It started out as a case of sibling rivalry and ended up as a case of murder.  It’s a familiar story from the Old Testament, but not one that we think about very often.  It involved the sons of Adam and Eve.  And I know that we can get caught up in a lot of questions around this story. 

We are told that Cain and Abel were the first of Adam and Eve’s children.  That they were born after their parents were expelled from the garden of Eden for disobeying God.  But we don’t know who their siblings might have been.  You might even be 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.  The Bible doesn’t say Adam and Eve were the only people God created, just the first?  And that is neither heresy nor blasphemy it’s just pondering. 

Or maybe the siblings married each other.  You understand that there were no genetic flaws at that point in history; they were only one generation from creation, so there was no time for the gene pool to get a little murky.  It’s like if you make a copy of a copy, then a copy of that copy and a copy of that copy.  The first one wasn’t so bad.

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.

But those questions are irrelevant to our story today. 

So, where were we?  Oh right, the brothers. In the story we discover 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. . .

But what makes one offering more acceptable than another one?   We can make a couple of assumptions from two of the verses that were read for us earlier.  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. 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. 

Did you catch that?  Cain brought a gift, don’t know what it was, maybe it was Brussel sprouts, which would explain a lot.  Able on the other hand brought the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock.  A gift versus a sacrifice. 

And these weren’t just any lambs, but they were the best lambs.  And not the best lambs but the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock.  These lambs were the best of the best. 

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.  Cain took Abel 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 thumping 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.

Let’s go back to the scripture that Claire read for us earlier Genesis 4:9 Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”

And that probably doesn’t ring any bells, however we might be more familiar with the way it  reads in the New International Version, Genesis 4:9 NIV Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

It is the title on numerous books and multiple movies.  It’s the name of a non-prophet founded by President Obama in 2014.  And it’s a phrase that you’ve either used or heard at some point, “Am I my brother’s keeper.”

This week we are starting our summer series at Cornerstone called: Say What?

This has been a series that I’ve been thinking about for a number of years.  Every once in awhile, I’ll hear or read a phrase in popular culture.  Maybe on television or in a movie or in a novel, and I’ll realize that it came from a biblical reference.  Sometimes they are fairly evident, like “The Good Samaritan”, “Turn the Other Cheek” or “Cast the first stone”, and sometimes they are a little more obscure.  Did you know “You are the Apple of my Eye” comes from the bible?

And so, when Cain asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  He was asking, “Am I responsible for my family?”

What is a family? And how does the question, “am I my brother’s keeper?” relate to our Christian walk and those around us? 

Collins dictionary defines family as; “a social unit consisting of parents and their children, the children of the same parents, or a group of people related by ancestry or marriage.” 

Let us begin our spiritual dissertation this morning with a deep and profound thought.  You realize as well as I do that we are not always impressed with our family. 

They are not always our favourite people and sometimes they’re not the type of people that your mother would want you to hang around with.  Right, you still with me? 

And maybe you are thinking, “I’m sorry Denn, that may be what your family is like but my family is not like that I am proud of everyone in my family.”  Thomas Fuller said, “He that has no fools, knaves nor beggars in his family must have been begot by a flash of lightning.” 

Look admit it, every family tree has some sap running through it.  So please keep that in your mind as your engrave this deep thought-provoking concept deep into your memory, you ready? Got your pen out? Right, here goes, “You can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your relatives.”  And folks that profound thought goes double for the relatives you have in the family of God. 

They may not be your friends but they’ll always be a part of your family.  So, let’s look at families. 

1)  Families are Related.  Deep isn’t it, sometimes I wonder where I come up with them.  If you are family, then you are related, somehow, somewhere you are related.  Now you can talk about third cousins on the left four times removed but they are still related to you. 

My family is from a little island in the middle of the Bay of Fundy.  Now I love Grand Manan Island, it’s our traditional family home and even though I only lived there for a few months when I was a child, I consider it home.  

On the other hand, if you went there as a child of four and lived there until you were a hundred and two you would always be a stranger from off the island.  And everybody on the island is related, which if you know about Grand Manan probably explains a lot. 

And it seems whenever I introduce myself, older folks will say, “Oh right, your father was one of the twins and your mother is Steve Bradbury’s girl, and then they explain why I am related to them, “Oh, well your mother’s father’s brother was my sister’s husband’s cousin’s nephew’s first cousin six times removed so we are related.” 

For example, because Angela’s mother is an islander as well, Angela and I are related.  You see, Angela’s mother’s, father’s great uncle was my father’s mother’s great uncle’s brother.  In other words, our great, great, great grandfathers were both the same fellow. We don’t have a family tree we have a wreath.

I mean that’s how I am related to my wife but the question still remains, how am I related to you.  John 1:12-13 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. 

Now what John is saying is this, “that if Jesus is our Lord then God is our father and if we as children all have common parentage then that makes us brothers and sisters. 

Last week, I finished up our “We the Church” series with a message about how the church is the family of God.  And most of us know that in some grand yet nebulous way.

But sometimes we think that we’re brothers and sisters because we all attend the same church. That because we go to Cornerstone that we are Wesleyan brothers and sisters. 

And those other people who attend the church down the road, why I know that they are related but like they’re third cousins, on the left, four times removed, I mean they are kin, but not real close kin. 

But they are! The Christian believers at the Emmanuel Baptist, and Full Gospel, and at Hub 2:14 are every bit your brothers and sisters as the person who would be sitting next to you if it wasn’t for COVID.  

And they ain’t just in-laws, they are related to you by blood, the blood of Jesus Christ, that was shed for each one of us.  

Now sometimes it is hard to comprehend and to be truthful sometimes it’s even harder to accept.

The fact of the matter is it’s not doctrine that makes us brothers and sisters, and it’s not theology that makes us brothers and sisters, and it’s not church affiliation that makes us brothers and sisters.  It is Jesus that makes us brothers and sisters. 

You see when someone comes to Christ with a contrite heart and asks for forgiveness and accepts the salvation that only Christ can give, then they become part of the family, they’re brothers and sisters. 

And sure, we might be different.  My sister and I are different.   I have light brown hair and my sister has dark brown hair.  Actually, we both have grey hair but we used to have light brown hair and dark brown hair.  I have our mother’s nose and she has our father’s nose, I have 0- blood, and she has a+ blood, and I’m easy to get along with and cuddly and lovable.

The fact is that we are different as day and night but I’m still her brother and she’s still my sister and we will never be able to change that.  We might say that we aren’t we might deny our relationship but we will always be brothers and sisters. 

Now hang on to your seats you ready for this you got brothers and sisters who profess to speaking in tongues, and you got some brothers and sisters who believe in eternal security, and you got some brothers and sisters who are pre-post-or a millennial, and you even got some brothers and sisters who call themselves Catholic. 

And you may not like them, but Christ said that if they have repented of their sins, and accepted his forgiveness that they are brothers and sisters.  And I think that that is a hoot.  Now you are saying “Pastor you are way off base.”

Nope, it’s scriptural, cause even in the Corinthian church which was the most carnal, most pagan, unrighteous church in the New Testament Paul still found brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Or as Harper Lee wrote in to Kill a Mocking Bird, “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”

Let’s keep going, Galatians 6:2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

2) Families Care About Each Other, or should I say families are supposed to care about each other.

I remember a song by the Hollies, from when I was growing up, that had a line in it that said, “He ain’t heavy he’s my brother.”  When it comes to bearing the burdens of one another in the family of God that needs to become our motto, the world says “he’s too heavy he ain’t my brother.”  But as we look around at the heartaches and needs in the family of God, we need to say, “They ain’t heavy they’re my brother or sister” 

Now listen up, if you focus on the load it will be too heavy to carry.  If every step of the way you whinge and whine and complain about having to carry brother so and so’s load, it will soon become too-too-too heavy for you to carry. 

But Christ said in John 15:17 This is my command: Love each other.

And love is nothing but a word until it proves itself in service.  You can say, I love that person or I love this person, but love isn’t love until it cost something, until you reach over and help the person bear his burden you haven’t loved him. 

You say You say “But Denn, I’ve got burdens of my own and I’m waiting until someone lifts my burden!”   I’m just waiting until someone lifts my burden!”  Nope, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.  Jesus had already accepted the burden of your sins when Simon of Cyrene accepted the burden of Jesus’ cross. 

Our first reaction shouldn’t be “Who is going to carry my burden” Instead it needs to be “whose burden can I carry?”  There is somebody at Cornerstone who needs you to lift a burden from their shoulders. 

Maybe it’s a spiritual burden. Have you ever felt to pray for someone, you don’t know why, all you know is that you feel that you need to pray, don’t hesitate my friend pray. 

That person may be waging a spiritual battle and your prayer will be the turning point, the point of victory. It might be an emotional burden, and all they may need today is for someone to tell them how special they are, they may simply need to be affirmed, to be thanked for what they do or who they are.  

Sometimes we feel, “I wish I had told that person how much they meant to me.” tell them now, don’t wait, they won’t be able to smell the bouquets that you throw when they’re dead.  When I first went to Truro, there was an old preacher who dropped in from time to time to encourage me, and Lawrence would tell me how wonderful I was, and what a great job I was doing and would agree with my dreams and pray with me.  And do you know when I realized how much that meant and acknowledged the debt I owed him?  When I delivered the eulogy at his funeral, a little late. 

Maybe it’s a physical need, a senior in the church who needs some work done around the house, a young mother who could use some free babysitting so she can get out for an afternoon.  At North Point, our church in Brisbane Australia, we had a lady in the church who had three-year-old twin girls and every once in awhile Angela would take the girls for an afternoon so Tina could go shopping and have a coffee all by herself.

You would have thought Tina had been given a million dollars.   How about those in your congregation who might have a financial need?  Remember families care for one another.  

1 Corinthians 13:7 NIV Love always protects.  3) Families Protect One Another.

When my sister Dianne and I were growing up, we fought like cats and dogs.  I still have the scars to prove it.  Once we got into it and she threw pepper in my eyes and I couldn’t see so I grabbed her and threw her against the wall but missed. 

Do you have any idea how hard it is to explain what happened to the picture window in the living room when your parents come home and find it on the lawn, in pieces?  But I will tell you this, we fought three ways, constantly, consistently, and courageously, but if’n you took one of us on you took both of us on. 

I could say anything about her and did say most of it, but you’d better watch out what you said about her.  We had our differences, and we had our fights but we were brother and sister and ultimately blood is thicker than water.  We don’t see each other as much as we should but when my niece was killed in a car accident Dianne called me in the middle of the night and I was on my way to Woodstock just as soon as I could.  Why? Because she needed me. 

I will never delude myself into believing even for a minute that Cornerstone Wesleyan Church, let alone Christianity as a whole will ever exist in perfect and complete peaceful harmony, we won’t. 

My mother, she had to come to the point that she accepted the fact that we would never be the Brady Bunch, or the Cleavers, or the Huxtibals but she always, always, always expected us to defend one another. 

We need to learn to protect one another as Christians and there needs to be a loyalty within our spiritual family. 

When someone badmouths a fellow Christian, you’d better be the first one on the spot to stand up for that brother or sister, instead of being the first one to deny them or say, “Oh really tell me more so I can pray for them.” 

And if the allegations were true?  Well then it would be good to remember, 1 Corinthians 13:6  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Because when a brother or sister falls, they are still family. 

Just because they blow it doesn’t mean they aren’t kin anymore.  I’m sure that your family is perfect, but mine isn’t. 

And sometimes it isn’t real easy to protect some of our Christian brothers and sisters, and sometimes we don’t even want to admit a relationship. 

During these times of chaos and confusion, I will hear comments by Christians in the news or on social media and my first thought is to call them fruitcakes, but that would give fruit cakes a bad name.

And then there are times that a high-profile Christian leader blows it.  Don’t be so quick to throw them under the bus.  Cast the first stone is another phrase we will be looking at in the weeks ahead.

 How do I defend the believer who has blown it? How do I protect them, how do I stand up for them?  Good question.

Years ago I heard someone say that Christianity was the only army that shot it’s wounded.  And I nodded and agreed, but then realized that would be merciful.  Too often we just leave them on the battlefield to die along. 

Instead, how about when someone is jumping all over a fallen believer, you take the time to affirm the forgiveness of God, and that fact that we are all human and that God is bigger than our sins.  If it is a Christian leader, then you can focus on the positive on the people who have been saved, and touched through the ministry of those leaders, and it hasn’t been all bad.   

That doesn’t mean that we sweep their sins under the carpet, there are times that a price needs to be paid.  And even in that we should be there.

And what goes for Christians in general goes double for the folks in our Cornerstone family.  

Listen up “If I ever catch you backbiting, and tearing down a brother or sister in this congregation I might just ask you to find another church”, because there ain’t nothing I hate worse in my church then sins of the tongue. 

I know it’s not my church it’s Christ’s church but if you know your New Testament, you know that I am the elder in charge.  

And so, you may ask how do I become a part of that family and part of the family of God.  Good question, glad you asked, Galatians 3:26-27 So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him.

So where are you at this morning, where do you stand in the family?  Perhaps there’s someone in the family that you need to ask forgiveness of, or maybe there’s someone in the family that you need to forgive.

And don’t put it off, because the answer to the question, am I my brother’s keeper?  Is yes!

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