6th Sunday of Easter
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
Growing up I was one of those people who was extremely conscious about germs. I avoided things that could possibly spread germs like the plague. I’d inspect all my silverware to make sure there wasn’t any kind of food left of it, if I wasn’t sure if a glass was mine or not I wouldn’t hesitate to get a new one, etc. Kind of ironic that I then got a job working for a company cleaning portable toilets where there were literally germs everywhere J . Well, I’m still a bit overly cautious about germs, if something has been in the fridge for a while and we can’t remember how long I won’t hesitate to vote to get rid of it. My wife isn’t so concerned about germs. I see it most clearly as she deals with our children. One child won’t be finishing their food and in order not to waste anything she’ll help them finish the half-eaten food on their plate. Just the other day our baby David was thirsty so she put her glass up to his mouth and he’s slobbering all over it and then when he’s done she’ll drink out of it along with all the floaties and what not in the water. Why? Certainly she’s not as afraid of germs as I am, but I know she wouldn’t do that with just any kids, they’re her children and she loves them dearly. We will do out-of-the ordinary things for those whom we love. Right?
Well this text in front of us really is an account of out-of-the ordinary love. At first you might think, really? This is about a brother heartlessly, coldly, ruthlessly, violently, awfully murdering his own brother!! Love? Not seeing it. Well, let’s look closer…
When Adam and Eve took that fruit off the tree and disobeyed God they unleashed a Pandora’s box of evil. Because of their sin they were driven from the Garden of Eden, through painful toil and difficult work they would try to grow food for themselves, there would be pain in childbirth, all kinds of consequences because of their sin. Then there’s this one in this account. Well, they had two children Cain and Abel. Cain was her first born and his name literally means “acquired.” It’s even possible to translate what Eve said with, “I have acquired the man, the LORD.” And if that was the case Eve may have thought Cain was the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Savior after they had fallen into sin. How wrong she was! But then she gave birth to another son, Abel. His name means breath or vanity, like the breath you see on a cold winter day that appears for a moment and is gone. Perhaps Eve noticed the sinfulness in Cain, just like the sinfulness in her and in Adam and how frail, temporary, passing this sinful life is.
Then we’re told about their occupations: Abel took care of animals, flocks, while Cain worked in the field and grew crops. And soon they began to give offerings to the LORD. Why? Was it their appreciation for the LORD’s blessings that moved them to do this? Was it the godly instruction of their parents? We don’t know. But they brought offerings to the Lord. While Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil, Abel on the other hand brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flocks. And then we’re told that the Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering but not on Cain and his offering.
We need to understand what the problem was here. We might think: What was wrong with Cain’s offering? I mean, my goodness, he’s at least bringing an offering! Why would God not look with favor on Cain’s offering? What was wrong with it? We need not just jump by the sequence of the words. Did you notice what it said? “The LORD looked with favor on Abel…and his offering, but on CAIN…and his offering he did not look with favor.” The difference wasn’t with the offering. Martin Luther said, “Abel could have brought a nut and God would have been pleased.” The problem wasn’t the offering, but the heart of the one giving the offering. Cain didn’t care. Cain brought an offering because he had to, it was expected of him he felt, it was necessary, he was simply fulfilling the rules and regulations, it was repulsive to him. Abel, however, brought offerings to God because he wanted to, because he knew God as the gracious and forgiving God, because he knew God had promised his parents a descendant who would crush the serpent’s head, who would undo the damage in the world caused by sin and its effects.
And so, in an out-of-the ordinary act of love, God showed Cain that He was not pleased with his offering. Why an act of love on God’s part? Cain was living in self-righteousness and he needed to know that he needed to repent and turn to the Lord for salvation. But instead, Cain became upset, angry, jealous. The same is true today. When bad stuff happens in the world God calls people to repent and to turn in trust to Him as the Savior. Think about the last time you were upset. Now think about why you were upset and angry about something. There is only one justifiable reason to be angry and that is when God’s honor is at stake, but besides that God wants us to live in peace and gentleness. When difficulties come – like Cain experienced with God’s disfavor – do we see it as a call for us to repent? When something doesn’t work the way we wanted do we get upset and angry or do we turn to the Lord and say, “Lord, I realize I’m a sinful person living in a sinful world, I need your forgiveness, assure me of your promises to be with me and help me no matter what”?
But Cain got all upset. So what did God do? Again showed out-of-the ordinary love for him. God addressed him, “Why are you angry? Why is your face down cast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” God’s warning him. God’s getting him to focus on his attitude toward God and his brother. “You are allowing anger and resentment to live in your heart, instead of repenting you have turned to anger and resentment, you don’t really have a right to be anger, but notice that you are.” Allow this sin of anger to ruminate inside of him will allow it to get bigger and bigger. Today is the same. Sin isn’t content to just remain small, it has to get bigger. Allowing sin to fester in our hearts will lead to acting out on that sin. When we allow sin to fester in our hearts it can lead to acting out on that sin. If we allow lust or lustful thoughts linger in our hearts, it can and most likely will lead us to acting out, perhaps with pornography – which is an epidemic in America, perhaps with adultery of some kind. If we allow anger and rage to fester in our hearts, it can and most likely will lead us to acting out, perhaps with violence, perhaps with words that are meant to cut and hurt others. If we allow coveting to linger in our hearts, if we long for those material things that God has not allowed us to honestly acquire, it can or most likely will lead us to stealing in some way, cheating someone out of something that is rightfully theirs. Sin, if left unchecked can destroy lives, families, and even faith.
What happens next? Cain acts out on the sin living in his heart, murders his brother, then lies pretending like it never happened. But nothing in all of creation is hidden from God’s sight. God confronted Cain, God then slammed Cain with the law and the consequences of his sin, he would be a restless wanderer on the earth. Again, out-of-the ordinary love. God doesn’t just strike Cain dead or let him go on living in his sin, but he addresses it. Why? Because of His love. God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. God is not slow, He is patient not wanting anyone to perish but all to come to repentance –even Cain. Then even when Cain is distraught, fearing that someone is going to take revenge on him and kill him, again in out-of-the ordinary love God puts a mark on Cain. Not only would that mark spare his life and extend his time of grace to come to repentance but it would be a constant reminder his whole life of God’s grace – not treating him as his sins deserve. That’s our God! He earnestly wants our salvation!
What sins are you clinging on to? What sins might God giving you warning about? What sins are crouching at the door of your heart wanting to master you? Anger, jealousy, hatred, bitterness? What sins have mastered you? Have mastered me? Are we any better than Cain? No, we haven’t physically murdered someone but who here can stand when Jesus says, “If you hate someone you have already committed murder in your heart”? We deserve nothing from God but His eternal judgment.
And yet God deals with you and me, not as our sins deserve, but with incredible, out-of-the ordinary love. God’s put a mark on you and me too. Through faith God has marked you. At every baptism we here this same phrase: “Receive the sign of the cross on the head and on the heart to MARK you as a redeemed child of Christ.” God has marked you too. When your sins are troubling you – as they ought – when God allows you to feel the consequences of sin to lead you to repentance, when you’re driven to despair or fear of God, remember the mark that God has placed on you. When sin is crouching at the door of your heart wanting to master you, remember the mark God has placed on you. When you’re tempted to be angry or upset remember the mark God has placed on you and the mark God has placed on the other person. It’s a daily reminder of God’s love, His care, His protection for you!
With the cross of Jesus your Savior God has marked you as His own redeemed, forgiven, cleansed, washed, and loved child. Remember that mark, that sign of God’s out-of-the ordinary love as you go about your tasks this week. Amen.
Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you, all of you who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. You were buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)