Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 6:27-31; 37-42
Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.” Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” Then the Lord said to him, “Not so![c] Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Luke 6:27-31; 37-42
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
Have you heard the term brother’s keeper? What images does it bring to mind?
When I hear the term I’ve always thought of someone who protects another. Brother’s keeper. Sister’s keeper…
I’ve known this term is a biblical term, but I didn’t realize that the only real scripture that makes mention of it is the Cain-Abel story. After Cain kills his brother Abel, God asks Cain where Abel is, and Cain’s reply is,” I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?”
Can you hear this dialogue? I can hear it crystal clear. It’s strait out of the playbook of willful and sassy childhood. When we don’t want to really answer a question, we get defensive and try to divert it with another question: a question for a question, a smart-mouthed retort! We try to make the questioner into an idiot – “what am I, my brother’s keeper?!?” Classic smokescreen.
This is all-around such a tragic story, but perhaps it’s not so foreign.
We learn of these brothers, Cain & Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. One tends the sheep. The other tills the ground. We read that both bring an offering before the Lord, but that the Lord is pleased with Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. We don’t know why. It does say that Abel brings a firstling of his flock. He is offering up the first fruits of his flock – something precious. We do not get this detail about Cain’s gift. We can speculate that perhaps Cain’s gift was ordinary. Perhaps it was not really a sacrifice but the left-over’s of his crop. This is possible. We just don’t know.
Either way, Cain’s countenance falls. He grows angry, jealous of his brother.
The Lord intervenes. “Why are you angry?” God asks. And God instructs that if Cain also does well – if his offering is also good, it will be accepted. And then God warns, “And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
But Cain does not master it. Rather IT master’s him. He rises up again his brother and kills him. And then when God goes asking about Abel, Cain gives his smart-mouthed response.
When we think back on these stories, we know they are not akin to today’s video-diary events. No one was there with a camera, paper, or pen. These stories were passed down from generation to generation. They were given to share truth – not the kind of factual, historical, timeline truth as we define it in modern times; that is a modern idea of truth – but rather, such truth as what it’s like to be human, in relationship with God and one another. This kind of storytelling is akin to parable-telling – it could be no one in particular, and yet everyone in particular. It is a story that transcends facts and dates and details and cuts across the centuries with life-truth.
This is the kind of story we read here.
Have you ever felt so jealous of another that you wanted them out of the way? Have you secretly wished their demise? Have you dreamed of their downfall? Have you wished to create their downfall?
We are not so different. Truly, this is a truth story – a story that captures how jealously can creep in and destroy, even breaking blood-bonds.
What I find amazingly merciful is this continuous dialogue between Cain and God. God knows all that is going on inside of Cain. God perceives the depth of his anger, and God speaks up, to guide and counsel him – to point him toward the outcomes he wants. Cain wanted his offering to be acceptable to God. God instructs that if he brings an acceptable offering, it will be accepted. God reminds Cain of his own power. Cain has the power to bring an acceptable offering.
It is tragic that Cain does not heed God’s counsel. Instead of claiming his own power – instead of changing his own behavior and bringing a good offering – Cain focuses on Abel.
Why do we do this?
Do we blame others?
Do we think that the goodness and blessings of God are in short supply?
Do we think we’ll get more, if others get less…or if others are simply gone?
Abel was not Cain’s problem, and yet Cain spent all his energy on Abel…instead of on himself.
God warns Cain that he must master the sin that would otherwise overtake him. God again brings the focus back to Cain: 1 -Cain has the power to bring an acceptable offering, 2 – Cain has the power to master his feelings, the anger, and his growing desire to sin.
But Cain’s focus is on his brother.
Have you done this?
Have you scapegoated another?
Is it always someone else’s fault?
Are you always the victim?
Is the reason you can’t be happy, can’t do this or that, can’t get ahead…always someone else’s fault?
It is certainly true that we affect one another. Clearly Cain affected Abel by taking Abel’s life. Terrible things happen to us and around us, and sometimes through us. There is much we do not have control or power over.
But in all these things, we hear this voice of God calling us back to the power we do have: our own personal power, the power of self-control. Back to our own responsibility.
You and I are not in control of anyone else. God, even, – who CAN see what is best, who COULD control us if God wanted – God doesn’t even control us, but rather beckons, calls, invites, commands, seeks after… God does not try to take away our power. God does not take away our freedom. Even GOD treats US with respect.
So why do we so often seek to control one another…..and in the name of GOD, at that? Why do we seek to control the actions and feelings of others? Why do we presume to prescribe what is best for another – WE of limited vision?
While we are so hung up on the people and events and things we cannot control,…
God is beckoning us back to ourselves, to self-control; to managing our own feelings, reactions, responses, temptations; to our true responsibility to control ourselves.
Rich Mullins wrote a song with David Strasser years ago called “Brother’s Keeper.” I have heard it for years. I know the words by heart, but upon hearing it again, the words jumped out at me, as never before. I want to share the words of their song with you.
By: MULLINS, RICHARD / STRASSER, DAVID
“Now the plummer’s got a drip in his spigot
The mechanic’s got a clank in his car
And the preacher’s thinking thoughts that are wicked
And the lover’s got a lonely heart
My friends ain’t the way I wish they were
They are just the way they are
And I will be my brother’s keeper
Not the one who judges him
I won’t despise him for his weakness
I won’t regard him for his strength
I won’t take away his freedom
I will help him learn to stand
And I will ~ I will be my brother’s keeper
Now this roof has got a few missing shingles
But at least we got ourselves a roof
And they say that she’s a fallen angel
I wonder if she recalls when she last flew
There’s no point in pointing fingers
Unless you’re pointing to the truth
What stands out to you when you hear this song?
What first jumps out at me is the commitment to not judge. He describes what we’ve all seen: people who are helping others but can’t help themselves in the same way. People are living contrary to what they know best, in some way. People…just like you and me. People who we could judge,….who we have judged….but who are not so different from ourselves.
Different details, same theme….
I love that the singer says, “my friends aren’t the way I wish they were, they are just the way they are.” I love this statement. It demonstrates a measure of acceptance. In loving our brothers and sisters, step one is acceptance. They need it. WE need it.
Acceptance acknowledges that we are separate from our neighbor. They are another, and we do not control them.
Then I love how Rich and David take it further. The singer doesn’t stop with not judging his friends. He then moves on to favoring friends based on their strengths. He recognizes that this is not true friendship either.
Love doesn’t keep a scorecard – stars for strengths, x’s for weaknesses…
Then he says he won’t take away their freedom. He goes to the controlling others issue. He relinquishes the desire to control his friends. He shows them the same respect and freedom God shows us – giving us the freedom to make our own decisions.
And instead of judging or favoring or trying to control his friends, the singer says his focus is on helping his brother learn to stand. Empowerment. He doesn’t try to MAKE him stand. He doesn’t SHAME him for not standing yet. He doesn’t do it FOR him, but he walks alongside, helping HIM to learn, helping his brother find his own legs, his own power.
And that’s what the singer sees as being his brother’s keeper.
And I think it’s true.
SO,…in this phrase that was Cain’s smart-mouthed response to a loving God,…
We can see ourselves…
Our own smart-mouthed, defensive behaviors, both to God and one another,
Our own mis-placed anger – blaming others for the place in which we find ourselves,
Our own efforts to control one another, rather than do the hard work of controlling ourselves.
And God speaks to us, calling us back to our own power, our own responsibility, our own opportunity
…to make the kind of life we yearn for
…starting with US,
Our feelings, our actions, our responses, our reactions…
More often than not, it is ultimately we who give away our own power. Focusing on everyone else, focusing on everything we cannot control,…we get angry and despair of all we cannot have or do… and give away the power we do have in it.
But God is calling. He has given you power, inalienable rights, as we Americans might say,…
And He is calling you back,
Back to you.
Though Christ was betrayed by his own chosen disciple….
Though he was whipped and mocked and spat on by the very ones he sought to save…
Though he was nailed to a tree in the greatest acts of human blindness…
He had the power to love
Or to hate
He had the power to bless
Or to curse
He had the power to stay
Or to leave
…To get down from that cross and save himself
And He chose love.
He chose blessing.
We have power.
Will we exercise it?
Do we dare look inward long enough to master it? – to press through the pain of self-awareness and self-discipline?
Do we dare claim that power that no one can take away?
It wasn’t just with Cain that day; God is intervening still,
calling us to look inward, to claim that power,
that God has given us and gives us still.
Will we heed God’s call?