Summary: Our attitudes and our actions can alienate us from God and from one another.
I begin this morning with a very deep and profound question, "What kind of animal are you?"
Now, don’t get defensive, okay? If you were to describe yourself as an animal, what animal would that be?
Let me narrow the field to four options, courtesy Dr John Trent, a Christian author and psychologist. (Overhead is placed) On the overhead is a copy of a handout from a satellite presentation that John did a few weeks ago and that I attended down in Anderson.
During the presentation, he spoke of four different kinds of animals each with a different personality. This "personal strengths survey" gives us a brief snapshot of personality types.
If you have a piece of paper and pencil at hand I am going to ask you, that for each characteristic I name that describes you, make a little tick mark. If it does not describe you, then don’t make a mark. So, ready to find out what kind of an animal you are? Here we go. (Each quadrant of the survey was read aloud).
Now, total up your scores for each quadrant. Now what do the letters mean? (Place overhead 2 over overhead 1 - picture of animals). L stands for "Lion." O stands for "Otter." G stands for "Golden Retriever." B stands for "Beaver."
Lions - bold, take charge, people. You know who they are don’t you? You work with some. You live with some.
Then there are the otters. Playful. Fun. Never a dull moment with them. As with lions, you work and live with them.
Close behind is that golden retriever. Loyal, loving, supportive. Always there when no one else is.
Finally those beavers. They are the organizers. The detail persons. Dr. Trent pointed out that on the class rings for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or better known as MIT, there appears a picture of a beaver.
You know a beaver don’t you? You know a golden retriever don’t you? A lion is readily apparent. And you find an otter easily in the crowd.
Now, some of you are thinking, "Where is Jim going with this?" Trust me, it’ll work out!
I want to re-read our text for this morning and I want you to determine which of these animals describes Cain and Abel. (Read Genesis 4:1 - 16) Well, what do you think? Which of these four animals would describe Cain, which would describe Abel?
Each one of us has a personality. And we could argue that each of these items that I have named are personality traits. And those traits change over the years. For example, some of us find that we have become a little more lion-like over the years. Other of us have found that we find more characteristics like an otter as the years go by.
Now what does this have to do with this tragic Biblical story? Both men had a certain personality, perhaps a blend of both. We could make an argument that Cain was a blend of Lion and Beaver and that Abel was a blend of Otter and Golden Retriever. But, there is something much deeper at issue here. It goes beyond our personality. It has to do with the choices we make and our character.
There are three things that catch our attention:
1. They both brought gifts to the Lord. Now, this is before the sacrificial system that God required ancient Israel to use. Interesting isn’t it?
2. The Lord accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. Why? And how did Cain learn of this rejection?
3. God warned Cain about the consequences of his anger and jealousy and told him that if he responded "in the right way," his offering would be accepted. How did God communicate with Cain?
Quite a story isn’t it? A lot of questions come into our minds about this story.
A big question is, "How did Cain know that God had rejected Cain and his offering?" One of the assumptions that we have made over the years following the banishment from the Garden of Eden is that a personal or "face-to-face" relationship between God and humankind altogether stopped.
But, from the language of verse 6, it seems that God somehow had personal contact with Cain. Or maybe the writer of this account made public what had been an inner dialogue.
But, why did God reject Cain’s offering? And why was God pleased with Abel’s offering? One word comes to mind - attitude.
Some scholars have suggested that Cain came with an attitude of obligation or that we has doing God a favor by bringing him an offering or that Cain did not bring his best to God. Likewise they have suggested that Abel brought his best to God with an attitude of submission and respect.
Derek Kidner points out that an offering is "a gift of homage or allegiance." From this perspective, we see both brothers acknowledging their allegiance to God in their offering except that the attitude of the one did not match the offering. In other words, God saw in Cain’s heart only a half-hearted allegiance while in Abel’s it was whole-hearted.