Word of the Week

A sermon preached The Federated Church: Palm Sunday texts Genesis 4: 8-16

The title is a little shocking isn’t it? But hang with me for a minute and you’ll see where we are going.

Throughout Lent I've preached on lessons from the first family.

We’ve journeyed with Adam and Eve has they came into being as beloved children of God and as God made them caretakers of the earth.

We watched them make mistakes—hiding from God in the Garden of Eden. But then we saw God clothing them as a sign of God’s great love.

Then, last week we met Adam and Eve’s first two sons- Cain and Abel. One was a farmer and the other a herder. And when time came for each to bring their offerings to God, one brother brought the best and other just brought something. We saw in their story that we’re an angry people for all the many ways our lives have not gone as planned.

So, we conclude with the last first family story—reading rest of the tail of Cain and Abel— in conjunction with this high holy day in the Christian calendar: Palm Sunday, a day of great exclamatory praise, but a day that would ultimately be the catalyst for Jesus’ death. Which leads us to the question, what is it about us as human beings that would lead us to support or participate in the taking of another human life? Why would we as human beings want to kill our own?

And the Cain and Abel saga gives us some guidance as to why.

Remember Cain was angry God liked Abel’s offering better. And even though God lovingly asks Cain to deal with his anger, he doesn’t.

Genesis 4:8 tells us this: “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field. While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”

In a plot I am sure worthy of any of the good crime shows on TV, Cain, being the more savvy of the brothers, finds a way to get his hated brother alone to a field. There he carries out a plot to rid the earth of Abel. How: we aren’t sure other than it works.

Abel dies.

Taking into account what we know about Cain and Abel previously we can assume it was because of pride . . .

It was because of jealousy….

It was because of anger . . .

And for what? So that Cain wouldn’t have to see his brother’s face anymore? So that Abel would not be a reminder of that great day of disappointment? So that Cain’s intense feelings eating inside of him would not eat him up any longer?

I guess, in the moment, yes. It was all about the short-term gain. An act of violence was an easy way out! Abel was a problem for Cain and the best way to get rid of the problem was murder.

Because this is who we are: murderers. We all make short-term decisions that steal from one other human dignity. We all find ways take life from one another, no matter if we kill another human being or not.

It's offensive, I know. I mean, isn’t murder one of those “on the shelf” sins from the Ten Commandments that most of us will get a free pass on? We can check it off our list because it hey, murder is something few of us do!

Well if we do any sort of close examination of the Bible, we realize that our most sacred text is full of the stories of characters we label as heroes but who also carry the description of “murderer.”

Moses, murdered a man who he saw mistreating a group of Hebrew slaves in Egypt before God called him out with the burning bush.

Joshua, Moses’ replacement certainly fit the battle of Jericho as the old spiritual goes, but then goes on to lead the genocide of the entire city.

Samson, one of the great judges of Israel who we might remember for his extra long hair killed 30 men with his bear hands and then 100 with a donkey bone.

Then, there’s David. (And who doesn’t like David?) The man who was called by the name of “a man after God’s own heart” killed Goliath as we all remember from Sunday School. But, he also killed and circumcised 200 men in order to get a wife he wanted.

Can I just stop a minute and say WOW!

Though we might think of people in modern times convicted of murder as somehow “other than.” The Bible reminds us that even the best of us are capable of the worst crimes against humanity. Just think of all the countries that have experienced genocide in our lifetime—Rwanda and Bosnia to name just two. Even the best of us can change our behavior very quickly. These shifts don’t make some people “bad” but simply among the tribe of human beings.

But, here’s the kicker for us all (who still think we’re off the hook this morning): Jesus’ teaching on the subject. During his ministry, Jesus reinterpreted the law on occasions like the Sermon on the Mount. Saying:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult, a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Jesus give us this mandate: the label of “murderer” goes beyond the actual taking of someone’s life, but the intents of our hearts. No one is excluded from the label.

And furthermore, as Jesus’ life continued, living in the midst of such “murderers” was a human experience that Jesus knew full well. For he had seen people’s dispositions change very quickly during this time on earth. He’d seen the worse intentions of human hearts.

As we read our gospel lessons for this morning, we see an example of this dramatic shift by the crowds who say, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” on Palm Sunday who by the end of the week shout: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” handing Jesus over to a cruel death on a Roman cross.

For there was something intolerable about Jesus too. During his time on earth, Jesus’ message was plain: all were welcome in the kingdom of God—the women, the sick, the lame, the demon possessed, the filfy rich, the dirt poor and everyone in between. And he said: the kingdom of God was about a movement of God bigger than who held the seats of power on the earth. It was about purity of heart and spirit and loving God and neighbor with a whole heart.

The people of his day were angry about all of this. They did not like the kind of people they were being ask to be!

For Jesus was NOT the king with banners and trumpets and overthrowing the governments as they wanted.

And, he was not one to be controlled or persuaded into anything other than the one send by God to be the good news.

Jesus frustrated the masses beyond belief!

And the Jewish authorities couldn’t get Jesus out of Jesus what they wanted either, so they sent Jesus to Pilate—the Roman authority to figure him out.

It was Pilate who asked: “Are you the King of the Jews?” To which Jesus said, “You say so.”

We all know how the story ends. In the case of Jesus, it was easier for Pilate, the religious authorities and the crowds to say: “Let this man go. . . . Let us be done with him” than it was to deal with the truth of all that Jesus brought.

This is what I know for sure the story of the last week of Jesus’ life was not a freak occurrence: you and I, if we had been there could have shouted those very worst things too.

We’ve all  looked at our neighbor with contempt. We’ve not defended their dignity. We’ve let our anger fester and flourish in us about those we are called to love the most.

We’ve made God sad . . . just as I know was God’s countenance that day as the crowds shouted “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

But there’s grace—there’s always grace. God did not come down and breathe fire into Pilate’s palace and kill them all. God did not strike down the masses chanting for the release of another prisoner instead of Jesus. Nor, did God strike down Cain.

No, in grace, he marks Cain with a special symbol, we are told in Genesis 4:15 that will keep anyone from doing to him what he did to his brother. While there is punishment for his sin, it is not the end of his life. Cain remains in the land of the living.

And Jesus carries out the work of great love that he came to earth to do—despite of what others said about him and despite it that fact that he would soon breathe his last. Love’s redemptive work was done in his body as we will celebrate on Friday.

So my friends, who are we? Who are you?

Receive this truth: we are all murderers. But thanks to be to God—nothing, no nothing can keep us from God’s love—not even what we think is the worst upon worst possible sin.