Genesis 4: 1-16
(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Both Sermons today will look at the
theme of worship. In a sense, both sermons will be the same. The
pattern of this passage is repeated throughout history, even today.
Join us again this evening to hear similar themes from the New
Two sons, two brothers, two children of the original parents, they were Adam and Eve’s family. Both of them made by God in their mother’s uterus, both of them formed by God’s intimate attention and care. Both had Adam and Eve’s genes, both characters developed interacting with the genes and characters of Adam and Eve and the care of God. Though they were out of the Garden, God was still present to them, walking with them, paying attention to them, caring for them.
Cain and Abel, equals in brotherhood, sonship, equal in every way before God.
But maybe not so equal in their family.
Cain was the first born. With him Eve celebrated in praise and said “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man!” And so she called him Cain, which (in the original language) sounds like acquired, to get, and has the overtones of a treasured relationship or possession. By the name, it seems that Adam and Eve deeply loved this little child created by God, acquired with God’s help.
And then came a second son. Was he as beautiful, smart or athletic as Cain? We don’t know. Was he planned, hoped for? We don’t know. Was he an accident - well, not in God’s eyes. What we do know is that Adam and Eve called him Abel. A name that tells of less regard, inferiority, in the original language Abel means a “mere breath”, a vapour, worthless, a nothing. In this first family, it appears there was no fear of favouritism, the parents values came through even in the names they called their sons.
About the dynamics of growing up, the play together, the sibling rivalries, the conflicts and tensions between these two, we can only imagine, we are told nothing. We can only assume a normal progression for two young men, one favoured by his parents, the other second rate. But in their growing up, God walked with them, God valued them both, his embrace consistent, his faithfulness unchanging.
Cain, the first born favoured one, did the manly thing. He took over from his father, doing the hard work of tilling the soil and harvesting, by the sweat of his brow. Adam was pleased. “Look at how he knows how to work.” As Cain excelled at farming the land, as his fields increased in their return, he felt his father’s smile, the approval, the pride of his parents. Cain knew that he was the better son.
Abel however, just took care of some sheep, his flock managed and healthy, but as throughout the scripture, shepherds were often despised and outcasts, we have a hint here that Abel was fitting right into his role in the human family. “I’m so glad he’s out of the house and out of my hair!” Eve might have said. Abel, a vapor, insignificant, transient.
Cain and Abel, like their parents who walked with God, worshiped. Appropriate worship. Worship that expressed thankfulness for all the good things that God did for them. And one of the ways they expressed that worship is by sacrifice. If you study the concept of worship throughout the scripture - it is always defined by sacrifice. And so we to offer sacrifices of praise. Cain and Abel, over the course of time, choose to say thanks to God for his good faithfulness to them.
Abel choose his best, his own favourites from his flock, the first born of the sheep he cared for, the best cuts, rib-eyes, sirloins and t-bones, and gave them to the Lord. And the smoke arose to heaven.
Cain, now possibly rich, definitely well to do in the family having inherited the farm also choose to give thanks - he took some of his grain, as good as any other, he roasted it over an open fire, and the smoke arose to heaven.
But the barbecued steaks were what
caught God’s attention. And as they worshiped, Abel, the
“worthless” one felt God’s smile,
God’s thank you, God’s presence. Cain, the favored
one, the deserving one, the one who worked hard for this grain too,
But Cain could not. And what he
refused to see is that sin was at his door. The serpent of anger who
can get through the smallest of cracks was hissing at the door, waiting
for that foothold to open, where he could get in to come and own him
and destroy what virtually everything that Cain was. Cain had pushed
the door to far open, he became passive with regard to his anger,
refusing the introspective work that would help him see himself.
Meeting his brother in the field,
his rage became a satanic storm that killed the one God favored, God
embraced. Cain, by force, excluded Abel from his life. Abel’s
blood soaked into the ground, and the earth, tasting Abel’s
blood, let God know what had happened.
Cain revealed his heart. In the end, it was all about him, his status, his well being, his peace, his comfort. Not his brother...
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”
In his world - there was one person
who really mattered. It was Cain. And the world was there to serve him.
Keeping his insignificant brother was nothing. Slaying him in a field
was getting rid of an inconvenience. Now God would have to favour him,
he was the only one left.
Now the one who had grown up favoured, became the one who was excluded, put out, not wanted. Mom and Dad, would they want a murder in their house? No. Now the favoured one was cast out, not welcome, to be avoided. Community demands that we care for one another, that we are brothers keepers, keepers of their lives and reputations, keepers of their well being and their emotions, keepers for their benefit. Cain excluded his brother and in the process excluded himself from being a brother, from being part of community.
But even more so, though the ground
had once favoured his green thumb, now Cain was himself cursed. The
ground would no longer submit to his good will and work. Where he
tilled the ground and sowed his seed, only weeds would grow. He would
have no place to call his own, he would become an anxious, restless
Nobite - a person who wondered the earth with no place his own, no
community that accepted him, no loved ones to keep him, watch out for
him, care for him - except for God - who gave him a mark so that no one
would take his life. By excluding his brother, he excluded himself
painfully shaping his life for the rest of his existence.
There was another favoured son, blessed by his father for the hard work he did in creation. There was a favoured son, accepted in every way, embraced by his father, his community, deeply loved. He had brothers and sisters, but they were all Cains, excluded because they deeply failed, even refused their Father’s expectations and would not do the heart work. But this favoured son could not just relish in his Father’s love, instead, he choose to be a Cain’s keeper, a brothers keeper - and to do that, he choose to be excluded. In pursuit of his brothers and sisters, he followed them, he became a restless wonderer - foxes and birds have homes they call their own, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head - he became an excluded Nobite in pursuit of the excluded ones.
He came to his brothers and sisters
and said - let me be your keeper, come to me, I will give you restless
wondering ones true rest, and at the same time he said
“repent” - if you do what is right, will you not be
accepted. But those brothers and sisters, Cains all of them, could not
accept him as the favoured son, would not accept his keeping, and so
they choose to exclude him, crucify him, nail him to a tree accursed.
But in crucifying him, they nailed him to a cross, with arms open wide,
and those arms open wide were the embrace of God, saying to all of us
Cains, I love you, come home, come back, come to my acceptance through
my son, come to my blessing, come to my favouritism.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.