Brothers and Sisters All
Sometimes even preachers run out of words the way a river out West finally disappears into the sand during a drought. The killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana, and the recent terrorist bombings in Bangladesh, Iraq, Turkey and other places make it tough to talk. What more can we say? What can we do to stem the violence, build peaceful communities, and overcome hatred and racism?
In Romans 8 the apostle Paul writes that the whole creation “groaning together” as it looks for, yearns for, healing…redemption…wholeness. The headlines tell us this is true: the world groans in longing for healing.
This takes me back to a story in the Bible I try to avoid at all costs. (The mystery of it and unanswered questions aren’t easily dealt with in a sermon.) It’s the story of the first two siblings: Cain and Abel.
Angry and resentful
The ancient story is mysterious and difficult to understand. Cain and Abel, Genesis 4 tells us, both decide to worship God by offering sacrifices. Cain presents a grain sacrifice while his brother offers God “his flock’s oldest with their fat”.
For some reason, the Lord “looks favorably” on Abel’s sacrifice but isn’t thrilled with the grain sacrifice offered by Cain.
I have no idea how Cain and Abel knew this. I don’t know if there was a cosmic sign like a big cloud with a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.”
Scholars can’t really explain what the story is about at that point. Some say it explains for Israel the prominence (desirability) of animal sacrifice over grain offerings in worship. I don’t know. None of the explanations I have read make much sense.
What is in clear in the story is that Cain “became very angry and looked resentful.” I get that. I understand that. And perhaps you do too because neither you nor I are strangers to anger and resentment.
Anger and resentment usually lead us to a bad place. As do hatred, fear, racism, militant nationalism, pride or greed. God warns Cain that his anger and resentment is a danger. Sin is, the Lord says, “waiting at the door ready to strike!”
Cain invites Abel to go for a walk in a distant field. While they are off alone Cain turns on his brother and kills him.
God shows up with a question.
God always shows up. Even when we think no one else in the whole wide world knows what we have said or done. God always shows up.
God asks Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain responds, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Cain—like us— may want to wash his hands of his brother’s fate, but God says this: “What did you do? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.”
We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper
The distance between here and Louisiana or Minnesota, the miles between here and the Middle East or West Africa, our explanations about geopolitical realties, none of these diminish this truth: we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper or guardian (the word used in the Common English Bible.) How the stranger is treated, whatever their skin color or tribal affiliation or faith or economic standing or sexual identity or citizenship matters to God. How others are treated, whether others are treated with respect, dignity and kindness, is our business.
These can be far-away stories but the truth is, the blood of those who suffer cries out to God. In truth, their blood cries out to us: “Do you see what has happened to me…to us? What will you do to defend the defenseless? How will you speak up for justice? What will you do to make peace…countering the words and actions of those who promote violence and fear?” Their blood cries to us from the ground and calls us to courageous, faithful action.
Jesus, in Luke 10:29, is asked by a religious expert, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is beaten and robbed. Some people pass by but it is a Samaritan, one of the “enemy,” who stops, bandages the man’s wounds, and sees that he is cared for and sheltered.
The question is asked of Jesus, and the Galilean tells the story, because in this world too many of us are tempted to think our sister or brother’s welfare isn’t our business. The truth is God calls us to be good neighbors to one another. The truth is that we are, in fact, our sister and brother’s guardians.
The mark of grace
God punishes Cain for the murder of his brother. Cain will no longer have access to the fertile farmland, but will become a nomad.
Cain assumes that also means that he will be “hidden” from the presence of God. He thinks that means God is done with him. It is not so because, as scripture says, “the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.”
Not only will God continue to love and be in a relationship with Cain, but God “put a sign” on Cain so that no one would assault him or harm him.
The story ends with God offering grace to the undeserving. God meets fear, resentment and human violence with love.
These are hard times. These are violent times. The viruses of racism and religious intolerance persist.
God reminds us, today, that we are our sister’s and brother’s keeper or guardian. God, in the story Jesus tells, calls us to be good neighbors to those we know and those we don’t know.
A certain preacher I know likes to end worship with this question: “What one thing will you do this week to change the world by sharing God’s love?”
Even as the blood of the murdered ones calls out to us, so the voice of God calls us to change the world by sharing God’s love. Let us offer all people —even our enemies— the mark of grace.
Join us Sunday as we explore Psalm 35, as we discuss harassers, hecklers and bullies!
Also, don’t miss the amazing story of Mission Guatemala. You’ll hear about that on-going miracle in worship. Table displays and refreshments will be set up in the Gathering Place.
Our Church Council meets on Monday, July 18th, at 6:30 p.m. in the Great Hall. Members of the church are always invited to attend! During the evening we will be considering major proposals regarding a possible building project, a possible capital campaign, plans for discipleship and small groups, another look at options for the south lot, etc. Big decisions are ahead for our church. Your prayers mean so much!
Grace and peace,
Holy Land Trip in February of 2017
Pick up a brochure for the Holy Land Trip in February of 2017 at the Sanctuary entrances. Led by Pastor Mark Fenstermacher, the trip is with experienced tour operator EO (Educational Opportunities Inc.). At this point it appears we may have approximately 20 persons making this life-changing journey. The cost is about $3,000 per person (including airfare, hotel accommodations, tour guide, motor coach transportation in Israel, morning and evening meals, etc.). Contact Ms. Cath Foreman: firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have questions.
Note: this is a special price that is significantly less than other tours. You must register and pay your deposit before July 11th to receive the reduced price.
Join us this Sunday, in a Jesus community where all are loved and welcomed, as we continue our series Soul Songs: A Journey Through the Psalms. Invite a friend to join you.