A Dear God letter from Larry: “Dear God, maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother.” And one from Nan, “Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it.”
Ah, family dynamics. Gotta love ‘em!
Deanne and I enjoy watching the sitcom “Modern Family” on ABC every Wednesday night. The story revolves around three families: The “normal” couple; husband and wife, two daughters and one son; the “gay” couple with an adopted, precocious Asian child and the older man with Sophia Vergara as his trophy wife from Columbia with her son Manny and a new baby. It is very funny. There are times when it seems as if the writers lived at the Lentz house!
There are every sort of misunderstanding and sibling rivalry. Parents are clueless. And yet, these families, despite all, hang in there and there is something graceful about the resolution.
As of now there has been no fratricide (killing of the brother) as in Cain and Abel but, who knows; doesn’t sound too funny though.
Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve – the ancient, “first” family” and all the families of Genesis, have a mini-series feel about them. These families show every sort of mischief, mistake, stupidity, blame, and dysfunction: Shem, Ham and Japheth, Abraham and Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah. At times they are pretty funny and other times it is very sad. We recognize ourselves in them – even across the millennia.
Perhaps the first thing that you and I need to get our heads around is this: it is rather profound and charming – God must like imperfect people because God sure uses them for divine purposes: Liars, cheaters, adulterers, murders, pimps, prostitutes and the like. I like that in a God because it makes my imperfections less devastating.
Dysfunctional families, horrible situations and horrific deeds don’t seem to block God’s creative ability to keep to the promise. Cain’s mark is a punishment and a protection.
This story of Cain and Abel is amazing; another one of the “Why God?” stories.
Why does God seen to show favoritism? Why is God so capricious, unpredictable, and unfair? Why did God have regard for Abel’s offering and not for Cain’s?
I don’t get this story. There are too many questions and not enough answers. But I feel this story. I know this story. And so do you.
I was a student in Edinburgh having the time of my life and my brother Peter was dying of cancer. Why God? Did you like my offering and not his?
Comparing myself to others – why do they seem blessed? Why isn’t my offering acceptable?
Why are there some children who are sprinkled with the pixie dust of success – everything goes right – and some children who can’t get out of their own way?
Why do the “perfect” ones die early?
Why do I feel as if I am wandering in the land of Nod?
It is reality, though. And the choice you and I have is the same one Cain had: how are you going to live with this reality?
Jealousy, anger, hate (both self-hate and other-directed hate), are all very real sometimes. Do you let them become the “sin that is lurking at the door?” Or do you master it and move on?
I know people who waste their lives in remorse that someone else got the recognition, the raise, the praise, the love. I don’t want to belittle that – it IS devastating, it may be unfair – but what are you going to do – have your own spirit shrivel up and be bitter?
Maybe you don’t physically kill your sister or brother or parent or child – but something dies: years go by without a phone call or word. Sometimes you don’t even know what the cause is. Sometimes we kill with words and actions and drive people away from church.
Cain had the choice, the freedom of mastering his feelings – it was only one offering after all.
And yet, Cain “breaking bad” slays his brother: (“Abel…. Let’s go into the field, bro, I have something to show you.”)
Then God comes: “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper?”
Cain murders, lies, and doesn’t even care.
That line about being my brother’s keeper haunts me. The answer is obviously “Yes.” You are your brother’s keeper, your sister’s keeper, your neighbor’s keeper, the stranger’s keeper, the enemy’s keeper – no matter what has happened to you. And for those of us who follow Jesus and know the answer to that question is in the affirmative, how can we stand by and not cry out when food stamps are cut, and health coverage for the neediest is a card to be played in negotiations?
And the consequences come: Cain will become a marked fugitive and a wanderer. He settles in the land of Nod – which is Hebrew for wandering. Cain believes God’s face is now turned from him. And in the bible when God turns his face from you, you die! So Cain is dead even while alive – he has become a walker, a zombie, the walking dead.
And yet, just like last week when Adam and Eve are punished but clothed, ejected but not rejected, so too this week. Cain is marked, identified and protected. Just like you are and I am in our baptisms – identified and protected, marked and saved as we wander East of Eden.
And again the divine pattern emerges: In God’s apparent capriciousness is God’s certain promise; In God’s seeming fickleness is God’s fidelity.
I know that doesn’t make sense – but God is bigger than our sense and if we could figure it out – God wouldn’t be God.
Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve: a family broken and separated but still part of the drama of grace.
Before us is a table laid. An invitation is given to you and to me. God is calling the family back; not by DNA but by water and the spirit. A family called by the blood of Jesus Christ. A family called to care for each misfit brother and sister; a dysfunctional, crazy, loveable, diverse family invited to the table of grace.
On this worldwide communion Sunday we remember the break-up and we choose to celebrate the coming together.
On this Peacemaking Sunday – as Muslim brother kills Christian brother, and Christian brothers kill Islamic brothers, and nation is at war against nation, and Congress continues on its dysfunctional path of fratricide and separation – still there is a hope at this table: a reality of something more profound, more wonderful – a feeding station in the midst of the land of Nod.
There is a coming together – brother and sister are welcomed; heaven and earth touch: the family restored, a people cleansed and called and sent.
You and I are marked and protected, beloved and empowered, free to choose to do well and feel again the divine acceptance that is ours in Jesus Christ, our Lord and brother in this wonderful Modern Family!