This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Genesis 4:1-16
Sermon prepared by Rev. Robert Loerts, Fenwick, Ont.
How bad could you possibly be?
This is not something that we really think about all that much. It is not really all that normal to think about it and mull it over in your mind. But if you think about all the things that keep you from being bad you will find that there is a lot that restrains you from doing evil.
Think of what would happen if there were no police. How fast would people drive and how few would obey the laws of the road? What if you never had to face up to any of the evil you do? You could steal from the local store and no one would dare prosecute you. You could refuse to pay your credit card bill and no one would send bill collectors after you.
What if it was even worse so that all you had to do was deny any wrong-doing and no one would find out. How many things would your evil heart want to get away with? Where would evil ever find an end?
Part 1 – crouching sin
This is what the story of Cain and Abel deals with. Not just the idea that sin is present, but that without the Lord's intervention, sin and evil would increase until there was no end in sight.
Chapter 4 of Genesis picks up after Adam and Eve had been thrown out of the Garden of Eden and are now living to the east of the Garden. It is a concept in the Old Testament that the more east someone goes, the more distant they are from the Lord God.
As they live east of Eden, Eve gives birth to two sons: Cain and Abel. Each of them have their interests and their abilities. Cain chooses to be a farmer, someone who works the soil and makes a life from that soil. His brother Abel chooses to work with animals, to be a herder of flocks.
As they live in this world, they also show their obedience to God by bringing him an offering of what they have received. In doing so, Abel's offering was received by God with pleasure, but Cain's offering was looked upon with displeasure. It is not clear why this is so, but the text does give us some hints.
Abel's offering was from the firstfruits of his flock. Abel gave the best and the most valuable from his flock. He did not bring the scrawny sheep or a lame one as an offering. Rather he gave God the best animal in the flock. Cain on the other hand, by contrast, must not have brought the best. It seems as though he took the best grain and brought the Lord the grain that did not grow well, the stuff with the fungus on it, the stuff that was harvested too late and was beginning to rot. He brought God the leftovers.
In effect Cain showed his impiety toward God by taking him for granted. He also showed a lack of trust in the Lord and his contempt for the Lord. In response the Lord did not show him favor. He rejected the older brother who was supposed to be the chosen one and accepted the younger one because he was more deserving and more sincere.
In his sin, Cain became more sinful. Rather than turn from his sin, Cain embraced his sin and became angry with Abel. He did not admit that it was his own fault. He did not turn from his own evil, rather he became angry with his brother because he was making him look bad.
The Lord sees this and warns Cain to watch out for the sin that is crouching at his door. He must either master the sin or be mastered by the sin. To give in to the sin is to become a slave of the sin.
But Cain ignores the Lord and submits to his evil thoughts and desires. So much so that he even plans his brother's murder. In his deep jealousy he plans how to kill his brother. The Bible reports to us the first death and it is because of murder in the first degree.
With clear knowledge of what he was doing, Cain lies to his brother and invites him into the field and there overpowers him and kills him.
The Lord approaches Cain and talks with him. The Lord, as is his way, does not come with judgment right away, but comes giving Cain the opportunity to admit his sin. Instead the sullen Cain lies and avoids the question. "Pppssh, how should I know where your golden boy is? You seem to like him so much. You look after him. Am I my brother's keeper?"
And God shows Cain his sin. "What have you done, Cain? Your brother's blood cries out from the ground for justice. I know quite well what you have done and now you are under a curse. No longer will you be able to live from the crops of the ground, but will be a restless wanderer on the earth."
You would think that with his sin out in the open and with the Lord himself rendering judgment that Cain would now repent of his sin. He has been caught red-handed, indeed his hand is red with blood, and you would hope he would admit his wrong.
But instead Cain continues to think of himself. He does not care about what he has done wrong. He does not care about justice. All he thinks about is himself and now, seeing his punishment, he feels sorry for himself saying, “my punishment is more than I can bear. It is so bad that someone might even think that because God has rejected me they can go ahead and kill me. Please no, Lord!”
And what does the Lord do with this sniveling, self-seeking coward? Our mysterious, just Lord shows Cain mercy. The first murderer does not receive his just desserts and get put in the electric chair, rather the Lord God puts a mark on him so that no one will harm him.
Part II – mastering our sin
Brothers and sisters, when you look at this sniveling, self-seeking coward, do not be surprised that he looks a lot like me and you. He was guilty of impiety, anger, jealousy, deception, murder, falsehood, and selfishness. And that is why he looked just like me and you.
When you look at Cain you see someone who is loathed and someone who is hated. But part of that loathing and hating is because of how close we are to being just like him. Adam and Eve have been cast out to live east of Eden, Cain is condemned to wander in the land even farther east, but we live so far away, we do not even know which way to look to find Eden — at least not without a little help.
The Lord comes to us when we sin and he also calls us to master our own sin in the power of His Holy Spirit. He warns us that if we give in to our sin we will lose our power so that we no longer rule over the sin in our lives, but that it rules us. He warns us that we need to be aware of that sin and that we need to master it.
Sin is not so brazen that it openly rings the doorbell of your heart and says, “I’m here to rule over you!” If that were so, we would easily keep the door closed. We would stay inside where we would be safe from sin's effects. But sin is a sly creature that crouches at our door so that when we think it is safe to go outside it jumps up and catches us unaware.
It takes you from the realization that we need to be working to evangelize and confront our neighbors with the Good News of Jesus Christ and works its slimy fingers in between. Within a short while our conviction changes to, “I’ll talk to my neighbor when the opportunity presents itself. These things cannot be rushed, the time needs to be just right or I might turn the person off completely.”
And then when the opportunity does come sin takes its hold and we think, "This is not the right time. If I say something now we may end up talking for quite a while. And, Wow! look at the time, I've gotta get going. If the Lord wanted me to say something he would have made sure I had enough time.”
The sin inside has gained the upper hand. The sin that you thought you had control over has lain in wait long enough so that now it has overpowered what you know is right, what you know you have to do, and you can even walk away feeling okay with yourself.
You do not even realize that you have become like Cain. Not only have you deceived yourself and been self-seeking, but you have again held back the Good News and in effect condemned this neighbor to death and hell. In avoiding our responsibility to our neighbors we withhold from them the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. We bind the word of God so that it stays here [POINT TO HEART] and have not allowed it to overflow.
Part III – our failing; God's provision
That is just one example of how we fail to master our sin. There are many different ways we fail. Thankfully, though, the Lord does provide for us ways in which he limits us and ways in which he provides a way out of our sin.
The most basic way in which we are prevented from sin is by the authorities God provides for us. We have order in our society because our government makes laws and polices those laws. We are called to respect those authorities because they also control our sinful desires so we do not do what is wrong. We do not speed, excessively at least, for fear of getting a ticket. We do not cheat on our taxes for fear that Revenue Canada will come and penalize us. And we do not murder because that will mean time spent in jail.
God also puts us in community with other Christians so that we also take the moral high ground. If we do find sin irresistible we try to hide it from others because we do not want the shame to rest upon ourselves or our family. In doing so we either have to go to great lengths to commit the sin or we are limited in how deep or how deeply we get involved in the sin.
By being a part of this Christian community we become accountable so that people say, "Hey, I missed you in church last week." Or they say, "I saw where you were the other day. I do not think that is a place where you should be." Or they point out to us, "I know that you have been doing a lot of partying. That is not how we are called to live. That is not how Christ wants us to act.'
Even so, with these things there to help us, we do not always succeed in mastering our sin. In fact, if the truth be told, we cannot master our sin on our own. It is only by the power and help of our Lord Jesus Christ that we are able to keep any of the laws of God.
On our own we would drown in our sin. It would rule over our bodies and minds such that we would not see any way out of it. In fact, there are many people today who live in that fog and cannot see their way out of it. But that is not for us.
We are different because we have been called by Jesus Christ to live as holy and redeemed people. We have been called by the Lord of life to be alive to Christ and dead to sin. And we have the ability to master our sin because it is no longer up to us to master that sin but it is up to the Holy Spirit living within us to give to us that strength.
And he does strengthen us. Even in times of great temptation when our own will fights against the Spirit, the Holy Spirit strengthens us so that the sin in our lives is not able to master us completely. Rather he gives us the ability not only to remain strong in the face of sin, but that we also have the ability to do good deeds, works that are pleasing to our God and Father.
The result is that we are no longer alcoholics, murders, gamblers and thieves, but children of God. Even though we may be guilty of different sins in different degrees, when we hold Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, he overcomes all that sin and all those labels to call us his own beloved children.
It is Jesus Christ within us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who masters all the sin within us so that we can rise above the sin that wants to drag us down to hell.
May that good news strengthen our hearts as we face daily temptations to sin. May that knowledge strengthen our wills as we resolve to live each day to the praise of our God.
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has given to us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good deed and word.
Let all God's people say...
Proposed Order of Service
Hymns of Preparation:
Call to Worship
Personal Prayer (concluded by singing hymn #141:1)
Expression of Dependence
Pastor: Congregation, in whose name is our help?
Congregation: Our help is in the name of the Lord who has made heaven and earth.
Hymn of Praise: #495, “I Know Not Why God's Wondrous Grace”
The Affirmation of Faith
The Apostles' Creed: #518 “In God the Father I Believe”
Psalm of Praise: Psalm 51
The Service of the Word
Hymn of Preparation: SB #34 “Lord, I Life Your Name on High”
Text: Genesis 4:1-16
Sermon: “East of Eden”
Hymn of Response: #386 “Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended”
Hymn of Thanksgiving: SB #19 “There Is a Redeemer”
God's Blessing (concluded by 2-fold Amen)
Moment of Silence