Word of the Week

Portion of a Sermon preached at The Federated Church on Genesis 4:1-7

What happens to you when life doesn’t go as you expect? What do you do next?

Do you pout and cry?

Do you stuff your feelings and comfort yourself through a nightly glass of wine, a cigarette or two and your favorite fast food indulgence?

Do you explode in fit of anger?

Where we left off last week with the first family: Adam and Eve, nothing was going like they expected.

Because of the poor choices they made to trying to figure out life on their own, God ushered them out of the Garden of Eden, their only home. The Garden was a place they thought they’d walk with God for eternity. But in an instant, it was no longer theirs. What a grief! What a loss!

And in its stead, they found themselves in a place where they were in charge of providing for themselves completely. No more fertile fruit trees all year round. No more lushness everywhere. No more animals running around in a safe and protected area.

We aren’t told exactly where this was or what it looked like all we know is this: the curses they received in the garden were upon them. Adam would face hardship caring for and finding food on the land. Eve would face difficulty in childbirth.

But by time we reach chapter 4, we learn two more members have come to the first family- Cain and Abel.

Cain comes first, his name meaning “acquired” or “got.” Eve declares the glory of what has happened to her saying (in a more literal Hebrew translation), “I’ve got a man-child with the help of the Lord.”

And next comes Abel, the second born who has no identifier to go with his name. We don’t hear Eve saying anything special about his birth. How many second born children do I have in the room this morning? The second born sure do get jibbed don’t they?

As Cain and Abel grow up into full manhood, we know nothing about their childhood. Only by the time they’re grown each one seeks a different role in the family.

cain-and-abelWe are told in verse 2 that the older boy, Cain is taken by farming and the younger boy, Abel is in charge of herding the animals.

Because it is all we know about these brothers, it seems important to pay attention to, doesn’t it? And why did each do their own thing?

Was this the case because one was simply better with animals, and the other with the land?

Was this the case because with only 4 inhabitants on the earth, this family needed the “divide and conquer” approach to survive?

Was it because both brothers were constantly dueling for their Daddy’s affection and they needed to excel at something different for either to have a sense of self?

Was this the case because they couldn’t stand one another and Momma Eve took matters into her own hands saying, “I’m tired of this fighting . . . You, Abel go over there and you, Cain go that way?”

We aren’t told any of this. But it’s clear that that Cain and Abel lived their lives in a different realm from one another.

And then—the big drama happens.

Verse 3 and 4 tell us the crux of the story: “In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground,  and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard”

So from these separate lives, Cain from the fields and Abel from the animals, they bring an offering to God.

Though God ushered the first family out of their Eden sanctuary, worship of their Creator was not something far from their hearts.

The time came in their adult expressions of faith to thank God for their many blessings. And when the offering plate was passed, Cain brought some fruit and Abel brought some of the first born of his flock including the best fat.

From the outside looking in, this whole scene appears sweet doesn’t it. Wouldn’t Daddy Adam and Momma Eve be so proud of the grown young men they raised? They BOTH brought an offering to God, out of their own unique talents! What more could a parent ask for

But the thing was God was not pleased.

We are told that then that LORD had regard only for the offering of Abel who brought the first born of his flock, and not the fruit of the land brought by Cain.

Abel gives out of his best, out of what came first. Cain just gives something.

And God is not happy with Cain. God thought Cain could bring better. It sounds so harsh. But it wasn’t meant to hurt his feelings—it just was God speaking the truth.

And if you are a parent of two or you grew up in a home of two or more children, I bet you can just see this scene being played out. For when one sibling feels they are getting more praise or more attention than the other one does, oh, just watch out, huh? The space in which the two siblings occupy together is about to get ugly.

And the same was true for Cain and Abel. Cain is so mad; we are told. He can’t believe that God like the offering of his YOUNGER brother better than his!

Cain was oh so angry!

Do you remember the TV show The Incredible Hulk? I never did because I didn’t grow up in a house of brothers, but I had friends at school that absolutely loved it.

I read something this week by Pastor Keith Krell which said this: “In the Incredible Hulk, the main character was a scientist named Dr. David Banner. Banner was basically a very friendly man. But whenever he got angry, his eyes would turn green and he would be transformed into this big, green, hulking monster (played by former professional bodybuilder, Lou Ferrigno).

If you were a person in need, he would save you. But God help you if you were the one he was mad at because he would pick you up and throw you to the other side of the room like you were a rag doll. Dr. Banner didn’t like what anger did to him. In fact, the whole show is built around Dr. Banner’s desire to find a cure so this won’t happen to him anymore.

The lesson that Pastor Krell learned from The Incredible Hulk is: If you don’t learn to deal with your temper, it will turn you into a monster of a person. It can change you into someone you don’t want to be. This is what happened to Cain in Genesis 4. He had a bad temper to start with, but he didn’t deal with it..”

Anger as we’ve experience in our life too is a similar feeling, isn’t it?

Though we might not blow up like the incredible hulk does, our anger is one of the hottest emotions that we can literally feel throughout our body. It can pulse through our veins, raise our blood pressure and give us one of those out of body experiences of feeling like we’re going to pop out of our skin. It can be so all consuming so fast before we can even slow down and count to 10.

And though we might know that anger is usually not about anger as psychologists teach us—anger is about disappointment, grief and sadness below the surface, anger is often our go to emotion as it was for Cain that day.

So now that we’re here, let’s settle into the truth that is our bit of wisdom for the day about who we are as human beings: we’re angry. And it’s a great subject to dive into during Lent for it’s one of the recorded seven deadly sins in the book of Proverbs.

You and I, we’re angry people. So say it with me, “We’re angry.”

I’ve never preached a sermon about anger or heard many sermons on the topic either because I think it’s one of those identifiers about ourselves that we like to avoid.

“Who, me angry?”

And us women folk are the worst! If I sat down in a room this afternoon with a group of women across the spectrum of age, life experiences and geography and asked them what are some of their major character flaws, I doubt few if any would put anger at top of the list.

Anger is just not lady like you know. We can all boast of low self esteem or talk of problems with our weight or be known as a gossiper before we would call ourselves angry.

But, female genes or not, we are angry.

And the same is true of men. Though it might be more culturally acceptable for men to sound off, stomp out of a room, shout about what is going wrong in their lives—I rarely meet a man who tells me directly, “I have an anger problem.”

A man might say I have a temper sometimes, but no, not anger. But it doesn’t take away the problem. Over the years, I’ve had dozens of men sit in my office and tell me story after story of how they were just so disappointed about how their family, jobs or friendships turned out that they couldn’t control their outbursts any longer. And they knew it was hurting people they loved.

Oh, my friends, if we can learn any lesson from the first family, we should learn this one: we are all angry about something, if not a lot of some things.

Like Cain, when we’ve faced the deep disappointments of our lives and thought we’ve had nowhere else to go but to feel angry.

And I want to stand before you this morning and be one of the first to admit that I have struggled with anger too. A situation in my life was not going as planned and then some more.

One afternoon as we were having tea, a friend spoke a hard gospel truth to me saying, “Elizabeth, you are so angry. You are making this suffering personal. It's not. Some things in life are just hard and this is hard. Don’t let you anger cloud your ability to love. You have so much love to give.”

And I don’t know what opened my ears to hear my friend so clearly that day but I heard and I walked away from that meeting realizing that she was so very right. I was angry. And it was not God’s way. And a heart of anger cannot love. It just can’t. And in the season of waiting, there was love I had to give!

My friends, we are all angry. So just admit it. Bring it before God. Acknowledge how it is keeping you from joy!

And know that as you do, there’s grace waiting. For what was so remarkable about Cain’s story is that God did not banish him simply for expressing his feelings. No! God came to him and talked to him about it in verse 6-7. God wanted to know why he was angry and to work through it together.

The same invitation of relationship is available to us! So I ask you again, what can separate you from God’s love—the same question I’ve brought before you ever Sunday of Lent? Can sorrows or trials or disappointments keep you from God’s love? Can the anger? Absolutely not! Love is stronger in all things.

So, who are we church? We’re people who are angry.

But the good news available to us today is that our feelings, our frustration, our fears are welcome at the cross to a God who says, “You who are weary and burdened, come and find your rest with me. Give me your disappointments. And let me make them into something beautiful.”

All will be well—so let’s go of the anger.


What's the standard answer to the question: "How are you?" That we seem to ask one another constantly.

"I am fine." Right?

But are we always fine? Are we always full of good news with a smile on our face? No. I don't think so.

A resounding theme I think of this blog is that of authenticity.

I want to figure out how to live my life with as much honesty as I can. (And so I write . . . )

I want to figure out how to live with others with as much honesty that I can. (And so I invite you to read and join in the conversation . . .)

Teachers of authenticity can be found anywhere, I think. Even on top 40 radio.

I've found myself hitting the repeat button to a song called "Bruises" a duet between Train and Ashley Monroe from the Album California 37 released last year. The framework of the song is a dialogue between two people who haven't seen each other in 10 years-- a typical event for many of us throughout our lives.

In the mix of their catching up in the song, the two learn that life had been hard to both of them (divorces, job failures and more) and there is no need to pretend that they are happier than they are. In the end, this is the chorus that rings through:

These bruises make for better conversation
Loses the vibe that separates
It's good to let you in again
You're not alone in how you've been
Everybody loses
We all got bruises
We all got bruises

I would love to fix it all for you
(I would love to fix you too)
Please don't fix a thing whatever you do

And I love its message of authenticity.

We all can so easily put a front. It's easier. We can all pretend. It's less vulnerable. We want to think that we're as put together as the next person.

Yet, is this what the best parts of this journey called life are about? In my experience, no.

But those who ARE willing to talk about "the not so put together parts" of their lives can often feel isolated real fast. Why? Because in self-revelation, a community of those who believe in "I'm fine-ness" are invited to leave their comfort spaces.

Such is not true of course. We are all wounded in some way. We all have memories from our past and experiences of our present that rub us in painful ways. We all have nights when we can't sleep because the deep troubles of this world seek to take from us peace.

And the people who are willing to admit such are those I want to know more of in my life.

Because isn't it true that when you're with someone who doesn't claim to have it all together that you feel comfortable doing the same?

I know we can't live our lives to the fullest without allowing for authenticity. It's good for me. It's good for you. We've ALL got bruises.