Sermon from Hebrews 11:-16 and Genesis 4:1-12
So, tell me about your family? Nice people? Fun? Crazy like you?
Sue and I had some time to spend upstate with Brian and Rachel and Noah and Katie and Mary and it was a wonderful, well except for the huge septic repair bill. But I’ll share about that another time!
We even got to watch the Christmas Eve services together on Youtube, although my family talked through the whole thing and almost missed the candle lighting and communion because they weren’t paying attention! Is your family like that?
Because of Covid, we missed our normal visit with Sue’s two sisters Sandy and Pam and their families, and we missed seeing my sisters Sue and Nancy and their families.
The reality is Sue and I both have wonderful stories about our brothers and sisters from over the years, and we always love seeing them. There have been tense times for sure, always resolved, well mostly, but neither of us have a story anything like this one in Genesis about Cain and Abel.
In some ways it is all remarkably tragic! How could God have picked Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s? What was God’s reasoning? And wouldn’t God have known what Cain was like, how jealous and how volatile.
And yet, in other ways this story sounds so much like the natural consequence of the events in Genesis chapter 3, where Adam and Eve fell into sin and God banished them from the Garden of Eden.
Don’t eat from the tree. If you do there will be consequences. And yet there is the core on the ground. Oops!
So, what happens next!
Adam and Eve have children, and the directive “don’t be angry with your brother, because anger can be the opening act of a very dangerous play” doesn’t seem to get told!
God even warned Cain, that his anger was ushering him down the road to destruction. But you see Cain wasn’t listening. His ears were stopped up. In some ways the story sounds so familiar, and yet in other ways so foreign.
What was it that God saw in Abel’s sacrifice that he didn’t see in Cain’s? Was it the difference between the lamb and the grain? Or was the difference not in the offering, but in the one who offered it?
The author of Hebrews, in the 11th chapter introduces us to the power of faith!
He reminds us that while faith may seem to us to be rather insubstantial, ephemeral, a thing of the heart, it is in fact a motivator that allows several of the most important biblical characters, and some not so often noticed ones, to stand out.
What they believed, what they put their faith in, what motivated their actions, how they lived their lives, the choices they made were all motivated by what they believed!
And only was their faith important, it was consequential, in that it pushed them to do some of the most amazing things and to be part of some of the most amazing stories in scripture.
And all that should give us a hint as to what was happening with Cain and Abel.
According to Hebrews, the reason Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God was because of Abel’s faith. That it was what was in Abel’s heart, that motivated him to bring what he did.
So, he brought a love offering to the God of creation.
Cain brought an offering too, but based on Hebrews, it was not one that reflected his love and devotion to the Lord of all.
It was not one born out of his faith, but rather it seems, was one that came from doing only what needed to be done with no worship, no love, and no spirit involved.
As we will see later in Hebrews, the sacrifice that God most desires from us is what is most precious to us, our love of God, our time, energy, possessions, and most importantly, us!
When we decide to hold that back, to not bring our best because of our lack of faith in the God of all, God notices. As he did with Cain.
And then Cain reacted not with a simple admission of a lack of faith, and a desire to do better, but with anger. And God noticed that too and warned Cain.
Anger, even for the best of reasons, is a warning sign. It is a reminder that something is amiss, and an opportunity, the proverbial “Y” in the road, that can lead us into a growing, deepening relationship with God, or one that can separate us from God.
The scripture reminds us elsewhere to “be angry, but do not sin”.
Why? Because anger is not one of the Fruits of the Spirit. Anger is a sign that we are jealous, or hurt, or scared, a warning we need to heed so that our anger doesn’t lead us to the adverse consequences that Cain’s anger did.
And key to that, is the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, and our deep and resilient faith, so that no matter what our circumstances are at the moment, the God of the universe has us well in hand, a reminder that God is in control, that God will provide, and that we need not fret, but instead, worship.
We need to be filled with the Spirit in such a way that the fruit of the Spirit is always evident in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And notice, what isn’t on the list: anger!
Abel brought a better sacrifice because his heart was right with God. Because he was filled with the Holy Spirit and was living out the joy that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So, no matter was is happening around you, don’t be Cain, be Abel! And then bring to the Lord the sacrifice of praise, and the living sacrifice God so much desires, good, old, wonderful you! Amen.