Edgaras Untulis – Plunge, Lithuania:
In order to understand what is happening in today’s world, I as a Christian must return to the foundations of my faith. And so I recently started a series of sermons on this topic in our community. Why faith? As I mentioned, we live in difficult times, both externally and internally – it can be described as the last days. Everything is tested and will be tested in our relationship with God, ourselves and with others. Shallow things must leave our faith.
Last Sunday we heard the testimony of a Ukrainian family in our community, who had to make decisions in the first days of the war. Their decision was based on passages from the Bible that are often preached in churches on Sundays. But from the mouths of Ukrainians, these scriptures sounded different, truer and simpler. Another, practical example could be the technical inspection of cars. In Lithuania, every two years we have to check our car technically. On the one hand, it is stressful, but on the other hand, we clearly understand that an inspected car is a good and safe car. So, I invite you to a short “technical inspection” of faith.
For this examination I have chosen two texts from the Bible – both texts are about the same story of the same two brothers. The beginning of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews and the beginning of the fourth chapter of Genesis. Both scriptures talk about the brothers, Cain and Abel: their choices, their consequences and the influence on the world that each has had, even upon us! But it is mostly a story about God’s love and grace.
At the beginning of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, we understand the nature of faith in God. The author of the letter says that faith ensures what we hope for and shows us the reality that we cannot see. And through him we receive a good testimony – righteousness and peace before God. Faith also reminds us that the worlds were created and continue to be sustained by the word of God. Out of the invisible things come the visible things, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews mentions. From the fourth verse of this chapter we turn to the first examples of faith, Abel and Cain. It is written that Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain. First of all, it should be noted that Abel’s sacrifice was better than Cain’s. Which means that Cain also made an effort – he sacrificed – but his sacrifice was not like Abel’s. Was something missing? The scripture says that Abel received a testimony that he was righteous and acceptable to God. The question arises, what comes first, grace or works? In Abel’s case, it was grace that enabled him to offer a better sacrifice than his brother. To the Jews, the fourth verse of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews ends with the words by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. What does this mean? Faith has the ability to withstand trials and remains, after we are gone!
Now I would like to invite you to look at this story of the two brothers in the fourth chapter of Genesis. From the first verses we see that Cain was from Adam and Eve – the first man to be born on earth! That in itself was a miracle. Abel was the second son of Adam and Eve, the brother of Cain. The older son became a farmer, and the younger was a shepherd. This is how they lived until it was time to express their relationship to God the Creator. We do not know whether their parents spoke to them or God directly, but the brothers had a desire to worship God. Cain was the first to offer from the fruits of the earth, and Abel from the fattest firstborn of his flock. Abel sacrificed from the first born and the fattest of his herd, while Cain’s offering was not accompanied by such sacrifice. Next we see God’s sovereign action in looking at Abel and his offering, whilst not looking at Cain and his offering.
We see here that the Lord looks firstly at the person, his heart and only then at the sacrifice, awakening righteousness in a person as he sees fit. We remember how God himself sacrificed an animal and clothed Adam and Eve in the third chapter of the Book of Genesis, shedding blood for sin for the first time. But back to Cain and Abel – Cain was angry and his face was sullen. But God is full of grace and speaks to the older brother in verse six, despite the hardness of Cain’s heart and his angry reaction, and his wrong offering. The Lord speaks to Cain, without receiving an answer; he diagnoses his situation and indicates a solution to overcome sin. Yes, God has hope for Cain! He invests in him and waits for the fruit – a good reaction, righteous decision, etc.
In verse eight, the climax occurs, the older brother takes Abel out into the fields. We might think that the brothers will talk, reconcile, Cain will apologise for his reaction…but this doesn’t happen, Cain kills his brother Abel.
It’s God who reacts to this terrible event, not the parents – Adam and Eve. God’s grace is again surprising, He speaks to Cain, the murderer of his brother and the Lord asks a specific question: Where is your brother Abel? But Cain lies to God. He lies even when he reproaches the Creator that he is not his brother’s keeper or nurse. And Cain becomes cursed. It’s a tragic story, because this is where wars, conflicts, and all the activities of sin that destroy human relationships begin.
But at the same time, reading this painful story I once again see my need for Jesus and why He is so needed by all the people around me. Therefore, looking at this drama of Cain and Abel through Jesus, I ask the question: What can I learn?
First of all, the question arises as to how one becomes like Cain. We have a tendency to look outside of ourselves more than being aware of what is on the inside. We are more concerned with getting God to act and work as I want, when I want, and where I want. When you see others blessed by God and you’re not left feeling genuinely happy about it, beware the “altar gesture” a response tainted with envy or anger. Beware the moments when you find that inside yourself you have become a cynic whilst outwardly you are polite – a person who “perfectly believes in God and His kingdom”, and yet everyone around you is not measuring up to that “ideal”. And so this is how we kill – through our Indifference, our lack of support, through misunderstanding and constant disapproval, etc. Of course, not all visions, dreams and ideas come from God. But whenever we prefer not to support but instead to ignore, I have to bow down and ask God for the grace of repentance. I believe that this “Cain reaction” is very typical of the people of post-Soviet countries.
The other side of God’s lesson here is that when we are in Abel’s place, we must realise that sometimes even when we do everything well, in obedience to God, we may still be “killed“ through a lack of support, by experiencing rejection or through being ignored. If we have the idea that everything with God will be perfect, it can cause us problems. These are dangerous moments for us. We must be careful in these painful times that we do not turn from from being an Abel to a Cain and so spoil the dreams God has placed in our hearts.
When this happens it is important to open up to God, to confess our disappointment, our pain and our lack of support, and to allow Jesus to heal us and resurrect our dreams once more. It is also ver important that we are not alone (as Cain now was) and that we continue to pursue discipleship relationships with others, in our process of healing.