Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost October 22 and 23, 2022
“Where Does It Begin?” Genesis 4:1-15
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Reading the obituaries in the paper can be quite interesting. Sometimes I actually know the people they write about. And then you have others who have led just amazing lives. They have accomplished fantastic things, overcome great obstacles, left behind a great legacy. And sometimes you read them and just shake your head, realizing that the end of life for some was just awful.
3 weeks ago the obituary for Anastasia Milkova, along with her picture, ran for a number of days in a row. She was a very pretty, young lady. But this is what was said, “Anastasia Milkova of Lakewood, CO, passed away on September 10, 2022, from a senseless act of domestic violence at the hands of her soon to be ex-husband.”
How terrible. What pain she endured. What pains her family and friends went through, as well. What led to this murder? What led to such violence?
Have you ever wondered when things go wrong in life, in friendships, among your family, with your neighbors and co-workers, what happened? Why don’t you talk to them anymore? Why don’t they include you in any gatherings? Where did the problems begin?
Envy or jealousy has grown between you and a brother or a sister, or some cousin or friend. Now no phone calls are given or received, no texts are sent, you’ve been unfriended or you have unfriended them on Facebook. Why? Where did all of this begin? How did it happen?
We have two boys, eighteen months apart. The younger was born a few days after Christmas, at our apartment in St. Louis, and we had decorated our Christmas tree with all the ornaments. We were happy to have boy number two, but boy number one wasn’t quite as happy with someone new in the apartment. Soon he was able to get to one of the ornaments on the tree and began to throw it at his new-born baby brother.
Where does it begin? Way down deep in where it all begins. In the heart. In our account of the first two boys of Adam and Eve, in the account of Cain who murders his younger brother, Abel, the act of murder began in his heart. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander.” (Matthew 15:19) The prophet Jeremiah has a good understanding of the problem when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
In Genesis 4 the Lord has accepted Abel’s offering but God was not pleased with Cain’s offering. In Hebrews 11:4 it says of this, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.” But now God comes to Cain and wants to address this problem in his heart, where everything had begun. That is where our problems lie. They lie right in our heart.
But where will this lead? The heart can be changed. There are choices that can be made. God came to Cain, and He comes to us, to route us in a different way and to change the outcome of what would occur. After God had rejected the offering of Cain, a gift that was given without having a love and faith in God, we read, “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:5b-7)
I know where sin begins – deep in the soul. But where will it lead us? Cain, whose heart burned with anger for his only brother, could have stepped away. He could have done right. He could have repented of having the wrong heart toward God and his brother, but he didn’t. “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8) It didn’t have to be that way, but it was.
The path that sin can take us on can just destroy us and those who are in our life. In the New Testament book of James, the progression of sin is spoken of in this way, “But each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)
Sin, without repentance, leads to more sin. The Lord came to Cain and asked, “Where is Abel your brother?” And with every resolve to evade his sin, he committed another. Cain said to God, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (See Genesis 4:9) What a lie!! What a weak response!! He was like a slimy snake. He had every opportunity to do what was right with his offering to God earlier, he had every opportunity to close the door on his envy and jealousy and anger, but he didn’t do it. “Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” His initial sin led to more and more and more.
That is our problem as well. Sin, without repentance leads to more sin. But sin, with repentance, leads to new life, the right offering. I bet you know this one – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
My sermon is built on three questions today. Question 1: “Where did it begin?” Question 2: “Where does it lead?” And probably the most important question: “How does it end?” Actually the ending, at least initially for Cain, is quite disturbing. God speaks to Cain what his punishment will be, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” A verse later God says, “When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth.” Then Cain responds to this indictment from God, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden.” (See Genesis 4:10-14)
How does it end for Cain? Again, he is elusive. There is no repentance. No sorrow. No “I’m Sorry”. He says, “My punishment is more than I can bear.” I hear him saying, “All this because I killed my brother – this is a bit much don’t you think?”
But how does it end? It ends in grace. It ends with God doing a most gracious thing. Cain knew that his life would be in danger. He says, “I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:14) He must have known what was going to be spoken later, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6)
But that is not how it ends. God protects Cain. He lets him live. God assures Cain, “If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him ‘sevenfold’. And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” (Genesis 4:15) About this mark one commentator said, “Never described and not important.” But what was important was what God in mercy did for Cain.
Being marked by God is a big thing. That is part of that glorious beginning of life and end of life in the care of God. Last Sunday, we baptized Theodore Allen Steffen, a little boy and in his Baptism he was “marked”. As I made the sign of the cross over his forehead and his heart I said, “I mark you with the cross of Christ forever.” I did that a little over two weeks before that for a man that was about 90 years older than Theodore, as I stood by the bedside of Jim Shelton, who would die just a few days later. On October 1, standing over Jim I made the sign of the cross over his forehead and his heart and reminded him that he had been marked with the cross of Christ forever.
All of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You too have been marked with the cross of Christ forever.
Where does it begin? Where does it lead? How does it end? Those are big questions. If answered without the promise of God, the saving work of Jesus Christ and the power of God’s Holy Spirit we would have very inadequate answers. But God has changed that. Our life begins, continues and ends with the strong and merciful work of the God of our creation, salvation and hope. Amen!!