Genesis 4:1-15 (Pentecost 20C)                                                    

St. John, Galveston 10/23/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

This morning’s message is based on the Old Testament reading from Genesis 4. It is the tragic story of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. As tragic as the story is, it isn’t actually the first time in the early chapters of Genesis that tragedy strikes. Earlier on, of course, Adam and Eve, for whatever reason, believed that the one command that God had given them didn’t really need to be followed. “Don’t eat from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden (God said) for in the day that you do you will surely die.” Perhaps it was that word “death” that stumped them. After all, they had never experienced or even seen death before. It wasn’t even part of their vocabulary, because it wasn’t part of God’s design for His creation. 

 

The first families initial experience with death came when they broke God’s command. It came by way of alienation. Adam and Eve, having disobeyed God, found that they were alienated, both from Him and from one another. When they ate from the tree, immediately they were filled with self-consciousness. Seeing themselves naked, they were ashamed and so they grabbed a fig leaf to clothe themselves. And then God walked in the Garden in the cool of the day and they knew then the most devastating aspect of death. Whereas they once rejoiced in God’s presence, now they were afraid of Him, for He had become their enemy.

 

That was the first tragedy recorded in the early chapters of Genesis. The second tragedy was the result of the first, and it too involved death. This time it was the death of one of God’s creatures. God, seeing Adam and Eve’s shame, killed an animal and He clothed them with its hide. It was then that blood was shed as a consequence of sin.

    

The third tragedy is before us this morning. Cain and Abel both gave offerings to God. Abel’s offering was given by faith. As such, his offering was pleasing to God. We’re told in the book of Hebrews that Cain’s offering was given apart from faith and, therefore, it was not found to be pleasing to God. As the Scriptures say, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” 

 

Cain, his gift having been rejected by God, rose up in jealously and anger and he killed his brother Abel. Death transitioned from a spiritual to a physical reality, from a concept, if you will, to a tragically mournful event. Never before had a man raised his hand in anger to harm another human being. Never before had a mother and father known what it was like to lose a son. How would they cope? How would Adam and Eve find hope and comfort in the midst of such a tragic situation?

 

Earlier in the Book of Genesis, God had made a promise. It is what we call the proto-euangelium, the first gospel. Standing before God as enemies, fearful of His wrath and judgment, Adam and Eve heard the sound of grace.  God said, “I will put enmity between (the serpent) and the woman, and between (his seed) and the seed of the woman; he will bruise (the serpent’s head), and (the serpent) shall bruise His heel.”

 

Adam and Eve took those words to heart, which is to say, they believed them.  Luther gives us a bit of insight into just how steadfastly they believed them. In his German translation of the Bible, he offers us an interesting, and yet, perfectly acceptable translation of the text before us this morning that is quite different from the way it is generally rendered. In our translation the end of verse 1 reads, Eve said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.’ But, that verse could just a legitimately be translated as “I have gotten a man-child, the Lord.” 

 

Adam and Eve may well have believed that Cain was the fulfillment of the proto-euangelium, the first gospel, indicating just how fervently they trusted in God’s promise to destroy death and the devil and to reconcile them to Him.  “I have gotten a man-child (Eve said), the Lord.”           

 

The great tragedy, of course, is that Cain was not only not the fulfillment of God’s promise, he was, in fact, of the seed of Adam, full of anger and jealously, and a murderous heart, one who needed the redemption promised by God. And so, Adam and Eve suffered. They suffered the loss of their son Abel, as well as the loss of their son Cain, who was banished into exile. God punished Cain, but He still left room for his repentance. No one was to kill him. His exile, God’s punitive act, was intended to lead him to ask the question, “what have I done?,” and ultimately, like a prodigal son, to run back to his father who would receive him with grace and mercy. 

 

The death of a son and the banishment of another sort of leaves one unable to see things through rose colored glasses. Adam and Eve had but one consolation. Their hope rested on God’s promise. Someday, everything would be right again. The serpent’s head would indeed be crushed by the seed of the woman. 

 

Though born in the image and likeness of Adam, Mary would become the mother of God. “You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son (said the angel Gabriel), and you shall call His name Jesus.” The shepherds in the field continued to shake with the fear of Adam, for the heavens were opened and they were surrounded by angels and God was there. But the evangel sounded forth again. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”          

 

The alienation caused by Eden’s first tragedy was taken away by the Incarnation of the Almighty. The fear that drove Adam and Eve into the bushes was soothed by the promise an angel. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.” Indeed, 

 

“Hark! The herald angels sing,

‘Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!’”

 

Like Abel, the seed of the woman, even the Christ of God, would face a violent death. Through jealously and hatred, men would mock Him and scourge Him and ultimately they would kill Him. The demons would cry out in joy as if another victory had been won for the prince of darkness. The blood of Abel still cried out as a testimony to the Serpent’s intended destruction of God’s creation. But, the Son of Mary, though He died, rose again, and in that act of atonement and resurrection, the serpent’s head was finally crushed as God had promised long ago. 

 

It is an all too common scene. A child of Adam stands at the grave of a loved one today and the blood of Abel still cries out. Death transitioned from a spiritual to a physical reality, from a concept, if you will, to a devastatingly mournful event. While the serpent cries out in seeming victory, hope is yet found in the fulfillment of God’s proto-euangelium, the first gospel. Christ is Risen, the pastor says, and quietly the hearts of the faithful respond, He is Risen Indeed! Death is swallowed up in victory as the serpent lay in open shame with crushed head unable to claim his prize for eternity.         

 

And the peace and comfort that come only through reconciliation with God is enjoyed even in the mourning of death. Perhaps no one knows the pain death brings but those who have suffered and known the cry of Abel’s blood. And yet, as the children of God, we find hope and peace, in the life, death and resurrection of the Second Adam, the Man of God.

 

“Oh, that birth forever blessed,

When the virgin full of grace,

By the Holy Ghost conceiving,

Bore the Savior of our race,

And the babe the world’s Redeemer,

First revealed His sacred face.” 

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +