Genesis 4:1-15: Sin is Crouching at Your Door

Cain Killing Abel 2In the store you are picking up a couple of items and close by a child is throwing a tantrum.  Angry words, screaming, the stomping of feet, echoes in every aisle.  Nothing the frustrated parent says calms the raging child.  Of course, he tries to reason, but to no effect.  A few minutes later, an irate voice is yelling outside, “When we’re home, I’ll give you something to cry about!”  Some choice curse words also shriek out in frustration.

Both the child and parent lost their tempers.  The child’s behavior is a product of his sinful nature and, perhaps, poor parenting.  The parent, well, he should realize better, learning long ago not to lose control.  For if you don’t discover how to control your temper, unbridled rage can turn you into a beast.  Unleashed anger can change you into someone you don’t want to be.

Every child ever born comes with various dispositions and tendencies, which you can’t change.  Consider Cain in our Old-Testament reading—an angry person with a violent temper.  Now, his role in life is to learn how to manage his inborn, violent inclination, something which he didn’t do.  In the end, his aggression led him to commit murder, killing his younger brother.

The first man and woman bore two sons, Cain and Abel.  One shepherded flocks, Abel.  The other, Cain, worked the soil as a farmer.  On both, God sent His blessings.  For both worked well in their vocations, healthy and vigorous, and all is fine.

Both sons understood the fall into sin and trusted in the Messiah to come.  Here, the way they approached God affected their relationship as brothers.  For one brother wanted to come to God as he wanted; the other, as God decided.  So, they bring their sacrificial offerings, pointing to the promised redemption.

In faith, one brings an animal sacrifice, recognizing without the blood of sacrifice, forgiveness does not take place.  The other acts like God should be pleased, no matter what he brings.  So, the Father above accepts one, but not the other.

A wave of anger ignites and burns within Cain.  Now, the heavenly Father did receive grain sacrifices—based on His direction, not the one making the sacrifice.  For Cain brought his offering with the wrong attitude, acting like he called the shots with God.

Doesn’t God peer into our hearts when we give our offerings?  Yes!  Consider the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple.  Both went to pray.  The Pharisee strides in, smug and so assured, expecting others to marvel at what a superb guy he is.  The tax collector approaches in humility, only able to confess his sinfulness before God.  Like the Pharisee, Cain came with his offerings based on a faithless attitude.

Let’s stop for a moment and examine our honesty.  For if God scans us, he will find many foul and repulsive thoughts and emotions swirling inside.  In many ways, you and I are no better than Cain or the self-righteous Pharisee, or anyone else in this world.  Oh, so you didn’t murder your brother, but you wanted to (or your sister or someone in your life at some time).

Consider our current-day culture.  Much anger is all around.  So many find offense, often when someone doesn’t mean to give any.  The “golden rule” now lacks its allure.  So, I’m allowed to be offended.  No one, however, should be insulted by my views and actions.  Such a presumptuous and angry society in which we live!

Furious and short on patience, everyone is mad about something.  The government, an unfit boss, and slow service at restaurants.  A turtle of a driver is in front of you, dawdling along 10 miles below the speed limit—on a sunny day, without rain or fog.  A teacher breaks the public trust, a pastor who doesn’t come with the perfect personality.  So, we become upset, pitch a fit, and complain instead of being part of the solution.

Soon we realize, we are the angry child in the store, stomping our feet.  The smallest incident becomes an excuse to light the fuse.  Soon, tempers flare, and mean-spirited words stream from our mouths and harmful actions flow from our hands.  Sinful anger, which earlier lurked inside, now explodes, and we turn into Cain.  The only difference is the severity of the harm and the murder’s location, whether directed to another or only in your heart.  At our door, the crouching sin now leaps to life, taking no prisoners.

Consider again how Cain and Abel both offered their sacrifices.  Pause for a moment, and focus on what God says to Cain.  In this pastor’s paraphrase, He tells him, “Why are you so angry?  Change your attitude, and life will go better.  For if you lose control of your temper, sin is eager, waiting at the door.”

Here, God comes with a warning.  “Unable to control your anger, only leads to trouble.  Remember, sin lies in wait, ready to pounce.”  Does Cain listen?  No, like He also didn’t follow God’s way when he earlier offered his sacrifice.  In his uncontrolled anger, he murders his younger brother.  “Against his brother, Cain arose and killed him.”  To top off his sin, he didn’t experience a pang of regret or remorse.  The first psychopath in human history—in the second generation!

So, God again approaches him.  “Where is Abel, your brother?”  The shoulders shrug, and he smarts off, “Who cares about him!  Am I supposed to be taking care of him?”  Only now does God speak His judgment.  For Cain’s crime, he will suffer banishment, giving up his occupation as a farmer to become a fugitive for the rest of his life.

“The punishment is more than I can bear!”  Did you realize Cain only recoiled about his punishment, not killing Abel?  Still, God comes with a surprise, moving beyond mercy.  For mercy is not receiving the penalty you deserve, but grace does one better, getting what you don’t deserve.  So, the Almighty puts a mark on Cain, so he will be safe after he is banished, so no one else will kill him.

In Jesus, we also find this intersection of mercy and grace.  The Lord became our substitute when He carried our sins, suffering our punishment, so we don’t.  Better yet, we receive grace, what we don’t merit, in the everlasting life He gives us.

Through Christ’s sacrificial death, we also receive the mark of Cain, the sign of the holy cross.  The cross marked our foreheads in Holy Baptism.  An invisible cross shows we are redeemed by Christ the crucified.  For we too are nomads, far from home, which is heaven.  The mark keeps eternal death from coming to claim us.

So, we are more like Cain than we realize.  Like him, anger stirs in our hearts.  At our door, sin also crouches, always ready to seize a moment of weakness.  Imagine God punishing us every time anger leads us into sin.  Oh, we will let loose a louder squeal than Cain ever cried.  “My punishment and sentence are too much for me to handle!”  Let us instead, learn the cry of faith, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

The surprising response is this—God does show mercy to sinners like you and me.  On the killing wood, our Redeemer’s words rose to heaven, “Father, forgive them for they don’t realize what they are doing.  Forgive their anger and hatred, the hurt and pain they cause.  The punishment is beyond what they can endure, but I will carry their burden and give myself for them!”

Those are the words Jesus speaks, a word of pardon and peace.  Such forgiveness cleanses us and creates a right spirit within us.  From Him, we receive a spirit of kindness and compassion for others.

Yes, we live in an angry world.  Each day, we face outraged people, who can cause us to lose our tempers.  So, what should we do?  First, we should learn self-control and discipline.  These we can learn when we exercise the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in Matthew 6.  Don’t be like the angry child in the store, pitching a fit because everything isn’t as you want.  No, everyone needs to grow up sometime.

Another is to practice confession and absolution.  For when we sin against someone, doing something hurtful, we need to confess what we did wrong and ask for forgiveness.  Both Jesus and Scripture teach this.  The reverse is also true—when someone sins against you, you are to forgive when he repents.

A story tells us of Leonardo da Vinci working on his painting of the first Lord’s Supper.  An assistant of his spilled some paint on the floor.  Flushed with anger, Leonardo lashed out at his assistant, cursing and humiliating him.

The painting still needed more brushstrokes and colors.  So, Leonardo returned, trying to complete the details of Jesus’ face.  Upset and frazzled, he found himself unable to do the delicate work.  Long he stood, staring into the face of the unfinished Christ.

Down goes his brush and he searches out the man whom he belittled.  At once, he confesses his sin, his anger, and seeks forgiveness.  The man listens to his confession, forgiving him as Jesus forgives.  The master painter can, at last, return to his work and finish painting the face of Jesus at His Supper.

So, too, when we come to this altar and recognize Jesus is here.  Only after can we gaze into the face of our Savior, where He brings us His holy Meal.  Remember, this is the place you bring your sins to die, not to cling to anger or grudges.  For the sign of Christ’s cross now marks your forehead, with the waters of baptism connecting you to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Live each day in the forgiveness Jesus earned for you on the cross, given to you here in this place.

Let go of what angers you.  Follow the way of Christ, not the way of Cain.  Oh, the devil may be raising Cain in your life, but God is stronger than the Cain within you.  Send away your anger.  For today, God speaks, “Go in peace, for you are forgiven.”  Amen!