Saturday, October 23, 2010

Genesis 4.1-15 - Sermon for 10/24/10 - Looking for a Sign

Our Lord, open my heart to speak from Your Word faithfully. Open our hearts to hear and receive your promises. Amen.

Everything was looking pretty good for the human family. Even after the fall they were raising children, raising crops and livestock, living their lives. We don't know how old Cain and Abel were, but they seemed pretty grown up by the end of verse 2. We have reason to believe that Adam and Eve raised their children to know what is right and wrong. They are bringing offerings and they clearly know what to do. Is this their first ever offering? There's no information about that. We really don't know. But things are going all right. The family is settled in, the farm seems productive, and they are making their offering in thanks to the Lord.

So what goes wrong here? I've heard several reasons, or alleged reasons, why Cain's offering was not acceptable. Some people say it is because Cain didn't offer an animal. But in the Bible there are lots of types of offerings that don't involve animals. So we can't say that. Some people say it is because Cain didn't offer the first of his increase. It does say that Abel brought from the firstborn, but this doesn't mean Cain's offering wasn't from the first of what he harvested. Again we don't have much information. Where can we turn for help? Hebrews 11.4 tells us that Abel made his offering by faith and Cain did not. The offering that was by faith was acceptable to God. That which was not by faith was not pleasing to God. And that's the end of the story. For whatever reason, Cain did not make his offering by faith.

Let's go down this pathway for a moment. You do something that you know is right. You are doing it because you know it is right, not particularly because you want to do it. Ever been there? I know you have if you are over two years old. You know what you are supposed to do and so you do it. Not that you necessarily wanted to do it.

Now imagine. Something goes wrong. Has this happened to any of you in the last week? I bet it has, though I hope it hasn't gone as dreadfully wrong as what happened with Cain. So you did what you knew you were supposed to do and something went wrong. Your heart wasn't really in what you were doing. Yet you are disappointed. It should have gone better. After all, you didn't have to do it in the first place. Why didn't it work out? I tried to be nice to that, that person, and he just about snapped my head off. Not that I wanted to be nice about it. And I really didn't enjoy the experience.

What's the next step down the path? Our tempers flare up. We start defending ourselves. We didn't like the situation we were in and now we really don't like it. Things begin to become ugly. Can you imagine it?  I was actually on the receiving end of some of this in a really clear way once. Let me tell you about it. This was several years ago. You'll know that from one of the details.

I went to the grocery store late one evening in winter. We really did need a package of diapers and a gallon of milk. It was a cold winter evening. There had been a little rain and snow earlier, so the parking lot was a little slippery. I came out of the store with my very threatening looking bag of diapers and bottle of milk. As I approached the parking lot, a guy in a pickup truck was trying to drive toward the lot exit across a nice level piece of ice. His wheels were going a lot faster than his truck was. Not wanting to pressure him, I just stood there and watched him creep across the ice.  He leaned out of his window and asked me what I was looking at. I told him I was just waiting as he got across the ice. He began yelling at me and calling me quite a few things I won't mention here. I walked around behind the truck, hoping he couldn't accelerate in reverse too fast. I got into my car and he was standing there at the window yelling at me. I cracked my window open slightly. I couldn't leave the parking space because of his truck. After a moment I told him that I really was just waiting as he made his way across the ice. He took off his jacket and told me to get out of the car. I closed the window and started the engine. He stood behind the car and told me to get out. I put the car into reverse. He kicked the car. The altercation continued until I distracted him long enough to dart my car into a different part of the parking lot as he was out of his truck getting a piece of lumber.  I watched him leave the parking lot, gave him some time, and drove home by a roundabout way, watching for anyone to be following me.

The person I had a run-in with that night went down the path Cain did. He probably didn't go out that evening intending to do anything other than buy something at the store. He probably didn't intend to try to break his foot on someone else's taillight. He probably didn't put a two by four into the bed of his truck with the intention of trying to ram it through someone's car window. The fact is, he may have been very embarrassed by the encounter by the time he got home.  Oh, I should ask. It wasn't any one of you, was it? I hope not. But if it was, I won't embarrass you. Like Cain, this man went down a path of anger and frustration. It could have resulted in serious injury to him, to me, or to both of us. And it happens to all of us, in bigger or smaller ways, all the time.

Where did Cain go with his anger? He first had an encounter with God. Notice as early as verse 6 God came and talked with Cain. He pointed out that Cain was being tempted to sin. His offering had not been accepted. He knew that. But it didn't sever Cain's relationship with the Lord. No, our Lord comes to sinners in their sin. He reminds us that he knows our sin even better than we do. And in these last days we are reminded that God has paid the penalty for our sin in the person and work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Are we downcast because of our sin? Our Lord Jesus Christ understands and has come to rescue us by his death given so we may have life.  God comes to Cain and tells him to rule over the sin that is threatening him. Turn to God with a faithful offering. Go ahead and be accepted. Cain, like Abel, can make his offering in faith and be a delight to God.

You know how it is. We don't do what we know is right and good. We seem wired to do anything but what is best. This seems to be part of the result of the fall. God says what we should do and be. As soon as we know that we start looking for some other answer. That's exactly what Cain does. The anger continues. The words become heated. And finally Cain kills his brother.

This is where it gets really good, isn't it? Our Lord isn't going to leave Cain alone. Does Cain come to God? No, not at all. God comes to Cain. And like he did with Adam, God asks Cain a question that he doesn't need to ask. But Cain needs it asked. "What's up with your brother?" When Cain tries to evade the issue, our Lord presses the issue. After a little while it's clear that Cain knows how bad his actions have been. Far from dealing with the problem of his unacceptable offering, he has made matters worse. Cain starts dealing with hopelessness.

Maybe you've been there. Your sin has separated you from God. You know that the penalty of sin is greater than you can bear. You have tried all that you can think of and it has done no good at all. You have only separated yourself farther from God in your sin. Like Cain, you confess that it is more than you can bear.

As I said, things are getting really good now. I know, I know, it seems backwards. But don't worry! Cain is desperate. We are desperate. None of us knows what to do. We can't reconcile ourselves to God. Yes, this is when things are really really good. Because this is when we realize that we, the sinful fallen people, the poor miserable sinners, have no goodness in ourselves, that we cannot do anything that will redeem us, that we are without a hope in this world except for our Lord Jesus Christ.

What does God do for Cain?  He puts a mark on Cain. Now we're back to the beginning of the sermon with something we can't explain. What kind of a mark is this? We don't know. But it was clearly something visible. It was clear that people would know Cain was someone who was protected by God. And that's where we start to see the theme that led to the title of this sermon, "Looking for a Sign."  God put his sign on Cain. He claimed him as his specially protected person. And nobody was allowed to harm Cain. Our Lord took the murderer and prevented anyone from murdering him. Our Lord took the guilty one and kept him from harm. Does this seem like a familiar theme? I hope it does.

Our Lord has worked through history with visible signs. Here are just a few that come to mind. I'm sure there are others. You can think of them throughout the week. How about the sign of circumcision? People enter into the covenant of God by the sign of circumcision, which is symbolic of a baring of the heart. How about the sign of the blood on the doorposts in the Passover? By this physical sign God shows Israel that they are partakers of his supernatural protection. What about the sign of the Sabbath as God's time to protect his people by giving them rest and providing for their physical needs even though they didn't work to gain food on that day? Our Lord still gives us our daily bread. What about the sign of baptism that God has given, in which He uses a physical element to wash from sin, something that appears to be waterproof outside of God's command? What about the sign of the bread and wine, body and blood, in the Sacrament? God uses a simple substance, something we might consider a sign, but he dwells in it truly and physically, in accordance with his promise. God gives us signs of his provision and protection throughout the Scripture. And these signs, with their sheer physicality, with the presence of blood, with the symbols of death ever present, all point to Jesus Christ, who gave himself as an atonement for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. Jesus' blood and righteousness are sufficient for us. When we see these signs of his presence, let us look to the real person and work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us rise to pray.
Our Lord, we are so slow to look for the signs of your presence that you have promised. We are so quick to look for other signs of your presence. Convict our hearts. make us stop going down the pathway of looking for salvation and hope mediated by our understanding, by our guess at what might be a good sign of you presence. Let us look to Jesus Christ through the signs you have given us, particularly in your promise that he will be there with us in Word and Sacrament. Make us look to you in hope, through Jesus Christ Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Dave Spotts
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