October 4, 2020 World Communion Sunday
Genesis 4:1-16; 1 John 5:13-21; Matthew 22:34-40
The Book of Genesis informs us that when God created heavens and earth, God looked at everything and saw that it was good, very good!
Before the creator God stepped in, the earth was a formless void where darkness covers the face of the deep. Ancient people viewed a formless void, darkness and deep water as signs of chaos. Before God started the work of creation, earth was an uninhabitable place. Life was not possible. But then the God of Israel speaks and things start to change: Light! And darkness is dispelled! God separates light from darkness. God speaks again and there is a separation between the deep, chaotic waters and the sky. God speaks again and waters and land are separated. And as the creation story unfolds it becomes clear that the Creator God brings order to chaos. At the very last day of God’s work to bring order, God created human beings. The Genesis narrative is very clear: God creates human beings, in God’s image! Human beings are to continue God’s work of bringing order to the world and to keep chaos at bay. The task of human beings is to continue to make the creation good, very good!
The story of Adam and Eve and the story of Cain and Abel show us that chaos, or sin as it is now called, is a very powerful force that wants to enter the world and the lives of human beings! Human beings have to be alert and have to work hard to continue to keep these powerful forces of sin and chaos from taking over. The Bible informs us, and history confirms this, that sin and chaos are a very resilient and stubborn force. Things can easily spin out of control. Chaos is at the door waiting to strike. Sin is always ready to dominate!
Bishop Tutu, during the truth and reconciliation commission hearings after the end of apartheid, begged Winnie Mandela to admit that she made errors during those terrible years. He begged her to apologize for her part in human right violations. She reluctantly confessed saying: “things went horribly wrong.” In the good fight against apartheid chaos seeped in, good turned into disorder, things went horribly wrong!
God brought order to chaos, God created things wonderfully good but very soon – things went horribly wrong!
Adam and Eve disobeyed God, Cain became so envious of his brother Abel that he had to get rid of him, so he killed him. God’s very good creation was spinning out of control. And those created in God’s image are called to be coworkers of God to restore order and resisting chaos from returning. As the story of Genesis continues we learn that human beings, instead of being coworkers of God to resist chaos and sin, they in fact become coworkers of chaos, evil and sin. So much so that the goodness of God’s creation was almost nowhere to be seen!
The forces of evil became stronger and stronger and the ultimate outcome was total chaos, destruction, disorder.
Cain and his younger brother Abel brought an offering to God. We are not told why God did not regard Cain’s offering. Some scholars point out that God is sovereign and it is God’s choice. Others point out that God chooses to side with the younger, in contrast to a world where the eldest son took precedence over his brothers, he receives a double share of the inheritance and when the father dies, the oldest son becomes head of the family. So God perhaps regards the young Abel’s offering.
The fact that Cain was furious perhaps shows his entitlement. His anger was visible in his face. Then God said: “If you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Let me remind you again that God’s intention at the beginning was that human beings cooperate in making sure the world stays good. Human beings had to confront and resist chaos and sin and make sure that chaos and sin do not become our masters. We should master sin! It is true that in the Bible sin is seen as a powerful force which has the ability to control human beings.
But human beings are not without will or power to counter the work of sin and the influences of chaos. The book of Genesis does not view human beings as victims. God created us in God’s image, we are able to make decisions to either resist and oppose chaos and sin, or to promote or encourage chaos and sin. We are not neutral and passive players in the world. We have the ability to choose! We have the ability to be masters of chaos and sin or allow sin and chaos to be our masters! So, we have no excuse!
What are the best strategies to master sin and to keep chaos at bay? What is the best way to ensure that chaos does not get the upper-hand and sin does not spread uncontrolled?
I think the text gives us a good hint. When God asked Cain, after he had killed Abel, “where is your brother?”, Cain responded he did not know. Remember when Adam and Eve sinned, God asked: “Where are YOU?” Now God asks: “where is your BROTHER?” Responsibility before God is responsibility for the brother! God’s question is now a social question. Cain wittingly asks: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer of course is clear to the reader: “YES!”
The theological implication of the question and implied answer is profound. Chaos and sin are kept under control when people take care of each other! Chaos and sin cannot flourish when people are taking responsibility for one another! On the other hand, if and when we don’t accept responsibility that we are our brother’s keeper, then chaos and sin flourish! The simple truth according to our text is this: When we are keepers of our fellow human beings, chaos and sin are kept in check!
Now this is supposed to be very simple and clear for all to see. The first five books of Moses ,Genesis through Deuteronomy, the Torah in Judaism, also called the Pentateuch, time and again refer to the importance of this theological truth: Exodus 22:22: “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.” Exodus 23:6: “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.” Leviticus 19:10 “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:15: “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” Leviticus 19: 18 of course stands out: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Israel had to resist chaos and sin by being the keepers of their neighbors, especially the vulnerable in the society. But as we see in the writings and sermons of the ancient prophets, Israel did not always choose this path, they did not always love their neighbors as themselves. The turned a blind eye to oppression and exploitation. They rationalized and justified their selfishness. The outcome of them not being the keeper of their brothers and sisters was clear: they and their country regressed into chaos and sin! Instead of being coworkers of God to stop the spread of chaos and sin, they actually set the perfect conditions for sin and chaos to flourish!
We live in a culture that is very individualistic. We define our freedoms in terms of what I, as an individual consider my rights. Historically this can be explained: The country was established on individual rights and freedoms.
I think it is a valid question to ask whether over time, the focus and emphasis on my individual rights, resulted in me being so selfish that I don’t want to be my fellow human being ‘s keeper.
And this unhealthy focus on myself, allows chaos and sin, to slowly but surely spread their dangerous tentacles. And this is when chaos and sin increase!
This message is not different from the one in the NT. We know this reading very well. “What is the greatest commandment? You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.” There is a second: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!” There is not much to add to this except to interpret these 2 commandments as an antidote to chaos and sin.
As you know the NT zooms in on the second commandment. It asks and answers the question who my neighbor is?
Who is my neighbor? Already back then people found excuses to disqualify others as my neighbor. This one yes, that one no! The one who thinks like me, looks like me, sounds like me, believes like me, votes like me, she is my neighbor. Those who don’t are not! When this happens, chaos and sin flourish. The parable of Good Samaritan makes an interesting point. The question really is not, who is my neighbor, but rather to whom can I be a neighbor.
It is really about me recognizing that I am a keeper, and that everyone who crosses my path provides me with the opportunity to be the keeper of that person! This is how the spread of sin and chaos are stopped!
John’s letter is very clear! We are children of God (5:19). As God’s children we are living in a chaotic and sinful world! Chaos and sin are always trying to take over, to be master of us. We are reminded that Jesus defeated sin and chaos. We are called to continue to oppose them, to resist them until the day arrives when this world will be made new! There are many ways to resist evil, sin and chaos. The best way always starts with the realization that I in fact am the keeper of my neighbor. Amen