Cain and Abel

April 10, 2011

So here we are. Week two of Money Month!  In case you weren’t here last week or if you are new to Cornerstone I made a decision a number of years ago that instead of responding to financial crisis in the church by preaching on them that I would take one month each year and develop a theology of giving.  That if you could handle me preaching on stewardship for three or four Sundays each April I would leave you alone the rest of the year. 
Now I’m sure some of you are thinking “Why do you have to speak about money at all?”  Because it’s an important topic.  Moses spoke about it, David spoke about it, Solomon spoke about it, most of the prophets spoke about it, the New Testament authors spoke about it and Jesus spoke a lot about money.  How we make it and how we spend it .  So we can’t arbitrarily not speak about it.   I guess in the truest sense a church could operate without money, if you were willing to meet in your living room and not have a paid pastoral staff, but I think to truly worship God there would need to be a financial element, even if it meant you gave to give it away.  Because from the very beginning of time worship has contained an element of sacrifice. 
And really it’s not about money it’s about how we deal with our money, and our time and our talents.  Jesus told us in Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.  And basically that means that our treasures, whatever they might be, are a barometer of our spiritual condition.  That if we want to see what is important in someone’s life than we need to look at what their treasures are, what they do to obtain their treasures, what they do with their treasures after they have them and where they keep their treasures.
So our theme this month is “Treasures of the Heart” 
So we are going to start by going back, way back, back to the beginning of the story of man. 
The scripture that was read this morning is a portion of a full passage about faith, and the heroes of faith as recorded in the Old Testament.  A veritable “Faith hall of Fame”, you had to be pretty special to get into this group.  And in particular we are looking at the first inductee.   Hebrews 11:4 It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
Maybe you know the story and maybe you don’t, so let’s highlight it for you. 
It’s a story of two brothers,  Cain the older brother was a farmer, he toiled in the dirt and raised crops, his younger brother, Abel, was a shepherd, and he raised sheep.  And by all indications they were good at what they did.  They were the first children of Adam and Eve after they had been expelled from the Garden for disobeying God. 
Now I know everyone is sitting there thinking “I wonder who they married?”  Well we really don’t know do we?  Maybe God created more people, that would be an interesting theory wouldn’t it.  Bible doesn’t say Adam and Eve were the only, just the first?  Or the other option is that Adam and Eve had more children and the siblings married each other.  You understand that there were no genetic flaws at the point in history; they were only one generation from creation, no time for the gene pool to get a little murky.  The reason that siblings marrying one another has been prohibited through the years is that there are all kinds of problems associated with their children, but that close to creation there were no genetic problems that would be amplified in that situation.  It will be interesting to see what happens in our culture when a brother and sister want to get married.  What would societies’ answer be?  “It’s wrong.”  And the response would be “But who says it’s wrong?”  That was just an aside.
So where were we?  Oh right, the two brothers and they both offered a sacrifice to their God, we don’t know exactly what all their sacrifices involved or didn’t involve. The writer of Hebrews makes this statement: Hebrews 11:4 It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did.

Well the story continues, the scriptures tell us that God found Abel’s offering acceptable but didn’t accept Cain’s.  And that ticked Cain off, and he reacted by killing his brother.  Took him out in the field and attacked him and stole his life. 
Now we don’t know if that was the intent all along or if things just got out of hand.  Maybe he just planned on laying a good whoopin’ on his little brother but hit him a little too hard. “I didn’t mean to hit you that hard bro, come on get up.  Come on Able this isn’t funny anymore, no more fooling around, Ok?” 
In thinking about it I kind of lean toward that theory I think it was an accident, Cain wanted to hurt Abel but I’m not convinced that he wanted to kill him.  After all Cain’s punishment was banishment and I’m thinking that had his actions been pre-meditated with malicious forethought and planning that God being a just and righteous God would have demanded a greater punishment.  It is interesting in the first case of murder in the bible capital punishment wasn’t demanded.

So what is it we learn from this story?  Let’s go back to the original story in Genesis 4:3-4 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD.   It Started With Greed  If you wonder why Abel’s gift was more acceptable the answer lies in that verse.  And it is summed up in this one statement:   Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord.  We don’t know what Cain gave or didn’t give maybe it was brussel spouts, which would explain a lot.   It’s not so much what was said about Cain’s gift but what was said about Abel’s gift that explains what happened.  Listen to the full account,  Genesis 4:3-4 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock.   
Cain brought some of his crops, Abel brought the best of the first born lambs. Some. . . The best of.  Did you catch it?
You see ultimately when it comes to our giving we are concerned with one of two things.  Either we are wondering what we are going to be able to give or we are wondering what we are going to be able to keep.  Abel gave the best, Cain kept the best. 
Collins Dictionary defines Greed: Excessive Desire, especially for wealth or food.
American Psychologist Erich Fromm said “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”
But not everyone agrees, Ivan F. Boesky said “Greed is all right, by the way … I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” And Donald Trump said “The point is that you can’t be too greedy.”
On the other hand one of the things that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for was greed.  And when he was describing sinful behaviour listen to what he clumped greed together with in Mark 7:21-22 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.  Wow, if you are known by the company you keep greed isn’t keeping very good company..
And listen to this warning that Jesus gives in Luke 12:15 Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”   Which is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the world today that says “The man with the most toys when he dies wins”  Which by the way truth in advertising should insist that it read “The man with the most toys when he dies, is still dead”
 So with all due respect to Donald and Ivan maybe greed isn’t all right.  But it’s something that most of us have struggled with, that ever-consuming quest for more.  After all most of us would agree with Woody Allen when he said “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
And that is why Jesus warned us that Matthew 6:21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.  Once you decide what you want, it’s only a matter of time that you have figured out what you are going to have to give to get it.
Let’s go back to the story.  Genesis 4:4-5 Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
What started as greed It Turned Into Envy.  You understand that Cain had the choice of how much he gave to God.  And it was because he made the choice to only give a little that his gift was not accepted.  So it was the result of his own actions that he became bitter.  It was his choice to give what he gave and it was his choice to react in the way he reacted.
Although it doesn’t say in the story I’m assuming that Cain had it within his grasp to give a gift that would please God and that he would have known what that gift should be.   God would never ask for something we were incapable of providing or would never ask us to guess what it was he required.  So who was to blame for what Cain gave?  Cain!
But Cain blamed his brother.  When Abel gave a more acceptable offering and was counted as righteous because of that Cain became envious of what Abel had received and that was God’s approval.  The produce he had held back was no longer enough, now he wanted the favour that his brother was shown.
When you stop and think about it this was heredity at work.  Do you remember what caused Adam and Eve to sin and rebel against God?  Sure you do. They rebelled because they wanted what did not belong to them.
We are told in the account in Genesis that Adam and Eve had everything they could possibly want and they could do whatever they wanted to do except for one thing, they could not eat from one tree.  They could do anything they wanted to with the tree.  They could look at it, they could touch it, they could climb it, they could chop it down and burn it, but God had told them very specifically in Genesis 2:16-17 But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
Pretty plain, pretty clear, no ambiguity there, this is what you must not do.  And when Satan came along to tempt Adam and Eve, what ploy did he use.  Sure, in Genesis 3:4-5 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
What was he saying?  He was saying “Don’t you want what God has?  If you just had what God had, then you’d be really happy.  Right?”   Look across the Bible what is it that gets people in trouble?  Wanting what somebody else has.  And it’s not just a matter of wanting something like the one they have, it’s wanting what they have, so they can’t have it anymore because it’s yours.
We could go through example after example in the Bible, Jacob wanted Esau’s inheritance and he was willing to cheat and lie to get it.  Joseph’s brothers wanted the love that their father bestowed upon Joseph and they were willing to kill him or sell him into slavery to get it.  David wanted Uriah’s wife Bathsheba and he was willing to kill Uriah to get her.  The religious leaders who had Jesus executed didn’t do it because of what he did, they did it because of what he had.  He had the power of God, and he had the ears of the people, and if the high priest couldn’t have what Jesus had then he couldn’t have it either and so they killed him.
Think of any of the crimes and atrocities that have been committed throughout history, they happened because somebody wanted what somebody else had.  Why do so many people in the world hate the United States?  Because the US has what they don’t have.  And it’s not just the nice cars and big TV and fancy houses. It’s the freedom and the peace and the ability to say what they want about the leaders and not end up in jail or dead.
There is a story told about Abraham Lincoln walking down the street with his two boys, both of who were howling to beat the band.  A friend happened along and asked Lincoln, “Abe, what’s wrong with the boys?”  “What’s wrong with the boys?” came his reply, “The same thing that is wrong with the world.  I have three chestnuts and they both want two.”
And Cain was warned about the consequences of his envy  Genesis 4:6-7 “Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
God was telling Cain that if he continued down that road that there would be consequences.  We know that nothing good can come from envy, it eats you up, you hate your friend because they have what you want and hate yourself because you don’t have what they have.  Nothing good can come from envy. 
It was Confucius who said  “A person is born with feelings of envy and hate. If he gives way to them, they will lead him to violence and crime, and any sense of loyalty and good faith will be abandoned.”
So let’s continue with the story.  Genesis 4:8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.
And what started with Greed led to Envy and It Ended in Murder  Now that is the extreme,  but it didn’t have to be murder, it was the willingness to do what was wrong.  Do you remember Paul’s warning in 1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.
I know Cain didn’t kill Abel over money but it began with stuff.  Maybe it makes more sense this way 1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of stuff is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving stuff, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.
It was because Cain wanted to keep more of stuff for himself that he gave less of his stuff to God.  And it was that decision that led Cain to envying his brother, and eventually it was that envy that caused him to murder his brother.  And we don’t know how long of a period that was over, it’s a fairly tight narrative but we don’t know if it was days, weeks or months from the beginning to the end.
Only you know what you would be willing to pay to get more stuff or to keep the stuff you have.
I have referenced this before, In 1990 James Patterson and Peter Kim wrote a book based on extensive surveys of the American Public, the book was called; “The Day That America Told The Truth.”  Questions were asked concerning a wide range of topics from morality to work to family life.  The results are really quite surprising.  And while it’s easy to write off the results as being American I’m sure that many of the results would have been the same on this side of the 49th.
One of the questions asked was “What would you be willing to do for Ten Million Dollars?”  A follow up survey was done asking about 5, 4, 3 and 2 million dollars and the results remained fairly consistent.  It was only under $2 million that they began to see a falloff in what people would do. So it would appear the price for many Americans was $2 million.  Out of the ten questions asked 2/3 of the respondents agreed they would be willing to do at least one, and some several of the deeds.  What were they? Would abandon their entire family 25%, Would abandon their Church 25%, Would become prostitutes for a week or more 23%, Would give up their American citizenship 16%, Would leave their spouse 16%, Would withhold testimony and let a murderer go free 10%, Would kill a stranger 7%, would change their race 6%, would have a sex change operation 4%, or would put their children up for adoption 3%.
1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.
You say that you have no interest in a million dollars, come on?  At least be as honest as Mark Twain who said “I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.”
This story is a warning about how we view our stuff, and what it does to our attitudes and behaviours. 
So what made Abel’s offering more acceptable?  His attitude. His motives.  His desire to please God.  The same thing made Cain’s offering less acceptable.  His attitude. His motives.  His desire to please Cain. 
What  do our offerings say about us?  About our God?  About our relationship with God?