Summary: We are people who live in community. Cain didn’t realize that and saw his brother as competition rather than a companion.
Genesis 4:1-16 “Where is Your Brother/Sister/Neighbor”
The neighborhood is changing and expanding. Technologies like the internet and cell phones have broken down boarders far more effectively than any invading army. Traditionally closed societies like China and Iran have discovered it almost impossible to keep out news and images from the outside world. The United States, conversely, has been exposed to a vast world far beyond our borders filled with people who are more similar to us than they are different.
City streets that one hundred years ago resonated to the sounds of German, Norwegian, Gallic, and Italian, now vibrate to the words of Spanish, Urdu, Arabic, Russian and over one hundred other different languages. As our neighborhoods change and expand, we are faced with the decision of either circling the wagons and building higher fences, or opening our gates and welcoming our neighbors into our lives.
The question that is posed to us today, “Where is your brother/sister/neighbor?” is one that forces us to examine our words and deeds and how they affect our relationships with our neighbors.
SELF-CENTERED AND HALF-HEARTED
Almost everyone has heard the story of Cain and Abel. Cain, who was angry because his offering was rejected and his brother Abel’s was accepted, murdered his brother. The story’s general purpose is to demonstrate the spread of sin throughout the world. The details of the story, though, illuminate God’s call to us to be part of a community and the forces in our lives that work against it.
It is not easy, at first, to understand why God rejects Cain’s offering but accepts Abel’s. The key is to look at how each of the offerings is described. Cain offered some of the fruit of the ground. Abel offered the firstlings from his flock. Abel offered his best, while Cain gave his second best. Going through the motions of religion has never impressed God.
We can only surmise what Cain’s motivation was. Probably it was caused by his self-centeredness and selfishness. He gave God a half-hearted offering because he felt he had better things for which to use the fruit of the earth. Cain placed his needs and wants above God and also above his relationship with others. The bruised and stressed relationships that Cain’s self-centeredness caused eventually led to the murder of his brother and his exile into the wilderness.
We are genetically programmed to look out for number one. We receive a different DNA, though, at our baptism, or when we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Jesus died for the whole world and he sends his followers into the world to establish relationships with the people of the world and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed.
TURNING AWAY FROM GOD AND NEIGHBOR
In verse six, God confronts Cain concerning his anger and invites him to confess his sin, repent and offer another offering of his first fruits—his very best. Cain refuses and continues to hold on to his anger.
Cain anger is also fed by his jealousy of his brother Abel. Cain didn’t want to be second in anybody’s book—especially God’s. Abel, though he did nothing against his brother, becomes the object of his brother’s anger.
Community is destroy because Cain refused to repent and continued to live in anger and jealousy.
Thousands of years later, self-centeredness, anger, jealousy continue to tear apart of communities. We in essence determine to ourselves that community is not as important as our own wants and desires. So we concentrate on ourselves, or our family, and ignore the rest of the world.
OUR BROTHER’S KEEPER
After he murder’s Abel, God searches for Cain. When God find’s Cain, God asks him where his brother is. Cain responds by saying, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper/?” It is clear that Cain did not believe that he was his brother’s keeper. It is equally clear that God did understand that Cain was his brother’s keeper, and in a larger context that we are all our brothers’, sisters’, neighbors’ keeper.
We frequently look around at the people around us, and we tell ourselves that we aren’t our neighbor’s keeper. There are too many neighbors. We have limited resources. We don’t have the time. The problem is too big. We have dozens of excuses.
We can’t brush off the moral of this story, however. We are part of a community. God challenges us to lift up our eyes and look beyond ourselves, and look to the needs of our neighbors.
Where is our brother/sister/neighbor? This question asks us how we, who have been blessed, are a blessing to others. It is always an important question, but more so given the touch economic conditions we now live in.
How does our stewardship of our time, talents and treasures, line up with our call to be our brother’s keeper and to live in community?