Sermon for October 9th, 2016

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Genesis 4:1-12

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.’

8 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. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 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.”

Abel's Sacrifice: Putting First Things First

Oh, hi! Have I met you before? My name is Abel. Abel Adamson. I live in the land of Nod, down that way just East of Eden. You've heard of Eden, haven't you? Yeah, it's a pretty sweet neighborhood. My parents used to live there before my brother and I were born. They got into some kind of trouble with the church back in Eden, and got asked to leave. I've always wondered what that was about, but they don't like to talk about it much. Nod's a little bit more ghetto...but it's home.

You know, my parents aren't exactly outstanding members of the church here in Nod, either. They're what people in the church usually refer to as "sponges" -- they soak up all the resources of the church (all the programs, classes, worship, and the pastor's time) and never really give anything back. Don't get me wrong -- they've been in leadership positions. Back in Eden, they were on the nominating committee. You know, like, "I nominate you to be a horse...I nominate you to be a lemon tree...I nominate you to be a furry tree sloth..." I think they had fun being on the nominating committee, at least until they nominated that snake.

So, yeah, things are a little bit rough here in Nod. Well...for me, at least. Not for my older brother. Nothing's too hard for Cain; he's amazing. Mom and Dad are always so proud of everything he does. And he does just about everything! That's the hard part about being a younger brother; by the time I'm old enough to do something he's already done it, and done it better than anyone else in town, too. Which is why what happened today was so weird...so absolutely awesome and amazing and cool...but weird...

Anyhow, that's how I got stuck taking care of these sheep. Cain used to do that; in fact, he was one of the first ones to figure out you could tame sheep and breed them and raise them...and sell them. He made a killing selling sheep for awhile there. But then everybody else was doing it and Cain had to move onto something new, something better. We all thought he was crazy when he started burying dead plants and seeds in the ground...but then stuff started growing! It was insane, and Cain was a hero because now we didn't have to go on long foraging trips. I think Cain really liked all the attention he got from that venture. And (once again!) he made a lot of money.

I do okay with the sheep. I sell a few here and there, mostly just to make ends meet. The sheep economy has been pretty hairy lately...the market's saturated with sheep, and shepherd unemployment is on the rise. Most days I'm just grateful to have a job. I see Cain at church sometimes, but we don't really talk much. Until recently, that is.

You see, Cain (as usual) was doing pretty well for himself, so our church (Nod Memorial Presbyterian Church) asked him to head up their annual stewardship campaign. He planned a lot of meetings, talks, and get-togethers, all culminating in one big church-wide Commitment Sunday, where we were all supposed to bring our pledges out to the hill next to the church...and burn them. I have to admit, I've never quite understood why God likes things so well-done. I'm more of a medium rare kinda guy myself.

So yesterday was the big day, when we brought our pledges. To be honest, when I looked over my flock that morning trying to decide which sheep to offer, they all looked kind of pathetic. What's worse is that I had a potential customer coming in later today to buy one of them, and I knew he was the picky sort. If I couldn't get a good price...I might not make the rent on my cave this month. The easy thing to do would be to hang on to my best sheep...the one I knew would fetch a good enough price to keep me afloat. Easy decision, right? Surely God would understand? Would he even care much about one sheep that was only slightly less pathetic than the other one?

But something my Dad once told me...an image...I couldn't get it out of my head. I kept remembering how he described the last time he saw God face to face. God had come to him in the garden and said, "Adam, why are you hiding from me?" And I'll never forget my Dad's words here: He said, "Because I'm naked...and I'm ashamed." That thought...to be standing naked before God, who sees everything, knows everything. I didn't want to be ashamed. In that moment, I didn't care so much about impressing my parents, my brother, my customers, or anyone else. I just wanted to give my God my very best. No matter what the cost. I took my best lamb, my fattest lamb, and I headed up the hill.

Predictably, Cain's offering was huge! It made my lamb, my best lamb, look like a little, leftover side-dish at a vegetarian world banquet. God had obviously blessed Cain more than anyone else I'd ever known. He was surrounded by people. Our parents were there with him, and all of the church leaders and people I didn't even know. And I thought, God must be pretty proud of Cain right now, too.

That's when it happened.

The sky opened up, and light flooded the hill and suddenly the presence of God was everywhere. I felt God's presence hovering near my offering, and a warm sensation came over me. A voice sounded loud in the heavens. It said, "WELL DONE, ABEL." And I thought, "well, yeah, it's been cooking for an hour, God, it better be well-done by now!" But I didn't say that. I knew what he meant, I was just too stunned to say anything at all.

And then the presence of God passed from me, and hovered over Cain's massive pile of half-burnt offering. Cain looked up into the light, and for a fleeting moment, I saw something in his eyes that reminded me of our Dad. And then Cain's countenance fell, and he was angry. I heard the voice again--judging from the looks on the faces around me, everyone else heard it too. "WHY ARE YOU ANGRY WITH ME, CAIN? IF YOU DO WHAT IS RIGHT, HOLD YOUR HEAD HIGH. BUT IF YOU DO WHAT IS WRONG, SIN WILL LURK AT YOUR DOOR. IT WANTS YOU, BUT YOU MUST MASTER IT."

The light faded, the presence of God departed, and everyone was staring at Cain. But Cain was glaring at me. His expression was a mixture of hurt, pride, and crazy rolled into one. Then without saying anything more, Cain ran away. No one heard from him all that evening, and into the next morning. Finally, he sent a messenger to me, inviting me out into the old field next to the forest. That's where I was headed when I ran into you.

I've been thinking a lot about yesterday. Wondering why God showed favor to me, and to my offering. I don't pretend to understand the words God said to Cain, but I think I know what happened. You know, Cain may have been the firstborn son, but he never really learned what it means to put first things first. I think Cain wanted everyone at the church to be impressed with him, to see what a good job he did with the stewardship campaign. And as massive as his offering was, I suspect it wasn't his best produce. That probably got sold right away for top dollar. You see, somewhere in the midst of worrying about his image, his work, his friends, his family, his finances...I suspect that Cain forgot the most important person of all. He forgot God--the reason for the offering in the first place. That's easy to do when you squeeze God into whatever space is left over after you've taken care of everything else.

God didn't care about Cain's fruit and vegetables...but he did care about Cain's heart. And so do I. I hope I have the chance to tell him that today. Actually, I think I see him down there...thanks for listening...I'll see you around!