Monday, August 31, 2015

Am I my brother's keeper?


Then the LORD said to Cain, "Where is Able, your brother?"  He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?"  And the LORD said, "What have you done!  The voice of your brother's blood is crying 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."  Genesis 4:9-11

TODAY'S Old Testament reading teaches us many lessons, but the most important thing we should remember is that all Scripture is about Christ!

Our Lord is Enoch who walked with God and was assumed into heaven.  He is Isaac, who was tethered to the wooden altar of sacrifice.  He is Melchizedek, Elijah, and today we find that He is also Abel whose blood cries out to God, not for vengeance in this case, but as the hymn says, "for our pardon cries."

Yes, we should consider the moral lessons that the account of Cain and Abel teaches, but from there we must go on to grasp what the Spirit wants us to understand from the event, namely that there is one who is Greater than Abel, who was also killed by his brothers, but that His blood purifies us from every sin.

Yes, all Scripture is about Christ.  The historical events of His life, death and resurrection are all true, all important, and everyone who professes the Christian religion must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.  He must be familiar, too, with the Lord's miracles by which He began the process of repairing what sin destroyed, and with His ethical teachings, but we should not just know them; we should believe them and work to conform our lives to them so that the full sanctification that will be ours in heaven should begin in us here and now.

Today's reading from Genesis is one such  lesson.  It teaches us to avoid the sins of Cain who was jealous of his brother Abel.  It was not that Cain's offering was inferior to Abel's, but rather that Abel had faith and Cain did not.  Abel humbled himself before God like the tax collector in today's gospel, but Cain came to do business with God, like the pharisee of the parable did.  Of the two, Abel went home justified, but Cain did not.

Jealousy is a strange and twisted kind of sin.  It is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Under its deadly influence, Cain's brotherly love ran cold and his ability to reason was silenced.  He enticed his own brother with sweet words out to the open field, far away from prying eyes, and there he killed him in cold blood.  Because Abel is a type of Christ, we might imagine that Cain killed him with a knife, so that his blood would be soaked into the ground, as Scripture notes, but that is not the end of the story.  If it were, then we would gain nothing more from the Bible than advice for intelligent living; the stuff of mega-church how-to pep talks, but we don't need scripture for that.  We can learn that from the world's moral philosophers.  No, that is not the end of the story, but only the beginning, because when the LORD said, "The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground," it was nothing less than a full blown prophecy of the blood of Jesus that purifies the world from its sin.

It is a biblical axiom that: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.  Much blood was spilled by our Lord in His passion, but when we talk about the shed blood of Christ, the first verse that should come to our minds is John 19:34 where evangelist reports, "But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water."

As Abel was killed by his brother, so Christ was killed by His brothers.  As Abel's blood was soaked up by the ground and cried out for vengeance -- the blood from our Lord's side also found its way into the ground where it quenched earth's desperate thirst for righteousness and provided redemption for all, redemption for you:  redemption that is attained by faith in the blood of God's own Son, poured out on Calvary's cross, and fed to us from the "the cup of blessing which we bless" on the Lord's Day.  Thus the church sings, "Abel's blood for vengeance pleadeth to the skies, but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries."

Finally, St. Paul reminds us in today's epistle lesson that salvation comes to us by grace through faith and not by any works that we ourselves accomplish.  Both grace and faith are gifts from God.  Grace is a disposition in the heart of God to be merciful to us in Christ, to give His only Son to shed His blood in substitution for our own.  Faith is the aptitude, upon hearing this message, to trust it, to know that it is true for you, and that by it your sins are pardoned and your redemption sure.

St. Paul further informs us in today's epistle that faith is not an idle past time, but instead that it is always busy doing the good works that God long ago prepared for His good creation to do.  In particular that we should be rid of jealousy and bitterness and replace it with kindness and with brotherly love; also that God most certainly intends for us to be our brother's keeper, not in a smothering way, not by running people's lives or by living their lives for them.  That seems to be the national sport these days and it is cruel, not kind.  Rather we should keep this adage in the wholesome ways dictated by love and guided by the Lord's golden rule:  Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

To do these things is to put your faith into practice and to show gratitude to the Brother who loves you, redeems you and who will never harm you.  Jesus, the Brother who keeps you safe.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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