7 Questions God Has for You: Where is Your Brother?
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
July 10, 2016
Genesis 4:8-10 Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out to the field.’And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!
There are times in every minister’s life when events interrupt and provide cause to re-write or re-direct a sermon. This has been one of those weeks. What a painful, disturbing week this has been in our nation. In our day of “web” connectivity, cell phones with video capability, and a 24-hour news cycle, all of us have been shocked this week by the glimpse, not the whole picture mind you, of the tragedies in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas. In each of these horrors, folks who expected to return home never did or did so with wounds. I suspect that all of our hearts are broken in pain for the families, those involved, their cities and our nation. I hope we will all resist the urge and push back against wicked generalizations, posturing for political ends, and accusations. I hope that we will hit the pause button and simply mourn together; all of us who make up this grieving nation. My sense is that mourning is a necessary step toward healing; healing that we need before we can work together on solutions. I’m struck by the words of the Hebrew scripture in 2 Chronicles: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, turn from their wicked ways and seek my face, I will reveal myself to them and heal their land.”
We need mourning, humility and prayer now, don’t we? We certainly don’t need finger pointing, blaming and posturing. Then, we must work on solutions together, and I emphasize the word together, for no viable solution comes without all having a place at the table.
I was also struck this week by the timelessness of God’s word as I studied and contemplated our passage. Just as Abel expected to visit a field with his brother, Cain, and then return home for a night’s rest to arise for another days work with his flocks, so folks expected to return home on 9/11 and at Sandy Ridge; so did a young man in Florida named Trayvon and people having fun at the Pulse night club; so did folks in Baton Rouge and St. Paul and Dallas. But for them all, in some form, fallen human nature, tragic error or pure evil erupting, like Abel, kept them from returning home.
It brings to mind the fragility of human life and the preciousness with which we should hold and cherish each moment with our loved ones, doesn’t it? These events also saliently remind us of the reality of the world we live in and also the hope of the reality of a “new world.”
And in our passage, God’s probing question of Cain, “Where is your brother?” brings to mind, for us, our responsibility to each other and the society we order upon God’s gift of earth.
Today, we have our second in our sermon series, “7 Questions God Has for You.” Last week, we examined God’s question, spoken first to Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden after the fall, “Where are you?” All of the questions we’re looking at are from the perspective that God asks them still, of us, today, for our spiritual growth so that we may live lives that make the world a better place. With that in mind, today we hear God asking us, “Where is your brother? Where is your sister?”
You remember the poignant story of Cain and Abel. Adam and Eve had their two first children, two boys, Cain and Abel. Abel raised sheep and Cain was a farmer. One day, the brothers made offerings to God. Abel brought the fatted, best, first lambs. Cain brought grain. God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s.
Now, folks often asked why God would take Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. It may be that the trajectory of the narrative reveals something of the state of Cain’s heart that might have had something to do with the rejection. Could there have already been trouble brewing between the two brothers? Jesus teaches in Matthew 23 that if we’re making an offering and discern that we have any enmity between ourselves and anyone else, before we give the offering we’re to go to our brothers or sisters and be reconciled. Maybe the heart state of the giver is as important as the gift. Or perhaps the gift is important. Hebrews 11:4 says Abel gave his gift by faith. Let’s think about what that means: Abel gave the very best of the results of his labor, the first, best fatted lambs. The phrase “gave by faith” implies he gave such a wonderful gift that he needed to depend on God, in faith, to get by. On the other hand, by implication, it would seem that Cain’s gift must have been one that he wouldn’t miss! Cain didn’t give sacrificially enough to need to depend on God; what Cain had leftover would be plenty to survive on.
Nonetheless, Cain’s gift wasn’t accepted. And yet, God gracefully let Cain know he has the opportunity to right the wrong. But Cain, furious, invited Abel to the field and there killed his own brother – in Biblical history, the first murder.
And along comes our all-knowing God asking a question God already knows the answer to: Where is your brother? Cain retorts, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Now, God is ultimately the keeper of us all, so the pride and arrogance of Cain’s answer is astonishing. It’s as if Cain is saying to God, “You’re his keeper and if you don’t know where he is, it’s your fault for doing a bad job!” It’s a wonder that God didn’t “smite” him on the spot to use “Bible-speak.” So God doles out the punishment: the land will no longer produce for Cain, he must now wander the face of the earth. And yet, even here, God’s justice is mitigated by mercy. Cain expresses to God that the sentence is too much; that he will be killed. God responds by placing a protective mark on Cain and thus the story ends.
But if we’re to experience the liveliness of the living Word, we’re left to struggle personally with God’s question to us: Where is your brother? Where is your sister?
As we hear this question posed to us today, it brings several thoughts to the surface.
For one thing, hearing “Where is your brother? Where is your sister?” reminds us that we aren’t solitary beings, but rather we are a part of the community of humanity.
This past week, in the midst of all of the media reflections following Dallas, I heard one commentator use that phrase, “community of humanity.” His point was that there comes a time when we need to stop talking about the “Black community, Christian community, Jewish community, White community” and so on and focus on the fact that we all belong to the “community of humanity.” Intrigued by this phrase and hoping to find the exact quote, I searched it and came up with a surprise. It is a phrase that is one of the 7 tenets of Catholic social theology in their catechism. As I read its definition, I discovered that it’s not a dead, theoretical phrase but a directive for living. As I understand it, the community of humanity reminds us that we are to reflect God’s image upon us in how we behave individually in society and corporately how we structure our society to treat all with Shalom and justice.
How that is spelled out for me is fairly easy to articulate but much more challenging to enliven. I have a beloved older brother Kent; I have a beloved younger sister, Carole. Simply stated, I want the very best for my in life for Kent and Carole. The thought of being in the community of humanity reminds me that all men are my brothers as Kent is to me and all women are my sisters, as Carole is to me. And as an individual agent and a member of society, all that I do, must seek the best for my brothers and sisters – individually, socially and politically. I must always ask, “What is best for my brothers and sisters? And then act out of love in response. God’s asking “Where is your brother. Where is your sister?” reminds us that we are all in this thing call life together as the human community- a divinely sourced family.
But more, God asking, “Where are your brothers? Where are your sisters?” implies we are to seek understanding of their lives, their hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears, anger and hurt. Only intentional “holy connecting” and holy listening, sharing and speaking lead to this deeper understanding of one another. I know what it looks like for me personally and hope you can dream and implement your own dream regarding how it looks for you. For me, it means having a holy conversation with my African American daughter in law, JaCynthia, seeking to understand fears she may have for her son Elias as he grows up. What fears does she have when he’s 18 and driving in a major city? For me, it also means spending time in honest conversation with my oldest daughter’s father in law, John, who retired after a long career in law enforcement, which included undercover drug operations. I want to understand the pressures of making split second, life and death decisions. I want to talk with Debra, his wife, and see what it was like to be the mother of two sons and know her husband was on an undercover assignment. What fears did she have?
What might this understanding look like for you? You see, without this holy communication (a word so closely rooted to communion) how can we answer God?
And then, finally, we can’t hear God’s “Where are your brothers? Where are your sisters?” question without hearing God’s call for mutual responsibility to one another.
True, God is our ultimate keeper, but Christ also calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To keep watch over one another in love is to follow the ways of God.
For a couple of days this week, Lauralee and I had the joy of having our 21-month-old granddaughter, Emery Grace visiting. Emery is now at a surprisingly mobile stage in her development and has an inquisitiveness about her that never switches off. But out of love, as a team, we were her keepers. We always knew where she was and what she was up too. If my daughter and Lauralee were in the parsonage kitchen and I in the den, if Emery came into the den, I’d hear, “Watch her, she’s heading your way!” and vice versa. We were keeping her love; looking after her for her safety, security and well-being.
I think that’s God’s dream for how humanity “keeps” one another.
Where is your brother? Where is your sister? These questions carry the divine charge of mutual responsibility. And such is the main reason God raised up the people called Methodists – to pattern watching over one another in love and to share such in society and the world.
There are plenty of denominations who focus is individualism, promulgating an attitude of “what will I get out of it” approach to the faith. Marked by phrases such as, “I’m here to get fed” (with no thought of feeding). It’s only about the “believer and Jesus” in such arenas.
But if we Methodists are true to our heritage and our raison d’être, we are those who personally receive the grace of Christ but are compelled to incarnate that grace in the world and how society treats all with justice. Wesley once said, “I know no holiness but social holiness.” On one hand, it means we practice the means of grace together, but on the other hand, it means we work with God toward a holy, set apart, Kingdom reflecting society of shalom and justice for all. So, when God asks, “Where are your brothers? Where are your sisters?” what does your life outside these walls answer:
Are you a church consumer or Kingdom contributor? Do you go to church or seek to be church, the body of Christ unleashed in the world?
How do you answer God, not with lip service but life service? Do you see all humanity as your sisters and brothers? Are you intentionally, even in a risk taking fashion, seeking to deeply connect with your sisters and brothers to find out “where they are?” Do you sense that God has placed all of us on earth, perhaps particularly the Methodist people, to engage in mutual responsibility and social holiness?
Here’s the good news – you already know, deep in your heart, where God wants you to be and let me assure you, God has the grace through the Holy Spirit to get you there.
Share what being in the family of humanity means to you.
Share what it means to you to recognize the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people as God’s children.
Share a plan of how you intend to act to show forth the image of God in your life and in your social views.
Share an intention/goal of connecting with someone different than you.
Share an act of being responsible to the benefit of someone else you will do.