My heart has been overwhelmed the past couple of days. The videos (particularly the one of Philando Castile) have been playing through my mind and causing me much grief. Such sadness, such heartache, such fear, such violence, and from what we can tell without knowing all of the details, such senseless violence. And then, when people are protesting peacefully and doing things the right way, retaliation and revenge rings out, and violence strikes again. It’s enough to make you want to curl up in tears and prayer for the weekend.
All of this got me to thinking about how our church worked through the story of Genesis this year. With that of course we heard again the story of Cain and Abel. I always read this story and was taught important lessons about bringing your best to God, about the need to follow the way of Abel and not Cain, and all of that is true and good. However, I never stopped and really pondered the question, “Why did Cain kill Abel?” It seems that murder and violence are so commonplace in our world, we almost gloss over that fact, but I think the question is worth some contemplation. You don’t just kill your brother. That’s not normal.
Ever notice how the Bible sets up a brother issue? All throughout we see brothers at odds with one another. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, the prodigal son and the older brother, and then I think of Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5 where you go to offer sacrifices and there remember you have an issue with your brother. There is a a brother issue all throughout the Bible, and I think that is what is underneath the Cain and Abel story.
I have read that in the ancient world, there were herders and keepers of livestock (Abel) and then there were those that worked the ground, farmers (Cain). In this context, the herders tended to look down on the farmers. One was better than the other they thought and they liked to make it known. Today, we are further removed from Genesis and even farther from the garden in Genesis 1 and 2, but we still have a brother problem. Herders vs farmers quickly went to Jews vs Gentiles, and now it is republicans vs democrats, blacks vs white, rich vs poor, women vs men, etc. Brothers still fight, humanity is at odds with one another, we still kill each other, wars still rage, divisive walls are still built. All the while the words of prophets like Isaiah and Micah ring out that our church services and pretty songs we sing mean nothing when we step over others, neglect those in need, and murderous rage is crouching at our doors like Cain.
We throw around jokingly Cain’s phrase, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, but I wonder if the question needs to be taken more seriously. Aren’t we our brother’s keeper? Because the gospel keeps calling us back to a vision that started before the murderous Cain story, a vision of the garden. It is a vision of unity, equality, and genuine loving of God and neighbor. Brothers and sisters, can we love God and not truly love our neighbor? The two go hand in hand, and the very gospel we proclaim and live into is one of tearing down dividing walls of hostility and hatred. I want the violence to end. I want the hate to end. I want to see the gospel take root in the world and heal this brokenness, but I think if that is going to happen, we have to answer yes to Cain’s question. It is time to be our brother’s keeper and stand in solidarity with each other.
Today, I hurt and pray for my black brothers and sisters who are hurting. I don’t have the answers, but I do see there is a problem. I don’t know what you have been through, and I can’t say what you ought to feel or do. I don’t have the words, but I stand with you and I want the world to be the way God envisioned it to be, and I truly want the dividing wall of hostility to come down. Forgive my silence when I don’t have words, and forgive my ignorance when I speak stupidly. Know that I love and stand with you. To my white brothers and sisters who read this and tend to roll their eyes (as I used to), sit with a black person and hear their experiences before you judge.
And to the law enforcement, thank you for what you do. We know you are not all bad, and we know your job is hard and the pay isn’t good. But we thank you that you are willing to serve and protect us, and we refuse to label you all based on those who misuse their power. The violence in Dallas isn’t the answer to overcoming the problems, and we pray for you as your brothers and sisters in blue are hurting today. To my black brothers and sisters who read this and tend to roll your eyes, I encourage you to befriend a police officer. Reach out a hand even if you think it isn’t deserved.
Friends, we have a brother issue. It’s high time we say yes. Yes, we are our brother’s keeper. We can continue down the path of Cain. It is a path of murderous hate and revenge. Or we can truly embrace the gospel. Not a mental understanding of Jesus with a confession and a baptism, but much more. We can let the story of Jesus get down into our very DNA and change who we are. This gospel has invited us into a ministry of reconciliation, not drawing lines. This very gospel message is one of crashing dividing walls, and forming a new humanity in the image of Christ. Let’s join together today and say yes, we are our brother’s keeper.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… – Ephesians 2:13-14