Sometimes the Scriptures hit a little close to home. As we struggle with the aftermath of multiple mass shootings in this country—as we grieve and grapple with the horror—our summer sermon series invites us to consider the story of Cain.
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.” 2Next she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground.
3In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
6The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7If 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.”
8Cain 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.
9Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”
13Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14Today 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.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! 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.
16Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. 17Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and named it Enoch after his son Enoch
We are back at the beginning again, all the way back at the 4th chapter of Genesis. The Bible opens with two creation stories, a description of the paradise in which human life began and of the subsequent exile from that paradise. Chapter 4 is a sort of starting over. What will life look like “east of Eden”?
It will look like a brother murdering his brother for no good reason.
This is why I keep coming back to the Bible. I don’t know if this story happened the way that Genesis tells it, but I know it is true: Humans too often and too easily hate other humans. Abel is Cain’s literal brother but that does not stop Cain from killing him.
This text tells some important truth for this moment. We need a real conversation about gun control in this country. We need to pay more attention to how we treat mental health. We need to clearly and consistently condemn racist and white nationalist rhetoric in our politics.
But we also have to face up to the evil in the human heart. This may be one of the ways that I am not a good theological liberal: I tend to believe that there is something broken in us. We too readily and too easily slide into hatred and fear. Cain’s story is out story. (It is interesting to note that, after killing his brother, Cain goes on to found the first city. The writer of Genesis takes a pretty dim view of city life. And Human civilization is itself founded by the guy who also invented murder).
But we will not be reading this text in a vacuum. We are in the midst of our summer series on Growing in Love. And this weekend we will focus on love of self.
So rather than share any more of my thinking, let me simply tell you where this weekend’s sermon will start.
I think Cain’s deepest problem is that he does not love himself. Everything follows from that.
I know how that sounds. But I believe it. And I believe recognizing the consequences of our failure to love ourselves could be the first step in turning things around.
See you in church!