocks oldest offspring. We don’t know why, for no reason is given, but God prefers Abel’s offering. I have the sense here, like all grandparents, God is teaching a lesson to Cain. Because look at the next verse, “The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why do you look so resentful? If you do the right thing, won’t you be accepted? But, if you don’t do the right thing, sin will be at the door ready to strike! It will entice you, but you must rule over it.”
Let’s make a simple analogy here, shall we? I see this playing out as gift time, and Abel has been working on his gift to God for the last several weeks. Abel has thought about what God needs and what God wants and he has put together the most thoughtful gift basket with all of the decorations and even included a Starbuck’s gift card just because. It is the perfect gift. Cain, however, saw Abel carrying the gift basket through the house and was like, “uh-oh”. He started running through the house looking for things and found some fruit in the fruit basket through it in a bag and stopped at the gas station for a lottery ticket on the way to dinner.
By God telling Cain to do the right thing, I think he is telling Cain to honor God. Consider your actions carefully and make sure that those things are the forefront in your mind. Cain does not take the lesson well though. He feels his brother showed him up. So, instead of changing the way he approaches life, Cain decides to remove the comparison that makes him look bad. Just as God had explained. Sin was ready to strike.
Comparing oneself to one’s sibling has begun. Striving to find favor from our parents has become important. Finding fault in our brothers and sisters receives more attention than acknowledging and repairing our own faults. In its first generation, the human bond is muddled and broken. Self is sought over the other. Family is complicated.
Urban versus Shepherd
Second, let’s take a quick look at an important scenario that plays out over and over again in the Old Testament. That is the idea that God favors the priestly shepherd over the more worldly choice, such as the hunter or the military commander or stronger and more stately brother. Cain and Abel begin this chapter. We didn’t read the verse in our reading, but let’s quickly refer to Chapter 4, verse 20 through 22 in Genesis. These verses are simply the narrative of the descendents of Cain. But, I want you to pay close attention to what they do <<read the verses>>. They live in tents and are keepers of livestock, play string and wind instruments, and are blacksmiths of iron and bronze.
What happens to Cain after he kills Abel? He is banished to the desert. His punishment is different than Adam and Eve’s because he is not subjected to a more difficult life he is subjected to a life without. He is removed to the desolate, infertile land of the desert. This is totally different than what humanity was created to be? He and his ancestors are outcasts, forced to find a way to make a living in the world separated from God and the created purpose of the human existence.
The shepherd is the continuous symbol of life in the garden. The continuous symbol of life in the created form. A life with which God looked down and said, “this is good.” All of those things in the material world, that come to be associated with wealth and power, they seem to follow the heritage of bloodline of Cain. Cain who was banished from the fertile soil. Cain who was forced to wander separate from God.
The Point of the Story
As we have learned, if a story is in the Bible, then we can certainly look to explore some deeper layers. While the narrative of Cain and Abel sets the tone for familial relationships and it explains the theme of the urban versus rural individual to be encountered in future accounts, it also demonstrates the snowball effect of sin. (Bandstra, p.59) Cain’s prideful thoughts leads him to kill his brother, lie to God, and to be banished from a life in God’s presence. Sin has advanced beyond disobedience to destruction of God’s creation. Sin has moved from breaking a rule to taking a life. Sin has no limits and the path that humans may follow that leads from God is open, paved, and has an express lane.
Once again there is quite a bit of relevance in the names. Cain means “possession” in Hebrew. He is defined by Eve as being a gift from God, therefore we can logically assume that Cain is a child of God. Abel’s name has the literal meaning of “breath”. So, if we use the word tree from last week: adam=”humanity”, eve=”life”, dam=”blood”, and adamah=”soil”, then we can add a level to the cycle and complete the understanding of the human fall.
Cain’s sin removes the “breath” of “life” that was given by God and returns the living “blood” of “humanity” to the “soil” which it originated. Cain’s sin receives a punishment that is a level above Adam and Eve’s. He is banished, but he is banished to a state of life without God. The figurative and literal desert.
Hope is not lost, though. Because just like God clothed Adam and Eve, he offers Cain protection in this new life. The protection shows that God still cares, watches, and maintains contact with humanity even when they have sinned badly enough to send them to the conditions of life farthest from God. Through this hope, through this desire of God to reclaim God’s creation and restore humanity’s rule, we will find the narrative of the Old Testament.
We did a pretty good job early on of separating ourselves from God. We sinned and sinned some more. Never paying attention to what it was costing us, never fully realizing what life with God would have been like compared to the life we had earned from our disobedience. The bottom line is that through our own human desires and our own human actions we drove a wedge between ourselves and God. I have taken four weeks to go through four chapters of one book in the Bible. Don’t worry, I am not going to do this every week. But, I think this is important to realize. These four chapters show us that we are beings created for good. Our created purpose is to care for and to extend righteous rule over the created world around us. Rather than showing this care outside of ourselves we focused on our selfish desires and our own pride. Because of that, our relationship with the world changed and our relationship with our creator changed. We took the breath God breathed into us and threw it back into the soil. We found ourselves wandering in a desert living a life separated from God without knowing a way back. The rest of the Old Testament concerns God’s rescue of God’s people. It may not always seem like it, but it seems God is always trying to return us the created state. We will explore some of these in detail, especially those that concern the original covenant God makes with his people and how we failed once again at keeping up our end of the bargain.
As we move forward, here is my hope. My hope is that we consider in our own lives those things that we do that are rooted in the lessons we have gone through over the last four weeks. Are we doing things that are driving wedges between ourself and our creator? Have we really considered what it means to know we have sinned and to ask forgiveness for those sins from God? Because, if there is one thing the story of Cain shows us, it is that pride and the putting of ourselves above God only serves to drive a wedge pushing us farther from a God that we long to be closer to. Unlike Cain, however, we have a direct pathway. One that has been given to us by no work of our own. All of this sin we have spoken of over the last two weeks was conquered by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We cannot make the mistake of putting ourselves before Him.