Summary: Cain’s problem is ours: we are fearful and anxious if someone else seems to be getting ahead of us, and our anxiety is the root of our violence. But in God’s curse there is a mercy and a clue for brotherliness.
For today’s message we are going back to the earliest moments in human history to look at one of the most basic issues in human life. We are looking at the way we feel about differences, and what we do about that feeling.
The Book of Genesis, in its opening stories, teaches us about what it means when men rise up against one another and do violence. That probes the deepest and most convoluted corners of the human heart. Our Scripture contains that haunting question, "Am I my brother’s keeper?" And it speaks about marked men, people on whom some curse has fallen. Our Scripture is about us and what we do to each other, because of differences.
Human history puts some tough questions to us. It asks how it could be that a Christian people, a people who had lived with the good news all their lives, some of whom had even given themselves to Christian missions ... how could it be that these same people would entrap and enslave Africans, treat these slaves with utter disrespect, break up their families, and justify it all with the Bible? How could that be? And yet it was. It happened. In our own nation.
History asks, too, how it could be that a people who first heard the gospel more than a thousand years ago, a people who had given the world the finest music, the most sophisticated philosophy, an extraordinary science, some of the world’s greatest Biblical scholars ... how could it be that Germany would entrap and enslave Jews, treat them with sheer contempt, break up their families, put them into concentration camps, and justify it all in the name of achieving a master race? How could this be? And yet it was. It happened. In our century and within the memory of many of us.
History’s question is contemporary, too. How can it be today that well-meaning people, people who have fought for good causes, people we have looked up to, people who have themselves suffered the slings and arrows of prejudice ... how can it be that today such people will blindly blame whole groups for the problems of our society? How can it be that today some will lash out emotionally, at others? How can this be? And yet it is. It happens. It happened just the other day in the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, when a congresswoman’s father cried out about what he called "racist Jews." It happened a year ago in the rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan, tracing everything that’s wrong with us, and there is plenty of it, but tracing it all to Christians, to Jews, to whites, to Asians, and so forth. It happens in the snarling laughter of the fashionable, who put down ordinary, hard-working folks as "bubbas"; it happens in the beer halls and bowling alleys of the working folks, who think that everybody with a college degree is an effete snob! It happens in the churches. Last week, after I found we had a Catholic priest worshipping with us, I sort of checked my memory to see whether I had said anything that might have been offensive or insulting to him; it’s so easy to do! We seem to be incurable name-callers, we are wrapped up in putting one another down.