Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jealousy & Violence; Blessing & Community

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 -- Week of 1 Epiphany, Year Two

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 943)
Psalms 119:1-24 (morning)        12, 13, 14 (evening)
Genesis 4:1-16
Hebrews 2:11-18
John 1:(29-34)35-42

Today we begin with the story of Cain and Abel, two brothers.  It is a story that ends in bloodshed, the first murder.  Cain resents God's greater acceptance of Abel's offering, and reacts with violence.

John's gospel also gives us a story of cousins and brothers. 

John the Baptist sees the Spirit descend and remain upon his cousin Jesus, and John recognizes that this is "a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me."  Even though John is older than his cousin, John blesses the greater blessing that God gives to Jesus, and calls him Lamb of God and Son of God.

In our gospel story we also have two brothers, Andrew and Peter.  Andrew is with his teacher John the Baptist when John points out Jesus, the Lamb of God.  Andrew follows Jesus, who invites him to "Come and see."  After being with Jesus for the day, Andrew seeks out his brother Simon Peter and brings him to Jesus, who names him "Cephas," Aramaic for "rock" (i.e. Rocky).  Peter will become the leader of the early church.  Andrew, the brother who brought him to Jesus, will continue in harmony with his brother and the community of disciples.

Jealously and violence.  Blessing and community.

Some have said that the Cain and Abel story symbolically represents the conflict between herdsmen and agrarian farmers.  Besides the prejudice that so regularly occurs between peoples of contrasting lifestyles, there was true conflict when these different groups competed for the same resources of water and land.  If the herdsmen allowed their cattle to stray into fields they would damage the farmers' crops.  If the farmers fenced the land they inhibited the herds from traveling to green fields and water.  It makes me think of the Broadway play Oklahoma, and lively song that starts, "Oh, the Farmer and the Cowman should be friends"  -- a tame representation of a bitter feud.

We have in today's story the first use of the word "sin" in scripture.  When Cain becomes angry that his offering of the fruit of the ground is not accepted, God says, "Why are you angry...?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it."

But Cain broods and does not master his afflictive emotions.  He lures Abel to the field and kills him.  In a powerful moment, God tells Cain that he cannot hide his act.  "Listen; your brother's blood is crying out to me from the ground!"  God hears and knows the secret violence and injustice of the earth.

Cain's curse is a profound one.  He is a farmer.  A settled man of the soil.  Now he must become a wanderer, and the soil will not yield to him.  For a farmer to become a wanderer is a bitter curse indeed.  As a wanderer, he has no rights or protection of tribe or belonging.  He would be vulnerable to blood revenge for his act of murder.

God places a mark upon Cain as a warning, to protect him from death.  The mark of Cain has a terrible history.  During much of Christian history the mark of Cain was believed to be his black skin.  The tradition justified racist theologies that saw the darker races as cursed by God and therefore destined to slavery and oppression.  The Southern Baptists split from Northern Baptists using the curse of Cain as justification for their defense of slavery and their opposition toward the education of slaves.  How ironic that the story of one brother's violence toward another became a justification for centuries of oppression and violence of brother upon brother. 

Jealousy, prejudice and violence is healed by blessing and community.  John the Baptist and Andrew are models for us.  They see God's blessing upon their brothers and they rejoice.  When Jesus accepts his death on behalf of the sin of the world, he becomes the Lamb of God who takes away our sin, heals our division, and consumes our violence with peace.  The farmer and cowman, the settled and the wanderer, the black and white, the conservative and the liberal should be friends. 

Our reading in Hebrews says that Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters.  It says that Jesus destroyed the power of death and freed us whose lives are "held in slavery by the fear of death."  "For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father...  Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested."  We are called into the universal community that restores peace to the human family.

This is a day of much political pronouncement.  I want to hear leaders who acknowledge our relationships with one another -- our fellow human beings are our neighbors, and we are responsible toward one another.  I do not want to support politicians who create fear and division.  I want to support politicians who create blessing and community.  Will we live as Cain and Abel or will we will live like the disciples of Jesus?


Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lowell, I learn from your Reflections and I grow, too.


At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

what fellowship has light with darkness? What fellowship can Lowells balloon of fiction have with God's needle of reality?

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Two contrasting Anonymous comments from yesterday's post. I have no idea what in particular each references. One says "I learn ...and I grow" -- The other says "don't be yoked with unbelievers; ...what fellowship can Lowell's balloon of fiction have with God's needle of reality?" I don't know what struck either writer as enlightening or as folly.

The latter writer quotes from a fragment of one of Paul's letters that was attached to 2 Corinthians in the second half of what was later numbered chapter 6. It's hard to know the context of what Paul was addressing. Paul did not advocate withdrawal from the world -- and was pretty caviler about things like eating meat that had been dedicated to the pagan gods in the public marketplace. But Paul did not want the unjust values of the world to encroach on the community of the church, especially its egalitarian qualities. (no slave or free / patriarchy / circumcision bias).

He told his churches to create a new internal Christian community, an alternative just reality based on our equality and surrender before Christ. But he did not tell them to withdraw from the world and he regularly refrained from making judgments about people outside the church. He saved his words of judgment about the quality of relationships within the Christian community.

It's hard to know what Anonymous #2 was taking issue with. I hope he's not endorsing jealousy-and-violence over blessing-and-community, which was the point of my reflection.


At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We are called into the universal community that restores peace to the human family." You have no evidence of universal community, universal salvatin.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Responding to a comment the other day -- ""We are called into the universal community that restores peace to the human family." You have no evidence of universal community, universal salvation."

The first part -- our universal community is our common humanity. I don't think I need to make a case that we all share the same planet and all human beings are related to one another. God's consistent call to us is to live together with one another by creating justice, exercising compassion, and promoting peace. I don't have to defend that one, do I. It's pretty obvious and it's well testified to by scripture. Jesus embodies those values.

I think what you are taking issue with is the notion of salvation -- which you probably are thinking about from a narrow (even selfish) "will I get life in heaven after death?" And, "if I do, will others? Certainly not everyone, God forbid."

First, I couldn't care less about life after death. I trust God for that. I follow Jesus, study the scripture, and live in relationship to God in order to try to live a just, true, compassionate, peaceful and faithful life here and now. That's the focus of religion.

I experience a relationship with God that is so wonderful and awesome, that I find it difficult to imagine that God will fail -- that God will lose anything that God has made. I hope and I pray for universal salvation, and I worship a God who is so creative and generative, that I believe that God can pull it off.

I am also bothered by those who get obsessed with "who's in" and "who's out." I'm bothered by anyone who thinks he knows who is going to hell. Such people often have a nasty streak and use God to throw around their own shadows. They often justify their own unjust, uncompassionate, and unloving attitudes by dismissing other human beings as "unsaved" or "fallen" or "pagan" or "wrong" or "destined for hell." Many terrible things are justified under this rubric, and the religious often perpetrate atrocities in the name of God.

I prefer to try to live as Jesus taught us. He was remarkably inclusive, and he violated the "saved/unsaved" boundaries of his inherited religion, giving his same generous gifts to foreigners and heretics. In fact, the only people he tended to jack around were those who were certain of their own rightness and of the wrongness of those others.

I don't know if there is universal salvation. Nobody alive knows anything about what happens to us when we die. We waste time speculating (and fighting and dividing and judging). "Judge not!"

Just try to live as lovingly and you possibly can, and leave the eternal to the eternal. If your heart can grow enough to desire God's complete victory for all, you'll find plenty of scripture to sing of that joy. Here are just a few in the New Testament.
Romans 5:12-20
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
2 Corinthians 5:18-21
Colossians 1:15-23
Philippians 2:9-11
1 Timothy 2:3-6



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