“I call you my brothers and sisters, that you may love each other as I love you” Trinity 11 2023

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20. August 2023

Trinity 11

Gen. 4:1-15

This is the word of the Lord that came to me, so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name. AMEN.

 Brothers and sisters, here we are, drenched in the blood of Cain’s ancient question, his words echoing through the corridors of time like a gunshot in the night. Are we our brothers’ keepers? It’s a question that cuts through flesh and bone, exposing the raw nerve of our nature. Especially in the realization that, at every opportunity, we have taken His gifts for granted.

 We strut upon this sacred earth, exploiting one another with cunning smiles and calculated schemes. Our desires morph into obsessions, and we dare to murder not just the flesh but the very life of fellowship and brotherhood, hungrily seizing for our selfish purposes what God has not given to us. And when someone is hurt and harmed by our choices, with audacity dripping from our lips, we ask, “How is this my problem?”   

 Remember when the mighty floodwaters swallowed the wickedness of old? And yet we, the new progeny of Noah, tread down the same path. In the same way, the tower of Babel stands as a testament to our arrogance, as we sought to pierce the heavens themselves, to storm heaven by force. And what did God do? Our language was twisted, unity was shattered, and God scattered us to the winds. But did we learn? Do we not build our own towers today, constructed from the bricks of hubris and the mortar of self-indulgence? 

 Like the serpent in Eden’s garden, we hiss half-truths into the ears of our brothers and sisters, sowing discord and conflict, shattering trust. We shun the divine commandments, sculpting golden calves from our desires, and then, with a smirk, we turn to the Creator and demand, “Why have you forsaken us?”  We are so arrogant, so petulant, so pitiful. The ground beneath our feet trembles and the earth itself bears witness to our insolence, and yet, how do we react? We dance with the devil, then wail when the flames lick at our heels.   

 And that gets at the heart of the matter. We are the architects of our own misfortune, the builders of our own personal hells. We revel in excess. We gorge on forbidden fruits. We shun God’s Word and gifts, prioritizing our wants over others’ needs. We look the other way when someone is weak and has fallen, saying, how sad… how tragic… how disgusting. But, when the reckoning arrives, and God’s furious anger breathes upon us, withering our spirits, afflicting our bodies and lives, we cry foul. We point fingers at the heavens, demanding God apologize to us. 

How might this go? Listen. Our church closed because we couldn’t pay the bills. We didn’t support the pastor and his family. We didn’t show up to worship with our brothers and sisters because we had other things to do. Why has God forsaken us? Our family and friends turn away from us. They don’t call. They don’t text. They treat us coldly at family parties. How could God allow this? We become weak and fall, and there’s no one to pick us up. We ask for help, but no one answers our pleas. Well, God damn them for not helping me, we cry! 

The blood of Abel cries out from the ground, a haunting refrain that echoes through the corridors of time. Are we our brothers’ keepers? The answer, my friends, is etched in our deeds, in our choices, and in our souls.   

Cain’s question demands a reckoning, a grappling with our own humanity. We, the prodigal sons and daughters, must stare deep into the mirror of our actions, cast aside our arrogance, and embrace the divine mandate to tend to one another. Because in the end, as the dust settles and the smoke clears, the truth remains: 

Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, because Jesus suffered, died, and was raised from the dead to redeem your brothers and sisters. So if they are worth God’s life, then they’re worth sacrificing yours for too! But are any of you ready and willing to do this? 

If, for example, we are ordered to stay at home again because of another virus outbreak, let’s say in December, just in time for Christmas, will you comply? Knowing what you know now, three years later, will you forsake your church as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus? Will you turn away family and friends, treating them as potential virus spreaders, potential killers? Will you isolate yourself from your brothers and sisters to make yourself feel safe? Are you your brother’s keeper? And if not you, then who is? If Christians cannot do this, even though we have a clear mandate from God, who will? Who will be my brothers’ keeper? Who will protect me and my family from you? Who will defend this church? Who will bend down and pick up your brother and sister when they’re weak and fallen? 

 It must be Jesus who keeps us, defends us, and protects us. God must do it because we lack faith, courage, and strength. And if not Jesus, then who else will rescue us from Cain’s fate? Who else can put a mark on our forehead to save us from death? 

There’s no one else coming to help us because we all stand in the aftermath of our own handiwork, unwilling and unable to take responsibility. Every man and woman on earth, including us, stands on the ground, scarred by their recklessness and cowardice. Cities of vanity rise like monuments to our fleeting desires while the cries of homeless veterans are drowned in the cacophony of our own excesses.  

No one else is coming to help us because we’ve all grown skilled at evading responsibility and crafting intricate excuses to absolve ourselves from staring at the consequences of our actions in the thorny-crowned face. 

The words of Eden’s rebellion spill out of our mouths day after day, a confession of sin about the choices we’ve made and the paths we’ve taken that take us farther and farther away from God. And yet, when the thunderclouds of divine justice gather, and we dive for cover, we dare to shake our fists at the sky, proclaiming, “God, why have you forsaken us?”   

 But what if God adopted our attitude? What if God’s answer was, “Why have I forsaken you?  I don’t know, am I your keeper?” “Should I treat you the way you treat your brothers and sisters?” “Do I abandon you the way you’ve abandoned me?” Imagine that! The churches would be even emptier than they already are!   

But here’s the revelation of Calvary’s cross: God never abandons or forsakes us. He remains amidst the struggles and chaos of our own making, amidst the debris of our shattered promises. 

And as we flip through the pages of the Gospel of Mark, a beacon of truth emerges. Jesus responds to Cain and all of us, declaring us his kin when we put our trust in him. “You are my brothers and sisters,” He proclaims. This is God’s answer to Cain’s lingering query. Yes, you are your brother’s keeper because I am yours. I will be your guardian, your keeper, and for your brethren, too, because what seems insurmountable for you is well within my grasp.   

 So, brothers and sisters, as we consider the audacity of Cain’s question, we are simultaneously grasped by the unfailing truth that in the arms of Savior-Jesus, we find the answer we so desperately need to hear. No longer do we cry out, “Why have you forsaken us?” Instead, we are embraced in the unyielding, resounding affirmation that we are not forsaken. That we are, indeed, our brother’s keeper through the boundless love of Jesus Christ.  And unlike how you treat me, and I treat you, God does not desert us in our hour of need. 

 So as we strut and stumble through life, we are called to pay attention to the fact that our brothers and sisters aren’t there for us to exploit, misuse, ignore, and leave for dead  – they are instruments of God’s grace and mercy. Through their struggles and sacrifices, God is at work, creating and redeeming life for them, forging strength for them from adversity. 

So, when you look into their eyes, you’re gazing at the face of God. You are seeing someone for whom Jesus triumphed over death. You are seeing someone who needs a brother to help them climb out of the ditch into which they’ve fallen. The person in front of you is a mirror God holds up to you to reveal, “This one is the embodiment of my redemption song of victory. Love him as I have loved you. Sacrifice for him as I sacrificed my life to redeem you. This is why I have created you. This is your mission. This is why I call you my brothers and sisters, that you may love each other as I love you.” 

This is the word of the Lord that came to me, so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name. AMEN.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin